For the last two months, life has happened. Other priorities swamped my time for reading and writing about our democracy; far from a disaster, this has proven a wonderful detoxification from the pomp and plunder of American politics. But a funny thing happened on my way back to the routine…I found that nothing had changed. Our politico-media machine isn’t capable, it would seem, of original thought. To twist the popular phrase, not even the names change to protect the innocent.
Illustrating the absurdity, Salon is up with an interesting piece that demonstrates how little the debate has changed on taxes and the deficit since 1993. Some of the key players from that debate, conservatives who screamed that the Clinton tax-hike would end the world, have now been wound up and are regurgitating the same program. In his piece, Steve Kornacki sums up the fundamental GOP problem; the tax hike didn’t hurt the economy, and did create surpluses that started paying the debt down. But these inconvenient truths don’t seem to phase a conservative movement aggressively moving away from its intellectual roots.
If you folks are anything like me, you need to lose some weight and get your blood chemistry under control. Your doctor has probably (many times by now) advised you to get some exercise, prescribed you some medication, and told you to eat more green leafys and less fast food. With just over three weeks separating America from its New Year’s resolutions, you are probably still trying to do the right thing. That won’t be the case for much longer though. When most of us give up the diet in a few weeks however, it won’t be because we think that french fries and inactivity are better for us. We the people are far too intelligent to fall for that kind of emotion-driven, fact-defying thinking. Aren’t we?
All of this effort, it should be noted, is directed at fulfilling the rational solution to a well-defined problem; we are overweight because we take in more calories than we burn. Our arteries are clogged because we take in more fats than we can process. It sounds simple, but we the people have a disturbing tendency to disregard facts we find uncomfortable. And we are perfectly willing to listen to people who spew utter nonsense, so long as the nonsense is wrapped in a tasty package. It only makes sense that we would follow the same logic in our democracy as that which we adhere to in our dietary lives. Currently, the preeminent peddler of nonsense in a tasty wrapper is John Boehner. Now that he is the Speaker of the House, it seems natural for America to go on the diet of the combative Ohio Republican; The Boehner Diet.
It is a new year and a new Congress, but the changing of the calendar has served only to usher in new controversy on a settled subject; health care reform. The Affordable Care Act, passed by majorities in both houses, consolidated into one measure according to congressional rules, and signed by the President, is under attack by revisionist conservatives. Lacking any real, democratic basis for repealing the measure, the conservative mainstream media revived the original law’s biggest boogieman; the Death Panel.
You remember the Death Panel, don’t you? A relic from the battle over Clinton’s health care initiative, Betsy McCaughey, went on the Fred Thompson radio show and blew the debate over health reform wide open. She used an increasingly common (and embarrassingly bipartisan) technique for accomplishing her goal; she took a clause out of the bill and lied her ass off about it. Once she let the false cat out of the bag, Governor Palin and others fanned the flames into an inferno. What once was a debate about various market-based fixes to a broken health care delivery system, degenerated quickly into shouting matches and shrill accusations.
Think what you will about John Boehner, the presumptive Speaker of the House stands as the most powerful opposition leader in American political history. The party discipline enforced by the pugnacious Ohio Republican meant that Democrats with a massive majority were forced to sweat out intra-party compromises to get measures passed in the House. The imagery presented to Americans of a unified Republican House standing in opposition to measures that were always (according to the Minority Leader) “forced down our throats”, cost untold electoral damage to the Democrats in 2010.
The Republicans, led by Mr. Boehner, came out of their 2008 drubbing with a plan: oppose every policy item favored by Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, or President Obama. This opposition was to be reflexive; members were to fight legislative offerings regardless of content, purpose, or ideological origin. The Republican Senate had the occasional defector; not so in the House. Now the unified and flush with success House Republicans are poised to run a more aggressive playbook during this new Congress, and the new Speaker is poised to run his gameplan from a position of strength. But who is John Boehner, and what are his plans for 2011?
In one week, the voters of our democracy will not be casting ballots on the issues. At least, they won’t be voting on the issues that are reported in the conservative mainstream media. Over the last weeks and days, I have seen report after report writing and speaking about the “voter anger” focused on the deficit and debt. Yet poll after poll has found that voters are angry about one thing above all others; jobs. Next Tuesday, we will not be voting on the primary tool used to address the real source of voter anger, the American Recovery Act. The artist formerly known as the Stimulus is one of the least understood and most maligned pieces of legislation in world history…and we aren’t voting on its substance.
The Recovery Act was the single largest working class tax cut in American history…at $287 billion it dwarfs any other package passed in terms of tax relief for regular working Americans. The rest of the bill, famously, was that horrible orphan known as government spending. Military barracks renovation, military hospital renovation, road work, rural water projects, rural broadband projects, wind farms, brown-water renovation (most of our nation’s commercial river traffic is supported by infrastructure that is 3/4 of a century old)…you name it, money was spent on it.