Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): January 20, 2010 - wither the new epoch?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20, 2010 - wither the new epoch?

At 9:00 am today, a re-publishing of my Obama piece from last year was slated to go up. The essay, a recounting of my attendance at the president's inauguration 24 hours after the fact, is still up here if you want to read it: as a first-hand memoir of the event and first-draft summation of the zeitgeist, it's still pretty interesting, I think. However, it no longer fits the mood of the moment. I was going to re-post it to commemorate the first anniversary of Obama's presidency today - not only its promise but rumbles of its discontent (which I saw represented, metaphorically, in the confusion and congestion of the gigantic crowd and the difficulty of authorities in marshalling them). Yet this ambivalence no longer seems appropriate, because the balance shifted yesterday - the ambivalence is souring into something more bitter, both in terms of the presidency and the populace that elected him.

As most of you know, Republican Scott Brown won the special election to replace Ted Kennedy tonight, beating the originally favored Democrat Martha Coakley for this historically Democratic Senate seat in a historically Democratic state. I am a Massachussetts resident, however I'm still a registered New Hampshire voter - I've remained on the rolls in the state of my birth because, among other reasons, it's a swing state where my vote actually seems to make a difference. Well, the joke's on me today - not that one vote would have dented Brown's shockingly comfortable margin. As an independent, I'm not a down-the-line liberal and I agree with Brown on some issues (well, Afghanistan anyway) over Coakley. But on the crucial issue of the day, health care - on which this 60th vote is actually essential - I've had it with the obstinant do-nothingism of ideologues like Brown.

Likewise with his general toe-the-line sensibility; that a Republican can win just a year after Bush left office doesn't infuriate me so much as that a Republican can win without making any effort to distance himself from the disastrous policies of one of the worst administrations in U.S. history. This victory seems to justify the intransigent, stubborn fanaticism of the right wing over the past year, and for that alone it's worth ruing. But worse than what it "represents" (which may be overblown although things certainly look even more troublesome for November '10 now) is what it means in concrete terms - that the already precarious and compromised health care bill is no longer protected by a 60-vote caucus. If one of the most initially popular presidents in history, with his party more in charge of the capital than it's been in a generation, can't pass a reform that the American people have repeatedly demonstrated their desire for (and if the American people can't quit dithering and hand-wringing long enough to demonstrate this desire when it matters most) ... well then, I might as well declare my disgust with politics once and for all and give up on any hope of moving forward on just about anything.

There's still that window of hope if the administration can get the House to approve the present bill and keep it safe from filibuster but if not, that new epoch I saw dawning a year ago may have prematurely come to its frozen halt on this day of wretched weather and dismal electoral results - or worse yet, this may be the new epoch, a decade of economic futility, public malaise, and pathetic political impotence - an era whose one redeeming virtue is that it rubs our faces in the shit we managed to avoid in the Zeroes: yet if even that exposure to the elements doesn't serve as a catalyst for change and improvement, what's the point? Might as well plug back in that iPod, turn up the TV and drown out the outside world.

Anyway, I hope this is not the case. But the general feeling is if not now, probably never - not just in terms of physical health care, but in terms of finally putting away childish things and facing up to the future and our nation's spiritual health. We'll see.

10 comments:

Tony D'Ambra said...

I think the Massachusetts result is perhaps a deliberate reminder from voters that Obama should not take his constituency for granted.

John said...

This is very disheartening that Ted Kennedy's former seat has been lost. When you can’t depend on Massachusetts you know we’re in trouble.

Tony Dayoub said...

It's hard for me to muster anything more than apathy a year after the hope I felt on Obama's inauguration day. People, including myself, look at either party and feel fed up with the paralysis induced by their aspirations for victories in the next election. They seldom make any bold decisions either way for fear of alienating a constituency which is drifting away from them for this very reason.

I'm reminded by a quote I once heard. I believe it was Ralph Nader who, when asked if there would ever again be a viable third party, responded, "I'd settle for a second."

MovieMan0283 said...

Yeah, if nothing else, this compounds the notion that the two-party system is, um, limited to say the least. If the only way voters can express their frustration with the ruling party is to vote for the worse option - or stay home and let them win, which is the same thing - then something's not right. I.e., if this was a "deliberate reminder" from the left, at what a cost!

I tend to think that voters are expressing frustration with Washington more than specific policy objections - I don't think this is an anti-health care vote, or even a pro-health care (in the sense of hey, you haven't done enough we're not going to vote for you) so much as just a "throw the bums out, even if we're putting the last (worse) bums back in" sensibility. My feeling is that no matter how frustrated I am with the Democrats, I can't see myself supporting a Republican for years to come, and not until the candidate specifically and tangibly distances himself/herself from the Bush years and many of their policies, which Brown did not do.

Of course the GOP is eager to read this as an endorsement of their ideology and rejection of "liberalism" which I don't think it is at all - and to be fair, I don't really think '08 was a rejection of conservatism either, so much as a hope for . That doesn't seem to be how people vote - but it IS how their votes are read and the requisite consequences ensue.

I'm holding out for health care reform, however compromised. If we get nothing after a year of haggling, I will begin to consider the Obama presidency an outright dud.

MovieMan0283 said...

Above should read "so much as a hope for almost abstract 'change'"

Stephen said...

Passionately written MovieMan!

This is very interesting to me as a Brit (that word sounds so bad to me - maybe it should be Britishman). The whispers we get here seem to suggest that the Republicans would go a long way to give Obama a bloody nose and burst that feel-good bubble he created one year ago.

As you may know, here we have an almost 100% free healthcare system (the oldest in the World I believe) and we find the seemingly intractable ideological debate
on this issue somewhat strange. We can't imagine it any other way.

I'd be grateful if someone could maybe give me a little more detail on the issues themselves or the issues surrounding them.

Thanks.

MovieMan0283 said...

Jonathan Cohn has a great piece up on Obama's ineffectiveness in the wake of Brown's victory:

http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-treatment/the-day-after

As for myself (and Cohn's post points to this) - Above all the frustrations with Obama is the feeling that he's lost his connection with the public. Where are the fireside chats? Or fireside webcams, in this day and age? Sure, we get generic e-mails from "Obama for America" every week, but what we really need is for him to use his bully pulpit. The beltway-insider strategy (perhaps to compensate for the perception that he lacked those skills) seems played out at this point. Get back in touch with the people who got you elected, Mr. President.

Of course if health care reform dies, it may be too late.

Stephen said...

Thanks for the link. I'll check that out.

Were the expectations unreasonable (or even fantastical) or is Obama really not acting in the way that he publicly led you to believe he would?

Of course there are pre-election promises made without obstacles and cold hard politics.

MovieMan0283 said...

A little bit of both, but if you can't pass watered-down, compromised legislation which has been talked about for 20 years, which the public has demonstrated interest in during the previous election, with your party controlling both houses of the legislature (with a filibuster-proof majority before Tuesday, no less), with a popular mandate though no first-term president has had since at least Reagan, and with the bill ALREADY gone through the Senate so that all the House needs to do is rubber-stamp it and fix the differences later...

Well, if you can't do that, then I really have to question your leadership qualities. This is the crucial moment - if health care reform dies when can certainly call Obama's first year in office a failure and a pall will fall over the rest of the term, one which I'm not sure he can shake off. As for the Democrats as a whole, what a bunch of pathetic weaklings. This should have been a gimme; if they blow it they are incompetent beyond the cynics' wildest dreams.

It's like the kid racing towards the basket with a few seconds remaining in the game, the whole crowd chanting encouragement, the other team way behind and unable to block - then suddenly he stops, stands there, and drops the ball.

Or more resonant, like a professional football team ahead of one of the best teams in the league (undefeated up to that point) suddenly deciding to take a 4th & 2 on their own 28-yard line instead of punting the ball - and then, of course, losing possession and instead of letting the other team score and racing like mad to get another touchdown, letting the opposition crawl down the field, burn up the clock, score, and win the game.

Yeah, it's been a tough year for Massachussetts, hasn't it?

MovieMan0283 said...

Another interesting piece from the New Republic, this one looking for the silver lining:

http://www.tnr.com/blog/ed-kilgore/republicans-arent-sitting-pretty-they-think

Overly optimistic (or pessimistic as far as Republicans are concerned) perhaps, but it does make some convincing points.