Thursday, January 21, 2010

Welcome to Political Jonestown!

Well, the talking heads are all abuzz, what with the big upset in Massachusetts. The Republicans see it as a clear sign that they're just an election away from re-assuming their rightful majority status. The Democrats see it as a warning that they need to shift more to the right if they hope to maintain power. I suspect both groups are in for a big surprise. Big.

The tea-baggers claim the outcome of the Mass. election as proof that America is ready to give them the keys to the car & let them drive. But what would you expect from a group that inflates the head count at rallies from a few thousand people to a couple million, or who actually believes that screaming obscenities and threats through a louder megaphone makes you powerful? Rush has been telling them what's gonna happen for years now, but they haven't seemed to notice that he's been pretty universally wrong. Perhaps they're taking the same stuff he is.

And the Democrats? They seem to think that the only way to stay on top is to pretend they're more like the wingnuts, and to capitulate to the far right's demands. Never mind that the majority of Americans want a public option included in the healthcare package, or that the last thing the majority of Americans want is a return to the same kind of corruption that got us into our current mess in the first place. Nope... the answer, as they see it, is to Lieberman-ize en masse, and to abandon the principles that got them elected, all in the name of a "bipartisanship" that exists only in speeches.

So here's what I see happening in the next round of elections. On the Republican side, the wingnuts and tea-baggers will be energized. They'll gather up enough money to wage high-profile primary campaigns, all with getting rid of the incumbents as their primary focus. As usual, they won't offer any real platform beyond an, "aren't you pissed off at [insert incumbent of choice]?" The incumbents, of course, will feel the need to defend their records, even if those records consist of nothing more than saying "no" to anything the other party suggests. End result? A circular firing squad, where all candidates are so damaged, and their coffers so depleted, that there's little ammo left for the war of the general elections.

While that might look good for the Democrats, we've seen too many times how adept they are at clutching defeat from the jaws of victory, and I suspect they won't disappoint this time around. Massachusetts scared them. Many of them are actually starting to believe that the dittoheads might be gaining traction. And they'll do what they've always done when they feel threatened: pretend that they agreed with the wingnuts all along, but were simply misunderstood. Just like their friends on the far right, they'll pay more attention to the noisemakers than to the people who actually elected them, and stage their own version of mass suicide.

So who will be left standing after the smoke clears? Well, you can bet that the industry lobbyists & PACs won't be hurt that badly (at least, not right away), because they aren't stupid enough to let something as mundane as political ideology compromise their interests. They'll throw money at whomever they think will do their bidding. Lots of money.

I think that the independents - the real ones - stand to gain the most from all the infighting and shape-shifting. Even those who have meager records of accomplishments, or who might have previously been perceived as being too marginal in their views, will find themselves the darlings of the hour once all the dust settles. There's so much anger - both at the ones who screwed things up in the first place, as well as the ones who didn't provide an instantaneous fix for all our problems - that the devils we don't know will end up looking like the angels we long for. We might see some real progress toward populist programs (perhaps even health care) that most Americans want. But most importantly, we'll see a significant erosion of the dominance long enjoyed by the two major political parties, as well as the big-moneyed interests on whose tit the Dems and Repubs have suckled for such a long time. Massive amounts of money will be spent in their attempts to delay their death dance, but the effort will prove futile. The only ones who'll buy into their scheme are the same ones who failed to see the writing on the wall in the first place.

Ultimately, I think that the American people will be the real winners. Sure, there'll be whining, screaming, and widespread gnashing of teeth among the more entrenched partisan groups, along with their protestations that they're the ones who will offer "real change." In the end, though, the fringe element on both sides of the aisle will find themselves marginalized to the point that they can no longer claim relevance with anything even remotely resembling authority, and the most powerful players of the past will find themselves not only marginalized, but vilified by the vast majority of voters.

Of course, there is one very major caveat to these predictions: the intelligence of the American people. There's always the chance that enough will listen to the rationalizations and finger-pointing, and leave the same impotent scoundrels in place. As we learned in 2004, millions of Americans can indeed be that stupid. Ironically, the very recession that has caused so many of us real pain these last couple of years may well be the greatest gift this country has gotten in a long, long time. No matter how loudly the old guard protests, they won't be able to avoid the truth of the matter: that they dug the hole in which the country finds itself. And even the most blindly partisan voter will, I think, finally listen to and vote his or her own self-interests, rather than the interests of those who have done our country so much harm.

Much like in The Wizard of Oz, the Republicans need to get a heart, and the Democrats need to find courage. It's up to the rest of us to get a brain. We'll see how it goes.

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