In “Ulysses”, James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus says that “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” For me, it’s a bad dream I fear we too often forget.
While many Americans simply react to the present political climate, it is important to understand that regardless of which party currently holds a majority in the House or what the political philosophy of the incumbent president is, given enough time, those things will change and will have little impact on our nation.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a society with a short attention span. A fierce yet transitory urgency governs our lives, whether it is the tweets we read, the text messages we receive or the breaking news we review on e-mail alerts. The resulting information overload washes away our memory of political events in the rinse cycle of the news.
Take for example the emerging belief that America has rejected the Reagan Revolution, a term coined to describe the shift towards conservatism that took place during Reagan’s presidency and has become a left-wing nation. Those who hold this belief watched President Obama decisively win reelection and unabashedly announce a progressive agenda in his second inaugural address. They have also witnessed Republican disarray as conservatives caved on tax cuts for the wealthy and the debt ceiling. They assume the “nightmarish” march of history is over and that progressivism has triumphed.
Writer Michael Gerson begs to disagree. In an op-ed cheerily titled “Obama Shoves Idealism into its Grave,” published in the “Washington Post” in February, Gerson argues that inconstancy is the only constant in recent American politics. In fact, we live in a “bi-polar” nation where the “partisan lunge” that brought us Obamacare resulted in “an ideological backlash that shifted control of the House” to the Republicans in 2010, only to be “followed” by the 2012 election that returned Obama to the White House but maintained Republican control of the House.
Notwithstanding this national schizophrenia, some Democrats now believe they are on the right side of history, which, of course, is the left side of history. Their optimism reminds me of the story the economic historian Todd Buchholz tells about the 18th century Frenchman M. Condorcet. Like the current Democrats, the marquis de Condorcet, a political scientist and philosopher, had visions of a bright future for his country. That is, until he was captured in the French Revolution and left to die in prison, only narrowly escaping being beheaded by the well-known proponent of the guillotine, Robespierre—a fate which proved his earlier optimism to be misguided.
Some progressives will no doubt reject this historical analogy. They would, instead, compare the president to Robespierre. Take for example John Dickerson, who wrote a January 18, 2013, opinion piece entitled “Go for the Throat” in “Slate.” His thesis is that President Obama “can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP.” So, he concludes Obama should “go for the throat,” because his “only remaining option is to pulverize” and “delegitimize his opponents.”
You might think that Dickerson is a fringe blogger venting his frustration from a darkly lit apartment. You’d be wrong. He is actuality the political news director of “CBS News.” Dickerson’s work for his network may explain the development of a new psychological condition called “CBS Derangement Syndrome” that most commonly manifests itself in aberrant behavior by Tea Party members, who can be found yelling at their television screens while watching political coverage on the network.
To his credit, Dickerson’s idea is catching on. Ed Schultz on his MSNBC show recommended that President Obama “grab the jugular and get after” the Republicans because America is now a “centered-left” nation. John Boehner, the Speaker of the Republican controlled House, said at a private luncheon that President Obama seeks to “annihilate the Republican Party and… shove [it] into the dustbin of history.” Paul Ryan also announced that President Obama seeks to “delegitimize” the Republican Party, according to the CBS News article “Paul Ryan: GOP must not be ‘the villain’ in Obama’s ‘morality plays.’”
On the bright side for the Republican Party, the news cycle will soon replace stories of the party’s imminent demise with reports of some unrelated catastrophe. And if the recent past is prologue to the near future, the political pendulum may swing back to the Republicans in the 2014 elections as voters decide to blame the Democrats for the mess we are in. That is, until they reverse course and blame the Republicans once again.
Then again, history may surprise us. One day we may wake up from this nightmare of national disunity to discover that we have remembered how to disagree without being disagreeable. I suppose, then, it wouldn’t be such a bad dream after all.
Eric Meyers is a two-year Senior from Miami, FL, and a Columnist for The Phillipian.