What’s Left: Going Nowhere East

Some say the voters were mad. Others blame the Democratic base that never mobilized. Still others simply hate the President. Many chalk it all up to the economy. Maybe all of the above. But one thing, the outcome, is certain: the United States House of Representatives has swung overwhelmingly right.

Yet even as likely new Speaker of the House John Boehner promises repeals of key reforms like healthcare, tax cut extensions and (not or) a balanced budget, we must remember that the nation’s first black president will now be forced to work with the nation’s first orange speaker (have you seen his tan?). The Democratic majority in the Senate, however narrow, will not cooperate with these sweeping plans. If, by some strange miracle, any of these initiatives make it out of conference committee and off Capitol Hill, President Obama will meet it fast and hard with a veto.

In the short time since the election, Republican leadership has already promised to act on what it is framing as a sweeping mandate. But Mitch McConnell and especially Mr. Boehner must reconcile with the reality that the right-wing agenda that gave Republicans a House majority is a political impossibility. This is the gridlock that the founding fathers wanted when they established a bicameral legislature. But with a right-shifted House in the GOP’s control, can we truly expect moderate compromises in the name of progress? Or perhaps the 112th will prove that the opposite of pro is con, and the opposite of progress is Congress.

In any case, both parties are now at risk going into the 2012 elections. Democrats will blame the hell-no-House as the reason for the imminent legislative stagnation. Republicans will claim a mandate and argue that the Democrats are ignoring the will of the people.

But Republicans must be careful not to mistake their victories as a mandate. Polls suggest that Obama is more popular than Congress. In Congress, both parties polled very poorly. This suggests an anti-incumbent and anti-establishment anger more than any anger directed at any particular party. Much in the same way that liberals were disappointed by the ultimately mod­erate agenda of President Obama, conservatives and Tea Partiers may find themselves wonder­ing where all the passion and fire went if Mr. Boehner and his buddies decide to cooperate on easier, fluffier bipartisan issues like education.

President Obama’s agenda is in jeopardy. He will not be able to deliver on big issues like immigration, energy and climate change. But Republicans will not get their sweeping repeals of all things Obama either. The GOP has promised to fundamentally change government and Washington, but we can’t really expect either party to deliver in these circumstances.

Change is a hot-button word sitting on a bed of ice. The march of progress has been frozen: the left will be unable to proceed forward, and at least until 2012, the right will be unable to take us back to the failed policies of a decade of decline. I hope everyone is comfortable where we are, because nothing is going anywhere soon.