What ails America in a nutshell. What Obama can do about it.
New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, whose focus includes U.S. healthcare reform, thinks Time's Michael Grunwald says all that needs saying about "our political insanity," as Cohn calls it, in just two paragraphs. I agree:
The Republican Party, after converting huge surpluses into huge deficits during the Bush era, after opposing deficit-reducing health reforms, student loan reforms and big-bank taxes during the Obama era, after continuing to clamor for trillions of dollars in deficit-expanding tax cuts while gutting House pay-as-you-go rules to make it easier to expand the deficit, has somehow managed to re-brand itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. It's a remarkable political achievement...
It's not Obama's fault that Republicans are irresponsible. But he's not powerless. He's not voiceless. It was no coincidence that when he laid out a strong case against GOP fiscal insanity in his George Washington speech in April, Republicans hated it, screeching that he was the meanest, nastiest, most partisan President in the history of Kenyan sharia socialism. Apparently, he touched a nerve. But it hasn't touched it again. Ultimately, if he can't create a political atmosphere where irresponsibility is punished, the irresponsibility will continue. And he'll be held accountable for the consequences.
At this stage in the election cycle, it's typical for incumbent presidents hoping for re-election to duck and cover or go AWOL. At this point in the cycle culminating in Clinton's re-election, that president was talking about school uniforms and V-chips to help parents protect their kids from seeing graphic images on television. Apple pie initiatives, if they even rose to that description, that no one could disagree with.
So Grunwald is asking a lot. But you know, these days almost everything that a Republican notable says is a flat-out lie. (I'm leaving out the GOP grassroots and especially GOP voters.) And it does take your breath away, the stinking hypocrisy of it. And indeed it's seldom that anyone calls them out on it, as a Michigan friend reminded me in citing a recent too-friendly chat between David Gregory and lesser wannabe presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who, before he was defeated as a U.S. senator, voted for all the fiscally parlous measures Grunwald notes and then some (Bush's unfunded Iraq war and prescription drug benefit for seniors, for instance, the blew giant holes through America's fiscal strength long before most Americans had heard of Barack Obama).
Obama has said often enough, starting with his contests with first Hillary Clinton and then John McCain, that you can hardly expect a different outcome if you keep voting for the folks who gave you the bad stuff you now want to be rid of, or have cured. (Clinton and McCain had, of course, each voted for the unfunded Iraq war, the biggest U.S. foreign policy blunder since Vietnam.)
If the President and I and you and everyone who worships truth for its own sake hope to see an end to the routine mendacity that is a cancer on democracy everywhere, Obama has the bully pulpit to call out the liars. He also has surrogates on Capitol Hill and statehouses for the task, though he's been poorly served in that regard compared with previous presidents - notably GOP chief executives.
For instance, not a day goes by that a GOP leader or Faux News commentator asserts, falsely, that Obamacare will drive up healthcare costs by bringing some 40 million Americans out of the cold of being uninsured. That's a lie. The Affordable Health Act of 2010 is packed with measures to make the world's most costly healthcare system less so, while guaranteeing higher quality care to more Americans than ever in history. Fiscal prudence was one of Obama's few (three) requirements of the five congressional committees developing their own versions of Obamacare, which eventually were combined and signed into law by the President early last year. Namely, that whatever the legislators came up with, it would have to include access to all, stopping the turning away of those with pre-existing conditions, and measures to end the spiraling increase in healthcare costs.
The debt-ceiling debate gives Obama and his surrogates an opportunity for a nationally televised speech - once again not carried by Faux News, which is unapologetic in its lack of civic responsibility - in which the President details five specific lies with which enemies of all that's fair and good are trying to hoodwink their fellow Americans.
It would be a good trial run for next year's stump speeches, if nothing else. A Dem war room preoccupied this week with Romney's assertion to an audience of unemployed folks that he too is between jobs is a sideshow. (Romney's audience laughed, they got the joke.) No, the real targets are Romney, Eric Cantor, Bachmann, Palin, Rush and so on, including obscure federal and state legislators, who should have an anvil fall on their heads every single time they utter a falsehood. Pretty soon they'd get tired of having to crane their necks, and would learn how to debate with facts and engage in a honest argument of goodwill with their adversaries on given policies.
I am proud that in our May 2 federal election contest, Harper and his fellow leaders uttered a few "stretchers," as Mark Twain called them, but for the most part stuck to assertions that were truthful, while disagreeing on likely consequences - which properly became the focus of the debate. The attack ads with which the well-financed Tories destroyed Iggy long before the next election call were a low point in Canadian politics. But then, the Grits' failure to respond to them spoke volumes of how clueless they had become - and this after Grits had the example of Kerry's fate at the hands of the Swift Boaters as a long-ago heads-up.
EB readers will note without effort countless howlers on the campaign trail pre-May 2, and of course they're right. Those who were first-hand witnesses to the contest between David Cameron and Gordon Brown would say the same. But the U.S., of late, has reached a new apex of free-form mendacity and what I believe the Economist recent editorialized is an apparent "desire by the Americans to destroy themselves" - a bald assessment that shocked even me.
That's not so surprising when viewed in the context of U.S. history. It was Twain who said words to the effect that the truth is still tying its shoelaces while the lie has made it half-way around the world. There's nothing new here in cut-throat U.S. political culture. And as a student of it, Obama should be lacing up now.
Here's Grunwald's column at Time's Swampland in full.