Thursday, November 4, 2010

Electoral Follies

One begins to wonder if anyone will ever understand politics, and by that, I don't mean the give and take of governance, the “you scratch my back I'll scratch yours” complexity, or the general desire to work toward a common goal through earnest debate and compromise. No, I speak of the knock-down, drag-out, mudslinging, partisan divide that has usurped useful politics, relegating it to dim memory and dusty textbook. We are not in the age of statesmen and diplomats; we instead see self-aggrandizers, boot-lickers, sycophants, and power-grabbers grappling for control of a nation, heedless of the cost to personal virtue, comportment, or American society. They are more eager to draw battle lines and unflattering comparisons than they are to take stock of America's situation and take the appropriate steps to keep the ship of state afloat. They are the crew of a sinking cruise ship arguing over who should get credit for saving the passengers, even though the lifeboats are all in place and a panicked mob stands around them, awaiting action.

As it stands, we created this monstrosity of governance by the abdication of our responsibility, handed down to us more than two centuries ago by those who fought in The Revolutionary War and went on to form the nation we hold so dear. Rather than cherishing, nurturing, and, more importantly, flexing our power, we increasingly sit at home eating our TV dinners and ignoring our families, whining about the taxes we pay and the idiocy in Washington, D.C., before trundling out the door to push buttons and pull levers for the same incompetent, crass, and self-absorbed ne'er-do-wells who have always been there spending our money like water and crying “foul” when the other party calls them out on it. That is, if we even get up out of our easy chairs in the first place, for more and more of us have found convenient excuses for simply staying home, rationalizing our failure to vote as “a waste of time” or “not making any difference.”

That is how we can interpret the results of the November 2nd general election, with a resurgent Republican Party already crowing about the changes they will make to the course of the ship, while a demoralized President and Democratic Party wonder how to pick up the pieces. Needless to say, neither side has a great grasp on the facts of the matter and each is paying more attention to how this will play in 2012 for the next Presidential election, than to the task of actually governing the nation they fought so hard to control. Many are poised to grab powerful chairmanships, while others are being deposed. Even though a Congress still sits, empaneled to run the country for two more months, it is as if they do not exist, for it must feel like January in Washington, D.C. The ducks currently presiding were lame before the election; now they are downright comatose.

Far be if from me to dampen the spirits of the Republicans by pouring cold water on their triumph, but it is far from a repudiation of President Obama's agenda, given that the “mandate” of America was actually cast by a paltry few compared to the 300 million of us that live here, or even the large number that turned out in 2008 to elect him in the first place. While John Boehner is getting fitted for his gavel, he might want to take a closer look at the situation he finds himself in. He may have power in the House of Representatives, but it ends with the doors of that august body. No amount of legislation he can produce will cruise through Senate, where the Republicans are not only still out of power, but unable to push through automatically anything they choose. If anything, the Republicans, by failing to push as hard in the Senate as the House, have chased away the bear, only to still have their leg caught in the bear trap.

All the committee chairmanships in the world will do them no good without being able to get legislation to move. Everything the House Republicans come up with will no doubt die on the vine in the Senate, as the now desperate Democrats pull out the Republican bag of tricks to stall, obfuscate, and mangle bills. Top that with the complete and utter inability to repeal anything passed by the most recent Congress, and anything they can get passed subject to a Presidential veto they cannot break, and you have a situation that resembles more of a parking lot than a smooth-flowing highway. They might console themselves by trying to blacken the Administration's eye by raking them over the coals, subpoenaing records, looking for signs of malfeasance, but, in the end, little will come of it, and nothing that will affect America, it's economy, or the joblessness that now pervades the nation. In essence, the Republicans, who found it quite easy to say no to everything that came their way, will now have no choice but to cooperate with their foes to get anything done.

The Democrats do not get a free pass, though. They find themselves in this predicament through a level of folly that is proportional to the amount they accomplished. When they had the power, they did not use it, and then, even when absolute power was taken away, they still could have gotten things done by convincing even one Republican to join them, by compromising. Sadly, their blinders were as thick and dark as those of their counterparts across the aisle. Rather than concentrating their focus on what needed to be done, firing up the economy faster and neutralizing the voices of discourse with sweet reason, they wallowed in self-pity, then found themselves on the wrong end of the political gun. This electoral spanking should serve them notice that when handed the power, you use it or you lose it.

What we see now is an inevitable gridlock shaping up, as neither side can gain a clear advantage in making law, so they will instead settle for sniping at each other from committees and caucuses, leveraging what little they can do in a way to set their parties up for the campaign season of 2012. The result will invariably be a lack of vision, a lack of civility, and a pronounced lack of governance, leading to finger-pointing and attack ads galore.

The past thirty years have seen a precipitous slide in this nation's ability to be governed properly. Strong Presidents and weak Congresses, strong Congresses and weak Presidents, divided Congresses... and amongst it all, partisan bickering, a flood of campaign funding from big corporations, the infernal arm-twisting of lobbyists, and a constant drumbeat of doom and gloom, as one party does nothing substantive, then spends it time blaming the lack of advancement on the other party. This merry-go-round of pusillanimity is enough to induce the desire to ram one's head straight through a wall, with it's nauseating familiarity and regularity. That it does not stir enough animus in the general population is disheartening.

So blow the trumpets and summon the jesters. We have two years to work out a means of breaking free of this vortex of iniquity that is the modern American political system. Let us pray we can find a way to return earnest debate, liberal compromise, and straightforward governance to Washington, D.C., for to be unable to do so threatens America with extinction as a democratic Republic.

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