Don’t look now, but the American government is working as it should. Harry Reid, bending to bipartisan reality, has quit fighting for his $1.2 trillion spending bill and turned to short-term budget solutions. We can debate the merits of the $858 billion tax compromise, but it passed without any trickery and, more important, we knew what was in it. Congress now turns to genuine deliberation on the Dream Act, the repeal of DADT, and the ratification of New START. Gone are the kabuki summits, unseemly prime-time sales pitches, and abstruse parliamentary con games. Where Nancy Pelosi had wielded a giant prop gavel and boasted of “making history” with ObamaCare, one real-life federal judge just declared it unconstitutional. How did all this happen? Only a year ago, liberal pundits had pronounced America ungovernable.
What spurred magazines like Newsweek to render that judgment in the first place? A civic and governmental travesty of such gargantuan proportion that it’s chilling to think it actually happened in the United States: Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.
This left little question about whom to blame. “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain,” the magazine’s editors wrote. Moreover, “any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to — because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.”
Were grapes ever so sour? President Obama and an unbridled Democratic Congress drove Massachusetts into the arms of the GOP within one year, and this meant that Republicans were a danger to the union. The case made before the people was simply an inversion of reality. While Newsweek cited the “GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks,” Democrats on the Hill were employing maneuvers so recondite, few could accurately define or explain the intricacies of what was happening. The editors lamented the Republicans’ bullying of the “spineless Democrats,” while Nancy Pelosi bragged of her commando legislation tactics: “We’ll go through the gate. If the gate’s closed, we’ll go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we’ll pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we’ll parachute in, but we’re going to get health-care reform passed for the America people.” Newsweek claimed that “congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements,” but it was President Obama who impatiently dismissed the prospect of a bipartisan effort as “another year of partisan wrangling around these issues, another six months’ or eight months’ or nine months’ worth of hearings in every single committee in the House and the Senate in which there’s a lot of posturing.”
What Obama’s first year actually proved was that America is undictatable. Scott Brown was elected because Americans were screaming out for governance and rejecting rule by decree. If a year ago liberals were weeping for America the ungovernable, less than a year later, with the midterm-election trouncing, only celebrity activists and zombified Democratic operatives continue to make such claims.
The present circumstance should serve as a “teachable moment” for those frustrated Obama enthusiasts who were more outraged by a non-compliant citizenry than they were by an entitled leadership. If there was a threat to the structural soundness of our democracy, it came not from voices of opposition but rather from the ideological bullies who assumed that dissent could only mean defectiveness. In a democracy, the machinery of governance comes to a halt when the people sense someone has tried to override the system. In despotic countries, friction can stop the gears. In the U.S., it’s the energy source that keeps things moving.
On matters of policy, this administration still has much to learn. A new NBC–Wall Street Journal poll shows that 63 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest wrong-track number since Obama became president. The figure mostly reflects Americans’ concern about the economy and the government’s failure to raise employment prospects. As grim as things are, the good news is that America is now poised to tackle its toughest challenges. Accountability and ideological pluralism have come out of hiding. As Americans, we need to panic only when they go missing, not when our elected officials don’t get their way.