The past few years have been a challenge for progressives and liberals. Going back to the failure of our political system in the presidential election of 2000, and moving forward from that flawed beginning, we have seen a series of plagues: the repeat of the Vietnam experience (ie, a war without justification and without an ending, and with American war crimes and dishonor), the disabling of government agencies like FEMA and the SEC, ruinous tax breaks for the wealthy, the attack on science and the promotion of religion as its substitute, an ugly pandering to homophobes and nativists, and the depressing degradation of debate of public policy issues.
It's this last bit that I am thinking of tonight.
In the 70's, the GOP included talented and serious people who were pragmatic and moderate in their approach to public policy. Even the hated Richard Nixon was capable of supporting Food Stamps.
The change in the GOP began with the rise of Newt Gingrich, but really blossomed under the presidency of George W Bush. These were the years when the party moved sharply from competence, pragmatism, good government and moderation, to become the party of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Chuck Grassley, and the townhall rowdies who shouted down a woman in a wheelchair in Red Bank today.
The career of John McCain from 2000 to 2008 tells the story: in 2000, Americans on both sides of the aisle supported his presidential campaign. I liked Bill Bradley and John McCain more than I did Al Gore. By 2008, he had completely rebranded himself -- even to the absurd extent that he was able to choose Sarah Palin as his running mate. A more convincing repudiation of competence and moderation would be hard to imagine.
What has happened to the GOP is really a shame. It is also a tragedy for America and for the world that looks to America for leadership. Perhaps the worst thing is that the phony populism of the GOP affirms the misbehavior and encourages the belligerence of people who have suffered the most from Republican policies of the past eight years. The GOP draws its political clout from the resentments and bigotry of the least well-educated members of the lower fringe of a threatened middle class.
It seems likely tonight that the public option will be dropped from health care reform. This is also tragic, because it is a clear indication that the large companies that have been the beneficiaries of the current system -- who have benefited from the system that has so disenfranchised tens of millions of Americans -- have succeeded in protecting themselves and their profit margins from serious competition. For now.
With or without the public option, we need to extend coverage to all Americans now. It will be much more expensive without a public option, but so be it. First, let's get people covered, even those idiots doing all the shouting in the town halls. In time, when reform proves to have been a good thing for them and their families, we can come back and finish the job.
It's a big country with a lot of stupid people; progress is going to be slow and difficult.