Column for 24 January, 2010

A Modest Proposal

“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

–Revelation 3:16

Barack Obama could stand to take a lesson or two from George W. Bush.  No, hear me out.  It was exactly one year ago as I type these words that Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, winning the largest margin of any Democratic candidate in a generation and solidifying majorities in both Houses of Congress.  The Republicans were shattered and in disarray.  It should’ve been the Democratic Millennium, yet here we are just twelve months later with falling approval ratings, an increasingly grumpy electorate, a still sluggish economy and a Democratic Party so incredibly inept that they managed to nominate the only person in the entire state of Massachusetts who could lose the Senate seat of the iconic Ted Kennedy to a former nude model.  What went wrong?  Primarily, it comes down to Obama; more particularly, his touchingly naïve belief in his own campaign speeches about a “post partisan” era and a commitment to “bipartisanship” so great he has been willing to trade away his signature issue, health care reform, and possibly even control of Congress in pursuit of it.  This, frankly, was the only reason I supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries: she knows better.  She knows that the Republic Party has not been the slightest bit interested in anything even approaching bipartisanship in the last 15 years.  If Obama announced tomorrow that he was adopting the 2009 Republican Platform in its entirety and legally changing his name to Ronald Reagan, he would still fail to win a single GOP vote in Congress and Glenn Beck would immediately denounce it as Shining Path Maoism.  They are not interested in “working together,” or “cooperating for the good of the nation” or any such nonsense; they are only interested in watching him fail.  If the President has learned this, then the humiliating and inexcusable defeat in Massachusetts was well worth it.  Now, he must make a decision; Bill Clinton faced a similar choice in 1995, after his health care proposal went down to ignominious defeat and Republicans rode its corpse into Congress, primarily because the Democratic base was depressed over that failure and Clinton’s disastrous decision to hammer through NAFTA.  He responded by surrendering; he never made another strong proposal on any issue and spent the rest of his presidency blunting the sharp edges of GOP initiatives like welfare reform or defending himself from the consequences of his own arrogant amorality, saved only by Republican hypocrisy and hysterical overreach.  A better role model for Obama would be George W. Bush.  You may recall that Bush decisively lost the popular vote in 2000 and would’ve lost the electoral vote as well but for the connivance of his father’s cronies on the Supreme Court.  A Democrat in that position would’ve governed as cravenly as possible, deferring to Republican sentiment in all things.  Not George; he had barely lifted his hand from the Bible when he began pursuing a radical agenda as though he had just won in an LBJ or Reagan-style landslide.  Privatize Social Security!  Turn social services over to churches!  Massive budget-busting tax cuts for the mega-wealthy!  The sky was the limit!  This is the pattern for Obama, who actually legitimately won his election, and by a respectable margin.  So, in that spirit, I offer the following suggestions, knowing that the only reason the President hasn’t already called me for my sage advice is that he was waiting to read it in this column.  First, recognize that “bipartisanship,” like “diplomacy,” is really the art of saying “nice doggy” while you reach around behind you for a rock.  You weren’t elected to play nice with the other kiddies on the playground; you were elected to get the job done.  The Republicans are Just Not That Into You. To heck with them, then.  Push your platform; if they don’t like it, they can win the next election.  After all, the last time the country let them drive the bus they promptly got drunk, crashed through a guardrail and plummeted into an embankment.  Second, get rid of the feckless and useless Harry Reid, surely the weakest Congressional leader since the singularly pathetic Speaker Tom Foley and in dramatic contrast to the machine-like efficiency of Nancy Pelosi.  Appoint him ambassador to somewhere safely far away from any responsibility (which has the added bonus of getting him off the ballot in Nevada, thereby dramatically increasing the Democrats’ chances of holding that seat) and replace him with, well, anyone.  How about Al Franken, since he is one of the few Senate Democrats who can count to fifty.  Next, pass the House version of healthcare using budget reconciliation, which is exactly what George W. Bush did with his major initiatives.  If you can’t do that because some progressives like Russ Feingold have a bizarre reverence for the byzantine, anti-democratic and extra-constitutional Senate Rules, all is not lost.  Break it up and introduce it in chunks, the most popular provisions first.  Dare the Republicans to vote for discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, retroactive cancellation of policies and anti-trust exemptions for the Insurance-Industrial Complex.  Should they want to filibuster, make them do it for real instead of make-believe.  Let John Cornyn stand up for thirty-six hours reading the telephone directory.  Remember Harry Truman in 1948; heck, dust off his old train car in Independence and start a whistle-stop tour against the Do-Nothing Republicans.  At the same time, introduce a jobs bill, combining tax cuts for employers who start hiring with more spending on infrastructure, as the country is teetering on the edge of collapse after decades of neglect and pork-barrel politics.  The economy recovery is painfully slow; people have to be reassured that their government actually remembers them and is trying to help.  If you do that, Mr. President, you have a chance of re-energizing your base (the only people who vote in off-year elections), minimizing your losses and maintaining some momentum for your still-ambitious agenda.  Fail to do so, and you not only doom yourself to irrelevancy, you doom the country to more Republican misrule.  Now, get to work!

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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