A little historical perspective and a resolution for 2010

Problem: You wonder what it would be like to touch a black person, but your maid is too skittish. Solution: Internship at the RNC!

The photo at right comes from a whole set of shots of RNC chairman Michael Steele fallin’ out with his interns, at least one of whom appears to be developmentally disabled. Props to everyone’s favorite Meghan Gallagher for the link. 2009 draws rapidly to a close, which means that Combat! blog’s New Year’s resolutions—stop drinking well whiskey, provide a more balanced assessment of both ends of the American political spectrum, and reduce violations of resolution #1 to three per week—will soon be in force. Until then, though, screw those Chicken Little sons of rich bitches. There are two legitimate political parties in the United States right now. One of them is powerful, disorganized, corrupt and cowardly. The other is the GOP, which lacks political power but makes up for it by being well-coordinated and brave. Maybe “brave” isn’t the right word so much as “audacious.” Whether they’re organizing protests against quote-unquote tyrannical taxation three months into the new presidency or blaming the current crisis in health care on people who exercise too much, Republicans proved in 2009 that they know how to play from behind. In the process, they also made this one of the most hysterical, counterproductive years of American political discourse in recent memory. Oops. Then again, a lot of things have slipped from recent memory. As Timothy Egan points out, the GOP’s frothing over health care reform in 2009 is not unlike it’s general flip-out over Bill Clinton’s tax reform in 1993. Check it!

“People will be hunting Democrats with dogs,” is what Senator Phil Gramm (R–TX) said after the Senate voted in 1993—without a single Republican yea—to raise taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans and cut them for small businesses and the poor. The dogs were not released, maybe because no one could find a jasmine green tea-scented scrap of cloth in time, or maybe because what followed were several years of economic prosperity and budget surpluses. In retrospect, Clinton’s tax reforms were a subtle measure, not the catastrophic remaking of American society that the GOP and conservative talking heads said they were, and they yielded significant benefits. Egan sees a parallel in that legislation to the health care reform bill that passed the Senate last week—which, after all, contained no public option and no Medicare expansion, and finally boiled down to a more modest set of reforms than what even some Republican candidates called for during the 2008 election.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only parallel to 1993. Not a single Republican found last week’s bill acceptable, and the hyperbolic comparisons flew like they did during the first year of the Clinton presidency. Mike Huckabee compared Ben Nelson (D–NE) to Judas for compromising on abortion, which assessment history might judge a little excessive. Harry Reid was lucky to have the Reverend around to make him look good; the Senate Majority Leader managed several invidious comparisons himself this year, not the least of which came when he likened his Republican opponents to defenders of slavery. We here at Combat! blog are as worked up over the predatory health insurance industry as anyone, but the shackling of a people it ain’t. 2009 was supposed to be a year of hope and progress; instead, it was a frustrating exercise in barely productive bickering, memorable most for its vertiginous drop in the quality of American political discourse.

“Yes we can” turned out to be technically true this year, in the same sense that we can hold bees in our mouths or stop a ceiling fan with our hands. Whether we want to keep doing so is another matter. If 2009 has taught us anything, it’s that American politics can still function under the terms of absolute partisan war—just not as quickly or as well. The grassroots reinvestment in American politics that swept Obama to office last November seems to have wilted as quickly as it blossomed. The popular movement that replaced it is, um, less productive. The two major parties seem committed to actively thwarting each other at least until 2010, and that leaves the tiebreaking vote to the American people. Besides those of us who believe that European fascism was a form of socialism and the Fed is unconstitutional, the American people seem to be vitiated. As Yeats said, the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.

So here is Combat! blog’s New Year’s resolution for 2010: We will try to be better, and we will try to have a little more conviction. Better means not succumbing—or, you know, succumbing less—to the temptations of partisan bickering, the polemic over the policy, invective over interpretation. That’s what Huffington Post is for. Conviction means that we will embrace our responsibility as citizens in a continuing little-d democratic experiment, at a time when citizenship is most needed. There’s been a lot of talk this year of various people “taking back” our country, whatever that means. It’s an empty phrase—take it back from whom, and do what with it once we have? Still, it expresses a submerged longing for something better, and it’s something that can be achieved. 2009 may well be remembered as the year that American politics failed American governance. 2010 is yet undone. We can remember it as we lived it, and we can live it as we choose.

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  1. Fabulous photo, even better caption, and I wonder how your brain spits out such telling, useful, out-of-left-field metaphors like the bee in the mouth. You must look at that and wonder too sometimes.
    I think amid your concern for discourse you’re losing sight of how extraordinarily effective Obama has been in the face of his challenges (mainly, the Senate). Most economists without a particular political axe to grind would tell you he prevented total economic collapse and while there are of course huge compromises in the health bill, 30 million more will be insured and pre-existing condition exclusions and a lot of other things will finally be fixed. US-international discourse is a world away from where it was a year ago. Effective, intelligent people are running federal agencies, as opposed to Bush’s golfing buddies.
    Let’s hope his delays on gay rights and financial regulatory reform are part of some strategic plan.

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