Note: The following entry was written in December 2006 following the decisive elections on November 7 2006 and intended to succeed the November 7 2006 entry “General Election 2006”. As a result of general sloth on my part, it was never published – until now. It appears here in its original form, so anything that is out of date is as intended.
Follow-up On General Election 2006
Okay, now I should comment on what happened that fateful day of November 7 2006. First of all, this is the first election in all my years following politics where my side actually WON. Remember, I didn’t pay attention to politics until 2000, and I didn’t seriously pay attention to politics until late 2002 when my Party suffered a humiliating defeat. Now, finally, it was their turn. Congressional Republicans finally paid the price for five years of arrogance, incompetence and harmful, anti-government ideology.
It’s probably more the arrogance and incompetence parts. After seeing what happened following the Republicans’ ebullient 2004 claim of a “mandate” (arrogance) I’m not one to do the same for my side. Maybe Republicans still control the ideological/philosophical debate about role of government, at least superficially (e.g. the average American guy will say “Yeah, government should be small and the market should be allowed to work freely” but then ask him/her about health care, education, Social Security, infrastructure and the environment and they’ll advocate more government action). But it was the smug arrogance that led the Congressional Republicans to believe that they had a lock on power and that they couldn’t get caught (<coughTomDeLayBobNeyDukeCunninghamandabunchofotherunscrupulousrepresentatives>). It was the smug arrogance to led the Republicans to massively overreach with their conservative agenda on issues like Social Security, government spending and Terri Schiavo. And it was the smug arrogance that led to the upsets of caught off-guard Republicans like James A.S. Leach (IA-2), Gilbert W. Gutknecht, Jr. (MN-1), and most of all Joseph E. Bradley (NH-1), upsets that I did not predict.
The incompetence part was reinforced by debacles such as the Dubai port deal and Medicare Part D but really was captured by the biggest, most glaring issue this election season: Iraq. Four years after crazy liberal terrorist-coddling losers such as myself spoke out against illegally and unjustifiably invading a sovereign nation that had done nothing to us over charges that were unclear and not fully substantiated at best, it seems like Americans finally woke up to the reality that 1.) Iraq had no WMDs 2.) Iraq was not in cahoots with al Qaeda and 3.) This whole thing wasn’t going to be easy. It’d be nice if they had realized that four years ago, before we went to war, but oh well, better late than never (as I learned from my part-time job). At last, it was plain to see that the Bush administration had not prepared for what would happen after the end of Saddam Hussein’s rule and had figuratively dropped Iraq’s collective ass into a running garbage disposal. Now Bush and Congressional Republicans are doing the best to put a smiling face on a total mess – and Americans aren’t fooled anymore. Not even their desperate last-ditch fallback of “Democrats are emboldening terrorists” worked anymore – and that’s surprising, considering how well it worked in the past. Now, I break with most in my Party on the issue of staying in Iraq. We can talk about that in another entry. But it’s clear that the Republican Congress has failed to do its duty in asking the tough questions and, most importantly, properly funding the reconstruction and military effort so that the money’s going towards body armor for troops and vehicles and reconstructing Iraqi cities, instead of Halliburton’s corporate pockets.
As for ideology, it’s harder to tell whether the Republicans’ massive failure to really tackle and solve the challenges ordinary Americans face was merely a result of gross incompetence or actual manifestations of the “less is more except when it comes to your bedrooms, marriages and uteruses” ideology of the Republican Party. Of course, to be sure, as eminent liberal thinker Robert B. Reich put it, it’s not the actual size of government that distinguishes the parties from one another, but competing visions on whom the government works for and what it does. Sure, but that doesn’t mean that size – or, to be more precise, size of activity – doesn’t count. Let’s face it: Democrats support a more active (federal) government working for the economic/public interests of the country and its common people (i.e. the bottom 90 percent of the country) and Republicans don’t support an active government except when it comes to rich people and people’s private lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Democrats don’t care for the rich or Republicans don’t care for the poor/middle-class/everyone else. It just means that they have different views on what the government should and shouldn’t do. Republicans say they want to help the poor and middle-class, and in the absence of evidence to the contrary I think we should take them at their word. They just think that the poor and middle-class are better off if the government gets the hell out of the way instead of actually try to help, and that their chance for salvation and livelihood comes from a private sector mostly dominated by large corporations fattened off tax cuts and massive subsidies (and coincidentially are major contributors to Republican candidates).
When I think of helping people in need in the past few years, there are two places that instantly shoot to mind: New York City and New Orleans. They’re the locations of what are considered two defining, changing moments of the Bush presidency – the first one catapulted him to near-political invincibility, the other buried his political power in a fetid mess of swamp water and black people. For Bush, 9/11 was a great way to finally get what he wanted politically. But it was also a great opportunity to demonstrate the power the federal government has to improve people’s lives. In this case, that could start by rebuilding the World Trade Center and relieving unemployment for New Yorkers. But as Paul Krugman explained in his book The Great Unraveling, Bush and Congressional Republicans have fumbled when it comes to appropriating money for NYC reconstruction. New Orleans was an even bigger opportunity for government to flex its power for the common good. Before and after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government could have prevented the tragedy from even happening by expanding and reinforcing the levees or, failing that, quickly moving to pump out water, rebuild the devastated city and restore the local economy. Instead, it seems that on all counts the government has done nothing. (Check out my entry “The Lessons Of Katrina”.) It would be extremely cynical for me to say that the Republicans’ apparent apathy is due to anti-government-taking-a-direct-role-and-getting-its-hands-dirty ideology. (Though not as cynical as saying that it’s because of racism.) But that’s the conclusion I’m drawing. I don’t think it’s really incompetence. I mean, outside of uncontrollable train wrecks like Iraq, the Republicans have shown that they can get things done if they want to. Look at how quickly and decisively they moved on an issue critical to the everyday well-being of most Americans – Terri Schiavo. (That’s another result of their ideology.) And until recently they’ve been remarkably successful in delivering massive tax cuts for people who desperately need the extra money, being that they’re in the top 5% of all taxpayers and make millions a year. If they really wanted to move in and take an active role in rebuilding a shattered New Orleans (heavily populated by people who don’t drive Mercedes or own hilltop mansions or contribute to the campaigns of vulnerable Republican Senators), as Democrats would have done, they would have. But they didn’t. I don’t know why they didn’t, for sure, because they never explained themselves. Maybe it was a states’ rights thing. Maybe they really didn’t feel like the feds had a role. Maybe they got distracted by a shiny object. I don’t know. What I do know is that a Republican government has not gotten the job of protecting and supporting the American people done. A Democratic one should.
It was great that Democrats finally ended the Republican reign in the U.S. House of Representatives that was getting to be worringly long. It was great that Democrats took back the U.S. Senate as well, not to mention a bunch of governorships. There were disappointments too. I was very disappointed that Ned Lamont lost to Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. I was also very disappointed, though not as surprised, that Phil Angelides lost to Arnold Schwarzenegger here in California. And I was perplexed at how Representative Heather A. Wilson (R-NM-1) managed to survive yet another narrow reelection campaign. Not to mention Governor Timothy J. Pawlenty (R-Minn.).
But of course there were victories. Some of Congress’s worst people are gone now. Rick Santorum, for example. Tom DeLay – though it would’ve been nicer if he had actually had his ass handed to him rather than bitch out and resign. George Allen. And though they’re among the few decent Republicans, I’m glad to see Jim Leach and Lincoln Chafee go, cuz I don’t think they would’ve lost in any other election.
Though think D.C. will be mired in gridlock now, I think it’ll be great to have a Democratic Congress that will at least try to solve problems facing ordinary Americans, even if Bush vetoes every piece of worthwhile legislation. It’ll be interesting to see if he will, and to what extent he’ll cooperate with a hostile Congress. It’ll be exciting to see the kind of Gingrich vs. Clinton battles we saw the last time we had divided government, except this time it’ll be Pelosi vs. Bush. Yum.
All in all, the next two years hold a lot more promise than the last five did. The light is beginning to return.