The More Things Change, The More Things Stay the Same

Date: January 6th, 2015
By:

Bob Reeg

If you are a Republican, who can blame you for gloating over the “landslide” results of the 2014 midterm elections held November 4? If you are a Democrat, who can blame you for entering a period of mourning?There’s no way that those among us who care about public policy and/or politics would not have been swayed to feel strongly one way or the other. After all, the rhetoric of the 24-hour news cycle and in the social media space took the usual combative tone—“battle,” “drubbing,” “victor,” “shellacked.” (Is there really no non-aggressive vocabulary to be deployed for describing elections?) Who doesn’t like to win? And who likes getting beaten up? Is it any wonder then that the American people are so polarized on our views about the role of government when we are enculturated to evaluate and select our representatives in such government through a dualistic win/lose construct?

I’ll leave it to the political scientists to divine the deep meaning of the election outcomes. (For one such analysis, see http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Post-Election-AVS-FINAL-no-bleeds.pdf.) And trust me, the political operatives are already studying the post-election voter polls to “inform” their 2016 general election strategies. (Yes, already! It’s like stores erecting Christmas displays before Halloween!)  

What I can offer as someone with over two decades experience in public policy making at the national level are a few words of assurance and of caution about what is to come ahead.

As to the assurances:
  • First, the U.S. republic has endured over 235 years. So let’s keep that in perspective as we assess the implications of any one particular election. This one election is not going to shake the foundation of our system of government.
  • Second, prior Congresses and presidential Administrations have built extensive federal (that is to say national and state governments operating in partnership) public service delivery systems that have stood the test of time and are unlikely to be dismantled in a flash. As examples, can one truly contemplate how our interstate highway system would be maintained without national funding? Or can one imagine how we would go about protecting children from harm without state child welfare agencies? This one election is not going to tear down those systems.
  • Third, the “checks and balances” of our country’s governance are alive and well. Divided government remains, with a Democratic President holding veto power over legislation not to his satisfaction, and Democratic Members of Congress are in sufficient supply to thwart veto overrides. This one election is not going to lead to a flood of “bad” legislation being enacted into law.
As to the cautions:
  • First, money matters on the particulars could get worse. Already the national government is operating under strict budget constraints, which Congress and the President put in place back in 2012. Level funding of federal programs has become the norm. And that won’t be changing anytime soon. However, this one election could prompt an increase in funding for particular programs favored by Republican constituencies and a decrease in funding for particular programs favored by Democratic constituencies.
  • Second, “socially sensitive” public policies topics such as reproductive freedom, sexual minority rights, and sexuality education could gain renewed prominence in the policy spotlight. This one election could breathe new life into longstanding social policy debates.
  • Third, the stack of federal laws awaiting re-authorization (such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Higher Education Act, Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, Child Care and Development Block Grant, and more) will remain stalled. This one election puts into power roles representatives with different perspectives on those laws than their predecessors. So we can expect that many of those expired laws will remain on the stack even longer while more re-writing occurs.

On balance, I don’t expect 2015-2016, nationally, to look too much different than 2013-2014. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Most Americans have already moved on from the 2014 midterms. After all, just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots. While I was one of those voters, I too am moving on. It’s past time for those of us disappointed by the midterm results to stop nursing our wounds. And it’s time for the gloaters to sweep the confetti off the floor. Let’s see what the “new” Congressional majority has to offer to promote youth and family health and well-being. Let’s compare notes with current ideas and see where the common ground lies. Perhaps if the American people and those who represent us can move beyond dualistic win/loss thinking, we might just reach that more perfect union of equity among all of our citizens, including our young people and families. Now THAT would be CHANGE!  

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About the Author

Bob Reeg, MPA, CVA, Program Development and Public Policy Consultant, is an accomplished nonprofit organization program director & public policy analyst and advocate, and an emerging social purpose entrepreneur.

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