Political prices to pay in US

February 17, 2010 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Feb 18 – American voters, stalked by high unemployment and disgusted by a fetid political mood in Washington, are in the mood for vengeance as the political world braces for November\’s mid-term polls.

A tide of popular anger has been building for months over the logjammed US Congress, the lingering pain of the worst economic crisis in generations, and the endless political bickering that rages no matter how bad things get.
It is not just voters who have had enough.

Prominent Democrat Evan Bayh, once seen as a possible future president, decided on Monday he could take it no more and shelved his bid for a third term as a senator from Indiana.

Bayh\’s goodbye came with a withering critique of Washington politics, which has reduced President Barack Obama\’s once-soaring agenda to a crawl.

"Ultimately, the American people ourselves need to decide that we care more about practical solutions and progress than we do about brain-dead ideology and partisan wrangling," Bayh told CNN on Tuesday.

Bayh is not alone in his despair: many retiring lawmakers from both parties, have expressed similar sentiments. Polls meanwhile show that the public is even more revolted by the petty politicking in Congress.

Anger at Washington is a recurrent theme in US politics, and Congress is rarely popular, but a recent CBS/New York Times survey revealed that only 19 percent of voters approved of the job Congress was doing.

While majority Democrats are slightly less unpopular than Republicans in most polls — the prevailing sentiment is a plague on both their houses.

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll on Tuesday found that only a third of US voters think most members of Congress should be reelected this year — the lowest level ever recorded in the survey.

So much for Obama\’s vow to change the political culture of bickering and gridlock in Washington when he took office in a wave of optimism a year ago.
But who will pay the price for the voters rage: Obama, his Democratic allies in Congress, or the Republicans who have perfected the game of obstruction?
"There is a general rage against incumbents… I can\’t recall a time when it was quite as widespread and as bipartisan a sentiment as it is now," said Bruce Buchanan, an elections expert at the University of Texas.

Most analysts believe Democrats will have a tough time in November, paying the price for being in power, at a time of deep voter anger, though it is unclear if their control of both the House and the Senate could be threatened.

History suggests that first-term, mid-term elections almost always give new US presidents a bloody nose.

But data produced by scholars at the American Presidency Project at the University of California suggests the damage is greatest when a president is unpopular.

Just before the mid-terms in 1982, Ronald Reagan\’s Gallup approval rating stood at 42 percent, and his Republicans lost 26 House seats.

In 1994, former president Bill Clinton\’s approval was 48 percent in late October, and his Democrats shed 52 House seats and eight Senate seats in a Republican rout.

But in 2002, then president George W. Bush was riding a wave of post-September 11 popularity, and his party actually added seats in Congress.
"One of the ways (a president) can minimize the erosion, is to be as popular as possible," said Buchanan.

In recent days, a period that has coincided with his public attempts to reach out to Republicans — Obama\’s approval rating has ticked up.

His latest Gallup daily tracking poll rating was 52 percent, and his disapproval ratings fell seven percent in recent days to 41 percent.

The story of this intriguing political year might lie in which party can best exploit, or mitigate the angry public mood.

Obama has invited Republicans to a White House "summit" on his stalled health care plan — a tactic apparently designed to show the US public on live television that his foes are simply bent on a negative obstruction strategy.

The move is also an apparent attempt to capitalize on polls that consistently show Americans want their politicians to work together, however deep the divisions cleaving the US capital.

Republicans are meanwhile seeking to use their power to block the Obama agenda, branding it as an attempt to impose a big liberal government on wary voters, now Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority.

They are also seeking to forge tactical links with the radical conservative "Tea Party" movement, which has emerged from the grass roots to challenge Obama\’s agenda.


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