Belfast Telegraph

US mid-term elections: Why politicians must stand up for their principles

By Eamonn McCann

The victory of the Republicans in last week's US mid-term elections marked not so much a shift to the right as disillusionment with the flip-flopping Obama administration. That, plus the incompetent deviousness of Democratic candidates.

The Democrats lost eight Senate seats and are very likely to lose another in a run-off in Lousiana. The Republicans also won a series of State gubernatorial polls, including in the supposed Democratic strongholds of Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois.

But the most significant feature was the turnout - 38% of registered voters. Include those who didn't bother to register and the figure plummets to just above 30%. The percentage of 18-29-year-olds casting a ballot was 24%. This wasn't a lurch to the right, but a shrug of the shoulders.

The lesson for politicians elsewhere - including here - is that playing safe on contentious issues is as likely to alienate as to entice voters.

Take sitting Senator Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky. Fearful that association with Obama might dent her chances, she let it be known that she didn't want him to visit Kentucky during the campaign and then refused five times in a single interview to say whether she'd voted for him in 2012.

She had "no reluctancy" to reveal her vote, but was mindful of her "constitutional duty to defend the sanctity of the ballot box".

Others who tried to distance themselves from Obama included Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mike Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Their issue was the Keystone XL pipeline, the final section of a 3,400-mile network intended to pump 830,000 barrels of oil a day from the tar-sands of Alberta to various centres of the US, ending at refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

Environmentalists say that the project would be disastrous. Republicans, believing that fossil fuels are hunky dory and climate change is hooey, want to hear the oil gurgling soon.

Obama had been minded to veto the project. But Senators including Landrieu, Begich and Pryor begged him to postpone a decision until after polling so that they wouldn't have to defend an unpopular policy. Obama set up a commission to investigate and report back in 2015.

The three then laid into Obama. Why was he dithering? Let the sweet oil flow. Landrieu described Obama's behaviour as "irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable". She'd show him just as soon as she was back in Washington.

Begich was "appalled at Obama's continual foot-dragging". Pryor described the President's refusal to give the green light as "simply irresponsible".

These were candidates from Obama's own party, who had begged him to delay his decision so that Republicans couldn't attack them.

What good did this convoluted stupidity do them? All three won fewer votes than Obama had taken in their states in 2012.

Begich and Pryor lost heavily. Landrieu will be in a run-off in December and will lose. (The party has effectively disowned her and withdrawn all funding.)

Voters who turn away from these sorts of antics are not necessarily moving to the right, but giving two fingers to party politicking generally.

Obamacare was assumed to be a liability. But an ABC national exit poll showed 47% saying that the new system went too far, against 48% describing it as either satisfactory (22%) or too timid to enthuse about (26%).

More than half want a 15%, or higher, increase in the minimum wage.

Support for a woman's right to choose is holding steady, 12 points ahead of the "pro-life" side.

As for the belief that Americans don't care about climate change, the latest data from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication show 87% percent for more research, 83% for tax breaks for fuel-efficient cars and solar panels, 77% for stricter regulation of carbon emissions, 65% for cutting emissions by 90% by 2050.

How can this be when the party denouncing Obamacare as un-American, the minimum wage as "socialistic", abortion as murder and climate change a hoax has handily defeated the party advancing what would appear to be the popular view?

One reason must be that a majority of Democrats didn't argue for this view at all, but had backed down from the get-go. Voters weren't convinced the party stood for anything. The parallel with Labour across the water is striking.

The conclusion must be that America at its heart isn't the land of red-neckery often presented to us, but is as diverse as any European country and well ahead in many important ways.

But in a contest between two parties in thrall to big money, only tiny groups with meagre resources offer a genuine alternative.

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