sThe quadrennial Novembers haven’t been a happy time for Democrats over the last few decades. In 1968, with the stink of Vietnam, his humiliated retirement, and the failure of his #2 to succeed him, Lyndon B. Johnson slinked back to Texas for a short rest of his life consumed with nicotine, alcohol, and regret, while Hubert Humphrey swallowed his own bitter brew with his one golden chance at the White House in even worse shape than the country he hoped for the chance to put back together.
Four years later, George McGovern was dusting himself off and preparing to slink back to the Senate after the third-worst electoral drubbing any Presidential candidate had ever experienced.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter was packing up and heading back to Georgia, the hope that he carried into the White House as a post-Watergate reformer four years earlier in smoldering ruin, in a pile containing his maligned “Malaise Speech,” his fishing boat rabbit attack, the remains of Operation Eagle Claw, his call for donning sweaters and turning down the thermostats, the lust in his heart, and his (somewhat) functionally-retarded brother.
In 1988, Michael Dukakis was reeling, staring at the open hole in his chest and this out-of-nowhere upstart Lee Atwater cackling and brandishing the Massachusetts’ Governor’s extracted heart in his hands.
In 2000, the party that had adored Bill Clinton even after he admitted to violating a woman young enough to be swap clothes with his daughter, was drunk with disbelief that the dim-bulb, manchild scion of the man he’d unseated eight years previous was about to steal the White House back from a man who could cite the etymologies of words that George W. Bush couldn’t even pronounce.
And one cycle later, with the country mired in a stupid war and a President who was hard-pressed to prove himself smarter than the furniture he sat upon day after day, John Kerry left $16 million dollars in the bank in a razor-tight election that he’d entrusted to perennial loser, Bob Shrum, a man who couldn’t win at Tic Tac Toe if you spotted him two Xs, and lost the Democrats’ best chance to steal the White House from a Republican incumbent that the party had ever seen.
Even the few good Novembers they’ve had the last generation or so have turned rancid by their misbehavior, hubris, or incompetence. His good intentions and post-Presidential achievements notwithstanding, Jimmy Carter proved himself ill-equipped to manage Washington state much less Washington, D.C. Bill Clinton first seemed to forget what he was supposed to do now that he’d won the White House–dicking around on his appointments for weeks after his election, and then blasting off more toes than he could spare to lose by choosing to advocate for gays in the military as his first battle as the first Democrat to win the White House in sixteen years. When he pulled out a miracle re-election four years later, he followed his penis into the bear trap that he knew his adversaries had laid out for him for the whole of his first term.
It all seems very different for the Democrats now, and one can’t help but wonder how they’re going to fuck it up. After the euphoria of Barack Obama’s historic victory just three weeks ago, Democrats with anything approaching the memory of the mascot of the party they’ve just vanquished are right to wonder not if but how their winning team is going to bring the stupid and set their new potential hegemony up in flames.
The Democrats may not be the dumbest party in town anymore, though. They’ve been doubly blessed by the worst economic meltdown in over 75 years, and a party leader with a brain and a sense of history. The former has denied them the luxury of gloat, and the latter is smart enough to learn the lessons of the Democratic Presidents who have come before him.
It’s the latter that might prevent the party at large from firing the victory rifles into the sky only to have the bullets fall and kill people on the ground. I’ve read enough history to sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop, but the Dems might be safe from themselves this time around. Barack Obama hasn’t wasted a minute during the transition. He’s 56 days from becoming President and George Bush is already well on his way to ignominy, and, despite the President-elect’s magnanimous and appropriate declarations that our country only has one President at a time, no one seems to have any confusion toward whom their issuing their salutes, and it isn’t the hangdog lame-duck slinking his way towards retirement and infamy. This seems a grand opportunity for the new majority party to screw up this one-car funeral for a President whom no one is going to miss, but they just might succeed in spite of their history.
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