Archive for February, 2010

Fight or Flight and the Spirit of Compromise

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I have never been more disillusioned with the state of American politics. And that’s saying something, considering that I came to political awareness during the Bush years. Those eight years were an era when nothing could be more black and white, when you were either with us or an enemy, when the sky was falling and we needed to be constantly afraid and bellicose, like a terrified and jumpy man holed up with a shotgun through a dark, dense night. And somehow, miraculously, inexplicably, perhaps inevitably, things have gotten worse.

It turned out that the real threat to our livelihood and security didn’t come from without; it came from within. While we were pushing up walls and fences to protect us from the big, scary reality of the rest of the world, we had our backs turned to the real problems and the real threat. Our economy imploded. Jobs started disappearing. Panic set in. These were huge issues, much too large for the average American to even wrap his head around, much less try to solve. Luckily, we had a whole team of experts on our side, people whose jobs it is to deal with crises like ours on a regular basis. We had Congress, and they dropped the ball. Big time.

While I lean to the left and want to blame the right, I can’t because the facts don’t support it. The truth is that everyone screwed up, but the Democrat are much more to blame for our toxic political landscape. It was a Democratic majority in Congress starting in 2006 and through 2008, when things really started to stink. And it’s a Democratic majority right now, when we should be fixing things but are not. Sure, the Republicans share in the blame, but they are not exclusively to blame for events leading up to this crisis. Those of us who lean to the left are going to have to get past this if we want to break this political stalemate.

The problem is that both sides have forgotten how to compromise. As a result, everyone — Tea Party supporters, Socialists, and every shade in between — is going to suffer.

The Republicans have taken the stance that nothing is going to work unless they get their way. Unfortunately, they haven’t been quite clear on what they want. As near as we can tell, they don’t even want the opposite of what the Democrats want; they don’t want anything to happen. To say this is infuriating is an understatement. After all, it was a solid six years of Republican craziness, of Bush Affirmation, that helped get us into this festering abscess of a situation to begin with. Carrying right over from George W., the GOP refuses to learn a lesson and refuses to acknowledge that they had a hand in all this. They would much rather score points with their diminishing base than face the truth. But the GOP has never been good at looking ahead, and they can’t understand that if they don’t do anything now, then they’ll get into office in the future, but they’re going to be dealing with a much worse problem that’s stagnated while they’ve been stalling.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been the Party of Disappointment. They managed to squander an incredible amount of goodwill starting with Obama’s inauguration. November 2008 put them in charge of a government sourly in need of reform and an ailing America eager for change. Not “change” the campaign slogan buzzword, but real, honest-to-goodness improvement in something, anything. I cannot fathom how they’ve managed to fail so utterly at getting their agenda accomplished, not even token victories. They’ve taken a massive supermajority in the Senate and wasted it, compromising their position until it’s worthless. They lost Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat precisely because they’ve been so impotent this last year. It wasn’t angry Republicans upset about Universal Healthcare or Gay Marriage or one of the other conservative bugaboos that did them in, it was their own base. Their base didn’t care enough to vote, and it cost them. Believe me, it’s going to cost them a lot more this November.

It’s a classic Fight-or-Flight Response from both parties. Here we have this massive source of stress (the Financial Meltdown), and each party is embodying one of the two responses to the detriment of us all. The Republicans have gotten the urge to fight, but they’re misdirecting their aggression. Instead of tackling the problem, the real threat, they’re trying to make the Democrats looks bad. This tactic might help them win an election or two in the future, but it’s only going to wind up hurting them (and, more importantly, the People) more. The Democrats, for their part, are terrified and running away. Not just from the financial and social problems that hint at ruination, but from the Republicans, too. They’re high-tailing it right out of Washington and into early political obsolescence, and they’re so deluded that they can’t comprehend why everyone hates them so much. So they run faster, and the people get angrier.

It really is a season of anger, isn’t it? Joe Wilson’s outburst last September during President Obama’s Health Care speech wasn’t just the tip of the iceberg, it was the canary in the coal mine. Anger and outrage can do some marvelous things if properly channeled. The Tea Party has molded their anger into something symbolic, if not constructive. Meanwhile, there is no equivalent on the left — getting angry and aggressive is not something liberals are good at. We’re much more likely to be passive aggressive. That means staying home this November and bidding the majorities goodbye. The sad thing is that the Democrats won’t understand why they got voted out of office. They never learn. They’ll think it’s because the American people (the same ones who gave them a massive mandate last November) hate them for their policies and want them to be more like the Republicans. That’s half the truth. We are starting to hate the Democrats, but it’s because they’re doing nothing and making it worthless. Meanwhile, the Republicans are also doing nothing, but they’re convincing people that it’s worthwhile.

Is it too much to ask that somebody, anybody, do something that’s worthwhile?