“Today we are all Democrats.” As far as I know, nobody said this as they surveyed Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, but somebody really should have. Nothing like a catastrophic weather event to remind people that, oh yeah, maybe a strong central government isn’t the bane of humanity after all! Watching Republicans like Chris Christie fawning over Obama when his Jersey ass is in the fire and “government intervention” is suddenly more than a catchphrase used to rile up excitable right-wingers, is seriously galling.
But hearing stories of FEMA rushing in with supplies and National Guard members rescuing people trapped in Hoboken improves my mood somewhat, because I’m reminded of one of my favorite reasons why I’m a liberal: only governments can get necessary, life-saving shit like this done, and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
That’s an easy fact to lose track of living in the echo chamber of this country’s political conversation, in which Democrats have been bullied into a habitually defensive posture on the question of the government’s role. But if you look at US history, the times that we were arguably strongest, or made the greatest strides in technological innovation or improved quality of life, were the times when we let government do what it’s made for, which is act as an agent of progressive social change. Alas, social progress seems like kind of an antiquated notion these days, doesn’t it, what with its implications of shared responsibility and a collective fate. That stuff is totally socialist, as our nation of under-informed armchair pundits will happily bray at you, and furthermore, blah-blah-blah national deficit?!? America rests its case, hippies.
Progressive politics has been on my mind lately, because I just finished writing an essay that touches on the topic and I’m seeing a lot of things through that lens. The piece will appear in an anthology of feminist essays coming out in January, and in it I talk about what it means for the country that we no longer seem to trust the progressive agenda. I make the case that we’re in an era of regressive politics, with the conservative wing trying to undo the massive expansion of human and civil rights protections that took place in the early to mid-20th century, because their electoral base is shrinking and full civic participation can only hurt them now. Basically, the GOP is in a “change or die” situation, but change is hard and nobody likes it, so for now they’re going to try to repeal some legal protections and see how far that takes them.
What does all that have to do with the sad, soggy east coast Republicans, now Democrats for a day, or a week or however long it takes the Feds to clean up Sandy’s mess? Only that I‘ll be thinking of them the next time I hear a GOP governor sneer contemptuously about the moochers and the safety net, because what the hell do they think FEMA is, anyway?