Politics, like life, is the art of the possible. We cannot simply dream things and expect that they will become our reality. The ability to achieve our dreams involves years, sometimes decades, of hard work. It involves an infinite number of possible setbacks and compromises along the way. The achievement of our dreams neither guarantees that we achieve a reality precisely as we dreamed it, nor is there any guarantee that the achievement of our dreams was worth all the hard work to we subjected ourselves so that we might see them a reality.
Today’s Democrats and Republicans find themselves on opposite sides of dreaming’s problems. What remains remarkable about the two’s approach to dreaming is how easily the Democrats’ problems are to solve, and how intractable Republican problems will prove.
For the first time in over a generation, Democratic politicos have to face the uncomfortable reality that their dreams are taking shape in reality. Universal Health Care may not be a reality, but it’s 45 million people closer than it’s been in after a hundred years of trying. Extraordinary rendition may not be banned, but one of the two wars is over, Osama Bin Laden is dead, and American torture chambers are (so far as we know) a thing of the past. Obama has withdrawn support from dictatorships, reduced nuclear weapon stockpiles, raised fuel efficiency standards, raised funding to prevent violence against women, helped gay marriage to pass in eight states (so far, YAY MARYLAND!), raised fuel efficiency standards, begun to redivide commercial and investment banks, lifted the ban on stem cell research, begun the rebuilding of American industry, prohibited insurance and credit card malpractice, cut taxes for small businesses ,and about to enact a tax increase on the top 1%. Is it everything liberals and Democrats want? Of course not. Reality is never as easy as it seems in dreams, and the process of making all these things happen will take another 40 years. Our generation has the potential for liberalism to dominate as it has not done in half a century. But even then, some of our fondest dreams will not be achieved, and those which were achieved might look like terrible mistakes in retrospect. History fools us all, and what seems like a great solution might be terrible in hindsight. But what is clear is that liberals have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present their view of the world to the public. Some initiatives will not pass, others will not work. We think our view of the world is better than others, but we have no way of proving that our solutions work until we try them in reality. So to those who are frustrated that Democrats have not achieved more in the first three years of the Obama era....
DEAL WITH IT!
The Republicans, however, have a very different problem. One that might take fifty years to come to terms with. Republicans had nearly a half-century to impose their worldview on the country (and by extension, the world), and contrary to what many of them believe, they succeeded brilliantly. If the policies they enacted have failed, it’s not because they were incorrectly implemented. It’s because their policies were bad policies.
From Roosevelt until John Kennedy, the marginal income tax rate (every dollar over $250,000) was over 88%. In 2012, there is no longer a marginal income tax, and no rich person (basically over $400,000 in yearly income) ever pays more than 35% of salaried income, and no more than 15% on capital gains - which is where most of wealthy people’s income originates. Meanwhile, the national debt now tops $14 trillion and American’s personal debts are nearly twice that.
In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican president, not only refused to intervene in either Hungary or Suez, but threatened sanctions on those who did. Eisenhower reasoned that it was against the United States’s interests to provoke the wrath of the Soviet Union in two places where the United States had few vital strategic interests. By doing what he did, a potential World War III was avoided. He did this against the strenuous objections of the Republican party, and particularly John Foster Dulles and Allan Dulles, the hawkish brothers whom he appointed to head the State Department and the CIA. In 1982, Ronald Reagan announced a nearly uniltateral invasion of Lebanon to stop the sending of Ketusha rockets into Israel and stabilize the pro-Western Lebanese government. He achieved neither objective. In 2003, George W. Bush invaded Iraq, a country proven to have so little interaction with al-Qaeda as to be of no consequence. The Iraqi national government remains on the precipice of chaos, and the war has cost an additional 110,000 lives to the 1 million already killed by Saddam Hussein.
A list like this could go on for the length of a book. The point is this: you got what you wanted. You had your chance. This is exactly what success looks like. I know you think that this is a small pittance compared to all the policies you’d like to enact, but life doesn’t get better than the way you’ve had it for the last forty years. If your policies were good, they’d have worked. Your policies were tried, and all of us seem to agree now that you’ve failed to make America a better society. So America will now try something different for a while.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the four different responses to this dreaming. Not surprisingly, they are thoroughly explicable through the four remaining Republican candidates.
Correction: In an earlier draft of this I said Guantanamo is closed. That is clearly not the case, there are still 171 prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.