Are You Tired of Taking Shit from Conservatives? A Call for a Pushback
From the barrage of articles about the election two pieces in The New York Times stick out. The first discusses the Republicans’ comeback plan, which was forged in the shadows of the euphoria of Obama’s victory in 2008, and the second, written by Peter Orzag, the former budget director for the White House, describes the cost cutting measures of health care reform. Both combine to illustrate just how tragic and pathetic the Democrats’ fall from grace has been by implicitly underscoring their failure to destroy the Republicans when they were on top and communicate the merits of health care reform to the American people.
Shortly before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, with many relishing what appeared to be a dramatic shift that would shape the nation’s politics for generations, House Republicans gathered for a PowerPoint presentation. As The Times reports, one slide read: “if the goal of the majority is to govern, what is the purpose of the minority? The purpose of the minority is to become the majority.”
This is all we need to know about the Republican Party during the past two years. And it showed. They rejected and campaigned vigorously in opposition to every policy initiative undertaken by the Democrats. Even when the economy was on the brink of collapse, and we were headed for another depression, and even though they had largely voted in favor of Bush’s stimulus programs, they unanimously opposed Obama’s stimulus package, which largely consisted of tax breaks for 95% of Americans and played a key role in averting a full-scale meltdown.
And that’s what makes our predicament agonizing: the Republicans played such a brazen political game that they even demonized policies that align with their philosophy. Leaving the stimulus tax breaks aside, let’s look at health care reform. As Orzag wrote in The Times the other day, the new laws will “cut the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance by a quarter and reduce the projected deficit within Medicare by three-quarters.” On top of this, “the legislation creates an Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel of independent medical experts who will look for more ways to improve Medicare’s cost-effectiveness.” You of course won’t hear any of this on FOX News. Instead, you’re more likely to hear about how beaurocratic measures have been put in place to “get between you and your doctor,” or how “Obamacare” is a “government takeover” and yet another example of “out of control spending that’s gonna bankrupt America.”
And the Republicans rode these lies all the way back to power.
But how could this happen? After eight years of Bush and all the calamities created by conservatives—from Iraq to Katrina to the financial collapse—and the rise of a brilliant President fresh off of an historic campaign, how could the Republicans have re-emerged at all, let alone in the fashion that they did?
The answer, I think, is that in spite of their stubborn ignorance (“global warming is a hoax,” “tax cuts pay for themselves”) and viciousness (calling Obama a “liar”) and stupidity (“evolution is a myth”), the Republicans get one thing the Democrats have apparently been unable to grasp, at least during the past few decades: politics is war. You see, the Republicans understand that the Democrats are their enemy. The Democrats and Obama don’t seem to recognize the corollary.
Consider two classic examples of how this has played out. First, when Clinton was president the Republicans went out of their way to try to impeach him for lying about getting a blowjob. When Bush was president, the Democrats didn’t even attempt to impeach him for lying about torture or weapons of mass destruction! Similarly, the Republicans’ chief agenda will be to repeal health care reform. By contrast, when Obama won in 2008 he decided not to “re-litigate the past” and put the previous administration on trial for committing war crimes.
And this is the essence of the Democrat’s failure. They had a once in a lifetime opportunity to destroy the Republicans once and for all in 2008. It took the nation 6 painful years to recognize that conservative policies had seriously damaged America, and 2008 was the prime moment to pounce on the opposition. But instead Obama called for bipartisanship instead of war. In theory one could forgive such naiveté since, after Bush, it should have been clear to all that the Republicans represent a bankrupt agenda.
But in retrospect it’s now obvious that Obama and the Democrats gravely underestimated the enemy. In an interview with Newsweek during the early days of his presidency, Obama dismissed the Republicans as a party in disarray akin to the Democrats after Reagan won during the 80’s, and he presumed they would scramble to reshape their policies in a way that would appeal to more Americans. Likewise, according to Jonathan Alter’s The Promise, Obama thought the Republicans would opt to govern over playing politics in 2009 because the situation was so dire. Considering this, one could excuse Obama’s seemingly mature decision to focus on solving the immediate, massive problems he faced rather than punish the previous administration for breaking both American and international law by authorizing torture.
But in this his inexperience has severely undermined his presidency: the Republicans always play politics, no matter what the situation. The starkest manifestation of this is how they seized 9/11 as a tool to characterize the Democrats as weak on national security, which is amazing when one considers that 9/11 occurred under Bush’s watch, and many Democrats voted in support of the Iraq War.
As such, it’s no surprise that Dick Cheney started shitting on Obama in 2009 by speaking out in favor of torture and condemning the decision to officially outlaw the practice, and the White House should have responded forcefully. The President should have done what Republicans always do: embarrass the enemy. Could you imagine if Obama had done what Bush did in response to 9/11? As their treatment of Clinton during the 90’s and their attitude towards health care reform in 2010 indicates, the Republicans would have put him on trial for crimes against humanity the second they could! Had Obama done this to Bush, as it is now clear he should have since he’s been accused of failing to bring bipartisanship anyway, the Republicans would have been utterly shamed and ridiculed for years in ways that would have rivaled what happened to the party in the aftermath of Nixon. That might have really given the Democrats the “realignment” they thought they had obtained in 2008.
Instead, not only did the Democrats take no such measures, they let the Republicans continue to bully them for two years, even though they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Why didn’t they put as much energy into promoting all their accomplishments, such as saving the economy from apocalypse or reshaping education with Race to the Top or reforming health care to cover 95% of Americans and cut costs? Why didn’t they demonize Republican intransigence effectively? Why didn’t they campaign on a plan for how they would continue to improve America instead of cowering to attacks and lamely arguing that at least they’re not as bad as the Republicans?
Any serious person who has not been brainwashed by FOX News and co has to recognize that the conservative movement will devastate America, in ways perhaps even more spectacular than seen during Bush’s presidency. Tuesday’s outcome will likely reverberate for a long time. I expect there to be a government shutdown within the next year. Hopefully Obama will outmaneuver his opponents the way Clinton did after the 94 midterms. But the Democrats must learn that the Republicans are their enemies. And they must do all they can to destroy them.
Just as important, we, the people, need to fight. We should all be disgusted by the notion that the Republicans have been lavishly rewarded for subverting the political system by abusing the filibuster in previously unimaginable ways for partisan gain. That should have been the story of Obama’s first two years; not “government takeovers” and “out of control government spending.” We should be outraged that ignorant and sinister conservatives have thus far shaped the legacy of health care reform—the most important progressive accomplishment in decades. And we should all fear the possibility of bitter Congressional gridlock in the face of a looming lost decade brought about by foolishly premature fiscal austerity measures.
This is a call for a pushback. We need to educate more people about Obama’s legislative achievements and demonize conservatives for their reprehensible refusal to contribute to and decision to wage disinformation campaigns against the stimulus and health care reform. We must revolt against their rejection of science in the cases of climate change and evolution; and we must never allow them to roll back abortion rights and separation between Church and State. All of these issues are just as much in jeopardy as at any time in American history, and it is impossible to work in good faith with people who not only cling to discredited and backward positions but refuse to cooperate even on issues that they would have embraced if their party had been in power. We cannot afford to lose again, and the sooner Obama and the Democrats start to fight and lead the way, the better off we’ll all be.
Expanded sources on torture:
Bush says U.S. does not torture:
Torture violates international law:
Torture violates American law:
The U.S. has convicted Japanese officials for using waterboarding during World War II and American soldiers for waterboarding Filipino guerillas during the Spanish American War in 1898:
Counterterrorism experts say torturing KSM produced essentially no credible intelligence:
Post Script: The rendition program was started before Bush, in fact Reagan used it and Clinton authorized it during the 90′s. But, as Jane Mayer reports in The Dark Side, it was never as large in scope as it was under Bush, and Bush was the first president to command intelligence officials to use torture, not merely send suspects to other countries that have horrible human rights records, which is also totally illegal, to be sure. As for why the Republicans didn’t go after Clinton for this, I surmise it’s because it never became a public scandal like the Lewinsky affair and therefore carried no political clout.
Filed under: Bush
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