Talking to my roommate recently about the debt ceiling shenanigans that we just got through, we started discussing the impact that the Republican brinksmanship will have on the upcoming election cycle. Though I think that there’s a majority consensus among pundits and talking heads that the Republicans hold the lion’s share of the responsibility for driving the talks to the wire, and the resulting credit score downgrade, it’s easy to forget how little the punditry consensus matters.
What does matter, rather, is the perception among the general public in November 2012 as to who is responsible for the state of the economy. In past years, this has been a relatively uncontroversial determination: if the economy has been doing well, the majority party can sell their own success, while if it hasn’t the minority party can use the weakened economy as evidence that the majority party’s policies haven’t been working. But in our current political climate, this equation has become much more uncertain. With filibusters at an all time high (and as the last few months have shown), control of the Senate and the Presidency is not a guarantee of getting one’s agenda implemented. The result of this is a dramatic increase in importance of the 51st through 60th Senators.
That’s why it is now more important than ever for voters to be actively engaged with the records of their elected officials. Voters must be able to distinguish between failures or successes caused by having a simple majority in the Senate and failures or successes caused by threats of filibuster, because the two have very different implications for an election.
This would be helped if people could trust their elected officials and news media to provide an accurate portrayal of the political climate. Instead, we get Speaker Boehner saying that President Obama wouldn’t take “Yes” for an answer (which is true, I guess, if the question that Obama was asking was “Can we please structure the debt ceiling increase in a way that will piss off my base as much as possible?”) and the media reporting not the facts of the situation, but the spin that each camp puts out there. With this kind of “he said-she said” portrayal of the process, people are unfortunately subject to the last talking point they heard, because it becomes so hard to verify the reality of the situation. But that’s exactly what needs to be done, if we are to have a government that makes policy that is in the best interest of the nation rather than just in the best interest of their own re-election.