We won—now what?

It’s been hard for me to organize my thoughts about this election, and I won’t even try to cram them all into one blog post. Suffice to say I am very pleased with the outcome.

The big question in my mind is “now what?” When Bush was re-elected in 2004 with a razor-slim margin in both the popular and electoral vote, he claimed a mandate; he and his party were remarkably corrupt and high-handed in government. Obama has been elected with a healthy margin in the popular vote and a near-landslide in the electoral vote, despite which he is taking a conciliatory, cautious tone. But he was elected on a message of change, and right now, with national and world events such as they are, change is going to happen—the question is whether he’ll be engineering the changes or be tossed around by them. Hope has gotten him this far. Now is the time for audacity.

When one party has had the run of Congress and the White House, they’ve tended to overreach and then get beat down in short order. One time when this conspicuously was not the case was during the Great Depression, when one party in the legislative and executive took bold action that was met with public approval. Everyone in the news telling us that our current economic peril is like nothing since that time.

And then there’s the Republicans. Shortly before the election, I wrote a comment on Metafilter that when the GOP is reduced to a bunch of anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world populists, it becomes self-limiting and easy to dismiss. If the USA had a GOP that stood mainly for things like limited government and fiscal responsibility—Eisenhower Republicans, you could say—it might bring something useful to the table.

Having lost the presidency and seen their contingents in the House and Senate reduced, the GOP is now in the introspection and wound-licking mode. One might hope that those Eisenhower Republicans would stand up and guide their party back to sanity. As Paul Krugman predicted, one would be disappointed. I had previously thought of RedState as one of the saner right-wing community sites. And they’re not as frothingly mad as, say, Free Republic (where some members were suggesting that Obama killed his own grandmother), but it is clear they have allied themselves with what we might call the Palin wing of the GOP: anti-gay, anti-science, anti-abortion, anti-rest-of-the-world, and from what I’ve read, party leaders are headed in that direction as well. If this really happens, it guarantees that the party will marginalize itself not only in terms of its representation in Washington, but in terms of its relevance to the country at large and questions of policy. Politics benefits from multiple viewpoints, but only when all of those viewpoints are founded on informed, open-minded, and reality-based positions.

The Democrats are not going to have a supermajority in the Senate, so the Republicans there may choose to gum up the works with filibusters. They may choose to sit back and watch while the Democrats screw things up (or so they will hope). They may not be able to filibuster at all if a few of their more moderate members decide to play along with the Democrats and the Democrats manage to maintain party unity. There may even be a few party-switchers coming over the to Democrats, as there were going the other way following the Republican revolution in 1994. If the GOP takes a more dogmatic tilt, this seems likely.

There’s a lot of work for Obama to do. There’s a lot that his supporters are expecting from him. And there may be little standing in the way of his taking bold action. He’s already made history and moved the country forward simply by being elected. I hope he keeps the momentum up.

2 thoughts on “We won—now what?”

  1. This may be a bit out of step with the national mood and the “feel good” high, but here goes…

    I have no doubt that the conservative opposition will do all it can to try to cut down this president, just as they did the last time they lost the presidency to a Democrat.

    The Obama campaign demonstrated that it learned from the mistakes of the Kerry campaign, such that it took sufficient steps to ensure they never were swiftboated. It’s my hope that an Obama presidency shows similar deftness, learning from the mistakes of the Clinton administration, to ensure it never gets monica-ized by the opposition.

  2. I am sure you’re right that the opposition will try to cut down Obama. Apart from any actual, important failures by the Obama administration, they’ll be mostly manufacturing fake controversy on the order of Travelgate, and dependent on the media to pick up and run with the stories they manufacture in order for those stories to get traction—which could happen. It’ll be interesting to see. I can imagine that the current high over Obama’s election may win him an extended honeymoon and light treatment from the press (Fox and WSJ excepted) for a while. As you point out, he’s already proven that he does not let attacks go unanswered, and he is deft at turning attacks and vulnerabilities to his advantage as well.

    For at least two years (and quite possibly longer) the GOP won’t be chairing any Congressional committees that would call hearings designed to embarrass or impede the administration.

    That leaves filibustering the Senate. The Dems will have 56 seats or so. If the GOP pursues a more dogmatic course, that will leave moderate or pragmatic Republican senators—Snow, Lugar, Hagel, Grassley, for example—more likely to work with Democrats.

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