Borne on a surge of voter resentment, fear, and distrust of almost everything in Washington and particularly President Barack Obama, the Republican Party has swept to legislative power in the election to the 112th United States Congress, taking command of the House of Representatives and significantly reducing the Democrat majority in the Senate. Incomplete results show that the Grand Old Party now has 239 Representatives, a commanding lead over the Democrats' 185, in a clear expression of voters' anxiety about the twin failures of the Obama administration's economic stimulus package and its promises of change. Furthermore, voters have repeatedly said they are frightened about future tax bills to pay for the federal budget deficit, and about the whole direction they think the country is taking. This lurch to the Right has occurred at several electoral levels, from state legislatures through governorships to the two chambers of the federal Congress. Ominously for the President, substantial proportions of those who voted for him in 2008, such as college graduates, suburban voters, and those not registered as supporting either main party, have gone Republican.
The triumphant party's mood is also more confrontational than it has been for decades. This means the Democrats can take little comfort from their main Senate wins, such as those by the Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Barbara Boxer in California. The incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has publicly said his party plans to slow, stop, or kill everything on President Obama's agenda. The healthcare Act, which is one of Mr. Obama's legislative triumphs, is their first target. Their second aim is to extend the Bush administration's tax cuts, which are due to expire on December 31. These likely outcomes are symptomatic of a huge change in the U.S. political climate. The bulk of winning Republicans are experienced politicians, but they will be working in an atmosphere unrecognisably altered by the Tea Party movement, which has focussed and catalysed the manifest sense of frustration and alienation among the electorate. Possibly the only area in which the President will have some latitude for the second half of his term is foreign policy, which the Congress has traditionally left to the executive branch. The electoral debacle is bound to cast its shadow over Mr. Obama's India visit but should not make too much difference to the bilateral agenda. Mr. Obama is by no means a lame duck but, facing a hostile Congress and an electorate that is no longer listening to him, he looks in real danger of ending up as a one-term President. He can yet change that — but only by transforming himself into the kind of bold, upstanding, and far-sighted leader that Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed himself to be.