Democrats & Liberals Archives

The World is Changed

Remember the opening sequence of Fellowship of the Ring? The narration goes, “The world is changed. I feel it in the earth. I feel it in the water. I smell it in the air.” This began as a comment on Ashcroft’s Albatross. But it isn’t just about Ashcroft. It’s about my whole impression of the way politics works in the contemporary US. (Remember as you read: this is how things have seemed, not something I’m making as an accusation that I claim is objectively true.)

The main fundamental fact of politics throughout my adult life so far has been that Republicans are totally united and inexorably winning. Everyone from libertarians to Nazis has been part of the Republicans’ big tent, and they’ve been in perfect lock step — because the fundamental distinction for these people is not good versus evil; it’s not white versus black; it’s not totalitarian big government versus constitutionally-constrained small government; it’s not Christian versus infidel: it’s us versus them.

Once someone had been accepted as part of the Republicans' "us", it wouldn't matter if they were a five-legged purple Satanist vampire intermittently channeling the ghost of Stalin: by definition, they can do no wrong in the eyes of their fellow Republicans. Lying, adultery, negotiating to prevent the release of American hostages, who cares, as long as they're loyal Republicans? Not the Republican-owned media, not the party leadership.

If there really is a conservative backlash against the "patriot act" (even if they don't want real patriots but only better actors), it's a change of epoch.

Or part of one. The other fundamental fact of politics in my lifetime is that Democrats have not been part of the same subphylum with everything from elephants to eels, but rather have been invertebrates, useless blobs of jelly trembling in learned helplessness before the Republican juggernaut. In the last few months, though, some of them seem to have evolved backbones.

It's easier to imagine the unthinkable happening twice than once. If the former age is passing away in this world, as it does in Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings, it is to be expected that many things change. It is always strange when the world that has stood for an age is changed, but it would have been doubly strange if the steward of Gondor had welcomed a king while the One Ring still languished in darkness; or if the power of Mordor were broken by Frodo's quest and Golum's madness, while Aragorn still roamed the wilderness.

Reading Howard Dean's platform a couple months ago -- before the second-quarter fundraising hit the media, before he had surpassed the previous frontrunners in either Iowa or Nebraska -- I had a feeling of stepping back through the looking glass into a world of sanity. These position statements weren't a liberal counterpart to the right-wing vileness that has gripped the nation for so long. They were sensible, centrist positions: there are problems with the Kyoto treaty, but the right response is to keep negotiating and see if we could get a treaty we could sign and have the Senate approve; international trade is good, but we need to provide incentive for our trading partners to have comparable law to ours governing externalities and labor relations, or the disparities cause problems that can be worse than those caused by the original barriers to trade; a social safety net including universal medical care is good, but we need to tax to pay for what we do, and do only what we're willing to tax to pay for.

Before I read those position statements, if you had told me that this August there would be a Democrat holding six political rallies with attendance in the thousands, I would have thought you were living in a dream world. But starting with those issue statements, on through their real-time reactions to the inevitable mistakes, to the spectacular turnout for this week's Sleepless Summer Tour, the Dean campaign has given me hope about politics in a way that "the man from Hope", for all his brilliance in both politics and policy, couldn't match.

Posted by dsws at August 26, 2003 10:17 PM