Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thanks, Massachusetts

So something has happened to once again jar me out of my blogging slumber. Bear with me, because this isn't going to be pretty.

There was a special election held in the state of Massachusetts this evening, to decide who would take over for the now-deceased Senator Edward Kennedy. Due to the Democratic candidate's inability to tell a Red Sock from a Yankee, and her general lack of campaigning skills, this Senate seat now belongs to some Republican yahoo who looks a lot like a younger Mitt Romney and has posed nude on at least one occasion. But, to his credit, he's a real 'murikan, and has promised to be tough on terrorists and to vote against any and all attempts to reform the healthcare system, which is all you really need to be a Republican senator these days.

Anyway, this will leave the Dems with a 59 vote majority in the Senate, which in any other epoch of American politics would be more than enough to get quite a bit done. After all, Bush never had this type of legislative majority, but nevertheless got nearly everything he wanted during his administration. But given that the Republican party will filibuster any and all legislation coming from Democrats (including declarations that Hitler was a bad person, or that kicking puppies is mean), and also considering that the Dems have been, at best, ineffectual with a 60 vote majority, it's quite likely that they will be entirely useless from now until the likely ass-kicking that they will suffer at the end of this year. The crazies on the Right are smelling blood.

I think the events of the past year (and really, the past decade) amply demonstrate that the US political system is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of our time. You have one party that is weak, torn by ideological divisions, and largely beholden to the concerns of corporations and special interests, while the other party is simply insane. Obama is a huge improvement over the last occupant of the White House, but he hasn't shown the decisive leadership necessary to overcome this sad state of affairs.

Health care is a great example. Without dramatic health care reform, the US will continue to be an embarrassing exception among First World nations that guarantee quality health care to all their citizens. Health care costs will continue to skyrocket, enriching insurance and drug companies while bankrupting ordinary citizens, and eventually, the US government itself. Rather than giving up altogether on health care, the House may still pass the Senate health care reform compromise, but that hardly qualifies as "dramatic", and will do little to solve the larger problems the US faces on this front.

And we can pretty much forget about anything meaningful being done about climate change or regulating the financial sector or restoring civil liberties or transitioning to a greener economy or...I could go on. The one area where Obama will still have some room to maneuver is foreign policy, but that will make little difference when it comes to the long-term fiscal and social stability of our neighbor to the south.

I wish I could come to a more positive conclusion, but unless the Democrats man up and surprise me, or the Republicans finally come to their senses, and stop being so damned crazy and nihilistic, I don't see one. In future histories of the decline of the American empire, 2009 will surely be viewed as a huge missed opportunity to right the wrongs of the "lost decade" of the 2000s. Maybe it will take President Palin, a military dicatorship, and total economic collapse for Americans to finally come to their senses, but by that point it will be too late.



The Democrats in Massachusetts nominated a horrendous candidate who proceeded to run a somnolent campaign (or non-campaign) that presumed victory and excited exactly no one. The Republicans were highly motivated even though Scott Brown is far from great shakes himself. So we're back to the pre-2008 electoral dynamics: Republicans vote, Democrats don't. And why would they? What kind of rallying cry could Coakley have used? "Get out to vote! Protect that watered-down embarrassment of a health care 'reform' bill! You know, the one we let the insurance companies write!" Something tells me that would not have worked. It is plainly obvious that Democratic candidates can't expect success without the voters who showed up in 2008, and they're not going to show up unless they're highly motivated by distaste for the GOP (which they aren't at the moment, given the results from 2006-08) or enthusiasm for the Congressional agenda. What we're seeing is not a schizophrenic electorate giving the GOP eight years to screw things up and expecting the Democrats to fix it all in nine months. We're seeing that nine months is more than enough time for the modern Democratic Party to disgust most of its base.

And this isn't unfair either:

In the end, however, Obama will get exactly what he deserves. He took office with all the enthusiasm in the world behind him and he proceeded to govern like an Eisenhower Republican. Like Clinton, Obama will probably survive re-election in 2012 because of his personal appeal and the pitiful field of challengers. But his brief window of opportunity to seize the initiative and take control of the Congressional agenda has passed.

Of course, it doesn't help that some Democrats are already falling all over themselves in declaring defeat. So typical .