A perfect storm of bad news for Republicans over the last couple of months has finally convinced the country, two years too late, that GOP rule has been a disaster. My basic emotion is relief. I have no illusions that Democrats are now going to make things better--only not as bad, but I am relieved to learn that there is a limit to the abuses the American electorate was willing to tolerate. I was beginning to wonder after 2004. I was beginning to lose faith in the common sense and common decency of the American people. I expected the American electorate to repudiate Bush and his party in 2004 in the way they finally did it yesterday. They didn't do it then, but better late than never. I feel better about being an American this morning.
All the Dems sites are giddy at the scope of the blue victory, but the Democrats' taking control doesn't alter some of the fundamental structural elements that have been driving the regressive social and economic changes that we've seen in the last twenty-five years. In other words, the Dems are deeply complicit in a system where money and well-healed special interests drive policy. And let's not forget, twelve of them in the Senate voted for the MIlitary Commissions Act.
There are exceptions, but I think it's fair to say that individual politicians, whether they are Democrat or Republican, are motivated by what is in their political self-interests, and do what their consultants tell them to do. And consultants are interested only in doing what will keep their clients in office. The will of the people or public opinion, of course, is a factor, but too often is dealt with as something to be manipulated or worked around. These politicians tell their mostly inattentive constituents what they want to hear, and then do what they have to in order to advance their careers, which requires playing ball according to Beltway rules--a game they need consultants to understand. And so those careers depend more on what well organized and well financed interest groups and their lobbyists want than what is in the best interest of the country.
Liberal Democrats are wrong if they think this election is magnificent validation of their progressivism. The Republicans lost not because the American electorate rejected GOP political philosophy, but because of the Iraq fiasco and because Republicans overreached in their venality. GOP venality is at the heart of the matter. It was more than ususal the tail wagging the policy dog for the past six years. And it was the chief reason for the incompetent management of everything this administration has touched, both domestically and in Iraq.
Politics is for this group not about effective governance but about providing a feeding trough for GOP cronies. Political philosophy has nothing to do with the way they operated except to provide an ideological smokescreen to hide their crimes. That's what has the principled, small-government conservatives up in arms, and I don't blame them. They began to catch on that they've been used. They recongized that their agenda has a fairly narrow power base, and calculated that an alliance with the venality wing of the party would enable them to implement their agenda, but they found out how little real influence they have. The venality wing could care less about the agenda of principled conservatives.
But while the Dems take more seriously than the Republicans the challenge of governing competently and effectively, at least at the national level, the Clintonista, center/right DLC wing has proven time and time again that it is basically ok with an agenda that is dictated by the already rich and already powerful. Why? Because the power is where the money is, not where the unorganized people are, and if you're in politics you care mostly about where the power is. And the traditional middle- and lower-income groups don't have a strong institutional or organizational voice or power base. The unions used to be the great counterweight to traditional wealth and power interests, but they are now confused, weak, and ineffective. Democrats who are interested in advancing their careers understand which side of the bread is buttered. The definition of "moderate" for such Democrats has come to mean being comfortable with the agenda of the already rich and powerful.
A more progressively oriented political agenda embraces a wider swath of the American public opinion than the culturally conservative one does, but real progressives will not be able to enact anything until they develop a organized power base. They don't have one now. This is why I find facetious all this fretting from moderates and conservatives about the threat posed by the "left." What power base does the left have at this time? There is no left in this country except a toothless fringe that rants in the blogosphere, but has little influence in shaping policy. But there is a vigorous, well-organized, and well-financed alliance between the cultural and corporate right, and it will continue to put enormous pressure the system.
Democracies like ours respond more to the agendas of well organized minorities
than they do to the amorphous opinions of unorganized majorities. Most normal Americans oppose the agenda of the cultural and corporate right, if we've thought about it at all. But we are divided and effectively conquered. We comprise a complacent, easily manipulable, fragmented chaos of conflicting values and opinions from the center leftward that is incapable of developing a united front to achieve a positive agenda. We have little effect in shaping policy except to register our disgust, as we did yesterday, when the power and wealth elites become too blatant in their grabfest. We congratulate ourselves that the system works, and then go back to sleep. But the minorities on a mission stay awake, and they keep plugging away.
So the Democrats have won, and now normal, sane Americans can forget everything they've learned about how the right in this country operates, and look at this horrible six years as an historical aberration. And when the organized right makes its next assault in '08 or '10, there will be a huge chunk from this amorphous mass of disorganized Americans that will by and large believe its propaganda just as it did for the best part of the last six years. And so it goes.
I could be wrong, but here are some of the things that would have to happen to change my mind: I want to see the new congress repeal the Military Commissions Act. I don't hear Pelosi or anyone else talking about that. I want to see serious campaign reform to restrict the influence of big money driving the system. I want to see very serious election reforms that de-politicize the redistricting process and the secretary-of-state system that oversees elections. I want to see serious restrictions on the influence of lobbyists. And along those lines I want to see some effort to develop sane health care an energy policies that serve the common good and not corporate interests.
There are a bunch of other things, too. But these are the litmus-test issues for me, and I doubt that we're going to see much happen on any of them in the next two years or if someone like Hillary is elected in '08. It's possible that some progress can be made on one or two of these issues, but I have my doubts. I just don't see the leadership or a power base strong enough to counteract the special interest powers that will viciously fight to defeat any legislation that will affect them negatively. American public opinion is irrelevant. The opinions of the disorganized don't matter.
I'm not optimistic about the long-term effectiveness of netroots organizing. It's not nothing, but it's not enough. I hope I'm wrong about that, and I'm interested to hear anyone make the case that I am. But the problem is not Dems or Republicans; it's the system as it's structured. And I just don't see any plausible fix for it because there is no power base to drive the changes that have to be made.