Four years ago in this space, Weekly editor Bob Whitby and I penned columns on the meaning of the 2004 election, in which progressives and Democrats took a drubbing from George W. Bush and his minions `"All is lost/No it isn't," Slug, Nov. 11, 2004`. I foresaw a dystopian future of Republican rule. Whitby prognosticated a different vision, one in which the chickens of GOP excess and incompetence would come home to roost.
Bob, as much as it pains me to admit it, you were right. I was wrong. Congratulations.
But I wasn't completely mistaken. I said that "barring some unforeseen event, we'll continue to lose for a long time." Hello, Katrina. Hello, stock market collapse. Hello, recession. Not that those — or the rapid devolution of Iraq in 2006 — were necessarily unforeseeable, but the multitude and magnitude of the Bush administration's epic failures coalesced with such force that the rebuke of a historically failed presidency became certain.
In other words, if Dubya weren't such a screwup, Karl Rove's plan for a permanent Republic majority built upon wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage might well have worked.
I also predicated a progressive comeback on a Democrat with the charisma to reignite the base's optimism — or at least to win Ohio and Florida — and we got one in President-elect Barack Obama. Nobody saw that coming — not even you, Bob. Hell, the man wasn't yet in the U.S. Senate. There's also an unsung hero in this story: Howard Dean. The Democratic National Committee chairman's 50-state strategy has proven a remarkable success, expanding the electoral map and paving the way for unlikely victories in North Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere.
But while we pause to enjoy the moment — we just elected a black Northern liberal Democrat president? We sent Ric Keller and Tom Feeney packing? — it's time to understand that that battle isn't over. The Republicans will go through a period of self-flagellation that will be fun to watch, but won't last indefinitely. Eventually, the party will settle on an identity, whether it aligns itself with the Jesus freaks or the moderates. Fiscal conservatism and sanity may become the hallmark of the new GOP, but I doubt it. As this election demonstrated, the party is increasingly Southern, Appalachian, white and socially reactionary. Those are the people Republicans will have to please to get elected. The good news is that's not a recipe for long-term success.
If history is predictive, the Republicans will pick up congressional seats in 2010. Don't freak out when that happens. Even if it doesn't, the recent election offered us plenty of evidence that the bigotry we find so abhorrent hasn't abated. Here in Florida, 62 percent of us voted for an amendment to the state Constitution to ban gay marriage, even though state law already does that. (California banned gay marriage too, even after some 18,000 gay couples wedded there this year.)
The culture wars aren't finished, but we're winning. Younger voters aren't as closed-minded as their parents and grandparents, and it's only a matter of time until gay marriage becomes culturally acceptable — like how my folks never thought they'd see a black president, and here we are. We're on the right side of history, they know it, and that's why they're so desperate to keep their finger in the dam.
Come January, we'll control both branches of Congress and the White House. If things go south, the country will blame the Democrats and vote accordingly. On the other hand, we finally have a chance to get things done: to end the misbegotten Iraq War, to fix the broken health insurance system, to invest in infrastructure and new energy technologies, to create jobs, to prevent bankers from playing Russian roulette with our 401(k)s and so forth. That's what we meant by "change."
We could be on the precipice of a new era in America, one in which intellectualism is good and the bigots are relegated to the periphery. Or not. This time I won't be venturing a guess. I am, however, crossing my fingers and hoping that something good is about to happen. Over to you, Bob.
— Jeffrey C. Billman
Thanks for acknowledging my superior prognostication skills, Jeff. However, I have to say that in rereading our little duet from four years ago I'm a little disappointed in myself. I may have called the final score, but I was way off on the play-by-play.
The good news, of course, is that the Republican Party has indeed eaten itself. Allow me to quote me from 2004: "Especially now, at what history may well show to be the beginning of the end of the era of Republican dominance. It ain't gonna be pretty, and we'll suffer mightily, but if King George is true to form — and isn't that what we all like about him? — the right is going to eat itself. Let's just hope for the sake of America that it doesn't get too godawful bad."
November 2004 may have felt like the beginning of a thousand-year Republican reign, but the wheels starting falling off the bus two years later at the midterm elections. That was satisfying. And now here we are, enduring the last throes of the most unpopular president in American history.
But here's where my column got it wrong: I predicted it was the Iraq war that would get us to this point. Now I realize that despite 4,000-plus dead American troops, $569 billion wasted, the military stretched thin and the country's image shredded overseas, the American people would have let Bush — and subsequently McCain — grind on almost forever with his immoral, bloody and pointless war. Bush has never been held accountable for the lies that got us into Iraq and kept us there, and he probably never will be. He will leave office in shame, and for that I am grateful. It's just too bad people couldn't have awakened to the awful reality of a Bush presidency a little sooner. Still, you take what you can get, right?
Yes, you do. It would be a lot more satisfying, though, if it weren't rising prices at Wal-Mart that soured the country on the Republican brand.
Voters in 2006 were none too happy about Iraq, true. However, John McCain had no plans to do anything but continue Bush's failed strategies, and you may recall that he was leading in the polls right after the Republican convention. All of Bush's sins rolled into one big ball of shit — the use of torture, the evisceration of privacy rights, the rejection of science-based policy-making, the dismantling of public education, funneling tax dollars to religious organizations, war with a country that has never attacked us — weren't enough to convince America that the Republicans don't hold their interests at heart.
Only the economy could do that. Wall Street plummeted, John McCain said, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong" at exactly the wrong time and people asked themselves, "Who else we got?" That doesn't exactly fill me with hope for the future, despite the wonderful outcome of Nov. 4.
I'd love nothing more than to see the Republicans cast the religious right into the wilderness for 40 years, reducing them to the lunatic fringe that they are. The party would be better off without them. Ronald Reagan was ridiculously popular, if you'll recall, and he wasn't doctrinaire.
But that isn't going to happen, because it isn't why the Republicans lost this time. Sarah Palin represents the future of the party, or at least the base. The base didn't play in this one because they never did like McCain all that much, but like pestilence, famine and all things bad, they'll be back.
Meanwhile, Obama probably has too much to deal with to enact meaningful progressive reforms. The real legacy of Bush is that he has reduced our expectations to almost zero. Right now it would be enough to have a president who can pronounce the word "nuclear" correctly. Can you even picture this country with universal health care, well-funded schools, strong environmental laws, at peace and a leader in the world? Is that even possible to consider after eight years of Bush? I doubt it. I just do. We may get the engine jump-started and the headlights working, but the entire car has been trashed, from bumper to bumper.
Then again, I also predicted that Barack Obama was unelectable due to the Bubba factor, so what the hell do I know?
— Bob Whitbyfeedback@orlandoweekly.com
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