Sunday, January 31, 2010

Negotiating With Republicans is a Waste of Time, Mr. President

Better than Leonidas at Thermopylae, Obama at Baltimore faced off against 140 House Republicans in their aptly named “retreat” and vanquished them. Said the President, flexing his muscles, with a wry grin and a steely gaze: “They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive.”

Could’ve fooled me. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, the President was the only one to come out alive from this political steel-cage. It was a singular moment in American history of unscripted political combat, somewhat akin to Prime Minister’s Q&A, except that in the parliamentary system the PM gets to field an equal number of softball questions from the ruling party.

This was President Obama going toe-to-toe against the House Republicans, and he beat the crap out of them. One GOP aide lamented later that allowing cameras to roll was “a mistake.” Too late, sparky. Watching the carnage unfold, Fox News (We distort; then we decide what you can handle) pulled the plug on the broadcast and switched to the familiar tones of its racist Obama-bashers.

The President politely accepted the GOP booklet of legislative proposals -– “I've read your legislation. I mean, I take a look at this stuff; and the good ideas we take” –- then called their bluff: “But specifically it's got to work. I mean, there's got to be a mechanism in these plans that I can go to an independent health care expert and say, is this something that will actually work, or is it boilerplate?”

In an exchange with Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the President became irritated by the right winger’s political posturing –- “Jeb, I know there's a question in there somewhere, because you're making a whole bunch of assertions, half of which I disagree with, and I'm having to sit here listening to them. At some point I know you're going to let me answer. All right.” -- took the gloves off for a moment, perfectly framed their hypocrisy, and blew the Republican Party away:
“Jeb, with all due respect, I've just got to take this last question as an example of how it's very hard to have the kind of bipartisan work that we're going to do, because the whole question was structured as a talking point for running a campaign.

The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion. -- $1.3 [trillion.] So when you say that suddenly I've got a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true.

And what is true is that we came in already with a $1.3 trillion deficit before I had passed any law. What is true is we came in with $8 trillion worth of debt over the next decade -- had nothing to do with anything that we had done. It had to do with the fact that in 2000 when there was a budget surplus of $200 billion, you had a Republican administration and a Republican Congress, and we had two tax cuts that weren't paid for.

You had a prescription drug plan -- the biggest entitlement plan, by the way, in several decades -- that was passed without it being paid for. You had two wars that were done through supplementals. And then you had $3 trillion projected because of the lost revenue of this recession. That's $8 trillion.

Now, we increased it by a trillion dollars because of the spending that we had to make on the stimulus. I am happy to have any independent fact-checker out there take a look at your presentation versus mine in terms of the accuracy of what I just said.”
Game, set and match. President Obama exposed the Republican hypocrisy of the lost decade of the 21st century, and took no prisoners. For nearly a decade, with Republicans in control of the presidency and Congress, they had a chance to implement their so-called “better solutions” and they did nothing. Nada. Nein. Jobs growth Zero. Except explode the deficit for future generations so they could waste our surplus giving tax breaks to the super-rich.

The party of NO tried to spin this as the President acknowledging Republicans had ideas. Sure, and they were included in the healthcare package -– hundreds of amendments and ideas –- taken from Mike Enzi to Chuck Grassley, Olympia Snowe to Eric Cantor. But as President Obama schooled them in Democracy 101, “If there's uniform opposition because the Republican caucus doesn't get 100 percent or 80 percent of what you want, then it's going to be hard to get a deal done. That's because that's not how democracy works.”

Mr. Obama reminded them that his plan is similar to the one proposed by Bob Dole, Howard Baker, and Tom Daschle last year –- “not a radical bunch” –- and to the Republican alternative to the plan President Clinton proposed in 1995. The point being that most, if not all major concessions, were made by liberal and progressive Democrats in the interest of achieving that bipartisan chimera so important to the President.

When it came time to vote on the “centrist” reform package that included those ideas, the extremist pull of the Republican Party dominated by teabaggers and reactionaries forced erstwhile “moderate” Republicans to vote NO en masse to ensure the President’s “Waterloo” and “break him,” just as progressives had predicted all along.

That is amazingly shameless behavior for a political party whose criminal negligence in “governing” the nation was punished by the voters with a historic smackdown leading to the loss of the presidency and its majorities in Congress. Instead of stepping aside and allowing the Democratic Party to govern, the “loyal opposition” was anything but: In the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, one that the Republican Party had enabled and helped create, Republicans reverted to the same criminal behavior of obstructionism, demonizing President Obama, and inciting racist anger from its white know-nothing base to block the bill.

Once again, Republicans have sided with corporate interests to defeat healthcare reform as the nation barrels toward a healthcare meltdown that threatens to bankrupt it. Even Ronald Reagan, who started this nightmare, was responsible enough to make a deal with Tip O’Neill to extend the life of Social Security. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled giving corporations unfettered spending power over our elections, the window to pass meaningful healthcare reform is closing fast. Unless Democrats move to act fast it will be shut for years and decades to come.

Today’s Republican Party more resembles the Nazi Party of 1930s Germany than a legitimate conservative party, such as exists in Britain and Canada. These parties support and helped introduce universal healthcare in their countries. Like the 1930s Nazis, this Republican Party is a minority regional party populated by ideologues and crass opportunists bent on seizing power no matter the consequences to the nation. It has roughly the same level of popular support as the Nazis did when they took power.

In contrast, the Democratic Party behaves more like a traditional center-left party, which is part of its problem. The ruling majorities have made Democrats timid when they should be bold. As President Obama said, “I don't believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security. They want us to focus on their job security.” The Democratic Party has not adjusted nimbly to the Republican Party’s obstructionist tactics, thuggish behavior, and Frank Luntz talking points propaganda.

The Republicans have nothing to offer. The CBO found that the so-called alternative introduced by John Boehner would extend insurance coverage to about 3 million people by 2019, while leaving about 52 million uninsured. What a fraud.

The House Democratic bill extends health benefits to roughly 36 million people over the same time period, leaving about 18 million uninsured. The cost of the House Democratic bill was about $1.05 trillion over 10 years, while the Republican bill would cost just $61 billion. The President exposed their fraud: “If you say we can offer coverage for all Americans and it won’t cost a penny, that’s just not true. You can’t structure a bill where suddenly 30 million people have coverage and it costs nothing.”

Indeed, the President emphasized that you can’t get something for nothing:
“The easiest thing for me to do on the health care debate would have been to tell people that what you’re going to get is guaranteed health insurance, lower your costs, all the insurance reforms. We’re going to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and it won’t cost anybody anything. That’s great politics. It’s just not true.”
The Republicans had no argument. They are liars and frauds. They have no intention of working with President Obama to solve America’s critical problems. They will posture, pretend, delay, and hope that their bait-and-switch obstructionism can translate into multiple Massachusetts-like wins that will propel them to the majority in Congress.

So every second, every minute and hour Mr. Obama devotes to the illusion that Republicans and Democrats can work together is time irreversibly lost doing the people’s business. The President’s best approach is to isolate them, call their bluffs, and destroy them, as he did at their “retreat.” The question is, has the President learned the hard lessons; are his eyes wide open?

The President seemed genuinely frustrated by Republicans’ redusal to recognize the reasonableness of working constructively on behalf of the American people. That, by itself, is a puzzler. The Republican Party is a captive of its far right wing. Intellectually the President knows this. His analysis of the problem is right on the mark:
“I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.”
Even if the moderate Republicans who would fit in a phone booth wanted to, they could not work with Mr. Obama. The backlash and challenge from their extremist base would be immediate. They have voted NO even on bills they should support, such as PayGo. Conservatives are suspect as the party lurches further to the right. In Florida, the Tea Party candidate, Marco Rubio, has pulled ahead of Governor Charlie Crist in the GOP primary for Senate, and in Arizona John McCain’s approval ratings are the lowest they’ve ever been. He faces a challenge on his right from a wingnut radio talk show host.

Following his spot-on analysis of the GOP’s runaway right flank, President Obama needlessly softens his tone:
“And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It's not just on your side, by the way -- it's on our side, as well. This is part of what's happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.”
With all due respect, Mr. President, you are wrong, and you know it. The worst game Democrats can play is to cede the argument to the other side by accepting the false parallelism of what each side does, not in the interest of the truth but to accommodate the adversary.

Democrats have a reflexive need to be fair and tolerant and bend over backwards to their political opponents as if somehow the Republicans will suddenly decide to change their stripes. It makes Democrats look weak and indecisive conceding the “politics as usual” turf to Republicans. That is one lesson unlearned; a major reason voters have lately punished Democrats at the polls. Voters don’t like apologetic, programmatic Democrats. They don’t like appeasement and excuses. They can handle straight talk and the truth.

As a community organizer, Mr. Obama frequently negotiated with corporate and moneyed interests from a position of weakness and had to use every power of persuasion in his quiver to bring them around. As state senator from a blue state, the President forged alliances with Republicans who were far more moderate and pragmatic than those in Congress in order to craft legislation that would pass muster both with a Democratic assembly and a Republican governor. A much different dynamic exists within the national Republican Party.

President Obama said he is not an ideologue. But they are. As he noted, “If you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you'd think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot.” Precisely. The President’s appeal for Republicans to “close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality” is not going to happen. He should heed Harry Truman’s words:
“Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me.”

“I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell.”
As for the Republicans, this is the only language they understand:

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