Complicated facts make the holiday season a prism, revealing all of the vital colors right in front of our eyes. But too often, these colors are blocked out by narrow answers made about our epic problems.
That is why more and more Americans declare themselves independents, because the Democrats and Republicans both disappoint them by refusing to figure out how to meet in the middle of the road to go forward. Neither party has seemed willing, or able, to accept that to govern, one must compromise.
Yet no matter how impossible a dream it seems in our current fever state of ideologues, male and female, screeching simultaneously at one another, we might be in the middle of a momentous replay of what Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon B. Johnson did by both cleaning house and taking on the redneck Confederates of the Democratic Party. Beginning as a courageous Midwestern liberal, Humphrey was shouted down at his own party’s convention as he gave voice to righteous but constitutional truths, such as the fact that Southern states had to abide by the laws of the country and exclude no ethnic groups, religions or skin colors.
Shocking to many, Johnson evolved after the assassination of John F. Kennedy from a segregationist to the most important White House executive since Abraham Lincoln on the civil-rights front, bringing off everything most now think that JFK did, which was not possible. Johnson made it possible by showing to politicians that the Southern choice was either the inevitable future option of integration, or a retreat into the mud of an abominable past.
Paul Ryan and John Boehner might take up Humphrey and Johnson’s mantle and do the same thing for the GOP. The two congressmen make an unlikely pair — black-Irish dark-haired pretty boy obsessed with exercise and low body fat joined, for now, with a nicotine addict not afraid to take a swig or two at social occasions.
While Ryan is dismissed as an intellectually lightweight fox in the henhouse because of his love of Ayn Rand, and the speaker of the House is looked down on as an impotent and submissive Willie the Weeper, both might turn out to have their “Irish up” in consequential ways.
Ryan has shown himself able to cross party lines, as with the budget deal he reached with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray that seems to be infuriating the true-believing tea-party zealots who mean to act on big-buck orders from above and “save” the government by burning it. Perhaps because he and Mitt Romney resoundingly lost against Barack Obama by following tea-party “authenticity” too closely and too contemptuously to seriously appeal to the voters. Ryan’s motion now seems to represent the end of the era of continuous crisis in Washington. Ryan does not intend to become a fool by deceiving himself twice; the man wants to appeal to the country at large. Consequently, he has roped and tied the Republican rodeo’s irrational bulls on their backs, three hooves in the air, horns harmless.
And Boehner is at last using cattle prods to force back the loudmouths in radio land who had pushed his party so far right that it was not electable outside of a gerrymandered base. Yes, he went along to get along, but he’s done with that now, having found with certainty that what the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and the rest of the boys club for billionaires insist on is an impossible dream, one that if lived out would ensure his party never again reclaims the White House.
Both Republicans leaders seem to at last be attuned to finer American possibilities, such as the good will that Bill and Melinda Gates aim to pour, not trickle down, from their very high floor of economic life. These high-tech Westerners might be the model ultrawealthy couple, continuing to hold and set the pace, refusing to see only a slate gray because they prefer being colorblind to reality.
The Gates have three children, an apparently enjoyable family life and still find time to invest their billions of dollars in public education and public health rather than pinching their pennies out of whatever paranoia too often eats at the successful and superstitious. Fully understanding that scientific information is free of ideology but not beyond being gummed up by ignorance, they are among those who so clearly observed the loss of the White House again last year that they can still get a laugh talking about Karl Rove’s election-night meltdown on Fox News.
The Gates live in and are making a world where career skies are open to all those — regardless of background or family wealth — willing to do the work, do the math and maintain an American dream extended worldwide, one that keeps magnetizing immigrants to these shores. We needn’t resist them. They keep arriving ready for the big fight to rise up the economic ladder, and even more ready to get it on.
In Washington, this sense of American possibility is furthered by the astounding Elizabeth Warren and the gang of women in Washington, Democrats and Republicans, who are offering their own model of American hope — proving themselves shrewd and much too cool to stay in the pool with the fools, rubbing their eyes and blinded by the smoke of irrational and intentionally deceptive ideological fires. Those elected officeholders embody the future, which will be made as much by women as men. If it is civilization we are talking about, they have little competition.
Still, it’s heartening to see Ryan and Boehner — who for so long had appeared to be part of the problem — seem to aspire to the values of these superior American models, those willing to cross lines in the interest of the nation.