It seems that every election for the last dozen years is “the most important election in our lifetime.” Candidates for office, their campaigns and supporters, and even the media hype this line of thinking. As election season builds to the important day, anyone who has ever signed up for an email from an interest group or donated to a politician finds their mail box, snail and electronic, inundated with appeals for support.
This year, of course, is no different. Republicans want to maintain their hold on the U.S. House of Representatives and anticipate reaching a majority in the Senate. Democrats appear to have abandoned hopes of taking back the House majority they had going into the 2010 elections and are focused on getting vulnerable incumbents over the finish line in conservative states in order to stay in control of the Senate. Vulnerable Senate Democrats are in a bind. Many have supported the president’s agenda but are now avoiding being seen with him and multiple cases where they are refusing to admit whether they voted for the president in 2012.
This election may not be “the most important election in our lifetime,” but it will be significant. What is at issue here is not just which party controls the legislature for the last two years of the president’s term. It’s their vision about the role of government in society.
Presidents that get a second term start dealing with a new set of challenges. Decisions made during the first term sometimes don’t work out, individuals that were part of the first administration start releasing memoirs that don’t always put the administration in a positive light, and rivals that supported the reelection of the president begin to position themselves for the next election.
All of these things are happening to president Obama. The Affordable Care Act, the president’s signature legislative achievement, remains unpopular. Wholly missing were satisfactory investigations into or consequences for, among other things, the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the IRS’ targeting of conservative political organizations, and the neglect of the health care of our servicemen on the part of the VA. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta just released a book that is highly critical of the president’s handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Former Secretary of State, and likely candidate for president, Hillary Clinton has also distanced herself from Obama, no doubt in preparation for another run for the presidency.
It is also a given that the president’s party loses seats in the legislature during the midterm elections in the second term. Uspolitics.about.com explains:
In the 19 mid-term elections held since 1934, only twice has the President’s party gained seats in both the Senate and the House: FDR’s first mid-term election and George W. Bush’s first mid-term election.
Losses for this president could be substantial and historic. “In fact, Obama is likely to have the worst midterm numbers of any two-term president going back to Democrat Harry S. Truman.” Rothenblog – RollCall
The numbers are important, in vote totals tonight, and the resulting makeup of the legislatures at the state and Federal levels. More important is the direction of the country for the coming generation, not just the next two years.
The presidency of Barack Obama has been one of ever expanding government. While this observation holds true for any president that held office after World War II it is especially pronounced with our current chief executive. This president signed into law a stimulus bill that had little to no impact. The government took over General Motors and Chrysler and handled restructuring that could have been done by the companies and their creditors.
Democrats in Congress passed a sweeping health care overhaul that became “the largest expansion of government since the Great Society.” Life of Julia, part of the president’s effort to reach female voters during his reelection campaign, shares the life story of a woman that is totally dependent on the government.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her focus during her husband’s time in office. The White House supported changing nutrition standards for school lunch programs in 2010 and is facing push back from districts that claim children aren’t eating the food they are required to provide. The Department of Agriculture has administered the school lunch program since it was passed into law in the mid 1940s. Changes to the program in 2010 increased federal involvement in local school districts.
The recurring theme in these examples is growth in the power of government and decline in the freedom of the individual. As the government grows and takes on more responsibilities it crowds out individual initiative and creates a population that is ever more dependent.
Powerful governments also have powerful incentives for their leaders and bureaucrats to misbehave. A recent example of government misbehavior comes from that most feared of government agencies, the Internal Revenue Service. When conservative groups began to organize against the president they faced additional scrutiny from the IRS. Some activists were asked to describe the content of their group’s prayers when they applied for tax exempt status.
Democrats who are comfortable with the government going after their political rivals should consider what they would be in for if the shoe was on the other foot. Imagine a Republican mirror image of president Obama. Would Democrats accept and defend this conduct in office?
Candidates for public office should be up front about their view of the role of government. It’s all well and good to like puppies but would be legislators, governors, and presidents must work toward a government that serves the people. And the best way our government can serve us is to provide essential services and then stay out of the way.