Lately, watching the Democratic senatorial caucus has been like watching your toddler take his first few tentative steps forward, only to see the cat, shriek in terror and sit down until someone tells him what to do. Yesterday, the Senate voted 56 to 43 to begin debate on the Pentagon spending bill that would have ended Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. If you’ve been unfamiliar with the last two years of Senate proceedings, 56 to 43 is a loss. Because of the threat of filibuster, Democrats need 60 votes to win anything, whereas the Republicans need 41. Never mind that the filibuster hasn’t actually been used since the Democrats won the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Republican senators might do it, and that’s why Democrats scrambled and compromised to get 60 votes to pass health care, 60 votes to pass financial reform, 60 votes to pass anything more significant than a renewal of Flag Day. So, having won the vote to move forward with a plan to repeal DADT supported by the President, the Secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, Democrats in the Senate conceded defeat.
One of two narratives describes the Obama presidency, and if you tell me which one is true I can tell you which 24-hour news network you watch. Either President Barack Hussein Obama is a nouveau socialist whose cult of personality has allowed him to expand federal power to an unprecedented degree, or the Republican minority in Congress has put politics ahead of the best interests of the country and paralyzed the Hill with unrelenting obstructionism. We here at Combat! would never tell you what to believe,* but only one of these narratives has been fleshed out with a lot of scenes. Two weeks ago, Senate Republicans finally released the hold they had placed on Martha Johnson, the woman President Obama nominated seven months ago to head the General Services Administration. If you’ve never heard of the GSA, it’s probably because you are not a wholesale distributor of toilet paper and cleaning supplies; the agency’s primary task is to oversee the day-to-day maintenance of the Capitol and related buildings. Johnson was eventually confirmed with a vote of 94-2, suggesting that she was perhaps not such a controversial nominee after all. While an extreme example, she was just one of dozens of qualified applicants on whose nominations the GOP has placed holds, whether to ransom them for pet projects or out of a spirit of general dicketry. While calling the Republicans obstructionists seems unfair—they are the opposition party, after all—the discrepancy between their principled objections and their voting records is beginning to suggest that they’re playing politics, not government.
Whether you read the Times or the Wall Street Journal, informed consensus has it that this country is in trouble. Our monster deficit increasingly undercuts economic growth, while our mounting foreign debts threaten to make us grad students at the table of nations, disregarded except when we’re subjected to lectures on the importance of industry. We need to stop spending money, stat, but at the same time we’ve got an economy in shambles, an infrastructure wearing through and at least two major cities (Detroit, New Orleans) half abandoned. Oh yeah—we’ve also embarked on two land wars in Asia. In this time of crisis, with a new president who rode to office as the explicit champion of American hope, we have opted to spend the past year arguing heatedly about the particulars of a health care reform package that we never passed. In the meantime, we managed to degrade our discourse to the point where the ruling party is regularly compared to Nazis, the president is accused of not being an American citizen, and even routine political appointments are ransomed for congressional pork, at least until somebody gets caught. At our time of crisortunity, when we were faced with the chance and the obligation to remake America for the twenty-first century, we as a nation have boldly stepped forward onto our own dicks, then fallen into the cat box. Which raises an interesting political question: What the fuck is our problem?