Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teapocalypse Now?

Remember Election Night 2004? So do I. I was feeling pretty optimistic. Yeah, you knew, on a certain level, that you probably weren't going to get what you wanted out of the elections. But living in Minneapolis, and seeing all the sign waving and excitement that enveloped the city, this idea that yes, yes, we are finally going to get the crazy out of office and go back to our normal lives tomorrow, you almost got a sense that hell yeah, we could do this. So my naive, over-liberal self went to bed happy. And I woke up the next day to what I thought at the time was absolute hell. It was this crushing realization that no, elections weren't reasonable. The realization that people actually wanted these assholes in office. All in all, it was a rough day.

You'd think I'd feel the same way today. I know a lot of my fellow liberals are taking it pretty hard. And there are regrettable events that happened Tuesday night. We lost Feingold. We kept Reid. Iowa voted out three of the state justices that ruled gay marriage bans unconstitutional. Nancy Pelosi lost her Speaker of the House position. Yes, Democrats kept the Senate, but that's really only because Sarah Palin is an idiot that stuck her nose in where it didn't belong. Local elections were a disaster for Democrats, and this will have pretty dire consequences when it comes to redistricting. Ron Paul 2.0 (now with even more unchecked privilege issues!) will explain to us for years to come why it's our patriotic duty to kick black people out of our stores and force women to bear children while ripping out the social safety net from under them, all while pundits nod thoughtfully along at his new, fresh, hip ideas. And good lord, the punditry out right now, driving everyone mad with their "This just proves Obama must move to the center/this just proves the majority of Americans love the Tea Party" narrative that was actually formed last August (2009, not 2010). If there's one thing I learned on election night, it's that I really, really, really hate cable news pundits. And there is the frustrating fact that Lucy gets to hold up the football again, and yes, she will pull it away again (you honestly think Republicans are going to cut Social Security or find a way to pay for their tax cuts or entitlement programs? Bwa ha ha ha!) but when she pulls it away someone, somewhere, will scream that it was George Soros instead, and the mess starts all over again.

It gets old.

But oddly enough, I'm not angry. Or really that sad. I'm more reflective, I suppose. Perhaps this is some sort of mental defense mechanism, but I just can't bring myself to be that upset over this. Perhaps it's because unlike past disappointing elections, I pretty much expected today to end up like it did (Country's going to hell, but I was right! Go me!). I knew Republicans would take the House, history dictates that the opposing party usually does, and we always knew that Health Care reform was a suicide mission. I knew the media was giving the Tea Party movement a legitimacy they did not deserve, and as such, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I knew we weren't going to get the voter turnout we had in 2008, not just because it was a midterm election, but also because Obama set a bar so high he wouldn't have been able to reach it with a ladder, leaving no other option but disappointment (And shit y'all, Dancing with the Stars is on). It was easily predictable, and there's nothing to be done about it now. Election cycles happen. But as a small comfort, when I look at the larger picture, I just don't see this election as any sort of defining moment in politics. I know that demographics and history are always on my side, and the Republicans have decided to fight what can only be a losing battle against those realities. They apparently have no interest in reaching out to new voting bases and instead are actively alienating them in order to appeal to their xenophobic base. I can take small pleasure in knowing that this will not work out well for them. So on that level, I'm fine, and will just wait patiently for the next two years, or four years, to pass.

But in the meantime...

I'd go into the lessons Democrats could learn from this massive loss, but I already have, and most of that hasn't changed (anyone else note that the Blue Dogs lost half of their members, making up half of the Democratic seats lost? But no story there, right? No, America just loves Tea!). Although I neglected to add SELL! SELL! SELL! to that list, because Democrats are astoundingly bad at that. No, the public didn't like things like the stimulus or the GM bailout. But these things worked. And unlike Health Care, we can see clear, obvious results in them. Democratic polices halted the unemployment drop, and saved many jobs (not as many as it could have, but still). GM, who was pretty much done for, is now increasing production for their Cadillac brand in Michigan. Democrats seemed to think that because these policies were so unpopular, they should never revisit them again, even if they were sucessful. This is a bad idea. The public doesn't understand policy, sure. But they sure as hell understand results. And I think "We saved the fucking American auto industry" is a pretty good sell. So why not mention it?

But like yelling at clouds, while a fun activity sometimes, talking about what the Democrats should do is a waste of time if you aren't a Very Serious "centrist" that writes for a major newspaper and has awesome ideas about how to invade countries in order to save the economy. So bah, Democrats. Right now I'm more interested in what the Republicans are going to have to deal with.

The GOP had a good night, but it's not all roses and champagne for them, mainly because it was their party that became the Tea Party's bitch Tuesday night. Appeasing this crowd seems right up the GOP's alley, being that the actual message of the Tea Party is "Medicare-funded scooters for me, but seriously, fuck anyone that doesn't look like me", but it's not 1970 anymore and such a blatant appeal to xenophobia isn't going to work for them. So the Republicans are going to have to figure out a way to appear as small government advocates while appeasing an aging and ailing crowd that only grows more dependent on programs like Medicare and Social Security, figure out a way to toss red meat to the religious-right (yep, they still exist!) while not stepping on the toes of Anti-Government interventionist libertarians, and figure out a way to appeal to the real, blue-collar 'murikans while making sure those corporate donations that benefited them so handsomely in this midterm keep rolling in.

Needless to say, it's a lot to balance.

Not to mention, they have to actually govern again, instead of just whining about how unfair everything is, and we know from past experience that doesn't work out all that well for them. They are already trying to downplay their control of the House while at the same time describing the election to be a mandate on Obama's policies. It's a nice attempt, but the high profile of this midterm election will be a double-edged sword. Sure, the "Tea-Party Tsunami" makes for great headlines for the party right now. But it also adds renewed interest in their procedures; newly-minted Speaker of the House John Bohner is not going to be a greatly unknown and uncared about public figure like some Speakers have gotten away with (remember Hastert? No? Me either). I'd actually feel bad for Boehner if he weren't such a douchbag, I have a feeling he got all choked up during his speech not because he was so moved by America but because he realizes that in another two years, he'll be the most hated politician on the planet. Have fun, buddy!

With the spotlight on them, Republicans are not going to be able to blame Obama for things like shutting down congress or, if they really are that stupid, and they might be, pushing for impeachment. But their Tea Party overlords are demanding nothing less, and they are some seriously vengeful, grudge-holding people. They are still reacting to the culture in the 60s, for fuck's sake. And being that they've told us, again and again, that no, they really *didn't* like Bush and really *did* care about his excessive spending, wasteful wars, and assaults on civil liberties, it's going to be a lot harder to whistle past the graveyard when the same pattern repeats itself. The Republicans themselves set this own trap for themselves, describing their wins as second chances. We've changed, baby, we promise. Always a party that has been quite brilliant at bucking narratives that could damage them in the long run, this time, they've embraced an unobtainable goal with open arms. And in return, their hands are tied. As a commenter on my local newspaper put it (and I'm paraphrasing here, because I'm not digging through that cesspool to find it again): "Congrats, Republicans! Now fix everything in two years." In short, welcome to Obama's hell, GOP.

Now, there are still things that work in their favor, mainly our ever-stupid media and the ever-present corporate interests that have even more sway thanks to the Citizens United ruling. The public will lose interest, and like I said, look at results and not policy, so they could throw blame on Obama for congressional gridlock (which Republicans want, as they are at their best when playing the victim). But the GOP has a huge problem, they've created not only a "big tent" but a "big tent full o' crazy assholes who think the GOP owes them big" and they just can't stuff that Tea Monster they've been poking for the past few years back under the bed, anymore then they can keep the libertarians, social conservatives, or corporatists under there. And when there's a whiff of possible power in the air, all of these groups are going to make a grab for their own piece of that pie, and if they are denied, turn on each other. It's only a matter of time before the GOP circular firing squad breaks out, and for anyone not in that circle, it's going to be an amazing thing to watch. The schism that has been slowly widening in the GOP is going to become a series of wide gashes that no band-aids or Contracts with America will be able to cover.

The Republican's strength in the past was always their uncanny ability to keep everyone in line, and on point. This is not feasible anymore, because the Republicans long abandoned actual ideas in favor of "liberals hate it, so it must be awesome". Sadly, liberals hate a lot of things, we even hate each other most of the time, so it goes without saying that some of these things aren't going to jive nicely with each other, and back into the circular firing squad they go. So now Republicans will have to learn how to deal with the enemies of your enemy's enemy, and I doubt the Democrats, who have been herding those damn cats for decades now, are open to giving them any pointers on that front. It's more of a point and laugh situation, actually.

It's interesting, I always figured that the GOP would run into trouble once it's "small government" values and "social conservative" values ran up against each other (which they can't help but do). But this Tea Party faction is a different beast entirely. These guys don't even want democracy, or consistency. They just want to rule, and scream bloody murder and wave around guns if they don't get their way. I really have no idea how one can successfully deal with that and still appeal to the majority of the country.

Best of luck, guys.