President Obama announced last week plans to speak next Wednesday night to Congress in order to propose a bi-partisan set of steps to address the number one issue facing the country: jobs. When such a request is made, normally the decorum is for the Congress to accept — having the President come to speak on the biggest issue facing the country, and to offer suggestions on how to move forward is a big deal.
Instead, after initially signalling acceptance (which is why the White House went public) Speaker Boehner changed his mind, and decided that he would not accept Obama coming on Wednesday and instead invited him for Thursday. This would mean he’d have to speak earlier since at 8:30 EDT much of the country would be watching the Packers-Saints game, a rematch of the Super Bowl to open the 2011 NFL season.
The reason was totally political. First, many Republicans are still in a tea party “take no prisoners” mood, and rather than working to solve the country’s problems their most important job is to try to defeat and humiliate Obama. If they can make him change the date of his speech he looks weak, and they act big and tough. It’s rather pathetic, but apparently for some this brings great satisfaction.
A less convincing reason is that a Republican primary debate was being held. I believe a few have already been held, and primary debates in the late summer of the year before the election are hardly big events. Viewership is limited to only the political junkies, and it’s on cable. In terms of relative importance, the debate is meaningless — and could easily be moved if they really wanted to.
So the President again is reaching out to Republicans, set to offer a bi-partisan approach on jobs, and Boehner is again acting childish. The GOP muffed a huge compromise that would have cut spending by $4 trillion and brought non-military domestic spending to the lowest level than anytime since Eisenhower, all because they couldn’t accept closing a few tax loopholes on the very wealthy. Given the massive shift of wealth from the middle class to the most wealthy, the idea that the cost of getting the budget in line should be born by the working middle class and poor while those who benefited the most and have the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world should play nothing is perverse.
The left hated Obama’s compromise. They correctly noted it was the kind of compromise you’d expect a moderate Republican to propose, with Democrats proposing an increase on actual tax rates. Obama knew that was impossible for the Republicans to support so he offered something he thought anybody could accept.
Nope, the GOP is in a no-compromise, slash and burn mode, with tough talk, bravado, and anti-Obama rhetoric that reaches absurd heights not seen since the right’s attacks on Clinton in the early 90s. Perhaps a bit drunk on the success of the 2010 election, it’s all political, all partisan, and more extreme than the Republican party at any time since the early fifties. It’s not all Republicans, it’s just that the tea party wing has the moderates running scared.
Eisenhower once responded to a Democratic call to cut taxes by saying cutting taxes when you have budget problems is wrong — Eisenhower was trying to keep the budget under control. Republicans always had the anti-tax wing of the party, but it was small; the tea party partisanship, often very extreme, anti-government and ideological, rarely dominates the party. Again, only in the early 50s during the McCarthy era has the GOP drifted into such extreme territory. Fiscal conservatism traditionally trumped anti-tax ideology for conservatives.
Most people know I was once a Republican. I was a state officer of the South Dakota College Republicans. I was at the Detroit convention that nominated Ronald Reagan, and I worked for a Republican Senator in the eighties. It’s not just that the party moved away from me, though I did like Ford and Dole, but I also started to study advanced economics and political science, and realized that a lot of the free market slogans of the GOP are simply wrong. The market is not magic, without a state to regulate and guide it the powerful elite will dominate and control — third world conditions happen without a good legal regulatory system. Those who try to defend a total free market approach always drift into abstract theroy; it doesn’t work in the real world. I also rejected the Jerry Falwell “moral majority” idea, which seemed to be big government at its worst — trying to implement religious ideals with the power of the state.
Yet I resisted the Democrats. I voted third party most of the time and yearned for a perspective where community is taken seriously and ideology gives way to practical problem solving. There is a wing of the Republican party that believes that way (Jon Huntsman is probably the best example – and I’ve voted for both my moderate Republican Senators), but right now they are being shouted down by the ideologues. Preisdent Obama (and earlier President Clinton) are moderate/pragmatic Democrats who often angered their left wing, but yet have been villified as “socialists” and “unamerican” by the far right. Talk radio sets the meme, and many on the right follow, egged on by partisan blogs.
John Boehner’s snub of the President is the latest example of this effort to humiliate, put roadblocks in front of, and refuse to compromise with the Democrats. For the left wing of the Democratic party, this is fine — it proves that you can’t work with the Republicans like Obama is trying to do, so therefore it’s better to simply match their partisanship and play hardball. Obama’s resisted that. I believe he sees the office of the Presidency as above that — and he’s right.
I think this may be the point where the right wing of the GOP has jumped the shark. As the rhetoric remains shrill, and Obama takes the bully pulpit to make a call for bipartisanship to solve the country’s problems, the Republican primary is going to give the Democrats oodles of material for the general election. Given what I wrote about a few days ago on the 13 keys, Obama is in a stronger position than Republicans realize. Moreover, his current disapproval ratings are driven up by people on the left who are disappointed with Obama’s centrism. Most will come home in 2012, especially in swing states during an emotional campaign. And don’t forget the way the Republicans are making it relatively easy for Obama to get Latino votes — their stance on immigration or in some cases “English as the national language” make a group that should lend the Republicans considerable support a solid Democratic bloc.
A defeat in 2012 (especially if a significant number House seats are lost — which is very possible) would be a repudiation of the tea party rhetoric and the extremist wing of the party. Right now the extremists know they have power in primaries and are scaring the moderates. I suspect this is their peak. Obama got Bin Laden, had success in Libya and may have success in Syria before the election. As he makes a push on jobs there is some evidence that the economy is slowly moving forward. Given how bad economic conditions have been, Obama’s personal popularity has remained surprisingly high. If the Republicans lose, moderates like Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown (if he gets re-elected) and Jon Huntsman can offer a new vision for the party and be poised to have a couple very good election cycles.
Because if the GOP is Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry…well, that appeals to a small segment of the population and is not the stuff of a major party.