Perfect storm brewing on both sides of the Atlantic

The results of U.S. and Czech elections chart similar trends: impatient voters, bitter politicians

By Martin J. Stransky The Prague Post

November 10, 2010

Recent elections in both the Czech Republic and the United States herald a stormy future.

In the Czech Republic, the May elections to the lower house of Parliament produced groundbreaking results. Several longstanding politicians with sleazy reputations were finally thrust from power. To everyone’s surprise including their own, Public Affairs (VV), a new party composed of ordinary citizens running on an anti-corruption platform, ended up in Parliament, while two established parties, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, were given the boot because of their respective reputations as political prostitutes and spoilers.

And for the first time in many years, the new conservative ruling coalition of the Civic Democrats (ODS), TOP 09 and VV had a comfortable majority in the lower house, giving it a green light to pass virtually any program it desired.

The Czech press, which remains mired in immature, emotional tabloid analysis and which ultimately comes down on anyone who smacks of success (an intrinsic Czech national trait), immediately set to picking apart the inexperienced VV, while amplifying the coalition’s internal disputes and pointing to the continued absence of new anti-corruption laws. Unfortunately, neither press nor politician bothered to explain to Czech voters that to draft and pass meaningful laws takes several months to a year. And so, with the economy unchanged, a new prime minister unable to communicate vision and the press working themselves into a frenzy, voters decided that five months was more than enough time for change.

So in the “midterm” local and Senate elections a few weeks ago, they pushed the pendulum back the other way. Out went the ODS, TOP 09 and especially VV, and in came the opposition left-leaning Social Democrats – who for the first time gained a majority in the Senate – with the Christian Democrats not far behind.

In the United States Nov. 2, the results were just as dramatic, though it was the right that prevailed: A tide of opposition Republicans swept out the ruling Democrats, wresting control of Congress, along with many municipalities and state governments across the land.

Barely an hour after President Barack Obama invited Congressional Republicans to post-election talks to work on major issues, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had a blunt message: His party’s main goal for the next two years will be to deny Obama re-election, followed closely by attempts to repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law. Though leaders in both parties talked about cutting spending, there was barely a word about cutting big programs that consume so much of the federal budget, like social security, Medicare and military spending. This is in marked contrast to the Clinton era, when a Democratic president worked with Republicans to pass significant reforms, including on welfare policy.

No sooner had the votes been counted on both sides of the ocean than warring factions emerged within respective parties in both countries. Now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s decision to remain at the helm of the Democrats in Congress has split the party, while many Republicans, including new House Majority Leader John Boehner, are at odds with their ultraconservative “Tea Party” wing. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) of the ruling coalition is now splitting hairs with members of his party’s Prague faction, as TOP 09 grows increasingly uncomfortable with its corruption-tainted leader, Miroslav Kalousek, and VV retreats into a closed-door “ideological congress” in late November to deal with an existential crisis.

In both countries, the time that politicians now have to enact change continues to lessen, perhaps to impossibly short spans. The Western sound-bite and drive-thru meal have trickled down into politics itself: We want results now, and politics increasingly resemble clan war.

Some people are beginning to realize that this trend must be stopped, since it threatens the very fabric of democracy itself. But still, both in the United States and the Czech Republic, the spirit of compromise, not just across the aisle, but also within ruling parties, seems to be gone.

Gone is the art of informing and communicating plans and programs with the public. The result will be continued and inevitable political gridlock against a background of rising citizen frustration and impatience.

The perfect storm is brewing.

– The author is a dual Czech-U.S. citizen, physician and publisher of The New Presence (New-presence.com). He was recently elected Prague 1 councilman and is chairman of the Healthcare Committee for that district.

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The Prague Post10.11.2010

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