Column: Divided government reveals America’s indecision

Here is my first take on the mid-terms. I’ll have more to say later.

On Tuesday, the US electorate spoke pretty clearly about what it does not want. It does not want slow economic growth, continuing financial distress, and persistently high unemployment. A sufficient number of voters also said that they do not want a transformative policy agenda of the kind that Barack Obama has lately dangled in front of the most committed Democrats in an effort to get them to the polls. What voters have yet to decide is what they do want – and therein lies a large problem for their country.

See also Bill Galston

Much depends on the strategy President Barack Obama himself adopts, and then announces in his 2011 state of the union address next January. Like Bill Clinton after his November 1994 mid-term defeat, Mr Obama must decide what balance to strike between conciliation and confrontation. He will have to give some ground he would rather not; if he resists everything the new Congress enacts, he risks a negative public reaction. He will have to pick his fights carefully, and with a tactical flexibility and attentiveness to the public mood that has not been his strong suit up to now.

…and Chris Caldwell.

[F]or Republican candidates there is no longer any such thing as being too close to the Tea Party. (Although Tea Party activists have presumably learnt a lesson about getting too close to candidates such as O’Donnell.)

A pessimistic Republican, however, might say that the organisational limits of the Tea Party have been revealed. The group’s strength is its leaderlessness, its informality, its lack of hierarchy, which makes it a powerful engine of grassroots organising. Possibly it is of less electoral use in situations that require co-ordinated action and complicated logistics, like a Senate race in a populous and varied state like Pennsylvania. For that sort of operation, a big corporate operation of the sort Republicans perfected under Karl Rove may still do the trick better. This could as easily be an argument for scaling the Tea Party up as for accepting its limitations.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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