If there was ever a question about which commitment President Barack Obama has made in his life that will live beyond his presidency, it is his stubborn belief that a united America, without the distraction of division, can and will accomplish great things. Regardless of whether he is able to reach effective but difficult compromises with the Republican led House of Representatives over the next two to four years, he will always be remembered for the clarion call for unity he sounded in his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. He doubled down on that plea early Wednesday morning, when, in victory, he addressed thousands of supporters in Chicago.
“I believe we can seize this future together,” he said, “because we are not as divided as our politics suggest; we’re not as cynical as the pundits believe; we are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions; and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can take the stage and argue with the White House and the Senate majority over revenues and deficits and the fiscal cliff, but in the face of a voting public hungry for Washington to set aside its differences, it makes them and their caucuses seem small and petulant, mice in the face of the human sized task of serious governance. It is a task the president seems ready for.
Indeed, while many argue that the closeness of this election does not deserve the mandate moniker, when one looks at the gains and losses in Congress, there were more seats picked up in both houses by Democrats than by Republicans. Among the GOP casualties, Tea Party firebrands Allen West (R-FL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL) lost their races, and even the arch-conservative, former presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) barely survived her contest. It could be argued that were it not for Congressional redistricting by Republican led state houses across the country, the Democrats would have had an even bigger night.
Yet Speaker Boehner insists that nothing has changed. After the House victories, Tuesday night, he declared that returning the GOP majority to the Congressional body was a statement from voters. “The American people want solutions — and tonight, they’ve responded by renewing our House Republican majority,” he told supporters. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”
Even at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, which many characterized as conciliatory, Boehner only referred to agreeing to revenue increases in the context of them being a benefit of tax reform – closing loopholes, simplification, etc. “By working together and creating a fairer, simpler, cleaner tax code, we can give our country a stronger, healthier economy,” he said. “A stronger economy means more revenue, which is what the president seeks. [W]e are willing to accept some additional revenues, via tax reform.”
And, he reiterated, “Feeding the growth of government through higher tax rates won’t help us solve the problem.”
McConnell similarly declined to embrace the results of the election, and the failure of his party to retake control of the Senate, as anything more than a chance for the president to “finish the job.” In a statement reminiscent of his “legislative realities” trope of 2010, he challenged Obama “to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.
“To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way.”
Of course they will, if that center is farther right than the president is willing to go. Hey, Mitch. Here’s a “legislative reality” for you – when you woke up this morning, you still weren’t Majority Leader. Here’s another one – President Obama doesn’t have to agree to anything that renews all the Bush tax cuts, and it doesn’t happen unless he signs it. He could, as many have suggested, just let them expire for everyone, and only sign a bill after the beginning of the year that retroactively cuts taxes to the 98% of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year.
I don’t think it will go down that way, but it could.
See, for Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Speaker Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the only unity they care about is the one that keeps their obstructionist bulwark strong. It never has been about unity. It’s always been about power.
That’s why people believe the president more than the Congressional leaders across the aisle. They believe him when he says, “I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. We’ve got more work to do.
“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.”
So if you really care about our government, the president is saying, stay involved. That unity of purpose is our bulwark. We are, after all, a nation of and by the people, that works together for the people – all the people. If we can coalesce this much diversity to elect one man to the presidency, we are capable of coming together to do so much more.
Compromise – it’s the word that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) eschewed as a synonym for “sell out,” when he spoke to CBS’ Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, one year ago, before he took the gavel from Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), in January. It should come as no surprise, then, that the third most powerful man in our government is meeting resistance, even within his own caucus, when it comes to implementing a basic and necessary tool used to mitigate government dysfunction. There will be no negotiated solution, no compromise, as long as Boehner, Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and House Republicans maintain an unassailable majority in the Lower Chamber.
The numerical advantage enabled them to pull back from an apparent debt deal in the summer, and allowed Republicans on the ensuing Super Committee – which itself was supposed to negotiate a solution – to accept failure. And it pulled back Boehner’s hand at the current payroll tax cut extension agreement, because his caucus reminded him he would be branded a sell out.
Now, though, Boehner & Co. are under attack from those who are supposed to be on their side. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said on CNN, Tuesday, that what his brothers and sisters in the House are doing with the payroll tax cut extension, ” is harming the Republican Party.”
In an editorial Wednesday morning, the decidedly right of center Wall Street Journal admonished the House GOP leadership, calling their actions a “fiasco.”
Despite the House’s maneuver that allowed their caucus to vote against the Senate’s compromise, Tuesday, without it looking like a vote against a tax break, the Journal recognizes it would be perceived that way, anyway. “The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter,” the WSJ editorial board said, adding, “This should be impossible.”
A somewhat cynical McCain took note of the dismal ratings of Congress in his critique. “It is harming the view, if it’s possible any more, of the American people about Congress,” he said.
The continuing cries from the House of, “But our bill will be better. We want a whole year,” is falling on deaf ears because, as they acknowledge, everyone wants a whole year. What they, the Senate and the President want or are willing to exchange for that year, in a hurried negotiation, is the sticking point.
By engaging in another post-settlement negotiation, John Boehner and Eric Cantor are substituting the “legislative realities” the Republicans like to talk about when they “negotiate” a bill, with legislative surreal-ities. And for the millions this legislation affects, the consequences of their political gaming couldn’t be more real.
“The entire exercise is political,” the WSJ editorial points out, “but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.”
Maybe the voters will remember that, come November.
- Conservatives Pan GOP Strategy On Payroll Tax Cut: ‘A Fiasco,’ ‘Entirely Outplayed’ By Obama (thinkprogress.org)
- Drama trumps progress on payroll tax (politico.com)
- Cantor: Failure of tax cut extension would ‘be on Harry Reid’s lap’ (thehill.com)
- Has Boehner lost control of the House? (politico.com)
“…for about seventy moons past there have been two struggling parties in this empire, under the names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan, from the high and low heels of their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves… The animosities between these two parties run so high, that they will neither eat, nor drink, nor talk with each other.” – Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
A Lilliputian Government
Our republic corrodes when compromise erodes.
It is, perhaps, a bizarre analogy, that of a fantastic tale of six-inch men and the sixty or so small minds of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, specifically, in the House of Representatives. But they believe, as Swift’s Tramacksans do, “that the high heels are most agreeable to our ancient constitution.” So, when the well-heeled shoe fits, the party in charge has to wear it.
President Obama, who is undoubtedly more sympathetic to the low-heeled Slamecksans, has been accused by both sides of a failure to lead. By that shortcoming, he behaves less like the Lilliputian emperor, whose “heels are lower at least by a drurr than any of his [low-heeled] court,” and still too much like the candidate, the “the heir to the crown,” who has “some tendency towards the high heels; at least we can plainly discover that one of his heels is higher than the other, which gives him a hobble in his gait.” That makes no one happy, even his supporters, who are complaining that he is not stepping fully into the role to which he was elected. It’s hard to hobble up that step with mis-matched shoes.
The allegory of partisanship in Gulliver is as true in the United States today as it was in Swift’s Europe.
The GOP refusal to consider raising taxes is just “partisan nonsense,” as Bloomberg’s editorial board put it. So partisan, in fact, that not a single candidate seeking the GOP nomination at a debate in Ames, Iowa, last week, would even agree to a ratio of ten-to-one of spending cuts to tax increases, a position that Bloomberg goes on to say “may not even be good politics,” because it goes against the feelings of most Americans.
“We have found, and every other poll has found, the American public saying, ‘Compromise, compromise, compromise,’” Andy Kohut, of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, told NPR last Wednesday.
It doesn’t matter to the high-on-the-heel Tramecksan – I mean, GOP – leadership that the downgrade from Standard & Poor’s was a direct result of their refusal to give ground on the debt deal, by not even considering revenue. “[T]here will be pressure to compromise on tax increases,” Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader, wrote in a memo to his colleagues following S&P’s action. “We will be told that there is no other way forward. I respectfully disagree.”
If the new Super Committee that is charged with implementing the second phase of the debt deal doesn’t compromise, though, it will be trouble for everybody. It’s actually un-American, as filmmaker Rick Beyer warned in a brief opinion piece for Politico, last week:
“A few days ago in Iowa, a voter told Mitt Romney ‘I hate compromise.’ Then he added: ‘There’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow stripes and road kill.’ No sentiment could be more un-American. The Constitution upon which our republic has relied for more than 200 years represents a principled compromise made by 55 headstrong, opinionated delegates who violently disagreed with each other on many issues.
“Let them be your guide. If they came together for America, you can too.”
Gulliver’s Travels was a harbinger of the political discontent and consequent upheaval that overtook Europe and the Americas in the eighteenth century. The theme was co-opted by many writers in those days, who applied Swift’s critical analysis of government discourse to the ships of many states that charted their own course to dysfunction.
That critical analysis, alas, is missing these days. Fingers from above reach down into any community where a vote can be counted and a voice booms, as if from Olympia, “You are one of us, so I am one of you. Join me.” And away we fly, beyond thought or reason, because of the promise of opportunity, of exclusivity, of privilege. There is no critical thinking going on, because we are a people transfixed by an onslaught of mesmerizing media, designed to make us less Gulliver, and more gullible.
To paraphrase Swift, some politicians less consult truth, than their own vanity, or interest, or the diversion of ignorant voters.
“I think disgust is still a valid emotion, and that’s kind of the way I’m viewing this.”
- James Amos, CEO, Tasti D-Lite, discussing Congress’ dysfunction, highlighted by the “self-inflicted” debt crisis, on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co, Friday, July 29, 2011
The time for staying above the fray with logic has passed. The simmering, schmaltz-laden pot of thick, soupy speeches in Congress and at the White House, the dire warnings and the vociferous finger pointing and loud, ignorant denials over the debt ceiling has boiled into a bubbling, sputtering mess that leaves no one seated on the governing burner unscalded. Even President Obama cannot escape the pain.
Whether one supports Speaker John Boehner’s plan, or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, or some kind of compromise, or no compromise, they are all drowning in the same pot of gooey government gumbo like a tubeful of rendered sausage. It all smells terrible, it all tastes terrible, and the steam rising from it are the evaporating wisps of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.
The pundits’ pre-mortem on the debt debate is that there will be no winners. Everyone loses here, all Americans and definitely all the politicians, if only by degrees. (The gold hoarders win, but that’s a conspiracy for another time.)
Still, some of the most lively, entertaining remarks ever heard from members of Congress, in either chamber, have come in the last month. Some are funny. Others are downright stupid. Here’s a short litany:
The president’s birthday conspiracy
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), in an interview with Newsmax TV, July 17: “I can’t help but be a little bit cynical here. Because we find out the president has a big birthday bash scheduled for August the 3rd, celebrities flying in from all over. And lo and behold, August 2nd is the deadline for getting something done, so he can have this massive, the biggest fundraising dinner in history for a birthday celebration.”
The old man doesn’t get these Tea Party whippersnappers
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “To hold out, and say ‘We won’t agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution,’ it’s unfair. It’s bizarro. And maybe, some people who have only been in this body six or seven months or so, really believe that [we can pass something like that in the Senate].”
The Speaker, as parade ground drill instructor
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), speaking to his caucus, July 27: “Get your ass in line!”
The Speaker’s song
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), on the floor of the House, July 29: “Speaker Boehner is entitled to take as his theme song, It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry If I Want To.”
Lower the debt ceiling, drop out of the country club
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports:
Broun: “I introduced a bill to lower the debt ceiling, not raise it.”
Mitchell: “Congressman, when you talk about lowering the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling is being raised to pay for money that has been appropriated by this Congress and previous Congresses… You’re paying for what has already been charged, not for future expenses.”
Broun: “Well, Andrea, the thing is, when someone is overextended and broke, they don’t continue paying for expensive automobiles. They sell the expensive automobile and buy a cheaper one. They don’t continue paying for country club dues. They drop out of the country club.”
Boxer looks to KO Cantor
Sen. Barbara Boxer, on the floor of the Senate, July 27: “First Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip, marches out of [the White House talks] with his teddy bear and Republican blanket, and then a few weeks later, Boehner walks out.” And again on July 30: “Cantor picked up his blanky and went home.”
The Minority Leader as battle ax
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the floor of the Senate, July 12: “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is unattainable.”
But, the president says, it’s time to “peas” do the difficult thing
President Barack Obama, at a White House press conference, July 11: “It’s not going to get easier. It’s going to get harder. So we might as well do it now — pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas.”
The Right thinks we need a Balanced Budget Amendment. They call it a “permanent solution,” when, in fact, it just creates another long term problem, taking away by edict what politicians don’t have the balls to take away with a vote. It’s starving your mother, maybe literally, just to prove a point.
Broun and other Tea people actually want to lower the debt limit, which would automatically put us into default. Intransigent so-called leaders petulantly walk out of negotiations. And yet, both sides feel, now is the time to do these things.
As the president said, at the end of his “peas” statement, quoting the great sage, Rabbi Hillel, “If not now, when?”
He might have done better to include the first two lines of that text, to remind lawmakers that they are obliged to take care of others, as well as looking after their own interests:
- The Debt-Ceiling Deal Compromise Surface (politicore.wordpress.com)
- Tea party role in debt bill raises GOP eyebrows (sfgate.com)
- Graves, Broun stand firm against debt vote; Georgia colleagues more cautious (ajc.com)
- Jell-O, Rubik’s cube, peas: The debt-ceiling debate’s many metaphors (thehill.com)
- The Republican Debt Orgy in Pictures (crooksandliars.com)
The new Republican party is an albatross of ideological intransigence. It is an anchor that lists the ship of governance as far to the right as it can, until it starts to take on water. The threat not to raise the debt limit, that enables the federal government to pay our debts, has pulled the starboard deck rail far enough below the water line, that Standard & Poors has already said it may not wait until we miss the August 2 deadline to downgrade the nation’s credit rating.
Recognizing “the dynamics of the political debate on the debt ceiling,” S&P explained, after putting the United States on its CreditWatch list, Thursday, “there is at least a one-in-two likelihood that we could lower the long-term rating on the U.S. within the next 90 days.”
While we wouldn’t exactly be in the junk bond category of countries like Ireland and Portugal, the Los Angeles Times said downgrading the U.S. credit rating would mean “America would be considered less creditworthy than Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Australia.”
Even if the president and Congress reach an agreement, the nation’s credit rating may still be brought down, the ratings agency said, “if we conclude that future adjustments to the debt ceiling are likely to be the subject of political maneuvering to the extent that questions persist about Congress’ and the Administration’s willingness and ability to timely honor the U.S.’ scheduled debt obligations.”
That could be read as a direct reference to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s controversial plan to raise the debt limit in stages. Indeed, it’s the politics of taxation and government spending that got us into this mess to begin with.
Democrats in the 110th Congress were so afraid that voting to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans would cost them the 2010 election, they did nothing to attack the deficit. They allowed themselves to be painted into a corner during the lame duck, which forced the president to compromise with the stubborn Republicans, which he did, without much of a fight.
In doing that, President Obama taught the elephants in Congress that if they hold the line, he will cave. On the other hand, he’s the one who is showing flexibility by putting entitlement programs on the table when the GOP won’t even talk about revenue increases, and he expects voters to notice that. “I think,” he said in Friday’s press conference, “increasingly the American people are going to say to themselves, you know what, if a party or a politician is constantly taking the position ‘my way or the highway,’ constantly being locked into ideologically rigid positions, that we’re going to remember at the polls.”
The GOP may be telling the president to hit the highway, but, ironically, most Americans believe he has taken the high road in this debate. Calling for “a balanced approach, shared sacrifice, and a willingness to make unpopular choices,” in his weekly address, Saturday, most Americans believe, is the right attitude, the adult attitude.
Recent surveys bare this out. A Quinnipiac poll, released Thursday, noted that 67% of respondents felt that “an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.” A Gallup poll, released Wednesday, seems to agree with those findings, showing that only 20% of those surveyed thought that deficits should be cut with spending cuts alone. Sixty-nine percent, Gallup found, think that at least some, mostly, or equal tax increases should be included.
“I’ve put things on the table that are important to me and to Democrats,” Obama said, Saturday, “and I expect Republican leaders to do the same.” Americans agree. It’s the reasonable thing to do, if one intends to be part of the solution. After all, the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
- Obama: Americans back me on debt deal – CBS News (news.google.com)
- Quote of the Day: The GOP’s Debt Ceiling Kamikizes (themoderatevoice.com)
- Debt-Limit Harakiri (online.wsj.com)
- Obama: Americans back me on debt deal (cbsnews.com)
- Republican Senators now regret picking a fight over ‘Debt Ceiling’ (crooksandliars.com)
You’d never know it to hear House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), tell it, but the town of Joplin, Missouri, is a GOP stronghold. NPR called it “the reddest corner of Missouri,” back before the election in 2008, and the final returns from Joplin/Jasper County from the vote that year bears that out.
According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, McCain-Palin beat Obama-Biden 66% to 33%, in that little part of the Show Me State. It re-elected Republican Roy Blunt to the House that year by an even wider margin of almost 3-to-1, and in 2010 sent him back to Washington, this time as a US Senator, by a similar spread.
So why would Cantor want to hang up rushing financial aid to this bastion of Republican redness, devastated by a tornado last week? Either: a) he takes their loyalty to the party for granted; b) he’s trying to appeal to the kitchen table sensibilities of Midwesterners with his analogy of a struggling family having to redirect $10,000 saved for a car (“families don’t have unlimited money” and, “Neither does the federal government,” he said Sunday, on CBS’ Face the Nation); or c) he’s making a political play for the Tea Party Libertarians who think the government should pay for almost nothing.
One can only ask, as Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) did, in a report by the Huffington Post, Thursday, “Where is his [Cantor's] compassion for people who are suffering today?”
Cantor’s ploy is putting politics ahead of a necessary, moral compassion for the working class people in Joplin. But to those folks in Missouri, the country’s money problems may not mean as much as what’s morally the right thing to do. As conservative Joplinite, donut maker Dude Pendergraft, who told NPR in 2008 he was planning on voting for McCain, said, “The country can go broke, and those things still – those morals still stand if you, if you’ve got a moral country, God will be with you.”
- Rare Praise For Roy Blunt (duanegraham.wordpress.com)
“You’re an embarrassment to our party.” – Iowa Republican voter chastising Newt Gingrich, Monday, in-person, for his “undercutting” Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Medicare proposal on this week’s “Meet the Press.”
What Newt Gingrich, and the GOP tomato throwers who have targeted him the last two days, have demonstrated so perfectly is that there is no room for intellectual thought , discussion or debate when it comes to a proposal that the party has sold to its activists. If an aspiring Republican politico wants to win anything party-wide, unflinching allegiance to the party line is what’s required to run with the elephants. Otherwise, you’re a RINO, and they won’t even look at you.
This disgruntlement is not merely a provincial, Joe-the-Plumber reaction from the plebes. Besides Ryan himself, GOP leaders in Congress, like House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), as well as the party’s rising stars, like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, have voiced their disapproval of Newt’s “right wing social engineering” characterization of the Wisconsin representative’s budget proposal.
According to The Hill, Cantor told a Chicago radio station that Gingrich calling the Ryan budget, which almost every Republican in the House voted for, a “radical change,” was ” a tremendous misspeak.” Haley told CNN “Newt absolutely cut him [Ryan] off at the knees.”
The majority leader went on to urge the former speaker to “get back on board with what we’re trying to do.” But what are the GOP “trying to do?” Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-UT) told Politico, “the Ryan plan shows such a difference with Barack Obama. Holy cow!” Is it really that simple?
Another Republican, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), thinks “Newt really stepped into it this weekend,” and admits that the Tea Party and other elements in the GOP caucus have made it so that any politician swaying from the conservative “path in the future is in trouble.”
“I think [Gingrich] hurt himself,” Hoekstra said in his statement to Politico.
Cantor seemed to agree, implying the wound may have been fatal. “Many have said now he’s finished,” he told WLS radio, but admitted that he “probably would reserve judgment on that.”