Where Do We Go From Here?

As voting starts, it’s safe to say the signs aren’t good for the Democratic party, or for any meaningful progress towards significant, national solutions to immediate dangers. Although we style our congressional representatives and senators “lawmakers,” and “legislators,” the swath of Republicans set to be elected to both houses today show no interest in playing either part. Achievements, after all, are a liability; but so long as they’re never acted on,  principles make great rally signs!

In fact, if one were to discern any cogent Republican agenda going forwards, it’s one most likely to either stall out the legislative branch, or repeat the Reagan performance of slashing income without coordinate cuts to expenses. In other words, disaster, even for businesses. Against such peril, what is there to do?

We have to settle in, and fight Fabian’s war. The time for ambitious advances is over (if it ever started). Health care reform was neither our Waterloo, nor our Cannae, but another push for another reformist goal, even if diluted beyond recognition (as all others have been), would be just that. We need to settle in and exploit our advantages. Those are, that the Republican Party has:

Since Obama is viewed as more likely to prevent gridlock than Congressional Republicans,

  • Everything to lose.

By pledging to repeal health care reform and arrest the deficit, the Republicans have energized their base, but oversold any mandate they can possibly acquire. It’s the same mistake we made. Consequentially, the ability and right to rule shifts, tomorrow, in appearance at least (and that’s what matters) to the opposition. We have only one play: occupy the center. Given the current state of affairs, the Republicans cannot possibly (and, tellingly, have not tried to) move from their fringe positions. If Obama is the first to go to Speaker Boehner (ugh), and the first to suggest high-level, public cooperation, when he’s denied, as he will be, the game changes, and the 2012 season begins.

It’s times like these that democracy becomes its own enemy. An educated, aware, rational citizenry is hard to create, nearly impossible to maintain, and it is precisely that rare good that we lack today, and that compels these outcomes. All we can do is settle down, play defensively, let the opposition self-destruct, and remember Lincoln’s words:

From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic giant step o’er the Earth, and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River, or set a track on the Blue Ridge, though the trial last  a thousand years.

No: if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide.

And hope.



  1. “All we can do is settle down, play defensively, let the opposition self-destruct…”

    Good strategy – it certainly worked for the GOP over the last two years.

    There’s also room for optimism on the Right that things will be different this time. The Congressional leadership is determined to prevent this gain from being short-lived.


    It’s going to be interesting to see them try to wrangle the TP folks – but if the Left honestly thinks they can re-take the Center, I think they are misreading the electorate. The Center has shifted to the Right over the last two years. I don’t see any potential Democratic proposals that would swing it back in their direction.

    1. Mike come on, you’re smarter than this; you’ve proven that time and again. Politics are a pendulum – this will swing back in time. And swing back. And back. And even forth a little. And then back…

      I know you don’t need me to provide links to remind you of the ’04 narrative that the Democrats were through as a party, likewise the Republicans being washed up in ’96, and I’m betting I can find the same thing going back even more but my youth betrays me here. The country didn’t suddenly get a lot more Republican in the last two years, any more than it got a lot more Democratic in ’06 or ’08. The electorate is reactionary, always has been and likely always will be.

      You’re an NPR listener so I know you’ve heard the phrase “unemployment is a trailing indicator.” So are elections.

  2. “The country didn’t suddenly get a lot more Republican in the last two years, any more than it got a lot more Democratic in ’06 or ’08.”

    You’ll notice I didn’t say it has swung Republican. It has simply swung conservative and I think polling continues to confirm this. If you look at the long arc from reagan to now that is a continuing trend. Simply put, we are never going to be a liberal nation (in the modern definition). The best Ames can hope for is that we become Centrist but I don’t think that’s practical either.

    I would agree that the electorate is reactionary but I also think they are becoming increasingly jaded with the whole process. If anything they are leaning a bit libertarian. We can of course debate whether than means Right or Left.

    1. Ah, sorry, point taken re: Conservative v. Republican.

      My own take is that the nation rests in the rough middle, only socially “liberal” and fiscally “conservative.” Then again, I could just be projecting. In any case, trying to define what the nation will eventually be is almost pointless. It’s kind of like that book The Black Swan – you can try and predict where the nation will be based on trends, but there are going to cataclysmic events that will shift us in ways you can’t predict. Look at what Vietnam and Watergate did to the faith of people in the government. Look at what 9/11 did to people’s tendencies on freedom v. security. What will it do to the country when the only, the ONLY, evidence of American “exceptionalism” will be our nuclear stockpile? (Other than gross GDP, what’s another positive statistic we lead the world in?) We’re going to be England soon, and that’s going to warp the political trend lines tremendously.

      Anyway, back on topic – I still think the shape of future elections is going to be decided by the political game rather than actual political discourse. People are mad at the government for the usual reasons, not because of an actual socialist takeover. They’re going to be just as mad at Congress when the Republicans take over. And so it goes.

      1. American Exceptionalism I always thought had more to do with things like us not prosecuting people for blasphemy (you listening, Poland?) or “insulting religion” (you listening, India?) and not being leaders in statistics.

        1. err, “rather than” being leaders in statistics.

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