Why politics has become so damn annoying

I used to be completely enamored of politics.  I was interested in the government issues that were discussed, and intrigued by how professional politicians figured out how to win support from their colleagues and the voters, and proud to see how the system was used to pass laws meant to support the rights and freedoms upon which our country was established.  But the system has moved away from me over the years.

For me America’s politics has become more and more grating as it’s become less about political issues and more about Christian fundamentalism.  I learned about government and politics in a time and a place where government and politics were not seen as a means to enforce some any religious orthodoxy through law; since the law said everyone had freedom to practice their faith, or not to practice one at all, it didn’t occur to me that religions had anything to worry about.

The veil started lifting from my eyes in the 1980 election campaign.  I was a recent college graduate and news reporter trying to comprehend the strident religious rhetoric from the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority: wasn’t it out-of-place for this preacher to be mixing religion and politics?  In time I came to understand that a group interest based on religious belief was as valid as any other group interest in an election, but I was never comfortable with the sub rosa assurances from Falwell and his colleagues that their political position came with a Holy Imprimatur (“I’m God, and I approve this message.”)

Today, I see that a goodly portion of the people whom we politely refer to as social conservatives would more accurately characterized as Christian extremists who would like nothing more than to live in a semi-fundamentalist Christian theocracy, despite their declared love for the United States Constitution which expressly forbids that.  Granted, they have shown some, uh, flexibility in insisting they support the original intent of the document throughout, but cherry-picking those passages that support their position on an issue while ignoring all those which don’t.  But I give them credit: they played within the system, they played by the rules, and they’ve all but taken over the Republican Party.

Today I found this thoughtful video editorial at The Daily Beast: Michelle Goldberg gives some props to the religious right while gently scolding the pouters on the left who say they’ve given up on President Obama and electoral politics because they haven’t gotten everything they wanted since he was elected. 

Maybe it was the Reagan Revolution; maybe it was the Goldwater Generation; but conservatives have made the very vivid point that persistence pays off–there are elements at home today in the GOP’s ever-narrowing tent that neither Reagan nor Goldwater would have ever thought would be accommodated.  It’s an object lesson that the Republican fiscal conservatives, and the moderate-progressive-liberal-independent plurality of American citizens, need to take to heart.

The more things change, the more they stay eerily the same

First of all, don’t believe most of what’s coming out of the mouths of the political pros today, either the candidates or the party officials and consultants, including the ones disguised as Fox News commentators.  The winners of yesterday’s elections are saying every result is due to people rejecting President Obama and big government, while the losers are trying to convince us that they’re not to blame; nothing is that simple.  But make no mistake: the Democrats were beaten up yesterday.  Why?

For starters, the party in power always loses seats in the midterm elections.  Plus, Americans are (generally) not ideological, they’re practical—they want the economy strong and unemployment down, and they are impatient so they voted for someone new.  They didn’t, by and large, vote for mouthy extremists with no realistic plan for solving problems.  It was the independent voters, who supported Democrats in 2008, who drove the results of this election.  And if this election showed the biggest party swing in some 70 years, maybe it was because we’re trying to recover from the worst economic crisis in some 70 years.

The irony?  Unemployment is unacceptably high, but the naysayers aren’t giving the administration any credit for what it did do that, arguably, saved the economy.  But those things didn’t bring back jobs fast enough, and that was all the excuse many needed.

Don’t put too much stock in this big change being permanent.  Just two years ago there was supreme confidence that the Republican Party had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and that was less than a decade after the Democrats were routed and ostracized following the Clinton presidency, which came after a generation of Republican ascendancy while Democrats wandered in the desert.

Republicans now control the House and should be expected to make an effort to lead, rather than just get in the way as they’ve done the past two years.  Some wise Republicans have said as much today, that the people have given them a “second” chance (this presumes the world began with the election of Ronald Reagan).  Well, the thing Speaker of the House-presumptive John Boehner has touted is the Pledge to America, and I’ve read estimates that achieving that vague set of goals will add $700 billion to the debt.

So don’t be surprised if there’s not much change in Washington.  Promises to lower taxes are vacuous: government can’t afford to take a pay cut any more than you or me, not if it plans to keep programs people want, like Social Security, Medicare, and national defense.  Cutting anything else won’t have the kind of impact on long-term debt that will make a serious difference.  Besides, when it comes to a plan to help the economy recover and generate jobs, what’s your level of confidence that the party largely responsible for the circumstances that led to the economic crisis is the party that can make it all better?

Look for real changes at the state or local level, where enough small changes can add up to real power for Republicans.

One more thing: enough with all the balloon juice about “taking back” the government, unless you’re talking about taking it back from the deep-pocketed interests who’ve been controlling the people in office for years and years now.  On paper, the government is still and always has been in the hands of the people we citizens chose to look out for our interests, just as the Constitution envisioned.  On the ground…well, we all have to understand that the longer those people stay in government—like Boehner, just elected to his 11th two-year term?—the more they depend on the money that greases Washington’s wheels; it’s true for Democrats and Republicans, and they know it, too.

The older I’ve gotten the easier it’s become to keep these things in perspective: if you don’t like the results of this election, remember that there’ll be another one along soon enough.