Saturday, October 07, 2006

Take a bow for the new revolution

It will be no surprise if the current era of Republican dominance in Washington, D.C. falls on the predations of Mark Foley and the failures of Republican leaders to respond appropriately or in time. After all, nothing falls the righteous like hypocrisy, nothing hits the news cycle like sex and nothing deepens the wound like a good cover-up.

In a moment when the President has become the very embodiment of steadfastness, House Republicans have shown no such spine. With the warrior caste of Gingrich and DeLay banished for lesser crimes, the current leaders sprinted for the exit even as the House burned around them, stopping only to implore Speaker Hastert to sacrifice himself that they might be saved.

The Foley fiasco––the first Instant Messenger-enabled political scandal––has achieved the White House objective of changing the subject, but in an unforeseen direction and with unimaginable force. For an electorate riven between anger over an unpopular war and the liminal anxieties of living in a Jihadist’s world, the turmoil in the House can tip the scales.

And for good reason.

The political turmoil and rancor that defines this political season has reached a fever pitch in part because the problems lack definition, much less simple solutions: The war in Iraq, the Jihadist threat, inter-religious tensions, the decline of American economic and political leadership, declining real incomes, growing debt, a declining dollar, volatile energy markets, a nuclear North Korea, an emboldened Iran, looming war between Russia and her near-abroad nascent-states…

But the Foley fiasco is different. People understand sex and power. Not sex in the prurient sense, but sex as a human motivation and power as the brass ring of the political class.

And that is the essence of the Republican denouement. The current cycle of Republican dominance began with a Contract with America that promised fiscal responsibility and political accountability, solidified its base through the assertion of family values in the wake of the Clinton impeachment, and achieved complete control over the government with the inauguration of George W. Bush, who had campaigned on a platform of fiscal conservatism and tax cuts at home, and humility in the world. In short, Republicans promised a government more limited in scope, a political class more limited in ambition, and a national interest defined by values, at home and abroad.

Twelve years since the contract with America, and six years since the consolidation of power in Republican hands, these central arguments are a distant memory. Our fiscal house lies as burnt embers at our feet, notions of humility in the world have been replaced with a muscular unilateralism, and fear has become the tool of maintaining the power of the new, dominant political order.

The Foley fiasco has provided the electorate with a means for understanding their fundamental discontent. Across the electorate, people are disgusted by the conduct and by the hypocrisy. They have long experience with cover-ups, they fiercely defend their children, and most of all they deplore politicians who value keeping power over proper conduct and decency.

Even as the usual array of partisans––from Sean Hannity to Katherine Harris to the Family Research Council––have sought to deflect blame for the affair to Democrats, homosexuals or George Soros, the public reaction has deepened. The Foley fiasco has now entered the realm of metaphor, reminding the electorate that democracy demands the vigilance of the governed, and that any party, whatever they promise, whether in fire-side chats or contracts on the Capitol steps, ultimately becomes corrupted by power and tenure alone.

Ultimately, as the Who suggested in their anthem from a prior era, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” each new revolution comes to its moment of reckoning, as people look at their leaders and cry in disgust:

“Meet the new Boss,
Same as the old Boss.”

As George Bush and Karl Rove look down the road at the train wreck that looms, more than ever they need to change the subject. “If the election were held today…” they would be facing the worst possible outcome. Republican control of Congress would be rejected not through a referendum on the war in Iraq, not through the conduct of the war on terror, and not even as a referendum on the handling of Mark Foley’s reprehensible contact, but rather as a fundamental statement that it is time for a change.

However, even in the face of this possible outcome, they must pause and smile, if only for a moment. For on the Democratic side, there is no Gingrich, no Robespierre, and apparently not even a Clinton, prepared to feel the pain of the electorate, and become the face and the voice of a new political order.

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