The 2016 election is just three weeks behind us, as of this writing, and pundits, pollsters and other observers are still sorting out what occurred and how. Major polls were significantly off, leading to considerable surprise in many quarters. Polling inaccuracy in the 2016 election will be examined separately in an upcoming article. The only certainty to emerge from the 2016 presidential election is that conventional political wisdom should not be accepted at face value and that the pendulum swings in our democracy and will in all likelihood swing again.
As a non-partisan business organization, the Chamber has members who supported both candidates, supported third party candidates, and some who supported no one at the top of the ticket. Therefore, in this article we make no value judgments on the outcome. We do, however, note the failure of dealing in certainties where electoral politics are concerned and the need for bi-partisan solutions to the major challenges facing our country.
Not long after President Obama’s historic election and inauguration, Ruy Teixeira, a noted political scientist and academic, published a paper which made the assertion that America was becoming an increasingly progressive place and that the result would be the continued ascendancy of the Democratic Party, particularly its progressive wing, and a more or less permanent Democratic majority. Dr. Teixeira was not alone in this prognostication. It was widely shared by academics, pundits and other informed observers at the time. At the time, their assumption seemed fairly sound, given the strong electoral performance of the Democratic Party in 2006 and 2008.
What followed was two years of one-party rule in which the Dodd-Frank (banking and financial services reform), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus package in 2009) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) all became law. Then came the 2010 mid-term elections.
The 2010 mid-term elections challenged the Democratic Party’s permanent majority narrative as the party went on to suffer the largest losses on the part of a majority party since the Great Depression. The Republicans picked up 63 House seats, regaining the House and ensuring a substantial majority. They also increased their minority from 41 to 47, further widening the gap between the Democratic majority and cloture. The GOP also picked up 680 state legislative seats in various general assemblies, and finished the election with 29 of 52 governorships.
Lest that seem like an electoral overreaction in the early days of a presidency, it is important to note that, for the most part, the Republican Party has continued its ascendancy and has had its most successful six years since the 1920s. The GOP came into the 2016 elections with the largest number of state legislative seats in the party’s history, 31 out of 50 governorships, 54 out of 100 seats in the United States Senate and 244 out of 435 seats in the U.S. House. As of this writing, the Republican Party has gained three governorships, held a substantial House majority (with 6 less seats) and held on to a U.S. Senate majority that experts expected them to lose (with 2 less seats). Additionally, they won the presidency with Donald J. Trump garnering 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton’s 232.
Some now argue that the era of Western Progressive Liberalism is coming to a close. Election victories by the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom on the heels of the BREXIT decision and ascendant political right in many Western European countries have led to these broad pronouncements. However, as with the assertions in 2009 and 2010 that the conservatism was on the way out, it is inadvisable to pronounce either the left (more accurately, the left-of-center) permanently out of power. This means that the breathless pronouncements of pundits on either side of the political spectrum must be taken in context, and that the Democratic Party is likely no more permanently out of power as we enter 2017 than was the Republican Party
Rather than prognosticating about the end of one particular political ideology or another, perhaps it is more productive to note that outright certainty in such matters is fool’s gold. Rather than insist that our parties hew to their side of the road and surrender nothing, we would do well to insist that our leaders work together to forge a path forward that includes peace, prosperity and compromise.
During the past eight years, the Congress of the United States has passed only one budget, relying instead on continuing resolutions to fund the U.S. government and meet our obligations. There are substantial flaws in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which are causing a great deal of financial pain and economic dislocation. Rather than fix the problems, both parties have engaged in a game of parliamentary chicken for the past six years. Our nation’s infrastructure is still in need of massive repair. Little-to-nothing has been done to address this. Our gross federal debt is currently $19.06 trillion, versus a gross domestic product (GDP) of $18.7 trillion, a state of affairs that we cannot sustain for much longer without serious consequences. Blame cannot be wholly assigned to either major party – both own their share. The time for assigning fault is over, the time for seeking solutions must commence.
Ultimately, regardless of which candidate or candidates we supported, or which policies we favor, we are all Americans. It is time for the leaders of both parties at both the state and federal level, to work together to move our country forward.