There will be a lot of raking through Tuesday’s mid-term election results in America with a view to guessing the future and also making comparison’s with the past. Already it is being suggested that the successive losses in the Senate and House of Representatives in this and the previous elections two years ago, giving the Republicans strong majorities in bother upper and lower house, are the biggest defeats suffered by any president since Truman in 1948 and 1950 as many of Obama’s critics have gleefully been quick to point out. However, in 19 out of 28 mid-terms in the twentieth century, the incumbent presidents (Republicans as well as Democrats – and including even Eisenhower and Reagan) did badly. But if the votes reflect on the president, then President Obama might very well be judged (as Truman often was) as a failure – certainly he will be a “lame duck” president from now on, and while he will struggle to get legislation past, he has also already indicated that he may have to wield his power of veto to block Republican measures.
History, however, may judge Obama more kindly than the voters and some of the reporters – like Truman (and Carter) he has achieved quite a lot. His biggest success might well have been getting elected in the first place given the vitriol his name often attracted from the conservatives subsequently. Nowhere can the term “socialist” be bandied around more carelessly than in America as it has often been with reference to Obama’s policies; nowhere can veiled (and sometimes less than veiled) racist terms be used to describe the head of state. The voters seem to have ignored the fact that Obama has produced the biggest shake-up of health care provision in the US – something first called for by Truman; he has also seen the country slowly emerge from recession and unemployment gradually fall. The shale gas “revolution” appears to have helped this process.
The mid-term results also produced some interesting results – and some other echoes of the past. Tim Scott became the first black senator elected from the South since Hiram Revels from Mississippi in 1870. Like Revels Scott is a Republican (in the 1870s the Republicans were the party of Lincoln, and the Democrats were the conservatives, and southerners). Mia Love has become the first black Republican woman elected to the House of Representatives – she is from Utah. Love is one of the more than 100 women to serve in Congress – but it looks as if there still only be 20 in the Senate. One of the newly-elected Republican women senators is Joni Ernst, the first time Iowa has sent a woman to the upper house. Ernst famously used her farming back ground in her bid for election, and has promised to make the politicians in Washington squeal. It will be interesting to see whether she does – and if she (like Sarah Palin before her) emerges as a presidential candidate in 2016 – because. of course, these results will have a great bearing on that election – many Democrats must now wonder if any of them would stand a chance in the present climate. But two years is a very long time in politics, particularly in the USA where the mood can change very quickly – as Truman demonstrated in 1948!