The dust has settled from last week's insanity, and the next two years lie ahead of us, not in the form of that mind-numbingly straight stretch of road between Las Vegas and Reno, but rather like a road map of Bisbee, with hills, white-knuckle narrow passages and surprise dead ends. These next two years could well shape America (or what's left of it) for decades to come.
I long ago reached a point where I can sit and watch countless hours of Election Night coverage and view it as some sort of macabre spectator sport. So it was on Tuesday, Nov. 2, as I watched the blue-purple map of the United States turn blood-red and scratched my head in muted dismay, the small-minded lashing out at the one who inherited the mess.
To be sure, President Obama must share in the blame. Many of his supporters (and detractors) believe—in hindsight, correctly—that he should have dealt solely with the economy from the moment he took office. It's like when you're on a plane, and the flight attendant says that in the case of an emergency, one should put his own oxygen mask on first and then help the kids with theirs. So, too, should President Obama have focused almost all of his energy on getting the country back on relatively solid economic ground before taking on other projects.
Had that worked, he would have had a much easier time getting public support for his health-care reform plans. But with the economy foundering and appearing to have been ignored, everything quickly devolved into a shouting match. Suddenly, what looked to be the foundation for a solid Democratic majority for the next 20 years is gone. And in a political climate where "compromise" is the dirtiest of all words, we're left with a populace that appears ready and willing to lurch violently back and forth like the cartoon character in a-ha's "Take on Me" video.
What's done is done, and we can't afford to waste time contemplating what might have been. The forces that brought about the congressional shift last week are emboldened; they smell blood in the water, and they're dreaming of nothing less than the eradication of the Democratic Party. You have to understand: People on the left often view people on the right as unenlightened and uncaring, but many people on the right tend to view those on the left as un-American. Big difference.
One thing we must not do is sit around waiting for the establishment Republicans and the Tea Party loons to turn on each other. It may very well happen, as per the old saw that when zealots form a firing squad, they assemble in a circle. If they begin to claw at each other, it will probably only serve to drag things even further to the right and may not benefit Dems at all.
Here are a few things that some key individuals and groups must do in the next two years to wipe the smug smiles off right-wing faces. (In Mitch McConnell's case, I don't know if it's a smile or early signs of rigor mortis.)
•President Obama: Hit 'em with the unexpected. Give them something they want; sell it to the American public as your idea; and then watch them squirm. I've mentioned in this column how British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, a conservative, outflanked political opponent William Gladstone on the left with a bold stroke that served Disraeli's party for decades. In much-more recent history, look at what Bill Clinton did in reaction to the Republican election surge of 1994: He latched on to the idea of a balanced budget, rode it to re-election and left office with the nation enjoying a budget surplus.
Tell the GOP members in the House that you'll back tort reform in exchange for their leaving the health-care law alone. They really can't do anything about it, anyway, and tort reform is their political nocturnal emission. You probably should have done this from the get-go. Most Americans don't think that a person (and their lawyers) should become fabulously wealthy because a medical professional made an honest mistake. Tort reform would drive down the cost of malpractice insurance, and then the new-and-improved health-care law would spread the financial pain to doctors and lawyers alike (poor babies that they are).
• Senate Democrats: Ratify the START II treaty immediately. Then get to work on an immigration law, and don't make it a wimpy one, like the one from 1986. Have some guts.
• "Independent voters": Grow a spine. Stand for something. Quit flapping in the breeze generated by Tea Party wailing.
•Arizona schoolchildren: Duck and cover, because Arizona state Senate Republicans, with a 70 percent majority, are coming for you, and it's not going to be pretty.
As for me, I'll be doing my part by starting the Democrats for Palin movement. Our goal is to work in of all those states where crap-for-brains legislators have allowed crossover voting in the primaries. We'll leave 100 or so Dems behind to vote for President Obama, and the rest of us will cross over and do a little Donald Segretti-style rat fornication.
I really don't know who would enjoy seeing her at the top of the GOP ticket more—those people who love her, or all the rest of us.