Washington's Three Ring Circus

It shouldn’t be surprising to those of us who physically restrain our gag reflex and endeavour to observe or participate in the American political spectacle that a trending topic on Twitter this past weekend was the combination of a four-letter word, the word “you” and “Washington”.

For a long time now, what goes on in the Beltway has ceased to serve the interests of the vast majority of Americans, in that shockingly most of us don’t have weekly passes to the Creation Museum, or attend performances at the David H. Koch Theatre while monocle-clad and porting brandy snifters. But the current disaster, over an artificially created “debt ceiling” (an artifact of World War I) that’s been a non-event in the past, is pushing our political culture towards what was previously reserved only for Barnum & Bailey.

It is key to note, as I did in my last column here, that the Republican Party bus is being driven by people so at odds with reality that they likely think Darwin was a character on Bewitched.

Speaker of the House John Boehner is a ribald mobster whose brain has seemingly liquefied into a thick stew of sun block and Chattanooga Chew. House Majority Leader and Whiner-in-Chief Eric Cantor has shown all the temperament of playground time at my four-year-old’s pre-school, and an intellect to match.

And Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, almost literally in bondage to any corporate entity that can raise him five-figures-plus in legalised bribes we call campaign contributions, possesses such an inverted chin that I’m only left to conclude that it’s a Pinocchio-mirroring act. Each time he lies to avoid responsibility for the benefit of his corporate benefactors, it retreats one inch further into his jaw.

Of course, this is what President Obama and the Democratic leadership (and sadly too many members who didn’t demand Obama use the 14th Amendment) want you to see, to obscure the fact that it is his lack of leadership and a political team that should be fit to be drawn and quartered that has empowered this clan of kooks to determine whether the US economy takes a horse and buggy ride into Clayton Ravine, dragging the world economy down with it.

There are varying theories for why President Obama always punts on first down and negotiates by handing the opposition a paddle and saying “thank you sir, may I have another”. But any one of them is predicated on weakness, a man too feeble to stand up to Republicans and official Washington and do what he believes. Either that, or he is too weak of character to digest the fact that, for example, cutting taxes for billionaires while cutting Social Security cost-of-living increases for impoverished seniors is not what one might call a “moral” decision (these two possibilities not mutually exclusive–and his behavior is likely some combination of both).

This is only more true when one runs a campaign during which they say, in the middle of a nationally televised debate with the opposition, “John McCain’s campaign has … suggested that the best answer to the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments or raise the retirement age. I will not do either.”

Or when they promise to end mammoth tax cuts for the richest of the rich, put in place by The Great Unificator – George W. Bush.

A candidate who said all that, and meant it, might have accepted a proposal by Senator McConnell to avoid any responsibility as usual by turning the debt ceiling over to Obama, allowing him to raise it without touching Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Here is what’s even more maddening. When President Obama was negotiating with Republicans in December, and allowed tax-cuts-for-Kardashians to be extended, he “received” something else – something that, like raising the debt ceiling, should have simply been a given (especially during a severe economic downturn) – an unemployment benefits extension.

President Obama could also have made raising the debt ceiling a condition for that particular cave-in. He could have reminded people that during the presidency of George W. Bush, Vice President and Chief of Shooting People in the Face, Dick Cheney, remarked that “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter”.

Obama could even have informed people exactly who had created these deficits – out loud no less!

Many political commentators were already discussing this as the next big fight, knowing that the Tea Party-backed blockheads now populating Congress would go where nobody had gone before and try to take down the US economy, if only to make a point to the voices in their heads – the ones they think originate with God, but more likely are due to a daily overdose of high-fructose corn syrup and hot toddies.

But President Obama doesn’t like to fight, even if it’s with people who see Reagan as being somewhat of a commie liberal for raising the debt ceiling 18 times during his presidency, with no conditions ever attached to these raises. In fact, it may be Obama’s seeming acceptance of a Washington-manufactured “conservative consensus” on economic issues that has led conservative scholar Bruce Bartlett, in Fiscal Times, to compare Obama’s “moderate-conservative” governance with that of Richard Nixon (something he is not the first to do).

With one exception, of course. Nixon was further to the left.

So that is where we are today, with a Democratic president governing to the right of Nixon and a Republican House of Representatives governing to the right of William The Conqueror. Meanwhile, the multiple polls that show Americans want to raise taxes on the rich, protect their Social Security, and see our government act like adults are ignored.

Not too long ago, in saner times (1954, to be exact), Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in a letter to his brother Edgar, “should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labour laws and farm programmes, you would not hear of that party again in our political history”. He went on to say that those who would repeal these items were “negligible and stupid”.

Sadly, they are not negligible in Washington, but they most certainly are stupid. And worst of all, not only is the conservative party in this country pushing for these crazy ideas, but the liberal party has leaders willing to entertain them or, out of fear, bargain them away.

To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, “Where have you gone, Dwight D. Eisenhower?”

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An earlier and slightly different version of this column appeared at Al Jazeera English

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Cliff Schecter

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • He always seems to choose the perceived path of greatest popularity. He’s not interested in principles or what the Democratic Party might want.

  • to do anything remotely rezembling the right thing would be a large, angry, liberal mob protesting in the mall for an extended period. Unfortunately, most of the proggy blogs that could organize this (DKOS, MoveOn, FDL maybe) are throwing enough cold water on the rage to keep this from happening. Obama might be the same as McCain in a lot of ways, but in one he is very different: the dude is ultimately spineless. Light a big enough fire under his tush and he’ll jump as high and as fast as you like, just ask the LBGT community. We need to emulate their campaign of pressure and before the 2012 window passes us by.

    He can be manipulated by fear, why not give it to him?

  • his conduct of the Presidency is affected by the large number of death threats he gets daily. The number of threats is reported to have greatly increased over that of any previous president.
    Yes, many of them are not reported to him, but I’m certain that he is aware of the background noise.

    “All I know is just what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers

  • from Pat Lang’s blog

    “As far as President Obama goes, I have come to see him as a latter day Rockefeller Republican. He is a creature of Wall Street, not the American people. He has bonded with leading Republican lawmakers in a way that goes way beyond his fractured relations to the Congressional Democrats. He practically got down on his knees last week to beg Tim Geithner to stay on as Treasury Secretary, at least through the 2012 elections. To even think of this President as a Democrat, at least in the tradition of FDR or JFK or even LBJ, is beyond my imagination. True, there have been Wall Street Democrats down through the ages. Martin Van Buren’s name comes to mind. August Belmont, the Rothschild banker who came to New York City and became the Chairman of the Democratic Party (nationally) for nearly 40 years, is another. But Obama goes way beyond that. Maybe he didn’t “cave in” to the radical rightwing of the Republicans. Maybe he is just a Rockefeller Republican, and the whole rotten and already-failed deal fits his ideological axioms to a tee.’

  • …community would tell you, based on what activist friends of mine in that community have told me, is that you should prepare for a generational struggle and that if you think it was purely about the campaign of pressure around the 2012 election you are in error. That was only the latest schwerpunkt – a lot of work (wild understatement) went into preparing the battlefield so that opportunity could be exploited.

    Bluntly, I don’t think the self-identified progressives have the stones, the patience, the skill or the creativity for that type of struggle.

    “For the most part, when people discuss international law they are using it as a tool in a broader policy debate…. Very few people, it turns out, care about international law for its own sake.” ~ David Bosco

  • …extremely viable. What lacks more than anything IMPAO is discipline and the willingness to actually work hard at it or sacrifice anything for a cause over an extended period. As an example, for all the vitriol around here about fracking and water usage, how many folks have even begun to reduce their driving or other energy usage? I’d bet it’s a small component compared to the number decrying it.

    “For the most part, when people discuss international law they are using it as a tool in a broader policy debate…. Very few people, it turns out, care about international law for its own sake.” ~ David Bosco

  • find more here who are conscious of their energy use than in the general population. I’m not talking a leader in the sense of leading but in help in coordinating.

  • He isn’t in opposition to the GOP. He carries water for them.

    Don’t fall for the theatre. The money that put him in the White House on 2008 and will again in 2012, has made damn sure he will carry out their agenda.

    The “What’s a poor President to do?” act is just part of the circus.

  • …other day – middle class people feel bad about doing things they know are bad, but they rationalize effectively and do them anyway. That’s what being middle class is all about: it’s not “never having to say you’re sorry” it’s more “choosing to say you’re sorry about many, many beautiful and convenient things”. 😉

    Seriously, just consciousness doesn’t cut it. We’ve been mired in consciousness-building exercises around environmental (and other) issues for my entire adult life. At a certain point one stops being sopped off by thoughts of raising consciousness and just does things.

    “For the most part, when people discuss international law they are using it as a tool in a broader policy debate…. Very few people, it turns out, care about international law for its own sake.” ~ David Bosco

  • maybe I don’t make a big difference by being energy conscious by myself but that doesn’t mean I should stop. It actually is something i have always been conscious of, ever since I was 8 and participated in the first Earth Day. But hey oil prices dropped, must be time to power up the SUV assembly lines . 😉

  • I sometimes wonder if he would be willing to negotiate 2 = 2 = 4 (in decimal)

    The origin of the universe has not as yet been shown to be a conspiracy theory

  • As there don’t seem to be volunteers for self-immolation on the White House lawn or even civil disobedience right now.

    The origin of the universe has not as yet been shown to be a conspiracy theory

  • …being conscious is better than being unaware. The central issue for me is that it simply isn’t enough by itself. If consciousness never results in changed behaviour, then it isn’t terribly useful. Personally I find that a lot of this tracks back to perceived inability to affect things of a given scale through personal action, leading folks to use it as rationalization fodder.

    My personal formative experience with this was when I was studying at Cambridge – at the time, the University was under a lot of financial pressure and had identified their power usage as a possible area where they could save money. In all the buildings there were these little stickers by the light switches telling people how much the University spent on power and reminding them to turn off the lights and such when they weren’t needed. They refreshed the stickers over time and by the end of something like a year or two they had gone from consuming something like a bit over £10 million to £1-2 million with the largest part coming from changes in human behaviour around use [i.e., from conservation] (my memory is hazy on the exact figures and I wasn’t there for the start of the program). Short form of all this, I ride a bike and take transit for almost everything (last year I drove a bit less than 400 miles using a car sharing service) and that’s only one domain. This habit that we have of slapping the blame label on every other entity and never looking at our personal behaviours dispassionately does not help us in addressing these challenges.

    “For the most part, when people discuss international law they are using it as a tool in a broader policy debate…. Very few people, it turns out, care about international law for its own sake.” ~ David Bosco

  • in the US concerning this is the republican party. To the point of the obstruction of phasing out energy inefficient light bulbs for efficient ones. They declared that socialism! Or the recent dumb ass attacks on poor little spongebob. 😉 But we can individually try and we can pass on the ideas to children. Even if it is to only get them in the habit of shutting doors and turning lights off. However in the US the almighty buck rules and energy efficiency and environmentalism take second place to shareholders. 🙁

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