Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bye Bye, Bayh. And Take Your "Bipartisanship" With You. (Updated below)

"Bipartisanship" are virtually worshiped by the mainstream corporate press whenever even a hint of a "threat" of liberal reform is in the air. Always when there's a Democrat in the White House, it's the warmest and fuzziest of warm-and-fuzzy notions, something toward which all Democratic politicians should strive and of which only a madman wouldn't recognize the merits.

It's also a concept that has, in and of itself, absolutely no value. Embraced as a virtue, it's actively pernicious. Cooperation and compromise between competing political factions are a necessary feature of a functioning liberal democracy. They're what one is willing to do in the name of a larger good in order to get things done. In a two-party state that's already virtually a one-party state though, "bipartisanship" in the way it's meant by those who are forever pimping it is something very different: even less choice for a public that is already denied any real choice at the ballot box.

Scott Erb, his World in Motion, used the circumstance of Sen. Even Bayh's decision to retire from congress to write some thoughts about "bipartisanship." He defines it differently from most of the "bipartisanship" pimps; to him, it's typical democratic diplomacy. In his ultimate conclusion though, he's doubtful:

"At base bi-partisanship does not mean anti-partisan. It literally means two partisan groups figuring out how to come to some agreement on how to solve problems, recognizing neither side will be completely happy with the action. It means that even as laws are passed, the debate and discussion continue--no one ever truly wins, no compromise is ever final. It also means that each side recognizes that they do not hold a monopoly on truth, both sides operate on good faith. It means rejecting the kind of personal attacks and venom that too often percolate within the political discourse. It’s only possible when political disagreement is not a cause for personal dislike or disgust. Bayh’s departure indicates that he does not think the politicians in Washington are capable of that kind of productive partisan cooperation. He may be right."

I'd certainly cross out that "may be." I don't think there's any "may be" to it. The "may be" came off of it years ago. Ye humble editor has been warning of the pernicious effects of the sort of "can't-we-all-just-get-along"-ism embraced by the Obama administration since before there was an Obama administration. It's probably the single subject about which I've written more than any other since the birth of this blog. It isn't just that the notion, as it is popularly understood, is bad and limits choice; it's that it isn't even possible in the current political climate, because the Republican party is in the stranglehold of cretins, crackpots and conspiracists who will allow for no compromise, no cooperation with a majority opposition they consider a fundamentally anti-American alien cancer.

The Obama's first year was a frustrating tragedy because he so completely failed to understand this. He prefaced his every major proposal with massive concessions to Republicans, to no avail, except to drive the ultimate policies even further to the right, just as this writer warned would happen, and to help alienate his base. Republicans have been in lock-step opposition, filibustering almost everything--an abuse of the filibuster that has no historical precedent.

Not that these Republicans are actually against all of these things, mind you. Rather, Republicans have made a conscious decision to oppose anything of any significance supported by the Obama.

Examples demonstrating this are legion.

The Obama himself recently noted the fate of the PAYGO bill, which would have required new programs be paid for by cutting existing ones; as soon as the Obama announced his support for it, seven Republican Senators who had co-written the bill (four of whom had voted in favor of identical legislation four years earlier) flip-flopped and came out against it.

The same thing happened with the proposed debt commission: five Republican co-authors of the legislation jumped ship the moment the Obama announced his support for it.

When the Obama proposed a freeze on non-military spending, the same thing happened. Even John McCain, who had made such a freeze a part of his presidential platform, flip-flopped.

In an effort to draw Republican votes, the Obama larded up his "stimulus" bill with the wasteful, less stimulative tax cuts favored by Republicans. All but two Republicans in the Senate voted against it. The rest made a grand show of ranting against the "socialist" bill in outlets like Fox News, and going on about how it wouldn't work but, as liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow documented last week, 29 of those same Republicans who voted against and denounced the bill then went to their home states and took credit for the projects it was helping fund and praised its effectiveness. [see Update below]

When the Obama was given the opportunity to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice--a very important nomination that would have allowed him to begin to redress the insane rightward imbalance of the court--he chose, instead, another damn conservative. Republicans denounced her as a racist and 31 of the 40 Repub Senators voted against her.

The Obama began the health care debate by throwing over the side the liberal option (single payer). Wouldn't want to be called a "socialist" by the conservatives, right? He chose, instead, to push for a proposal that mimicked, in every significant particular, health care plans offered by Republicans for decades. The Obama initially added a "public option" that would have amounted to some little bit of real reform but when faced with criticism from the right, he quickly chucked it over the side too. And, of course, Republicans have spent months portraying the industry-friendly, market-based Republican plan adopted by the Obama as a "socialist" government takeover and the newest line making the rounds on the right is that Obama and the Democrats have steadfastly refused to even consider Republican health care ideas.

This is why "bipartisanship" isn't possible in the current political climate. Republicans refuse to work with Democrats on anything, even when Democrats adopt conservative Republican policies. If the Obama ever wants to accomplish anything, he's going to have to come to terms with this basic fact and stop trying to be so accommodating. He's already wasted a year.



UPDATE (2 March, 2010) -- The day after I wrote the above, ThinkProgress released a report documenting the fact that an astonishing 110 congressional Republicans--over half of all of the Republicans in congress--are guilty of "stimulus hypocrisy." They voted to kill the bill, then returned to their home states and districts to take credit for the projects it has funded.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Good Greife! Or is it?

"Barack Obama finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should I say, between Democrats and Republicans. In an attempt to please them both he has satisfied neither."

So begins a new blog entry by Brandon Greife over at NextRight, and in a world in which most of his fellow conservatives try to portray the Obama as some sort of wild-eyed socialist radical, it seems the beginning of a more level-headed evaluation of the Obama administration. Unfortunately Greife's analysis goes off the rails in working from some popular-but-fictional premises. Seeing as how I've written about those fictions in the past, I thought I'd bang out a few words on the subject.

The most glaring is the longest-standing of the batch, this mythical narrative of the Clinton administration:

"After a disastrous first two years in office, in which Clinton was lambasted for a liberal agenda that included failed attempts at health care reform and gun control, he course corrected. His march toward the right was highlighted by bipartisan achievements such as welfare reform and a balanced budget and crowned with his famous line, 'the era of big government is over.'"

Way back when (during the 1996 presidential campaign, to be exact), this narrative had already taken shape--and taken hold--and I wrote a corrective, documenting the fact that:

"As an examination of the Clinton administration, this doesn't even reach the level of shallow analysis. Nor was it ever intended to; it is no more than a political myth manufactured by those on the right to serve their own narrow ends... Not only does the record fail to bear out this interpretation, it shows exactly the opposite; that Clinton is a conservative, ran as a conservative, and, in the words of Progressive editor Mathew Rothschild, 'has governed as a Republican.'"

Clinton was, in fact, more conservative than his Republican predecessor. It's noteworthy that Greife, in searching for examples of Clinton's "liberal agenda," doesn't have much from which to choose. He picks an old favorite in Clinton's health care effort, but, in the real world, Clinton refused to even consider the liberal option (single payer), opting instead for an industry-friendly proposal lifted, almost entirely, from a conservative Republican reform bill then in congress. Greife's second example is Clinton's "failed attempt" at "gun control." That didn't fail, though; it was a part of Clinton's crime bill in 1993. That crime bill was, in almost every particular, identical to the crime bill assembled (but not passed) by Clinton's Republican predecessor, George Bush, who, of course, didn't have a liberal bone in his body.

Greife continues, arguing that "in words as well as deeds, Clinton grasped the fundamental truth that this is a center-right nation." This is a popular myth--or, to call it what it really is, delusion--among conservatives, and Greife backs it up with--surprise, surprise--polling data on ideological self-identification. In a world in which decades of conservative demonization of the word "liberal" always leads large numbers of liberals to tell pollsters they're "moderate" and even "conservative," self-identified conservatives always significantly outnumber self-identified liberals in such polls, and the small number of self-identified liberals always ends up being used, by conservatives, as the "evidence" of the conservative bent of the public. It's something about which I've written before. Conservatives are fooling themselves on this one, big time. As I wrote in that earlier piece back in November:

"The hard, cold political reality facing the right today--the one that's still there after the poll results, and after all that back-slapping--is that the U.S. isn't a conservative nation. What's more, that conclusion isn't even particularly controversial for anyone who has examined the matter in any detail; for the most part, it isn't even close. Public opinion is more heavily polled in the U.S. than in any other country on earth. On issue after issue, Americans are not only with the liberals, but with them overwhelmingly... One is hard pressed to find a single major public policy issue on which the liberals don't hold an overwhelming advantage in public sentiment."

And I offered lots of examples.

Greife, working from his faulty premises, thinks "Barack Obama will be compelled to adopt many conservative positions, or at the very least let Republicans into the room." Obama has "let Republicans into the room" from the beginning--they are, in fact, running large parts of his administration, and his every major initiative has seen him granting massive concessions to the conservatives and Republicans before any debate even begins. He has bent over backwards to accommodate them. Bent so far, he's nearly broken his own back. Congressional Republicans simply won't work with him on anything, and for a very obvious reason: The Republican party is, collectively, mad. Not mad as in "angry" (though they're always that), but mad as in "hatters." Crazy. Made up of ill-informed half-wits and conspiracist crackpots. These aren't the fringe anymore--they are the party. A new Research 2000 poll of Republicans released earlier today outlines this sickness. Some of the highlights (lowlights?):

--Should Barack Obama be impeached or not?
39% said yes, 29% "not sure," only 32% said no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States, or not?
58% said either no, or they weren’t sure.

--Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?
63% said yes, another 16% said they weren’t sure; only 21% no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win?
57% chose either "yes" or "not sure."

--Do you believe ACORN stole the 2008 election?
76% chose either "yes" or "not sure," only 24% "no."

--Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?
53% said yes, only 14% said no.

--Do you believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people?
64% said either yes, or not sure; 36% no.

And so on. The idea that Republicans are politically invested in refusing to work with Obama or the Democrats on anything isn't just some Democratic party talking point. It reflects the political reality found in this polling data. A massive shift to the right and away from sanity itself has occurred, and the Republican base won't tolerate any "bipartisanship." Cooperation with Obama or Democrats is equated with treason. Look at what happened to Lindsey Graham when he merely suggested he may work with them on global warming; suddenly, one of the most conservative members of congress finds himself labeled a RINO, and is heckled by reactionaries calling him a traitor and demanding to know when he’s going to change parties. John McCain, who, less than two years ago, was the Republican choice for their presidential candidate, is now being primaried by former Republican congressman J.D. Hayworth, whose remarkable physical resemblance to Hermann Goering is matched only by his political similarities. All through last year, Republicans accelerated their efforts to rid the party of any and all who don't toe the most extreme right line (a line utterly alienating to the general public Greife mistakenly believes is politically closer to it). The Obama, speaking at a town hall in New Hampsire today, offered, in a different context, a perfect example of how this manifests itself in congress. Seven Republicans signed on to the PAYGO bill, which would have mandated cutting funds from some existing program (rather than taxing or borrowing) to pay for any new one. These Republicans were enthusiasts of the bill right up until the Obama announced his own support for it, at which time they became terrified of being seen as collaborators and immediately withdrew their backing.

The biggest obstacle to Republicans taking advantage of any slip-up by the Obama or the Democrats is the Republicans themselves. Greife concludes: "Republicans cannot rest on the knowledge their foe is suffering, we must pick up the mantle of real reform." Given the political reality of the moment, the image this immediately calls to mind is the scene in THE BIG RED ONE wherein the nutcase in the asylum snatches up a machine gun and starts mowing down his fellow inmates with chants, to the American troops, of "I AM ONE OF YOU! I AM SANE!" That's reform for you. If you're a conservative Republican, at least.