‘It’s time we made lemonade’ by Paul Hudon

Paul Hudon, author of “An Illustrated History of the Lower Merrimack: The Valley and its Peoples“, has some observations on the state of national politics as we enter 2011:

You have to wonder if ‘the happy warrior’ is trying to tell us something. Hubert Horatio Humphrey was laid to rest in January 1978. He has rarely been mentioned since. But now the dome of the Minneapolis Metrodome has gone flat, and the eponymous Mr Humphrey is getting a new breath of public life. Sort of. His name, attached as it is to that Metrodome, is getting pro forma mention in reports of the weather related disaster; but far’s I know, Humphrey’s political career hasn’t once been referenced. Not that there’s any reason to drag a dead guy into the Metrodome story. That’s all about the terrible weightiness of snow. Still, you have to wonder — or anyway, I find myself wondering about the timing. I wonder if the roof of the Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome has collapsed just now because just now we’re desperate for a reminder that the words warrior and Democrat were at one time made to work in the same sentence.

Which brings us to that other cave-in, the one in Washington. That one came with less surprise. You might even say we’ve been trained to it, over the last two years. No need here to plot the lamentable incidents on that learning curve, though we do want to remember that this latest incident — the one just played out, the one that coincided with the Minneapolis event — does not stand alone.

It does however stand out. This time our Democratic president showed some fight. Through all the previous negotiations with the minority party, president Obama maintained his cool demeanor. No matter the depth of compromise, ‘no drama Obama’ sailed on with the gravitas of the noblest Roman. Not this time. This time he had harsh words — for his own party. He does not understand how the ‘purists’ among Democrats can balk at the terms of the deal made with the minority. The only way, he said, to free the ‘hostages’ (the million plus Americans whose unemployment benefits have run out) was to allow the minority party to dictate an extension of that notorious tax-cut for the wealthiest one percent of Americans. Never mind that candidate Obama made specific promises on that very piece of tax-cut extensions; never mind that a majority of Americans said those tax-cut ought not to be extended; never mind that some forty persons in the tax bracket effected publicly counseled the president not to extend those tax-cuts. Never mind. There was no other way. As I parse it, what the president meant to say is there was no other way to get the minority party to compromise.

The option of course was to break-off negotiations, proclaim disappointment, and leave the minority to hold the proverbial hot potato. Because in the event of failed negotiations odds are it’s the minority that Americans would hold responsible. Even now, even after the ‘shellacking’ Democrats took at the mid-term elections, polls tell us that, given a choice between the minority party and Obama, Americans choose Obama. Still, he doesn’t get it. In his mind, as I read it, any failure to reach compromise is his failure. It begins to look like this is his whole definition of failure. Nothing to be done about that. You can’t ask a man to be someone else.

So, why not call it a triumph of temperament? ‘Let Obama be Obama!’ Why not cut him some slack, recognize that after all we’re getting the best of what he has to give. You can’t ask a man to be someone else. The problem with this is that the Obama temperament plays directly into the minority party’s standard operating procedure, to wit, ‘keep them on the defensive.’ That tack has been consistent and mostly successful over the past thirty years. When my-way-or-the-highway rules the mind of the opposite party, compromise plays-out like assisted suicide. Bill Clinton, for all his faults, understood this: there are positions you can’t give up without losing your sense of self. Consider that in medieval castles the last place of defense was called ‘the keep.’

The party of Jefferson and Jackson has always identified with liberal, and sometimes with radical causes. It’s true that in the late 1800s — frustrated by the repeated losses of William Jennings Bryan — Democrats moved right. They gave us Grover Cleveland, twice. Now we have had Clinton and Obama, performing the same lateral move, as a duet; and perhaps because this time it was done in relay, the move right has been less mindful, less controlled. David Bromwich who frequently comments from the left thinks the Democratic party is without a Democratic leader. ‘In Obama’s speeches the word ‘’I’’ (which appears frequently) and the word ‘‘Democrat’’ (which appears rarely) are seldom found in proximity.’ ‘Even now,’ he writes, ‘when Obama owes the Democrats in Congress the vote that ended the careers of many, he seeks to displace the blame for public resentment on ‘Congress’ (without specification of party).’ It’s clear that ‘the boys’ won’t rally round the flag if there’s no flag to be seen. And right now it looks like our Democratic president doesn’t seem to think it’s his job to show the flag. He doesn’t even seem to think there is a flag.

Hubert Humphrey was the happy warrior. Here’s a happy thought: after Cleveland there was Wilson, and after Wilson, FDR.