At 9:00 am today, a re-publishing of my Obama piece from last year was slated to go up. The essay, a recounting of my attendance at the president's inauguration 24 hours after the fact, is still up here if you want to read it: as a first-hand memoir of the event and first-draft summation of the zeitgeist, it's still pretty interesting, I think. However, it no longer fits the mood of the moment. I was going to re-post it to commemorate the first anniversary of Obama's presidency today - not only its promise but rumbles of its discontent (which I saw represented, metaphorically, in the confusion and congestion of the gigantic crowd and the difficult of authorities in marshalling them). Yet this ambivalence no longer seems appropriate, because the balance shifted yesterday - the ambivalence is souring into something more bitter, both in terms of the presidency and the populace that elected him.
As most of you know, Republican Scott Brown won the special election to replace Ted Kennedy tonight, beating the originally favored Democrat Martha Coakley for this historically Democratic Senate seat in a historically Democratic state. I am a Massachussetts resident, however I'm still a registered New Hampshire voter - I've remained on the rolls in the state of my birth because, among other reasons, it's a swing state where my vote actually seems to make a difference. Well, the joke's on me today - not that one vote would have dented Brown's shockingly comfortable margin. As an independent, I'm not a down-the-line liberal and I agree with Brown on some issues (well, Afghanistan anyway) over Coakley. But on the crucial issue of the day, health care - on which this 60th vote is actually essential - I've had it with the obstinant do-nothingism of ideologues like Brown.
Likewise with his general toe-the-line sensibility; that a Republican can win just a year after Bush left office doesn't infuriate me so much as that a Republican can win without making any effort to distance himself from the disastrous policies of one of the worst administrations in U.S. history. This victory seems to justify the intransigent, stubborn fanaticism of the right wing over the past year, and for that alone it's worth ruing. But worse than what it "represents" (which may be overblown although things certainly look even more troublesome for November '10 now) is what it means in concrete terms - that the already precarious and compromised health care bill is no longer protected by a 60-vote caucus. If one of the most initially popular presidents in history, with his party more in charge of the capital than it's been in a generation, can't pass a reform that the American people have repeatedly demonstrated their desire for (and if the American people can't quit dithering and hand-wringing long enough to demonstrate this desire when it matters most) ... well then, I might as well declare my disgust with politics once and for all and give up on any hope of moving forward on just about anything.
There's still that window of hope if the administration can get the House to approve the present bill and keep it safe from filibuster but if not, that new epoch I saw dawning a year ago may have prematurely come to its frozen halt on this day of wretched weather and dismal electoral results - or worse yet, this may be the new epoch, a decade of economic futility, public malaise, and pathetic political impotence - an era whose one redeeming virtue is that it rubs our faces in the shit we managed to avoid in the Zeroes: yet if even that exposure to the elements doesn't serve as a catalyst for change and improvement, what's the point? Might as well plug back in that iPod, turn up the TV and drown out the outside world.
Anyway, I hope this is not the case. But the general feeling is if not now, probably never - not just in terms of physical health care, but in terms of finally putting away childish things and facing up to the future and our nation's spiritual health. We'll see.