TO THE VICTORS GO THE SPOILS. . .

. . .and a big meal! Here I am enjoying a celebratory dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s last Wednesday with Hugh Cook, the editor of Illinois Alumni magazine. We’re bodyguarding the coveted Eddie Award for Editorial Excellence, presented by Folio, which the magazine won for a profile I wrote last summer of the sportswriter Will Leitch. Thank you. Thank you. First, I’d like to extend my gratitude to all the little people who made this possible. . .

A NEW STATUS QUO?

Like a political Punxatawny Phil seeing his shadow, George Will has seen the president re-elected, Democrats returned to their majority in the Senate and Republicans to theirs in the House, and proclaimed four more years of winter, or at least gridlock. “A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch,” Will writes in The Washington Post. “After three consecutive “wave” elections in which a party gained at least 20 House seats, and at a moment when approval of Congress has risen — yes, risen — to 21?percent, voters ratified Republican control of the House, keeping in place those excoriated as obstructionists by the president the voters retained. Come January, Washington will be much as it has been, only more so.”

Well, that’s certainly the way to bet, but I would point out that already some things are very different than they have been since this date in 2008. For one thing, Barack Obama cannot run for a third term. Mitch McConnell cannot have as his principal political objective the denial of another Obama term. In fact, Ol’ Mitch is likely to have as his primary objective his own re-election, and just might need a few accomplishments to leaven his steady stream of negativity if he is to win himself another ticket back to the big leagues.

That applies to the entire Congress, the House included. Stopping Obama can no longer be the raison d’etre. Moreover, now that Obama doesn’t have to play to his left wing to get reelected, I expect him to inundate the Congress with a whole range of reasonable, middle-of-the-road proposals, and fairly force them to agree. (One remembers former Secretary of State George Schultz explaining why the Reagan administration was going to sign some nuclear reduction deal with the Soviets. “Sometimes,” he said, “you just have to take yes for an answer.” If Reagan could deal with the communists, surely John Boehner et al can deal with Obama.)

The other thing that has changed is that a lot of Republicans just lost elections–not only Mitt Romney, but also establishment guys like Tommy Thompson and weirdos like Muordock and Aiken. This should be a chastening experience. Hopefully more than a few Republicans will grasp that that they failed to defeat a president who has presided over a historically poor economy not because people weren’t open to making a change, but because the Republicans offered no change, merely a return to the status quo ante which failed so spectacularly. It seems to me that after eight failed years of the Bush presidency, followed by four years of failed obstructionism, it ought to occur to at least some Republicans that they need to have a hand in a few accomplishments, just so they can claim in elections going forward that they still do remember how to govern. Boehner may have been signaling this in his post-election comments. “Mr. President, this is your moment,” he said. “Let’s challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us.” We’ll see.

A WIN, NOT NECESSARILY A VICTORY


Thank goodness this crap campaign is over. It turned out to be a bit of nail-biter, but it should never had been so close. Obama should have walloped Romney, who was a man with no rational to his candidacy other than that he wasn’t the incumbent. In some other era this might have been enough, but the fact is that we are in such a bad predicament that a candidate could not simply offer his different person, but actually had to present a plan, and Romney’s plan was simply the impeached plans of George W. Bush. But he was always a bad candidate; that was clear during the primary season, from the way the Republicans squirmed after one obviously inadequate candidate after another before finally settling on the guy who didn’t know enough to know that he wasn’t wanted. He was always stiff, he was always the false-faced boss, he was always the guy who pocketed every possible dollar in every deal and then wouldn’t leave until he made you agree that what he did was both admirable and good. In the end he was done in by the rust belt, where people don’t really like men who like to fire people.

And thank goodness Obama won; his had real accomplishments during his first term, and now there is no chance that they can be rolled back. The Republicans, moreover, are the party of yahooism, and they do not deserve to rule. Joe Scarborough quoted Nicole Wallace as saying “People debate whether we should be a conservative party or a moderate party, but one thing we have to stop being is the stupid party.” She may have meant tactically, but I hope she meant overall–the stupid anti-woman party, the stupid anti-science party. But let’s face it: the president ran a brilliant campaign in which he sought no mandate for action. As far as I can see, he has an mandate to be empathetic, to micro target voters, and scare us about Romney’s shortcomings.

That won’t be enough. The country has “unfinished business,” as John Kennedy so eloquently put it. The president and the Congress need to come together. Perhaps with their hell-bent fever to deny Obama a second term having been extinguished by events, Republicans will drop their monomania and work out some compromises. I hope so.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Nobody ever said it better than John F. Kennedy, speaking before a rally in Boston Garden on November 7, 1960, the day before the national elections:

“This is an important campaign, because it involves a high and distinguished office, an office which is given great responsibilities and great powers by the Constitution, and also by the pressure of events. The next President of the United States on his shoulders will rest burdens heavier than have rested on the shoulders of any President since the time of Lincoln. War and peace, the progress of this country, the security of our people, the education of our children, jobs for men and women who want to work, the development of our resources – the symbolic feeling of a nation, the image the nation presents to the world, its power, prestige, and direction – all ultimately will come to rest on the next President of the United States. This is the most responsible time in the life of any citizens of any free country, and I do not run for the office of the Presidency after 14 years in the Congress with any expectation that it is an empty or an easy job. I run for the Presidency of the United States because it is the center of action, and in a free society the chief responsibility of the President is to set before the American people the unfinished public business of our country.”

LUCKY TO BE UNIMPRESSED

We hosted Sandy, the Storm of the Century here this past week, and frankly, we pretty much missed it. Oh, we had impressively high winds that we could see thrashing the trees across the street all day. And yes, we lost phone/cable/internet service for three whole days. But in terms of personal impact, we’ve had worse.

Not that I’m complaining. We did the rising flood thing in 1998 (Floyd, theoretically a hundred year storm) and in 2011 (the widely disrespected Alice, which did us upwards of $20,000 worth of damage), and the no power thing during the 2010 Olympics. I don’t need to get clobbered every time. I’m sorry anybody gets hurt by these things anywhere, at any time. But I’m glad that this time, it wasn’t us.

But it could have been. Trees were down all over–four giants right in Law Park, a mere two blocks from us–and many friends and neighbors are still without power.Things might not be restored for a week. Good luck to them.