Saturday, November 3, 2012

Up From the Ashes—Just Two Years Ago Today

Note:  It was the day after the 2010 midterm election.  Democrats across the country had taken an unprecedented beating from frightened and angry voters after the economic crash.  A new breed of Tea Party Republicans were vaulted into power in Congress and in many states.  I took a movement to both grieve and look ahead.  I’m reposting this not to show off my awesome powers of prognostication, but as a marker of how far we have come.  And what a challenge and opportunity we have on Tuesday.

It’s the day after the Great Beating.  I am sore of soul and body.  Oh, it’s happened before.  I have been a pissant, penny-ante politician of sorts for a long time—24 years as a Democratic Committeeman in McHenry County, a few turns as a local Party officer, and three times a losing candidate for way down ballot offices.  I’ve lost before.  I’ve been beat before.  I have had my head handed to me.  It always hurts.  It hurts not because of ego or because my team lost, but because I am in politics because I care about certain things and losing often means that people who don’t give a damn about what I care about or are the active enemies of what I care about get to carry the ball.
Today was worse than usual.  It was a kind of massacre here in McHenry County, which returned to its old attachment to the Republicans in a big way returning the Democratic vote to the 30% range of the bad old days despite years of Party building and glimmers of success and hope lately.  Two years ago we even experienced elation.  Not only did we see Illinois’s own Barack Obama sweep to the Presidency and the state go Blue from top to bottom, but Democrats actually took McHenry County.  Now it all seems swept away.  Pause here for a moment of self-pity.
So the nose is broken, the teeth loose, a little blood trickles from the ear, the ribs are caved in, and the knee cap cracked.  But like that palooka in a boxing flick, I am still miraculously standing.  Hallelujah I will live to fight again!
Not to get too philosophical about the bloody business, but I am reminded of something said long ago by Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker that Martin Luther King, Jr.  liked so well that he paraphrased it and Obama admired so much that he had it woven into the new rug in the Oval Office.  King nicely boiled down Parker’s longer original to this:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Just because the arc or the universe bends does not mean that the way to justice is smooth or unencumbered.  That’s why the arc is long—to overcome the many obstacles placed in the way.  Nor does it mean that justice is fated and we can all just go along for the ride.  Movement on the long arc to justice depends on the continuing effort and struggle of those who value it.  Parker, a leading abolitionist, King the civil rights crusader, and Obama all understood that.  So must we.
Today the Right Wing machine is gloating.  They imagine they have won not only one election, but the future.  The Pundocracy have smelled each other’s butts and come out baying the same song to the moon.  Conventional Wisdom that it is all over for Obama, Democrats, and progressivism took about a nanosecond to take hold.  And predictably the Left Wing blog-o-sphere has erupted in finger pointing, I-told-you-sos, and dozens of sure fire plans for a comeback.  Some of those plans merit a look, many are castles in the air, based on rigid ideological preconceptions, or totally ignorant of the way politics actually works and how change comes about. 
There will be time to sort it out.  
I’m not going to finger point.  I am sure there is blame to go around and I am as guilty as any for our common failures.  A little time will pass and we can look back and dissect the developments with more dispassion and to greater use.  That’s the process of understanding history.
And I am not going to lay out a grand scheme.  Not that I don’t have my notions, but that I am humbled enough to realize I may be fallible.  But I am going to make a broad prediction.
The next two years are going to be filled with excruciating moments for folks on my side.  With the Republicans firmly in control of the House of Representatives, the typically disunited Democrats holding on the Senate by their fingernails and Obama in the White House there will be gridlock.  The Republicans will not be able to advance their most hair-on-fire pet schemes.  Obama will not be able to advance his program either.  There will be a brief shadow play of an attempt at bi-partisanship, followed by the resumption of all out ideological war in Congress.  The presence of a number of Tea Partiers in the GOP caucuses will prevent any move to accommodation. 
Over the past twenty years the Republicans have shown that they are incapable of resisting the siren call of their fringes.  Congressional Democrats and the President on the other hand have shown that they are quite immune from the demands of their left base in pursuit of consensus.  That means that the Republicans will soon be committed to publicly trying to dismantle the social programs that people rely upon and support even if they claim to be budget hawks.  It won’t take long for Republican popularity to collapse.
Obama can forget about appointing another Supreme Court Justice, or for that matter anyone else.  The Republicans will block all of his appointment for posts high and low even if it means that Cabinet departments are being run clerks.  They will believe that this is heroic—the public will see it as something else.
If the Republicans succeed somehow in moving their worst ideas, including the annulment of Health Care Reform, Obama can counter with a veto that cannot be over ridden.  And despite his recent statements that Filibuster reform should be high on the incoming Senate’s agenda, both he and Senate Democrats will soon come to appreciate its charms.
Obama will, in response to what he perceives as a public demand, submit a budget with deep cuts.  It won’t matter.  The Republicans will cut more, and in very different places.  Serious budget reduction cannot be done without deep cuts to Defense, but the neo-con faction of the party, although eclipsed by the Tea Party, still clings to its imperial dreams and will not allow it.  And social conservatives will keep the defense budget high just to require cuts to social services.  In the end the Republican will deliver a budget that Obama will have to veto.  The veto cannot be overcome, so the government shut down so longed for by Michelle Bachmann and Rand Paul may come to be, and not just for a few hours or a few days.
By the time of the next election the Republicans will have made themselves so unpopular that they will be the victim of the next political tsunami.
That’s my prediction.  But Democrats and liberals cannot win even in that scenario if we do not begin the work today.
So straighten that broken nose, pick out those broken teeth, swab the blood from your ears, tape your ribs and your knee.  Get out of your corner.  The bell’s about to ring again.

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