On the eve of a possible federal shutdown, there's plenty of reason for liberals and lefties to feel confident - not least of which is the fact that Glenn Beck has apparently been canned by Fox.
Beck is going the way of John Gibson (who held his 5pm slot before Beck got it), and maybe Fox will realize that wild-eyed demagogues don't work long term... but I wouldn't bet on it. Either way, Glenn Beck's fall from (Nancy) grace, and high ratings built on easy controversies, is as good a place as any to start talking about the Tea Party's diminishment.
No TV personality rode the wave of Tea Party anger like Beck; even if all of Fox News benefitted from stiking the rage on the right, it was Beck who gave the right wing Tea Partiers the credibility of actually featuring them - and their ideas - prominently, and giving voice to the inchoate rage that defined the last election cycle.
However one slices the numbers - from Beck's 40% ratings decline this year to the shrinking Tea Party base of support - it's clear that much of the rage has dissipated on the right. In part, that's the natural result of winning so many Congressional elections, much the way the post-Obama election glow faded quickly as Obama attempted to govern; in our current phase of "winning is all" approach to political campaigns, once the victory glow fades, reality sets in, and the new guys turn out to be not much better, or different, from what's come before.
In the case of Tea Party victors, that's meant a return to the reality that Republicans, as a party, have been bereft of fresh ideas and a governing approach for some time; as much as Paul Ryan's lousy budget proposal was eagerly awaited and dressed up in impressive seriousness, Ryan's proposals amount to a compilation of contradictory, unpopular and likely to fail plans that cut vital services and finance further tax breaks for the well off.
And other than Ryan, the most bracing Republican plan across the nation is to eliminate the rights of unionized workers to collectively bargain.
And that's another story that's turned out to be a disaster for the GOP.
The apparent election of Joanne Kloppenberg to the Wisconsin Supreme Court - a narrow victory that looks likely to survive recount - is the clearest indication yet that Scott Walker's attack on public service unions was badly thought through and significantly backfired. In one misguided swoop, Walker has reengerized the Labor movement, galvanized a complacent Obama-friendly left, and turned the upcoming election cycle into a much clearer choice.
Of course that choice amounts to... stay with the Democrats... or continue the Republican revival.
There's nothing like Republican overreach to remind Democrats of why we do what we do; the union movement has been disintegrating for years (mostly because no one can figure out how to unionize private sector service jobs on a large scale), but conservatives have always mistaken entropy for action when it comes to mistreating workers. Union support may be weak... but belief in what united workers can accomplish and the need to give workers some power when dealing with employers has never entirely gone away.
As hearteneing as it is to see Labor support surge, and to see basic principles like collective bargaining reaffirmed, it's hard to see how a few electoral reversals can serve as a fresh start on unionization. Budget constraints around the country make it very likely that public sector unions like SEIU will have to continue to accept salary and benefit cuts, and some major damage to pension plans, or face increased unpopularity. Teacher's unions, too, will probably still find a mixed bag of support for teachers but a rejection of heavy union objections to changes in education budgets.
And it's not as though unionizing Wal-Mart (or Starbucks, bless my heart) is any more likely than it was weeks ago.
If liberals really are angry about the pendulum swing to the right, there's little to show for it except for loud howls at the most outrageous, egregious examples of overreach. Democrats have put forth no real plan to deal with the current government budget problems (and indeed, the union issue was successful in Wisconsin arguably because public sector union officials made clear that budget cuts and salary givebacks were not the issue). President Obama, despite mounting criticisms and fairly lackluster support (are you in? seriously?) faces no real internal challenge, and any energy to replace aging party leaders is pretty much dead.
A government shutdown will probably hurt Republicans politically more than Democrats, and Ryan's budget proposal may be a nonstarter... but Liberal anger aimed at the right is about as pointless as the Tea Party rage was in the longer term; absent some real changes in our national politics - a fresh approach to the issues we face, a renewed sense of leading that goes beyond winning elections - we're bound to get more of the same. Outliers like Scott Walker, Paul LePage in Maine and Rick Scott in Florida may be one term mistakes... but Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and John Kasich may well survive a swing back to the left (Daniels already has), enough to look as good or better in 2016 than they do for 2012 (and all of them avoiding what is likely to be a debacle of a landslide reelection for Obama).
Outside of reelecting Obama and probably holding onto a slim Senate majority, it's hard to see where Democrats can reassert themselves, and even less reason why they should be given another shot. Anointing Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as DNC head is a recipe for financial and electoral success... but she's no one's idea of vision for leadership beyond a fiery campaign. Riding pointless anger to some quick Democratic election hits is her specialty, and no doubt, she'll deliver, if modestly, on those expectations.
I'd love to be wrong about this. I'd be as happy as anyone to see a renewed and resurgent Labor as a stalking horse for renewed concerns about poverty, affordable housing and some sense of social justice. Those, after all, would be the kind of big ideas in these horrible economic times that would challenge the status quo and show a renewed commitment to making sure more people, not just the fortunate few, could survive and thrive and reignite our stalled economy. Too many lefties, though, probably think that it's enough - and vindictively satisfying - having the Tea Party run out of gas, Scott Walker neutralized and Glenn Beck fired. And they are satisfying, aren't they? Kind of like how the Tea Party gloated when Nancy Pelosi's run as Speaker was quashed... right?