23 March 2010

Tuesday, but not football: 4th and 26

The title of this post has, in recent years, become a favorite phrase in NFL lore.  Trailing the Green Bay Packers in the closing minutes of a 2003 playoff game, the Philadelphia Eagles faced fourth down.  Still deep in their own territory, the Eagles needed to gain 26 yards in one play, just to stay alive.  They converted that fourth down by just inches, but that was enough to lead them to the game-tying score and then, after an overtime period, the win.

In a sense, that's what I think of the impending passage of President Barack Obama's health-care reform.  The proposal sucks, but for the Democrats to have any chance of avoiding disaster this fall -- and for the sake of the Obama presidency itself -- it had to pass.  It did, barely, and while that hardly constitute a touchdown, it does feel an awful lot like the U.S. has just converted its own 4th-and-26.

Out here in exurban Chicago, I see far too many bumper stickers claiming that Barack Obama represents the end of all that is precious.  ("I'll keep my guns and my money..." reads one of the more common ones.)  What President Obama and health-care reform really represent, I suspect, is something the teabaggers truly fear:  the end of the Reagan Era.

Of course, the Reagan Era was supposed to have ended with Bill Clinton's election back in 1992.  But when his own health-care reform failed, it opened the door to the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.  Instead of rolling back the "achievements" of the Reagan administration, the Republicans extended them, and they didn't stop until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney had taken the nation to the brink of economic catastrophe.  By 2008, we had long passed the brink of moral catastrophe: Bush and Chaney had taken our moral standing so low, we had literally become the villains in a James Bond movie.

None of that mattered to the Republicans, the racists, the Dominionists or the even more uncouth devotees of Ronald Reagan.  What mattered to them was that, with a corporate-friendly Supreme Court already in place, the election of John McCain and Sarah Palin would have sealed the result of 30 years of Reagan-inspired policies.  A new, partly fascist, partly religious form of feudalism -- the grand dream of much of the Reagan brigade -- loomed in our future.  But McCain-Palin's convincing loss in 2008 split the Reagan coalition.  To the remnants of that coalition, most notably the teabaggers, the realization finally came that most of the U.S. didn't share their rosy vision of the future.

Maybe that evil future still lies before us.  But this win for President Obama, this passage of a weak but critical reform may have, at long last, triggered the end of the pox that is the Reagan Era.  It's hardly the end; the Republicans, the racists, the Dominionists and their friends are still fighting, some of them literally.  For many of us who never liked Ronald Reagan in the first place, the newly passed reforms don't go far enough.  Nevertheless, we just made 4th and 26.  Many, many yards are left to gain, and we're still a lot of first downs away from a real score.

But at least we still have the ball.

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