Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Party of Maybe

Now let us examine the two legislative “triumphs” of the Obama Lame Duck Congress, “victories” that spawned thousands of comeback-kid stories.  And the proudest yea-sayer has been the President himself, who is taking all possible credit for the media turnaround.  So-called turnaround.  He was even praising his “perseverance”.  Well, he might. Perseverance is rewarded in this culture.  Most of the time.

T  The first triumph is the rescinding of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Eight Republicans voted for the repeal:
Scott Brown, Massachusetts
      Susan Collins, Maine
      Olympia Snowe, Maine
      Mark Kirk, Illinois
      Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
      John Ensign, Nevada
      Richard Burr, North Carolina
      George Voinovich, Ohio
That’s an odd selection, but there are back stories for all of them: mostly moderate Republicans, or conservative Republicans in liberal (blue) states.  Roughly 70 percent of the public was in favor of the repeal.  All manner of military top brass were for it.  As they say, its time had come.
In this vote and the vote to ratify the new START treaty, the second triumph, Republicans were faced with the dilemma of how reactionary and backward they wanted to be.  So, in the case of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the eight above went with the Democrats; in the case of the START treaty, more went along, agreeing with all the living secretaries of state, and other revered Republican potentates.  The Party of No, became the Party of Maybe, depending on the sanity of the issue. Meaning, what the chance of them not appearing sane to the public would be.  Still, in both cases, it was the minority of the Republican Senate.
Those two “victories”, and the passing of the First Responders health bill (by voice acclamation!), are what launched the thousand ships of Obama’s rescue from the island of the ineffective.  It was talked about at the time of the passing of the continuation of the Bush tax cuts that a deal was struck that he, the president, would get Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the START treaty as a reward.  That gift to the rich was seen as not too high a price for the other legislative accomplishments to come.
In fact, Obama does seem to know how much he will give away in order to get a victory.  The problem is not that he doesn’t pass legislation, it is that he gives away the store in order to get it done.  The Health Care bill is the prime example.  Before the start of that campaign, he already knew what to give up in order to get it done: the public option, control of the system remaining in the hands of private industry, etc.  If the president doesn’t see consensus on the horizon (as he did with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the START treaty, etc.), he gauges what he has to give in order to get. And what he has to give is most everything.
For his progressive base, this is all more than irritating.  And for finding it so, the base is considered by the White House to be a group of flighty air-heads in return.  I suppose the president’s right about that.  For what is clear about a large portion of the base, what they haven’t signed on to, is what Obama clearly has.  That he wants to be part of the haves, not the have nots.  Especially when it comes to legislation.  He wants to have it, rather than not have it.
That’s why he likes to be around rich people.  He’s happy to be rich, too. During one of the most short-lived periods for the 60s-70s generation, there wasn’t much reverence for the rich. I’d date it around the mid Sixties to the mid Seventies.  The Sixties generation, much heralded, eschewed materialism, for a while.  What you did mattered more than what you had.  The Reagan years ended all that. There was a dip at the crash of 2008-2009, but that fall lasted only a millisecond.  But now reverence for the rich is back at an all-time high.
I do find it odd and unsettling that the last two Democratic presidents love to be on the golf course.  That’s the Fifties in them, the country club spirit of the neo-Fifties we are all now living through, where Michelle is in the garden, and speaking out against obesity, and charter schools are lauded, and the president wants civility all around.  What’s missing, of course, in our current era, and was at its height during the Fifties, is union power and a rising middle class.  And jobs.   
And if New Year columns are supposed to predict, the only thing that feels predictable is that the unemployment rate will be above eight percent at the end of the year and the Party of Maybe will be back to being the Party of No.     

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