Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hail Gridlock!

So, the American voters had a referendum on President Bush and his policies. That's too bad, because while I can't disagree with the outcome of yesterday's vote, the 'referendum' was the wrong one to begin with. What this election should have been about-- more than Bush, more than Rumsfeld (see ya, #$%@), more than Iraq-- was that very special American institution, the do-nothing Congress.
And boy howdy, have we witnessed one of those. These guys put the guys who got Harry Truman re-elected to shame. You see, while it's a bad thing to have a lousy president, it's one of those things that just happens. It only takes the wrong guy (Pierce), the right guy in the wrong place at the wrong time (Jimmy Carter), or even the right guy in the right place at the wrong time (G.H.W. Bush) to be a crappy, weak, or just plain uninspiring president. It only takes, at most, a couple of dozen people to have a truly rotten presidential administration (Harding, Nixon, and most of Reconstruction). But it takes a cast of hundreds to make an abysmal legislative branch.
And lookit what we've seen-- Tom DeLay (every minute of it). Ney and Cunningham. Denny Hastert and the Monkey Bunch (see no evil, hear no evil...), with Mark Foley in his Very Special headline-grabbing role. And that's just the House! The Senate provided us with Bridge to Nowhere, the Terri Schiavo Circus (starring Bill Frist and Rick Santorum) and the continued existence of Trent Lott. Not all of this was concentrated in the two years of this current Congressional session, but things reached a tipping point this year-- financial scandals, sex scandals, and the biggest scandal of all-- a legislative branch that didn't legislate. At all.
Really, you'd think they were facing a hostile president poised to veto like Andrew Jackson reincarnate, an 'activist' Supreme Court ready to declare their every act unconstitutional, and a rabid, filibuster-happy minority. Not, y'know, a Republican executive who didn't seem to be aware of his own veto power, a conservative-led court, and a spineless, cowering opposition.
'Scuse me, I was being critical of the new Masters of Capitol Hill (sort of). Back to them in a moment. Anyway, what are the achievements of the 109th Congress? Immigration reform? No. A balanced budget? Nope. A reasonable budget? Hell no. Anything resembling checks and balances? No. Any attempts to clean up their own ethical litter box? No. These people deserved to lose their jobs. The midterm election shouldn't just have been a referendum on the president, it should have been a referendum on, y'know, Congress.
On the other hand, Bush kind of insisted on making this election all about him. So, his party deserved to get smacked as his proxy. And the result-- a purge of Midwestern Republicans, Northeastern Republicans, some Californian Republicans (yes, they do exist). Not just "throw the bums" out, but "throw these particular bums out." No Democrat has lost his or her seat that I've seen. And it wasn't only the bums that went down, either-- at least one Republican Senator whose constituents thought he was doing a decent job lost because the voters in his state wanted to send a message to the president! Lincoln Chafee was just a sacrifice to the national weal. That's got to burn, man.
As for me, I voted for my state's Democratic incumbent senator, not because I liked her or anything she's done (which isn't much, really), but because she's a butt occupying a seat on the Democratic side of the aisle. I voted for her to give my state's other, better Senator a chance at reclaiming the reins at the Senate Armed Services Committee. And if things go blue in Montana and Virginia, he will.
I don't know what to expect from a Democratic House and Senate. I didn't really expect them to win either house, given all the bumbling of the past few years. Speaker (!?!) Pelosi? She's an Italian-American woman from SF, CA, so we're practically family and all, but she's got a mess on her hands now. But I do feel very relieved. Because what we have, technically speaking, is going to be gridlock. Gridlock is a much-maligned state of affairs. An executive-legislative stalemate means, in essence, that checks and balances are doing what they're supposed to do. Neither branch has leeway to screw over the country, and after six years of Bush II and Friends, I think we've had a tutorial in the dangers of unchecked executive power. Also, see Nixon, FDR, Jackson, John Adams... but none of them had a roll-over Congress quite like the 107th, 108th, and 109th. Not even Jackson, and he was known to shoot people he had disagreements with.
At its best, gridlock means that officials who want a legacy and spiffy achievements to put on their reelection campaign lit actually have to work together, deal and dialogue and do all that bipartisan stuff that's been under the rug since Tom DeLay started running amok. And, as I said above, given the sad and sorry legacy of the 109th Congress, even terminal gridlock is already a step up. At least then there's an excuse for nothing getting accomplished. The gentlemen and ladies who bear the responsibility for the 109th have no excuse at all. People can blame Bush for the Republicans taking a hit. But in an efficient democracy, the deadwood and filth of the lame-duck Republican majority should have lost power on their own demerits.
Enjoy private life, Santorum and all the rest of you. Say hi to Donald Rumsfeld while you're there.