Danish View: Chaos Ahead for US

“The American people this evening flunked President Obama’s first two years as president,” runs the first paragraph of an analysis of the US midterm election results by the US-based correspondents for the Danish daily Politiken, Thomas Berndt and Jesper Vangkilde. Their headline even speaks of the president’s “big spanking.”

They summarize for Danish readers the fundamental numerical results: House lost for the Democrats, Senate retained (as Majority Leader Harry Reid “saves his political career”), and a Republican wave also taking over most state governors and legislatures. What this means for the future: “Over the slightly longer-term political chaos [awaits] in Washington, unless the parties can find a way to work together.” The authors also make mention of the “especially offensive” defiance directed at the president by “one of the election campaign’s absolute key figures,” Sarah Palin: (Translated back from the Danish) “We’re sending representatives to Washington to stop your fundamental transformation of America. Enough is enough.”

Over at the opinion newspaper Information, their long-time American affairs commentator Martin Burcharth takes a more philosophical tone (Varied outlook for cross-political cooperation). All things will pass, he assures the reader; sudden shifts in American political fortunes are really “quite common,” citing history back to Jimmy Carter (hero in 1976; goat in 1980) to prove his point. This latest heavy midterms defeat for the Democrats and President Obama need not be regarded as any real sort of tragedy.

Rather, anything is still possible for the 2012 elections, and Burcharth offers the president two possible strategies for success. He can tack to the political center (as former Clinton political advisor Paul Begala recommends) and push a new program of extensive public works, pushed as a “jobs plan,” which Republicans would not dare to oppose. Or he can stay on the left (the advice of Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and launch a crusade against the Big Industry and Big Finance that got America into the economic mess it is in. That will also mean cutting taxes on the poor and middle-class, but not for the rich: the latter should be required to pay for their misdeeds!

Whichever he chooses, Burcharth recognizes that prospects for real cooperation between the president and the Republicans in Congress will probably last only until around the end of next year, when politicking for the 2012 elections begins in earnest. In fact, he offers the rather cynical recommendation that Democrats make full use of the “lame duck” period still open to them – i.e. when they still have majorities in both Houses, before the newly-elected representatives and Senators come to take their seats – to enact major legislation such as immigration reform and even new climate/energy legislation (always a leading Danish concern). No cooperation with political opponents even required!

It’s ingenious, in a way – except that Burcharth forgets that, even today, the Democrats’ Senate majority is only 59, which causes certain complications of its own in passing legislation, and in any event exploiting the “lame duck” session that way somewhat contravenes American ideas of political legitimacy.

UPDATE: What do you know, the Rude Pundit also sees great merit in that “use the lame duck session to pass some serious legislation” argument of Martin Burcharth’s, and develops it further. But beware: he’s rude! (Sample language: “No, you need to blow us, Boehner and McConnell.” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

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