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November 08, 2006

Back To Work

I'm too tired to post much right now, but the watchword is "back to work." We've lost a battle, and a big one, but it's only a setback in the general war of ideas which we're generally winning.

Why didn't we win this time? We didn't show up with the ammo for the war of ideas. Namely, ideas.

Conservatives preach that government is dysfunctional and inefficient, and yet we've done little to change that while in custody of the whole of the government. No streamlining efforts, no efforts to cut back wasteful spending, etc. These are small-bore type iniitiatives, but the public takes notice that you're trying. How much mileage did Clinton/Gore get out of "ReGo," "Reinventing Government"? Not a hell of a lot was done there, but certainly small improvements were made here and there, and they got credit for trying. They were trying to improve the government's ability to serve the public, even if in a minor (and much overhyped) way.

There's been a listnessness, a lack of energy in the government for a long while. To some extent, this always happens in the sixth year of a presidency, which is the reason for the six year itch. All of the major pieces of business have either been accomplished or attempted and rejected (like reforming Social Security).

And yet that hardly absolves Congress from acting on its own initiative to improve matters, to tinker with the way things work to make them work better. I'm not talking about spending more money. But if you have a collge loan program that's going to cost you so many billions of dollars per year anyway, for example, what the hell, why not see about improving customer service and the like?

Bush has been excessively passive and lethargic for two years, and Congress followed his lead. This passivity and lethargy he inherits from his father -- how obvious was it that George Bush the Elder had simply run out of steam in 1991?

Even the latest spate of anti-terrorist legislation was essentially reactive -- they were forced to act legislatively due to an adverse court ruling against administration-authorized policies existing for years. What, really, has Congress done for two years? Certainly it didn't cut any spending, God knows. But even if you're not in the Democratic tradition of addressing every new perceived need with a glittering new federal program, there's hardly any reason to not try to improve what programs we have in a revenue-neutral way.

And revenue-neutral programs would be a major goal for this past Congress, had they achieved it.

The conservative complaint is that government doesn't work very well. Fine-- but that hardly means that conservatives should allow government to work less well than it could. No, government isn't the answer to all of life's problems, but if you've got a government, you might as well fix a few of life's problems. Remember the public ecstacy over the micro-initiative of merely creating the federal Do Not Call registry, and ending telemarketers' calls into the home? Does anyone doubt their life isn't just a tiny bit better due to that?

Clinton was, of course, a master at this game of governmental small-ball. He controled the agenda because of this stuff.

And this Congress? Outlawed online poker. And couldn't even do so, except on the sly, attaching it stealthily to a security bill sure to pass. If you have to hide your legislative victories like old porn mags, they're not, in fact, victories at all.

Perhaps the only domestic issue that really could have moved votes was security-first-amnesty-later. But due to Bush's faith-based position that we need to make millions of Central and South Americans new American citizens every year, the Republican Congressmen were unable to seize upon this and save themselves. They lost elections due to Bush's political sins.

As Drew points out, there is now a defacto "timetable" in place for Iraq. Simple realism means that when the anti-war party wins an election, the war is just about ready to be declared over. That gives Bush a few months to try something bold and daring -- like sending over 30,000 new troops for a short period of time -- to stabilize the situation and get results. If he can't get them, then the Democrats have their wish -- they will force a loss in a war they never wanted to fight, and were determined to lose, all along.

If there's one silver lining, it is that the political enemy now has a face, and can no longer hide behind the mainstream media's skirts, even if they want to help hide them. I was very nearly laughing at Chris Matthews' statement tonight that he hoped Democrats, as they were on the brink of taking power, would think seriously about their position on Iraq. Hah-- now that they're about to take power they should think about it. Apparently Chris was just fine with them not thinking about it for the past year and a half-- but now they should come up with a plan.

But they will have to. They ran, basically, on the platform that they had a plan to ultimately have a plan. Well, the election's over, and now they're in power. The public elected them to help make Iraq better, and the public is going to be expecting that Plan the Democrats have long planned. Now that they can no longer merely carp from the sidelines, we'll see the brilliant plans the Democratic War-Fightin' Brain-Trust comes up with-- and so will the public.

Another commenter said that Bush's narrow victory in 2004 should have put him on notice the public was giving him a short period of time to prove he could fix things.

The media will certainly be pulling with all its might for Nancy Pelosi, but there's no evidence the public is willing to give the Democrats much longer than two years, either. We'll see how their plans to have a plan progress, and how that all works out for them in 2008. Nancy Pelosi will find it harder to evade every substantive question when she's now the leader of the House of Representatives. She promised she would, at some point, have answers; we're all ears.

Liberals blame voters for their decisions. I don't want to do that. But if politicians have to live with the consequences of losing their voters, voters have to live with the consequences of losing their politicians, too. According to early estimates, perhaps one-third of previous evangelical voters flipped and went for Democrats. If scandal and such put them off, fine. But if John Paul Stevens now retires, and Bush cannot get anyone but a liberal (of a moderate stripe) through the Senate, they will know precisely what that defection cost them. Can't say it's their fault; if the Republicans alienated them, such is politics. But I'm not sure evangelicals will find their choice in their own interests.

But most importantly: Back to work. We snoozed for two years, trusting that 9/11 and patriotism and little else would carry us through, even though we weren't delivering on even the basics of bedrock conservative principles. Or even clearly winning the war we trusted would keep the public on our side.

We were wrong, and we were bloodied. We got our clocks cleaned. The Democrats didn't do much except try not to say anything at all and nominate pretty candidates who had no previous history and thus could plausibly pose as moderates or even monderate-conservatives. But if you don't play your best game, you can be beaten by weak teams. Winning teams always play their best games. Losing teams put in half-hearted effort and just hope luck and opponents' mistakes will carry them along, barely.

That's what makes them losing teams.

It's time to start coming up with fresh and popular ideas again, and fighting for them, and keeping the Democrats on permanent defense. And, maybe, just for fun, proposing serious deficit reduction packages consisting chiefly of budget cuts.

And we'll see what the "Pay As You Go," very fiscally-responsible balanced-budget-hawk Democrats have to say about that.

And... Sidhe cheers me up by saying, basically, "Buck up, we've had our dirty barbarian asses tossed out of better places."

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posted by Ace at 04:51 AM

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