Second chances for the second-rate

The Critic Who Counts

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Here’s to second chances, I guess.

Congressional approval ratings reached record lows this year, according to a September Gallup poll. Widespread ambivalence toward President Barack Obama’s first term in office dominated American political discussion from 2009 until the 2012 elections, affirmed by job approval ratings that hung around 48 to 50 percent for much of this year. On top of all that dissatisfaction, a firm majority of Americans held and continue to hold the opinion that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

It might seem a vote-the-bums-out attitude should have prevailed as Americans participated in their democratic right to referendum last night. With all the hubbub and overblown drama of this election cycle, it might have also seemed logical for the face of American government to change at least a little. When democratic leaders are unpopular or their policies and politics fail, they’re supposed to lose office.

But that didn’t happen Tuesday night.

Despite the sluggish economy and his controversial health care legislation, Obama won re-election fairly easily. Congress, despite approval ratings that dipped down nearly into single digits, looks remarkably the same as it did before. Not only did Democrats retain a majority in the Senate and Republicans maintain a majority in the House, but just 23 incumbents of the total 535 members of Congress were ousted in this year’s elections, as called by the Associated Press Tuesday night.

Essentially, Americans voted for the status quo.

Maybe we bought the president’s it’s-all-Congress’-fault spiel, or maybe Mitt Romney was just too phony for the middle class. Maybe Republicans focused too much on anti-Obamaism to win the Senate and Democrats didn’t think creatively enough to make gains in the House. Maybe “Hope and Change” won again yesterday, or maybe the pandering cluelessness of Democrats looked like a better option than the demagogic political manipulation of the GOP.

Obama didn’t change the political landscape of the United States, but he stood out in contrast to a GOP that couldn’t see past the fact that Obama wasn’t one of them. Compared to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, the “Young Guns” — and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, too — President Obama stood for maturity and cool-headed leadership in a sea of floundering, partisan, out-gunned and overwhelmed legislators.

Election season is over now. The government has been established, and it’s time to move on. The curtain must fall on the election-style drama that never seemed to fade after 2008. It’s time to get down to the day-to-day work of democratic leadership — the riveting drama must be forgotten, and the mind-numbingly boring life of the policy wonk must be embraced. Leaders in both the current congressional session and the next simply need to start governing.

Here’s to hoping the next four years are more productive, more focused and more deliberate than the last. Here’s to hoping Barack Obama gets his mojo back and that the House and Senate finally start talking to each other again. Here’s to hoping Americans have their faith restored by a government that honors, shapes and leads public opinion with courage and resolve in all 50 states.

Here’s to second chances and the redemption that follows.

Image Source: Barack Obama via Creative Commons

Contact Connor Grubaugh at [email protected]