On this point, however, I agree. Whatever happens on Nov. 7 -- whether the Rs keep control of one or both Houses -- expect partisan rancor to be the defining element of political reality until at least '08. With, I will add, a subtheme of internal revolt in both parties.
I am not terribly happy about it. But I recognize forces of history and political realities when I see them. The next chance for the situation to get better, or worse (barring events triggering a very precipitous downward slide), is 2008. Because no one can possibly hope to stop the harvest of the last 12 years. If Nancy Pelosi even tries to appeal to the "better angels of our nature," she would find herself replaced as Speaker so fast she wouldn't have time to book a flight back to California.
More below the cut.
First, go read Harold Myerson's excellent piece, "How the GOP lost the North."
In particular consider this important sentence:
"What next week's election seems likely to illustrate is that the laws of thermodynamics - in particular, the one that states that for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction - have not been repealed."
Now consider Feld's Second Law of Public Policy:
"Public policy is made by human beings."
For twelve years, the Rs have systemically cut the Ds out of the legislative process. They have made legislative warfare the rule. It is the British system of total party loyalty, without the safeguards built into a Parlimentary system designed for it.
Worse, convinced that they had been ill-used and ill-treated under the D majority rule, the Rs launched significant "payback" projects. The infamous "K St. Project," the refusal of Rs to deal with trade groups that hired ranking Ds as a means of pushing lobbyist firms to hire ranking Rs, is but one example. and the Rs felt completely and utterly justified in their behavior. Not only did they forsee no consequence, not only did they imagine a permanent Republican majority, but they felt that whatever they did was entirely justified because the Ds had done similar things to them. The Rs were merely doing it better.
Never mind that "centrist" conservatives such as Norm Orenstien and traditional Rs regarded the conduct of the R majority -- especially its leaders such as DeLay and Frist -- with horror and revulsion. To the Rs, and their true believers, this is merely because those so-called conservatives were mealy mouthed wussies like Pappa Bush had proved to be. Old folks like James Baker and others who warned of consequences did not understand that this was revolution! This was War! It was OUR TIME now!
As a huge SF fan, I can't help but see DeLay, Frist, et al. as First Season G'Karr and the Narn, plotting the downfal of the Centauri. After all, the Centauri occupied and raped Narn for a century. Now that the Centauri were weak, we should let them escape?
And so the Rs have wrought an opposing party in their image. This isn't about the substance of legislation. This isn't, as some wishful thinkers hope, about "blue dog Democrats" keeping the Ds from advancing an ideologically partisan agenda. No, this is about how, if Nancy Pelosi is Speaker, Dennis Hasturt is going to find that his office is behind the cafeteria kitchen, about how Rs will have absolutely no ability to bring anything to the floor, and that they can expect their use of franking privileges to be audited every other week.
And if Nancy Pelosi informs the D caucus that no, she's going to be nice, because the American people need the Ds to rise above such petty things, then she will be stripped of her Speakership and assigned as the Junior member to the House Dog-Catcher Committee. Because the supposed "moderate" Blue Dog Ds hate the Rs even worse than the old time Liberals like Pelosi. Any D that gets elected as a Freshman this year, just like any R that got elected as a Freshman in 1994, is emerging from a bitter campaign in which the other side was THE ENEMY and where every attempt to work with them in the last 12 years has resulted in a kick in the nuts. (Or, as John Stewart so eloquently put it after a few choice clips of the opening of Congress in 2005, "that sound you here is the Republicans reaching across the aisle -- to squeeze your nut sack.")
And the new Ds do not want "bipartisanship." Again, I don't mean about legislation. This isn't about legislation or substance. This is about a core segment of the Democratic party that has moved from the intellectual disdain the conservatives found so galling 15 years ago to a lust for blood that equals any Republican rally in the "heartland." The newest registrants of the Democratic party want blood. They want the evil doers to suffer. If conservatives thought themselves abused before, if they thought (and continue to think of themselves) as an oppressed people, they are about to learn otherwise. If you thought Tip O'niel and Ted Kennedy whipped you with a lash, you will find the new Democratic party shall whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails.
This will, of course, merely reenforce the R/Conservative doctrine of total war. After all, it's not as if the Rs believe they deserve such treatment. The Ds deserved everything they got and more, but we Rs have behaved as models of restraint compared to what the Ds really deserved. If you think the White House and the Rs have exhausted their nasty little bag of tricks, think again. Because we can always, always always sink lower.
Mind you, if the Rs hold on to the House and Senate, it will be the same. As the Rs demonstrated in 2002 and 2004, they regard any situation that leaves them in charge as proof from God and the elctorate that they are 100% right, their ways are righteous, and that they must redouble their efforts to crush the D menace once and for all. In 2004, George Bush lost the popular vote but won in the electoral college. Others might have seen such a narrow victory as a cause for moderation and a need to bring together a nation divided. Yeah right. "I have political capital and I intend to use it." Bush announced the next day. Worse, his pet creature in the press corp., fawning on him the next day, asked how he would work with Ds who so clearly had cut themselves off from reality.
So, if the Rs maintain their majority in both Houses, they will not regard this as a last minute reprieve to try to get things done and change the tone before the Presidential race of 2008. They will see this as the ultimate justification of their rule of total war and their last chance to humiliate and disempower the Ds in preparation for 2008. They will add to that an arrogance of unbeleivable proportions. Becuase if they can keep both houses after all this, they will know, know, with absolute certainty, that they are utterly invincible and the Ds are eternally helpless before them. That no latte-sipping, brie-munching, wussy whinny liberal intellectual elite mob of bloggers and whankers can ever overcome their armies of true believers in the Heartland. So screw the enemy boys! We had a close call, but we shall continue to emerge triumphant, because our cause is just and our enemies corrupt and scattered.
I am not happy with this analysis. Nor is there escape by refusing to participate anymore than you can escape a Tsunami by refusing to learn to swim. Because if voters who are disgusted abandon the field, because they are too good and too pure or too horrified or too helpless to come play, then they ensure that only the most passionatly partisan, the most driven, the most venal and th emost vile, will govern us. Yeats was sadly prophetic when he wrote:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
But while I can imagine what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Washington waiting to be born, I do not imagine some revelation is at hand. Only the invairable consequences of political action and reaction.
What then is to be done? Are we simply doomed forever then? In the short term yes. But in the longer term no. If we would truly build a better world that breaks the cycle of partisan revenge, then it requires a concerted and real effort grounded in pragmatism and reality.
First, rather than mourn the inevitable awfulness that will be 2006-08 Congress, prepare to ride out the storm. "You will not save the Shire merely by being shocked and sad" is perhaps a more apt analogy than Rick Santorum's drawing the eye to Mordor. Resist the urge to simply sigh "a plague on both your Houses."
Second, and more fundamentally, figure out what it means to engage in our civil society beyond the ritual voting for one party or another every two years. Consider how you build bridges with others to achieve positive ends independent of elected representatives, or focusing on elected representatives at the local level. The internet makes this a heck of a lot easier than it used to be.
Third, worry less about the level to which other people sink and worry about your own. I am less interested in being outraged than I am in being effective. As I learned in Aikido long ago, move from one point with mind and body coordinated. I do not ignore those opposed to what I believe in, but I do not waste my time or energy hating them. If attacked, strike back with utter merciless precision, then move on. It is one thing to want to win, it is another thing to want the other side to suffer.
By combining 2 and 3, it is possible to build sufficient momentum to pull back from the brink. Because I have seen in my regular life the possibility of people working together. But we must consciously chose that way, and pursuade others of its validity through our actions. It is easy to mewl and whine for "reasonableness", "bipartisanship," and so forth. It is much harder to live it.
Once there was a city called Rome. It was a Republic. Over time, its people decided they preferred to be governed by an Emperor rather than do the hard work of being citizens. So citizenship meant less and less, until the day a Roman Emperor made all people of the Empire citizens so he could charge them all taxes.
What will we chose?