I suppose it makes sense to jot down a few thoughts about the year as 2005 ends, trying to make some sense of things as we hurtle into 2006. It occurs to me that while the year began in a mood of keeping progressive hope alive, even without much empirical evidence or reason, 2005 ends on a more optimistic note.
We’ve survived another year of right-wing madness, perhaps seeing a fatal overreaching of the Noise Machine behind the current bosses in Washington. It’s become apparent to most Americans that they were played on the war in Iraq. The plan to stack the Supreme Court with right wingers hasn’t yet succeeded. The corruption of the Republican leadership is on display, both in the press and in the courtroom. These days, the President who only recently bragged of his “political capital” begins to look like a boat anchor to GOP candidates for 2006.
So, how did we get here and what happens now?
Clearly, the battle for Social Security was the Waterloo of the Bush Administration. What the Cato Institute geniuses and right wing pols didn’t count on was that they’d run into a grassroots campaign that would unite people across the political spectrum. To protect basic fairness towards fellow Americans, people who seemed outgunned by a freshly anointed President and his armies on Wall Street and in the banking industry reached out to each other and fought back. There were leaders like Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo and the nice folks at AARP, who led the charge, but there were also armies of microblogs and local committees who pounded daily on the lies that were being circulated.
In the end, the battle to kill off Social Security proved two things. First, the American people proved better at understanding the nature of the social compact that the safety net was based on than anyone gave them credit for. Second, the permanent campaign of the Bush Administration proved to be beatable, perhaps for the first time since they had wrapped themselves in the flag after the September 11 attacks.
Claiming to have won election with a mandate to privatize retirements that no one gave them, the Bush cabal stepped up to make a 180 degree change in the social contract that Americans have become accustomed to since the Great Depression. It was to be the crowning moment for young President Bush, turning back the tide, in fact the clock, on liberal capitalism to a laissez faire ideology not in vogue since Herbert Hoover was defeated by FDR.
But it wasn’t to be. Americans all have family members or friends who live on their Social Security benefits, however meager they might be. In a reaction soon to be echoed in the Schiavo case, ordinary people, alerted by grassroots forces in the progressive movement, turned on the President with a passion. The more people knew about the proposal to tear up the social security compact, the more people hated it. Perhaps more out of a sense of taking care of family than a feeling about government itself, they smelled the rat in the changes the President called for.
For the progressive movement, the choking death of the President’s privatization scheme meant something important too. It showed that a concerted effort, backed by a broad coalition, could work against Rove and Company. Dispirited by the loss in 2004, progressives now knew they too could split the opposition, take over the agenda, play hardball on their talking points—and win. Tasting this victory, progressives wouldn’t be satisfied to wait out the rest of the term.
There are a number of markers that show the decline of the Right in starker relief this past year, but none would have been so prominent without the successful campaign to save Social Security.
I won’t spend so much time on the most obvious elephant in the kitchen, Iraq, but suffice it to say that the future remains unclear, even while the lies of the war’s genesis become starker. It may be that one of the biggest problems we have to clean up well after the Bush Administration is only a stain on the highway is what to do with the blowback from this war. Even though Mr. Bush’s War is now acknowledged to be a huge mistake, putting the pieces of Iraq together again will take an international commitment that’s not yet imminent— or even on most politician’s horizon. We can only hope that 2006 sees the people getting out in front of the government once again— and demanding an end to the status quo, demanding that the Administration own up to its failure and finally ask the world (yes, the UN) to take a primary role in keeping the peace in Iraq. We still owe the Iraqis a working economy, a rebuilt infrastructure, and protection against the deluge of civil war, but overtaxed and under-equipped US troops can’t make that happen as long as they’re seen as the invading occupiers. It’s going to take international assistance and Iraqi consensus to find a solution there. And it’s going to take a lot of luck.
One domestic event that seems to have broken the back of the Administration this year, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, bears more deconstruction than it’s been allowed to date. While the devastating failure of the US government to take care of its own people is clear to the world, the conditions that underlie the disaster of New Orleans haven’t yet been well understood. The addiction to housing segregation and the class warfare on the poor that created this untold suffering are far less well reported even today than the failures of levees, canals, and FEMA’s hapless ‘Brownie.’ Let’s look for better journalism and more organizing in 2006 around issues of basic human equity than we’ve seen since the floods took away most of the City of New Orleans and the homes of countless poor people.
I hope as we look back on what led to the destruction of New Orleans, the cover it pulled back on the conditions in which poor people live, people mostly of color who have lived in poverty for generations, isn’t just rolled back up over our eyes so we can sleep in the darkness again.
There’s so much of what’s happened this year that remains a work in progress: the indictments and indictments to come against many in the Noise Machine, the Alito nomination and the attempt to roll back the Court’s progress on civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, the environment, and the separation of church and state, a renewal of the stalled movement to clean up our elections, the implementation of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, and many more inconclusive political struggles, they all remain to be dealt with in 2006.
However much is undone, there’s a lot to be thankful for as we see an end of 2005. Bad things happened to many, but if we’re able to learn from our failures and build on the successes of the past year, maybe 2006 will be a year of renewal for progressive people.
Meanwhile, let’s raise a glass to good friends in our own lives and here in Blogistan. Cheers, and good luck to us all!