|(photo credit: Senate Democrats via photopin cc)|
Once upon a time, before witnessing the shutdown and near default of these United States, our federal government was controlled by Democrats. But, as is often the case with life and particularly true in politics, all that seems too good to be true is, in fact, too good to be true. For though the White House and both houses of Congresses were technically ruled by team blue, one pesky little fact remained: the Senate filibuster.
A nation enthused from an historic election that brought a wave of Democratic "control" to Washington soon grew weary of the less than perfect results of governing. And nowhere was this more clear than on the issue of health care. There is no need to rehash the health care debate. Yes, if one lesson is learned from this shutdown debacle, please let it be an understanding that there is no need to rehash the health care debate. But, if we only knew then what we know now, perhaps our lives would be so much easier.
What we know now is that inferior politicians don't create inferior policy. On the contrary, the role of an inferior politician is not to propose inadequate government, rather it's to do away with government all together. So, when a Tea Party candidate says they want to shrink the size of government, you'd best believe that what they really want to do is kill the whole thing. And when such promises are made amidst a sea of snarling, low information, low patience voters, the proper response is not to dwell on the eccentricities of a political movement's penchant for revolutionary-era garb, but to stop them before they get their hands on power.
America had it's chance to stop them in 2010. We had a midterm election. Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but a blind man could have seen the stupidity long before the first ballot was ever cast. The vote is a sacred act, but it's omission can hold consequences that are just as powerful. There is no reason to be surprised by the chaos that has characterized our legislative process for the past three years. And therein lies the problem. When you think of D.C. dysfunction, ask how the Tea Party gained so much power. And when you answer that question look towards those who were both present and absent on that first Tuesday in November 2010. Voting is a right. However, not voting is a privilege far too many of us can't afford.
Rule number one in politics is that elections are a zero-sum game. Perhaps that sounds a little harsh. In theory, there shouldn't be any need for such a narrow approach to government, however elections are very simple. . . there is a winner, and there is a loser. That's rule-damn-one. When all the votes are counted, are you up or are you down? The goal is, not only to win a spot at the table of power, but to make sure that your opponent doesn't get a seat of his own.
Democrats held a lot of seats in the first year and a half of President Obama's term, but not enough. Oh, so close, yet so far away, the crazy world of Senate procedure decreed that a simple majority (something Democrats did have) was insufficient whereas a supermajority of sixty (something for which Democrats were practically several votes shy) could break a filibuster.
When all was perfect with the world, Democrats had sixty votes. But when is anything ever perfect? Especially when vote number sixty was a conservaDem turned independent who endorsed the eventual 2008 Republican nominee for president. Especially when several more votes were senators whose very survival depended on navigating a sea of conservative voters that despised the president before he even stepped foot in the oval office.
Rule number two of politics is that results matter. Tomorrow is never promised when it comes to the power grab, so you'd better make the best of your time while you have it. Unfortunately, that leads to rule number three: it's prose, not poetry. Theory alone can be a luxury of those with too much time and too little responsibility. Thus rules two and three mean that the practice of governing requires a pragmatism that is focused on getting what you can when you can get it.
We couldn't fight the good fight for single payer, political capital is fleeting. We couldn't have a public option because we didn't have the votes to break a filibuster. Yet, these two very real pieces to the puzzle meant absolutely nothing to a world driven by sensationalism and the 24-hour news cycle. Remember, it's prose, not poetry.
So disappointment commenced. And with that disappointment came resentment. And with that resentment came shortsightedness. . . just in time for the midterm elections.
Team red was pissed and team blue was depressed. True, team red had no reason to be pissed, and team blue had no reason to be depressed, but the poetry of the moment called for such emotion. The media fed a constant supply of disenchanted, self-defeatist Democrats and supercharged, enthusiastic Republicans.
A self-fulfilling prophecy? The natural result of cyclical elections? Who knows, but the results were clear. Bye-bye Speaker Pelosi, hello Speaker Boehner. See ya later Democratic control, hello GOP chaos. Forget the filibuster, now Republicans controlled an entire House to obstruct the president's every move.
Congratulations, you just lost the House.
Congratulations, you have an even smaller, razor-thin majority in the Senate.
Congratulations, you did this in a year when the victor gets to redraw districts on a state level.
Your reward, you get to play prevent defense for the foreseeable future.
Democratic voters left the gate open in 2010. What will they do in 2014? What will the Tea Party do if given the chance?
Just don't be surprised next time.