It’s looking rough out there—politically, that is.
President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are at 46 percent. Congress’ are worse. Both ratings, and the general feeling of malaise, are attributable to the inability to get anything done in Washington, D.C., and the myriad troubles abroad. Meaning, it’s sometimes a bit more pleasant to fantasize about what 2016 will bring.
For the public, midterm elections are dull. Turnout is typically low. But 2016? You can look beyond the gridlock and see a debate over whether Hillary Clinton will run again and other possibilities that are more exciting.
But maybe we should get our heads out of the clouds and face the ever toughening political landscape.
It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
On the surface, whether the Democrats maintain control of the Senate seems immaterial. Presently, Democrats struggle to get any progressive legislation through, and what little does make it out gets stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, never to make it to a vote.
On Wednesday, the first day of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 44th Annual Legislative Conference, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) voiced his concern—not for what changes may lay in store in 2016—but for the hellish drama about to unfold this November during the midterms.
“Most of us are not even thinking about 2016. We’re thinking about November,” Cleaver said.
Six Democrats in the Senate are in toss-up races that could go either way, meaning that power in Congress could tilt toward Republican control of both houses. Based on Cleaver’s assessment, one could say that if people thought Congress got nothing done before, they can prepare themselves for unprecedented levels of gridlocked nothingness until 2016.
“It is important for us to understand that it matters who sits in the White House, if only because he or she appoints the federal district court, the courts of appeal and the Supreme Court,” said Cleaver after leaving a panel on black firefighters. “The Senate, with great intentionality, is holding up judicial decisions [on appointees]. Anti-voting court decisions are attributable to the failure of the Senate Judiciary.”
And judges who might be more favorable to fair access to the ballot box aren’t the only things that don’t and won’t come out of Congress. Immigration reform. The DREAM Act. The amendment to restore the Voting Rights Act. These have all been stymied, stalled and stopped by congressional gridlock.
You’d think there would be a bit of the old “throw the bums out” excitement for the 2014 midterms, but voter interest is so low that other than stalwarts like the white 65-and-up vote, there’s a lot of fear in progressive circles that young people, black and brown people, and women—the coalition that got Obama elected twice—won’t bother to vote in 2014.
People may not vote during midterm elections, but they still get legislated—or not—by the Congress they didn’t bother to choose every year.
Washington, D.C., is a city used to gridlock, whether it’s the traffic on the beltway or watching a bill get stalled in the colon of Congress. But if the November elections turn both houses of Congress red, that blockage might need a biopsy.