A quick look at the "Big Picture" going into the 2014 Midterm Elections
Saturday, March 1, 2014
by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
Next Tuesday (4 March), the State of Texas holds its Primary Elections that will nominate candidates for State and local office as well as the Federal Congress. With this, eight months of 2014 Midterm Election politicking truly begins (even though, of course, candidates on the ballot in these Primaries in Texas [as well as Illinois, holding its Primaries but two weeks thereafter] have certainly already been campaigning), itself only ending with the General Election come Tuesday 4 November of this year.
In a sense, a Midterm Election in the United States is very much an "Exhibition Season"- the political equivalent of what professional Baseball here in America calls "Spring Training"; while, unlike in the case of the latter, its "games" do count in the political "Standings" (after all, how many seats each Party holds in each house of Congress [or in each State's legislative chamber(s)]- how many Governor's Chairs each Party ends up with- as, in this case, 2014 becomes 2015 is a rather important key to understanding just how America- on the State, as well as Federal, level- will be governed for the next two years), the 2014 campaign and its results- very much like a string of "Exhibition Games" preceding a given sport's "regular season"- will allow us to examine just who might best carry the Democratic or Republican "team" to, perhaps, the ultimate "championship"- residence in the White House- come January 2017.
And, as in games played by sports teams, a lucky bounce of the ball here- an unfortunate misplay there- may well mean the difference between "making the cut" as a "player" or "getting cut"!
Opportunities for such bounces and/or misplays as 2014 goes along there will be aplenty, for the United States of America is not so much a country- that is: a Nation-State in the usual sense of the term- so much as it is the core of an 'Empire'... or- rather, historically speaking- three successive such 'Empire's, as follows:
It is the politicoeconomic and sociocultural ebb and flow within- as well as the many slings and arrows (perhaps literal, as well as figurative) from without- this "3rd American 'Empire' " that is ever in play.
Unlike the first two of its 'Empire's, this 3rd 'American Empire' is not an Imperium, in which the Federal Government of the United States of America has direct- at least, political- control over said Imperium's components; rather, the 3rd 'American Empire' is a Constellation: that is, a mere collection of allies and protectorates which, if only from time to time, can tell the "Emperor" (the President of the United States and his/her Administration) just where to "stick it" and- more or less (again, from time to time)- get away with it... yet, these same allies and protectorates know (and, in many cases, have even come to expect) that the USofA will- again, more or less- "have their back" when the proverbial "excrement" first reaches the proverbial "air conditioner" (if you know what I mean!)...
in truth, the United States (as the metropole of this Constellation) has to do just that (like it or not!)- not only to, thereby, maintain that which forms the essence of its 3rd 'Empire', but also because (in the main, if not also in the end) the USofA has the only real means of even doing so: for it alone currently has the only "blue-water Navy" that can, most effectively, patrol and police- in, more or less, real time- the three "trading oceans" across the Globe (the Atlantic, the Indian and the Pacific); it is this self-proclaimed "Global Force for Good" that primarily makes sure that, say, those giant floating boxes filled with oil and called "tankers" can most safely get crude oil from where it has been pumped out of the ground to a refinery far across the seas from that location.
So much for the position of the United States of America in relation to the outside world (which- no matter what- certainly cannot be at all ignored during the Midterm Election campaign this year): but what about what might now be going on within the USofA (the very federation that is its 'Empire's metropole) itself-- more particularly, amongst and between what are now fifty (count 'em- 50!) States of the American Union (including 2 that are not part of those "contiguous 48" stretched across that territory acquired as part of America's 1st 'Empire'), not to also mention that District of Columbia which has, for over two centuries now, been the very seat of all three of America's historical 'Empire's?
More than three decades ago now, journalist Joel Garreau identified (hence the very title of his book on the subject) The Nine Nations of North America-- but his was not at all a systematic account: the borders of his "Nations" were those that were more 'felt' or 'sensed' (though he did capture at least the surface essence of the differences between such "Nations": his book came out less than half a decade after I [then in my early 20s] had accompanied my best friend from high school on a week-long visit to his father's native Kentucky, a trip during which I well knew I- born in Connecticut, raised on Staten Island and then North Jersey- wasn't really "at home" [even though the people there flew the same striped flag with stars in its blue canton that I did and even accepted, as payment for food and other services, the same green pieces of paper with pictures of dead Presidents and other American Statesmen that I could use for same back home])-- Garreau's was also not an historical overview: rather, it was just a different way of looking at that which, say, John Gunther in his seminal Inside U.S.A. had attempted to most fully discern over a generation before: a "snapshot", as it were, of the differences between North American regions.
Much more recently, we have journalist/historian Colin Woodard's American Nations (subtitled A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America [the difference between the number of Woodard's "Nations" and those of Garreau are largely the byproduct of Garreau having largely ignored the (re)emerging Native American 'Nation' in the far north of Canada (as well as Alaska and Greenland) and Woodard subdividing what, in Garreau, were single 'Nations' among those first appearing on the Eastern Seaboard (Woodard also doesn't include South Florida's strong connection to the Caribbean and Latin America among his 11 North American 'Nations' while Garreau did among his own 9)]) in which- among many other things, of course- Woodard emphasizes the important role of those he calls 'Borderlander's (because they emigrated from the borderlands of the British home islands [Scotland and Northern Ireland] to become the 'Scots-Irish' of Appalachia) in the American Revolution, an observation as salient as historian Jackson Turner Main's concept of such upland 'Localist's ever challenging, politically, the 'Cosmopolitans' along the coast during the years leading up to the adoption, and implementation, of the Constitution of the United States itself. (Woodard, by the way, also well postulates that the phenomenon of people in rather large sections of an American State not all that much paying attention to what might emanate from the State Capital has a long history going well back into the Colonial Period [including, here, those Spanish colonies in what is now the American Southwest]).
The point here is that sectional and regional divisions within the metropole of the 'American Empire' still matter- no, the American Civil War certainly did not at all end these- and that these still play an ever important (however, at times, disruptive [where not also even disturbing!]) role within American Politics (and not just on the national level, for many a State- whether one accepts Garreau's or Woodard's 'national borders'- is divided between two or more respective such 'Nations').
Thus, the United States of America, as a federation, is not really a "political state" but, instead, much more of a "geopolitical entity"- and not all that much less so than, say, is the European Union- in which competing 'Nations' jockey for positions of power within what is otherwise a Federal system (the chief difference being that- besides today's EU being, more or less, the USofA's rather ornery child-becoming-young adult [in fact: using the institution of the EU itself to distance itself further and further from the "shadow" of its "parent"]- the EU is made up of independent Nation-States still recognized as such under the rubric of "International Law", while the USofA presents itself to the World as a single, independent Nation-State, however it be a federated one).
In truth, all large federations- such as the United States is- are "geopolitical" in nature more so than they might be merely "political" in this regard: Canada and even Mexico (as both Garreau and [even more effectively, or so I would argue] Woodard point out) is also at least somewhat sundered by many of the same 'Nations' that so potentially rend the USofA itself.
The Russian Federation, to take one obvious example, is a pretty good (however this might well cause the reader to blanch!) illustration of the quintessential "geopolitical state": just take a look at a map of the Russian Empire in the late 18th Century (that is: between the First Partition of Poland of 1772 and the Second and Third of 1793 and 1795, respectively)-- that Empire's very geographical outline rather closely follows that of today's early 21st Century Russian Federation (the principal exceptions [here putting aside any rather minor variants] being now-once again independent Estonia, along with northern what-is-now Latvia and eastern what-is-now Ukraine, including the Crimea [this last being most interesting in light of very recent events as I now type this up at the very end of February 2014] having been within the Czarist Empire of that era and the Russians not yet having integrated the Chuckchi people of far northeastern Siberia into the Czarist Realm). Thus, since first coming to power as the World celebrated the new Millennium, Vladimir Putin has faced much the same tensions within his own realm as "elected Czar" as once had Czarina of All the Russias Ekaterina II ('Catherine the Great')-- but, in Putin's case, he must himself deal with a veritable cacophony of oblasts stretched across a vast land linking two continents, not to also mention all those primarily ethnically-based areas set aside as Autonomous Republics (at least some of these outright hostile to Russian rule), okrugs and krays!
Albeit different in degree, perhaps, largely because of a quite different political and economic (not to also mention social and cultural) history (as well as the USofA operating constitutionally in a manner nowhere near as autocratic as the Constitution underpinning Putin's own regime)- but, certainly, not all that different in kind- both the current President of the United States, Democrat Barack Obama, and his predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, have had to (throughout all that period during which Putin has led Russia [whether as President or Premier]) deal with much the same cacophony (in their respective cases: not only of Sections and Regions, but also of States and Counties and- if only at times- even smaller Civil Divisions), as the United States of America is, in truth, a rather restive metropole of a quite restless 'Empire' over which said metropole has much influence but which it cannot directly govern. Max Lerner's dictum (from his America as a Civilization) 'New York is not America-- but neither is any place else' has its more global counterpart: "America is not the World, even the Free World-- but neither is anywhere else"...
and this much must be well kept in mind as the 2014 Midterm Election campaign proceeds apace.
Yet, at the same time (as my own bullet-pointed outline of American "imperial" History above should surely show), this is nothing all that really new! For the political struggle accompanying the transition from America's 2nd 'Empire' to its 3rd and, now, beyond dates back nearly a century to when then-President Woodrow Wilson first unsuccessfully pushed for the USofA to become a linchpin of the then-new League of Nations.
Indeed, not a lot of what those various and sundry political groups and organizations denominated as 'Tea Party' today say about contemporary issues of the day is particularly original but, in fact, has roots which can be lineally traced to much of the political rhetoric we now tend to lump together as 'Back to Normalcy' in the immediate aftermath of World War I. And this is hardly surprising, considering that the 'Tea Party'- for the most part- presents itself (in its many and various guises, the movement hardly being monolithic) as the truest Conservatism in contemporary America and, by virtue of its very name, Conservatism seeks to "conserve" and not at all "innovate": thus, much of what was once said- by those to the Right in the political spectrum here in the United States- about Immigration, American Social and Cultural Norms and the like back in, say, 1919 and 1920 well foreshadows what we now hear from many a 'Tea Party' supporter, group or candidate...
which does not at all prove such 'Tea Party'ers either right or wrong, mind you: simply that their positions run a stronger risk of becoming mere jeremiad (where it is not already such) destined to fall on deafest ears within the general American electorate as we now go through 2014 and on towards the next Presidential Election in 2016.
Thus, the 'Tea Party' movement- in all its myriad of forms, depending on just which 'Tea Party'er is doing the talking- is at something of a crossroads going into the 2014 Midterm Election Primary "season": although, yes, it harbors ideas, ideals and rhetoric hearkening back to at least 1920 (as well pointed out in historian Allan Lichtman's recent White Protestant Nation: the Rise of the American Conservative Movement), the current variants thereof ("I want my Country back!") date back only to the candidacy and then election of Barack Obama and owe their very 'Tea Party' name to- rather than the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773- a far more recent, as well as rather plaintive, cry of a business reporter covering the Commodities market for television!
That movement had its most notable successes in the 2010 Midterms- when it aided (although it did not alone actually cause) the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Democrats who, themselves, had only controlled it for the preceding two Congresses: a GOP control maintained, in the 2012 Federal Elections, despite the concomitant re-election of President Obama; but it could not dislodge the Democrats from control of the United States Senate in either 2010 or 2012 (in large part because, by very constitutional design, the Senate was ever intended as being a quintessential "second chamber"- one that is intended to moderate the political passions heard within the first ['Are you really sure we want to do this?!'], its function within the Constitution of the United States that the self-proclaimed 'Constitutionalists' within the "Tea Party" find most frustrating [despite their purported love for, where not also "defense" of, this Nation's core fundamental document])
2014, then, will largely tell us all- as we receive the Election Returns from, first, Republican Primary Elections across the country and then the General Election itself come the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November this year- just where the 'Tea Party' (again, in its myriad forms: it is not, by any means, a monolith!) stands, both within- as well as without- the Republican Party US. Just where this newest Populist variant within Lichtman's 'American Conservative Movement' is, once the proverbial "dust settles" after this coming 4 November, will go far in painting the American political landscape- both within the Grand Old Party in particular, as well as generally- heading into the 2016 Presidential Election "sweepstakes".
As for the Grand Old Party itself: it is even more at that "crossroads" than the 'Tea Party' nipping at its heels like some Border Collie. The 'Tea Party' has had even more success marginalizing- where not even purging- those they decry as 'RINO's ("Republicans In Name Only")- meaning: more moderate Republicans who tend to have a more "Big Picture" outlook, both economically and geopolitically, than those within the 'Tea Party' of more narrow mind. Plainly put: the Republican Party of the United States- as an institution- has to, by the time Americans go to the polls to vote for (well-- in reality, as we here at The Green Papers constantly remind our users-- Electors from every State and the District of Columbia, themselves [however much they be "rubber stamps" for the Parties that have actually chosen them to do this job] alone empowered to actually choose the next) President of the United States come Tuesday 8 November 2016, figured out just what its own political identity really is!
So, 2014- its Primaries as well as the General Election- will go a long way towards sorting out the ever-contentious relationship between the 'Tea Party'ers, the more moderate 'RINO's and the Establishment that actually runs (though one is here sorely tempted to type "owns") the Republican Party US (a GOP Establishment that leans far more 'RINO' than 'Tea Party') as we also look forward to 2016.
Meanwhile, as for the Democrats: while they might, at first, appear monolithic (which is what the various 'Tea Party' factions attack them as being: a Monolith on the Left [or, as these 'Tea Party'ers might put it-- far Left: then again, those more towards the fringes of the political spectrum almost always paint those closer to the center as being "fringe-y" themselves as part of an (more often than not, failed) effort to appear more "mainstream" (though, of course, not too mainstream!)]), in truth leading the Democrats (and, especially, liberal-to-left self-proclaimed "Progressives" within that Party) is no less like "herding cats" than it would be for anyone among the Republicans who might well try to gather at least most of the 'Tea Party' into a single political campaign.
For the Democratic Party US- as has been its history since even well before the New Deal- is ever split between various liberal-to-left factions (from the "pointy-head" amongst those 'Progressive' to 'liberal' Populism [so obviously different from the 'Tea Party' vision of Populism]) and at least one "pragmatic" wing (where not more than one). And, as has been the case now for nearly two dozen Presidential Election cycles, the person who might wish to become the Presidential Nominee of this self-defined 'Party of the People' must- by very definition- well negotiate his or her campaign through the strongest of rapids- where not also dangerous rocks and shoals- ever thrown up above the political waves by so many definitions of what it means to be a Democrat [not to mention, since the 1970s, those very issues presented by strictest enforcement of Proportional Distribution with the Dems' own National Convention Delegate Selection rules], even in early 21st Century America (by contrast: 'Tea Party' vs. 'RINO' on the Republican side is much more the proverbial "zero-sum game" [if only because those Republicans who self-define as being in neither such GOP camp can so calmly sip their cocktails and/or wine as they sit in their respective comfy chairs whilst observing such goings-on within their own Party from afar]).
Yet the fact remains that President Obama faced no significant challenge from his left (despite the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement and the like) in his bid for renomination and, ultimately, his successful campaign for re-election. And it seems that the Democrats are content, going into the 2014 Midterm campaign, to pretty much run on what they've been running on since Obama first became President and then managed to get his signature policy- now, seemingly forever, denominated 'Obamacare'- through both Congress and the Federal Judiciary: the Democrats of 2014 (and, pretty much, regardless of faction/wing) will continue to defend the policies of the Obama Administration generally (though, obviously, each candidate- in either Primary or General Election- will put his or her particular "spin" on such defense in order to respond to those local constituencies which will be voting as such this year)...
what 2014 will tell us, then, is whether or not the Democrats so doing will at all be a viable national political strategy come 2016!
Above all else, and by very virtue of 2014 being a Midterm- and not a Presidential- Election, we must never forget that most famous political dictum of the late U.S. Speaker of the House "Tip" O'Neill that, in the end, "Politics is Local"-- which is precisely why I spent so much time well delineating the relationship of "metropole to 'Empire' "- as well as noting that the American metropole itself is no monolith (despite all its parts having been so federated within something called 'the United States of America')- much earlier in this piece.
There will, of course, be those more 'Tea Party'-friendly sections and regions (even Garreau/Woodard-style 'Nation's) within the country, while other similar areas of the USofA will still churn out (much to 'Tea Party' disgust) 'RINO's as their duly elected representatives; meanwhile, there will also be those parts of the country that will elect liberal 'Progressive's, others will elect liberal Populists, while still others will elect "pragmatic" Democrats. And, of course, there will ever be those political "battlegrounds"- places which will well produce all due political struggle within each of the two Major Parties, as well as between these Parties...
All in all, what 2014 will ultimately produce- come its 4 November- is something of a "political map" of the United States (albeit an ever-fluctuating one, even after all the election returns from that day have come in) that will provide some kind of "guide" as to where the two Major Parties themselves might be heading as they each, thereafter, seek to put forth their respective potential President of the United States come 2016...
and the filling in of colors on that map (red, blue, purple-- even [if one might wish to further delineate intra-Party political divisions], say, green or yellow) begins anew this coming Tuesday-- in Texas.