Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The fallout from yesterday

The general election took place yesterday, and based on the responses I've seen on Facebook no one is sure what that all means of what we have to look forward to; my conservative friends are rejoicing because the Republicans retook the House of Representatives in what they feel is a rebuke to President Obama, while liberals and Democrats are all gloomy. That said, I think we should all take a deep breath and wait to see how things shake out. Really.

My concern is that in past years when conservatives gained power they have displayed a tendency to misinterpret their victory as a mandate for their policies and thus run roughshod over their opponents. That might change now because, even though they lost on balance this time around, for the first time Democrats actually took the fight to Republicans and, so to speak, "played their game." Joe Sestak, who was a prohibitive underdog and narrowly lost to Pat Toomey for the Senate race here in Pennsylvania, actually cut into Toomey's double-digit lead in part by emphasizing Toomey's support of financial derivatives (saying, inaccurately, that he pioneered them) and special trade status for China (which I understand to be true).

Basically, the political left has finally taken off the gloves and fought for its positions and, while it was largely unsuccessful, it will be ready for the next fight -- er, election.

All this might very well cause the parties to work together in Washington for the good of everybody, for the first time since the 1990s. Might, I must emphasize. Some X-factors:

1) The conservatives who run the Republican Party have to demonstrate that they know how to govern. They lost in 2006 in large part because, as the majority party and also holding the White House, they put the actual practice of such on auto-pilot and focused upon consolidating their own power, leading to the lobbying scandal; if they want to avoid a repeat of such hubris they need to realize that if they mess up again they might lose -- permanently. To do that, however, will require compromise on the part of everyone, which to many conservatives is anathema. (Bill Clinton got this, which is how he was able to use two government shutdowns to his advantage in 1995 and ensure his reelection the next year.)

2) Ideological purity must be de-emphasized. Last year Neal Gabler, a biographer for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, in a piece published last year in the Los Angeles Times referred to conservatism as "religion" -- and it's not hard to see how. The problem is that ideology transformed to orthodoxy ignores basic facts. (This doesn't apply to "liberalism" because it isn't hard-core in the same way.)

3) The influence of talk-radio needs to be minimized, in large part because it has skewed the discourse, often promoting wild charges against its targets because -- surprise! -- doing so drives ratings. Many conservatives complained about the Obama Administration's "unwillingness" to negotiate concerning the health-care bill that passed in March; however, David Frum (who was fired by the American Enterprise Institute for saying that its passage was a disaster for the conservative movement) suggested that Republican leadership couldn't afford to negotiate in good faith because the like of Rush and Hannity, whose listeners are engaged, would accuse them of selling out. (Again, the likes of Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann don't rise to that level.)

4) All bets are off if the economy, the No. 1 issue, doesn't improve. And I don't think it will because the problem isn't the amount of government involvement; it's, as I suggested in a previous post, an unwillingness on the part of those with the means to means to do so to invest for the long haul. A recent segment on CBS's "60 Minutes" profiled the town of Newton, Iowa; one person who was interviewed couldn't get credit, which he would have needed to start a business. He said ruefully that the only time that he could get a loan was when he didn't need the money.

We Americans are often schizophrenic in our voting habits; we say they want change but aren't sure what exactly we mean. Obama gave it to us -- and we rebelled. Now the Republicans are offering change, back to the way things used to be, and I submit that won't work either. So what will that mean? I guess we'll find out in 2012.

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