Saturday, August 28, 2010

Party First

I try very hard to be open minded when listening to interviews and speeches. It doesn't mean I expect them to change my mind, but I don't want to be the type of person who ignores anything that doesn't match my preconceived ideas and occasionally I do learn something. But any respect I may have had for Conservative ideas, politicians or pundits has been stripped to the bone over the last few years. Particularly since the last Presidential election, intelligent discourse from Conservatives has gone out the window. I can't speak for their private correspondence, but in public they are all about extremism, absolutism and misinformation. Ironically, these are some of the same charges they make about their opponents. This isn't the normal political theater, this is more like political farce.

I believe it primarily emerged from pure fear. Fear that a moderate, young, articulate black man was swept into office on a wave of popular support. To Conservatives, with the loss of control in both House and Senate, this must have looked like the apocalypse. It was complicated further when this new President actually was willing to incorporate old Republican ideas for health reform and other pressing issues. While this would mean that Conservatives could actually expect to be able to get some of their policies incorporated in Administration legislation it also meant that they would get little to no credit from the passage of these compromise bills. And that would put them in a lousy position going into the next election cycle. They needed to stand out from the Democrats, not be in a coalition with them. So they fell back on the only weapons they had left: obstructionism, fear and misinformation. They immediately dug in their heels, circled the wagons and stood in absolute opposition to absolutely everything.

Some will take exception to my characterization of the President as a 'Moderate', but that's merely a result of 18 months of ludicrous hyperbole spewed by Conservatives into any microphone they could find. Over and over the President has incorporated ideas formerly championed by Republicans in years past. In fact one of the most controversial provisions in the Health Reform bill, the Individual Mandate, was an idea originally proposed by Republicans during the Clinton era health reform fight. And that was not the only one. The President and Democrats in Congress also compromised over and over with their Republican colleagues on virtually every piece of legislation in the vain hope that they could get even token support for their proposals. The result? Republicans began fighting against their own ideas and calling them radical and extremist! I've seen parades of split screen speeches where prominent Republicans made diametrically opposed arguments separated by, in some cases, less than a year! On one side is Republican X calling for adoption of this great idea and on the other the same person calling the very same idea Socialist, extremist and the end of civilization as we know it. The only thing that surprised me more than watching such outrageous displays of hypocrisy was seeing crowds of protesters who actually took these idiots seriously. These people either didn't realize how false the speakers were being or didn't care as long as it fell into their preconceived narrative. Final proof of the absurdity of Conservative's charges of extremism is the fact that every one of these supposed 'Left wing extremist' bills was met with frustration and disappointment from Liberals who watched compromise after compromise gut the ideas they most cared about, such as the 'Public Option/Single Payer' plan. So if the President and Democrats are so extreme in their policies, then please explain to me why middle of the road Liberals were so underwhelmed with the results? Calling these policies 'extremist' makes for catchy sound bites, but bears little resemblance to reality.

For over a year and a half Conservatives have used every trick in the rule book to block not just final votes on legislation but even motions to bring bills to the floor for discussion. I can't see how their actions could be judged as anything but pure obstructionism for its own sake. This session of Congress has seen the Senate Filibuster, whereby the minority party can block majority action if they can control a mere 41% of the voting members, invoked more than twice as often as any other year in US history. Republicans in the Senate have blocked or attempted to block almost every piece of legislation proposed by the Democrats. And in many of the other cases they still threatened to Filibuster. Senate Democrats have reached the point of just assuming that ANY legislation will require 60 votes to pass. These Filibusters had little to do with policy disagreements and were all about doing everything possible to stop a popular President from accomplishing anything. Even at the expense of the nation they are supposed to be serving. How do I know this? Because of the unprecedented frequency that Filibusters have been used and the vanishingly rare occurrences of Republicans breaking ranks to vote 'Yes'. In a normal Congressional session it is commonplace for individual Senators and small blocks to vote contrary to the bulk of the Republican or Democratic party. It's normal for moderate Conservatives to occasionally agree with moderate Liberals. But since the inauguration the Republicans have somehow managed to vote 'no' as an unbroken block on the vast majority of issues. A few might talk of considering a vote in favor, but when it came down to it they almost always voted 'no'. So either every single piece of legislation proposed by Obama or Congressional Democrats was unconscionable or Republicans were following a well crafted and rehearsed plan. There is no other explanation.

The other indicator of how moderate the current Administration is overall comes from how far and fast Conservatives have bolted farther to the Right in an effort to differentiate themselves from the Administration. This has been turbo charged by the rise of the 'Tea Party' candidates who accuse the current majority of being synonymous with Hitler, Stalin, Marx and any other historically 'evil' person they can remember from High School civics class. They speak as if there is some form of tyranny being practiced, completely forgetting that the majority party was VOTED into office! They speak in reverent tones of the Constitution, yet conveniently ignore sections they don't like whenever it suits them. They ignore the annoying fact that these individuals were all elected and instead mutter about "second amendment remedies" if they don't get what they want. There has been no tyranny unless it's the tyranny of Democracy.

That's the bottom line for me. I see Conservatives, particularly as the mid-term elections approach, give every sign of actually hoping the economy remains stagnant and jobs non-existent. The worse the economy, the more they can frame it as the fault of the majority party. Never mind that Conservatives have proposed almost nothing of substance themselves. Despite the fact that they have done everything they could to prevent any significant legislation from being passed. Despite gutting every attempt at stimulating the economy to the point of even voting against tax breaks. Keeping in mind that for Conservatives, tax cuts are the holy grail of economic policy. According to them cutting taxes, which they don't mention will increase the deficit, will jump start the economy, magically create millions of jobs, protect us from terrorists and cure most forms of cancer. Despite the fact that there is little data to suggest that tax cuts are particularly effective as stimulus. And despite the fact that George W. Bush's two rounds of tax cuts added well over a Trillion dollars to the national debt. Facts are such annoying things, aren't they?

Do I think Democrats are our saviors? No, of course not. I don't necessarily agree with everything that they have proposed or passed and there are many things I wish they had taken action on that they have not. But I'll tell you one thing, at least they are trying to do something. They are still trying to act as a functioning government. Are they pure and righteous? No, but they haven't looked out on the sea of citizens laid off and unemployed through no fault of their own and accused them of sloth and drug abuse as a number of prominent Republicans have done. Democrats have tried to implement plans to stimulate the economy using all sorts of ideas including tax cuts for small business only to watch them delayed and picked apart by the opposition. I will vote Democrat because at least they are making some attempt at doing the job they were elected to do. They aren't saints and I have no illusions about their own self interest, but at least they are on the job. They are making an effort to put out the fires rather than using them to light torches.

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