Sheldon Schorer, past chairman of the Israeli branch of the American Democratic Party (Democrats Abroad-Israel ) and now its spokesman, has been watching the run up to midterm elections in his native country with great interest. Polling indicates the Democrats will absorb a serious blow in the nationwide elections taking place today for the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats, as well as state and local offices, putting Democratic hegemony on Capitol Hill under threat.
Sheldon Schorer, how many seats will the Democrats lose today?
It seems we are going to lose the House but not the Senate. It's very close. Apparently the Republicans will hold the majority by up to 30 House seats, which means that they will be able to choose most committee chairpersons. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will be replaced by a Republican. When it comes to the Senate, the Democrats already lacked a majority of 60 votes to defend against a filibuster, but it remains to be seen how things will end up. What is important is that from now on the Democrats will not control [Congress] on their own and they will have to work with the Republicans.
Can the parties really reach across the aisle after two years of tough fights in both chambers of Congress?
They must. The situation in the United States demands that they learn how to work together. Health reform legislation was passed one-sidedly by the Democrats and they won't be able to repeat this in the future. The challenge, and the threat, is that if they don't cooperate, it will boomerang back at them. Until now, they have not been cooperating, and if this continues, in another two years the voters will want to get rid of them, because they will have turned out to be bad legislators.
U.S. President Barack Obama is not up for election today, but what does the Democrats' difficult situation mean for him?
Obama is a symbol of the government; he sets the tone. If people aren't happy with the situation, they go to the boss, and because he is a Democrat, party members in Congress will suffer. Some voters decide on this basis, but others vote in light of local issues, and there is nothing more local than congressional representatives, who represent relatively small areas. Personality is also influential. On the other hand, if we look at these elections as an indication of the presidential elections in 2012, we will be making a mistake, for two reasons. First, the party in power almost always loses midterm elections, and sometimes loses big. Aside from that, what's important in the next presidential elections is the situation in another two years, about which the current situation doesn't have much significance.
But still, Obama was elected on a promise of great hope and the belief that he would effect change. Has he lost this?
The American voter needs to grow up a little and stop looking at Obama or anyone else as a Messiah who can save them, but rather as a person who works. Obama said that he would bring about change and the Republicans are shouting now because he did and they don't like his health legislation. He came into a government heavily burdened with a huge budget deficit. He passed incentives, and everyone says that helps; the question is whether it helped enough, and one of the reasons it didn't is that the Republicans wouldn't agree to even greater incentives. The Republicans are being a little hypocritical about this. America was on verge of a Great Depression like that of the 1920s, and it didn't happen because of the incentives.
Is voter impatience the reason the party in power always looks bad?
Americans are in turmoil because of the economic situation, and in order to get out of it, they gave the keys to Obama. To be angry two years later because the situation is better, but not good enough, is like a child riding in a car who asks "Are we there yet?" And we have to look and consider whether we're on the right path, or whether the Republican way, which got us into this situation, is correct. So the voters definitely need to grow up.
What about Jewish voters who, according to polls, are beginning to abandon the Democrats, because of, among other things, Obama's approach to Israel?
The Jewish American voter also has to grow up and recognize that Obama is Israel's friend and acts in its interests. He helps in the area of technology, with technological and military cooperation, and is working with Israel to avert a disaster with Iran. Regarding the peace talks, some say he is not a friend of Israel because he is putting on the pressure, but it's for one goal only, in order to continue the peace talks. He doesn't care whether there is construction in the settlements, but if it keeps the other side from continuing the talks, that's a reason to be against it. There are also many Israelis who oppose construction in the settlements, and Obama has already said that being pro-Israel does not mean being a Likud supporter.
How will the Democratic Party function after the blow it is expected to absorb today? Will it move left or toward the center?
Both parties usually move toward the center before elections because of the 40 percent of voters who are independents and unaffiliated with either of them. Extremists will lose them. Today the distance between left and right is greater; it is impossible to compare the distance between Sarah Palin and Obama to that between George Bush senior and Bill Clinton. Both parties have to move toward the center.
Do you see a possibility that a third party candidate, positioned between Democrats and Republicans - someone like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for example - could run in the 2012 presidential election?
That very much depends on the Republicans and if they go more to the right in order to join the Tea Party. If so, there will be a large distance between the two major parties, and a third party could speak to the many people who are sick of all the ideologies. Centrist candidates could get the protest vote. The next elections will be quite interesting; it depends a lot on how ideological the two major sides are, and whether they learn to work together peacefully. It will take a Nobel Peace Prize winner to make peace between the two sides in Congress. I still think that Obama has the greatest chance to win in 2012.
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