There have been a surprising number of stories, some ridiculous, wondering whether the predicted electoral slaughter will somehow induce a more Republican Congress festooned with Tea Bags and a chastened President Obama to work together in that wonderous fantasy land that exists only in the minds of David Broder fans.
The short answer, already screamed on the House floor by the likely next Speaker, John Boehner, is “hell no!” And now his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, has let slip the Republican’s most important goal for the next two years is “for President Obama to be a one term President.” Message to America: screw you.
Sentient persons hardly needed such candor. The GOP’s nihilist, nation-be-damned attitude has been obvious since at least January 2009. And there’s no logical reason to expect the GOP’s Tea Party elements to behave more responsibly now that the GOP’s barely secret corporate funders recklessly handed them a pretend seat at the table. The dupes will demand their due, so accommodation with the black, socialist anti-Christ is out of the question.
Still, more cynical Republican operatives and propagandists recognize there is a danger in being blamed for the obstruction, government stalemate and resulting damage to the economy and recession victims. It thus falls on the likes of propagandist Marc Thiessen, former Bush speechwriter, to invent a version of history that will deflect blame for the Republicans’ role in crippling the federal government and tanking the economy again.
And they will tank it again. If you apply budget spending austerity and tax cuts to the wealthy to a stagnant economy with 15 million jobless, millions more in foreclosure and perverse wealth distribution, you will get a worse recession with millions more unemployed, impoverished and foreclosed.
But the original stalemate, Thiessen insists, was President Obama’s fault. It began when Obama invited Congressional leaders to discuss ideas for a fiscal stimulus to revive the economy. In Thiessen’s telling, Republicans brought constructive proposals based on tax cuts for everyone, including businesses, but they were rebuffed by Obama, who told them, “elections have consequences.”
Thiessen interprets that to mean Obama never had any intention of taking responsible Republican ideas, and his refusal to work with Republicans is why the bipartisan train got derailed. Thiessen then fantasizes that if only Obama had offered to share power, say by letting the Republican have about half of the stimulus in tax cuts, then a compromise would have been struck; the Republicans would have supported the stimulus and shared honestly in the blame or credit for whatever results it produced.
Once again we are asked to fall into the black hole and squeeze through to the alternate universe on the other side. Because if we remain on our side of reality, the rest of us will eventually recall that the stimulus bill was about 40 percent tax cuts, including Republican favored business tax breaks, a fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax and further tax cuts for most Americans. Had a President McCain or Bush proposed these (as Bush had), there would have been near unanimous Republican support.
You may also recall the White House insisted on the tax cuts even though Christine Romer was advising the new President that tax cuts were not nearly as useful in stimulating growth and jobs as spending. Yet the President limited the proposed stimulus spending both to limit its size (arbitrarily, thanks, Larry, Rahm) and to allow more tax cuts, hoping to get Republican votes. Both unilateral concessions to Republican orthodoxy were largely rejected, but they doomed the stimulus to be too small to fill the gap and poorly targeted. The compromise may well cost Democrats the House and perhaps the Senate. Well done, Rahm.
But Thiessen’s revisionist history doesn’t end with that selective forgetting. He also neglects to mention that Republicans never offered tax cuts as part of a Keynesian package of fiscal stimulus, because they never believed in Keynesian stimulus. Boehner, McConnell and friends told us that over and over. Tax cuts were favored not because they were better stimulus but because they helped cripple government; whatever effect they might have on the economy was secondary, though part of Republican dogma holds that cutting taxes liberates businesses and entrepreneurs, the only sources they acknowledged for real jobs and economic growth. Of course, this required they ignore the value of public investments and the hundreds of thousands of teachers, firemen, police and other state and local workers that would soon be laid off, because government jobs were not “real jobs.”
If Republicans understood and supported Keynesian stimulus, and cared about putting people back to work, they would have demanded a larger stimulus, instead of fanning deficit hysteria. They would be demanding we augment Social Security payments, not cut, defer or privatize them. And they would have realized that federal efforts to increase aggregate national demand would fail if federal spending was mostly offset by state and local budget contraction. Preventing the states from becoming 50 Hoovers was essential to making the federal stimulus work as intended. But Republicans opposed expanded aid to state budgets; even the supposed “moderates,” Snowe and Collins, demanded that aid to states be severely limited.
So there was never any hope that many Republicans would agree to a half and half stimulus package that contained hundreds of billions in new Democratic spending proposals, even though that admittedly ad hoc package of spending measures — especially those targeted at the unemployed — would do more to help the economy and create jobs than tax cuts. When Democrats in the House bundled together their lists of spending priorities after eight years of Bush underfunding and neglect, there was little chance Republicans would vote for them, no matter what tax cuts the stimulus contained.
Thiessen’s effort to deflect blame for past and future Republican obstruction must also ignore every subsequent effort Obama and Senate Democratic leaders made to include them, usually over the objections of Democratic activists and liberal bloggers. Long after it became clear Republicans would obstruct everything, Obama continued to dismay supporters and waste precious time with Senator Baucus’ Gang of Six, orchestrated by the White House in an effort to include Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee on the health reform bill. The White House demanded a similar bipartisan effort, equally frustrating and pointless, on the financial reform bill, and the Administration supported Senators Kerry and Lindsey Graham’s doomed efforts to agree on an energy/climate bill. All that history is now missing from the Thiessen/Republican version.
Despite Thiessen’s fictions, the irony is that Obama didn’t follow through on what he reportedly said — that elections have consequences. His greatest failure was not to understand what his own election meant — a convincing rejection of the Bush regime, and after the financial collapse, a long overdue repudiation of Reaganism and deregulation. What was needed was recognition of the dangers of handicapped, co-opted government in a world of powerful corporations.
Instead, Obama took the view that the foundations were sound; they just needed better management, a little more oversight here, improved incentives there. Leave the banks in charge. Let BP and the oil companies do their thing. Leave the private insurers in place, but put them in a Republican invented exchange, force everyone in, subsidize the premiums, and hope for the best. Obamacare is RomneyCare, straight out of the Republican think tanks.
Instead of accepting the obvious mandate for more fundamentally reforming and replacing these discredited views while the harm they had done was most clearly in the public’s mind, he embraced them all. Predictably, all those forces that wrecked the economy, mismanaged health care, poisoned the Gulf and threaten the climate are more powerful and menacing than ever, Citizens United be praised, but Obama has discredited or abandoned many of the weapons we had to defend ourselves. His failure will now hand government back to the powerful perps, and that’s inexcusable.