I don’t have any special insights to offer about the upcoming elections. I see no basis, other than wishful thinking, to challenge the consensus of the prognosticators that the Republicans are likely to win control of the Senate. That would be very bad.
Really bad? Can things really get much worse in Washington? Yes, they can. It’s true that there is no chance in any case for significant progressive legislation. And it’s true that even if the Republicans take the Senate, their worst intentions would be frustrated by the Senate filibuster and by the president’s veto power. But Republican control of the Senate would be very consequential. Most importantly, the Republicans would surely exploit their majority to block Obama nominations for the courts. Right now, federal judges are about evenly split between those nominated by Republican presidents and those nominated by Democrats. As a result, the federal judiciary leans a bit to the right, since the Democratic appointees tend to be moderate liberals while the Republicans are heavily weighted with radical rightists. President Obama would continue to redress this tilt in the last two years of his presidency, but a Republican Senate would stand in the way.
With a majority, Senate Republicans would be strengthened in their employment of a variety of political strategies and tactics that lie outside of traditional American democratic mores. Even as a minority party, Senate Republicans have undermined the president by delaying action if not refusing to act on nominations to important federal offices, like the Consumer Financial Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board—not because of questions about the nominees, but simply and transparently to impede the agencies’ functioning. We could expect more of that. Right now for example, there are vacancies for Surgeon General, for a Social Security Administration commissioner, and for National Transportation Safety Board chairman.
A Republican Senate would also have enhanced opportunities to engage in legislation by extortion—for example, by inserting riders into must-pass appropriations bills, thus threatening to shut down the government if the Republicans don’t get their way. And emboldened Republicans could well decide to return to that other extortionate opportunity—the perennial necessity to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling.
So, yes, Republican control of the Senate would be very bad. (For a broader discussion, see this.) But, while currently probable, that outcome is still far from certain. We should be doing what we can to prevent it. A number of critical, close Senate races pit decent Democrats against typically awful Republicans. Even if you don’t live in one of those states, you can join the fray by volunteering to telephone, here. And if you’re not a telephone person, you can give money—any amount that you can. Two particularly worthy candidates are Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado and Bruce Braley in Iowa. Both are currently slight underdogs in races that could go either way. You can easily find their campaign sites on the web.
In my own state, New York, the big race is for governor. A typically awful Republican, Rob Astorino, is running against the sleazy centrist Democratic incumbent, Andrew Cuomo. Needless to say, Cuomo is the far lesser of the two evils. But Cuomo’s victory is assured, which gives us the luxury of protest voting. My vote will go to the Green Party candidate. Zephyr Teachout’s strong showing in the Democratic primary gave Cuomo a well-deserved black eye. A big vote for the Greens, cutting into Cuomo’s expected landslide victory, would again signal that Democrats pay a price when they move to the right.