John B. Judis: Despite Their Losses Last Night, Republicans Have One Trick Left: Gridlock





John B. Judis has been writing for The New Republic since 1984 and has been a senior editor since 1994.

There are two different systems that are at work in American politics. The first is the electoral system. It was on display last night, as Barack Obama won re-election, and the Democrats held onto the Senate and the Republicans the House. The second is the pressure system--a term used by the great political scientist E. E. Schattschneider to describe the competition between lobbies and political organizations to influence not just who wins elections, but what politicians do in office.

This election shows a continuing party realignment toward the Democrats, which began in the late 1990s, hit speed bumps after September 11 and again in 2010, but has resumed. But within the pressure system, through their alliance with business, the Republicans have been able to weaken or block Democratic initiatives, even if they were favored by electorate. The question for the next four years is whether Obama and the Democrats can use the clout they have acquired from their electoral success to overcome the power that Republicans exercise inside Washington and in Congress.

I call this relatively close election a continuation of party realignment precisely because Obama won under such adverse circumstances. The unemployment was higher than when he took office. By 54.1 to 40.6 percent Americans believed the country was on “the wrong track” rather than going in the “right direction.” Obama’s approval rating had finally hit 50 percent on October 28, but his disapproval was 45 percent. These kind of numbers, as Republican strategists repeatedly asserted, boded ill for the president’s re-election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan had rode the question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” to victory over incumbent Jimmy Carter....

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