Beyond reading The Killer Angels, Homage to Catalonia and, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I am not much a student of military strategy. Nor have I studied social movements from any perspective much beyond that of a ground-level observer, nor much political history beyond the American 20th century histories I’ve been consuming voraciously since I got involved in the process in 2002.
But the events of the past forty eight hours, on this dark anniversy no less, feel like the beginnings of some kind of shift. We are watching an ideology crumble before us. Perhaps every generation gets this opportunity, but nothing like it has happened in my lifetime. The moorings of the philosophy of governance that has given us the lies of the Iraq war, decades of economic stagnation, private affluence and public squalor, and the Katrina disaster are pulling loose from the bottom.
It is certainly far, far too early to know for certain, and it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that this crumbling will even turn out to be a good thing. Should modern conservativism implode in the wrong way, the backlash could be ugly. The right may very well have so poisoned the well of democracy that there’s no way back from where we’re at now. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln and Governor Dean are wrong. A nation of, by and for the people could very well perish from this earth.
But that sure isn’t how it feels today.
There have been numerous individual instances of Democratic valor over the past few years, both from the leadership and the rank and file. But Harry Reid’s actions yesterday seemed to have larger symbolic and systematic scope. The single most difficult problem in organizing on the left is getting people to make the transition from “the Democrats have no spine!” to “what can I do to give the Democrats some spine?” Every time any elected Democrats steps up, it lowers that threshold to some degree. It gives us something else to point to.
The Republican talking points have been so thin recently. Nonsensical, even. The things that they are denying! Treason and perjury and obstruction of justice are serious crimes! Kicking teacher’s shins is not the way to solve California’s problems. It is indeed very much the job of the United States Senate to investigate breaches of national security and subsquent coverups. You can not claim to be standing for upholding the rules of the Senate one day and push for the complete elimination of bipartisan processes and the filibuster the next.
In Colorado yesterday, the crown jewel of the Grover Norquist “starve the beast” anti-government strategy, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, was pronounced “as good as dead” after 12 years of choking off Colorado’s long term prospects and growth. Should Proposition 76 pass here next week, California could be on the same long detour that Colorado has been on for more than a decade.
One of the proponents of the recently deceased measure, CO State Rep. Joe Stengel said, “I think we now have become a blue state, frankly.” He was on a conference call with Norquist’s group at the time. Ouch.
Representative Stengel is reading the tea leaves correctly, though: Progressive Majority cleaned up in his state last night, winning two thirds of the races they were in on. They won in places like Colorado Springs, home of the entire area code that the arch-conservative Focus on the Family empire is run from.
There’s a positive heart at the center of the ugly, ugly campaign we’re in now.
When I was flying back to San Francisco from Burbank a few weeks ago on a work trip, just before takeoff the pilot came on and said “those of you on the left hand side of the aircraft are about to get a rare treat. The air quality is clear. You can see all the way past downtown Los Angeles to Orange County.” As we took off I felt like I could see something new bursting through in the landscape. It was as if the sustainable and just civilization that already exists in the dreams of the people below was beginning to take root. It looked like the society envisioned by Kim Stanely Robinson in Pacific Edge could rip through the seams of the concrete at any moment.
It’s still too soon to know, of course. There are many battles more to be fought. The processes that seem to be occurring now and moving things in one direction could easily be overwhelmed by a destructive backlash. Remaking our society in the ways it needs to be remade for humanity to continue to thrive is an enormous task. And, the last time the planet was in the position it is in today, things did not go so well.
But that sure isn’t how it feels today.