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