From 30,000 feet things can seem dismal these days. Iran is moving toward nuclear breakout. Russia, like the Soviet Union of old, is bullying its neighbor, Ukraine, driving a wedge through Europe. Over 100,000 have died in Syria, polio is back and there are no consequences, in this world, for using WMDs on innocents; Americans seem indifferent. Obamacare is wreaking havoc on people’s lives and the economy. Everyone in Washington, it often seems, is disliked by most of the country.
Well, that really is bad stuff. But if you look closely enough there are some green shoots, signs of health in the American body politic and a resilience among free people.
In the Middle East, an odd partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia is developing, albeit grounded in their common betrayal by the Obama administration. As Walter Russell Mead put it, “Arguably, the two countries now have more in common with each other than either has with the Obama administration. The question is whether this common interest is enough to make both countries swallow their visceral dislike of one another and work together. Most commentators seem to think not; the champion of Wahhabi Islam cannot stand with the Jewish state. Yet necessity has made stranger diplomatic bedfellows.”
Even more comforting is the bipartisan rejection of Obama’s Iran appeasement. Conservatives have complained with good reason that the Democratic Party has become less pro-Israel in its views (certainly the liberal opinion-makers have). There is no political upside for Democratic lawmakers to go up against the president and throw their weight against a train going down the track toward legitimization of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. And yet, here you have Democrats — at least for now — unmoved by the Obama administration’s spin and willing to line up behind additional sanctions. We will see if New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and fellow Democrats hold firm, but their willingness to push back against an approach that is horribly destructive to the United States’ and the West’s long-term national security gives one some hope that the party, unlike the president, has not entirely lost its bearings. I won’t wait up for self-described liberal Zionists to come out of the woodwork to push back against a horrible deal, nor do I think Hillary Clinton will emerge to show her mettle. But presently it is heartening that the people who count the most, those in Congress, know a rotten and dangerous deal when they see it.
On the domestic front there are signs that center-right forces are coming into their own, pushing back against the far-right and the White House to carve a place for modest and constructive politics. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are very close to a budget deal. It won’t be a grand bargain, but the ability to make even small deals based on common sense (find some replacements for excessive discretionary spending cuts) is heartening. Likewise, immigration reform is alive in the House.
Signs abound that a more productive brand of conservative governance is back in favor. The speaker points out that the House has passed some 150 bills, which the Senate has ignored. New patent protection legislation and a bill to help small business capitalization were passed this week. (Perhaps fewer and more focused efforts would get more attention.) Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is out pressing the case for his Obamacare alternative. And in Virginia, where the far-right darling Ken Cuccinelli II wiped out in the gubernatorial race, the outgoing GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is trying to get the state GOP back in the game by trying to get rid of closed conventions, urging the party to appeal to highly populated suburban areas and explaining the need to reach out beyond white, conservative males. (“With women and young people we have to more effectively communicate our views on important issues like abortion and gay rights, and with growing immigrant populations we must be open to responsible immigration reforms that show these new Virginians that we value the enormous contributions they make to our state.”)
On the electoral front, 2014 is looking up for the GOP. Amy Walter at the Cook Political Report notes:
One of the best predictors of political performance is the job approval rating of the president. When people feel good about the president they reward his party. When they feel bad, they punish his party, and right now, Obama is in the bad category. . . . The President’s “if you like your healthcare you can keep it” promise is going to dog him and his party, throughout the next two years (and maybe longer). The fact of the matter is there are going to be lots of people, not just those on individual plans, who will see changes to their current insurance. That means more opportunities for Republicans to remind voters of this broken promise.
She concludes that “there are more issues working against Democrats than for them in 2014.” (All caveats about Republicans’ unique ability to blow themselves up, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, apply.)
And finally, the electorate, we are reminded, is fluid and subject to persuasion and swayed by experience. Young people, independents and even Hispanics are bailing on the president. Gallup tells us: “President Barack Obama’s job approval rating averaged 41% in November, down 12 percentage points from 53% last December, his high-water mark since his first year in office. Hispanics’ approval has dropped 23 points over the last 12 months, the most among major subgroups, and nearly twice the national average.” This doesn’t mean these voters will flock automatically to Republicans, but it suggests they are reachable.
So, then, we can find good news in international and domestic reaction to bad Obama foreign policy, in a shift toward more positive conservative governance and some positive electoral developments that bode well for the GOP in 2014. It is easy, especially for curmudgeon-like conservatives, to conclude the electorate and media are permanently stacked against them, the country is on the road to ruin and the GOP is destined to lose election after election. Such fatalism, I would argue, is neither constructive nor warranted. Politics ebbs and flows, good presidents follow poor ones and often we manage to muddle through. That deserves , if not celebration, at least rejecting despair.