Democrats, particularly Progressive Democrats, have been collectively incredulous. The motives and tactics driving the rancor and bile spewing forth from Republican politicians, Fox News, talking heads, pundits, entertainers, and conservative citizens seems so unjustified and so irrational. Looking back to what we recently came through might be the best way to understand this reactionary response. We must believe that one election cycle or one President can undo the blight upon the human psyche or the sustained abuse upon our sacred institutions, sense of safety, and peace of mind. President Obama has been Chief Executive for less than a year, but what we’ve all learned, much to our chagrin, is that change that you can believe in is slow and incremental.
The reaction of conservatives is directly proportional to the massive amount of fear-mongering, manipulative tactics, and irresponsible governing perpetrated by the Bush Administration. That we on the left are not as affected by this steady barrage of fear and loathing is merely a reflection of the fact that we were hardly the ones to believe in it in the first place. We were the target of scorn, not the targeted audience. One cannot discount for a second the combined evil we were all exposed to for eight long years and that this degree of emotional torture cannot be whisked away with the stroke of a pen, an award, or a sizable agenda. It did not arrive overnight, nor will it depart like a thief in the night.
The old adage of how to cook a frog comes to mind. As the story goes, one doesn’t place the frog immediately into boiling water, else the animal would jump out. Instead, one places the frog in lukewarm water and incrementally increases the temperature, allowing the animal to slowly adjust. Eventually the frog is tricked into staying in water hot enough to kill and then thoroughly cook it. This is what has happened to the conservative movement and why we face such a challenge in reversing course. They have been subtly and not-so-subtly manipulated by the doctrine of opportunist neo-conservative thought to the point that conservatives cannot see any common ground with the left. What made this strategy particularly effective and insidious is that it was implemented little bit by little bit until the combined evil was much greater than any individual part.
It should surprise no one then that we’ve seen this degree of nonsensical, uncompromising, petty, sheer hatred of liberals and President Obama. The Bush/Rove Doctrine might as well have been a a commandment to despise that which opposes you, forsake common humanity for single-minded gain, use any means necessary to win, and never accept the blame for mistakes. We on the left have mentioned this battle plan upon the American public in oversimplified, outline form so frequently that it borders on platitude, but we haven’t gone much deeper. For Republicans and conservatives, however, Bush Administration tactics have left a devastating legacy than will not easily be corrected. We need to ask ourselves if there is anything much we can do to refute it. The GOP itself must recognize the damage and make ends to reverse it. If they do not, then this perspective will further calcify and we ought to expect more of these ridiculous nontroversies and petty partisan attacks. Shelving our skepticism for a moment, we need to understand that humans are much more impressionable and easily duped than our frustration with immediate results will allow. We are clamoring for systemic change, but that comes with time. No President ought to have to clean up messes he or she didn’t create, but that’s the foremost challenge facing our current President, and one that has and will continue to impede what he wants accomplished.
The Ancient Greek fable of Pandora’s Box is an allegory to explain the paradox human nature. Simultaneously blessed and cursed with the gift of curiosity, Pandora opens a particularly tempting box and unwittingly unleashes a plethora of ills upon the human race. However, it must be mentioned that what is last to leave the box is the gift of hope. A more Biblical illustration would be that of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and in so doing were banished from the Garden of Eden. I find a Jewish interpretation to be most instructive in this instance.
According to the Jewish tradition God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree that was to give free choice and allow them to earn, as opposed to receive, absolute perfection and intimate communion with God at a higher level than the one on which they were created. According to this tradition, Adam and Eve would have attained absolute perfection and retained immortality had they succeeded in withstanding the temptation to eat from the Tree. After failing at this task, they were condemned to a period of toil to rectify the fallen universe. Jewish tradition views the serpent, and sometimes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil itself, as representatives of evil and man’s evil inclination.
Perhaps each of us must toil to rectify our own sin or even take the time to rectify someone else’s sin. I believe this to be a function and a role we must all take on as part of being human. It might not be fair, but life is rarely just as we would wish it to be. In this instance, the President, the Congress, and we ourselves are going to have to first reverse trends that have now become entrenched. Some of them have their Genesis eight years prior to today, some of them came into being in 1980, and some of them date back to the 1960’s. The hope lies, I firmly believe, with a strategy of persistence and steady pressure that ought not to be perceived as a failure if it does not garnish immediately discernible results. Sometimes it doesn’t take an Act of Congress to make a major impact on someone or even on the debate itself.