As a blogger, I’m definitely feeling the heat. My schedule this week (and this weekend) was supposed to be jammed packed, and I knew I’d have little time to blog. What I didn’t know was that I’d be bitten by the bug, beginning Sunday night. Yesterday morning, I felt pretty normal. By noon, however, my temperature reached 99, and by two or three in the afternoon, it had reached the triple digits. It remained there for the rest of day.
It’s now Tuesday morning. Time to type fast.
Let me begin by saying that our President has been primed from the get-go to unify this country. To be sure, his voting record in the Senate was definitely progressive, and he trumpeted several progressive initiatives on the campaign trail. But Barack is a centrist in his style, and he planned to select advisers who are centrist in substance – just look at all the cartwheels he turned to put Republicans in the Cabinet. That’s why he was seen as governing as a center-left politician, which is precisely what the nation appeared to want after eight years of Dick Cheney and his frat-boy sidekick.
Some people don’t understand the value of governing from near the center, but Barack totally gets it. He has always understood that, particularly when times are tough, a President needs the full support of the American people. Successful Presidents are generally optimistic, but there are times when they must call for sacrifice from the entire public. In order for those calls to be answered, as they once were for FDR, it’s imperative that the needed sacrifices are seen as being shared broadly, rather than incurred only by a small group of Americans.
Now let’s insert the Republicans into the equation. It seems indisputable that the party is led by incendiary Rush Limbaugh. Rush doesn’t beat around the bush; he wants Barack to fail, and if that means the American economy has to fail, so be it! He is calling for complete governmental paralysis, or if you prefer, a Hooverian strategy. Hell, maybe the better analogy is Nero; Rush would have the Government invest all its money in fiddles so that we could all listen to sweet music while our nest eggs burn.
The beauty of the new Republican approach is that most of the GOP leaders are so filthy rich that they really aren’t worried if the Dow drops below 5000, the unemployment rate hits 15%, or the exurbs are littered with foreclosure sales. Of course, the curious thing is that Rush commands an army of ditto heads who aren’t nearly so rich, and yet still support the mouth that roars. Anyway, curious or not, that’s the reality, as Michael Steele can attest. In the GOP today, you don’t mess with Rush. And Rush has declared total war against Barack’s Presidency.
Are you all convinced yet about what I said in last week’s blogpost: that even if you are a progressive, you must admit that the implosion of the Republican Party is bad for America? I’m definitely not going to withdraw that thesis. As an example of what the GOP has done to paralyze the media, just look at Keith Olbermann’s show last evening (Monday, March 2nd). Admittedly, Olbermann is a bit of a goofball, but his obsessions reflect those of many on the left, including many in the media. Yesterday was the day the Dow slid below 7000 without even a hiccup, after it was revealed that we would be bailing out AIG to the tune of another $30 billion (on top of the $150 billion those clowns already were given, I mean “lent”). The AIG situation raised some pretty serious questions, wouldn’t you say? Not, apparently, to Olbermann. Virtually his entire program was spent bashing the Republicans. When he wasn’t ridiculing Rush, it was Steele, or if not Steele, it was O’Reilly, and when it wasn’t O’Reilly, it was Cheney … Bush … or Bush’s Department of Justice. I watched to hear if Olbermann would mention anything other than the GOP, and had to wait for 56 minutes of his one-hour show until, finally, he decided to ridicule Blagojevich. That wasn’t exactly the serious topic I had in mind, but at least it was a respite from GOP bashing.
So this is where we’re at. We have a public who, at the moment, would prefer to be governed via a center-left agenda. We have a President who is game to implement such an agenda, and who is working hard to garner support from both his own (majority) party and the minority party. We have an economy that is in dire straights and that requires us all to work together to solve our problems. We have a minority party that’s determined to ensure that the President fails. And we have a majority party composed of many who are so obsessed with the minority party that they can hardly think about anything else, including how to solve our economic problems.
It’s a formula for disaster.
One way of illustrating the mess is to look at this silly “economic redistribution” debate. At the outset, I’d like to suggest that Barack made a strategic error in sticking with his campaign promises not to raise taxes for Americans making under $250,000 per year. You can debate whether that campaign promise made sense one year ago. It surely makes no sense now. Stimulus packages are vital at a time like this. Believe me, I supported the one that was recently signed into law. But the symbolism in raising taxes ONLY on the top five percent of incomes is idiotic. Talk about sending a message that the sacrifices shall NOT be shared! My family makes less than $250,000 per year, but we could afford a tax increase, and we live near Washington, D.C. Nobody can tell me that people who live in Peoria and pull in $235,000 each year can’t afford a tax increase. Stated simply, if a higher percent of people were asked to sacrifice, it might make it easier to sell what Barack must do the most: increase the taxes on the REALLY rich to well above what they were paying under the Clinton administration.
Thanks to the policies that have been around since Reagan, many Americans have so much money that they’re not saving for their great-great-grandchildren. We have people making millions of dollars per year. And people with a net worth of literally billions – even tens of billions. Could they not afford to pay more in taxes? More to the point, why are we afraid to ask them to pay? The answer is obvious – because Barack hasn’t yet made the case for shared sacrifice. He’s still living in a dream world. He’s still telling us that only 5% of Americans need to give anything up. He’s still telling us that, with only minor exceptions, the richest of the rich need be taxed at no higher a rate than that of the soaring 90s. Hell, he’s still saying that next year, the gross domestic product can be expected to grow at a rate of 3.2%. You read that correctly: Obama’s budget PROJECTS a growth rate of 3.2% NEXT YEAR. So where’s the crisis?
Clearly, Barack is unwilling fully to level with us about the extent of our problems. But that could be said about many Presidents. What’s different about this one is that he is quickly becoming the face of bailouts, a concept that can’t possibly sit well with the residents of a staunchly capitalist society. I must admit that the bailouts have me puzzled too. I recognize why we must bail some companies out, but again -- where are the calls for sacrifice? Why are we bailing out the same incompetent companies over and over with so few strings attached? Why, for example, aren’t we freezing compensation for their staffs? As a lawyer for the Government, my compensation is frozen at little over $150,000 (meaning that I didn’t even get the full cost of living increase of some of less-compensated colleagues). Why do I have to make that sacrifice if I didn’t fail on my job, whereas bankers can fail miserably and continue to make multiples of that amount?
Finally, while we’re still on the subject of economics, can someone explain why the United States must spend so much of our resources protecting the security of Europe and Iraq? Economically, there are few forms of spending less stimulative than maintaining troops and weapons oversees. But we seem more than willing to continue with our Cold War mentality that the U.S. must be the world’s policeman. When will some of our allies pitch in as equal partners? Why, for example, do we need to maintain 35,000-50,000 troops INDEFINITELY in Iraq even after our participation in the “war” has ended, whereas other nations won’t have to commit any troops at all? Barack didn’t ask for that stinking war, and his Government shouldn’t have to pay for it until the end of days.
Again, the key concept here is shared sacrifice. Barack needs to successfully make the case to the nation and the world that we all must pitch in together. Everyone who can give must be asked to do so in a meaningful and fair way. Right now, I’m not sure that he has made the case. But … even if the Biblical God were to tap him on the shoulder, teach him precisely who should be asked to sacrifice and to what degree, and inspire him to communicate those teachings in precisely the wisest and most eloquent manner … I still fear that Rush and his fellow Republicans would work diligently to make Barack fail.
That, my friends, is the true state of the union. It’s not quite as uplifting as Barack’s summary, but can you honestly tell me it’s less realistic?