The Australian

By Harry Melkonian

His opponents charge that he stands for nothing, that his beliefs are ruled by expedience rather than conviction; that he is the ultimate plastic, ductile, malleable unprincipled politician.

Yet, given the likely political complexion of the next congress, Mitt Romney may be the only choice to avoid catastrophic legislative deadlock because under the US constitution, the president can do very little without the support of the house and the Senate. While the international media have been focused on the presidential election, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate is also up for election.

While senators are notoriously independent of party discipline (perhaps because many of the members are longingly eyeing the White House), the House of Representatives is rigidly partisan. Right now, the house has a massive Republican majority and this is not likely to change very much after today. In the house, where 218 seats constitute a majority, the Republicans hold 241 and the Democrats 194. Real Clear Politics predicts the likely election outcome is for the Republicans to safely carry 226 seats and the Democrats 183 with 26 toss-ups. So, even if the Democrats win all of the toss-ups, the Republicans retain control of the house.

Through their intransigence over the past legislative session, the house Republicans have made it clear that they simply will not work with Barack Obama — whose fault it is does not matter, only the reality counts. Without congress and the president working co-operatively, the profound economic crisis cannot be resolved; taxation and spending reforms are log-jammed and the debt ceiling cannot be adjusted. There is no reason to believe that Obama, if re-elected, will fare any better with the new congress next year.

Why are the house Republicans so difficult? The answer goes to the very nature of congressional elections, which are intensely local and, at the local level, the far-right Tea Party shows its greatest strength. Keep in mind that many voters do not even cast votes for congress — they vote for president and do not bother with all the other names on the ballot. On the other hand, the Tea Party emphasises local elections and they do quite well. Of the 241 house Republicans, many are reliant on Tea Party support.

Obama inflames many Republicans because he is a man of principle who will not let political expedience rule or maybe the Tea Party really believes that the President is a closet socialist and cannot be trusted. On the other hand, Romney has made a campaign issue of how, when he was Massachusetts governor, he could reach across the aisle and work constructively with the Democrat-controlled state legislature. Perhaps he was good at this because he just went along with the Democrats and he governed through what he calls consensus and what his critics call capitulation. Nevertheless, a great deal was accomplished in otherwise contentious areas such as gun control and healthcare.

If Obama is re-elected through an electoral college majority but fails to win the popular vote count, as happened in 2000 to George W. Bush, the prospects for an impasse are all the greater. In that situation, the house will acknowledge that the president was lawfully elected but that he was not the choice of the people and need not be shown any deference. Bush avoided this problem because he held a very comfortable Republican majority in congress.

In the debates, Obama accused Romney of being all over the place on key issues. On the other hand, Obama has clear and consistent positions with which voters can agree or disagree. The late Ted Kennedy once remarked that with Romney you get a multiple choice on every issue. But, when viewed from the perspective of the person best equipped to break the impasse in Washington, just maybe the incredible plastic man is just what the US needs.

This article  was originally published by The Australian