How did it come to this? In 2008, we, Democrats, won a landslide victory, with the public deserting the cynicism and policymaking bumbling of the Republican Party in droves for the promise of optimism, progress, and reasoned solutions to complicated problems. Today, we’re back to square one. Maybe worse. When the sitting President can’t sell middle-class tax cuts to the people, without the promise of pork for the rich, we’re a sorry lot indeed. Apologists may say we’re saving the tax issue for Obama’s re-election; but if we don’t have the spine for the battle now, why will we have it when even more is on the line? How can we come back from this profound political malaise, and why are we even there in the first place?
Since 2008, we’ve offered reasonable, popular solutions to tough problems. “ObamaCare’s” unpopularity stems as much from its failure to deliver on the promise of comprehensive care as from conservative America’s shocking suspicion of regulation. If the causal elements aren’t exactly 50/50, they’re enough to keep the basic idea of “reform through regulation” net-positive. Similarly, reforming the capital markets should be an easy sell during a recession caused, exclusively or at least largely, by reckless financial actors. And if we actually care about the deficit — as tea party partisans would have us believe — hiking taxes on those who can best afford to support their country should be an extremely easy sell, especially to “fiscal conservatives,” those bizarre animals that one hears so much about, but never truly sees.
So what went wrong?
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Republican obstructionism was far from purposeless, and for far more than short-term gain. From January 1, 2009, two trends were objectively foreseeable: (1) the damage done by the Bush years would not be easily cured, and that (2) the American memory is short, especially when attempting to assign blame. Building on these, the Republicans could sit back, stonewall any attempt at progress, wait for Bush’s sins to be forgotten, and expect that, absent a miraculous and unlikely twelve-month recovery, Obama would drown in the long wake left by his predecessor. As an elegant touch, this recovery could be forestalled, by simply blocking the President at every turn.
And in fact, this is exactly what our honorable opposition has done. Having banished the specter of our last, failed President with no more than some handwaving, and a little waiting, the Party has leveraged anger over the still-floundering economy into something resembling a mandate, all without ever offering any new solutions to the very difficult problems we still face — problems of their own creation.
This anger persists as background noise distorting the national debate, and obscures the critical realization that voters must make, or risk repeating their mistakes: that the Republican Party still has no solution to our tarnished economy, or anything else for that reason.
If this is the problem, no immediate solution emerges. We can wait and hope that, with Republicans back in something resembling power, time reveals their ideas to be not just bad, this time, but also nonexistent. And we can focus immediately and with all our attention on the economy, to blunt this anger, or repurpose it into forward momentum.
And we can remain confident… or regain our confidence. For all our setbacks, this is still the country we inherited in 2008.