Friday, December 14, 2012

The long view: a movement in its death throes

It can be dispiriting watching things like what happened in Michigan this week, or Ambassador Rice's withdrawal of her nomination as Secretary of State, or the intransigence of the talks about the so-called "fiscal cliff.

But let me remind you once again of something First Lady Michelle Obama said a while ago.
Here's the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.

And in those moments when we're all sweating it, when we're worried that the bill won't pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we're playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn't happen overnight.

If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.

We always have.
If you adopt that view of a long game, I'd once again suggest that what we're witnessing is a movement in its death throes.

As I was reading around the internet this morning, I noted that many left-leaning pundits are wrestling with what's going on here. A lot of it centers on trying to understand the issue I wrote about yesterday: why aren't the Republicans proposing a specific plan? For example, here's Steve Benen's take on that.

But we start to get a picture of what's happening as folks like Jonathan Chait take on the Republican contention projection that President Obama is being "mean."
The psychology on display here is familiar to anybody who has seen a petulant teenager, who assumes that any restriction that causes them to feel anger must have been intended to produce that emotion. Republicans are feeling humiliated and divided, so Obama’s goal must have been to humiliate and divide them.
In an earlier column, Chait does a marvelous job of breaking down a recent column by Charles Krautthammer that begins with this:
Let’s understand President Obama’s strategy in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. It has nothing to do with economics or real fiscal reform. This is entirely about politics. It’s Phase 2 of the 2012 campaign. The election returned him to office. The fiscal cliff negotiations are designed to break the Republican opposition and grant him political supremacy, something he thinks he earned with his landslide 2.8-point victory margin on Election Day.
To Republicans, this is a power play - not a negotiation. They know they've lost power and are feeling - as Chait said - humiliated and divided. And so rather than try to govern responsibly, they're acting like a beast in its death throes...grabbing at any target they can find.

As I was thinking about all this, I ran across a column by Paul Krugman that pretty much says everything I was planning to write. So I'll just let him to it for me.
No, what we’re having is a political crisis, born of the fact that one of our two great political parties has reached the end of a 30-year road. The modern Republican Party’s grand, radical agenda lies in ruins — but the party doesn’t know how to deal with that failure, and it retains enough power to do immense damage as it strikes out in frustration...

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid...

Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely...

O.K., you see the problem: Democrats didn’t go along with the program, and refused to give up. Worse, from the Republican point of view, all of their party’s sources of strength have turned into weaknesses. Democratic dominance among Hispanics has overshadowed Republican dominance among southern whites; women’s rights have trumped the politics of abortion and antigay sentiment; and guess who finally did get Osama bin Laden.

And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.

So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands.

It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.
As we watch these attempts to lash out in frustration, its important to keep this bigger picture in mind. Many of us keep checking the horizon for some sane voices to emerge on the right to end the spectacle and limit the damage its likely to inflict in the process. That might be a pipe dream based on what we're seeing since the election. So we best gird ourselves to deal with what's coming and keep our eye on the long view of what is actually happening here.


  1. Of course it's a power-play. That's how a person gets things done. I am always impressed at how the GOP can simultaneously celebrate itself when it makes a raw power grab and denigrate Democrats for doing precisely the same thing, with no visible sheepishness.

    Krugman is entirely right. End of a 40-year road, I'd say, because I'd put Nixon in there too, even though in terms of actual (domestic) policy he was to the left of Clinton, for sure.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that dealing with gerrymandering in the House is issue number one for the long-term.

    1. First step is to take back the state houses in the states where the worst gerrymandering has occurred. The second step is to redistrict in order to restore a balance between the ratio of House seats awarded and the ratio of votes for Dems and Republicans state-wide.

      And we don't have to wait for 2020 to do this redistricting. The Republicans already set the precedent for doing it earlier.

  2. This is one of the most lucid reads I've come across. Thank you, Smartypants.


  3. A snake bites hardest just before it dies.


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