How Big Is the Republican Victory?

The Republicans scored a huge victory in yesterday’s elections. Right now it looks like they will pick up around 65 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate. That’s more seats than they picked up in 1994 and or in any other election in the last 70 years. It’s also enough to give them their largest majority in the House since 1928. It’s not enough to allow them to control the Senate, even if Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) were to switch sides and caucus with them. But since Democrats will have to defend more than twice as many Senate seats as Republicans in the next election, it does give Republicans a good chance to retake the Senate in 2012. The Republican strategy of distancing themselves from the previous administration and making it difficult for the Democrats to accomplish much in Congress worked well. And the Republicans deserve credit for rebounding from their resounding defeat in 2008, when the party appeared to be in total disarray.

But the election almost certainly isn’t the beginning of a long-term shift back toward the Republicans. As bright as the Democrats' political prospects may have seemed two years ago, winning this election was never going to be easy for them. The President’s party usually suffers a defeat in midterm elections, as reality sets in and his supporters realize he won’t accomplish everything they hoped. The size of the swing back toward the Republicans has something to do with the size of the swing toward the Democrats two years ago. Dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and enthusiasm for Obama meant the Democrats were able to win seats in generally conservative districts, which were always going to be tough for them to recapture in an ordinary year. Most significantly, the Democrats had to take responsibility for failing to fix an economic crisis they didn’t create and almost certainly couldn’t resolve in two years.

In any case, as I have argued, this election wasn’t so much a referendum on Obama as an expression of the nation’s frustration with Congress and its inability to fix the sputtering economy. Although Republicans won the House—and managed to win the national vote for the House by a 6.7 point margin—their new majority in the House isn’t as large as the Democrats' majority in 2008. The truth is that although they won the election, Republicans aren’t terribly popular either—in September, Gallup found that just 32% of Americans approved of the job Republicans are doing in Congress. In fact, more Americans consider themselves Democrats than Republicans. Republicans won this election anyway because Republican voters turned out in huge numbers, while Democratic voters didn’t. But that "enthusiasm gap" is unlikely to persist. And, as I have also argued, long-term demographic trends—the country is becoming less white, less rural, and less Christian, and older voters are dying off—work against the Republicans.

What the election probably does mean is that not very much is going to get done in Congress for the next two years. As Ezra Klein writes, this election was probably the worst outcome if you wanted a functioning Congress:

Republicans don't fully control Congress, so they don't have enough power to be blamed for legislative outcomes. But Democrats don't control the House and they don't have a near-filibuster proof majority in the Senate, so they can't pass legislation. Republicans, in other words, are not left with the burden of governance, and Democrats are not left with the power to govern.

As Klein says, this will be “a time of implementation for the White House, oversight for the House, and paralysis for the Senate.” And, in the end, the main fight in Congress will probably not be over what to do, but over who deserves the blame for its inability to do anything.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less