Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monument or Minefield?

John Gruber's short entry on the election result opens with Hunter S. Thompson's disgust with the Nixon defeat of McGovern, and seems to declare Thompson's observations about the pathetic state of the nation obsolete.

I hope so.

My worry is that like other mortals, the politicians sent into office as a result of this election will be tempted to use their office as their predecessors have used their offices. I am impressed by the excitement -- not merely among ardent party backers, but the broad population -- that this election cycle has engendered, but I worry that the giddy proclamations that a new era has opened merely set impossible dreams as the new expectation; I worry that ordinary mortals -- even well-intended -- will advance policies based on weak assumptions, or to advance political agendas that lack the benefit of solid analysis. I note that the new President badly misundestands issues, including basic arithmetic, that are essential to crafting a functional solution for complex issues bothering Americans and central to the debates during the election cycle.

On the one hand, the momentum toward departure from Iraq appears virtually unstoppable regardless who won, so a major concern of Americans will be met: Americans will be (mostly) out of Iraq. On the other hand, this is also likely to be a cause for embarrassment down the road: where Americans have achieved material success (a free Germany; a free Japan; a free South Korea), Americans are still present. (Maliki heroically argues the opposite lesson will be learned from a departure, but our propaganda machine is so bad we'll never pull that off.) It will be very hard for anyone -- and I point out here that McCain would have had no better success on this point, and indeed may have had a worse time with it -- to claim Americans left Iraq in anything but defeat. Granted, America never intended annexing a fifty-first state in Iraq; but America never defeated the people who were behind the ongoing killings of Americans there, and the new president seems more willing to attack allies in the area than its enemies (though presumably selling them more bull semen will be A-OK). America's influence in the region will potentially be limited to restraining the conduct of existing allies, leaving enemies to act with a free hand. On the other hand, if the new President is willing to bomb allies' territory, one might hope he'll act when he sees a legitimate target in enemy lands. The new President is -- at least for the time being -- willing to admit publicly what kinds of attacks he thinks Kosher. We might have a bigger hawk in the new President than popularly imagined.

On the other hand, we have the domestic front. Will the current batch of politicians -- presumably led by the same majority leaders who held power for the last two years -- do any better than in the past? Seriously? I could go into specifics, but I think that argument is short enough, and to the point enough, that I should let it stand. Innovation on the domestic front will come, if at all, from unelected advisors brought in to sell solutions to those with votes. Let's hope the right people are recruited, eh?

For the next two years, we face a Congress that fears no veto pen -- the pen's wielder hasn't rebuffed his Party in the past -- and it's not like the face of Congress has become less influenced by monied interests. Stopping business-as-usual sellout of the United States Congress to the highest bidders at the expense of the public isn't going to occur overnight. Government is corrupt for a reason -- the structures that lead to the status quo have not changed, so the output will not change. The result? Will we have a reckless charge into programs and policies.

I fear more of the same kind of inefficiency, waste, corruption, and scandal that we've enjoyed. The question is simply whether the Democrats will be more successful than the Republicans in preventing this from utterly debasing their brand, and returning the country to the same tired pessimism with government that we've long been used to seeing.

On the other hand, my mind drifts back to the impossible dream: a government that does what people want; that isn't for sale; that spends resources solving problems instead of innovating new ones. It's so wild an idea ... so idealistic ... and so American.

So: I hope.

No comments: