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Reasons to be Cheerful, or The Far Side of Paradise

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I can think of at least four broad reasons to be happy and relieved about last Tuesday's election results. None of these requires you to believe liberal Democrats are saints or saviors — just that it's better to have a dialogue than a monologue in government.

1. It wiped the smirks away

On Election Night, I was stuck at the Atlanta airport, trying to get back to New York. By a stroke of luck, they boarded us early, at 7pm, for a flight that didn't end up leaving until 9pm and didn't land until 11pm. I say 'luck,' because it was on one of Delta's former Song planes featuring satellite TV. So, political nerd that I am, I happily watched CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for four hours. (I realize this, even more than a Democratic Congress, may be some folks' idea of hell.)

By far the most satisfying moments in those four hours were on Fox, as right-wing anchor Brit Hume and commentators like Fred Barnes struggled to put a positive spin on the Republican debacle. These men wear perpetual smirks and sneers, and relish every opportunity to mock and deride their opponents while praising and/or excusing even the most disgraceful acts of the Bush administration. But that night, they eventually gave up trying to pretend. The perpetual smirks were wiped off their faces. It was wonderful to see.

And the next day, our Smirker-in-Chief presented a remarkably gracious and humble face as he reacted publicly to the "thumpin'" his party had received. His words at the post-election news conference and during meetings with the incoming Democratic leaders of the House and Senate were on some level, of course, just well-rehearsed, politically necessary bullshit. We will no doubt get back to sniping and partisan hot air shortly. But one of the most exasperating things about the Bush government has been its pigheaded insistence it has done nothing wrong, as evidence to the contrary has risen to mountainous heights. So even a momentary pause in that very destructive attitude is something we can all be grateful for.

2. Accountability has the chance to make a comeback

Much has been said, both before and after the election, about the scary left-wing extremists who will take over Congressional committee chairmanships in January. I believe this is nonsense, for several reasons, but the most important cause for cheering is committee hearings, full of partisan bloviating, as they certainly will be at times, will provide the currently lacking counterpunch to Republican policies. If they are used properly, they will have real teeth as they find and reveal the corruption, inequity, and plain wrong-headedness that inevitably riddle the foreign and domestic policies of any government. For most of the last six years, the Republican Congress has served as an echo chamber for these policies, and dissenting voices were given little chance to be heard or acted upon.

The largest issue facing Congressional committee oversight is the war in Iraq. As Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker puts it, the "mendacity, incompetence, lawlessness, and ideological arrogance surrounding the origins and conduct of that war" need to be fully aired in public hearings. A lot of this will be backward-looking finger-pointing, but it's still a healthy exercise, and it is the Constitutional duty of the Congress, a duty Republicans have, understandably, let lapse.

As for future policy directions, the bipartisan Baker commission report will come out next month, and we can hope it will provide a starting point and a blueprint to finding a way out of the frightening chaos the war has become. At least two polar opposite points of view will have to be reconciled. With equal vehemence, John McCain says send lots more troops and win the war militarily, and John Murtha says bring them home now, because our very presence is a major cause of the chaos. I don't believe either of these viewpoints is nearly as ironclad as their proponents do, but a public hearing based on a bipartisan report can begin to formulate some policies to propose to the administration. And we can hope Bush will actually listen to these voices rather than continuing to charge boldly forward with his failed policy.

Domestically, here are three examples of areas Congressional committees should look hard at:

About Handyguy

  • BriMan

    Jim Hightower says the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

    Moderation is not needed in matters of war and the deficit for instance. These need to be solved and soon.

    Moderation of tone, diplomacy, ideology – I can get behind that.

  • handyguy

    You may be right that bold action is called for – but some sort of compromise, the most likely occurrence in the new divided government, is at least better than bold action in the wrong direction, which has been the Bush method up to this point.

  • handyguy

    And I’ve always enjoyed that armadillo quote, but as a real-world principle it has its limitations. It could be argued that such ‘bold actions’ as the Clinton impeachment and the recall of Gray Davis are the result of an unwillingness to compromise. Some may disagree, but I think both of those actions were destructive and wasteful.

  • Lee Richards

    Eisenhower said that going too far to the left or right from the middle of the road would land you in the gutter.
    Good article!

  • handyguy

    I see in this morning’s papers that Sec. Michael Leavitt is giving voice to the administration’s strong opposition to allowing the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices. The reason? This would obviate the free markets and put the government in control of a program that depends upon competition.

    This breathtaking pretzel logic and Orwellian doublespeak had me quite dumbfounded for a while this morning. But I think it’s possible that both Leavitt and the Democrats are describing this problem ideologically, not practically, which is why they are capable of having such radically different approaches.

    Since price negotiation is easier to understand and matches most people’s common sense, I assume it will win out and the administration will lose. But you have to give the Bushies credit for an innovative approach to logic, if not to policy. Call it the Lewis Carroll approach.

  • Baronius

    “For most of the last six years, the Republican Congress has served as an echo chamber for these policies”

    I’m assuming you mean the administration’s policies, and if so, I disagree. The last two years especially has been a period of striking poses and accomplishing nothing – certainly accomplishing nothing that the administration wanted.

    immigration reform
    Social Security reform
    detention policy
    judicial nominations
    John Bolton’s UN nomination
    permanent tax cuts

    That’s not a complete list of Bush’s second-term agenda, but it’s a good portion of it. Congress failed to act on most of it, but never failed to pose for the cameras. Both parties dropped the ball, either out of legitimate differences or partisanship and presidential aspirations.

    Will that be reduced in the next two years? It’s hard to see how.

  • handyguy

    It’s true Bush had trouble getting several domestic agenda items passed. Whatever the reasons, I am glad about most of them. He did get two very conservative justices onto the Supreme Court, and we’ll have no more of that. This is a good thing.

    But what’s been lacking is an amplified voice of opposition. There will no doubt be plenty of tiresome partisan bickering come January. But at least there will be more balance to the conversation. And in fact Bush may get an immigration bill and some sort of compromise on inheritance taxes, coupled to minimum wage reform.

    There will still be time to address amending or extending those oh-so-precious tax cuts before the 2010 deadline, even if all this upcoming congress does is yell back and forth about them. Better that they be discussed than rubber-stamped.

    Social security reform will require a bipartisan commission or something to take the political heat off it, and even then few politicians are brave enough to touch this infamous ‘third rail.’

  • Baronius

    See, Handy, I think there’s been balance in the conversation. The Dems just weren’t part of it. I don’t mean that in a nasty way. It’s just that until now, if you wanted to hear the non-Republican or non-administration position on an issue, you could turn to Lugar, Chaffee, Specter, McCain, Snowe, Hatch, and/or Voinovich. It may turn out that the Democrats can provide both voices, and the Republicans become similarly irrelevant. Maybe through some of these new moderates, or through senators positioning for a 2008 presidential run. But given the way they treated Lieberman, I don’t see them permitting dissent.

  • handyguy

    It’s true that Congressional Democrats haven’t had a coherent voice recently, and may well not find one now. With the chance to actually run hearings, that may change. We’ll see.

    But to talk about how ‘they’ treated Lieberman is silly. Before the primary, Lieberman was a Democrat and was treated mostly warmly by party leaders. After Lamont became the Democratic nominee, many Democrats felt obligated to support him – otherwise what would the nomination have meant? The antiwar vote that turned out in the primary wasn’t big enough to unseat an incumbent in the fall. But I don’t see anywhere in that an attempt to suppress dissent. [For a counterexample, look at Sen. Clinton, whose antiwar opponent lost; she's been nearly as hawkish as Lieberman.] If Lieberman had been the nominee, he would have been supported by his colleagues. At any rate, my point is there is no monolithic ‘they’ involved.

    For that same reason, that the Dems don’t all think alike, it may be hard for them to form a coherent opposition. Again, we’ll see. Should be interesting.

  • Bliffle

    “Social security reform will require a bipartisan commission or something to take the political heat off it, and even then few politicians are brave enough to touch this infamous ‘third rail.’”

    What crap! SS reform is just code words for SS robbery. SS consistently produces budget surpluses, and, in fact, this corrupt administration and it’s chief bully-boy GWB would be flat broke if they hadn’t purloined $198billion from the SS surplus to wage a vanity war in Iraq and hand out expensive gifts to their powerful friends.

    What you say is just part of the ongoing propaganda to prepare the foolish american citizen for yet-another financial outrage.

    You should be ashamed of yourself for contributing to such a campaign of lies.

  • Les Slater

    Pretty boring topic so far. The title induced me to put ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ by Ian Dury in the CD play to keep me ‘cheerful’ while reading.

    Bliffle’s #10 response to “Social security reform will require a bipartisan commission or something to take the political heat off it, and even then few politicians are brave enough to touch this infamous ‘third rail.’” prompted me to respond. First, I agree with his #10.

    ‘to take the political heat off’ Ain’t that interesting. The courage to do the unpopular thing. They pride themselves on that, the fuckin’ bastards.

    I end while listening to ‘Superman’s Big Sister’.

  • handyguy

    Well, Social Security reform doesn’t have to mean Bush’s version of it. But it doesn’t make sense to pretend there’s no problem coming in the next few decades when there are fewer young taxpayers and a lot more retirees. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will bankrupt the government at some point not so far away, even without a wastefully expensive war in Iraq. I approve of righteous indignation, but not to the point of letting it get in the way of solving real problems.

    And, very sorry to bore ya. There are plenty of bomb-throwers writing in other threads on BC if that’s your idea of a good time.

  • handyguy

    Oh, and Ian Dury was indeed the source of my title.