June 6th, 2011 // 4:53 pm @ Oliver DeMille
It appears obvious that most Democrats will support President Obama in the 2012 presidential election and that most Republicans will vote for the eventual Republican nominee. Independents, who will actually determine the election, are looking at things in a more complicated light.
Many independents dislike a number of the Obama Administration’s policies, as proven in the 2010 midterm election, but they remain unimpressed with Republican leadership since November 2010. Indeed, it was independents who threw Republicans out of power in 2006 and again in 2008.
While most pundits seem to believe that the 2012 election will hinge on issues of the economy, some independents are targeting the Senate as the hidden key to November 2012. Many independents would like to see the House remain Republican, the Senate swing Republican, and the White House remain Democratic—thus increasing the checks and balances on two sides which can’t seem to get it together.
A few Republicans are making the same argument, but for different reasons. When Republicans talk about winning the Senate in 2012, they are hedging their bets—they clearly want the presidency, but they’re lowering expectations so they can claim victory if they simply take the Senate.[i] Independents, in contrast, genuinely see split government as the best possible scenario.
The majority of independents support high profile policies from both the left and the right. For example, independents overwhelmingly want serious economic changes. They are deeply concerned with the spending increases of the Obama Administration, and they scratch their heads in bewilderment at the Obama team’s refusal to get serious about jobs and economic policy.[ii] On the other hand, most independents can’t grasp the Right’s seeming hatred of immigrants and frigid attitude toward the struggling poor. They dislike President Obama’s healthcare plan but feel that healthcare reform is needed. There are many other examples of how independents like and dislike views from both left and right.
In short, independents aren’t convinced that either party has the answers. If Republicans control all three houses, they predict, we’ll see more military spending and rising domestic social problems as funds shift from our inner cities to third world conflicts—and overall spending won’t likely decrease. If the Democrats run everything, in this view, there will be few checks on Washington’s spending and overregulation of practically everything. The answer seems to be the right kind of split government.
Independents have already supported various constructions of government:
- Republican White House, Republican Senate, Republican House
- Republican White House, Democratic Senate, Democratic House
- Democratic White House, Democratic Senate, Democratic House
- Democratic White House, Democratic Senate, Republican House
None of these have delivered what independents wanted. The worst results, many independents feel, occurred where government was not split, where one party controlled all three “houses.”
The key to overcoming this dilemma may be the Senate. The White House and House of Representatives are natural competitors based on the structure of the U.S. Constitution: the Executive is the Commander-in-Chief, while the House holds the purse strings. Thus by constitutional nature the office of the president puts a high priority on international affairs while the House’s primary focus is domestic policy. The Senate has a direct role in both domestic and international policy, and sits as the major check and balance on both the President and the House of Representatives.
Since the rise of independent power in the Internet Age, we haven’t seen the following structure of government:
- Democratic White House, Republican Senate, Republican House
The nuances in this formation are interesting. Such a model would keep a Democratic Commander-in-Chief in office, and the natural Democratic tendency to move conservatively in international relations would most likely limit American foreign policy to the most important international involvements—as opposed to the Republican proclivity for international power agendas.
On the home front, a Republican-controlled Senate and House would be inclined to downplay Democratic spending agendas and militate against spending too much, taxing too much, or over-regulating. In other words, such a model of governance naturally tones down the passionate agendas of both parties and puts the head, rather than the heart, in charge on both the domestic and international fronts. The potential of such governance by Washington is intriguing to many independents.
Moreover, “wisdom above passion” is not nearly as likely in any other governmental makeup. For example, the opposite structure (Republican White House, Democratic Senate and House) encourages more passion from both parties and little fiscal or ideological responsibility at home or abroad.
Right now it seems that Republicans will hold the House in 2012 (though much can happen between now and election night). The presidential election currently leans in President Obama’s favor, but things will inevitably tighten as November 2012 approaches.
The real key to America’s future may rest in the Senatorial election. This will not be the focus of the media, of course, which will emphasize presidential politics, but it may be the most significant national election of 2012.
From an independent point of view, the best-case scenario may be a Republican victory in the House complemented by victory in either the Senate or the White House—but not both. The worst-case scenario would probably be to give all three houses to Republicans or all three to Democrats.
If Republicans hold the House and gain the Senate in 2012, and if President Obama stays in the White House, we will experience a new type of government structure: 1) a moderate independent majority of voters empowered by the Internet in an era of daily activism and influence in national debates, 2) a conservative Congress focused on economic moderation and checked in its international agenda, and 3) a liberal White House checked in its domestic spending agendas and dedicated to international moderation. Many independents would like to give this possibility a chance.
[i] Many lead Republicans believe that the GOP has a real chance to win the White House.
[ii] President Obama has proven to be a savvy politician, especially where the timing of his focus is concerned. If he changes focus and puts the emphasis on jobs as the central goal during the summer and/or fall of 2011 and into 2012, he may take away the Republican’s one major selling point.