To paraphrase Roger Miller — and, indeed, to reveal my vast store of musical trivia — America swings like a pendulum do.
If projections, human nature and historical bent prevail next Tuesday, we may see a bit of topsy-turvy up on the benighted Hill. Anything still can happen, but it seems as though Republicans may command both the House and Senate beginning next year.
Kathleen Parker writes a twice-weekly column on politics and culture. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary In 2010. View Archive
In this event, President Obama would be left alone with his pen and executive power. Wouldn’t he rather just have a newspaper and a cup of coffee? Worst. Job. Ever.
Indeed, with the Islamic State, Ebola and the harsher realities of Obamacare on the rise, one wonders how the president will navigate the next two years — with or without Democratic support, which has been scarcer than lawyers’ jobs in recent weeks.
As token consolations should Republicans succeed in taking back the Senate, Americans may no longer routinely peer into the funereal face of Senate leader Harry Reid. (I know, dear, take a tissue.) Rather they could be treated to the equally mirthless countenance of Mitch McConnell, the man who once said his goal was to limit Obama to one term.
Republicans are too smart to celebrate, yet, and Democrats, ever saddled with hope and — what was that other thing? — are too busy scrambling for unreliable midterm voters. Pundits, meanwhile, whose brilliance often shines in retrospect, have drummed their fingers to nubs waiting for Election Day as Brits do a royal birth.
Given the preceding qualifiers, weasel words and other verbal outlets favored by political prognosticators, permit me a few observations about the state of government, the people and the pendulum.
What seems clear is that the hope-and-change formula that catapulted a relative unknown into the presidency has lost its magic.
This isn’t intended as an indictment of Obama’s performance, which speaks for itself, but this election surely is a referendum on his presidency as much as it is anything else. The pendulum that swung hard leftward in 2008 — notwithstanding Obama’s rhetorical flourishes about unifying the country — is now gaining momentum on its inevitable return toward the right.
It is nearly axiomatic that Democrats have become the Republicans they despise, using social concerns as wedge issues. Whereas Republicans used to summon voters with the prospect of, say, homosexuals wanting to marry each other and settle down with mortgages and other marital miseries, they’re now relatively relaxed with a recent Supreme Court move making such marriages possible in many states.
It’s Democrats who now want to talk about these awful wedge issues as bait for Republicans who seem finally to have found their big(ger) brains. As predictably as the pendulum’s swing, victors usually become the people and practices they once loathed. How quickly the grass-roots movement becomes the bureaucracy; how soon the oppressed become the oppressors.
Victorious Republicans would be at risk of reading this election’s results as a mandate for conservatism, which would be just as mistaken as Democrats who read Obama’s election and reelection as a mandate for Just Everything! What’s happening this time is that people feel unmoored. The world may not be scarier than ever, but we’re more aware than ever.
There’s nothing like a few beheadings to put things in perspective.
Thus, I suspect that a ballot cast in the midterms is less a vote for a person or policy than it is a vote against the void so many perceive in the presidency. When two of the four horsemen of the biblical Apocalypse come galloping out of Hell’s gate — Death/Ebola and War/Islamic State — one can hardly rely on the hopers to sort things out. It’s doer time. Or, Dewar’s, if you please.
It would be nice, should Republicans indeed take charge, if they would skip the hubris course and buckle down with their Democratic counterparts to make wise, not goal-prancing, decisions. The people will be entrusting to the victors their fates and their children’s future — no trifling matters.
What our political pendulum tells us, meanwhile, is that we the people are neither hard right nor hard left, if every now and then an exemplar of either wins favor long enough to remind us of this fact.
What we are is a nation of sensible sorts, most of whom come home each day to rest where the pendulum do. May the victors, both Democrat and Republican, remember this fact and keep it close to their conscience.