Think of this as Volume 17, Number 42 of the newsletter I have written weekly since March, 1997. Enjoy.
My answer? Hell, yes. It was worth it.
Despite the estimated $40 billion in economic activity that didn't occur?
Despite 74% of people saying they want the whole Congress gone, and the President's popularity falling to an all-time low? Despite the fact that this was “only” a three-month respite in the Congressional war?
Yes. And it was damned cheap at that.
This latest crisis over the debt ceiling and government shutdown will be seen, in retrospect, to have been as politically decisive as any of those past events. Because out of it has come a new consensus, an Obama Consensus. This can be summed up in the almost universal cry that came from voters interviewed late last week – “can't they all just get along?”
I'm not saying everyone agrees with President Obama, on anything. I'm saying there's a new consensus that the people in our government have to work together, have to deal, and move forward on the nation's problems without all the mishigas of the last several weeks.
Sure. The media is trying to bring it back. They're saying all the incumbents are going to win, that the House remains in the thrall of Teahadistan, that nothing is fundamentally different.
But much is.
It is true. There are millions of people who are outside this consensus. Ted Cruz is outside it. Sarah Palin is outside it. Rush Limbaugh is outside it. A majority of the Republican caucus in the House is outside it, as are a host of outside groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks. Some very rich people, like the Koch Brothers, are well outside it. Right now, as many as three voters in 10 are outside the new consensus.
But that's not enough to overcome the new consensus. And by their actions, these people and groups have shown just how far outside the consensus they are. The people, the “Silent Majority” as Nixon called them, won't forget.
We demand that you get along. We demand you do your jobs. We demand, most of all, that you respect the authority of our police and our soldiers, that you be a good citizen, that you not revolt against your own country, even in its name.
I don't think that's too much to ask. The media seems to think it's a big ask, but it's really a very small ask. It's similar, as I've written, to what we demanded of young people in the early 1970s, and how we get it now will be most like how we got it then.
First, those Republicans who voted for the final agreement ending the shutdown learned a lesson. Those other people are crazy. If you want to stay in Washington, you need to walk away from them when they go crazy, because that kind of crazy rubs off. These Republicans will deal. We won't have another shutdown. We'll have a budget, one that's far more conservative than I'd like, but something we can live with until next November.
Then some of the Teahadists will face primaries. Some will lose, others will be chastened. Still others will be beaten in the general election. There will be some spectacular upsets, because it's the people who are the new consensus, and when 70% of the people are going in one direction, it's suicide for politicians to stand in their way.
Gradually, over the next several months and years, some of the people most active in this Teahadist movement will drift away. The money will dry up – FreedomWorks is already on its last legs. Just as the 1970s became the “me” decade, and former anti-war marchers went into business, or entertainment, or even into accounting, so it will be here. The apocalypse will not come and in time people will stop expecting it. And remember, this cohort of demonstrators are already older than most people – some are probably the same folks who did those anti-war dances a generation ago.
The political temperature will cool.
The Koch Brothers will adjust. Wall Street will enforce its will on the Republican caucus. The losses in 2014 will be limited by this, but whatever the final outcome, the Congress greeting President Obama in 2015 will be much more compliant than the current bunch. Republicans will become a more loyal opposition – loyal to their country, and to its well-being, willing to make a deal.
The most important change will come in the assumptions that politicians, reporters and pundits will bring to the Sunday talk shows. Cool will gradually replace hot. The Democrats will be seen as fundamentally unified, the Republicans as divided – just the opposite of the way the last generation saw things. Yet these same pundits will act as though nothing has changed. They'll just adapt, and be gradually replaced by men and women steeped in how things will be going forward.
If Hillary Clinton wants to be the next President, she can be the next President. She, and her successors, can validate the new assumptions, the idea that we may disagree but in the end we come together for the good of the country. Democrats will be the majority, although they can always lose elections, even the Presidency. Republicans will be the minority party, gradually leaning against what's going to happen, saying “yeah, but.” Yeah, we understand the need for regulation, but we can do it better. Yeah, we understand the need to address climate change, but let's use the market. Yeah, we know the Second Amendment is no more absolute than the First, Fifth or Fourteenth, but let's go gently.
This is a big deal in the life of a nation. You go through a fire, you learn, and you decide you're not going there again. Ted Cruz will burn out, much as Andy Griffith's character did in Elia Kazan's “A Face in the Crowd.”
The Republican spin on all this will be that Washington doesn't matter as much as it did, that the business of America is business, that what happens in industry, and in the states, and in the culture, and in small towns all over the country is what we're all about.
Democrats will become what they were when I was a kid, the natural party of government. The deficit will decline – it may even disappear for a time. Deals will be made, and compromises struck. Life will go on.
There is a cost to every crisis, and this one has had its cost as well. The thousands lost in Iraq, and Afghanistan, one war based on lies and one without end, are part of the cost. The huge deficit built over the last 12 years will mean higher inflation and slower growth for half our childrens' lives, and this will give them many of the beliefs and assumptions we saw in our parents' generation. That's part of the cost, too.
But compare that to Vietnam and everything else that came to this country during the 1960s. Compare it to the Great Depression and World War II. Compare it to the riots and upheavals of the Ragtime era, or the Civil War.
It's dirt cheap.
Barack Obama will go down in history as one of this country's great Presidents, and while we'll debate exactly where he falls, we'll gradually realize how damned lucky we were to have him.
If he can get us through this crisis without further damage, if he can then survive to the end of his term, a 56-year old political legend living and laughing among us, won't that be amazing?