April 24, 2004

Something like an apology

I think I've been a bit too hard on various people.

The political shift that we seem to be in the midst of, with Republicans now holding House, Senate, and the Executive Branch, and many state governments, is something people like me have seen coming for the last 20 years or so. And we view it as embedded in a larger pattern of 70-year cycles in American politics.

But to many, what's happening now is the world turned upside down! It's like going outside one day and discovering that the sky is pink! No more blue sky, get used to it, pal!

We grew up in a world where Dems controlled Congress and most state legislatures as a matter of course. Where Democrats, liberals, were considered to be the "party of reform." The party of progress. The good guys! The "grown-ups" who naturally decided the nation's agenda, set the tone, and spoke with authority as of right. Their gerrymanders and committee-chairmanships were time-honored parts of political life, not shocking innovations.

I've been thinking about these lines from the Jonathan Rauch article I mentioned a couple of days ago:

...In today's era of Saint FDR, people forget that Roosevelt was, in his own day, a bitterly polarizing figure. To his adversaries, he seemed no ordinary opponent but a larger kind of menace, a radical whose determination to aggrandize Washington and himself portended an American dictatorship. Behind the mask of geniality, they saw a ruthless partisan who intended not to govern alongside the Republicans but to obliterate them...
Obliterate them! I'll bet that's just how it feels to be a Democrat right now. "Vast right-wing conspiracy" probably seems to fit the facts.

In truth, I think the changes are driven by an inevitable build-up of pressure. The article talks about how the Republicans seem to be choosing to pursue those reforms that will harm the Democrat coalition. But I think that's got things backwards.

Republicans aren't choosing the reforms, the reforms are choosing the Republicans! The reforms that are most pressing, most exciting, are precisely those the Democrats could not effect, because they would harm members of their coalition. Democrats are boxed in. The things they can do, they've already done, or at least tried. The things they can't do are becoming increasingly urgent.

I've criticized the Bush-haters for being totally negative, for being only against, and not for anything. But that's exactly how Republicans were in the 1930's. Stunned and bewildered and bitter. (Dems may be getting a bit of luck. The Republicans of the 30's endured a decade of the New Deal, and then, just then the New Deal was probably running out of steam, they got our nations' biggest war, with FDR as a splendid war-leader! No fair.) The only thing they were for was for life to return to "normal."

By the way, if anyone knows of a good book or article on how Republicans were thinking and reacting around 1932, I'd love to hear about it. All the books seem to be written about the winners.

Posted by John Weidner at April 24, 2004 12:47 PM
Weblog by John Weidner