Columns » The Provocateur

Elections bring same ol,' same ol'

Despite changes, things stay the same

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Did you hear that loud, "whooshing" sound that just went by? It sounded almost like a hurricane or tornado-force wind, sucking you into a vortex from which you might not be able to escape.

Well, relax. What you heard was a few hundred million Americans all exhaling at once in a big sigh of relief: We don't have to sit through any more disgusting political TV ads anymore, at least not for a while. (And those of us here in North Carolina contributed more than our fair share of wind, having withstood more than our share of abuse, in the form of a record-breaking $100 million-plus worth of ads in the Hagan-Tillis race alone!) You also heard tens of millions of people getting ready to cheer at the tops of their lungs in complete ecstasy because the Republicans had "swept the bums out" and everything would now be wonderful. Democratic supporters, on the other hand, were sucking in what oxygen was still left before wailing in despair because the world was coming to an end.

But we know, you and I, that both of those latter reactions are a bunch of baloney. The truth is that nothing significant will change over the next two years. Absolutely nothing — if only because President Obama will still be able to wield his veto, which the Republicans won't be able to override.

If you're about to accuse me of coming to that conclusion because I'm a liberal who's trying to minimize "my side's" defeat, you should know that I said the same thing before the voting had come to an end on Nov. 4, when the results were still up in the air. And I knew that because I actually pay attention to American political history.

With very few exceptions, the president's party during his second term in office is virtually doomed to suffer major losses. It happened to Republicans in Ronald Reagan's sixth year in 1986, and George W. Bush's in 2006, when, in both cases, Democrats scored big. By that sixth year, Americans are usually really sick of the president's party. We're an impatient crowd and think things should have gotten markedly better by then. When that doesn't happen, we want blood. The only recent departure from this rule was Bill Clinton's sixth year in 1998 — but in that case, more Americans were angry at congressional Republicans for having impeached him earlier that year for the flimsiest of reasons than were sick of Democrats for not having fixed all of our problems.

And so, going into this year's elections, Democrats were virtually certain to get clobbered. The only real question had to do with the extent of that defeat.

On that account, two things are true: Republicans have been masterful since President Obama took office at completely sabotaging his efforts to accomplish anything, and Obama has proved himself to be a staggeringly ineffective chief executive. Add to that one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history — the Citizens United debacle that made corporations the equivalent to humans and allowed the Koch Brothers (and other rich people) to buy whatever elective offices they chose — along with an electorate that has become so utterly cynical that we don't believe our votes count anymore, and you had the "perfect storm" formula for what happened: a Republican juggernaut.

But here's what didn't happen: The Republicans don't have a mandate to do whatever they want, because a third of the population of this country — the number who actually voted — don't add up to the assertion that "the people have spoken." And here's what's coming next that will be first-rate entertainment: Watching Mitch McConnell and John Boehner struggle to manage their Tea Party extremists when they actually have to attempt to govern now, not just obstruct from the sidelines. (I can't wait!)

What's more, starting now, we get to observe a real blood fest: About two dozen Republicans must now scratch and claw for their party's 2016 presidential nomination. Sure, the Dems will have their version, in deciding whether or not to hand that mantle to Hillary Clinton, but the true fun is going to be on the Republican side of the aisle. Set your DVRs now.

And so, we're left with one last rhetorical question before we put these mid-terms to bed: Is there a single American anywhere who truly believes that these elections will positively impact your life, in a material, concrete, tangible way?

No, I didn't think so. So — who's got next? Ready? Breathe deeply!

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