Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Shiniest Turd In The Sewer

My mistake. Apparently there is something we can talk about today: is the 111th Congress somewhat less shit than everyone on the left seems to think?

Norman Ornstein says no, arguing that the stimulus bill alone is proof that the current iteration has already gotten more done than any other Congress since the 60's. Steve Benen describes the article as "[Painting] a pretty compelling picture."

Let's not be too hasty here, though. Quite aside from how depressing it is to think that somehow this pathetic, mewling, paralysed, drooling child of a legislative body is the best the States have seen since 1965, I'd be wary about grasping at Ornstein's life-raft too quickly. There's something critical going on here that needs to be considered if progressives are going to be able to understand who we are, and what they want out of Congress.

There are, broadly speaking, two different types of bill that Congress can try to pass, and that progressives are liable to support. The first is like the stimulus package. This is an attempt to counter and possibly even neutralise what is a worsening of what was until recently the status quo. And no doubt these bills need passing, and Congress deserves praise when they do so (though clearly reasonable people can disagree how much credit to give them).

As important as this kind of legislation is, though, it is not progress. It is the arresting of a slide backwards/downwards (depending on one's frame of reference), but it is not progress.

And progressives want progress. That's what we voted for (well, I didn't, obviously, but you know what I mean). Progressives recognise the necessity of Obama's attempts to return the US to the state it was, say, at the end of Clinton's presidency rather than Bush's (they also recognise, or at least they damn well should, that this is a truly monumental, almost Herculean task, and there is no guarantee Obama and co. will get even close to it), but what they want to be able to do, I think, is to be able to point to something at the end of Obama's first term and say "Here is an area of American life that has literally never been better". The unspoken (or rarely spoken) concern in all of this is that Obama will get the country back on its feet just enough to allow the next Republican president to tear everything down again.

That's why I'd be careful about embracing Ornstein's framing too completely. This may not have been his intention, but it feeds the larger narrative that Democratic success be judged in how much they reset Republican errors, instead of how much they change America for the better. In fact, paradoxically, the only reason why passing the stimulus bill is something to be particularly impressed by is that the Republicans were so baffling obsessed with not letting it happen. One would think the last thing the GOP would want to do would be to make fixing their mistakes even more of a political victory, but there you go.

In any event, a dangerous cycle is being mapped out. Republicans ruin the country, Democrats are tasked to clean it up, Republicans fight so hard against the clean-up that no-one has the time/will/courage to do anything else, and then at the end of it all the Republicans get back in because the Democrats have "failed". This constant, sanity-defying drone from the MSM (and centrist Dems) that Democrats "misread their mandate" is one more extension of this; arguing as it does that the Republicans are the natural leaders of the country, and the only job the Democrats serve is to fix the GOP's mistakes. That somehow the country never wants the Democrats in power, they just want the Republicans out of power every now and again, and they know they'll need someone to fill the gap in the interim.

So is the 111th Congress doing well? Only in the sense that it's somehow managing to overcome Republican attempts to derail a political cycle that is overwhelmingly to the Republican's advantage.

I'd be careful about popping the champagne corks over that one.

1 comment:

Senior Spielbergo said...

I read that article earlier today! My signing up to the Washington Post site has clearly begun to pay off already...