Americans are protesting against the mess that is their country by returning to power the very party that was the most responsible for creating the mess in the first place. It is a beautiful irony, and a painful one. But even as a devoted left-winger, I certainly cannot blame the Republican party for the entire mess in the US economy and society in general. The timidity of the Democrats is certainly an important part of the equation.
Roy Rogers used to say that he didn't belong to any organized political party, he was a democrat. Though it was a jest, it was a very profound one. Because the real problem in the US political system is that there is no organized political system, just a series of very small, self interested constituencies that elect hundreds of individual representatives who are desperately trying to jockey for position in their small fiefdom by pleasing this or that group while needing, out of absolute necessity, to gain as much corporate money as possible for their reelection. The problem of money has been made even worse by the fact that the Supreme Court has eliminated the all limits on Corporate funding.
This problem of atomization of political culture in the US is fundamental to the system and makes it almost imposible for major social legislation to take place. For example, even though the majority of Americans are in favor of a government run health care system, such legislation cannot happen because the Democratic Party does not form policy and then carry that policy forward with any kind of party discipline. In the 1950s my mother, who is not a particularly political person, wrote an essay in high-school about this very problem, and things have just gotten worse since that time.
Of course, this kind of atomization favours a corporate agenda because such an agenda does not happen in a large publicly visible way. Rather, small tax changes, small changes in regulations etc., are the ways that a corporate agenda gets carried forward. Social legislation, on the other hand, requires large public processes.
And the whole problem is made worse by the fact that real change is not even on the radar of the political culture. There is no left-wing in the US. There is only the right-wing and those that the right calls "left" with derision and hyperbole. Any country where major television and radio spokespeople call Barak Obama a marxist can have no significant left-wing movement. There are a few people talking about solutions such as Ariana Huffinton who has argued for public funding of elections as a way of putting an end to the corporate dominance on almost every issue. But for the most part the real problems of the US political system don't appear to be publicly understood by most, let alone talked about. Instead, a certain portion of the US voting public just keep vacillating between one party and the other as if the party that is not in power is suddenly going to change the way that they function in office and fix the problems that they have been perpetuating for generations.
Last June (2009) Kevin Baker wrote an article for the New Yorker which demonstrated that Obama and the Democrats were going to lose because they were being to much like Herbert Hoover; they weren't being bold enough to make the changes necessary to fix what was wrong with the US. He argued that FDR made real and bold changes in how US society worked which lead in part to the great post-war prosperity. Whether this is true or not, or whether post-war boom was even just given the problematic foreign policies of the US, is not something I can address here. But I think it is clear that over a year ago Kevin Baker predicted that Obama was not being nearly bold enough, and time has confirmed that prediction. And tonight we will see the US voters once again voting for the same old thing and they will get the same old result.