If you've read my earlier post you'll know i didn't go to the student protest today for a number of reasons.
One of the major ones why i didn't travel down to the protests today was that i wanted to attend an event held at my university called 'Congress to Campus'. The basic premise was that two former congressmen, Jim Kolbe, a Republican member for Arizona in the House of Representatives from 1985 to 2007, and David Minge, a Democrat member for Minnesota in the House of Representatives from 1993-2001, were going to be taking part in a series of lectures and Q&A sessions throughout the day and i went because i felt it'd be useful for the American politics module this year. I'd been braced for it being a pretty dull experience, one of those educational days where you know you're benefiting from being there but it still doesn't really make you feel any better about sitting there. However if i'm honest i quite enjoyed it, the two congressmen came across very well, and due to them being from different parties, often offered nicely varied opinions on a whole range of issues which came up, from the threat of a nuclear Iran to the Tea Party to the realities of working in Congress and the problem's facing President Obama's remaining two years of presidency.
It inspired me to write down in this blog a couple of the things that i've been wondering about when it comes to the politics of the USA and the conclusions i've come to.
Firstly there is something bordering on the paradoxical about the reaction to Obama's first two years that captures the terrible irony of being leader of the United States. Obama has been slated by the right wing press and the Republican party for being a closet socialist forcing his radical left wing agenda down the throats of hard working white Christian Americans, who, while they were choking on his healthcare bill, he mugged so he could pay for abortions for illegal immigrants and terrorists. Oh and he's apparently a Muslim. And not American. The vitriolic abuse he has come in for is to those of us, like me, more used to the relatively subdued conditions of British politics, bordering on terrifying. By attempting to expand healthcare and use a stimulus package to save the American economy from a depression of 1930's proportions he has made himself a target for the entire of conservative America, and alienated huge swathes of American's who loathe government intervention in their lives. He is seen as having done too much, been too aggressive in forcing bills through that the right wing perceive to be not just against the will and consensus of the American people, but actively anti-American. The right wing of America is also doing a genuinely impressive job of ignoring the fact that most of the problems they are now blaming on him, were actually created by the Republican Party and Obama is having to try and clear up their mess.
However left wing commentators and liberal voters feel instead he has done too little, too many of the promises he made during his campaign have failed to be followed through on so far and the liberal left are getting restless waiting. In my opinion that impatience seems to display a staggering ignorance of just how inefficient the American political system is. Because of the separation of powers and the checks and balances laid in place by the constitution it is not as simple as the President wanting something done and getting it done. He has to appease all sides of his own party, both in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and at least try to tempt some of the opposition in to support any bill he wants passed. Creating a bill which will be passed by both houses of Congress is an incredibly delicate and intricate act, yet a lot of people seem to expect Obama just to wave a magic wand and solve all the problems facing America today.
That's not to say Obama has done a great job so far, or couldn't have done more, it's just that it strikes me he was in a no win position from the moment he took office. He'd made a rod for his own back with his euphoric, change promising campaign, and was never going to be able to satisfy all the demands of his party within the first two years of being in office, yet to do less than that seems to be considered failure. And no matter what he did the Republican Party and their increasingly partisan mouthpieces like Fox News were going to attack him and his policies and pretend that the Republican's hold all the answers rather than being the cause of most of the problems.
The other big issue in American Politics is the Tea Party, a collection of like minded extremely right wing conservative Americans who have managed to gain large public support and media attention by advocating small government and huge spending cuts. They are portrayed as a grass roots organisation, spontaneously springing up all over the US in response to Obama's perceived aggressive expansion of state power, spending and control. There is a genuine element of it being a collection of small, localised groups campaigning under a national banner rather than a centralised organisation. However with the rise in media interest and growing involvement of Republican figures (though Tea Party members have been highly critical of much of the Bush administrations actions) it is a serious power as shown by the recent victories in the mid-term elections.
Third Party movements in American politics regularly spring up, full of passion and vigour and often capture the media and elements of the public's attention for a while, but they tend to fade out over time, largely because the Republican and Democrat parties are so heavily established and engrained within American politics that it's very tough for any third party to gather the staying power and support needed to threaten the status quo in the long term. I'm not sure whether the Tea Party will grow and grow or fade away once the economy improves and the anger about the deficit begins to die down, i don't know enough about the specifics of the situation and it didn't seem either congressman i listened to earlier knew either what to predict.
I suspect the more lasting legacy of the Tea Party will be the politicians it thrusts into the limelight like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, as well as the added attention it has given to Sarah Palin.
Overall i'm finding the American Politics module really interesting, and it's had the added and slightly unexpected affect of making me grateful for the political system we have in the UK, despite all it's flaws.