At a time when the Gulf Oil Spill is becoming a virtually unprecendented environmental disaster, while the main point of contention about the Great Recession is whether it’s about to recur or hasn’t yet ended, it’s worth wondering if the apocalyptic tone of American politics these days isn’t in large part just a reaction to extended trauma.
Mark Schmitt of The American Prospect makes that case:
In the 12 years since the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, being interested in politics or lucky enough to write about it has been an endless, often terrifying thrill. We’ve witnessed a series of high-stakes gambles, all-or-nothing showdowns, frauds, and schemes for total power that look a lot like some of Wall Street’s more hare-brained high-flying plays. There was Bush v. Gore, Karl Rove’s plan for 30 years of Republican rule, Dick Cheney’s hidden government, and the “nuclear option” — not to mention the deceptions of the rush to war in Iraq, the endless state of emergency, and the wiretapping and other abuses of civil liberties after September 11. These schemes, like those of the bankers’, created huge systemic risks to democratic government.
All those moves were by Republicans, but in response, progressives and Democrats developed their own sense of urgency and total commitment to victory in the 2006 congressional elections, and then again in the huge crusade that elected Barack Obama by a wide margin, the most fascinating electoral drama of my lifetime. Since the election, we’ve returned to winner-take-all battles: Legislative fights — notably on health care — quickly become showdowns over the very legitimacy of the administration and the Democratic majority. The Tea Party movement demands, “Give us our country back.” Arthur Brooks, the mild-mannered academic who runs the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote a book called The Battle in which he invites a “culture war” between the 70 percent of the country that loves free enterprise and the 30 percent that is socialist, hates free enterprise, and yet has somehow usurped power.
Now Mark seems to think these ferocious outbreaks of total-war politics are in part cyclical, and he believes a disappointing GOP performance in the fall elections and the natural ebbing of the Tea Party will help create a politics that is refreshingly boring. And he points to the period between Bill Clinton’s re-election and his impeachment as the last model era of undramatic but productive governance.
If so, that’s pretty sad, since the Lewinsky scandal first broke just one year and one day after the beginning of Clinton’s second term. If and when the next era of good feelings arrives, we’d better enjoy it while it lasts.