While Barack Obama Embarks On A Courageous Plan To Rebuild America, The Republican Party Gropes In The Darkness For An Identity
The difference is just style and presentation
As more and more Americans get to know President Obama and get a feel for what he's trying to accomplish and how he's trying to go about it, two important dynamics have come into play-- or into conflict. The president's popularity keeps growing among regular Americans. And the far right of the Republican Party has become increasingly desperate, deranged and unhinged. After CPAC this weekend, it looks like Rush Limbaugh is their national spokesperson-- regardless of what the nervous nellies Inside-the-Beltway feel about the party being represented by a drug-addicted Hate Talk Radio clown whose extremism turns off far more people than it attracts. Wanting America to fail is now all but official GOP policy. Where do the sociopath messages from wild-eyed fanatics like Ann Coulter, John Bolton, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann end and those of Republican elected officials trying to portray themselves as part of the mainstream-- a Mitt Romney or a Chris Smith say, who also spoke at CPAC-- begin? Republican presidential hopefuls Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Jon Huntsman were smart to avoid the NutFest. Huntsman spoke for whatever strain of sanity is left in the GOP when he disassociated himself from the trained seals dominating CPAC and the zombie-like fanatics for whom that annual extravaganza is produced. He compared the current state of the GOP to the post-Thatcher Tories in the U.K.
They went two or three election cycles without recognizing the issues that the younger citizens in the U.K. really felt strongly about. They were a very narrow party of angry people. And they started branching out through, maybe, taking a second look at the issues of the day, much like we’re going to have to do for the Republican Party, to reconnect with the youth, to reconnect with people of color, to reconnect with different geographies that we have lost. You cannot succeed being a party of the South and a couple of Western states. It just-- it isn’t long-term sustainable.
Right now Huntsman is a lonely centrist voice in the desert. As we saw this weekend, defeat at the polls in November has moved the extremists in control of the GOP to marginalize itself even further. They now have the luxury of working out their problems on their own because they're now a sideshow that barely matters. Most Americans now see Republicans in Congress in as negative a light as they see the banksters and corporate crooks who finance them. This week's performances by Bobby Jindal and Rush Limbaugh were two more nails in the coffin.
Yesterday President Obama explained to the country-- to the 90% of people not interested in what Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Michele Bachmann are doing to entertain neo-fascist activists and Birchers at CPAC-- when his budget is "a threat to the status quo in Washington."
“I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. “I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November. That is the change this budget starts to make, and that is the change I’ll be fighting for in the weeks ahead.”
He has his work cut out for him. Above and beyond all the rhetoric and ratings-pursuing cable TV news fireworks, what President Obama is proposing really is a paradigm shift in the relationship between government and governed in this country, a realignment of financial an economic forces that will help bring a balance between the selfishness and greed-driven right-wing and the rest of society. His budget is none-too-subtle declaration of war on the powerful special interests that have so thrived during the presidencies of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II that they almost completely dominate every aspect of our country, a domination that has created the worst economic catastrophe for ordinary Americans since the last time the Republicans were able to pull this off (in the 1920s).
"The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long," Obama said in his weekly radio and video address. "But I don't. I work for the American people."
He said his ambitious budget plan, unveiled Thursday, will help millions of Americans, but only if Congress overcomes resistance from deep-pocket lobbies.
"I know these steps won't sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they're gearing up for a fight," Obama said, using tough-guy language reminiscent of his predecessor, George W. Bush. "My message to them is this: So am I."
Some analysts say Obama's proposals are almost radical. But he said all of them were included in his campaign promises. "It is the change the American people voted for in November," he said.
Nonetheless, he said, well-financed interest groups will fight back furiously.
Insurance companies will dislike having "to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that's how we'll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs," the president said. "I know that banks and big student lenders won't like the idea that we're ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that's how we'll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won't like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that's how we'll help fund a renewable energy economy."
Passing the budget, even with a Democratic-controlled Congress, "won't be easy," Obama said. "Because it represents real and dramatic change, it also represents a threat to the status quo in Washington."
I'm just finishing up Thomas Frank's phenomenal newest book, The Wrecking Crew-- How Conservatives Rule. It was written while Bush was in the White House and, obviously, about Bush's time in the White House, although it speaks to the problems societies everywhere and in all times have faced when dealing with governments controlled by and exclusively serving the interests of the wealthy and powerful, i.e.- right-wing government. I don't recall a single mention of Barack Obama. But I sure hope he and his advisors have read it. As he shifts towards summation mode he talks about the right's "longing for permanent victory over liberalism," as in Karl Rove's, Jack Abramoff's, Adolph Hitler's and Grover Norquist's obscene fantasies about permanent right-wing rule.
In country after country, business elites have come up with ingenious ways to limit the public's political choices. One of the most effective of these has been massive public debt.
Naomi Klein, a journalist who has traveled the world documenting the great shift to the right, finds that in case after case, the burden of enormous debts-- often piled up by dictatorships or other noxious regimes-- has forced democratic countries to accept a laissez-faire system that they find deeply distasteful. Regardless of who borrowed the money and the appalling ways in which it was spent, these debts must be repaid-- and repaying them, in turn, means that a nation must agree to restructure its economy the way the bankers bid: by deregulating, privatizing and cutting spending.
It very much looks like Barack Obama is willing to differentiate himself from Bill Clinton in as much as he does not plan to follow this script. His budget flies in the face of the right's playbook in a way we haven't seen since FDR had to face the Republican Depression.
The American version of the debt trick is the vast federal deficit that magically reappears whenever conservatives take the driver's seat. It's effects have been far less traumatic than in the third world, but they nevertheless push the country in the same direction: deregulation, privatization and social spending cuts... Republicans have ridden to power again and again promising balanced budgets and howling against deficits-- government debut was "mortgaging our future," Ronald Reagan admonished in his inaugural address-- but once in office they proceed, with a combination of tax cuts and spending increases, to balloon the federal deficits to levels far beyond those reached by their supposedly openhanded liberal rivals. So mechanically and so predictably do they embark on this course that it has basically become part of their identity, their brand. Vote Republican and watch the deficit grow.
Frank goes on to recount the unfortunate history of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton economic minuet, pointing out how Reagan's Budget Director, David Stockman, was quite candid about what the right was trying to accomplish by running up debilitating budget deficits. "Once the tax cuts had been enacted, the conservatives would have the 'craven politicians pinned to the wall. They would have to dismantle [the government's] bloated, wasteful and unjust spending enterprises-- or risk national ruin." Alan Greenspan explained "Stockman's Revenge" to the newly elected Bill Clinton, whose reaction was "You mean to tell me that the success of the program [remember that Clinton was a kind of populist before he became a corporatist] and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?"
Before long, though, Clinton himself was a convert, and he readily sacrificed his populism on the alter of deficit reduction. He contracted out; he got tough with the federal workforce; he even considered privatizing Social Security in his own centrist way. In his second term he ran the government on a balanced budget for four straight years.
And then, act 3: George W. Bush proceeded immediately to plunge the budget into deficit again. Indeed, after seeing how the Reagan deficit had forced Clinton's hand, it would have been foolish for a conservative not to spend his way back into the hole as rapidly as possible. That deficits defund liberalism was no longer just a theory; it was historically tested reality, a plan that got results.
Besides, think of the possibilities that opened to our conservative friends as they realized they were now free to tax-and-spend their way deep into the red. Oh, the earmarks they could hand out to people working on privatizing outer space or building experimental jet airplanes. All the different ways they could reward the right lobbyists, the right consultants, the right contractors. And after they'd burned through the bank account and brought on the crisis, think of the points they could win by screaming about too-generous "entitlements," the insolence of publicly funded art, and all the fat and lazy bureaucrats who needed a pay cut.
If, along the way, all this idiotic spending happened to bump up public cynicism toward deficit spending a notch or two-- why, that's just gravy. "It's perfectly fine for them to waste money," says former labor secretary Robert Reich, summarizing the conservative viewpoint. "If the public thinks government is wasteful, that's fine. That reduces public faith in government, which is precisely what the Republicans want." It's not just sabotage; it's win-win sabotage, a charming addition to win-win incompetence and win-win corruption.
Aside from the Reaganesque lies he interjected about his completely false personal saga of heroism in the face of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, Bobby Jundal tried using these memes in his disastrous speech last week. Government, he claimed can't do anything right. Well he is partially correct. Republican government can't. And for now, most Americans have got that figured out and the lunatic ravings of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and congressional extremists isn't going to shake their faith in Obama. If he succeeds in his bold initiatives, they're finished for at least a decade if not two or three. They know it and they will stop at nothing to make him fail, regardless of how devastating that is to America.
All of the vested interests in the status quo-- from Big Insurance to America's self-entitled plutocracy-- will put everything they've got into the coming battle. And their Republican handmaidens are sharpening their knives and fitting their brass knuckles. If you watched ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos this morning you may have been as cheered as I was to hear Obama's brilliant young OMB head Peter Orszag, unveil a potent weapon that can be used to defuse the Republicans' filibuster-everything tactic. If Reid invokes the budget reconciliation process to deal with the budget-- as he should-- the Republicans won't be able to filibuster and even if a couple of far right Democrats like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu or Blanche Lincoln defect, the budget will still pass handily-- with or without the 3 mainstream Republicans. I can hear Miss McConnell, Kyl, Cornyn and the rest of the obstructionists bellowing now!
[U]sing budget reconciliation to pass policy proposals is controversial, even among some Democrats who believe doing so strains Senate rules and tradition.
The Obama blueprint calls for major changes in both energy and healthcare policies that is likely to engender significant opposition from Republicans and business lobbies. The reforms are expect to win widespread support from Democrats and more left-leaning constituencies.
The budget plan calls for a cap on carbon emissions, for example, and projects $645 billion in revenues from an auction of pollution permits that a variety of business groups, including oil companies, large manufacturers and utilities, would have to purchase.
On healthcare, the plan calls for a $634 billion reserve fund to pay for a first step on healthcare reform.
The president would pay for it in large measure by raising taxes on wealthy people and businesses by about $1 trillion over 10 years.
Republicans on Sunday criticized the document as a return of big government that would dramatically raise the deficit without providing the needed jolt to the economy.
The budget is "proposing massive tax increases on people and on businesses that can’t afford to pay them," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who also appeared on This Week.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Jon Kyl said the budget was "terrifying" in its policy implications and "mind-boggling" in its numbers.
But Orszag defended the $3.6 trillion budget plan by saying the plan cuts taxes for 95 percent of all working Americans.
"I just reject the theory that the only thing that drives economic performance is the marginal tax rate on wealthy Americans and the only way of being pro-market is to funnel billions and billions of dollars of subsidies to corporations," Orszag said.
Gives a little oomph to the "Bring It On" response we heard from the Obama Administration last week in regard to lobbyists and obstructionists claiming they would eviscerate the budget.