The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘US Senate’

12 For 2012

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2012 @ 20:23

Continuing a fine annual tradition, it’s time to lay down a few markers for the coming year. It’s going to be a busy one, methinks…

  1. Starting at home, with yet another boring prediction, the Coalition will last the whole year. Get used to it, Labourites. It ain’t going anywhere.
  2. The Lib Dems will take a pounding in the local elections, especially in Scottish councils, where they will be wiped only for the saving grace that is a truly proportional electoral system. Predictably, it will all be dismissed, and the Lib Dems will accept it and carry on.
  3. David Cameron will finally conduct a proper reshuffle, though it still won’t be particularly far reaching. Osborne isn’t going anywhere and neither is Michael Gove. Lansley may be moved if the NHS reforms pass successfully to give someone else a chance. He will definitely be removed if they fail. The Lib Dems have such a paucity of front bench talent that there is very little room for manouevre… but maybe Nick Clegg will at least get a real portfolio at last, now the “political reform” agenda has vanished.
  4. Ed Miliband will remain Labour leader, in spite of generally underwhelming election results and another defeat to Boris in the London mayoral election.
  5. In Europe, the Euro crisis will be resolved with a “treaty”. The treaty will not get the UK’s blessing, and the EU will proceed into a closer union without the UK, creating overwhelming calls for an in-out referendum. If it starts looking tempting, expect Labour to back the idea.
  6. France will get a “Socialist” President as Sarkozy plunges to inevitable defeat.
  7. Rick Santorum will win the Iowa caucuses, but Mitt Romney will be the Republicans nominee for President.
  8. Barack Obama will squeak a narrow re-election against Mitt Romney.
  9. The Democrats will either lose control of the Senate or it will be an exact 50-50 tie, with Joe Biden, VP, suddenly finding a reason to exist. The Democrats will not re-take the House, but it will be close. This disastrous deadlock will result in two more years of pathetic governance in the States.
  10. Syria will continue to make a mockery of the West – and the uprising will eventually be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab Spring becomes stillborn, and the tendency towards strong, authoritarian governments in the region will persist.
  11. Iran will successfully navigate the year without there being any progress on disarmament, and there will be no military activity of any sort. However, the West will begin sounding the war-drums, and the useless public will buy it.
  12. And all the while the schizophrenic public will continue to ignore the fact that Afghanistan has been, and will continue to be, a catastrophic failure. More lives will continue to be lost, though Obama will, mercifully, confirm a long, slow, drawdown over the next few years.

And the usual bonus prediction… Manchester City will win this year’s Premier League.

See you at the end of the year!


Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

One-Term Obama?

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 13, 2010 @ 09:41

OK, maybe our expectations were a little too high...

It being a fine Saturday, what better excuse is needed for forgetting about our politics and thinking about politics in America again. Hey, it’s been a while!

The big hooha at the moment in the States surrounds Obama’s apparent further drop in support. Approval ratings are tanking, with them now being some way below the 50% mark, with the latest figure being 46%. Panic buttons are being hit across the Democratic party. Republicans holler with delight. Oh, those early days when this approval was sky high at 69% seem so far away now.

We’re being told that the reason is simple. Americans don’t want Obama’s “socialist” take over of everything, from healthcare to the economy.

Time for a reality check. Obama was elected on the biggest wave of hope and optimism for change America has seen in decades. Obama’s program was by no means radical, being firmly rooted in the centre of American politics (centre-left doesn’t really exist as a concept over there). He looked good, he sounded great. The Americans gave him a thumping mandate, both personally and to his party.

14 months later – yes, that’s all it’s been – Obama’s agenda has stalled. Early small victories came to a crashing halt when the Republicans happened to stumble upon the strategy that has delivered so much success. Do nothing. Stop everything. Use every parliamentary trick in the book to ensure that Obama fails.

Obama has some responsibility for letting his useless Congressional leadership take care of the specifics. They have wasted the biggest opportunity in a generation to use full control of the legislature, having been held to ransom by a handful of truly awful Senators. Obama might have got a bit more involved at an earlier point. And Obama’s insistence on trying to get “bipartisan” legislation is a total waste of time, when the Republicans have no desire to take part.

And why would they? They’re doing awfully well out of Democratic failure to deliver. And now, because Democrats have no spine, the Republicans are able to claim that it’s all the Democrats fault for their internal squabbling and inability to govern. Republicans never needed 60 votes, after all.

To me, the narrative behind the approval ratings failure is simple. The American people wanted change. The American people have not seen any. Approval ratings don’t equate to masses Democrats suddenly wanting to vote Republican. No. It means Democrats lose interest. Republicans get fired up as the feel the tide turning. Independents feel let down by one side and start to consider whether maybe the other side could do a better job after all.

Meanwhile, the approval ratings continue to slide, as the nation gets bored to death by talk talk talk about healthcare reform, with still no delivery or end in sight.

But there was something Obama said last year that he ought to come back to…

President Barack Obama is “quite comfortable” with the prospect of being a one-term president in order to address the issues he is concerned about, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.

If I’m wrong, and greater access to affordable healthcare really is not what the American people want, then Obama probably will be a one-term President.

But I’m willing to bet that if Obama can finally get round to strong arming enough of his errant Congressional party into supporting his reforms, his plans will steadily gather support when the Democrats can start to wheel out the laundry list of things the healthcare package improves for Americans.

The attitude of “I’m going to do what I think is right, because I have no electoral fears” may be the only way out of this mess. So what if you’re a one-term President but massively increased access to healthcare, cut the budget deficit and started the ball rolling on curbing the worst excesses of the insurance companies.

Obama must regain that confidence in his messaging that he displayed during the campaign.

Change takes time. Change takes guts. Change involves a mammoth battle with the vested corporate and selfish interests.

But I’m starting to doubt if Obama has the bottle to do it.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Goin’ Back To Massachusetts

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 20, 2010 @ 15:05

A song about a failing Democratic party being washed away on a tidal wave of apathy...

… sang the Bee Gees. And that’s exactly where failed Democratic candidate Martha Coakley will be staying today, after her humiliating defeat at the hands of the Republican machine.

The Democrat blogosphere is filled with much analysis today. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Reactions have varied from “it was a little local difficulty”, to a warning shot across good ship Obama’s bows, or the downright facetious, arguing Democrats never really had 60 votes anyway

Last night in my last post I was 50-50 about a Democrat win. Hence why I even tempered some of my usual scepticism. If this were an election in Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, i.e. a true swing state, then I would have had no doubts about a Republican win. But Massachusetts? Come on.

Some Democrats are trying to argue the solution now is to be true progressives, and go on a radical binge. Maybe. But Obama’s authority is now deeply undermined. The time to do that was at the start of the Presidency, when his mandate was at its strongest.

Congress, hardly known for its institutional bravery, is going to see this as an excuse to do nothing for the rest of the year. Why should they? After all, they try to do something for the American people and they get it shoved back in their face.

The problem is that, in this case, that is exactly what the Republicans want. Since Day 1, their agenda has been to slow down and stop anything and everything the Democrats want to do, because they know every little victory for the Dems amounts to a much bigger picture of demonstrating the change they want to bring to America.

It would be hard to believe that the American public’s minds have changed all that much in the space of 14 months. Back then there was genuine enthusiasm for a real fight to take down the special interests that are ruining America. How else could Obama have achieved such a ringing endorsement from the people? The message was CHANGE. The outcome has been anything but.

And, of course, I am exaggerating a little. Obama and Congress have indeed brought change over the past year. The verge of healthcare reform, no matter how much of a corporate boondoggle it is, is still an achievement. Actions on fair pay, the winding down of Iraq and Guantanamo, as well as that all important Supreme Court vacancy. Progress. Good stuff.

On the ground, however, circumstances changed. The extraordinary nature and depth of the recession demanded a change of emphasis. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. And laying the smackdown on the banking sector that had just taken the American taxpayer for a serious ride. That would still have all fitted his campaign strategy perfectly.

Obama missed the boat there.

Instead, they got mired in an eight month battle which displayed the worst excesses of partisanship, the divide in the Democratic party, and exposed a massive streak of entrenched special interest lobbying at the heart of the very same party whose ostensible figurehead – Obama – was elected to sort out.

The modern age of politics is as much about the message as it is about actually governing. We decry it, but we can’t deny the reality. Obama has let his agenda get seriously off kilter with what the American public wanted from him. Instead the message got lost, and the only good deeds that were being done were just not enough to sell the change rhetoric to an increasingly disinterested, cynical and misdirected electorate.

I’m sure Cameron’s team will be observing the lessons from Obama’s past year closely…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All Eyes On Massachusetts

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 19, 2010 @ 22:59

No time to blog properly today after a surprising deluge of work, of the piss-taking variety, but my political antennae are currently firmly tuned to the special election for Ted Kennedy’s old seat in the Senate.

If a Republican manages to win, in one of the bluest states in the Union, it will spell curtains for Obama’s midterm efforts in November. It will mean that it is already too late for the Democrats to convince the coalition that brought him to his epic victory in November 2008 to come out for him again.

But it is too early to write the obituaries. Maybe the Democrats will manage it after all. Maybe they’ll even get a stonking win and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Even if they do though, this is a sign of how difficult the fight is going to be this year. The Republicans are strongly motivated. Democrats are beleaguered after a year of internal warfare and ceaseless pandering to the right and the special interests, after being elected on a promise to deliver major reform to the country.

Some might counter that a Democrat loss may be the kick up the backside they need.

Possibly. It’s hard to be sure. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

In any case, Obama is not a man to take risks.

My disappointment rating moves up just another notch…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Back In The US(S)A

Posted by The Futility Monster on December 22, 2009 @ 10:33

Death panels? Sounds like something you get from IKEA...

Because British politics is boring me again – I’ll believe the leaders debate when I see it – it’s time to look at what’s going on in the States…

Recent developments have resulted in the Senate’s leadership managing to give just enough bribes and throw enough of the progressive parts of the legislation into the fire to assure themselves of passage. Having greased the wheels with pork fat, the Democrats now have the 60 votes necessary to break the endless Republican filibuster.

This is good news. While the legislation is an utter dog’s breakfast, it is a step in the right direction. The legislative sausage-making process usually highlights the extreme division between incrementalists and revolutionists. I generally count myself in the latter camp – incremental change is invariably used as an excuse to never reach the goal – but as far as the USA is concerned, there is no such thing as revolution in legislative terms.

The main reason being, of course, the nature of the US Constitution. A constitution I’m a big fan of, except for the obvious bits us lefties hate. Damn you, Second Amendment!

The whole point of the American system is to slow change to an utterly glacial level. Some argue the most radical reforms have come as a result of judicial decisions, and that would be fair comment. And in recent years, the pace has slowed even further due to the extreme lengths Republicans in the minority in the Senate are using the power of the filibuster. The filibuster, which is of debatable constitutionality, and is now the normal order of business, even though that was never its intended purpose.

So getting anything through Congress, in the face of Republican opposition which has sullied the level of the debate to new lows: socialism, death panels, enormous deficits (despite them being created by Bush), is a major achievement. A Republican opposition which chose from the outset to do its best to destroy the healthcare reform agenda rather than engage in a debate the country desperately needs to have.

The worry to liberals like me, however, is that this is probably as good as it’s going to get. And this is why Obama should have engaged harder in this process. He has to appreciate that this is very likely to be his high water mark in terms of the support he’s going to get from Congress. It’s all downhill from here, and by the end of his second term (let’s stay hopeful) he’ll very likely be dealing with a Republican Congress, more right-wing than ever.

What next, then? Well, the hope of progressives has always been that the Senate and the House would come to a compromise between their bills, one very centrist, the other a bit more radical, though still very mild. That isn’t going to happen. The Senate will not accept more than a minor tinker to their version. And the Progressive caucus in the House will give up their pretend opposition to more gifts to the insurance industry, as they always do.

So America will get some healthcare reform. This is very good progress. But there will be no appetite for reopening the issue any time soon.

And meanwhile, other issues will return. Climate change. More stimulus. Immigration reform. More opportunities for the Senate to delay and destroy the only chance America has for genuine reform in the next decade.

Methinks Obama really missed the boat here…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Grow Some Balls, Obama

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 17, 2009 @ 22:55

Wanted: one of these in order to start political revolution...

Wanted: one of these in order to start political revolution...

Time for a little digression into American politics…

For those of us who’ve been following the US healthcare reform debacle, things appear to be coming to a head. The House of Representatives is probably going to insist on a very strong set of reforms, with serious involvement for the public sector. Meanwhile, if the Senate had their way, they’d dump a load of old horseshit on Obama’s desk, a steaming bow-tied turd which might make Rahm Emanuel happy but no one else…

The problem appears to be that the Senate, as usual, is utterly rudderless. Some of this is in their inherent constitutional nature. Too many chiefs… there are so few Senators that almost every member of the majority party has some senior role, chairmanship of a (sub)committee. Meanwhile, there are a gaggle of Republican Senators whom the Democrats appear to spend all their time trying to entice into bed with them. All because the Democrats don’t have the guts to pass anything on their own because they don’t want to take all the blame if it goes wrong.

It’s very unappetising, and a terrible waste of the potential power they ought to be wielding with such dominance of the Executive and Legislative branches; an opportunity that Obama may never enjoy again.

But in truth, it’s classic Obama. Ever the pragmatist, always looking for another way of trying to convince the nation that he is the uniter. Showing us that he does things differently. Wanting to further the pretence that he is ushering in an era of post-partisan politics.

It ain’t happening. How much longer is he going to dance to the tune of the Republican party? A party who clearly have no intention of negotiating anything in good faith. A party that have spent their entire time doing everything they can to undermine him. A party that has no qualms about utter, bare-faced lies about “death panels” and hilarious hyperbole about the socialist era washing across from sea to shining sea.

So why is Obama prepared to continue negotiating, and perpetuating a lie that he needs to, with the “Grand” Old Party? There’s something very wrong about this Democratic notion that somehow, in order to legislate, they need to achieve supermajorities when the Republicans didn’t. Are they trying to hold some sort of moral high ground? Maybe.

But, sadly, such a position is not going to solve the shocking healthcare crisis America suffers from. It’s not going to be any good if healthcare reform fails and President Obama says:

Well, we nearly did it. But, despite having large public support, and having a supermajority of 60 Democrats in the Senate… oh and it being a major part of my mandate in the 2008 election… well, we just couldn’t quite do it.

I thought Obama was all about achieving the unachievable. Of reaching for the dream when all hope seems lost.

Suddenly, when it comes to riding roughshod over the vested interests of a handful of greedy Senators, he seems to have hit a brick wall, unable to expose them to the cruel light of public scrutiny, blaming them for their closeness to the vested special interests and being such a cosy little members club. Perhaps he didn’t spend long enough in the Senate to realise how it works: they’re all in there to feather their own nests.

If Obama suddenly hung out some of these Senators – enjoying their moment in the sun to absorb some extra financial contributions from the healthcare industry – out to dry, I suspect things would start moving again.

Obama needs to start throwing his weight around more in public. He needs to start exerting the moral authority of his office to achieve his agenda. He cannot sit back and hope the Congress produces the legislation he wants. He has the rhetorical ability to lead. He won the Presidential election, for goodness sake.

FDR did it. LBJ did it.

Times are so tough in America that they need the same kind of mentality from their President in order to get things done.

Otherwise, in one or three years time, Obama will have a Republican Congress to deal with.

And do you think they’ll be in any mood for “bipartisanship”?

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All Hail Senator Franken

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 7, 2009 @ 19:44

George Galloway enjoyed himself at the US Senate. Would we ever see a similar piece of political theatre here?

George Galloway enjoyed himself at the US Senate. Would we ever see a similar piece of political theatre here?

We’re still finding our feet around these parts. So far we’ve mostly covered Westminster politics, but that isn’t all the Monster is interested in. You got a brief taste of that yesterday – social and educational policy are particularly high on my personal agenda.

But another thing that fascinates me is American politics – as my various friends from years gone by can attest. And as this is my gaff, it’s going to be something we’ll cover. But sort of from a UK comparative perspective – if you see what I mean.

Today marks the conclusion of an election campaign that began almost two years ago; but even worse, a counting process that began on the 4th of November 2009. Eight whole months. And it could have gone on longer.

I’m talking about today’s swearing-in ceremony of Senator Al Franken. I’ve always been something of a fan of Al ever since I read his books Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, The Truth (With Jokes) and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. He’s a genuinely funny political satirist, but one who has used that to outline his own progressive agenda. That’s quite unusual – since most satirists are in it just to attack anyone they can. Much as it’s fairly clear what Rory Bremner’s agenda is, he never actually sets it out and his arguments in favour of it…

But Al Franken is the perfect example of what American politics is all about: name recognition and celebrity. Especially in the Senate. 100 individuals, good and true, who are some of the biggest political celebrities in American politics. After all, the big three candidates in the last US Presidential election all came from there. John Kerry in 2004 as well. And at each election cycle, Senators are always in the mix. Though Obama is the first Senator to be elected President since JFK, it is a central part of American political culture, and definitely one path to the Presidency.

His election demonstrates once again the way Americans are more at ease with allowing the individual personality of candidates to shine through, compared to our almost entirely party-orientated system here. Though we like to make much of the so-called incumbency factor of Lib Dem MPs, the individual level of politics in the USA allows for true incumbency to shine through, when usually upwards of 90% of politicians at the federal level are re-elected.

But here we’re far more cynical. When someone tells you they’d like to become a councillor or an MP, the first response is usually “Why would you want to do that when they’re all such liars?”. The idea of going into politics as a public service is dead in this country. But, in America, it is a highly desirable profession. Why else would a comedian, or any businessman, or any number of other professions, be so interested in pursuing political office? Yes, maybe some of it is an ego-trip, just because they can (for example, Mitt Romney’s campaign to be US President in 2007/8).

On the whole, however, it is genuinely seen as a noble and honourable thing for someone to do – to want to serve their community. That’s why there is so much respect for people like Senators John McCain, Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Richard Lugar, etc.

Do British politicians get the same respect? Of course not. But I’ve no doubt that the majority of them have the same interests of their constituents at heart. But we don’t hear all that much about it.

I wonder why.

Then again – at least we don’t have to wait eight months to find out who won an election.

Some you win, some you lose.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »