What’s Coming to Us

Are you an optimist? Then what are you reading me for? Seriously. (No, I’m just joking.)

Optimism and pessimism are about reading signs. They are tilts of the head as we read. P goes this way, O that. Sometimes, it seems to me, O is tilting so far he’s practically looking up from below, spying something from beneath that isn’t apparent from where I’m looking.

Here are a couple of signs, the first from Faiz Shakir at Think Progress.

From the moment Obama entered office, right-wing conservatives embraced the posture of hell-bent opposition. Recall, in Jan. 2009, hate radio host Rush Limbaugh expressed his hope that Obama fails. One month later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proudly embraced Limbaugh at a conservative conference. The fringe rhetoric of far right activists had quickly become the de facto governing strategy of the Republican leadership, as they adopted a posture of obstructionism.

Believing that the Republican strategy of opposition has played to his political benefit, McConnell is pledging to do more of the same if Republicans win back the Senate. In an interview with the National Journal’s Major Garrett, McConnell candidly acknowledged that he feels his “single most important” job is to defeat President Obama in 2012:

MCCONNELL: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

NATIONAL JOURNAL: What’s the job?

MCCONNELL: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

There are actually two depressing facets to this little gem. The first is the more obvious. We understand that in addition to being representative of the people, an official of government, McConnell is also a partisan politician. And people and politics and life being the complex phenomena that they are, we know that an individual can have multiple roles, purposes, and desires. No problem with any of that. It is to be understood, then, that as a partisan Republican politician, McConnell is dedicated to replacing President Obama as President in two years. But that is not what he expressed.

Just in case it is unclear to anyone: every election is supposed to be about “them” – the public – and not “us,” the politicians. And every election is supposed to be “the first step” not “in retaking the government,” as if from some foreign power, but in maintaining it – constitutional, democratic, republican government – which sometime is guided and administered by members of one party and sometimes members of another. “The single most important thing” any office holder should “want to achieve” is to improve the state of the nation and the lives of its citizens, not to see a president of an opposing party voted out of office. The surest way to do that would actually be, cleverly, to degrade the state of the nation and the lives of the citizens, for which, whoever else, a sitting president will always be blamed.

McConnell’s expressed goal is exactly the kind of cynical, inside politics, self-interested and self-perpetuating professional pol behavior with which the disgruntled and angry, Tea Party or not, are supposed be disgusted. But McConnell is the man, and many like him, who will be leading the Republicans in the Senate, majority or not, come the next congress.

And if only those unhappy voters could see clearly, through the haze of those sunny mists that periodically descend before their eyes, the arms into which now they appear to be desperately running.

The other depressing facet on this corrosive stone are the ready rationalizations that partisans offer for McConnell’s statement, most of them even true, such as that there are Democrats and liberals just as cynical, etc., etc., etc. As if anywhere beyond the second grade that should matter as an argument. How truly demeaned is our discourse and democracy. But people will vote Republican next week convinced they are sparking some kind of upheaval in government.

The “people,” you say.

The poll provides a pre-Election Day glimpse of a nation so politically disquieted and disappointed in its current trajectory that 57 percent of the registered voters surveyed said they were more willing to take a chance this year on a candidate with little previous political experience. More than a quarter of them said they were even willing to back a candidate who holds some views that “seem extreme.”

This seems clearly to be the case. What else is the case?

While almost 9 in 10 respondents said they considered government spending to be an important issue, and more than half said they favored smaller government offering fewer services, there was no consensus on what programs should be cut. There was clear opposition to addressing one of the government’s biggest long-term challenges — the growing costs of paying Social Security benefits — by raising the retirement age or reducing benefits for future retirees.

It may well be that the recent great recession and the continuing economic doldrums and unemployment were not great and severe enough. As a nation, we are shuffling out of the worst, so far, with pain but little real trauma. So while we claim to want politicians to be different, we seem not much ready to be different ourselves. In all the nonsensical verbiage on the Right about “elites” that are somehow different and removed from the general public – in the nation in human history in which that is less so than in any other – what few wish to contemplate is that in the vast and complex dynamic that creates and makes a culture and a national ethos, we likely get the leadership we deserve. We do choose it, after all.

And we probably get…


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