Hopeful words from Ross Douthat:
So Democrats hailed the death of conservatism and the dawn of a glorious new liberal epoch and then griped that Republicans wouldn't lend their support to its fulfillment. Republicans denounced President Obama as a Marxist and shrieked "you lie!" at him in the House chambers, and then they complained that he wouldn't listen to their ideas.
But in the past month of lame-duck activity, we've witnessed a return to political normalcy. The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grâce to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It's hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner.)
In this brave new postelection world, lawmakers on both sides stopped behaving like players in some Beltway version of the battle at Armageddon and started behaving like, well, lawmakers. They cut deals, traded horses, preened (and sometimes whined) for the cameras, and cast their votes on a mix of principle, pique and political self-interest, rather than just falling into line for or against the Obama agenda.
Partisanship didn't disappear, but moderation repeatedly won out. Congress cut a big bipartisan deal on taxes and spending and then shot down a more partisan liberal budget. One of the most controversial items on the lame-duck agenda -- the Dream Act, offering the children of illegal immigrants a path to citizenship -- was defeated by bipartisan opposition. Two of the less controversial items -- the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" (supported by some 75 percent of Americans, according to various polls) and the New Start arms control treaty (supported by nearly every Republican foreign policy hand) -- passed by healthy margins.
This return to normalcy is good news for fans of bipartisan comity and centrism for centrism's sake. And it might be good news for the country. In the end, some sort of bipartisanship will be required to pull America back from the fiscal precipice, and the productivity of this lame-duck December shows that cooperation between the two parties isn't as impossible as it seemed just a few months ago.
The experience of TARP seems to indicate that when the chips are down, American politicians will do what they think they have to. The open question is whether they will get it together before we're on the edge of disaster.
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