Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tea Leaves


The conventionally wise say the special election in New York, wherein a Democrat has just won in a strongly Republican congressional district, was a referendum on the Ryan budget, on to which every Congressional R originally signed (and from which many are backing away like a kid who just witnessed a parental primal scene). I don't know enough about the district in question to argue one way or the other, but since it's been in Republican hands for a long long time, it seems reasonable that it's true.

I hope so.

What's so interesting to me about Republicans after the 2010 mid-term elections is the freedom they've felt to unleash their darkest desires; their sudden abandonment of their carefully constructed pretense that they were other than who they really are. It's as if the ease with which they'd deceived the teabaggers, their confidence in the discomfort of enough Americans with a black leader, their certainty that the dishonest distortions and outright lies of Fox "news" and the rest of the RWS™ convinced them they had absolute license to unleash their full agenda, the one they'd hidden from view for all these years, at least since the heydays of Newt and the Bug Killer. They felt that, finally, like lizard visitors from outer space, they could shed their human skin, reveal their real intentions, and people would either fail to notice, or not care. In their insular world, they thought everyone was a teabagger.

Unfettered, Rs in state legislatures put abortion and gay marriage and creationism ahead of everything else. In the US Congress, they did the same, doubling down. In power for half a year, they've yet to come up with a legitimate jobs program. And now their budget has made it undeniable: it's not partisan political spin to say they value tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of their wealthy patrons over funding the most basic of human needs. Their plans for Medicare, on which the New York election evidently turned, was indefensible on any grounds: it was simply irresponsible, cold-hearted, a sop to insurers and a middle finger to everyone else.

So brilliant they've been, so successfully deceptive. Yet now, after years of careful misdirection and disingenuous manipulation of our worst instincts, painstakingly making the term "Machiavellian" seem naive, Republicans seem to have you know what. Seeing their sleight of hand work in the midterms like luring kids with candy, they assumed they'd achieved the critical mass of uncritical masses. And they went for it. No more need to waste time and money convincing people to vote against their interests. And why not? Teabaggers have proved to be a completely credulous substrate.

For years I've been agreeing with those who say we need to address budget deficits; but I've also pointed out the obvious: it was Republican ideas, Republican policies that got us where we are. Solutions will need to look more like the successes of Clinton than the failures of Reagan. If we're to retain the values that have made us great; if we are to retain our ability to educate, to innovate, to provide for the structural needs of our country and the physical needs of our people, budgetary sanity will need to include sensible adjustments in entitlements, cuts in military spending, AND returning tax rates toward where they were when we were flourishing and paying down debut under Clinton. Simple.

But not to the current crop of Republicans, who clearly aren't interested in functioning government. (And, yes, I realize I sound like a hyper-partisan frother at the mouth. But, looking at their budget and how it pays for tax cuts to the wealthy by cutting programs for everyone else, what else is there to conclude?) The only question is how they decided now was the time to drop the mask, and to do so with such abandon, such certainty that they'd bamboozled voters for so long that they'd have carte blanche.

I'm not naive enough to think the battle to retain America's soul is over. The ability of Democrats to pull defeat from the jaws of victory is impossible to overestimate. Likewise, the bottomless gullibility of teabaggers, the ease with which hates and fears can be stoked by the unscrupulous have been demonstrated by Rs more than amply. As there will always be a certain percentage of the populous that believe in alien abductions, faked moon landings, and that Obama is a terrorist, so there will remain many who'll stick with Rs no matter how obvious their disregard for them. (Need proof? Read this. Or this.)

But maybe -- maybe -- the congressional embrace of the Ryan budget with its bogus numbers, its undeniably unbalanced agenda, its siphoning of health care money out of the hands of consumers and into the hands of insurers, has unblinded enough people to make them look again at Democrats who, despite their disorganization and pandering and watering-down, are at least trying to find a way to address the needs of the many in the middle and on the bottom, and not just the few at the top. Maybe Republicans' undisguised focus on discrimination against gays, their disregard for women's health, their love for rewriting textbooks and imposing state religion has finally made enough people uncomfortable that some sense will return to the national dialogue.

One election in one district about which I know nothing other than it elected a Democrat for the first time in a very long time (ever?) does not a national trend make. But for a moment anyway, I'm letting myself think -- recognizing I'm probably delusional and will be disappointed yet again -- that it's still possible for our country to address its problems in ways that might actually lead to solutions; that at some point even the Murdochian efforts to feed what Ailes us, in collusion with the very powerful RWS™ and the wealthy underwriters of astroturf movements, might fail to maintain their sway. That the past and future failures of the fully revealed Republican agenda are finally too much to deny.

A guy can dream, can't he?

[Added: seems Gail Collins doesn't agree.]


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