That could really be the mantra of the transition from Obama’s very public, bully pulpit tactic of campaign style events, highlighting the issues he wants the American people to help him see through, to his new, private “charm offensive,” a series of dinner and lunch meetings with Republican Senators and Representatives aimed at getting past the immovable conversation in Washington, DC.
As recently as a month ago, during the State of the Union address, the president made clear his conviction that “it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”
His actions show that he believes in us that much, and if he could have asked for that commitment from all of us that night, right then and there, without rhetorical flourish, in a way that would have had us all on our feet, saying, “Yes, Mr. President, I will stand with you, march with you and fight with you,” maybe he would have us believing it, too.
But this latest outreach to Congress makes it seem as though the president has given up on getting any broad, mobilized consensus from the populace. He has resigned himself to the realization that the ground war for the issues we believed in enough to fight for in 2012, has delivered a ball into his court, and no matter how many times he serves it to us over the net, begging us to stay in the game, we return it to him weakly. The ball that just dies at his feet. He can’t do anything with it.
He sighs, slumps his shoulders, then, looking up, shakes his head and walks away. “I was counting on you,” he mumbles under his breath.
“That was your first mistake,” we say, matter-of-factly. Well, we may not actually say it, but we’re probably thinking it, as we pack our rackets away and go home to watch the news.
Now, after a winter of can kicking, ass sitting and nit picking, a small number of Republican Congressional leaders of relative character, comfortable with the level of political risk involved in participating in a dialogue with the president, are thrilled that the president has “finally” come to talk with them. Allowing our power to be bypassed in this way means legislative items we didn’t even want to be on the table are sure to be wrangled over, and things that we wanted to be on the table may not even make it out of their respective Congressional committees.
The Republicans in Congress are notorious for saying, “The American people want this. The American people want that,” when poll after poll shows that the party of the House majority has no clue what the American people want. They only know what the one-percenters want, and they will not deign to acquiesce to the needs of the rest of us because we are not the god they serve. We don’t have his capital. Just ask the people still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
But we still have a voice and a vote. The beautiful thing about our politics is that it’s never too late to change things. It’s never too late to get into the game. We can still call our Representatives and Senators. We always have a voice.
You don’t have to pick up the sword for every political battle, but for goodness’ sake, find something you believe in, dig into the depth of your conviction, and fight for it! If you don’t have the kind of country you love, it’s not just the politicians’ fault. They’re willing to change, if you’re willing to ask them.
So I’ll see you on the court. I’ll be the one practicing my lobs. Even if my favorite pols end up hitting it into the net, at least they’ll know I’m there, ready to give them another try.
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.
“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)
“There is no aphrodisiac like madness, but it wears off quickly.”
-Kevin Baker, from his novel, Dreamland (HarperCollins, 1999)
In the din of madness, the seething intensity of rancorous anger, the light of American glory dims yellow like a string of bare bulbs outside a red, white and blue striped circus tent. The barker calls one and all to behold the acts, the jugglers and the clowns, the unicyclists and lion tamers, as they make us jeer and cheer, laugh and cry, and sit transfixed in the dark bleachers, while the government show unfolds before us…
Ladies and gentleman of America, welcome to the big dome circus! Tonight, and for the foreseeable future, you will be witnesses and unwilling participants in the Greatest Sham on Earth! Pay attention to the center ring in the Capitol Rotunda, and what you will see is guaranteed to flabbergast and disgust you. It could come form the left, or from the right, from the asses riding elephants backward around the arena, or from the clowns piling out of the Giant Dollar Bill’s shorts or the snake-piss swallowers who poop piles of hard, gold currency.
The conclusion is unavoidable, the process “inevitable,” the principles non-negotiable. Nothing is on the table and everything is on the table AT THE SAME TIME! It’s amazing!
Watch, as Lonesome John, the sad clown from Ohio, whimpers as he shuffles to his two-step process. Watch, as Maudlin Mitch punts our credit rating down the field, without ever managing to score a touchdown. You’ll cheer as Barack the Great balances on the highwire, in a way that both frightens and entertains.
You’ll see the leaders of our story dance ineffectually around the clock to the cha-ching, cha-ching of the carnival calliope, disappearing for a time, then reappearing when you most expect it, Coburn, then Cantor, then Boehner, all in a do-si-do. The players may switch roles – willing negotiators become corporate tools, unsympathetic oligarchs become sympathetic fools – but the drama remains the same.
Watch compromise appear briefly, and then disappear, before your very eyes! Watch, as the clothes disappear off your back with your bargaining rights, your paychecks disappearing into thin air like flash paper! The hand may be quicker than the eye, but it’s slower than the mind, and you’ll watch with numbing glee as the shaft comes toward you and makes you bend over, grab your ankles and take it, willingly.
It’s the Greatest Snow Job on Earth, and you are a captive audience. The mad voter, in their drunken rage, paid for your ticket in 2010, and you’ve no choice but to sit and watch, and occasionally bury your face in your hands in futile despair.
Still, the curtain must close on this cacophony eventually, and you get to exit the tent and enter the polling place, as the circus is dismantled behind you in November, 2012.
I’m up on the tightrope…
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)
“The legislation the President has asked for cannot pass the House. I’m happy to discuss these issues at the White House, but such discussions will be fruitless until the President recognizes economic and legislative reality.” – Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), in a July 5, 2011, statement
Both Boehner and Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have used the phrase “legislative reality” a lot since President Obama’s press conference chastisement of the GOP’s Congressional leadership last week. It’s time for Republican legislators to get a lesson in the nature of reality, and the distinction between reality and choice.
While it is true that they have signed Grover Norquist‘s crazy, cutting-off-your-nose -to-spite-your-face pledge not to raise taxes, they have also sworn a Constitutional oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Under normal, rational consideration, shouldn’t that oath take precedence over some fealty to a couple of paragraphs of politically charged rhetoric that serves, not the country as a whole, but a small segment of well-off Americans who want to have power over the rest by having more money than the government? Or really, to buy the government out from under us?
For our Congressional representatives, in both houses, their Oath of Office is the reality. It is their charge, not their choice. Any promises, especially those made for purely political reasons, are irrelevant, and what’s worse, irresponsible, in a time of financial crisis.
Sadly, though, the ball does not rest in Congress’ court. The debt-limit is a crisis in play between the White House and Capitol Hill, with the West Wing doing all it can to deflect the the GOP’s political petulance. The president, spokesman Jay Carney told the press, Tuesday, insists that “leaders were elected to lead, to make hard choices, to compromise, and to take some flack for that compromise.”
The Republicans, though, insist that it is the president who is not engaged in the process, despite Obama’s protestations last week.
Given the GOP’s bias, it’s hard to take their accusations of President Obama’s lack of engagement seriously, but his choosing how deeply to wade into controversial issues, Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, has lacked the audacity he likes to be known for. He expects the system to work its will, as he did with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which a court ordered, Wednesday, to be lifted immediately). That’s why he probably will not issue an Executive Order, based on the Fourteenth Amendment, to raise the debt ceiling.
Obama’s conundrum, in trying to fulfill his promise to be a president for all Americans, is that this is not the Congress we grew up with. This is an all or nothing group of legislators, who will disallow all logic and reason in order to have their own way on the economy – one that benefits the wealthy and super-wealthy, and believes that America’s working class must serve them. Wall Street, banks, multi-nationals, defense contractors, all believe that we owe them a blanket amnesty, because they make the country run. It’s a train of thought that has driven us into the dark tunnel in which we now find ourselves, and the only light on the other side is the presidential intervention the Republicans in Congress are calling for.
The only thing is, they want the president to lean on Senate Democrats to come over to the GOP side. That is what they mean when they say, “The president should show leadership.” Real leadership, though, would be for the president to tell them that if this were an actual corporation, they’d all be fired for keeping the company from moving forward on its obligations. A do-nothing Congress deserves to be fired. He can’t do that, though. This is not a country where we can sack the government and call for new elections.
We can, however, remind GOP lawmakers of their commitment to govern - not work to get re-elected – to the best of their ability. As New York Times columnist, David Brooks, put it in his column, Tuesday, if the Republicans continue on their current course, voters “will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right. “
- Obama calls for White House debt meeting on Thursday; Boehner opens door on loopholes? (dailykos.com)
- Obama’s New Budget Strategy (thedailybeast.com)
- Bill Clinton slams Grover Norquist’s ‘chilling’ veto power over GOP (dailykos.com)