Americans face an unenviable choice today as they vote in this year’s hotly anticipated mid-term congressional elections: casting a ballot for the party that caused much of the financial mess that’s left one in 10 U.S. citizens jobless, or choosing the one that has failed to clean it up.
The mid-terms traditionally serve as a referendum on the sitting commander-in-chief’s presidency, and that’s never more so than this year.
Barack Obama is struggling to deal with the worst economic times to befall the United States since the Great Depression, with the Republicans poised to make huge gains in Congress, thanks to voter outrage over the sluggish economic recovery.
But one fiscal expert says it doesn’t matter who controls Congress come Wednesday: the U.S. is in serious trouble, and both parties lack any bold new ideas to pull it out of the morass.
“We are headed at breakneck speed towards a financial abyss,” David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, said in an interview on Monday.
“There is no party of fiscal responsibility, and neither major political party has a plan to put our financial house in order. Americans want action; they want to see progress after this election, and it’s not clear whether that progress is going to happen.”
Walker, who audited both parties for a decade after being appointed in 1998 by former president Bill Clinton, has compared the financial troubles plaguing the U.S. to the decline of the Roman Empire. He says Americans are primarily concerned, as they head to the polls, about the economy, unemployment, increased government spending and escalating deficits.
And yet voting day dawns after a campaign season that was once again focused on goofs and gaffes. Perhaps the strangest moment involved a TV commercial from Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Senate candidate from Delaware who assured viewers, “I’m not a witch,” after it was discovered she dabbled in witchcraft as a teenager.
Even Canada’s Gary Doer, ambassador to the U.S., weighed in at one point to remind another Tea Party candidate, Nevada’s Sharron Angle, that the terrorists behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did not come from Canada.
Angle, who hopes to dethrone top Democrat Harry Reid, found herself in a separate vat of hot water for telling Hispanic teens they “looked Asian” to her.
Tuesday’s election results, in fact, are expected to answer a question that’s consumed pundits, politicians and every day Americans alike for months: is the far-right Tea Party a legitimate political movement, or a flash in the pan that was touched off by brutal economic times?
Tea Party candidates have argued the Obama administration has failed to pull the U.S. out of the recession despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars trying, while Democrats have countered that stimulus spending has prevented the country from being sucked into the sinkhole of a full-fledged depression.
With recent polls suggesting some Tea Party candidates are slipping against their Democratic rivals, the movement’s “patriots” were still confident Monday that they could lead a Republican revolution in Congress as of Wednesday.
“There’s a tsunami coming towards Washington,” Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, told CNN on Monday.
“The people of this country want real people in there to represent them instead of establishment politicians, career politicians, who have been in there for years …. I still feel very good and feel positive that they have a chance to win.”
Indeed, some Tea Party candidates are expected to benefit from a Republican juggernaut with the party predicted to regain control of the House of Representatives; polls suggest Democrats will manage to hold onto the Senate. All 435 House seats are up for grabs, while 36 governors and 37 senators will also have their fates sealed by voters.
The Tea Party might win some seats on Tuesday, Walker said, but the fact remains — the movement is as devoid of ideas on how to fix the ailing economy as the Republicans and the Democrats.
“When you look at the Tea Party on the surface, it looks sound enough — limited government, fiscal responsibility; a significant amount of Americans would agree with that. The problem is, what’s the plan? Where are the ideas?” said Walker, who recently founded the Comeback America Initiative, a group focusing on finding solutions to America’s economic woes.
“Nobody has a credible plan to deal with our fiscal challenges and help better position the country for the future.”
Liberals argue the deficit can be reduced without rethinking the social contract in the U.S., including social security, Walker points out. Conservatives, meantime, argue they can shrink the deficit without raising taxes.
“The Democrats don’t have a plan and they would flunk math. The Republicans don’t have a plan either, and they’d flunk math too.”
If both parties refuse to work together following Tuesday’s election, he noted, they will do so at the peril of the country.
“Will they try to work together to make some progress in 2011, or will there be an extended stalemate? It’s not in the interests of the country or the American people for this stalemate to continue. Our financial lenders will lose patience with us, and the consequences will be dramatic.”
Instead, Walker argued, Americans should work together and look beyond their borders to examine how other countries have managed themselves fiscally in the face of the global economic meltdown — Canada among them.
“I’m afraid most Americans aren’t very knowledgeable about other countries at all, including the ones that have come out of this recession successfully,” he said.
“They throw words like ’socialist’ around when they don’t even know what it means. What they should be doing is paying attention to how other countries have managed, and learn from them. We need to look no further than a country like Canada as we attempt to come up with a credible, feasible, implementable plan to deal with our financial issues.”