The imagery of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog” always surprises me. Such a short poem, and yet each time I read it, it resonates differently.
After the election, I began thinking about change — what has really changed in four years, what change may yet come, what “change” really means. And I was reminded of Sandburg’s “Fog.” Immediately after a prolonged contest, it’s often hard to see what, if anything, has changed, for change comes slowly, increment by increment. But what always precedes policy change is a change in attitude.
Prior to the Civil War, for instance, Congress debated laws that enforced slavery. And in the war’s immediate aftermath, the only apparent change was the silence of cannons. The devastation of cities and farms remained. Yet eight months — to the day — after Lee surrendered to Grant, the 13th Amendment, the first amendment passed in 60 years, was adopted. It abolished slavery.
In 1960, we elected the first Catholic president. Anti-Catholic prejudices didn’t disappear overnight as a result, but the change was apparent 10 years later. By the 1970s, a candidate’s religion was no longer a litmus test for one’s nomination. Even more, interfaith cooperation proliferated and accomplished “miracles” in ways that would have been thought impossible only a decade earlier.
Change is coming to our politics “on little cat feet.” Democrats are accepting more that the majority of voters want centrist politicians and government. And although change is coming slowly to the Republican Party, many Republicans have already changed their attitude — an attitude that strongly resisted our changing demography and politics.
For example, throughout the Republican primaries, the candidates fought to be seen as the most hardline against absorbing undocumented immigrants into the population.
Yet in the aftermath of a very contentious election, two of Romney’s campaign supporters formed a super PAC to bring about immigration reform. Carlos Gutierrez, commerce secretary under President George W. Bush, and Charlie Spies, who raised $142 million for Mitt Romney, are spearheading Republicans for Immigration Reform.
Gutierrez told the Washington Post: “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”
Voters have short memories (politicians count on that), but this is a marked contrast to 2010, when Senate Republicans voted as a block against President Barack Obama’s Dream Act, including five Republicans who had previously authored, or voted for, similar legislation in the recent past.
For four years the Republican legislative and campaign strategy has been to oppose anything Obama proposes and anything the Democrats back. In the last debt talks, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner repeatedly found ways to back off compromises by blaming President Barack Obama. The Republican Party immobilized itself, and thus the nation, in a partisan gel. But Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey broke loose. To his credit, Christie put his state, his responsibility — and simple humanity — above the election. He not only worked with Obama, but also praised the president for his cooperation and leadership in directing aid to people suffering from Hurricane Sandy.
Christie was blunt with Republicans unhappy about his nonpartisan compliments to Obama. “I understand that everything’s political,” Christie said. “But … when we have people dying and suffering in our state, it’s not about politics.” And his tweet — “Today I’m touring N.J. with President Obama. Yes, he’s a Democrat, and I’m a Republican. We’re also adults, and this is how adults behave.” — rightfully went viral.
It seems some Republican leaders might finally be willing to break with McConnell’s hardline “let’s oppose everything Obama/Democratic,” recognizing that sometimes it’s not all about politics. If the small changes continue, they will produce a sea change in Washington.