Hunter S. Thompson said: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." But what do you do when things go from weird to completely psychedelic?
The political landscape at the beginning of the second term of America's first biracial--in the usual historical sense, calling him black kind of requires an asterisk--is a messed-up, topsy-turvy, bass-ackwards place.
There is the president's newfound liberal rhetoric, even going so far as to namecheck gays and lesbians in his inaugural address. Did anyone tell him or members of the media that Stonewall was an actual riot, that endorsing this landmark of liberation is to endorse violent revolutionary change? He came off as something of a peacenik, implying that he would be willing to talk to, say, Iran. How does that square with his onslaught of drones, a campaign that increasingly looks like a grim Vietnam-style war of attrition?
But it's his timing I can't figure.
Back in 2009, when he came into the White House with an overwhelming mandate for radical change in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, when he enjoyed Democratic control of both houses of Congress, when the Republicans were so whipped that opinion writers for the Wall Street Journal wondered aloud whether there was a future for the GOP, he tacked right.
Now that obstructionist Republicans control the House, ordinary citizens have settled into a grouchy state of permanent discontent, when there's absolutely no reason to expect to get anything big or bold accomplished, the dude is breaking out as some sort of crazy progressive?
Then there's the bizarre realignment of the two major parties.
Leading Republicans are freaking out in the weirdest possible way. Something has to be done! But not if it requires compromising on our core values. Um, guys ... white guys ... old white guys ... the problem is that the voters don't like Republican core values. Or you personally. So what is to be done? Something!
You almost have to feel sorry for Republicans. Sure, they started a bunch of crazy wars and they rolled back 800 years of cherished civil liberties, but it's sad to watch the mighty crash.
Not only is a sorta-black man in the White House, all the GOP's classic election-stealing tricks--corrupting the Supreme Court, bullying recount officials with paid thugs, moving voting booths out of minority neighborhoods--aren't enough to close the growing gap between their obsolete stances. Now they're so desperate that they're even flirting with rejiggering the Electoral College in order to suck out two or three more terms with them in control of the House before fading away into Whig-like oblivion.
Not to say that the Democrats are walking the straight and narrow road of sanity.
There's one issue that consumes Americans most. Happily, it's something that the government not only can do something about, but has been able to address many times in the past. I am talking about, obviously, the economy. Americans have been remarkably consistent about this. It would be hard to think of another time when people told pollsters for four years in a row that the same issue was the No. 1 issue in the country. Whatever his other challenges, President Barack Obama certainly doesn't have to wonder about what's on our minds.
So what is his second-term agenda? Given his laissez-faire approach to the economic collapse throughout his first term, you might think that he would focus in like a laser-guided drone on the economy this time around. But no, everyone's telling us that Obama's ambitious second-term agenda is gun control, immigration and climate change.
Don't get me wrong: One of the great tragedies of the last dozen years was that Al Gore, one of the few American politicians who understands the gravity and imminent threat of global warming, didn't get to exercise the presidential powers he earned at the ballot box. Though I will be shocked if Obama's proposals rise above the level of the usual too little/too late/too vested in corporate profits to curb industrialization, it's nice to see the issue get lip service.
Restoring sanity to America's immigration system is long overdue. Though, again, I wouldn't be surprised if we just end up with another Reagan-style amnesty that doesn't open up the doors to more legal immigrants. Gun control of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, of course, is just boilerplate post-Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre reactionism.
Fortunately, at least one of these issues will probably resolve itself. Already there are fewer illegals trying to sneak into the United States across the border from Mexico because the economy here is so terrible. Who is going to want to come to an impoverished nation full of gun nuts shooting at each other underwater?
Still, it's disconcerting to watch smug Democrats lord it over clueless Republicans when the only difference between the two parties is one of tone. Republicans let you know that they hate you. Democrats talk nice and then let you down. Neither party gives a damn about the fact that you haven't gotten a raise in 30 years. How can they? Their contributors are the top executives of the corporations who've been lining their pockets at your expense.
One of these days, you've got to think that the people are going to notice.