politics

Politics was supposed to return to normal in 2021. What happened?

Politics was supposed to return to normal in 2021. What happened?

Riots at the Capitol. Searing debates over school closures and vaccine mandates. An attempted recall of California’s governor. Paralyzing fights within the Democratic Party. One prominent Republican censured in the House, and another indicted on a charge of defying Congress. In short, predictions that 2021 would bring a return to “normal in the world of politics proved badly misplaced. Instead, nearly all the forces that roiled politics during the general-election year of 2020 carried on when the calendar turned to a new year. The Covid-19 crisis didn’t fade into the rearview mirror, nor did former President Donald Trump and his false claims of election fraud. A promised rise of unity and bipartisanship failed to materialize—and the leader who bore the brunt of the resulting pain was President Biden. Above all, the story of the year’s politics has been one of partisan, cultural and ideological divisions that defy easy resolution. Neither party has the strength to really impose its will, while growing ideological polarization has hollowed out the political center where compromises might be found. So, in 2021, governing was just hard. That doesn’t mean nothing got done. Congress did pass in March a giant, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus package, which provided a gusher of federal funds that helped lift a listing economy out of the ditch. But, setting the tone for the year, that measure passed along party lines, with Republicans who complained about its cost and reach refusing to join Democrats in support. Setting the state The stage was set for that outcome, and for much of what followed, in the early days of the New Year, when Democrats narrowly won two Georgia runoff elections to fill seats in the Senate. Those wins gave Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, and thereby the thinnest possible margin of control there, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast tiebreaking votes. Democrats were thrilled by the outcome—though, in retrospect, winning those Senate seats could be viewed as a curse as much as a blessing for the party. Yes, Democrats had secured control of both houses of Congress, but that created among many Democrats, particularly in the party’s progressive wing, inflated expectations of what could be accomplished. Demands from the left rose—and, as it turned out, rose out of proportion to what a razor-thin majority could deliver. The narrow margin gave effective veto power to a small group of Democratic moderates, particularly Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who simply didn’t agree with the scope and sweep of the plans their more progressive colleagues were pushing. Meantime, Republicans, having been pushed entirely into the minority, didn’t have to bear responsibility for either what transpired or what didn’t get done. That alignment of forces led to ugly arguments among Democrats about how much money to spend on a giant package of expanded social programs and plans to combat climate change, which the Biden administration calls the Build Back Better package. It was steadily scaled back on a prolonged path to passage in the House, and is now in the hands of the Senate. Even the one genuine bipartisan achievement of the year—a $1 trillion package of infrastructure improvements favored by members of both parties—fell hostage to Democratic squabbling when progressives held up final passage as a way to get assurances their social-spending and climate priorities would be addressed. The messiness has proved damaging to Mr. Biden, who had run for president as an experienced Washington hand who knew how to get things done, and who had a record of finding common ground with Republicans. Delta and Afghanistan Two other forces also helped make Mr. Biden’s first year in office a difficult one. First, after several months of promising trend lines, it turned out the coronavirus hadn’t faded away after all. The Delta variant surged in spring and summer, which not only slowed down the economic recovery but also brought roaring back ideological, partisan and even geographical divides over how aggressive the government should be in setting rules for virus fighting. The recent emergence of the Omicron variant has added further uncertainty and exasperation. As if to underscore the unpredictability of the virus as a political force, unhappiness with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s handling of the pandemic fed an effort by opponents to remove him from office, though he prevailed easily when the recall measure came to a vote. Meantime, on the opposite coast, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo went from early coronavirus-fighting hero to disgraced former governor when a scandal over sexual harassment forced him out. Beyond the virus, the other midyear problem that damaged Mr. Biden was an ugly, sometimes deadly withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan, which commenced after the president embraced a Trump administration decision to pull out all troops. By late in the year, those headaches, plus a rise of inflation exacerbated by pandemic supply-chain problems, had driven down Mr. Biden’s job-approval ratings. They also seemed to contribute to the Democrats’ surprising loss in a race for governor of Virginia. Republicans had their own embarrassing problems to contemplate, as a congressional panel investigating the roots of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots by Trump supporters indicted former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for refusing to cooperate, and the House censured Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar for a video cartoon distributed by his office that showed him killing liberal Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Democrats are left to hope that belated legislative success on their big social-spending and climate package will translate into a political rebound—and that perhaps Mr. Biden got his most difficult problems out of the way early in his term. Republicans, meantime, look forward with anticipation to 2022’s midterm elections. Mr. Seib, executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes the Journal’s Capital Journal column. This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text Download.

politics 2021-12-15 Livemint