Removing the snake from the garden with a stick was a rejection of the snake, but should not be seen as particularly an endorsement of the stick -- except as the closest available tool with which to eject the snake. The stick should not be seen as a substitute snake.
That was the tone after the election in which there was a general agreement that the election was a broad and deep repudiation of the president's policies and administration, while also not being an endorsement of the GOP.
We are so used to seeing politics as binary in America, it is almost algebraic: minus 6 D equals plus 6 R. The country either is for the Republicans or the Democrats. The idea that the public could be for neither does not fit our thinking. The effort to talk about the Democrats negatively without talking about the GOP positively (or the other way round) simply leaves us mentally adrift.
So we go about analyzing the coming season in the same old terms. Will there be gridlock between the two parties? Are there areas of agreement? Does it hurt the Democrats to hold the Senate? Is this all just a lead up to the presidential election of 2012?
But, as I argued in a column a month ago ("2011's Unchartered Political Waters," Oct. 6, 2010), the way many Americans are looking at their lives and the country's problems may be changing so profoundly that the existing political institutions are simply drifting toward irrelevance. Until something more useful comes to hand, the public will continue to go out and vote for one of the parties, but it should not surprise us if radically different methods of solving our problems may well be embraced, while they leave the GOP and the Democrats indifferently as drying bones on an ancient landscape.
The very fact that most of the commentators are comfortably discussing how nothing useful is likely to get done in the next two years may be heard as both shocking and pathetic. Americans are sitting up nights worried about almost every aspect of their lives, while TV know-it-alls glibly talk of neither party even trying to get anything fixed.
It would not surprise me at all to see in 2012 Sarah Palin leading a tea party campaign, Michael Bloomberg lead a middle-way third party, Feingold lead a progressive fourth party of the left, a couple of Republican Party regulars leading a rump GOP campaign, a few more GOP regulars running another rump GOP campaign -- while President Obama defends what is left of the Democrats.
Perhaps the public will give the current political order one more regular cycle before breaking loose in 2014 or 2016. But the now-tested availability of the Internet as not only a fundraising device, but as an organizing mechanism really does render the political parties redundant. They exist largely out of historic habit. If they don't deliver (or worse, if they are seen not to even try to deliver), it would not take much more political energy than now exists to just walk away from them.
Meanwhile, it seems to me quite likely that the president will have no intention to give up his larger agenda just because he can't get it through the House. He came to office to do large things -- no small ball for him -- and I anticipate that he will use the executive and regulatory process to the maximum extent that the law permits to enact his energy and environmental policies.
This is likely to force the GOP House to use the only blocking device available to it -- refusal to appropriate money for such executive projects. Whether the GOP likes it or not, they may have their hand forced. We may well see a season of government shutdowns. And once that gets going, it may well be used to try to block various parts of Obamacare as well. The tea partiers may not be easily denied. Nor should we be.
The political brutality of the process of a cycle of excessive executive authority assertion inducing congressional-dollar cutoffs will have a harsh effect on the public judgment -- particularly if it occurs in the context of continued high unemployment, mortgage defaults and international trade and currency competition.
The best chance for the GOP is to actually start proposing in the budget resolution real, honest, non-tax-increase-based solutions to the excessive costs of entitlements. No gimmicks. No budget rouses. No stupid policy tricks. Just honestly dealing with that central threat to our economic future may vouchsafe the public's trust in a reborn GOP. Let the Senate or the president reject it if they wish.
Either way, it is going to be a rough political season. The only good coin of the realm for politicians will be honest, courageous policy thrusts. Let the chips fall where they may.