November 5, 2014 -
Congress remained divided as a result of yesterday's election. The Democrats lost three seats in the Senate, but managed to hang onto control by a margin of 52 to 48, counting the two independents who caucus with the Democrats. They picked up eight seats in the House, but not enough to dislodge Republican control.
Analysts say the last two years of the Obama presidency will display the same sort of deadlock that has paralyzed the government ever since Republicans took control of the House in the mid-term election of 2010. Despite the fact that approval ratings of the GOP were at historic lows due to repeated crises of government shutdowns and the bitter division between Tea Party activists and more pragmatic corporate Republicans, Democrats were unable to turn the GOP's unpopularity to their own advantage.
Polls suggested that President Obama's insistence that the economy was on the mend did not jibe with the experiences of most voters. With unemployment still at 7.0 percent, household earnings flat except at the very top, and voters not excited about Obama's theme of deficit reduction, turnout was disappointing to Democrats.
The badly bungled rollout of Obamacare also hurt Democrats. While approval ratings of the Affordable Care Act moved into the positive range in the spring of 2014 as more and more Americans began benefitting from its provisions, Republicans nevertheless had some success in blaming the erosion of employer-provided insurance on Obamacare.
Polls also suggested that Obama's grand bargain with the Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare in exchange for some tax-loophole closings and a commitment end the periodic refusal to raise the debt ceiling blurred the Democrats' historic advantage as the party that defended social insurance. As in 2010, the Democrats lost the senior vote to Republicans.
"Although Democrats narrowly missed taking back the House," Obama said, "the results should put Republicans on notice that the American people will not tolerate obstructionism. I continue to stand ready to collaborate with the Republicans to put the economy back on the path to fiscal responsibility and economic recovery."
November 5, 2014 -
Democrats surprised veteran observers by gaining two seats in the senate, making their effective margin 57 to 43, and taking back the House. The new House of Representatives will have 236 Democrats and 199 Republicans. The Democrats managed to win about three out of every four districts that were closely in play.
The outcome was almost unprecedented, since the president's party nearly always loses seats in the sixth year of his incumbency. But observers credited Obama's dramatic shift to his "give-'em-hell, Barry" tour of this past summer, where he dropped his usual red-state/blue state unity plea and came out swinging at Republicans obstructionists.
Obama also jettisoned the theme of deficit-reduction that he began embracing in late 2009 in favor of a plea for good jobs and a demand that corporate elites start paying more taxes so that less privileged Americans can catch a break. "This recovery is just not good enough. It hasn't reached Main Street. I will keep fighting the Republicans and their Wall Street friends until regular people start benefiting," Obama declared.
Obama's shift to a more populist tone began in the late fall of 2013, when he dramatically rejected calls for a grand bargain to cut Social Security and Medicare, saying that "The plutocrats who keep pushing this idea spend more money on one night on the town than most Social Security recipients get in a month. They haven't a clue about how most of America lives. As long as there is breath in me, we will not take a dime from your Social Security."
The president also surprised observers by using his executive power more aggressively to insist that government contractors pay good wages and not violate workers' right to organize. And he toughened his line on trade, saying that tax dollars for public infrastructure should go only to create only American jobs.
Analysts noted that he repaired some of the damage from the botched launch of Obama Care by firing the private-sector contractors who wrote the software. "Ever since Reagan," the president said, "The Republican strategy has been to hollow out government, and then blame the government when it lacks the resources to do its job."
Standing with Nancy Pelosi, who again becomes House Speaker and Harry Reid who continues as Senate Majority Leader, Obama displayed generosity and grace. "Harry and Nancy taught me something about the value of spine," Obama declared.
Some Obama watchers were puzzled by his dramatic shift. Others were surprised that it took him so long. "With the prospect of a deadlocked Congress during his last two years," said one, "he was looking at a legacy of an eight-year economic slump and a failed presidency. Now, finally, he can finish strong."