Today marks the welcome and long delayed return of sane government.
Admittedly, it is just one branch of government that has regained its sanity, but it is a start. For many of us the end of our long, national nightmare did not occur when President Nixon resigned. It happened on November 8th when voters threw the Republicans out of both houses of Congress. Today, as a new Congress was sworn in, government of, by, and for the corporation and special interests came to an abrupt end.
While I felt the political earthquake coming before the election, I was still nervous whether its size would not be enough to dislodge Republicans from both houses of Congress. It was, but just barely. The Senate, where Democrats are in control by a single vote, still does not quite feel like it is in Democratic hands. This is because Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota remains in the hospital, after brain surgery. While his recovery appears to be proceeding normally, he has a long way to go before he can actively participate in the Senate. If he cannot serve, you can bet that South Dakota’s Republican governor will appoint a Republican to his seat. In this event, the Senate would split 50-50, effectively putting Republicans in charge since Darth Vader, a.k.a. Dick Cheney would become its deciding vote. Due to Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to pass any controversial bill. However, by being in the majority the Democrats will be able control the chamber’s business.
This afternoon found us with a new Speaker of the House who was, for the first time, a woman. Nancy Pelosi is going to surprise many people. Republicans will be the most surprised. They see her as a far left liberal. While that may be true, that does not mean that she will govern as one. She understands that if Democrats want to retain power their impact must be broad and mainstream, rather than serving a narrow constituency of supporters. This is a lesson the Republicans never quite grasped.
It has been a while since government truly worked on behalf of the average Joe. Except for a brief period when Democrats captured control of the Senate, it has been twelve years with a Republicans Congress. Until 2001, we had President Clinton to reign them in. Not that it has been easy. In 1995, Republicans interpreted their majority status as a reason to close the federal government. Over time, their Contract with America became inconvenient to their true mission: maintaining power for themselves and their friends. Term limit promises and rules about not accepting gifts from lobbyists went by the wayside. During this decade all pretenses were dropped. Time after time legislation was passed that gave great benefits to fellow Republicans, and screwed the rest of us.
The Republican Congress and President Bush gave new meaning to the word “chutzpah”. In the House of Representatives, Democrats were effectively locked out of legislative process. All sorts of tactics were used to diminish their power, including enacting rules that excluded them from bill markup sessions. Over in the White House, President Bush signed bills into law with accompanying signing statements. In many cases, these statements explicitly contradicted the purpose of these laws in the first place. He is still at it. On December 20th upon signing the Postal Reform Bill, he said he would interpret the law as giving him the power to open people’s mail without a warrant, even though it gave him no such power. I hope that one of the new Congress’ first acts will be to bring a case to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality. It is hard to imagine anything more unconstitutional than the president refusing to abide by the law of the land. At least when President Nixon broke the law, he knew he was doing wrong.
What were Americans smoking during the last twelve years? Virtually everything that came through Congress was framed this way: if it was good for Republican interests, let’s do it, and the fiscal consequences did not matter. Consequently, we got obscene tax cuts for the rich and favors for corporations and special interests of all kinds. We got faith-based initiatives on the taxpayer’s dime. We got politicians more concerned about the feelings of fertilized blastocytes than people who lost everything in New Orleans. The most progressive thing Congress did was pass a Medicare prescription drug bill. However, it did not do it until it made it easy for drug manufacturers to keep their profits high. Instead of carbon caps, we had meaningless voluntary quotas on carbon emissions. Throughout these years, while Congress kept increasing its salary it could not find a way to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour. This is a wage so niggardly that you can earn it and be well below the national poverty line. It was selfishness run amok.
Today meant a fundamental change in this sort of wrong and selfish thinking. It may be that after a long spell in power the Democrats may go back to the kind of corruption that deservedly got them thrown out of office in 1994. On the other hand, perhaps Democrats have learned a lesson. A hopeful sign is that the House Democrats, as their first act, will prohibit representatives from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Granted, after twelve years of Republican rule there is so much fundamentally messed up with the country that all the needed changes cannot occur overnight. The Republican Congress’ contempt for the American people, if it needed any more proof, was evident in their lame duck session. They left town without even bothering to complete passing fiscal year 2007 appropriation bills. However, a new day is dawning in Washington. Congress appears to be ready to be a government of, by, and for the people again. It may be that in 2009, a Democrat will be in the Oval Office too. In that case something quite remarkable will have occurred: two branches of government will have changed hands in just two years. Looking toward the 2008 elections, it is hard to see how President Bush can fail to be a drag on any Republican nominee. In the Senate, the number of Republicans up for reelection is much higher than the number of Democrats, which suggests that Democrats will build on their majority. In the House, it is unlikely that Republicans will be able to chip away at the Democratic majority in only two years. Most likely Democrats will increase their majority.
The fact is that the country is changing right under the Republicans’ noses. Unless Republicans reinvent themselves as a kinder, gentler and more moderate party, they are likely to keep losing seats. The 2006 election proved that the times are a changing. The Midwest is turning blue. Even the Rocky Mountain States are turning a shade of purple. As Generations X and Y age and discover their political power, they are unlikely to model the Republican Party’s values of narrow mindedness, xenophobia and a cultural monotheism. They are growing up in a different America, which is culturally diverse, and where Caucasians will no longer be in the majority.
I believe that history will show that in the first half of this decade that the Republican Party reached its political zenith. Its hold on the majority has always been tenuous because it so steadfastly worked against the people’s interests. Despite Tom Delay’s attempts at gerrymandering, the demographics no longer favor the Republican Party. America’s future is colored blue.