Reality Bites Back
Copyright © 2006 by Stephen W. Potts. All rights reserved.
So much for the evil genius of Karl Rove. This year the majority of voters feared the continuance of Republican misrule more than they feared the usual suspects: terrorists, immigrants, secular humanists. The base — the 31% who still think Bush was chosen by God — mostly showed up to punch cards, pull levers, and touch screens in His name. But they got swamped in a Katrina of their party’s own making. In most places the vote wasn’t close enough to steal: The Bushites made enemies faster than they could disenfranchise them.
Surveying the wreckage from their rooftops, the rightwing noise machine has gone full bore into spin cycle. Even on election night, smokeblowers like William Kristol were proclaiming that the election was a triumph in disguise, because so many of the new Democrats, especially those who had defeated Republicans in the South, were actually social conservatives. Back in reality, the actual count was five — count them, five — new Democratic congressman who oppose abortion and gun control. So let these remain local issues.
A bigger danger from the so-called “blue dogs” is their Reaganesque fancy for coupling lower taxes with a strong and proactive defense, i.e., offense. As Reagan and the Bushes have shown us in widescreen, however, that way lies a red tide of ink. You simply cannot maintain a global empire on a Diet Sprite budget and keep your financial house in order. When will they ever learn the math? But we digress.
At the hind end — the horse’s ass, one might say — of the rightwing response, it was delightful to hear the drug-addled Rush Limbaugh confess to feeling “liberated” that he no longer had to “carry water” for politicians who didn’t deserve it, thus openly branding himself a hypocrite and liar. Even funnier, one could hear Bill O’Reilly belching bile on his show for days after the election, threatening to take down New York Senator Charles Schumer if he dared to advance a liberal agenda, warning Schumer to his face that if new Speaker Nancy Pelosi does anything B. O. doesn’t like, he will be “all over her butt,” presumably with a louffa. Seriously, can anyone really picture O’Reilly storming the halls of Congress, shouting “Cut off their mikes!”? Now that his house has been blown down, all the airbag can do is huff and puff.
All a sane person can do is laugh. These bullies hate losers, and to avoid self-hatred after their trouncing they have to spin like Looney Tune Tasmanian devils.
Storm warnings have been waved at the conquering Dems by The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard, who somehow got the idea that the election was an endorsement of George the Lesser. The public elected the Democrats to cooperate with the Prez, sez they, not to embarrass Him by exercising its constitutional functions of oversight. They better not hold extensive committee hearings and issue subpoenas. If Congress yields to such “Bush-hating,” according to these opinionists, they will go the way of Newt Gingrich.
Alas, the Wall-Eyed Journal and its ilk cannot see the difference between, on one hand, squandering six years of the People’s time and money fishing for pretexts to “get” a popular president of the opposite party, and doing the People’s business — to wit, questioning the decision-making processes that have led to the debacle in Iraq, accounting for the billions in taxpayer dollars that have spiralled into the Black Hole of Baghdad, revisiting the costs and coverage of Bush’s Medicare drug program, examining this administration’s lax enforcement of civil rights, health, and environmental regulations. This sort of thing is what congresses are for. If these editorialistas think that November’s vote was for a continuance of Bush absolutism and a Rump Parliament, they haven’t been reading the news.
This is not to say there is no room for bipartisanship, but it takes bi to party. After showing up in front of news cameras the morning after, looking as if he was suffering the worst hangover in years, the Lord of Misrule himself made some conciliatory noises. Typically, however, he has since taken it all back, asserting that he is willing to work with any Democrat who shares his vision for the U.S. or Iraq, re-nominating John Bolton and a fulsome foursome of benighted judicial appointments, then urging the walking wounded of the 108th to push through partisan budgetary and legislative priorities. Fortunately, it probably ain’t gonna happen. The losers are too busy polishing their resumés for jobs on K Street.
The Right has made it charmingly clear they learned nothing from this debacle. The survivors in the Senate elected Trent Lott as their minority whip. Some have insisted they lost because they weren’t conservative enough. George Will concurs, proclaiming they “were punished not for pursuing but for forgetting conservatism.”
In one sense, of course, they are right: the Bush League’s alliance of Bible-thumpers, kleptocrats, and neo-conquistadors don’t look like your grandfather’s conservatives. Hard to imagine the moderns backing an Eisenhower, who negotiated a draw in Korea, despite charges that he was cutting and running, and who stood up to what he named the military-industrial complex, preferring a balanced budget to reckless defense spending. Today’s cons are even too extreme for the self-styled extremist Goldwater, who reviled the evangelical passion for legislating personal morality.
To be fair, not everything that has come from the Democratic camp has digested well. The winners have plenty to crow about, but it is disheartening to see them beating each other up to take credit. Illinois congressman Rahm Emmanuel, who directed the national campaign for the House, pushed himself to the front of the line, in the process vilifying DNC chair Howard Dean for incompetence, even though David Gergen, conservative advisor to presidents from Reagan to Clinton, credits Dean’s commitment to running everywhere, even in red districts in Indiana and Georgia, for bolstering Democratic wins in the House. Hey, why can’t the victory belong to everybody?
The media collaborate in this patronizing game. Now that they don’t have Rove to deify anymore, even if begrudgingly, they have to find another puppetmaster (the New York Times nominated and then elected Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer). God forbid that the public make up its own mind. If it was acknowledged that voters could not always be manipulated into predictable paths, what would become of official punditry?
The People won this one. They were the ones who gave both congressional houses and most statehouses back to the Democrats in defiance of the conventional wisdom of the Beltway elites, who at best envisioned only the House changing hands. Perhaps they were slow or too trusting, but voters finally saw in widescreen what was wrong with the current crop of Republicans. They strove to rule but could not govern. W. can’t repeat the familiar saying, but we can, with add-ons: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times — well, shame all around, and on the fourth we punt.
In order to hold onto the big tent, fortunately, the Democrats do not have to abandon liberal principles. In the quarter century since Reagan made “liberal” a dirty word, the nation has grown up. Abortion still merits moral debate, but as South Dakota demonstrated the majority does not want it banned. The medical use of marijuana is now permitted in ten states, and even though efforts to decriminalize it have failed — this November in Colorado — it fails by increasingly smaller margins. Bans on gay marriage passed in seven states this month, but by slenderer majorities than formerly, and for the first time such a ban failed in libertarian Arizona. The national trend is swinging away from the criminalization of lifestyle.
More significantly, the People are clearly eye-to-eye with liberals on such issues as the minimum wage, stem-cell research, and the high cost of American health care. The Democratic leadership clearly recognizes as much, as shown by Pelosi’s six-point plan for her first hundred hours. Send such popular legislation to the Bushman during the languishing months of his occupation and dare him to veto it. As many have hopefully noted, nothing could better distinguish the Democratic philosophy from the Republican in preparation for 2008.
It is time for Washington to enter the 21st century. Author and futurist David Brin offers one well-pondered template for healing the country and setting it on the path to a better political future. A true blue small-d democrat who has won kudos from Libertarians, a champion of reason in the Enlightened tradition of liberal humanism, Brin suggests ways that the new majority can seize the high moral and political ground from the outset, making it harder for the evolutionarily challenged to steal it again.
In short, it is time to stop celebrating and get to work. The wingnuts got their Armageddon. The rest of us have a nation to rebuild.