Think of this as Volume 15, Number 41 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
You didn't win Washington in 2008. You only got into the conversation.
The American system, as designed by James Madison, isn't like governing systems elsewhere. In a parliamentary system, winning the election means you get to set policy, to rule. Even if you're in a coalition, like England's Conservatives, you control the levers of power – executive, legislative, even judicial. The people can judge your movement by what you do with power from one election to the next. The nation can turn on a dime.
It's because we nominate judges for life and have those nominations consented to by a Senate that turns over only every six years. This was a deliberate part of the design. The Founders, whom we're all supposed to revere, were running the idea of an affirmative government through a sausage factory in order to accommodate the abomination of slavery, and that fabric was not torn down, only amended, when slavery was abolished.
So all liberals got in 2008 was a place at the table. Washington remained what it had been evolving into for a generation. Nixon's town. Reagan's town. Conservatism's town. It remains, at its heart, wedded to an ideology that cannot fail, that can only be failed by weak leaders, and the cure for that failure is always to double-down on the ideology, to make it stronger, more rigid, more absolute.
You do that to any set of ideas and you get crazy. You do that to FDR's ideas and you get Abbie Hoffman. Do it to William McKinley's and you get Andrew Mellon. Do it to Lincoln's and you get the Gilded Age. And that's in a democracy. Do it without democracy, to someone like Marx, and you eventually get Joe Stalin.
You do that to Nixonism and you get Sarah Palin. You get Rick Perry. You get weak politicians like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, pretending to agree with absolutely everything crazy while trying to triangulate between it and something they consider sane, which in the context of Nixon's time, even Reagan's, is flat-out insane.
This is what I've been writing about, and learning about, for a decade. Real change comes to America very slowly. It comes in the wake of a crisis, a crisis born of a fading economic system's attempt to prop itself up with political power, and it's an uphill struggle. Those who want some sort of “once and for all” solution to the problem of American power don't understand our system of government. It's not “limited,” or absolute in any way, but it is deliberate. It is slow to anger and hard to move.
The only solution is to keep pushing at it, from your end. The only solution is to keep showing up, keep taking the very best deal you can, keep condemning that deal as not good enough and keep pushing again. It is what it is, and crying over the difficulties isn't going to solve your problems. In fact it's going to delay their solution.
What political movements, which I began calling theses when I first started writing about politics in the wake of the 2004 debacle, learn is this power of consistently pushing forward. You see defeats as what they are, short-term setbacks. You fund-raise and organize off those defeats, you agitate against those results, you plot your revenge.
Do you really think it was easy or simple overthrowing the New Deal Coalition? Do you think it all happened at once after Nixon's election in 1968? Do you think Mellonism just rolled over to have its belly rubbed after 1932? No, even though those movements were well past their sell-by dates, they kept pressing. They used every institutional lever at their command – the media, the academy, unions, think tanks, big corporation boardrooms in the left's case – and waged a guerilla war against the new order. They had to be overthrown root-and-branch. Eventually they were.
So now we have the Nixon order. Conservatives control the media. Conservatives control big business. Unions have no rights. Academics must report to politicians and billionaires. Nearly all the great think tanks are right-wing.
Big deal. The New Right of the 1960s proved it was possible to win through against all the odds. So did the New Deal men. And the progressive movements. So did the Union.
It's never easy. It's never quick. It never happens just by winning an election. You have to fight for it.
It starts then. And if you're not up for the fight, my fellow Democrats, then America will wither in the thrall of its past. We will remain tied to oil and gas, we will grow increasingly intolerant in our social behaviors, our businesses will not adapt, and the future will happen in China, in Brazil, and in India – which is where many on the right are predicting it will end up anyway.
That's where real change comes from in America, in the hope of building from the rubble of past assumptions and industries, a new country that goes where we want it go to, that can win the War Against Oil, that can adapt to the challenge of China and India, that can harvest the abundance and seize the opportunities our children have before them.
If you don't believe that in your gut, if you're not willing to fight for change, even under the banner of a President you consider weak, then you have failed the test of history, and America deserves to fail.