Friday, October 23, 2009
Real World Success is More Important than Legislative Wrangling
Count me among those who have listened with no small annoyance to the incessant alarmist chorus of worry and hand-wringing regarding the White House's decision to go on the offensive for once and attack Fox News. I have always known the political process to be fickle and seemingly designed for the sake of those who would split hairs and raise concerns, but I have never seen so many degrees of second-guessing from so many different corners as I have with the President's bold attack. Articles like this one prove my point. Any effective governing coalition requires placating not just the base, but also moderates, independents, and conservatives. This should be common sense, but the purveyors of news and politics easily forget it. The big tent is supposed to be big.
If any Democrat in power states a position, it will be automatically criticized for being too partisan. If one doesn't flex one's muscles, the lack of strong response will be lambasted as being spineless and wimpy. A shift to the left will be criticized as catering only to the base. A shift to the right will be criticized as forsaking liberals to appeal to a transparent sense of phony bipartisanship. Aiming for the middle will win critics on both the left and right who would much rather prefer their concerns winning precedent rather than having a foot in one side and a foot in the other. One could almost argue that a President, any President, can't manage to do much of anything right, except be a combination egalitarian punching bag and dart board. Any majority coalition is going to have natural fissures and at times conflicting interests, but the best leaders find a way to not sweat the small stuff and instead advance the common thread upon which all can agree.
Returning again to the recent condemnation of Faux News by the Obama Administration, I probably shouldn't have been surprised that some were so quick to make a Nixon analogy. I personally was surprised that the White House had the courage to take a chance by stating the unvarnished truth for once. Many of us in the netroots had been arguing similarly for years, i.e. that Fox News was not a network that aimed for any kind of objective, unbiased spin in its "news" coverage. That this was decried in some corners as a kind of Chicago-style kneecapping that utterly contradicted the President's earlier stand advancing post-partisanship is petty politics to the extreme. I doubt seriously that Obama keeps a constantly revised hate-list of enemies in the desk drawer of the Oval Office. Post-partisanship is fine but as we have seen over the months it also requires cooperation from the not-so-loyal opposition, who have wished to play by their own rules in their own sandbox thankyouverymuch. Once hopes in future that the substantive networks and news agencies no longer have to chase the narratives and outlandish pseudo-news set in motion by Fox.
Like many, I was among the ranks of the skeptics when our President continued to advance an optimistic agenda that sought to supersede political ideology in favor of cooperation. This Era of Good Feeling lasted, if memory serves, about three full months. As much as it pains me, we've still not evolved yet to the point that we can set aside our selfishness and our suspicion of the other side to truly work hand in hand. One of the open secrets of Washington legislative politics is that many Senators and Representatives do routinely reach across the aisle in formulating worthy bills and many, shockingly enough, even have friendships with those in the opposition party. They are, however, always cautious and careful to prevent this from becoming common knowledge back home among their constituents. Few wish to be accused of "palling around with Democrats" after all.
Part of what drives conservative opposition is the fear of being surrounded and outnumbered. This rally-round-the-flag response I see constantly when I am back home in Alabama. Having a long history of feeling marginalized and having its concerns discounted by the rest of the country provides a substantial ability and precedent to band together. After having fallen out of power altogether, it is a well-worn identity that can be easily embraced yet again. Not only that, at this point at least, Republicans really have everything to gain and nothing to lose. They can afford to speak with more or less one voice projected directly towards their base because, as has been exhaustively reported, moderate voices are currently few and far between. Energy does not need to be devoted to keeping everyone on board. Liberals and Democrats can be easily vilified as smug oppressors, forcing their version of ill-suited progress upon a public which would like nothing more than to be left alone to run its affairs in its own way. Still, at some point free will and laissez-faire produces more harm than good and intervention is necessary.
In the meantime, it might be best for us to embrace, for the first time in decades what being the majority party entails. We seem to have gotten out of practice over the years. It means being inclusive without papering over differences and knowing also how to engage different wings and blocs in honest conversation without degenerating into fratricide. On this point, the media seems poised and eager to pronounce a party at war with itself because doing so promises rapt attention, increased readership, and a steady stream of interesting, lurid headlines. Let's not go there, please. What I see is not exposed fault lines in stretched tautly in anticipation of a major tremor, but rather something quite different. I see the inevitable stress and strain which characterizes the democratic process at work, one which never provides a satisfying rallying cry for anyone until its conclusion, or until its effects are judged by the direct impact made upon those whom it sets out to help. At times we forget that the formulation of reform is often much less important than its role in improving the lives of others, but the former does make for good theater. The latter might not make for interesting copy, but it is upon this standard that we ought to judge success or failure. In so doing, we ought to act and choose our words accordingly.