I’ve lost count of the number of times I decided not to vote in this election. It wasn’t even anything to do with Congress, since I think the Democrats in Congress did a very good job this session (with predictable exception of the craven Blue Dogs). Rather, it was frustration with the Obama administration, and its air of entitlement toward the support of liberals, its reflexive centrism on issues where it accepted its enemies’ definition of the center.
The decision to escalate in Afghanistan, for instance, was one of the sorriest episodes of policymaking since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Since that decision, we have seen countless stories on the corruption of the Karzai regime, and how it makes trust and collaboration with the Afghan government nearly impossible. But of course we knew that. We knew that before the policy review, and that’s why I was so opposed to increasing our commitment there. There was an insoluble problem that, for any military strategy to succeed, had to be solved. So here we are, with an Afghan war that is getting bloodier, an “ally” that is getting less reliable, and a strategy that seems to be treading water.
Detainee policy? State secrets? Obama hasn’t broken with the precedents set by Bush. Much though I love healthcare reform, I’d like to live in a country whose security policies don’t sicken me. I guess I’m glad that we’re no longer actively encouraging torture, but, to paraphrase Chris Rock, you’re not supposed to torture, motherfucker!
Then there’s the capitulatory Obama style. He never pushed back against “conservatives” who decided that railing against the deficit would be a winning issues. His promise of a spending freeze was laughable, a comically inept “me too!” moment from someone who is clearly too delicate for tough politics. In every negotiation, he has pre-emptively conceded on major points to demonstrate his centrism.
Blue Dog Democrats and the often nerveless, resentful Obama administration deserve to twist. But unfortunately, being a reasonable person means considering the alternatives. And they’re not good.
The Republican party never has and never will take responsibility for its role in creating the problems the country faces. Insofar as they’ve ventured toward introspection, they’ve largely settled on the kind of comforting narrative that David Brooks likes to use: the Republicans came to Washington full of virtuous purpose, but were corrupted by the city and eventually ended up abusing power. Note the lack of agency in this narrative. “Washington” corrupted Republicans, not that the Republican chose corruption or abuse, or promoted it. They were victims of political culture, one they had no hand in shaping.
With that in mind, the Tea Party was, in retrospect, an entirely predictable phenomenon. The very same people who had voted higher debts, who had cut taxes while allowing spending to explode, who had done their best to hamstring government oversight and regulation of markets… these hypocrites simply persuaded themselves that they had nothing at all to do with any of it. They convinced themselves they were a new force in politics, reformers and restorationists, and never experienced the slightest cognitive dissonance that their movement was laced with the exact same power brokers and insiders they were supposedly railing against.
That we’re still stuck with some kind of myth of “fiscal conservatives” in the Republican party is testament to conservatives’ limitless capacity for self-deception and the power of messaging to overcome facts and records. Yet they will doubtless spend the next two years blocking every effort to stimulate the economy, improve infrastructure, reduce the size and cost of the military, or aid the unemployed. They will probably manage to ram tax cuts through by tying them to the increasingly speculative “middle class”. All in the name of thrift and austerity.
I have no doubt that by Wednesday morning, the Republicans will be celebrating having “taken their country back.” Some good people will be lost in the election. Russ Feingold might be out of the Senate, one of the very few people who has actually be right about damn near everything in the last decade. Pelosi might leave the House, a lightning rod for criticism due to the twin sins of being a woman with power and having the temerity to exercise it.
That’s too bad, but ultimately I can’t do anything about it. If it were just a regular midterm I’d probably sit at my desk and watch the world go to hell. But there are local questions on the ballot and I’ve come to really like my adopted state, and don’t want the asinine sales tax initiative to go through, and I really don’t want Charlie Baker to win the governorship. His relentlessly petty, small-minded campaign ads have convinced me that as disgusted as I am with the state of American politics, I’ve got to go see if I can help Massachusetts remain a commonwealth of decency in a country of self-pity and pettiness. Because make no mistake, that is exactly what the GOP is selling this year.