Political Stories Left Unwritten

27 Jul

Like many writers, I keep a list of story ideas for future use. I use a big whiteboard in my office, a leftover of my time in the military when I organized our unit’s tasks and deployment schedules in a similar manner. If an article has been writing itself in my head for a couple days, almost a subconscious exercise for me, then I have no need to check the board. I can go weeks without glancing at it. But on a day like today, when nothing in particular has caught my enthusiasm, I look for inspiration.

Some of the story ideas are timeless – book reviews, or the unchanging nature of Buffalo politics. Some are waiting for the perfect opportunity to fit the zeitgeist; I wanted to write about Grand Rapids for a full year before the American Pie lipdub phenomenon, contrasted with the Buffalo: For Real video, provided the right timing and opening I needed. And some stories sit and rot and likely will never be written, because they are no longer relevant (the Islamic center near the former WTC), no longer true (Obama should run against his own party in ’12), or are increasingly unlikely to occur.

It is into this last bin that I toss today’s inspiration fodder. Normally, erasing a couple lines of black dry-erase ink does not merit a column itself. But today I’m a bit pained, as my idea was as much Hope as substance.

I wanted to write about the Republican Party redonning Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose mantle. About reclaiming the “Progressive” title that was once a hallmark of such policy, and be the party of leadership and vision in an otherwise empty Washington void. About how we they should embrace High Speed Rail, green energy, and a number of other targeted investment strategies that are fundamentally good for business, so our economic recovery is about more than recreating the failed investment bubbles and house-of-cards service sector of 1992 – 2008. About how the Republicans should embrace cities, because that’s where the voters are, and cut support to massive western infrastructure development that is both unsustainable and bloats the federal budget.

But I’m not writing that article, because I don’t write fiction for WNYMedia. It will never happen in my lifetime. Never say never, right? Well, I won’t hold my breath.

In 2001, prior to September 11th, moving the Republican Party to the center was a difficult, though real, possibility. Compassionate Conservative President Bush’s first “major” policy debate involved finding a middle ground on stem cell research. His first agenda items were education and tax cuts; he compromised on both, famously with Ted Kennedy on the second. History had ended in the Clinton era, and the tone of the Presidency and country were quite different, so different it can be hard to relate now. People like David Frum had spots at the table in the White House. Who knows what would have been possible by now.

Instead, Frum (and every voice like him) is sidelined and marginalized. Unlike Democrats, who usually seek to promote the smartest guy in the room, Republicans had been clever enough (since the days of Buckley) to put their wonks in think tanks and their statesmen in office. No longer. The statesmen have retired and the wonks have fled. We are left with tin-pot Tea Party economist politicians who confuse ideology with policy, personal confidence with wisdom, and brinksmanship with leadership. Running a business is a useful skill, but not the only skill needed to run a government. Every lesson is over learned or misunderstood. The ice of competent governance is thinning beneath the national party’s feet.

Unfortunately, the Republican foibles do not cure the Democrat’s own systemic failures. Take branding, which should be a strength for a party dominated by Hollywood and East/Left Coast media types. Republicans won the fight over the debt default as soon as it became about “default.” To a nation of credit card abusers and fleers of underwater mortgages, “default” doesn’t sound so bad. It sounds like the new normal. Strictly speaking, the United States will not “default” on its debt August 2nd. That would require not paying the $385B a year in interest on our Treasury notes, an eventuality no one is considering. What will actually happen is partial government shutdown, as the federal budget expenditures will overnight immediately have to equal revenues. Lopping a trillion off this year’s budget will cancel every road repair project, close every national park, put millions of “non-essential” employees on unpaid furlough, and a variety of other messy outcomes. “Government shutdown” is a winner for Democrats, which is why Republicans love “debt default.” It casts them as the tough-love parents of the discussion.

Democratic troubles extend far past word choice. President Obama and Harry Reid haven’t learned how to govern just because Boehner and Cantor are fighting dissention in the ranks. There is a significant pot/kettle problem when Democrats complain that Boehner does not speak for his entire caucus. Pelosi rarely herds her cats well, but within Democratic circles, such free thinking by rogue representatives is seen as a sign of strength. Bold Republican Tea Partiers, Class of 2010, are for once giving the fitful Democrats a taste of their own disorganized medicine. In the meantime, no one is picking up the “seriousness” slack. 

The main legit critiques of Candidate Obama, that he was an inexperienced legislator and untested leader, are both unfortunately proving to be sound. I did not expect Constitutional Scholar Obama to supplant Political Obama, but how else does one explain his constant deference to Congress for healthcare, debt ceiling and budgetary plans? Yes, we know they write the laws and you sign them. But would a little direction from that bully pulpit kill you? President Obama never learned how to cut a legislative deal himself, and clearly heading up a Presidential campaign, where everyone is on your side and wants to win like you, is not sufficient proof of leadership acumen. 

When Republicans don’t have an easy solution, they deny the problem exists (see: climate change, debt limit). When Democrats don’t have a plan, they blame Bush. Eric Cantor was in the minority so long, in his state legislature and Congress, he doesn’t know how to produce a majority effort. Democrats have been against Bush so long they don’t know how to govern independently, without a specific foil. While all the sides try to grow up, the United States may slip out of our unnatural boom back to our nearly forgotten historic average.

7 Responses to “Political Stories Left Unwritten”

  1. Leo Wilson July 27, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    That “nearly forgotten historic average” story makes me shake. Revenues from that industrial sector are the basis of current spending trends, and we aren’t the only game in the world anymore. In fact, the game has mostly moved offshore and its revenues along with it, leaving its blue collar ex-workers looking for handouts from a government whose revenue source is lenders.

    Scary times.

  2. pirate's code July 27, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    “The ice of competent governance is thinning beneath the national party’s feet.”

    Spot. On.  And, some might argue, true for either major party.

  3. Brian Wood July 27, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    Buck up, little buckaroos. The Republicratic party will stage another fake election for our amusement next year.

  4. Leo Wilson July 27, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Mr. Wood – you’ve been paying attention to campaign funding efforts? It won’t be the Republican party that own the stage, the hall and the sounds system.

  5. Brian Wood July 28, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    Uh-huh. And the difference between Obama and Bush is? Oh, yeah, we’re working on “don’t ask….” Bush got us into two illegal, immoral wars. Obama: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya. Bail the banks and screw the workers? That’d be the two of ’em. But, as I said, they’ll give us another fake election next year.

  6. Leo Wilson July 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    The difference between Bush and Obama is that one has already been voted out of the office, leaving only one to continue to damage us.

  7. peteherr July 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    “When Republicans don’t have an easy solution, they deny the problem exists (see: climate change, debt limit). When Democrats don’t have a plan, they blame Bush.”

    Best observation in the piece. Well done, Brian.

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