Stories I Tell Myself About The Elections

I’ve been wanting to write something about the elections, but I haven’t been able to come up with the right headline. This because I can’t resolve the conflicting messages I’m getting — from my own brain as well as others.

But I find I can’t focus on anything else while the elections are still preying on my mind. So here are the headlines, with the story lines that would follow. I hope some of you will flesh them out or add others of your own.

Keep the Spirit of Hope Alive. This is what President Obama said in his telephone message to Organizing for America volunteers the day after the election. “Don’t get discouraged,” he said.

Easier said than done. But things will probably be worse if we give up. And we’ll feel worse too. Just plugging away, I find, is more uplifting than brooding. So maybe it’s best to nurture the belief that Republicans and Democrats can come together on at least the most urgent issues facing the nation.

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. This is what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman advised if, as expected, the Republicans gained control of the House.

The source of the fear he refers to is economic. “The clear and present danger” of deflation because the Republicans will refuse to boost the economy now. A soaring deficit because they’ll push through “irresponsible” tax cuts with no offsetting spending reductions.

I’ve been feeling a more diffuse form of fear for some time now. What if the jobs never come back? What if the safety net is utterly eliminated? It’s “big government” spending, you know. What if the divide between the richest and the rest keeps growing?

It Could Have Been Worse. The Republicans could have gained control of the Senate as well as the House. If they’d won all the Senate races, they’d have had enough votes to override a veto. Republicans could have gained enough House seats for an override too.

Most of the Tea Party candidates went down to defeat. Losses in California by Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina and others elsewhere showed again that you can’t buy yourself an elective office (though others may buy one for you).

We’ve Lived Through Things Like This Before. Columnists are reminding us — have been for some time — about the midterm results during Clinton and Carter presidencies. The government’s essential business still got done. Clinton even got reelected.

For me personally, however, the touchstone is Reagan’s resounding victory in 1980. I was working at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the time. Dreadful forebodings and, in fact, some dreadful results for federal civil rights protections. But we survived, though the Commission didn’t. And Congress undid some of the worst damage that was done.

It Really Isn’t Going to Make All That Much Difference. Republicans in the Senate have already blocked critical legislation. In other cases, they’ve forced bad compromises. So it’s not like everything was going great guns before last Tuesday.

Come January, the Republicans will have a large majority in the House, but the Democrats in the Senate can still block final votes on anything they pass — not to mention anything the strengthened Senate Republican minority comes up with. The President still has the veto power.

So maybe nothing much will get done. There are downsides to this. See, for example, “be afraid” above and related warnings about the dangers of gridlock. But there are upsides too.

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