Swing Low, Sweet Narrative

Swing Low, Sweet Narrative

Gitlin: Savoring the Health Care Victory

A friend of mine, an editor of a major magazine, chortled Saturday night about how much fun it was going to be, once the House voted for health care reform, to watch the media?s master narrative swing from Obama the overreaching flop to Obama the sage who patiently mapped the reefs and masterfully steered the ship of state through turbulent waters. I thought my friend was cynical but that his projection was right, which I guess made me cynical too but unwilling to admit it.

The morning after the House voted for health care reform, the big swing is on, and–yes–it is whole lots of fun. And why shouldn?t we be entitled to some fun after so many disheartening months? So really all I have to say, this Monday afternoon, is two things.

One: it?s splendid to win a huge battle. It?s just as splendid to win after you?ve made some mistakes, because Woody Allen was wrong: only 10 percent of life is showing up, but a full 80 percent or so is learning from mistakes.

All winners look like geniuses for a while, although professional kibbitzers love to replay the game and imagine how much bigger and sweeter the victory would have been if only our team had done X and not Y. Well, winning a huge battle does not mean taking no casualties. It does not mean your side did everything perfectly, either morally, strategically, or tactically.

Two: Winning a huge battle does not mean you are guaranteed to win the next battle. This is not the beginning of the end, it is not even the beginning of the middle, but it is the end of the beginning.

The Tea Party mobs are not going away. They are as American as rotten apples. They descend directly from the crackpots of bygone decades. Glenn Beck is Father Coughlin on?well, maybe not steroids but some other lachrymosity potion. Post-partisan Obama will continue to wrestle with major-reformist Obama. There are big and important fights to come over priorities and rewards. Big obstacles are structural. The Senate remains an idiotic body and an embarrassment to this semi-democracy. I wouldn?t put it past the Roberts Court to stick its neck out to stand in Obama?s way.

But how sweet it is to pause for a moment of Schadenfreude. For the better part of a century, conservatives have ranted ?Government takeover!? ?Socialism!? against every reform initiative put up by passionate liberals, cool Progressives, and fervent radicals. These are the same people who always see slavery around the corner except when there is actually slavery around the corner, in which case they exalt the virtues of order.

There are times when one simply wants to savor a victory for common sense?not an apocalyptic End of History, not the tossing of the adversary into the dustbin of history, just a plain victory for decency. This is one of those moments.

(Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

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