People who direct mob scenes in movies have obviously never seen a mob. Movie mobs are decided and purposeful and achieve instant internal government by means of one guy who stands on a chair and yells, “hanging’s too good for ‘em.” Then off the mob goes to lynch Sidney Poitier. Real mobs just mill around acting pointlessly upset while being addressed by a series of half-important people speaking into P.A. systems that turn all human speech into car-theft-alarm noises. Nobody knew what was going on, which made everybody talk loudly about what was happening, and it was embarrassing if you talked too loudly because then everyone in the mob would come cluster around you hoping to hear some bewilderment more illuminating than their own.
— P. J. O’Rourke, Give War A Chance
The euphoria over victories this Election Day by candidates with a tempered view of governance is mostly appropriate. Whoop it up, I say. Sing it from the rooftops. Shout it into the ether. Cry all the havoc your little heart desires. When you have gotten all that out of your system and objectivity begins to regain some of its appeal, you might want to consider the slight shading of downside at the bottom of your screen. It is this: to some extent these new Republicans were elected by the mob.
That is to say, they were elected not because they were our guys but because they were not-those-other-guys. A sort of undistilled displeasure with the draggy economy, the druggy utopianism of recent legislation and the dreggy characters peopling the current Administration has awakened the dragon. Average people were feeling put out, put down and put upon, so they put in a new crowd.
This is not an original thesis of mine, culled from spelunking amidst arcana. It is something I am witnessing on the street corner, in the cafeteria, at sporting events, all the places where the middle shows its class. Sure there are a few political freaks who know every blogged stat, who know the codicils of the health-care bill better than they know the password to their e-mail account. But those were not the guys who presented the Republicans with five dozen new seats in the House. They helped, but much of the heavy lifting was done by the crowd who lurched right because the left-wing banked too steeply.
Mob votes, like mob money, are tendered by standards below those set by bankers and actuaries but are expected to yield disproportionate results in unreasonably short intervals. Every vote counts, and it counts on its fingers. Failure is not an option with this crowd. If at first you don’t succeed you will not get the chance to try, try again. There is a reason why the old-timers would tell a person who was on the spot and had to produce no matter what: “You’re elected!”
The Republicans have taken the votes — and the money — and now must spin the wheel without going in circles. It is American roulette, thankfully, not Russian, so they do have some control over their fate. Which leads me to iterate an imperative I asserted some months ago, after the bully pulpit was used to bully and pull and pit Americans against each other in passing, or deeming, the healthcare bill. I noted then the fortuitous silver-bullet quality of a repeal movement as a strategy to pass both the midterms in 2010 and the… er, finals in 2012.
Most fringe Democrats who voted for the act lost their seats Tuesday. Those who narrowly survived will be hard pressed to repeat the suicidal gesture by countering the repeal. If they turn, it puts pressure on the Senate to turn. If the Senate, turns it puts pressure on the President not to veto. If he vetoes, the members are forced to vote again to sustain. If he vetoes and they sustain, the 2012 campaign is well underway, with sustained momentum for the Republicans. Since the law does not take full effect until 2014, the stage is set for a gala party in 2012 to consign it to oblivion.
The critical piece here is the choreography. The mob needs to see movement. Slow movement is sufficient as long as it is relentless, inexorable, a tide, then a wave, then a flood. If the Republican Bugsy Siegels can’t turn a profit on this high-stakes wager, they may find that Harry Reid and his buddies are ready to bury them under the shifting sands of the Nevada desert. Let us hope that we can recount this election over and over again without ever losing its edge.