Tag Archives: Boehner

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.

Three Thoughts

19 Jul

1. It’s great to see that James O’Keefe has set up another entrapment video, this time attacking Medicaid, (well, more specifically a county employee in Ohio), by reinforcing the most rank, ignorant stereotypes of people in need of government services – this time, posing as Russian mobsters with “gold plated” engines. Also good to see that he’s preying on Americans’ inherent politeness, even in the face of rank obnoxiousness, and trying to turn that into a scandal.

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/SpeakerBoehner/status/90913667398385664″%5D

2. If Speaker Boehner is really serious about “stopping the spending binge” in Washington, when can we expect him to call for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya?

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/SpeakerBoehner/status/93018233585664000″%5D

Really? Neither will Republicans – and they’re the ones pushing for a balanced budget amendment. So, that’s sorted.

3. Let’s say that a handful of Mayor Byron Brown’s City Hall operatives went out of their way to circulate Conservative Party petitions for Chris Collins, and let’s say they did so in the wake of that big Cuomo-brokered peace treaty, which has been carefully followed by the Higgins, Grassroots, and ECDC/Hoyt camps since being agreed-to.  What would the political calculus be for the Mayor of the state’s second-largest city to buck the express wishes of the most popular governor in the United States?


11 Jul

If the federal government doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd, it’s feared that the country’s inability to pay its bills and/or debts will plunge the world economy into yet another downward spiral, rivaling the 2008 meltdown. Or possibly something worse than or equal to the Great Depression.  Or perhaps it’s exactly what Dr. Paul ordered.  Consider:


It’s too early to analyze whether the President’s strategy in “negotiating” with congressional Republicans is yet another awful example of horse-trading in the face of intransigence, or instead some tactical rope-a-dope brilliance.

But in the midst of an economic recovery that isn’t creating any jobs, I get the sense that it’s fundamentally irresponsible for any part of the federal government to further harm everyone’s already shaken confidence – in the economy, in employment, in production or consumption, in government in general. While Eric Cantor stands to personally profit from a federal default, the party to which he belongs is busy yelling about deficit and spending reduction, all of which signifies nothing in the face of President Obama’s proposal for a package that would, in ten years, reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.

Obama has, in fact, infuriated Democrats by proposing cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security entitlement benefits. The deal he’s proposed would seem to be exactly what the Republicans say they want – significant spending cuts, reformation of entitlement programs, and deficit reduction. The reason they won’t go along? The proposed rescission of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Not for nothing that even the Republican patron saint Reagan raised taxes when necessary, and that tax rates are at historic lows yet doing absolutely nothing to move the economy along, Boehner and his minions are showing that they’re not really about spending cuts and deficit reduction. They’re all about protecting millionaires and billionaires from an incremental rise in their effective income tax rate.

Seriously – they’re willing to plunge the world economy into possible depression in order to ensure that Paris Hilton keeps a bit more of her money. And the recovery? Because the stimulus was weakened in an effort to gain Republican support that never came, it wasn’t enough to do what it should have.

David Frum explains that the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by invoking the debt ceiling as the “no deal” option. He compares 2011 to 1990, when the Republicans raised the top marginal rate from the high 20s to the low 30s – the act that blew George H.W. Bush’s “no new taxes” lip-reading pledge out of the water.

Had House Republicans succeeded in derailing the 1990 deal, things would have bumped along as before. The deficit would have stayed big, interest rates would have stayed high, growth would probably have remained slow. Unpleasant, but not the end of the world.

But this time there is a hard and dangerous deadline – a deadline imposed by Republicans themselves. By deploying the debt-ceiling weapon, Republicans denied themselves the option of choosing “no deal.” Unlike 1990, this time, there must be a deal, and if Republicans cannot get a deal that their most radical members like, they will have to settle for a deal that their most radical members do not like.

This predicament creates powerful temptations for individual Republicans to defect from the party coalition in hope of gaining for themselves the kind of credit and clout that Newt Gingrich got by defecting in 1990. This time, however, defection carries a heavier price: a real risk of tumbling the country and the world into financial crisis.

Back in January, John Boehner promised it would never come to this. I believed him – and argued vigorously on television against those who predicted that the radicals would carry the day. It looks like I was wrong about that, at least that I have been until now.

Another writer at FrumForum writes:

In fact, a growing faction (and I count a few people I consider friends as members of it) somehow seems to think that a default on the debt would get the nation’s house into order on the basis that it would cut spending. It would cut spending, and cause a worldwide depression at the same time. Republicans need to do a lot more to convince voters that they can govern and a legitimate jobs plan would be a very good start.

The Republican strategy at this point appears to be “destroy the economy so Obama can’t be re-elected”. That may, in fact, happen. And maybe President Bachmann or Romney can fix the economy by further cutting taxes. But it’s doubtful.

If Boehner could get his caucus to back the proposal now before them, it would be historic and may actually help the economy in a palpable way. But the serious Republicans have let the tea party and the idiot Republicans (Bachmannites, Palinists) gain too much influence.

So, Americans wait for Washington to get serious. The world waits for us to get serious. The economy treads water while Washington dithers. The culture in Washington hasn’t changed – with Obama it’s worsened because it takes two to tango, and the Republicans have strategically sidelined themselves.

Mr. Cantor suggests that a more modest $2 trillion in deficit reduction should instead be pursued. Thinking small, this solution would give Republicans everything they want (weakening of the social safety net), with absolutely no pain being felt among the wealthiest Americans. The middle and working class are getting historically shafted in this country while both parties tiptoe around the very wealthy because of the idiotic way in which we fund elections.  When someone calls the GOP on this, they get accused of class warfare; in fact, it’s the Republicans who are engaging in class warfare on behalf of society’s haves.  Calling them out on it is called “truth”, not “class warfare”.

The country is pretty fundamentally broken. One hopes it can be fixed soon, and that serious people begin to treat serious matters seriously. One hopes that Washington can start leading with thoughtful compromise, rather than bumper sticker slogans.  One hopes that the interests of the country and her people someday trump the interests of partisanship or campaign financiers.