Before yesterday, in my darker moments (becoming more and more frequent, and a major reason I stopped talking about politics in this space) I was wondering whether the American Experiment hadn't irretrievably failed. The Torture for Terror...er...Military Commissions Act was the last in a long line of straws by which we seem to have sacrificed our essential Americaness at the altar of...hell I have no idea what the purpose was unless I'm going to be completely cynical and say at the altar of political gain. To steal a quote from the (fictional) Jay Landsman, we did not cast off our ideals lightly. We hurled them away with great force.
And it's not like these actions were the result of a popular mandate. The President is unpopular, and has been almost continuously since America more or less decided he didn't suck quite as badly as does John Kerry - and the fact that it's even a question is a rather sad commentary on whatever conventional wisdom got JK the nomination in the first place. Giving massive new powers to a guy no one even likes that we know or at least suspect that he has no idea how to actually use constructively = bad times.
The rest of the world was watching, and this felt like out last chance to convince them that the worst things said about us aren't accurate.
It was in this frame of mind that I started hearing about various shenanigans yesterday morning. Being both a Red Sox fan and having only really followed politics since 2000, I was already expecting the worst. And then, it happened. I really can't describe it any other way than that. I guess the turning point for me was the first batch of Senate exit polls followed quickly by the canaries falling like dominoes in Indian, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and upstate New York. After that I felt pretty ok - the early reports of voting problems were overblown, and I was perhaps a little bit paranoid.
And now, with the human gift for turning history into narrative, I can see the TfT act as being the nadir, and maybe we can bring it back. I'm actually feeling a bit optimistic today. But that doesn't mean it's time to rest on laurels. The Dems may or may not have "had a plan" before today, but now they need to get on it, toot suite.
To go back to "The Wire" well, "gettin' clean is the easy part. Now comes life." Last night was the easy part, the new Congress has a mandate for change. Not for "change," but to put the work in and do it right. When it comes down to it, I think that the public is going to demand competence above anything else at this point. I'm prepared to accept (some) policy outcomes I don't like as long as we the people get what we pay for.
I don't know exactly what this "competence" means substantively, because that's above my pay grade. But I know what it doesn't mean, and that's more politics for politics sake. I'm all for investigations, but not witch-hunts. It's no longer enough to talk about how the current administration and previous Congress got it wrong. Show me something better, don't just tell me about how great it would be if you did.
So, Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid, and the presumptive '08 candidates, you're on the clock. Don't let us down.
Update: See also, Ogged:
For as long as there have been liberal blogs, there's been a dastardly Republican majority in both houses of Congress. The blogs are voices of anger, opposition, and witness. So now what? Those things aren't the things we need anymore. I can't be the only person who looked at Eschaton this morning, saw that the Wanker of the Day was Rahm Emanuel, and burst out laughing. But I won't be laughing for long if the blogs don't adapt, and we have the activist blogs turning their anger toward moderates, and the wonky blogs having good faith discussions about precisely how to calibrate the COLA.