CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- This week, I got an e-mail from a colleague on the Gulf Coast who is pretty blue about where we as a country are headed. His reasoning, though, isn't anything you've seen on a sign at a Tea Party rally
: "I get a real sadness about what is to come,'' he wrote. "This country is so sick and corrupted by all this disinformation and demagoguery. [A mutual friend of ours] is the perpetual optimist -- a true Westerner, keen to the myth of endless space. Maybe because I live in the tropics and have fewer expectations of democracy, I look at this GOP sweep
and wonder if we will ever become a country where people believe in things like paying taxes for community services.''
We are not there yet, it seems – and this year, are winded from sprinting in the other direction. In one of the most religious countries in the world, where's the consensus that we have any particular responsibility to one another? The "what's mine is mine" view is popular not only among those more-affluent-than-average
tea partiers, but in both political parties. In tough economic times, Congress for once took the long view anyway, and passed a health care reform bill that will end
the worst abuses of the insurance industry, extend coverage to 30 million more Americans
, and reduce the deficit
as well. And although lingering 9.6 percent unemployment has a way of stoking voter disaffection, reform, too, is on the ballot
When Jon Stewart characterized recent legislation as "timid" in a question to Barack Obama on "The Daily Show,"
the president took umbrage, and responded that health care reform in particular was quite a historic achievement, thank you. Yet they're both right; a mild cup
of chamomile served in a steaming hot mug stamped "socialist," HCR became this year's WMD
Over the protests
of some of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's fellow liberals, who not only wanted a stronger brew but opposed guarantees to pro-life Democrats, it took every bit of her considerable oomph to push the bill over the finish line. But now that her party is in trouble partly over that vote
, most Democrats have not taken her lead and vigorously defended it. If the legislation survives, perhaps the electoral hit will have been worth it. "We piled one of the stoutest agendas in history into two years during the worst recession in memory,'' Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton
(D-D.C.) told me. "So what's left to do?"
, actually, including hanging on to the Affordable Care Act, which many conservatives on Tuesday's ballot have vowed to repeal. It's somewhat understandable that the Democrats are being punished for their failure to adequately address unemployment, even if it doesn't track that the tax cuts and lack of regulation that grew the deficit and led to the financial meltdown might somehow cure the problems they caused. But Congress is also being punished for its accomplishments, and the definition of "liberal'' broadened to the point that in this country, a wild-eyed progressive is someone who thinks everyone ought to have health insurance. Americans still doubt Darwin
, but Darwinism is plenty popular.
We are so far at the other end of the spectrum from the socialism we hear so much about that even our current "socialized" system of firefighting is up for debate in Obion, Tennessee, where the local government decided that those county residents who didn't pony up a $75 yearly fee were not entitled to firefighting services. "It's a service we offer; either they accept it or they don't," Mayor David Crocker told
reporters – after his firefighters watched the home of a family that had not paid the fee burn to the ground; they intervened only when the fire spread, and threatened to destroy the home of a family that had paid the 75 bucks.
In theory, the GOP is on this earth to keep taxes low, government small, and business unfettered. Yet I could swear Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
just said – and not for the first time
-- that the point of having a Republican Party is actually ... to ensure the success of the Republican Party: "The single most important thing we want to achieve,'' he told
the National Journal, "is for President Obama
to be a one-term president." In other news, surgeons are in favor of cutting. And so, too, do some in the Democratic Party tend to view their probable losses on Tuesday as a path to, yes, victory in a couple of years: "In the long run," Harold Ickes, deputy White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, told
Politics Daily's Alex Wagner, "Obama will benefit from [a Republican-controlled Congress] because he will be able to run against it
Conservatives perhaps rightly see it as condescending when liberals say that the extraordinary sums
being spent to finance the Tea Party
and influence Tuesday's midterm elections have distorted the public's view of the events of the last two years. But what worries me a lot more than the notion that the public has been tricked is the possibility that it hasn't. Across the political spectrum, Americans in general are generous people, it's true, digging deep to respond to disasters around the world. But if there's any minimum at all that we owe one another, not out of charity but as a matter of course, it's not always obvious.
On Friday night, in the president's first and last '10 campaign trip specifically on behalf of an endangered House Democrat, Obama addressed that point directly. At a Charlottesville rally for freshman Tom Perriello, the president applauded him for casting votes that he knew might end his political career: "We always say we want integrity from our elected officials. And you know what, this is a test case right here in Charlottesville,'' he told the cheering crowd, "because this man has integrity.''
In Sunday's Washington Post, David Ignatius noted that Perriello is down only slightly in his race against Republican challenger Robert Hurt, and is running far stronger than many Democrats in bluer districts than his. Why might that be? "Perriello hasn't run scared, as so many Democrats have done this year. He's been forthright about his support of health-care reform and the economic stimulus, despite GOP attempts to demonize these issues. During the debate at Randolph College, he had the gumption to say that people should behave like "adults" and recognize that the stimulus "prevented a depression."
Of course we'll never know whether the Democrats would have done better this year if more of them had run on their achievements rather than away from them, but is it any surprise that voters noticed?
In Charlottesville, in any case, Obama did make a short but overt pitch to and for an America where, as my Gulf Coast colleague said so yearningly in his e-mail, "people believe in things like paying taxes for community services.''
"We believe in hard work and responsibility," the president said. "But we also believe in a country that invests in its future, that invests in its children, that helps workers get retrained, where we look after one another, where we say: 'I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.' That's that America we love. That's the America we believe in. That's the choice in this election.''
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