Yesterday’s Times profile on the history of that quintessentially American tradition — the peaceful, loyal succession — ought to raise a question for today’s Democrats. Has the tradition been followed in this administration, in fact as well as in form? And if not, what can we say about it?
Consider Senator McCain’s dignified concession speech that night three years ago, offered in the best tradition of small-r republican magnanimity, in which McCain embraced his opponent and acknowledged the President-Elect’s mandate for change… to a chorus of boos. Since then, it’s fair to say that congressional Republicans, and presidential candidates, have treated Barack Obama’s presence in the White House as an imposition, an aberration to be corrected, rather than anything to which he might be entitled by virtue of 69 million votes (and 9-and-a-half-million-vote margin over his opponent). We’ve been reminded that America is a center-right nation, with the implication that Obama’s win is something to be explained away; heard trumped-up charges of voter fraud aimed at delegitimizing the process that gave him his position; and dealt with a Congress that’s gleefully broken its own rules and ended longtime truces to block the President at every turn.
If President Obama ever had a honeymoon phase to his presidency, we might say — as seems to be the usable thesis of Ron Suskind’s otherwise factually-challenged, narrator-driven tome on Obama’s first few years in office — that he squandered it on an unnecessarily divisive issue, healthcare reform, when he could’ve taken bold, consensus-generating steps to right the economy. But even this evaluation should be tempered by a reminder of how quickly the Republican opposition rushed to Total War on the President.
This is a story we should play up — that for the past three years, America has functionally lacked a loyal opposition, one that works against the President but within expected norms, and votes against his interests, but offers their own affirmative plans for action in response. Rather than accepting the consequences of eight years of mismanagement under Bush, and acceding to the result of a lawful election, the Republican Party offered us that first part of Tennyson’s famous line, glorifying the fight, without the peace that comes thereafter:
Blow trumpet! he will lift us from the dust.
Blow trumpet! live the strength and die the lust!
Clang battleaxe, and clash brand! Let the King reign.
This is a case we can make in 2012, provided it’s mixed in equal parts with a reminder of those positive plans the minority derailed for their own benefit, and at great cost to the country. And we can start with the unemployment extension.