Obama can’t breathe easy

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As I walked around Oxford yesterday, I was struck by the number of leaves changing colour: it seems as if everything’s changed from a week or two ago, when many fewer of those leaves had fallen and it still felt as if the vestiges of an Indian summer remained. Now it feels decisively like autumn. There’s a crisp chill in the air, a reminder that winter will soon arrive. And the coming of winter means many things to many people. To me, yes, it will mean colder weather and a greyer sky – but it also means snow, Christmas lights and holiday music, which I love. Looking ahead to winter, it might seem hard to choose – whether it is one’s favourite or most hated season?

The swirling of those leaves is an uncanny reminder of the day, very late in September, when I walked into Town Hall in my Connecticut town and sat down to vote early, an option given in my state at the time I was home (though, as they did not yet have ballots with the names of the candidates printed on them, I was given a list and wrote them in myself). It still felt like the end of summer then, but writing down names on the ballot provided, if temporarily, a glimpse into the future.

And the next day I got on a plane at Newark Airport and arrived in England, where the weather was already much cooler and autumn seemed to spring eternal. This physical relocation mirrored itself in the transformation of my mindset, now attuned, as were those of most Americans, to the midterm elections and to what they would bring to our country.

I consider myself an independent, probably leaning conservative fiscally, and a bit more liberal culturally. Without naming the candidates I voted for, suffice it to say that I looked past the parties they belonged to and focused more on the issues they stood for. This resulted in split-ticket voting, not pulling the lever straight down one party line. In a state like mine, you’ll see many more independently-minded members of both parties, because of the regional differences and disparate wings of both the Republicans and Democrats. And more extreme positions on many of the issues won’t fly.

At least, that’s what I’d thought. Throughout October, I would read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and Washington Post online, headlines appearing every day about the triumph of candidates whose candidacy in any other year but this would have been unthinkable. The rise of the Tea Party and its influence on both the Republican establishment and the minds of voters across America marked a significant new wave in a swiftly rolling tide.
The Tea Party’s rise seems to have crested in this election. Charlie Crist, previously believed to be a shoo-in for the Florida Senate as a moderate Republican, last night finished a distant second to upstart Marco Rubio after dropping out of the Republican primary to run as an independent. Rand Paul, son of libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, managed a similar feat in Kentucky, defeating Trey Grayson (handpicked by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) in the Republican primary and trouncing his Democratic opponent in the election.

On the other hand, Tea Party candidates whose campaigns proved more controversial and who seemed less qualified for office did not prevail. Harry Reid, who against any other Republican candidate probably would have lost his Senate seat in Nevada, prevailed over Sharron Angle. And in Delaware, Democratic candidate Chris Coons trounced Christine O’Donnell, confirming the belief of many in the political world that her initial defeat of Mike Castle in the Republican primary would cost the party a good chance at picking up another Senate seat.

So it would seem that just like the leaves swirling in the wind, marking an inevitable change in the season, the Republican victory this midterm signalled a decisive shift in the balance of power in Washington. Although the votes have not all been tallied at this time, the Republicans have picked up at least 60 seats to gain a majority in the House of Representatives, and at least 6 seats in the Senate, which they will not control. They’ve also picked up a multitude of governorships.

A race or two in my own state is still undecided, as are others across the nation, but the focus has now shifted to what this new Congress will do. Winter may be coming, but whether it will be one of grey skies and sleet, gloom and doom, or one of white snowflakes swirling to replace the autumn leaves and joyous holiday cheer remains to be seen, as does the direction of the action our government will take. One can only hope that its members will come together to put our country on the right track.

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