Monday, November 8, 2010

The American Agenda

The most recent mid-term election leaves many of us bitter, our hearts filled with a rancor not easily assuaged. Not necessarily at the outcome, for the electorate -- or that part of it that chose to participate – spoke, and told the Democrats that their short reign was now over and gave the Republicans another chance to acquit themselves honorably. No, the outcome was not really in doubt; what remains in doubt, as it was before these events, is the sincerity of those elected, Republican and Democrat alike. For, far from being a repudiation of the Democratic agenda in Congress, it was mainly a repudiation of the political circus that was Washington, D.C. The voters had, at a stroke, forced both parties into a position where only compromise and cooperation was the key to further success. A divided Congress leaves no doubt – to get anything done will require talking.

This cannot be assumed to be a grand strategy of the American people; the electorate in this country is not coherent enough an entity to make it possible for grand and coordinated action. But perhaps, just perhaps, the months and years of vituperation and whining that bombarded Americans from their televisions and newspapers was enough to plant seeds of doubt into the minds of many. We have all known that Washington, D.C., capitol of our nation, named for the man whose physical toil and personal honor were keys to the formation of the nation, ceased to be the home of the people, and became the playground of the monied powers. It can no longer be said that either major party has the interests of all Americans in its sights, only the piles of freshly-minted dollars that represent the keys to retaining power or wresting it away from others.

That was made very clear from the start of President Obama's tenure in the White House. The Democrats, flush with power after their stunning victories, were set to chart their course through history. The Republicans, whipped for their poor handling of the nation for eight years prior, were licking their wounds, intent on putting up every roadblock to progress they could, ready to run the nation to ruin, if only to stop the President from garnering success. Whether this was as a result of a feeling of powerlessness, or a sectarian need to tear down their opponents, or a tinge of institutionalized racism, it was clear that the next two years were to be the political equivalent of World War I, a slog in the trenches. And while it was certainly the most productive Congress anyone had ever seen, it failed where it needed to succeed the most.

Of course, it was doomed, really, from the start. President Obama was not the choice of the monied powers, who had suffered through eight years of any only semi-willing administration, more intent on a war on terror than supporting their greed and avarice. They made due with creating chaos in the housing and financial sectors, forcing a lame duck George Bush to try and bail them out, but running short on time because he could not build consensus. That left the ball in President Obama's court, and while he was more than willing to bail out the monied powers to save the nation's (and the world's) economy, he also cast an unflinching eye on their practices, and forced through legislation to curtail their wanton ways. It was not perfect, but it was Washington, D.C. biting the hand that fed it for many years.

That's where it might have ended, too, had the monied powers not played their trump card: a Supreme Court willing to overlook the best interests of a free America. One case, Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, at once tilted the balance of power. In one fell swoop, the American people were deprived of sole control of their responsibility to the country, and corporations were suddenly people, capable of bringing vast resources into play to tip the scales in whatever direction they saw fit. The road was now clear for the Republicans, backed by corporate money and fueled by the anger of their Tea Party compatriots, to take back control.

The money flowed, the mud was flung, and in the end the Republicans got some of what they wanted, granted control of the House of Representatives. They could not, however, gain control of the full Congress; taking a few seats in the Senate was not enough to tilt the scales back in their favor. They had not reckoned with the power of their Tea Party allies to muddy the water of some Senate races, or to field candidates who were so clearly at the fringes of society that they could not conceivably win. And maybe that was the point of the exercise, ultimately. The American people, sensing a shift in a direction that was too great even for the staunchest of conservatives, kept a balance of power, that would force both sides to find some way to accommodate the other.

So now, we have both sides beating their chests, saying there will be no compromise, that there will be battles fought, still, to turn back the work of the previous Congress and embroil the nation in a backbiting cat fight, while jobs continue to evaporate and homes continue to be abandoned. Given the division of power in Congress, both sides have the power to do nothing, and do it well. This is not, however, what the American people are expecting of them. Both Republicans and Democrats are being given an opportunity to do the one thing that seemingly have forgotten how to do: govern. They must tackle the important issues that face us now: joblessness, foreclosures, poverty, and injustice; to do any less will lead to an imbroglio that would make the most recent election look like a call to tea and crumpets.

The agenda on the table is not Republican or Democratic – it is the American agenda. It is the agenda of the people of a nation tired of high taxes on those who cannot pay them, watching perfectly good jobs shipped overseas to the advantage of only those who own the companies that are shedding them, while having to take their shoes off to go through long security lines at the airport It is the agenda of a people suffering under crippling debt brought about by the arbitrary decisions of financial corporations, or losing homes as jobs are cut to pad the bottom lines of corporate accounts, or watching a once proud nation slip behind in areas where it once stood preeminent. It is an agenda of a people who want their elected representatives to shed their cloaks of money and power, and return to the task of running a nation in the interests of all Americans, not just those who can afford to fund their lavish, extravagant, and over-wrought campaigns.

We are tired of the drama. We are tired of the obfuscation. We are tired of the bickering. We are tired of the inaction. If something is not done, and soon, the composition of Congress may change in ways that the Republicans and Democrats will find most disheartening, come 2012.

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