Dramatic political climate promises exciting decade
After six years of gridlock, it’s no surprise that Congress is one of the most unpopular institutions in America. With an approval rating of 13 percent, according to a January 2014 Gallup Poll, the United States legislature has now been less popular than cockroaches and colonoscopies consistently since 2012.
More and more hands point to party polarization as the root cause of the U.S. Congress’s unpopularity. As the Republicans and Democrats drift solidly to the right and left, respectively, it’s not hard to see why the word “compromise” has become a form of political suicide.
Yet, growing divisions within each party seem to be changing the status quo. Cracks, which began Edward Snowden’s leak of classified documents belonging to the National Security Agency (NSA) last year, may be growing in the dam of congressional fundamentalism.
On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration for the NSA’s collection of bulk phone data records. According to The New York Times, Paul stated, “Can a single warrant allow the government to collect all your records, all the time? I don’t think so.”
This announcement likely incited the celebration of the millions of libertarian voters that comprise a majority of Paul’s base of support. It’s no surprise that the NSA’s wiretapping ways yield comparisons to Orwell’s “Big Brother,” the ideological enemy of libertarians worldwide.
Although Paul’s objections have largely been dismissed by his own party, he is far from alone in his crusade. The NSA leaks and the subsequent protests regarding Internet freedom and privacy have mobilized an army of angry voters from college-age youth — a traditionally liberal voting bloc, according to The Huffington Post. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also filed against the NSA’s programs, intending to question, or even overthrow, the NSA’s legal status.
The ACLU and Paul are more than unlikely bedfellows, but this partnership is not quite without precedent. Last March, Paul led a 13-hour filibuster over drone strikes, attacking the administration’s defense of targeted killings.
More recently, the ACLU has brought its own lawsuit against the Obama administration for using drone strikes outside the context of armed conflict and basing its attacks on vague legal standards, a closed executive process, and evidence withheld from the courts.
Both the NSA’s potential abuse of power and the Obama administration’s expansion of drone strikes seem to strike a common nerve between Big Brother-fearing libertarians and “hippie” liberals. But what might this reaction mean as part of a larger, political trend?
It’s easy to forget that the 2014 midterm elections are nearly upon us, and in the not-quite-distant future, the 2016 presidential election lurks like a shadow on the horizon. Already, potential candidates are gearing up for war, staging fundraisers and publicity stunts left and right while they do their best to shore up their respective power bases.
A new axis seems to be emerging on the political scene. While once politicians debated primarily economics and religion, personal freedom has now become a rallying cry for future generations of voters. The Republican Party is finding its foundations shaken after discovering that years of extreme right beliefs have driven away a bounty of young voters with new ideas and full pockets. The Southern strategy is all but guaranteed to die off with the Baby Boomers, and the Tea Party has been dismissed to the highlands of Appalachia and the empty plains of Alaska.
Where do we go from here? It’s clear that the two-party system is on shaky ground, but without the removal of first-past-the-post voting, the donkey and elephant are likely here to stay. The European model of coalitions and multitudes of parties is unlikely to transfer to the United States, where third parties like the Libertarian Party and the Green Party have little chance of getting their voices heard in any serious national vote.
Yet the political scene is shifting beneath our feet, and it’s liable to turn inside-out at any moment. It’s impossible to tell the future, but forecasting it is within reach. Yes, the 2014 midterm elections are approaching, bringing with them the potential of new policies and new directions. And soon afterward, the campaign for the 2016 White House will begin in earnest, and our country’s changes will shift into full focus.
For now, however, we can only watch and wait as our horses gallop toward the finish line. The 2014 and 2016 storms will come in their own due time. Beyond that, who knows? One thing is clear, though: It’s shaping up to be one hell of a decade.