Shortly the disappointment will begin
Well, we’ve all had our little entertainment. Romney lost. And now even some Republicans are pointing out how utterly vapid his campaign was. The Fox News pundits were shown to be charlatans one and all. The Republican candidates who couldn’t stop talking about the benefits of rape were defeated. All but Representative Steve King, that is. Our favorite local wingnut, Minnesota State Representative Tom Hackbarth, who recommends looking for love in the dark parking lot of a Planned Parenthood with a loaded rifle, handily won re-election, despite the GOP’s loss of both state houses. Dick Morris is in hiding (a feat very much like an elephant disguised in your living room), but a rock isn’t big enough to cover him long. Allen West was defeated, but wants to prolong the agony by a recount. The execrable Joe Walsh is out of Congress, demonstrating his own egocentric delusions by musing on a bid to become Governor of Illinois. And my personal favorite: the Tea Party engineered the ridding of the Senate of Dick Lugar, and, as it turns out from their view, for no apparent good reason! No actually, the best news was the re-defeat of the steroid-enabler and sleaze-promoter Linda McMahon. At a personal cost to her of $97 million. Dumb and beaten.
But, it’s now time to return to reality. And the painful reality is that Barack Obama is almost certainly going to disappoint us again, even though this time we lowered our expectations considerably and we had nothing to base any expectations on because the President didn’t really promise anything. What is it we can legitimately hope for in these circumstances? More of the same, I suppose. The President is not one who believes in policy or programs. If his Administration were in need of s slogan, it would be not The New Deal or The Fair Deal or The Square Deal, but simply The Same Deal.
There is no doubt that the President has far less maneuvering room than he did four years ago. But that’s what happens when you try to horde all your political capital. A mandate is much like a collection of Franklin Mint silver coins: it doesn’t get more valuable over time. But our President’s reluctance to “build that” comes from the odd belief that politics is somehow best when both parties agree, a little from here, a bit from there, everyone shakes hands in the end. Wherever he could have come up with that notion, it certainly wasn’t an anti-colonial Mau Mau perspective as Newt Gingrich early on suggested, mainly to remind people that the President is black and it was okay to vote against someone solely because he is black. Does the President believe he is somehow achieving the Golden Mean by implementing this philosophy? One thing is fairly clear he must genuinely believe deep-down in Compromise, with a capital C, as a driving philosophy, otherwise how could he in the face of the vilest slanders come back time and again with an open hand?
The most likely explanation is that the President is not a particularly deep thinker nor holds especially strong convictions. He was able to turn on a dime from opponent of the Iraq War to believer in the Petraeus-conceived escalation with such astonishing flexibility and finality that it took him 24 hours to accept Petraeus’s resignation in the face of a disqualifying scandal. Instead of controlling the legislative details of signature bills (as FDR or LBJ did) he farmed it out to the legislators in his party. This allowed his first year to be consumed by the unsightly show of self-aggrandizing Senators like Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus thinking aloud and publicly over details of the Affordable Care Act so that it looked as though the whole thing was worked out on the fly to appease squeaky wheels.
But the most astounding disappointment (that word is not strong enough to be apt) of last time was in discovering that the mild-mannered, apparently thoughtful politicians had a taste for assassination. In fact, it was his own personal counter-insurgency doctrine. For four years the President has acted as though he were simply above the need to take sides, that politics was beneath him.
In these circumstances, then, what can we expect this time around? At best, the Supreme Court will be packed with vanilla moderates who will protect Roe v. Wade. The rich will be required to pay a bit more in taxes, although the amount will turn out to be hardly worth all the overblown rhetoric that the two parties will employ. Such money that is left in the federal budget will be slopped around to achieve some neo-liberal ideal. Nothing, however, significant enough to much improve the economy or avoid a Japan-like stagnation will be achieved. Perhaps an immigration reform will pass, but only because it was the idea of the Republicans, for their own self-interest. Nothing of any importance will be done on the existential issue of our time, climate change, and probably the last opportunity to do anything before catastrophic consequences are booked will pass. The military will continue to drain our wealth and talent. Nothing of any use will be done in the fields of education, job creation, infrastructure maintenance, industrial policy, or the like. Poverty will continue to increase, and no one will talk about it.
But even this less-than-modest agenda may be more than we can hope for. It is far more likely that something much worse is in store, in light of the President’s (reluctant) revelation that chief among his goals is his longed-for Grand Bargain. This is how he explains it
“It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.”
And there you have it gentle reader. The President has signaled a path that will undoubtedly largely damage 90 years of liberal social engineering and modernization of the economy. And here is where I fear our disappointment will be most bitter. If Romney were President, we could hope, at least, that the Democrats in Congress might mount some rear-guard action to save as much as it could. And they would get credit in the public mind for the attept. But since the Grand Bargain is the improbable quest of the quixotic leader of the Democratic Party, democrats in Congress can only act as Sancho Panza, and this iteration of the Democratic Party will own the wreckage. Just as happened after Bill Clinton required the Democrats in Congress to support his balanced budget so will happen here: Electoral slaughter of goose-stepping Democrats by the wily Republicans, who will get what they always wanted and cripple the Democratic Party in the bargain. Because the wreckage will be much worse, the crippling will be all the more permanent.
If it plays out this way, then Tuesday was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory, and it will be the reactionaries who will be most entertained.
Update [11/16/12]: For those of you holding your breath in anticipation, it’s time to exhale.
One of two federal district court judges the President just nominated for the District Court for the Southern District of New York (the important trial court in Manahattan) is one Valerie Caproni. The major item on Ms. Caproni’s resume is having been appointed General Counsel of the FBI by George W. Bush. (During her tenure the FBI engaged in rampant abuses of exigent letters to obtain phone records according to the Report by the Inspector General. Despite evidence of her knowledge of individual irregularities, the report claims she was unaware of the extent.) Until recently, she has been in the counsel’s office of Northrop Grumman. So liberals can be pleased in our President’s selection for this important of someone at the heart of and oblivious to the national security state’s abuses and also a key legal ally of the military industrial complex. The White House, however, prefers to spin the number of women he has appointed to the bench. Evidently he has already appointed more women than George W. Bush has. So as civil liberties is kicked to the curb during our endless war on terror, we can be happy that it is done with the gentle footwear of lady rather than the mud-cacked boot of a gentleman.
Speaking of the military-industrial complex. You may recall that part of the “fiscal cliff” that so terrifies the media lapdogs of the powers that be is the automatic cutting of an arbitrary amount of federal spending if there is no deal. Half of it is to come from domestic spending and half from military spending. And while the U.S. spends nearly one-half of the total amount spent by all the governments on this planet on miliatry spending, our Secrteary of Defense was terrified of the impending cut. So after today’s secret bipartisan meeting, when all parties are expressing (muted) enthusiasm that a deal can be reached, there is talk of “revnue” by the Republicans and talk of reduction in (entitlement) spending by the Democrats. So are we to believe, that our honest broker President is going to erect his Grand Bargain spending cuts solely out of social welfare spending leave the Pentagon with its bloated budget? Nah, you would have to be too cynical to attribute any such desire to our leftist President.