reede, november 10, 2006

It's Official: The Dems Run Both Houses

Looks like the $30 bucks I contributed to Jim Webb's senatorial campaign in Virginia put him over the top. At 3 pm today Virginia Senator George Allen, who had been name-dropped by Republicans on every TV show through late 2005 and early 2006 as a successor to George W. Bush, conceded the race, losing to Webb by about 8,000 votes.

The choice of supporting Webb's campaign was an interesting one for me. While I flirted with Reaganism as a kid (embracing materialism and big stick foreign policy ideas) I come from a Democratic family and so I never thought that I'd wind up doing a victory dance for a guy who used to be Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan. But as I have matured, and due greatly to the events of the last five years from September 11, to the Iraq Invasion and subsequent bumbling and bloody occupation, to the total lack of ability for our government (at all levels) to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, led me to realize that it was time to grow up and put the pet Democratic issues aside and vote for one thing -- responsive government.

Many people have wondered what exactly a Democratic victory will mean for America. Some criticize American politics as being one big party of Republicrats where both sides act to maintain the status quo. The common line heard today is that the Republicans deserve to lose, but what makes the Democrats more worthy of office.

But rather than implementing a step-by-step agenda - like a Socialist party might do in a European country - I think what this means is that the debate on our future is now open. That's important. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's departure is important. People have been calling for his resignation for years. Ex-military leaders, retired and free to talk, openly questioned his decision making. And yet he stayed put. There was zero accountability. There was no response. There were mistakes, criticism, and no response. Americans began to wonder - are we really the masters of our own country?

Meanwhile, Bush's congresses have been "rubber stamp" congresses - policy is formulated in the inner Bush circles, talking points are distributed to 'trustworthy' media (and from 2002 to 2006 this included outlets like CNN and MSNBC), and the Republican party worked from the top down. Think of the Center Party in Estonia. The Republicans ran things like Keskerakond. They were organized and uncompromising, which sounds great in political advertisements but did not allow them to start coming up with their own solutions for the Iraq War.

But what will Democrats do? They'll most likely articulate what I am calling 'organic policy.' The current leadership is weak. Democratic party leaders don't have the kind of control that people like former House Majority leader Tom DeLay once had. They'll have to talk to one another. They'll have to create policy by debating the ideas amongst themselves. Americans will finally get an opportunity to allow their talented citizens represent them in Congress. There will be a greater need for consensus building and actual debate. That is a good thing.

The Republican Party has been controlled by a handful of figures leftover from the Nixon and Reagan-Bush administrations for years. Bush named Reagan-era official Bob Gates to be the new Sec of Defense yesterday. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush have known each other for decades. And most of all they tended to agree on the same things. As you can imagine it's very hard to have a flexible, response policy in a time of war with that set up.

The Democrats don't have a backbench of officials leftover from the Carter years or Clinton years to run things. Therefore you will see more a 'organic' policy than before. They'll be forced to make things up as they go along, both out of necessity and by the knowledge that they have been trusted with power by the American people for the first time in 12 years.

Now, many criticize the Democrats for not "having a plan" - ie. "we will get out of Iraq by this date and this way." But their victory means a few important things:

1) Long awaited and "no brainer" reforms will be carried out. The 9/11 commission recommendations will be enacted. The minimum wage will be raised. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy will not be renewed.

2) The culture wars are in remission. The Democrats that came into congress this year have no plans to enact federally-recognized gay marriage. Instead you see each one in his or her state running to meet the special needs of their state. You'll have real liberals like Shel Whitehouse in Rhode Island serving alongside conservative Democrats like Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. So you can stop worrying about the federal government trying to legislate culture. As we have seen through state marriage amendments and civil union rulings, the states are managing to work out their own cultural issues. The idea of using the federal government to do something as short-sighted as ban gay marriage has failed.

3) There will be a real debate on Iraq. Many of these candidates ran on the war. Getting us out successfully is their main objective. The solution may not have manifested itself yet, but I expect many of the new senators, for example, to start coming up with solutions. I don't expect Jim Webb, for example, to sit on his hands.

Overall I don't think this is some magic fix for our problems, but one party government wasn't obviously working.

Politically I am open to new solutions. I welcome Bernie Sanders, our first socialist senator, as much as I'd welcome a libertarian candidate to the senate, perhaps from New Hampshire in the future?

Let's be honest, I do have social democratic values. I believe in all the good stuff - a clean environment, quality health care, education, tolerance - but I don't believe that one size fits all or that the state has all the solutions. That's why, when it comes to Estonian politics I can safely say, that yes, the Reform Party is right to support Estonia's economic policy, while at the same time, yes, the Center party is right to remind voters that vanaema and vanaisa out in the country are still living in poverty. In other words, I'm flexible.

For example, I think the new conservative government in Sweden is a good thing. The same in Germany with the rise of Merkel. Change is good. New blood is needed for a healthy democracy.

Over these years I have become more patriotic, not in your traditional idea of American nationalism, but in that I 1) recognize that my country is both large and important and 2) strongly want to see it make the right decisions.

For those reasons, I contributed to a campaign that seven years ago I would have seen as "too conservative" because Jim Webb is a truck driving, gun-toting Virginian who is strongly affiliated with the military. But those kind of cultural trappings don't matter anymore because he won my respect by 1) acknowledging that our Iraq policy is a mess; 2) switching his party membership to challenge a man who has enabled that mess; and 3) Ran a take no prisoners campaign where he showed that he wasn't going to take sucker punches from the Allen campaign lying down.

Webb is a Jacksonian Democrat if there ever was one. I'm not too fond of our 7th president who signed the Indian Removal Act. But I have come to believe that he and his fellow incoming class of Democrats will be a healthy dose of reality for a government that has been unable to govern well.

13 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

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helsinkian ütles ...

I really enjoyed your fascinating overview. My biggest interest has been in the Webb vs. Allen race because it turned out to be such a pivotal contest. There were many important points in your post about Webb and who he is.

Jim Webb is perhaps the most fascinating candidate of this campaign, partly because he is so quintessentially American, totally fitting with the European picture of what America is like.

He's a gun-toting Virginian if there ever was one and the Presidents he most seems to appreciate are Democrat Andrew Jackson and Republican Ronald Reagan. From having been a hawkish Reagan Republican he has now become a populist Jacksonian Democrat.

Only in America can a guy get elected by promising to update his party's platform by bringing it back to 1828. But this guy is seriously interested in history, fascinated with his Scotch-Irish roots and certainly knows what he talks about when he raises the subject of Andrew Jackson. The American preoccupation with historic figures is amazing and as someone who is very interested in history it's actually really fascinating to see someone elected to the Senate who isn't much of a politician or a campaigner but who is something of a historian, journalist and novelist. Is Jim Webb Virginia's answer to Lennart Meri?

Jim Webb isn't a typical Democratic candidate and I can't imagine him getting along with someone like Dennis Kucinich (who's way to the far left in America but who'd be right on in Scandinavian social democratic politics). But he will get along with John Warner and I'd really love to see those two trying to improve the situation in Iraq in a bipartisan manner.

The Virginia Democrats rather grudgingly chose Jim Webb as their candidate despite his lifelong Republicanism and lack of experience as a candidate. This is because he was their only chance of winning the seat. A liberal Washington lobbyist would've been crushed by George Allen. Now it was Allen who looked like the ultimate Washington insider (which he was during his term in the Senate) and Webb was the folksy alternative, the self-confessed "redneck", who was likely to appeal to certain elements in the Republican base. Still Allen would have defeated Webb had he not made a fool out of himself in numerous ways. I'm glad he conceded in style. Who knows if Bush will find Allen a cabinet position before January 2009; remember John Ashcroft re-emerging as Attorney General only a short while after his bitter and crushing defeat to a dead guy in Missouri.

About Pentagon, both Gates and Rumsfeld present a mixed and complicated track record over the decades. They haven't been always the same. Still, in the present situation Gates will be a huge improvement to Rumsfeld. George W. Bush first had Colin Powell as a key figure in his Administration who actually did present a dissenting view on Dick Cheney's way of the world. Powell has been missed in the Administration and Gates will take on the role of Powell but in a department where he really matters, it was Pentagon that made life at State very hard in the period 2001-2005. It's also very important that Gates will better get along with the Democrats than Rumsfeld, who in the end didn't seem to get along with anyone but Dick Cheney.

Anonüümne ütles ...

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Anonüümne ütles ...

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Giustino ütles ...

Only in America can a guy get elected by promising to update his party's platform by bringing it back to 1828.

Jackson is a touchstone of American democracy because he won on a platform of what Wall Street Republicans today would still call "class warfare."

I recently saw an article about Obama that called him "Hamiltonian" as in former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (1757 - 1804).

When Reagan came into office he had Calvin Coolidge's portrait hung more prominently.

I personally would consider myself a Dean Democrat - which is sort of a fusion of the domestic goals of social democracy with fiscal realism, and an unending commitment to civil liberties.

Many people who perhaps once would have once been considered "Rockefeller Republicans" have now moved to the Democratic Party, and I think that this is the Dean faction. Dean himself was once a Republican.

Historically, I think that Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman had flawed presidencies, but I admire their commitment to building an international system. Many Democrats today look back to Truman as an icon that can somehow guide them out of oblivion in presidential politics. He set up the strategy that enabled us to help in defeating Communism, or rather, helping Communism defeat itself.

People credit Reagan with seeing it through, but it was Truman who set up the game between 1947 and 1949.

helsinkian ütles ...

I checked out on Hamilton's year of birth. I did remember him having been born in 1757 as you give the year, but this is apparently because he himself chose to say so. It appears that his true year of birth was 1755 and for some reason or other he wanted to portray himself as two years younger than he actually was.

Hamilton was sensitive about his parents not having been married to each other; perhaps the new year of birth had something to do with his wanting to have posterior control over the circumstances of his birth. Another possibility is Hamilton's vanity.

I don't know that much about Hamilton, but I find the portrayal of him in Gore Vidal's novel "Burr" intriguing.

helsinkian ütles ...

Of course, Hamilton's birth was illegitimate and because of that no official records of his birth exist.

The records that support 1755 are from as late as 1768. Hamilton himself consistently said 1757 and that's why it's the year on his grave.

Some historic characters would always have uncertain years of birth and the lack of complete records gives quite a natural background to this.

Yet it's interesting how many male historic figures have chosen to portray themselves as younger than they are. One person that comes to mind is Stalin; he was born in 1878, yet all the kids in the USSR had to learn he was one year younger and indeed there were these huge festivities to celebrate his birthday that he himself was in charge of.

I suppose some guys have certainly been vain and others may have felt the huge kick of playing God when they have realized reaching a position to choose when they were born.

helsinkian ütles ...

Whereas Hamilton indeed may have had an uncertain year of birth for the simple reason of the lack of reliable records, there are of course even guys who choose to say they're older than their age.

I read in wikipedia about the jazz composer and pianist Eubie Blake (1887-1983) who in old age claimed he was four years older than he really was. This is how he got to see his 100th birthday. He celebrated turning 100 and then died five days later. After that people realized that he had in truth only been 96 at the time of his death...

helsinkian ütles ...

Wikipedia also has this page "age fabrication" where there's a list of controversies, not only certain fabrications.

There one can learn that Fidel Castro made himself one year older, whereas Knut Hamsun made himself one year younger and Meat Loaf seems to like to tell he's four years younger than he really is. Charles Bronson also made himself younger.

Howard Hughes chose to celebrate his birthday on December 24 and Louis Armstrong, who said he didn't know what the real date was, on July 4.

That website seems to have no mention on Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton is fascinating because some researchers seem to believe that he was absolutely truthful about his age and others assume it would've been characteristic of him to lie about it.

FUNKYBROWNCHICK ütles ...

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Giustino ütles ...

Hamilton was a Federalist that wanted New York (then the capital) to run the world. He is the typical scion of Empire State commerce.

Jefferson though seems in retrospect to have been more farsighted.

helsinkian ütles ...

Even if his party was called the Federalist Party, Hamilton was a prototype of the old school Republican, when Republicans were the party of the Northeastern élite. In some ways Rockefeller Republicans perhaps are inheritors of Hamilton's legacy.

Interestingly enough, George W. Bush is the scion of the Northeastern élite who is hated in the Northeast but loved in the South. Perhaps he could just as easily be a Rockefeller Republican than who he is, if it wasn't for the power of the religious right within the GOP and his own born-again Christian worldview.

I guess GWB never was that good in business; as a lousy businessman he is sort of a black sheep in the Rockefeller Republican community. Being born again he is the favorite son in the Evangelical community that has eclipsed the business élite.

Democrats calling themselves Hamiltonian or wanting to identify themselves with the Rockefellers (Jay Rockefeller of course has been a Democrat for a long time, yet he's something of the exception in his family and not necessarily what one thinks when saying "the Rockefellers") are trying to exploit the alienation of the GOP from the Wall Street élite.

I'm not saying the Republicans are anti-business but they seem to favor Texas-based businesses over others. Their lack of fiscal conservatism has also been raising eyebrows in many traditionally Republican circles. Hank Paulson as Treasury Secretary perhaps is the kind of Republican that might appeal to the Northeast or old school.

I know that the Republicans are the party of Lincoln and the party was only founded some years before Lincoln was elected. Still, I've understood that Republicanism often is equated with Hamilton and Democrat thinking with Jefferson. These are both old school ideas as they have these Wall Street and Dixiecrat connotations - the Republicans have remade themselves as the party of Main Street and Democrats as the party that is not so Southern.

Jim Webb of course as Southern Senator is giving the old school Democrats a voice again to some extent. His references to the party's founder Jackson give credence to the voices of a certain territory, a certain ethnicity and a certain era.

Giustino ütles ...

Even if his party was called the Federalist Party, Hamilton was a prototype of the old school Republican, when Republicans were the party of the Northeastern élite. In some ways Rockefeller Republicans perhaps are inheritors of Hamilton's legacy.

Just as the Republican Party since the 60s has moved to swallow the remainder of Southern Democrats, the Democratic Party in the 00s has moved to digest what's left of the old school New England Republicans.

Now only New Hampshire and Maine are left. I bet that they'll reemerge as Democratic strongholds soon - witness the fall of Linc Chafee.

But the engine of the Democratic Party is now the West - which continues its Jeffersonian origins. Hamilton is buried just a few blocks from my office. Though I admire him as a historical figure, he still is a little too Wall Street for me.

Wall Street thinks that laissez faire capitalism solves everything. Experiments in Yankee capitalism in Latin America have proven them wrong many times over, but they still don't know how to react to the emergence of populist leftists in South America.

I guess that's why perhaps Jefferson's take on the French revolution was actually the more pragmatic one.