I spent a few days in New York to help fete my sister who was born on New Year’s Day some years back. No Lucie, I’m not telling the world how many. Well, another year and another decade ahead for her and for us. Are we in for a year of change or will it be one of transition as the pendulum prepares to swing yet again, this time from right to left? Two years ago the Republican Party was being written off by the pundits; headed, they said, for perhaps decades in the wilderness. In 2011, more Republicans will occupy seats in legislatures across the country than at any time since World War II. They’ll have control of the House and a substantial majority of Governor’s mansions. To borrow President Obama’s car-in-the-ditch metaphor, the question is, have we resumed our ride on the conservative road largely traveled since Reagan took the wheel, or was 2010 merely a reactive last, albeit impressive, gasp for an ideology that put us in that ditch?
Of course, in these times when attention spans are non-existent and mood swings abound no one really can do more than speculate about what’s coming. Recent history seems to be on the side of Ronnie’s offspring, but it would be a mistake to think Franklin’s grandkids are out of the running. One thing is sure; the mood when the clock turned past 12 on New Year’s Eve was sober, if not somber. In New York it was more Albany than Times Square.
The understated inauguration of Andrew Cuomo on 1-1-11 only underscored that, call it new normal or not, we are in a really different place. Jerry Brown’s January 3rd inaugural in California promises similar celebratory austerity. These two guys have a lot in common. They are surviving Democrats leading two large states; the first will be loosing seats in the wake of the census, the second not gaining any for the very first time. They are both governors’ sons (Brown an ex-governor to boot) and consequently understand better than most what a rough ride lies ahead. Doing without is likely to be their primary option for some time to come. Cuomo, who watched his father’s historically expansive governance in Albany up close, knows the game will be very different during his turn at bat. He has clearly gotten the message that those many Americans left behind have lost any patience for celebratory excess at a time when they are hurting so much. Perhaps on some level most are still taking it, but all sure as hell are mad.
Last fall’s campaign was, like most others, rhetoric rich and substance poor. Governing, of course, demands much more than talk. So as they start actually doing the people’s business, the newly elected are bound to find their first days, as Justice Kagan recently put it, like drinking from a fire hose. When Obama rode into town on all those words of hope, he found not an open highway but a dazzling array of detours and roadblocks. Perhaps we collectively dodged the depression bullet, but rather than Morning in America this year’s class of public officials will be facing the morning after. Aspirin and Pepcid, not Prime Rib and Cream Pie, are likely to headline their daily menu.
On the final day of this dreadful past year, it was reported that some investors flourished while so many Americans struggled. It was just another reminder (as if we needed one) of the ever-widening gap between the fulfilled dreams of a scant few and the dark reality of almost everyone else. The new governor struck a somber tone in his inaugural, recognizing that New Yorkers have totally lost their trust in government. The same could be said of citizens in any state across the country, and perhaps most poignantly relative to the national government. Whether, that mistrust is totally justified, it may ultimately be the greatest obstacle facing office holders at all levels and regardless of party. Truth is, the nation has largely lost trust in itself. Yes, some revelers may have donned those funny hats, blown those paper horns and drunk themselves silly watching the ball drop on Friday night, but even they have no illusions about what lies ahead. Albany had it right; the only question is whether those who sit in the seats of power and responsibility will have the courage and wisdom to make the equally right — truly equitable — choices and if we the people will have the will and patience to enable real solutions. It seems we are left with no other choice. Putting a spotlight on the new order, Andrew Cuomo proclaimed: When we actually do something and perform…help the people…make government function then we are going to have a big party and celebrate, and not before. One can only hope that there will be something to celebrate for them and for us all in years ahead. At this point, we’ll have to wait and see.