Why the Election Doesn’t Freak Me Out

The midterm elections, returns for which I’m watching as I write, are supposed to be a nation-wide rebuke of “progressive” (I prefer “liberal”) ideas, to be the death knell for the Obama Era, to be the (re)ascence of the supercharged Right, et cetera et cetera.

While I have a dim view of the Tea Party – its activists, its ideas, its candidates, its rhetoric – I don’t think that the 2010 midterms are going to turn out to be the disaster for the Democratic Party or the president that pundits have predicted and conservatives have hoped for. Sure, tonight and the next few months are going to smart, and the next two years are going to be intermittently painful, especially if the GOP wrangles control of both houses of Congress.

But partly because I’m optimistic and partly because I think I know American history better than the average American (better than most pundits and better than pretty much all of the Tea Pariers), I don’t think that the Tea Party is going to either derail the Obama presidency or have any serious long- or short-term effect on the Republic.

First and foremost, I’m confident that President Obama will be able to outmaneuver the GOP. Though he’s made some serious missteps so far in his administration (climate-change legislation!), he’s also accomplished a great deal, as the progressive commentator Rachel Maddow effectively argued:

These accomplishments were all realized in the face of massive resistance on the part of the Republican minorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives. With the GOP likely to be the majority in the House, though probably not the Senate, the onus will now fall more heavily on the GOP to present a positive agenda – something they’ve been manifestly unable to do so far. And the president always has the power to veto bills coming out of Congress – a veto that the GOP will not have the numbers to override. Thank the Founders for checks and balances, and the president for his wiliness. It’s time for Obama to raise his game, as he might say.

Second, I won’t get freaked out about the GOP wins this year because they have been predicated on implicit and explicit appeals to the fear of white men and women about the “losing” “our” country. Did the Tea Party message (such as it is) have a better slogan than “Take Our Country Back”? (Right now, for instance, Marco Rubio (R-FLA) is giving his victory speech at a podium bearing a sign that reads “Reclaim America.”) But America was never only a white man’s country, and America is less and less that place. The Tea Partiers’ appeals to fear of difference won’t be the last time such appeals are made, but I think they’re one of the last times that those appeals will work – and even now, with the returns rolling in, it’s clear that not all Americans – not even a majority? – fear a black president and his supposedly shadowy agenda.

Third, I don’t fear the Tea Partiers or other Republicans in Congress because I know that Congress, for better or for worse, is designed to slow momentum, to dilute ideas, to compel compromises, to frustrate ambitions. Look back to 1994 and how the “Contract for America” class immolated itself with the government shutdown. When the likes of Rand Paul enter Congress, they’ll discover that their respective chambers are designed to impede individuals’ power, if not quite to mute individuals’ zeal. Because of the way Congress works, we won’t see this happen, at least right out in the open, but it will happen. Reactionaries like Paul will have to compromise or to get out. I look forward to seeing how they make that choice.

Last, I refuse to freak out about the election because the Tea Party is fundamentally based on ignorance and rage – the former an unchanging state of humankind, the latter a quick-dissipating reaction. I don’t think that many, much less every, Tea Party supporter or candidate is an idiot or a racist – only that they don’t care to understand to how the world in 2010 looks or works. Tea Party ideas (small government! no debt! liberty above community!) are just not suited for a country that is simultaneously an information-driven service economy, a (truly!) liberal democracy, an ever-less-white society, and an increasingly international and global culture. We’ll see all this proven in the next twenty-four months, if not the next six.

4 thoughts on “Why the Election Doesn’t Freak Me Out”

  1. Oh, I’m with you! Also, every midterm election has been dubbed a “rejection of fill-in-the-blank” and the philosophy that was supposedly rejected bounces right back in the next election.

    I’d say the midterms are more a reflection of society’s need for a quick fix and lack of patience. What? Obama can’t fix 8 years of disaster in only 2??

    And teabaggers aren’t angry about anything other than a liberal in the white house.

    During my Sr year civics class, a friend was badly burned on her foot by some very hot coffee someone spilled at church. Our teacher turned it into a lesson – “See? Subject is too hot to handle – checks & balances – pour it back and forth until it cools down!”

  2. Well said Christopher! I hope Dr Benisheck who is going to read every bill and all of it before he votes and is going to repeal the health care bill singlehandedly (if there is such a word) by January 15th is able to read what you just said here.

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