Wednesday, November 05, 2014

No Country For Old Men

I was struck this morning by the image of the putative leader of the Old White Guy faction in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, telling his followers that it was time to turn this country around.

He promises a 180 degree shift: that's what his campaign was about; that's what his party's message was; that's what his comrade's messages were; that's what's wanted by the evil billionaires who poured money into their coffers and their supporters.

And so I'm reminded of the comic's routine, popular during the 80s among comedians who'd grown up on Bill Cosby and then pushed away from him - people like Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor - of the dad who threatens to turn the car around and go home because the kids are misbehaving.  And then antics ensue, because the punchline was some variation of "dad just wanted to go home and drink beer on the couch in front of the football game and only took us out because we pestered him."  Now, its funny because its true.  At least it was funny the first dozen or so times I heard it.

But the people who stood athwart the tides of history yesterday and yelled "stop!" were by-and-large old.  The kids, the blacks, the browns, the chicks: they didn't show up, and we'll hear endless snickering about the flakiness of those groups all the way through January, how you just can't depend on them, how no true power base in this country can be formed without old white men and their co-dependent wives at the core.  I don't know enough of the sociology to know the real details on low turnout in midterms but I suspect there's a couple of very simple mechanical causal factors involving economics and schedules.  I recently heard something on NPR about the recent absolutely abysmal turnout percentages of young voters, who are also more likely to have absentee ballots rejected because they haven't signed them.  I find this trend interesting because I've heard the same things about young voters since I was young, and I expect there's a long history of young voters not voting, going back 60 years, to when yesterday's prevailing demographic were kids themselves. 

So you could make it easier for these people to vote, but that's, haha, not the point.  Politics is bloodsport and while there may be an ethical requirement to share power there is, practically, no reason politically; the old white men will not need to moderate their positions until they have to.  There's lots and lots of evidence that they will have to and more GOP Senate seats are in play in 2016 than are Dem seats, which may mean another upset, another "wave" election.  That won't help us deal with Joni Ernst, who's going to be out there making an ass of herself as much as possible between now and 2020 - that was what got her the seat in the first place, after all, so why should she do anything any differently? - but it will at least create something of an alignment for whoever wins the Presidency in 2016.

Because there's a couple of safe bets in American politics.  One is that the GOP will overreach.  All the wishy-washy centrist hopes that now that Republicans are in charge of the legislative branch they'll need to get something done demonstrate a wistful lack of common sense.  They will not attempt any real governing; or rather, they'll govern the way their base thinks they should govern, and that, as that base has made very clear, should consist of impeaching Obama, repealing ACA, cutting taxes on old white men, and using the military to smash enemies real and perceived all around the globe no matter the cost.  The business wing may think its going to get something; the billionaires may think they're going to get something; the anti-abortionists may think their agenda will be at the top of the list; but does anyone really want to make a big bet with me that there's not a really really good chance that impeachment and repeal won't distract the GOP for at least the next 12 months, to the exclusion of all else?  We may lose contact with our weather satellites and watch on TV while tornadoes and heat waves render the GOP states virtually uninhabitable, or - as happened last time the GOP owned the legislative agenda in the last two years of a Democratic presidency - try to raise the alarm about some nascent global catastrophe, but it won't matter.  The conversation will now be run by people who can't abide a black man in a white house.

There's an odd comfort in that: the gridlock the pundits have decried for years now has largely not been because of the Dems, its been because the GOP has really been two parties.  If Harry Reid has done anything in the last two years its save the remaining centrist Republicans from having to choose between registering stupefyingly horrible votes and Club for Growth show trials.  Now Boehner and McConnell think they've got the gavels, but its really Rubio, Cruz, Paul, King, a whole host of loonies who got where they are by moving to the right.  The GOP may just rip itself apart in the next 18 months, while the country demands the ruling party do something about the economy, ISIS, global warming, the climate, all while the primary concern of the GOP is impeachment and repeal.  Cruz, Paul and Rubio can't get elected President, and overreach will ensure many of those at-risk Senate seats in 2016 turn Dem.  And then, as we're reminded, President Hillary will also have the congress and can pass the Nanny State act while she quietly removes any accountability on Goldman Sachs. 

In the meantime, we all just need to hope Obama is good at playing defense, and we'll have to take care of ourselves.

UPDATE: Much of the policy the old white men who won yesterday want would make the country inhospitable to those very same men.  Retaining institutions of state repression against minorities; promoting a market-based health-care solution; arguing that impeachment is justified just because you don't like someone's party; gutting the tax base as the elderly start to retire and depend on their communities; committing money to overseas money pits; making it impossible, legislatively, to respond collectively to disasters affecting the community: its a measure of how truly short-sighted and low-information these voters are that the people hardest hit and worst-affected by these policies will be lower-middle-class senior citizens who can't afford to air condition their houses when they get sick with cancer.

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