Okay. It's over.
Wealthy conservatives in America have played the long-game. For 40 years they have mapped and organized the takeover of public institutions to benefit themselves. This election proved the success of a consistent minority repeating the same things over and over again to influence the majority. Now Democrats have conservatives and liberals, Republicans have conservatives and radicals. Can our system handle it? I think so. Can the rest of us benefit from it? Yes.
The Tea Party is now "the man." Let's see how they actually use their power over taxpayer dollars. Ideally, they will bring some true conservative values back to the Republican party. Given who bought them their seats, however, their priorities will likely promote corporate anarchy more than the Constitution (or free markets). At the very least, CSPAN will become better entertainment. Keep those costumes and signs Tea Partiers! You'll need them to make the case for a 10% federal spending cut -- especially if you really do put the Beltway Bandits under the knife. These folks know how to avoid a head-stomping.
The marble halls of Congress have a civilizing effect. Despite their disdain, the government-haters descending on DC will be impressed by our democratic institutions. Their passionate, anti-social actions during the campaign will result in a shake-down. Who really means what they said? Much to their disappointment, they will find no communists, not even any socialists. They will find a great benefits package and over a million dollars to spend on their new office, though. Things that most Americans don't even dream about.
Most important, however, is that these new Members will have to give up their main political bludgeon, what psychologists call "loss aversion". They have continually framed political choices as "us vs. them" and "win or lose" with the knowledge that people usually choose to avoid immediate loss even at the expense of future gains. This is why fear is so effective. Now they are going to have to explain those choices at home to angry constituents. Which Tea Partiers will take responsibility for outcomes? Who will evade them? Democrats, start your engines.
This is an opportunity for self-reflection. The Tea Party illustrates how we Americans have reached the limits of our own understanding of ourselves. Our greater challenge now is to resolve the fight that has been depicted between the myth of the individual vs the group.
In the House, the Democrats can use this two-year hiatus to reflect on their four years in power. This nearly finished session of Congress was one of the most productive ever. The fact that this story never gained positive traction is part of a larger communications failure. The Democrats will be both more liberal and in the opposition now. These are great conditions for organizing a modern story about America rooted in a consistent belief system.
This belief system must address the modern role of government in peoples' lives. From saving miners' lives to ecoli free spinach, consciously giving credit to the benefits that a government provides is the starting point. Many Americans seem to have forgotten about the tightly woven dependence we have on each other -- mediated by government. The confidence we have in society and ourselves. Elected leaders -- especially Members of Congress -- need to reclaim their role as public educators who point out what we can do together. Lacking this backdrop of collective narrative and common goods, acts of solidarity on behalf of everyone become welfare. Instead of an investment, public dollars become a subsidy.
The first thing everyone can do starting tomorrow is to stop saying "special interests". This lazy bit of rhetoric is the equivalent of throwing orphans into the sausage factory with corporate titans. Some interests ARE more special than others. The Tea Party rose to power on these bland generalizations. It's time to get specific. Democrats, progressives, non-aligned and real Republican conservatives should take every opportunity to force a clear articulation of priorities, trade-offs and explanations.
And finally, because Capitol Hill is going to be pretty boring for progressives, Members and DC-based groups are going to be looking outside for new partnerships, coalitions and state infrastructure building opportunities. Create some innovative and inclusive gatherings for Members and staff. Bolster their efforts to build a new narrative about the common good! The two areas I see opening up quickly are subject matter expertise sourced in districts and more organized new media influence.
The fight we are in for isn't the head-stomping, name-calling one. Let them have their sandbox. The next democratic terrain will be to recreate our institutions of governing outside of DC, sharing the lessons with each other. Relationships built on personal knowledge and trust are our future. Corporations may be individuals, but they can't hang out in the trenches together. This is about our soul. The horizon is bright.
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