In US Politics, Past Year Is Prologue for 2016

In US Politics, Past Year Is Prologue for 2016

Why you should care

Free speech, clean water, financial security and national security aren’t issues to mess around with.

Now that the midterms are over, the dramas can really unfold. The headlines in November were all about the big winners (Republicans) and losers (Democrats), but overlooked significant players and emerging issues. Their influence is going to be felt well after the clock ticks down to midnight on Dec. 31.

Just take a look at a few of the emerging political leaders OZY profiled in 2014. They include people like Mac Thornberry, a Republican congressman from Texas who’s taking on one of the most challenging jobs in all of government — trimming America’s bloated defense budget. Thornberry is no pacifist — he believes in a muscular American military posture à la Ronald Reagan — but he doesn’t think we’re optimizing the billions we spend on defense, either. As the next chairman of the congressional committee overseeing the Pentagon, he’ll get a chance to test that theory next year.

Then there’s Kara Stein, who’s trying to reform a welter of financial regulations — and prevent another Wall Street collapse (that’s another drum the liberals will be banging in the 2016 election season). Though Stein is one of the junior-most members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, she’s taking on the agency’s senior leadership, including members of her own Democratic Party she deems too cautious.

Catherine Frazier, meanwhile, tends to avoid the spotlight. But you might have heard of her boss, Texas Republican Ted Cruz. Frazier’s got a softer touch, and that’s bound to be an asset to the sharp-tongued senator as he looks toward a possible presidential run.

Kara Stein shaking hands with man on left hand side of frame

U.S. Rep. Mel Watt with Kara Stein (right) before her SEC confirmation hearing in 2013.

Source Yuri/GripasCorbis

But you need to escape the Beltway for a sense of the issues that will drive the 2016 elections. Across the country, local residents and leaders are feeling the weight of problems that the chattering classes in D.C. are only vaguely aware of — but may soon be forced to account for. From Detroit to the Farm Belt to California’s San Joaquin Valley, battles over water are creating huge headaches, for example, and experts predict they’ll only worsen. Our nation’s highest court, meanwhile, is poised to decide the role money can play in shaping our judiciary, a thorny question in states across the country watching big money flow into local judicial elections.

Whether or not you agree that money should be considered speech, it’s clear money has shifted the playing field. And you should worry about how disconnected the American electorate feels from its representatives in Washington. Distrust of government is hardly a new phenomenon — see the post-Watergate era of the ’70s — but we’re hitting new lows here in the 20-teens. “We have resigned ourselves to all the things that we can’t do anymore” in our democracy, activist and Harvard professor Larry Lessig lamented in an OZY op-ed in October. But Lessig also argued that American voters should be demanding better. Maybe that should be our New Year’s resolution.

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