Welcome back to Washington
Polls before the mid-term elections on November 4th suggested Barack Obama’s party would be beaten, but this was a thrashing. Republicans captured the Senate easily and their majority in the House of Representatives is now the biggest it has been in most Americans’ lifetimes. A Republican candidate in New York was indicted for 20 counts of fraud, but won anyway.
Close-up, the results are even worse for Democrats. They thought they could bin a bunch of tax-cutting, union-bashing Republican governors, but nearly all survived. Instead, Republicans captured governorships in solidly Democratic states like Maryland and Massachusetts. Mr Obama cannot escape the ...view middle of the document...
Median incomes are in the doldrums and many households feel terribly insecure about the future. A staggering two-thirds of Americans expect their children to be worse off than they are. And when they look at Washington, DC, to see what their political leaders are doing about it, they see a circus of name-calling and irresponsibility. Last year a stand-off between House Republicans and Mr Obama temporarily shut the government down and nearly caused a catastrophic sovereign default. The outgoing Congress is the least productive since 1947. The proportion of Americans who trust it is a wretched 7%. It may be harsh, but when voters think the country is on the wrong track, the president and his party get the blame.
There is a Republican faction that would like nothing more than to spend the next two years indulging in futile attempts to repeal Obamacare and conducting televised investigations of the president’s supposed abuses of power. If this faction prevails, America can expect yet more dysfunction and Republicans will deserve to lose the White House in 2016.
Optimists are sure the new Congress will be better than that. Now that Republicans are in charge, voters will expect them to govern, rather than merely obstruct. Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell and John Boehner would probably like to get things done, albeit with a bit of partisan sparring. And that means working with Mr Obama, who will remain president until January 2017 and can veto any bill the new Congress sends him. The two sides will thus have to find common ground starting with the president. Deals are possible in plenty of areas. Republicans favour free trade; Mr Obama wants the authority, which his own party has denied him, to negotiate trade deals. Both parties want to fix the corporate-tax code, and to invest more in America’s shoddy infrastructure. Moderates on both sides also want to reform immigration law to unblock the flow of talent on which America depends.
With power comes responsibility
Yet, even if the optimists are right, America faces a host of ailments that seem beyond the reach of today’s politics. The personal tax code cannot be simplified without closing middle-class loopholes. Health care and pensions for an ageing population will swallow up the budget unless costs are curbed and the retirement age is raised. In each case, lasting reform will inflict pain on large groups of voters. Reforms are possible only if they have both parties’ fingerprints on them if one side tried alone, the other would accuse it of throwing Grandma off a cliff. Cool heads in both parties know that the big entitlement programmes, which grow automatically, need fixing. Yet even in the most...