Israel needs both US parties’ support Eytan Gilboa /Ynetnews
Published: 11.03.14/Israel Opinion
Op-ed: Those seeking to utilize a Republican-controlled Congress against Obama should remember that he still has important Israel-related decisions to make before the end of his term. All signs point to a Republican win in this week’s US Congressional midterm election. The Democrats were in control of both houses of Congress only during Barack Obama’s first two years as president, and in the four years that have passed since then they continued to dominate the Senate while the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives.
This time, for the first time in his term, Obama is expected to deal with an oppositional, frustrated, tough, determined and particularly hostile Congress.
The Congressional midterm elections often serve as a referendum on the president’s policy and performance on domestic and foreign issues. Obama’s grades in both areas are extremely low. When the president is popular and highly regarded by the voters, candidates from his party invite him to stand by their side during election events. This time, many Democratic candidates chose to stay away from Obama and distance themselves from his policy. Surveys showed that many Democratic voters intend on staying home and not voting. In these elections, Obama is perceived more as a burden than as an asset. In the Congressional midterm elections, the incumbent president’s party usually loses senators and representatives in favor of the rival party. This happened to Obama in the 2010 election, which took place two years after first overwhelming victory in the presidential election. This time, a possible Democratic defeat will not only be the result of a regular historical trend, but also the result of lack of trust in the administration and a deep rift in the American society.
In recent surveys about the level of trust in institutions and organizations, all three governmental authorities ranked very low. The Supreme Court got 30%, the presidency received 29%, and the Congress – only 7%, a result which pushed it down to the last place. Such grades lead to a protest vote against the party whose representatives control the White House and the Senate.
In a two-party political system, a protest vote against one party means a vote in favor of the other party or abstention. The voter turnout in the midterm elections is anyway low. In the last midterm election of 2010, only 42% of Americans with the right to vote actually voted. A similar or lower rate this time will be seen as an ongoing lack of trust in the political system. It is actually during the term of the first black president in the history of the United States, and perhaps also due to the color of his skin, that the political polarization in the American society reached a peak which has not been seen since the failed war in Vietnam. In order to advance and execute laws and plans, the traditional political culture has always encouraged cooperation and compromises between the two parties. During Obama’s term, the public debates were characterized by radicalization, inflexibility and hostility which paralyzed the administration.
A continuation of this trend will prevent Obama from advancing and implementing his plans on domestic issues and will force him to focus in foreign affairs, which have not brought him a lot of success. In light of that, there are those in Israel who think they will be able to utilize the new Congress against Obama in order to restrict him. That’s a wrong strategy. Israel needs inter-factional consensus and the support of both the Democrats and the Republicans. Utilizing a Republican-controlled Congress against the Democratic president will sabotage the required inter-factional support and make Obama’s blood boil even more. Obama will end his term in January 2017. That’s a long period of time, in which he will still be required to make important decisions on Israeli affairs and on the regional upheavals. Therefore, we must make every effort to restore relations with him and with Secretary of State John Kerry and stop the personal criticism and statements disregarding the wisdom and motives of the American decision makers.