The lame duck Congress has proven to be a superpowered fowl: it passed what amounts to a $300 billion stimulus, START ratification, DADT repeal, an extension of the national debt, and a health care bill for 9/11 responders.
The immediate lesson is, once again, never to underestimate Barack Obama. The GOP just looked petty on some of these issues, and on some of them Obama peeled off not one or two but ten or twenty Republican senators. On START, he made excellent use of military and Republican authorities. Obviously the much more Republican Congress in January will be harder to manage, but his position looks a hell of a lot stronger today than it did on November 3. (Or even December 3 when Democrats were having trouble swallowing the stimulus/tax cut deal.)
The Republicans are making a lot of noise about reducing spending. I think the Democratic response should be: Go ahead, make our day. Show us your numbers. The Tea Party, remember, was up in arms partly because of the threat of reduced spending on Medicare. There’s a simple reason government spending is so high: the American people like it that way. If the GOP cuts enough to really make a difference, they’ll cause outrage, not least among their own constituents. (Red states get more from the federal government than they pay in.) Expect them to find about $20 billion in cuts, pretend that they’ve made a difference, then ask for a trillion-dollar tax cut.
The DADT victory also marks the success of a long-term strategy for gay/lesbian activists that looked a little quixotic twenty years ago and now looks brilliant. In 1990, campaigning to let gays and lesbians serve in the military seemed like an odd place to put one’s priorities. But now the logic is clear: you basically can’t deny human rights to people who are fighting your wars.
Ironically, that victory owes something to George W. Bush, for starting two wars. When you’re actually fighting a war, anything that hinders victory begins to look really foolish— like losing smart able-bodied soldiers because of their sexuality.