In 1964, Barry Goldwater lost. And not by a little, either: he lost by a lot. He carried 6 states and 52 electoral votes. Sixteen years later, Ronald Reagan won. And not by a little either: he won by a lot. He carried 44 states and 489 electoral votes. It took sixteen years, to paraphrase George Will, for the votes to be counted, and Barry Goldwater won.
In February of 2011, the people of Wisconsin lost. And not by a little, either: draconian cuts, a full assault on the rights of working people, a budget repair bill that repaired only the bottom line of the moneyed. Less then a year later, the people of Wisconsin are winning. It'll take a little while, but when the votes are counted, the people of Wisconsin will win.
There's revolution brewing in the states, bubbling up thick and angry from coast to coast. The panacea to the Great Republican Overreach of 2010—at least on the state level—is fomenting in the form of ballot initiatives and recall elections, in the invigorated left-labor alliance and the hearts of working people who are tired of sharing sacrifice with no one at all.
On the national level, though, Democrats are playing defense.
Mired in the muck of debt ceiling negotiations, quibbling over just how much to cut while the quagmire drags our economy under, our national discourse seems hellbent—come hell or high water—on debating just how much further to dig.
It's a hair-pulling, clothes-rending discussion. Futile and idiotic and cynical. Considering that the people involved, men who have voted to raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached for years, are negotiating in the worst faith possible, it's a bizarre, Ionesco-esque farce as well.
What's most frustrating about all of this is that pattern it seems to fit. The big ticket items of President Obama's term of office thus far have been replete with this sort of insane dialog. From the about-face on what were centrist—even Republican ideas—like Romneycare and Cap-and-Trade to the hystarical lies that surrounded them—Death panels!—there's been no shortage of incredulity on the side of the reality-based.
But what's most disappointing is the way that sometimes—not always, but sometimes—even the rational get sucked in.
In an economy as bruised as ours, taking out money is foolish. If economics has taught us anything, it's that fiscal policy has consequences, and taking out 1.5 trillion dollars or 5 trillion dollars or whatever the figure for the latest Grand Bargain is going to harm our economy. But that's what we're discussing—how much to cut.
It would be as if Grover Norquist says he wants to drown government in a bathtub, and we spent our time bickering over the amount of water.
I'm going to make a proposition, and I'm guessing it'll be a controversial one: I would rather fight and lose than not fight and win a victory like a 87-13 cut-tax split (or whatever we're looking at these days). I would rather start with truly progressive bills and roll the dice. I would rather not accept the tired cynicism of those who say that the status quo will always be the status quo and there's nothing we can do to change it.
The President and Democratic members of Congress have a huge tool at their disposal—the power of persuasion. In the last few years a form of determinism has come into vouge in political science. Roughly it states that a few factors, mostly structural determine the results of elections and legislation. Nowhere does this view seem more prominent than in today's Democratic party, where our elected officials are all-to-often willing to throw up their hands, say “we don't have the votes,” and move on to talking about how best to drown our government.
But the lesson of Wisconsin, the lesson of S.B. 5, the lesson of Barry Goldwater, is that fighting—and, yes, losing sometimes—can turn the tide of a war. It's time we were willing to lose.