Here's the sentence that sums up what was wrong with election coverage '10, courtesy of the New York Times' Peter Baker (11/3/10):
Was this the natural and unavoidable backlash in a time of historic economic distress, or was it a repudiation of a big-spending activist government?
My answer: No.
As physicist Wolfgang Pauli used to say, that's not even wrong.
There may be no joy in Mudville today, but there is, of course, more in Moresville.
WARNING: N-bombs. They aren't mine, they come from the usual suspects. It does us no good to try to ignore them, so we have to talk about how to defuse them.
The answer to the NYT question is, "No", and besides that, the question itself is wrong, even meaningless. It is known to be very difficult to get useful answers to meaningless questions, but that doesn't stop pundits asking, or bloviating in reply to themselves.
On the economic side, FDR got himself re-elected thrice in economic hard times, in part by continuing to rail against "economic royalists". On the spending side, these deficit chicken hawks are the ones who want trillions of dollars in tax breaks and pork. They only get upset about government spending when the money goes to help the "undeserving" poor, widowed, orphaned, disabled, sick, oppressed, and otherwise needy.
What exactly is the question of the day?
The same thing it is every day, stupid—how to take over our own country! Not with daft one-night conspiracies, either, but by building mass movements that will force Congress, the President, even the courts to do what is needed for decades to come. Centuries, even. Not the fun of having opinions, but the real work, every day, of seeking the truth and spreading it.
In order to ask meaningful questions, we must address facts. It is no good talking about how we wish things would be, or ignoring elephants (ha ha) in the room and pretending that what politicians say has anything to do with what they mean.
This election outcome was the result of the old Republican Southern Strategy run wild across the nation, channelling all of the anger of threatened privilege under the old code language of defunding programs for the undeserving, (Yankee) tyranny, nullification, secession, Taking Our Country Back (to the white-bread 1950s (SPOILERS) and Jim Crow, or to the 18th century, possibly even to the Articles of Confederation in which the central government had no taxing power and no President, and there was no Bill of Rights). The original original intent of the Founders.
How did a minority cobble together a majority in the House of Representatives? It's called Cognitive Dissonance, as explained in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Briefly, when people are strongly committed to an idea, failure of predictions increases belief. The only way out is that their children fall away in large numbers.
As the lead defunder, Grover Norquist, put it,
I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.
Or take Republican strategist Lee Atwater. (Please!)
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger." [Emphasis added.]
Quoted by Alexander P. Lamis, political-science professor at Case Western Reserve University, in the book Southern Politics in the 1990's.
I only know of one way to defuse the N-bomb. Some people say that living well is the best revenge, but actually, it's helping others to live well. Fix the schools, create jobs, provide services, and remember, we aren't Tax and Spend Liberals. We're Tax and Invest Liberals. Never accept the Rightwing frame.
The Actual Intent of the Founders
The US Constitution is designed to slow down and delay major social changes to a degree that is infuriating to those who have to wait for their turn, unless they also see how it sometimes protects them from worse abuses. We can give thanks that it protects insane religions, because it also protects us from the insane. We can give thanks that it protects bigots, because it also protects activists. And so on. Many have waited too long for justice, but they would have waited a lot longer without the provision of such protections for their oppressors first.
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders into intemperate and pernicious resolutions.
Federalist Papers, 51, "The Structure of the Government…"
Indeed. We know the seduction of factious leaders only too well in our time.
The archaic Senate filibuster rule is designed to slow the process further. This was once justified by the principle of "unlimited debate", which the Internet renders vacuous, and turns into a mere delaying tactic. It has also been justified as preventing the "tyranny of the majority", but in practice has become an instrument of the "tyranny of the minority". There was talk of changing the filibuster rule in the upcoming Congress, but there seems to be no point in that with Republicans in charge of the House, unless we could somehow do it first thing in the Lame Duck session. Maybe if Obama and the rest of us can campaign strongly against the "Do-Nothing" Party of No in 2012, or if the Republican/Tea Party alliance in schism, in effect, campaigns against itself even more strongly than this time, we can discuss the question again.
The Intent of the People
We know that in long-term politics, even though it commonly takes 50 years for a new idea like women's suffrage to take over, the trend is inexorable. No matter what bloviation you hear from the Right, the Founders had it clearly in mind that the Constitution would adapt and change to meet new circumstances and new requirements, both by amendment and by judicial interpretation.
"To balance a large state or society, whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work; experience must guide their labor; time must bring it to perfection, and the feeling of inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they INEVITABLY fall into in their first trials and experiments."
Federalist Papers, 85, "Concluding Remarks", quoting Hume's Essays, "The Rise of Arts and Sciences"
"A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents." [emphasis added]
Federalist Papers, 78, "The Judiciary Department"
Gay rights have reached the tipping point in public opinion and in the courts, even if not in Congress. Republicans are busily throwing gay-bashers under the bus, for example by welcoming GOProud as a CPAC sponsor, even at the cost of other sponsorships.
Who and what will be next? You can't tell by political debates. Watch for what becomes accepted and normal on TV and in the movies. For gays, the question was raised in Advise and Consent (book, late 1950s, movie, early 1960s), and answered in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Brokeback Mountain, Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Maddow. All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Bill Cosby and Redd Foxx all did a lot for Blacks, as did Oprah, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, and many others, but more remains to be done before the nation as a whole says, as in the original movie In The Heat of the Night, "Hey! You're just like us!"
We know that the US will become a "majority minority" country fairly soon. If you count Feminism (where women form a slight majority of the population) the dinosaur of old rich White male privilege is going on the Endangered Species list, but the young, blue collar and middle class, rainbow, human majority still have to pry the levers of power from the cold, dead hands of their elders, as with Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. In fortunate cases we may be able merely to vote the rascals out in some election cycle to come.
You don't get to elect a President and then sit back and wait for the presents. You build mass movements, and you rebuild them, and then you build more of them.
Myself, I am working on education and a few other things for up to a billion children, with a view toward getting them jobs, ending poverty, and helping them get organized to take over the world. That's what children are for, you know. The question is whether they can get it together this time to take over before becoming as ossified, intolerant, and greedy as so many in the previous generation in so many corrupt governments around the world.
We're going to write them a series of Civics courses to explain not only how government is supposed to work, but what you can do when it doesn't. Hint: Organize better, next time, and better still, the time after that.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
And then they claim that it was their idea all along.