Friday, May 23, 2008

As Democrats Come Alive, Conservatives Die?

George Packer has a piece, The Fall of Conservatism, in The New Yorker this week that opens with this:

The era of American politics that has been dying before our eyes was born in 1966. That January, a twenty-seven-year-old editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Patrick Buchanan went to work for Richard Nixon, who was just beginning the most improbable political comeback in American history. Having served as Vice-President in the Eisenhower Administration, Nixon had lost the Presidency by a whisker to John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and had been humiliated in a 1962 bid for the California governorship. But he saw that he could propel himself back to power on the strength of a new feeling among Americans who, appalled by the chaos of the cities, the moral heedlessness of the young, and the insults to national pride in Vietnam, were ready to blame it all on the liberalism of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Right-wing populism was bubbling up from below; it needed to be guided by a leader who understood its resentments because he felt them, too.

“From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority,” Buchanan told me recently.
All I could think of was that 1966 was the year I was born. Apparently I came into the world the same year that saw the sunset of the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society.

Maybe that's why I have such an aversion to the convulsions of the 60s and 70s. Look at what it wrought:
  • 1980.
  • Ronald Reagan National Airport.
  • Grover Norquist.
  • Fox News.
  • Streets blocked off in my beloved city. You can no longer drive by the White House or the Capital as you could when I first came to DC in 1986.
Well, we've been spared the Reagan dime. And yeah, Clinton was in there for 8 years, but I'm thinking of him as more and more as a sell out in contrast to Obama's courage and ability to change the playing field. Listening to Obama - not just speeches, but his press conferences where, for example, he slammed Bush for pushing too early for elections in Gaza. He called Republicans naive in foreign policy. And put them on the defensive. It was breath taking.

Rather than responding in a tone of outrage, flaming the rhetoric, Obama got out there and ridiculed Bush, with a tone of bemusement over how he could be so stupid, over his policies.

From last week, Obama's response to the Bush's speech in Isreal:

"If George Bush and John McCain want to have a debate about protecting the United States of America, that is a debate that I'm happy to have any time, any place, and that is a debate that I will win because George Bush and John McCain have a lot to answer for," Obama said in a campaign speech in South Dakota.

"They've got to answer for the fact that Iran is the greatest strategic beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq. It made Iran stronger, George Bush's policies," he said.

"They're going to have to explain why Hamas now controls Gaza, Hamas that was strengthened because the United States insisted that we should have democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority."

"That's the Bush-McCain record on protecting this country," he added. "Those are the failed policies that John McCain wants to double down on."

Wow. I so wish my mom were alive to witness this.

Maybe because of the ascendancy and mastery of conservativism's grip on power, if not the arguments, over my lifetime is why the Kennedys - all of them - their ideals, their speeches, their call to public service and belief in government hold such allure and inspire such nostalgia in me. The awful news of Sen. Ted Kennedy's diagnosis hit me hard on Tuesday. His speech in 1980 is what moved me to get involved with politics.

I worked on Gary Hart's campaign in 84, came to DC in 1988 to work for Dukasis. I did not work for Bill Clinton, either time. I never liked him. In 2000, my aversion to the Clintons kept me from working or even voting for Gore (living in DC, I could afford my principles and did not have to consider the implications of voting for Nader, which I did). But I was back at it for Kerry and again this year.

And over those decades, amid my love of politics instilled by a speech by a Kennedy, the conservatives were in their ascendancy, which culminating in the, to me astonishing, re-election of George Bush in 2004.

And then to read this quote from Grover Norquist just days after in the Washington Post (I still have the clipping on my bulletin board):
Certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate.
That was his prescription for Democrats here in DC. He thought "the city might become less bitter and fractious now that the Democrats had been more or less neutered." Nice, eh? Obama cites that quote in The Audicity of Hope too. (For more about Norquist, click here.)

I don't mind fair disagreements on policy. I love debate. But that's not what's been going on in public life since I've been of age. I'm hungry for change. Starving.

Well, maybe Packer is right. Maybe this is the beginning of the end. And finally in my lifetime, the values of this country that I so love will represent patriotism and will manifest in my city and our country.

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