Enjoy the show
Reader advisory: This is a weekend political reflections post. You do not have to read it or agree with it, though you are welcome to comment on it. If my political observations irk you, please feel free to look instead at Jan Freeman’s excellent Boston Globe column on the mutating phrase work from home and the history of the preposition from.
No one would have taken greater joy in the tea party phenomenon than Henry Mencken, who reflexively distrusted all True Believers but found their antics hugely amusing. I myself am happily awaiting the discovery, already beginning to dawn in Washington, that campaigning is comparatively easy but governance is hard.
The squirming of the Republican leadership in Congress, as they attempt to rein in the more extreme and crackpot measures advocated by the tea partiers without alienating their votes should be exquisite to view.
I commented some years back about the distorted perception fostered by the red state/blue state maps and consequent chatter. Those broadcast electoral graphics, with the winner-take-all-colors for each state give the unbalanced sense of majority that the Founders designed the Electoral College to produce.
But if you think about it, New York City alone has more voters that several heartland states combined. Further, if you break down the red-state/blue-state vote according to the proportions in each state, you find much sharper divisions. The United States is basically a moderate to moderately conservative polity, veering one way or the other, as recent elections have shown.
The Democrats made the mistake after 2008 of thinking that Barack Obama was another Franklin Roosevelt with a fundamental realignment of the political balance. (Never mind that Obama is no FDR—and neither was the actual FDR, who tacked to the left and right as the political winds blew.)
Now the Republicans who cant about their mandate in the recent election are poised for the same mistake.
Take the grandstanding about the budget deficit. You can make public radio go out to beg for quarters on street corners—hell, it’s already doing that—but the bulk of federal spending goes to Social Security, Medicare, and the military, each with large constituencies that tend to scream loudly when touched.
Or take the cant about constitutional government. We already have constitutional government, and the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means through more than two centuries of case law. The Constitution does not say explicitly that the Supreme Court can rule laws unconstitutional, but the court does that because John Marshall outfoxed Thomas Jefferson in Marbury v. Madison. I doubt that even the great Originalist Mr. Justice Scalia is prepared to abandon judicial review.*
My own advice for the coming months: Pour a brimming beaker of the adult beverage of your choice and sit back in a comfortable chair. The carnival has come to town.
*I believe that a respectable argument can me made that Original Intent today is essentially the same mechanism that the Nine Old Men of the New Deal era used to thwart liberal or progressive legislation with which they disagreed.