Yes, I know there are always 2 sides to every question (sometimes more). But the failure of the supercommittee—the supposed grownups in the room—to reach a budget deal is a one-sided failure. The standard public and media response to blame both sides for not working together is flat out wrong. The responsibility for the failure of the supercommittee falls on the same Republican shoulders as the failure of Congress to do anything constructive.
Partisan rhetoric? Well, I’m certainly partisan, but that phrase makes sense only when the conclusion is wrong. And I’m not wrong. Simple proof: absolutely everyone knows what “working together” means, it means “I’ll give you some of what you want, if you let me have some of what I want.” Any disagreement here? Show of hands? I don’t think even Michelle Bachman could deny this particular segment of reality. Give a little to get a little is not only the core of politics in a democracy, but it’s the way we negotiate through our interactions with everyone—family, friends, work, etc. “Ok, we can have Thanksgiving at our house, but you have to pick up mom and bring dessert and drinks.”
So in this supercommitte failure, who was willing to give a little to get a little? If the answer is “neither side” then I’m engaging in partisan Republican-bashing. Well, let’s see. In short, the biggest bone of contention comes down to this: Democrats want to preserve social programs (eg, Medicare, Social Security) and raise taxes on upper income people, and Republicans want to cut social programs and not raise taxes on anyone. Did the Republicans offer to accept some increase in taxes in return for less severe cuts to social programs. No they did not. Did the Democrats offer to accept cuts in their favorite social programs in return for some increase in taxes? Why, yes they did. Not only in the supercommitte but for the past entire year of the budget debate.
So, the evidence is clear that Democrats have continually been trying to practice normal political (and human) interaction and the Republicans have not. This is a unilateral failure on the part of Republicans to participate in the democratic (small d) process. They want to come over for Thanksgiving and have you cook, serve them and clean up while they sit on the couch watching the game and drinking your beer. They scowl if you ask them to move their feet so you can clean up the crumbs they dropped. Blaming both sides is simply a cop-out, a failure to think clearly in the face of an obvious problem. Come to think of it, that’s the Republican failure as well.
Bloomberg Businessweek just reported that Newt Gingrich received between $1.6 and $1.8 MILLION dollars in “advisory” payments from the mortgage lender Freddie Mac over a several-year period in the past decade. Now first of all, it would be interesting to see just what kind of “advice” is worth that kind of money. Unfortunately we can’t see, because no one at Freddie Mac seems to have any white papers or even a brief Powerpoint presentation of Newt’s pearls of wisdom. Or at these prices, perhaps we should say diamonds of wisdom. Nor has Newt produced any such documents. He doesn’t even say that he wrote something but he lost it, or forgot to turn it in, or the dog ate it. I guess for only $1.6 mil you can’t be bothered to write stuff down. Or it was secret (like Nixon’s nonexistent “secret plan to end the war” that was key to his ’68 election campaign). Or it was simply a little bit of payola to a prominent politician to provide some favorable spin to his colleagues.
Republicans taking payoffs from corporations! Yikes! Yawn. Why even mention it? Well, it’s a little more interesting because, in the apparently now mandatory display of hypocrisy by Republican candidates, Newt subsequently turned on his benefactors, joining the chorus that blamed Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae (and a Democratic Congress) for the financial meltdown. A pretty big chomp of the hand there, Newt. Good thing your “think tank” has been collecting $10s of millions for other “services” (see Washington Post article) so you don’t need to put your snout back in Freddie’s trough.
Now most of us would say that people should be a bit leery of electing someone who turns on his benefactors (read voters) so quickly. However, Newt’s not worried. Biting the hand that feeds you is actually a key part of the Republican and Tea Party message. They want us all to think that the government that has ensured that people can retire before they die and still have access to health care without having to live on dog food is an evil intrusion on our right to die in squalor. They clearly want us to bite the hand—and rip it off, spit it in the gutter and dance around our decaying infrastructure in glee. The corollary message is even more important. The real key to Republican domination is getting everyone to “feed the hand that bites you.” Cutting taxes on corporations that move jobs overseas and on individuals who make millions in the Wall Street Casino is practically the only reason the Republican party exists. Oh, and sending your children to die in foreign countries in the name of “defense.” Feed that hand baby, it’s still got a lot of biting it wants to do.
Haven’t we all seen a cute video of a small town parade where a little kid (usually a boy) jumps out in front of the band and marches ahead of them, waving his arms? He thinks he’s leading them, but of course he’s just staying ahead of them as they go wherever they were planning to go in the first place. He’s really following from in front.
Following from in front is what passes for political leadership in the country these days (and pretty much the whole world, for that matter). The Republican candidates for president, all the little boys and little girls, have jumped in front of the Tea Party band. They aren’t really sure where that band is marching, but they hope that it’s to the White House. And when it gets there, they’ll be in front. Or at least one of them will. It would be kind of cute to watch them elbow and shove each other to be first except that we don’t know what any of them will do when they get there. We don’t know what little Michelle, Herman and Ricky will do because they haven’t a clue themselves. We don’t know what Mitt and Newt will do because they keep jumping in front of different bands and it’s not clear which one it will be when they get there.
Real leadership is something very different. It is not giving people what they want. That’s called managing. Don’t get me wrong, managing is important. We all want the trash picked up, the roads cleared of snow, etc, and thus need mangers who will see that these things are done. But leadership is getting people to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, something they don’t want to do but need to—committing time, money, and perhaps their lives for the collective good. Real leaders are definitely not following from in front. Oh, p.s., we also want leaders who use their powers for good (say, protect the environment) rather than evil (say, the Iraq war, enriching the wealthy). Not seeing a lot of these right now.
Herman deserves a red card (immediate ejection from the playing field, for the non-soccer-aware) for misplaying the Red Card in a Monday interview on PBS (see this report from the Huffington Post). While engaging in generations-old Republican scare tactics over the “Communist threat,” he announced that
“[China] indicated that they’re trying to develop nuclear capability.”
Since of course China has had nuclear weapons since 1964, it confirms what we’ve already suspected: Herman Cain has been clueless for his entire adult life. Someone this ignorant of world events wouldn’t get hired as a legislative assistant by a Democrat, but of course the Republicans, with their bottomless disdain for facts, think he’d make a wonderful president. Much as I’d love to see Obama run against this pizza bumpkin, this ignoramus who prides himself on not knowing the names of foreign leaders such as “the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan,” patriotism requires that our country not embarrass itself any further. Herman Cain, go to the locker room…you’re disqualified.