BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
I can just picture the smiles on the faces of my fellow Democrats as Governor Jindal concluded his address Tuesday night. We were all witnessing an implosion. It was as if the Republican Party was blowing up before our very eyes – an old relic, once great, but now way out of date. And finally, it was saying goodbye. Like an old football stadium that once hosted the Super Bowl but can no longer support a viable franchise in today’s economy, the dynamite had already been planted, and the time had come for the chairs, the stairs, and everything else in the building to explode … to make way for the condos that would take their place.
Of course, there’s only one problem with that analogy. Usually, when a stadium is destroyed, there’s a replacement – something more state-of-the-art, and probably not too far away. This one venue may be gone, but the franchise lives on … and the competition will be as fierce as ever. I don’t know about you, but that’s not exactly how I felt Tuesday night.
At 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, when President Obama was well into his speech, you couldn’t help but be spellbound. Even the conservative pundits lauded his oratorical skills. Some even called it “Reaganesque,” which is like me comparing a modern philosopher to Spinoza – praise just doesn’t get any higher.
After Barack finished and the shouting ended, it was time for Bobby Jindal to give the Republican response. Man did he make an impression. Like many blue-blooded Americans, my television was turned to MSNBC, and on that network, Jindal couldn’t even get out his first words before someone sighed “Oh God.” It was loud enough that you couldn’t mistake the statement. As we’ve since learned, the speaker was Chris Matthews, who was viscerally reacting to the amateurish stagecraft. Little did he know that the visuals would turn out to be the best thing about the speech.
For starters, Bobby Jindal sounded like one of those inarticulate high school students struggling to enunciate his words during a presentation. The contrast between him and that other fresh-faced Republican, the one who shoots moose, couldn’t have been starker. Call Sarah Palin what you want – “a hyper-ambitious, small-minded, parochial, demagogue” works for me – but the woman can give a speech. She’s got natural talent as a thespian. Jindal, though, was obviously out of his element with every word he managed painfully to pronounce. “Oh God” is right.
And then, there was the speech’s content.
To rebut the soaring hopes of an Obama, Jindal gave a tribute to the word reactionary. He so wanted to turn back the clock to a time of small government, a time when Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” gently escorted us to prosperity. It mattered not that this nation has historically turned to its government to lead us from a precipice; Jindal was trapped in the days of Coolidge or Harding. Over and over again, Jindal described government as a villain and tax cuts as a bromide. In that regard, he didn’t exactly warrant points for originality. But there was one original moment – when he praised himself, a Republican statesman, for the sensible way he rushed to the aid of the New Orleans people during Hurricane Katrina. I bet you never thought you’d hear a speech where someone could boast about the Republican reaction to Katrina, but Jindal couldn’t resist the temptation. He was just so damned proud of himself.
Little did Jindal know the irony of his references to Katrina. For it was in the same flat speech Tuesday night when Jindal, striving to come up with examples of Government overspending in the recent stimulus package, cited “$140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’” Amazing. One minute he’s patting himself on the back for coming to the rescue of Louisiana residents after a natural disaster, and the next minute he’s showing off his obliviousness to the needs of folks in Washington State, Hawaii, or Alaska, where natural disasters include volcano eruptions. Something tells me that his rival, Ms. Palin, would have known better.
And that last sentence, for me, pretty much says it all. The Republican Party has reached the point where even Sarah Palin looks like a shining star. The cupboard is just that bare. Some experts are now saying publicly that the party’s leader, de facto, is Rush Limbaugh. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t even Limbaugh see himself primarily as an entertainer? Isn’t that a bit like the Democratic Party being led by Keith Olbermann?
Back in the day when the Republicans controlled the courts, the House, the Senate and the White House, many of us Democrats yearned for the day when the GOP would render itself almost totally irrelevant. Well, now that this day is upon us, let me ask you this question: is this good for America? In a time of natural crisis, is it healthy to see one party led by a truly brilliant, if untested, politician, and another party led by, in the immortal words of soon-to-be-Senator Al Franken, a “Big, Fat Idiot”?
Hell, watching Rush Limbaugh run the GOP is like watching the Democratic Party led by … Al Franken! And no, this isn’t healthy for a democracy with a two-party system.
Here’s the problem: Obama really is a novice at his job. For his incredible talents, he has yet to demonstrate the kind of political courage needed in times like these. Maybe Obama will rise to the occasion. Maybe his budget will show the willingness to impose massive sacrifices on those who can bear them the most, and we all will be wowed by the way his substance matches his rhetoric. But as of now, there is plenty of room to be skeptical. There’s plenty of cause to fear that the Obama program will involve heaping more and more debt on future generations, while offering more and more questionable bailouts – like the horrid TARP bill that Obama supported last fall, truly an example of “trickle-down” if ever I’ve seen one.
So, if it turns out that Obama’s proposals are less than perfect … if it turns out that one or more of his economic ideas miss the mark … if it turns out, say, that he really needs to nationalize some banks but lacks the gumption to act so “socialistically” even when necessary … who is going to serve as our venerable opposition? Who will have the credibility to explain what’s wrong with what Obama is saying, and point out a sensible alternative? The Republicans? Don’t make me laugh. They cannot even trot out an adult politician when they need one.
For those of my fellow liberals who believe that the “opposition” can effectively come from the Left, don’t be so sure about that. Obama has given the Left plenty to be nervous about, particularly when it comes to his adventurism in the place known as the “Graveyard of Empires,” Afghanistan. As for Iraq, my understanding is that rather than removing virtually all the troops within 16 months, he expects to leave a contingent of 30,000-50,000 troops in that nation through much or all of 2011. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound a whole lot different than what Bush might be saying right now if he were still, perish the thought, President. But is anyone on the Left calling Obama on this commitment to nation-building halfway across the world? Is anyone questioning how, when our economy is tanking, we can possibly afford such a huge military presence in central Asia? Of course not – our “progressive” commentators are having way too much fun bashing the GOP.
Meet the new piñata – big, fat, white-male idiots (plus a token “Hockey-Mom” and the swarthy Governor from the Bayou). Given the choice between taking on those hypocrites and criticizing one of the most inspiring political talents in recent history, it’s not hard to see why Obama has the stage all to himself.
Personally, I’m still proud to have supported Barack’s candidacy, and I can’t envision a more promising statesman on the scene today. But now is not a time for a dictatorship, no matter how “benign” the leader. Democracy requires dissent to improve upon other forms of government, and dissenters require credibility to serve their venerable role in a democracy. Who in the Republican Party – the Party of pork and deficits when in power and fiscal conservatism when they’re not – has the least bit of credibility right now? None that I can think of. Instead, they have left us with the image of Governors like Jindal – inarticulate, pandering to the hard-right, and ultimately unable even to make a simple political statement. Jindal, you see, bashed the stimulus plan relentlessly, and then decided to put his state’s money where his mouth was by turning down nearly $100 million of stimulus funds. Pretty dramatic stuff, until it was reported that Jindal was willing to accept the other 98% of Louisiana’s $3.8 billion in stimulus money. If Jindal’s point was that the “infamous” stimulus package was only 98% critical, well then by God, he sure made that point crystal clear. Doh!
That’s today’s GOP – always seeming to be on the wrong end of the sound bite. Always seeming to be governed by politics first, rather than the best interests of the nation. It might be good comedy to those of us who grimaced through Gore v. Bush, but we need more than comedy. As Obama himself recognizes, at a time of national crisis, we need all hands on deck.