Friday, November 19, 2010

The 2010 Election Results: Perspectives from the JU Community

This week, the Dolphin Network wants to go beyond blogging to the JU Community. We want to interact with the JU Community, and think we have found the perfect topic to do so: The Midterm Elections

Yes, the results have been in for weeks (except in Alaska and a few other places). However, because of the advent of pundits, rapid-response communication and a 24 hour news cycle, we have come to think of something that happened this long ago as 'old news' when in truth, there are thoughts and reactions to be had that necessitate sitting back, letting things play out, synthesizing the information and then reacting to it.
With this in mind, the Dolphin Network wanted to get a fresh perspective on what these results mean, and wanted to do so from from a couple different angles. So, we asked two JU professors the same questions, and asked them to give us their thoughts based on their area of expertise.
  • Dr. Stephen Baker, Professor of Political Science, provided his comments from the perspective of the political direction the country is / may be heading in.
  • Dr. Nathan Rousseau, Associate Professor of Sociology, provided his comments from the perspective of the electorate as a whole.

However, we want to get a third perspective: The JU Community perspective. 

Over the next couple weeks leading into the new year, we will be using the JU LinkedIn Discussion Group page to collect your thoughts on the election results. So, after reading this post, please visit the page (join it if you haven’t already), and give us your perspective. We expect (and hope) that the responses are diverse, and we just ask that all those that choose to participate do so politely and respectfully.

Here are the questions we would like your thoughts on:

1. From the perspective of your discipline, how will the results of this election effect the direction the United States takes in both the short-term and the long-term?

Professor Baker: The changes in the U.S. House of Representatives resulting from the 2010 elections will be dramatic. First the shift of power will move sharply from Democratic control to Republican dominance; second, each committee—and subcommittee—chair will go from being a Democrat to a Republican. This latter change is particularly important because virtually all congressional work, both legislative and oversight, is done in the committees and subcommittees.

Additionally the Republicans will have the power to conduct any investigation of the executive branch they wish. Frequently the party opposite from the one that controls the White House uses this opportunity to embarrass and frustrate the administration. With the large proportion of new blood among the freshman members of congress—a group chomping at the bit to make substantial change—this becomes a likely scenario.
Professor Rousseau: As a sociologist, I would prefer to not speculate too much on the longer term consequences of the 2010 election. I would say that in the short-term, the election has shown that the Tea Party has some real political capital. However, it is unclear if much of what they ran on will be legislated into law and a source of division both within the Republican Party and the nation. Many people are understandably concerned about the national debt that President's Bush and Obama have run up, what is less clear is the means of lowering it. Many individuals elected in 2010, particularly Tea Party candidates have proposed measures, such as raising the age for social security, cutting back on medicare, phasing out these and other programs like unemployment compensation, proposals that I am not sure the majority want to see enacted. It is clear though that how well Tea Party, Republican, and Democratic legislators can work together will determine if the next two years are productive or detrimental to the nation's wellbeing.

2. Again, from the perspective of your discipline, what specifically will be the biggest change we see between now and the 2012 election season?

Professor Baker: The 2010 election reflects a continuation of a trend indicating large-scale dissatisfaction of voters with the direction of their government that began in 2006. Since then each election resulted in a rejection of the current status: the Republicans as the majority party in both houses of congress in 2006, the past president in 2008 and the Democratic Party control of the House—with a reduction in the Senate—in 2010. The impact will likely be a widespread sense that politics as usual will no longer suffice and ideas that might have previously been unacceptable may suddenly receive serious consideration.

For example, since the 2010 elections three nonpartisan groups have introduced serious proposals for controlling the budget that contain ideas people were previously afraid to consider. All of these serious recommendations, principally submitted by Democrats and Republicans who were part of the earlier balanced budget successes of the late 1990s, have suggested details that were “off the table.” Finally we can realistically discuss limitations to entitlements as well as investigate alternative revenue sources. If the dynamics of the political dialog suddenly become realistic, this will be the biggest short-term and long-term impact.
Professor Rousseau: Again, it depends upon the climate in Washington - whether or not people of different ideological stripes can work together. I do think that the 2012 election season will determine the future of the Tea Party. In order for the Tea Party to endure, they must present a viable presidential candidate. If they fail in doing this, then they are likely to wind up on the pile of failed third parties of American history. What I would like to see happen by 2012 is a revisiting of campaign financing laws. At the present time, election results seem to me to be determined by whoever has the most money. While voters say that they make up their own minds and that they are not influenced by negative political ads, the 2010 election showed an unprecedented amount of money spent on negative advertising. Unless something is done about it, Americans will continue to spend billions on elections while having no money to spend on solving the nation's problems.

Now it is time to hear from YOU. Visit the JU LinkedIn Discussion Group and share your thoughts .

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