The key in politics is to snatch victory from the jaws of victory.
The senseless government shutdown has led to a rout of the tea party, right-wing extremism and a Republican leadership that was cowed into a march toward oblivion. But a great deal hangs on what happens next. Will this be a watershed moment? Or do we return to the same dreary politics we were having before this sorry episode?
What needs to happen is a sharp course correction — from an agenda championed by the forces that were beaten in the last election to an engagement with the problems our nation must solve.
It would be an utter waste to revisit the obsessions of 2011 and the presumption that budget cutting and deficit reduction should be the sole priorities of the political class. Recall that Rep. Paul Ryan was the other member of the Republican ticket that lost last year. Ryan's proposal to slash spending played an central role in Mitt Romney's defeat.
The United States should build, not just cut. We should invest again in an infrastructure whose decayed condition ought to shame us. We should deal with high ongoing unemployment, reverse the rise of inequality and give poor and working-class kids real opportunities for upward mobility.
Future negotiations must be premised on getting rid of sequester cuts that are hobbling our economy. And talk of changes in Social Security and Medicare need to take into account not only their long-term costs — which require, above all, further fixes to our health care system — but also how these programs may be inadequate for a generation whose members will not enjoy the pensions their grandfathers had. “Reform of entitlements” has to mean more than scaling them back.
Before history is rewritten, it's important to understand that the American people really did blame this mess on the GOP and really did revolt against the tea party's irrationality. The public's reaction was not “a plague on both your houses,” even if the shenanigans made Congress as a whole look very bad.