We Americans are conditioned to be consumers. It’s drilled into us almost from the time we’re born. We grow up thinking those kids on TV are having fun with the toy of the moment. As we grow older we are taught that Coke is the real thing, that we deserve a break today, that dying your hair makes you more attractive, that buying a new car gets you the hot girl.
Well, we’ve been sold to again. Yesterday’s election was as much a triumph of marketing as it was a reaction to a sour economy. For two years the American people have been told that they want something other than what the President and the Democrats in Congress are offering. They were told it so much that many of them bought into it. Whether the message was coming down from the top (the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world) or the bottom (ordinary citizens who feel that they’ve been Taxed Enough Already), they listened, and they believed it.
And so we come to this point, where starting in January the House of Representatives will be controlled by the Republicans. The majority of Senators are still Democrats, but unless there is some kind of major filibuster reform, the Senate will still be the place where legislation goes to die. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering the agenda the incoming Republican Congressmen have announced.
So those of you who voted for Tea Party candidates, or for Republicans in general, enjoy your day. Crow from the rafters. Savor the experience. Because soon the honeymoon will be over and the fun will stop, and those Congressmen you elected will have to get down to the serious business of governing.
That’s when you’ll find out the awful truth about the government. No matter who you sent to Congress or what they said they would do when they get there, they will find that it takes co-operation among 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate to get anything done. Repealing health care, or balancing the budget, or . . . really, anything is going to be pretty hard to pass. They’ll have to try to keep their base happy, but they won’t succeed. What the base will do then is an open question. Will they come up with even more right-wing candidates? Will they vote for Democrats? (Yeah, I know.) Will they try to form their own party? (Of course there’s already a political party that represents the interests of working people, but you wouldn’t know it to listen to TV or read the papers.)
Add to this that there are now effectively two Republican parties. There’s the one spearheaded by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner that represents the Old Guard, and there’s the one led by Michele Bachmann and Jim Demint that flies the Tea-Colored Flag. Once these two factions agree on something it will be hard to keep it from passing in the House (the Senate, as I said earlier, is a different matter); the trick is going to be to get them to agree. What the Tea Party wants isn’t the same as what the Old Guard Republicans want.
There’s an old saying in politics: Democrats are good at governing but lousy at winning elections. Republicans are good at getting elected but can’t govern. I think we’re going to see the Republican side of that play out in the next couple of years; then let’s see if Obama and the Democrats can catch lightning in a bottle again in 2012, or whether, as McConnell hopes, Obama will turn out to be a one-term wonder.