Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chamber of Commerce Gets its Wish, Opening Salvo of Political War

Total gridlock is what we can expect for the next two years. And lots of pain for the nation. Forget what the White House says. It’s self-serving spin to counter the other side’s tough talk with all those Teabagger bayonets pointed at John Boehner’s and Mitch McConnell’s back.

The House can do whatever it pleases with its Republican majority. But it will be mostly posturing with a Senate still in Democratic hands without the requisite 60 votes to pass legislation and a president (Mr. Obama’s appetite for a fight is very much in doubt) presumably ready to wield the veto pen.

The Fake War: Calm Before The Storm

The beginnings of this open warfare (whether or not the President chooses to recognize it) began, ironically, when it became clear to Republicans that Barack Obama would be elected president of the United States in 2008. Eleven days before Obama’s inauguration, Republicans held a powerpoint strategy session to plot their return to power. House Speaker-to-be John Boehner has said there will be "no compromise" with the White House. Mitch McConnell doubled down on his vow to make President Obama a one-term president his highest priority. So much for jobs, economic growth, unemployment, healthcare, financial stability. They plan to move on those too. Back to the Bush nightmare status quo ante.

The Republicans have no new or coherent ideas. That will become patently obvious as soon as they try to govern. Which is why they've taken aim at the President. Impeachment is not off the table. Nor are frivolous investigations into the President's citizenship, or whether or not he offered a job to defeated Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak. So much for not "relitigating" the past, even if the issues are bogus. Given the choice of fighting back or being crucified by Republican extremists, the President may reluctantly opt to fight.

What Went Wrong: Historic Legislation The Public Knows Little About

President Obama’s left flank is restive. Liberals and progressives warned the President early in the process that Republicans would not negotiate. Yet the President insisted on transferring total ownership of healthcare reform to the Senate committees, with predictable results. Deadlines were missed. Precious time that could have been used to pivot to jobs and the economy was wasted schmoozing recalcitrant senators. The President was overly deferential to “Indian chief” chairmen like Chris Dodd and Max Baucus.

In Jon Alter’s book about Obama’s first year, the frustrated progressive fighter, NY Congressman Anthony Weiner, asked the President what he expected to get from rejected overtures to the other side. The answer was the two Maine senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. In the end, the President got neither.The President’s timidity, his reluctance to take on GOP obstruction full-bore, the loss of messaging, all contributed to the result of November 2. In a pre-election meeting with progressive bloggers, the President said, “I’m President and not king. And so I’ve got to get a majority in the House and I’ve got to get 60 votes in the Senate to move any legislative initiative forward.”

Yes, but the reality is, healthcare was passed through reconciliation with fewer than 60 votes, as Republicans dragged financial reform and small business tax breaks late into the legislative term, when these bills would least impact voter perceptions going into the election. It may be all water under the bridge, but the President’s favorite term to explain letting Bush and Cheney skate or addressing the repeal of healthcare and financial reform legislation — we're not going to “relitigate” these issues — will be a hard sell. Democrats are too honest, unfortunately, to be effective at matching Republican sound bite distortions and talking points.

What Would Truman Do? FDR, LBJ? Hmm ... 

Time to hit the reset button. House Republicans are ready to repeal this historic legislation. This time the White House had better get its messaging right. It starts at the top. Would Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Truman, or FDR have allowed legislative issues to languish this way for so long? In 1946-1948, Truman faced bigger Republican majorities and he rolled them with his combative challenges to the “do-nothing” Congress.

President Truman actually campaigned against a tax cut for the highest brackets, which was passed over his veto, by calling it the “rich man’s tax law.” It’s nearly impossible to imagine President Obama pulling a Truman and drawing a line in the sand on extending the Bush tax cuts for multimillionaires. But we can always hope. Wasn’t that Obama’s campaign slogan? After historic losses for the Democratic Party in the 1946 midterm elections, President Truman came roaring back to defeat Dewey in the biggest presidential upset of the last century. Truman was written off by all the pundits, who had predicted a sweeping Dewey win. Instead, not only was Truman reelected (on his own right) but a Democratic Congress was elected, wiping out the short-lived Republican gains of '46. Going into 2012, this should be the Democratic Party's template for success and electoral redemption. President Obama has the added advantage that his approval rating is higher than Harry Truman's was leading up to the Democratic convention of 1948.

A Feingold Challenge From The Left?

The rather blunt White House sharpies advising President Obama should take note of progressive champion Russ Feingold’s statement in his concession speech: “On to 2012!” A primary or even an independent challenge from the Left could well spring from the Democratic Party’s most fiercely independent progressive voice. The former Wisconsin senator didn't sound like he was lobbying to be named President Obama's Wisconsin election 2012 campaign chairman. 

The possibility of a serious Feingold challenge depends entirely on President Obama's posture between now and 2012. The ball is in the President’s court. Progressives are ready to defend the historic legislative achievements of the 111th Congress and we expect the President to use the veto pen to stop any attempt to roll back healthcare or financial reform dead in their tracks.

On the bright side for Democrats, the usually disciplined Republican leadership faces a huge problem on its extreme right wing. The Tea Party eruption was a perfect storm of  principled and unprincipled populist opposition that actually helped Democrats retain control of the Senate, slowing the wave in Connecticut, Delaware, and West Virginia, ending with a Democratic goal-line stand in Nevada, Colorado, Washington, and California.

Corporate Money Strangles U.S. Democracy

The Republican establishment, and the Tea Party, are fortunate to have been rescued from self-destructive incompetence and extremism by a radicalized right wing Supreme Court. The right wing high Court handed down its most politically partisan and ideological split decision in Citizens United since wresting the 2000 election from the people’s hands and elevating George W. Bush to the presidency. The result of Bush v. Gore was catastrophic and, it could be argued, still being felt today. 

The unlimited infusion of corporate cash into the 2010 midterm elections is the single most important issue to have turned a fair democratic election into an unfairly stacked contest of unlimited secret corporate donations targeting and picking off Democratic candidates that could not compete with the corporate money deluge. Republicans will lie shamelessly on this issue (Hailey Barbour) contending that unions spent more, etc. The reality is, unions could not possibly match the corporations. Furthermore, their contributions were not secret.

All the analysts are talking the numbers, and what they mean, in a vacuum. There is a certain  excitement about the "horse race" aspects of the election coupled with all the cool computer graphics that just doesn't lend itself to examining, say, the ratio of secret corporate money to the defeat of targeted Democratic candidates. Perhaps Nate Silver can quantify and model the money issue, candidate for  candidate. Absent the huge corporate (and foreign) slush fund that enabled the “wave” and distorted the elections in immeasurable ways, no analysis is honest and complete. The purchase of our democracy by narrow corporate interests, oligarchs, and plutocrats is the single most important story (period!) of this election cycle, told and untold.

In Wisconsin and Florida, flawed and inferior self-funding candidates defeated solid rivals. A healthcare criminal bought his way into the Florida governor’s mansion. Wisconsin inexplicably turned against the conscience of the Senate, Russ Feingold. The right wing will point to California making the case that self-funding is a wash. Not quite. California is still a predominantly blue state with a huge media market that is less susceptible to large infusions of campaign cash. Both Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer were sufficiently well funded to get their message out and beat back the Whitman-Fiorina challenge. California was also the only state in which the money issue was effectively framed and used against the self-funders.
Corporations Make "American People" Wish List

Everywhere else, the infusion of secret funds laundered through the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s group made the difference, mostly on the House side impelled by misguided and misinformed Tea Party energy. These days the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is cocky enough to do a victory lap while sending its newly purchased House reps (I should say “representatives”) a wish list to “promote their interest at the expense of the country, environment, and world.”
  • Across the board extension of Bush tax cuts, most importantly for millionaires and billionaires. The Democratic proposal is to make the middle class tax cuts (up to $250,000) permanent, and not add another $800+ billion to the deficit.
  • A rollback of pending regulations — you know, back to the Bush-Cheney deregulation days that gave us BP, mine disasters, environmental pollution, salmonella outbreaks in our food chain, toxic toys and exports from China, and anti-science climate change deniers — in the EPA, labor, and energy departments, among others. Joe Barton, the Texas congressman who apologized profusely to BP’s Tony Hayward on behalf of (?) … is slated to be the new chairman of the House Energy Committee.
  • A “reprieve” from higher taxes on overseas profits and penalties for moving jobs overseas.
  • A rollback of the financial reforms that passed Congress. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are on record for repeal of the less-than-sweeping financial reforms passed over Republican opposition. They want to take us back to the status quo ante when the freewheeling dearth of regulations caused the near-financial collapse of our economy. 
  • A rollback of legislation that allows the Fed to set banking fees, so consumers don’t get hosed. 
Corporations fully expect Boehner and McConnell to control the Tea Party dupes who may oppose protecting corporate subsidies, open trade deals, and corporate welfare. Corporations, Karl Rove, and the Chamber feel it’s their right, since they’re bankrolling everything.

The election made interesting news in India. From their perspective, “India baiter Dan Burton,” set to chair the South Asia subcommittee, worries for his consistent hostility to India. MoveOn, a real netroots people organization was mentioned for its campaign against Republicans who have actively lobbied for shipping jobs overseas, to India and China:
Television advertisements paid for by liberal advocacy group and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused candidates Mark Kirk and Bobby Schilling, both Republicans running in Illinois, of supporting tax breaks for businesses operating in countries like India, and therefore, being responsible for the loss of American jobs.

However, there is little indication that the new cohort of Republicans in Congress, whose members often betray a proclivity for isolationism, will necessarily be more sympathetic to international business interests.
It is worth noting that from a foreign perspective MoveOn is an adversary to keep on their radar. Kirk (Senate) and Schilling (House) won their elections in Illinois. Clearly, those Orwellian empty warehouse ads run by the Chamber and Karl Rove, blaming Democrats for the loss of jobs had the desired effect of confusing voters about the truth, which is the exact opposite.  It’s the old Hitler-Goebbels maxim: the bigger the lie, the easier it is to sell to low-information voters and brain-scrambled Tebaggers. In most cases, these secret "carpet bombing" ads lied with impunity, and few stations actually had the resources in real-time to fact-check everything they ran. They were happy to take the corporate buyout, along with Republicans and Teabaggers.

The foreign media from China and India, for example, regard the Tea Party/Teabaggers as a wild card of sorts. They are a useful tool to corporations and plutocrats as long as they can be manipulated by corporations represented by the Chamber, Karl Rove, and original astroturfer Dick Armey. Confronted by the reality of government and to whom Republicans in Congress owe their loyalty and allegiance — hint, Teabaggers: It’s not the public — the Tea Party (writ large) should be in for a rude awakening and more ire hurled at (GOP) government. At which point we may hear whispers of a chain-smoking John Boehner doubling down on the scotch.

Mitch McConnell Extends An Olive Branch Covered With Thorns

It should also be noted that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today was doubling down on his statement to make President Obama a one-term president as his his top priority for the next two years. Just in case he had been misunderstood (by Robert Gibbs and President Obama) the first time. 

McConnell said there will be no “capitulation” from Republicans although they are willing to work with the President if Democrats agree with all GOP positions. Lost in the mix is the fact that Democrats still control the presidency and the Senate, and Republicans abused the filibuster in a historically unprecedented way by obstructing every Democratic initiative, including those that were Republican proposals. These include small business tax incentives and cap-and-trade, an original GOP proposal once pushed by John McCain and Lindsey Graham, before they reinvented themselves as wingnut anti-science climate change deniers.

In keeping with the “wish list” of the corporations (above), who in this brave new post-Citizens United world represent the aspirations of the “American people,” Senator McConnell said Republicans intend not only to repeal the healthcare bill but financial regulations reform as well. McConnell conflated and renamed the corporate wish list to “wish list of the American people.”

Despite being Minority Leader, and showing utter contempt and disrespect for the separation of powers and the national interest, as defined by the voters' split decision, McConnell laid down the gauntlet. He has zero interest in promoting economic recovery and job growth. His rationalization is that Democrats have only helped people “in the short term.” Senator McConnell would not specify what this "short-term help" was: unemployment insurance extensions; elimination of pre-exisitng conditions for children, who will remain on their parents' policies until age 26; a consumer financial protection agency; the regulation of banks, Wall Street, and oil companies? Tell us, Senator McConnell, repealing which of these “short-term” benefits will help the “American people” long term, and how. Actually, in an amazing display of GOP Orwellian-speak, all of these initiatives stand to really help the American people in the long-term, after 2014 and beyond.
Can the Teabagger candidates be counted on to sell out their pretend populism in order to kowtow to business interests? Chances are, yes! (See: the economic policy proposal Rand Paul presented post-election:  "Don't tax yachts, because that hurts everyone!")
As Hunter Thompson said, “let’s get down to brass tacks: (Setting aside all the Orwellian lingo of the GOP) “How much for the presidency?” Money is no object. And POWER is the name of the game.

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