I don’t know if the last several weeks represent a shift in the dynamics of the nation’s politics that qualifies for the cliché “seismic shift,” but things do look a little different than they did only a month ago.
Over the last year or so Republicans have had a dandy run. They’ve sucked up an inordinate amount of media oxygen, successfully exploiting voter worry over, and dissatisfaction with economic conditions, more specifically jobs, to leverage a nice mid-term election bonanza. And since then, the press has bequeathed them a windfall of breathless coverage for their various crusades from state to state designed to return residents to a pre-New Deal, pre-Progressive and pre-Enlightenment era. And of course Republican ideological declamations, as well as denunciations and demonizing of President Obama, along with Republicans’ reliable stew of hair-raising conspiracy theories and various proclamations of socialist apocalypse have been irresistible to the press corps for most of Obama’s term.
The first of the two determinative factors in the change is the most obvious and most recent, the killing of Osama bin Laden of course. As an accomplishment in and of itself it is truly historic, and as they say in sports, it’s one for the record books for President Obama. But the political rewards in the form of numerous intangibles will have an impact far beyond the specific accomplishment, rewards that will affect the political landscape in coming months and years.
The electorates’ questionable depth of familiarity with history and its attention span being what they are, despite Bill Clinton’s highly successful military operations in the Balkans, LBJ bombing North Vietnam relentlessly and FDR masterfully waging the second world war, Republicans have had too easy a time portraying Democrats as virtual pacifists due to their opposition to the war in Vietnam, a position eventually adopted by a majority of Americans. Republicans’ reflexive xenophobia and their cynical torture advocacy unfortunately have reaped them some defense and national security huzzahs as well.
But Obama, by ordering and managing the outright whacking of bin Laden drove a stake through the heart of the pacifism myth. Along with Obama’s “muscular” policy in Afghanistan, for its good or its ill in the real world, in political terms he now appears clearly unsusceptible to charges of weakness in the foreign policy and security areas. His actions in carrying forth the mission and his words since in describing it have been emphatic, and can only create or confirm a perception of his “Don’t mess with me” attitude. So the removal of this very reliable and sometimes lethal arrow from Republicans’ political quiver is not a small thing,
It’s also something of a new day because Republicans, always believing themselves poised to revolutionize America back to the future, to glory days that never existed, at least not on any basis they advocate, got even more puffed up with confident zealotry in the last election round, making good since on all kinds of congressional obdurateness and nationwide over-reaching. The combination of the draconian, and widely seen as unfair and overwhelmingly nasty and partisan attacks on public workers and unions in the Midwest, along with Paul Ryan’s bastard child of an economic plan have illuminated for those who pay less attention most of the time to what those who pay a lot of attention all the time already knew, which is that today’s Republican Party is living in a world where the sky is a color unfamiliar to most Americans.
With all House Republicans casting their votes for the Ryan plan, Republicans did to themselves what Democrats could only partially do, which is convince Americans Republicans genuinely want to throw away the safety net starting with Medicare. This had the effect of reminding voters who in all likelihood mostly had forgotten that not too long ago Republicans pushed for the privatization (hence end) of Social Security, a ploy that turned out to be a mighty, mighty political whiff. Now they’re on record as favoring the banishment of the two most popular and beloved and relied upon government programs in American history. Good work ladies and gents.
So the world has shifted back to a more salutary orbit, what with voters seeing Obama for what he really is: calm, focused, deliberative, decisive and serious, and Republicans for what they actually are: obstructionist, hostile, reckless, radical, extreme, unrealistic, unreliable and downright batty. Anything can happen and something always does, but for the moment, the political world is on a righteous trajectory.