Oh, how sunny and bright and positively limitless the future must have seemed.
For American liberals, Barack Obama’s inauguration signaled far, far more than a new administration. In their new president they had a man who not only shared their disdain for America’s history but who traveled the world apologizing for it, a man who knew how to stiff America’s allies and kowtow to her enemies. And what was wrong with that? Any country that had remained on friendly terms with America through the wretchedness of the Bush-Cheney years was surely just as worthy of contempt as America itself. But all of that was about to change: Guantanamo would be closed, perhaps to be offered to Fidel Castro in a show of contrition for all the trouble we’ve caused him. Iraq (the Bad War) and Afghanistan (the Good War that somehow became another Bad War) would be abandoned to the care of their rightful masters, again with our apologies. The whole strategic map of the Good Guys and the Bad Guys was about to be inverted, and how the former Bad Guys would love us now.
And here at home, free health care for all! Never mind that a majority of Americans said they didn’t want it. What did they know? We, the coastal elites, the graduates of the finest schools, the guests on Meet the Press, the anointed ones, we had to pass the bill so they could see what was in it, and then the ignorant proles would all dutifully fall into line. And who cares that not a single Republican voted for it in the Senate or the House. Soon there wouldn’t even be any Republicans, so discredited, so retrograde, so completely unhip and unworthy of their New Leader were they. Barack Obama was president, Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House, and Harry Reid was Senate majority leader. The country, as they warned, was about to be fundamentally transformed, and your choice was between allowing yourself to be transformed along with it or else be trampled and forgotten.
So who could blame liberals if in the early days of 2009 they pranced giddily about strewing roses out of their hats?
How different things look today, how short-lived was the liberal hegemony. The proles, as it turned out, were not so eager to see their country or themselves transformed, and they registered that reluctance with blistering clarity in the midterm elections, prying the gavel from Mrs. Pelosi’s fingers and demoting her to the post of minority leader. Guantanamo remains open for business, American troops remain in a relatively stable Iraq and are succeeding in Afghanistan.
And now, insult upon insults, the foot soldiers of the once almighty liberal dynamo, public sector labor unions, who only months ago were fat and happy and looking forward to a long, comfortable ride with all their friends firmly in position to help them, now they find themselves battling on the ramparts and trying to fend off a sneak attack in, of all places, Madison, Wisconsin. Yes, the very Eden of progressive politics is in the control of budget-cutting Republicans. It couldn’t have been more surprising if it had happened in Berkeley.
But they would not go quietly. The spirit of old Madison, the one in place before all those nasty Republicans showed up, that spirit was revived, and soon the capitol building was the site of a 24-hour carnival, complete with rousing speeches, lively chants, and a variety of what we might charitably call music, produced mostly on an assortment of improvised percussion instruments. And of course there is no carnival so vulgar that it cannot be made more so by the presence of Jesse Jackson, who found the spirit of the assembled protesters “infectuous.”
Indeed. And with all those people, some of whom appeared to be hygienically challenged to begin with, parading around cheek by jowl and occupying the place all day and night with little access to the normal daily amenities, the spirit probably wasn’t the only thing that was “infectuous.”
But let us for the moment put aside concerns for aesthetics and concentrate on that spirit Jesse Jackson found so appealing. “It was wonderful!” said one Wisconsin school teacher to another. “You should have been there! It’s just like the Sixties!” Yes, how they long for Woodstock.