Folly, cynicism, arrogance, hubris. These are words that express this weekend’s goings-on in Washington. The blatant power politics, the cynical vote-buying, the outright fraud – all of this is legislating at its worst. Add to that the complete betrayal of Obama’s promises of openness and collegiality, the post-partisan presidency, all of that: thrown overboard like unnecessary ballast in a storm. Like Jeremiah Wright, or any other inconvenient baggage, when it’s not needed, over the side it goes.
It is truly remarkable how little Obama seems to care about the new wave of American politics that he promised to usher in. Millions of people voted for him because he seemed so moderate, so well-intentioned, an antidote to the snarling partisanship that had characterized both the Clinton years and the Bush years. The American people were tired of it. They wanted – and voted for – someone who would return civility to the capitol, who would reach across the aisle to galvanize support from Republicans and Democrats alike to go to work on America’s problems. McCain saw those promises for the illusion that they were, as did many of us who were not seduced. Obama had no history whatsoever of working across party lines while a Senator. But McCain’s warnings were in vain: he was the cross-party maverick, but the press was so enamored of Obama’s dulcet tones and upward-lifted chin that they attributed to him virtues that they simply made up, and the public was swept along on a wave of wishful thinking.
And from the get-go, Obama and his allies in Congress completely shut out Republican participation. The $787 billion emergency stimulus, the late budget bill of February, the cap and trade legislation in the House, the health care bill in both Houses – few if any Republican votes for any of it. Granted, they didn’t need the GOP – the Democrats had the raw power of substantial majorities. But this was politics as usual, not the new era Obama promised us. Their reasoning was, “we won.” So promises of a new politics gave way to the hard shoulder of power, and the left wing came to rule.
And to make matters worse, Obama seemed to go out of his way to demonize the Bush administration and its policies, even when they adopt them themselves. He still can’t bring himself to say the surge in Iraq was a success, even though the policies he favored would not have permitted the “responsible exit” from Iraq that he is currently pursuing. He continues to state, as if it is a given, that America “lost its way” in the wake of 9-11 – music, perhaps, to the ears of the left, but not the kind of talk that will heal the nation’s divides. And the antagonism is not limited to Bush & co: any opinion-maker, public or private, who rises to dispute the steamrolling, be it Fox News, the Tea Party activists, or Republican critics, is deligitimated. Not just criticized but personally attacked to undermine the legitimacy of the opposing view.
But they misinterpreted their mandate. Millions of people voted for Democrats because they were not Republicans. I think the worst aspect of Bush’s legacy is that he left not only his party in disarray but the Democrats in sole control of the levers of power. This enabled the abuse the country is suffering now. But voters did not want what they are getting from this group: undisciplined spending, deficits that will mortgage our grandchildren’s futures, and the only momentum in Washington is to spend yet more money. Any sentient being knows that the inevitable result will be more taxes. Anyone who thinks about it for more than a moment will realize that “the rich” simply do not have enough money to pay all these bills, which means the tax man is coming for John Q Middle Income. Regardless of Obama’s hand-on-heart “not one single dime” pledge. Puh-leeze. It is a tribute to self-deception that voters heard the incompatible promises between this pledge and Obama’s policy ambitions and managed to believe in both of them.
And now it is becoming evident that all those promises were a sham. The new politics of respect and civility – supplanted by cynical power and vote-buying, and partisanship more raw and vituperative than ever. The promises of fiscal generosity – tax cuts for 95%, and nobody earning less than a quarter-million will see his taxes rise – up in smoke. The vows of public legislating – with debates on C-Span, bills published on the Web, etc: fallen to the actuality of laws negotiated in closed chambers among a few leaders, with an up-or-down vote demanded on legislation that few had read and no one understood. Health care promises to expand coverage, to limit insurers’ ability to make money, all those extra benefits, and will neither cost anybody any more money nor increase the deficit. Complete hogwash. Astonishing, really, that they can stand in front of the cameras and say that this plan does not add to the deficit for the next ten years when they know full well – because it was designed this way – that the taxes begin in Year 1 but the expenses don’t begin until Year 6. Of course the economics are good for ten years – but the next 50 years are a disaster. And they know this.
And the final disgrace – liberally throwing my money and yours around to various Senators’ states to get them to agree to this calamity. Special deals that spare Montana and Nebraska the kind of pain this health care plan is inflicting on all the rest of the country just because their Senators were the hold-outs. And Harry Reid bluntly saying that if other Senators didn’t bargain for similar deals, well they sold their votes too cheaply.
It is so disheartening. It didn’t have to be this way. Obama could have had cross party support to match that of the electorate if he only had made an attempt at bipartisanship. But that was an early casualty, and an unnecessary one: On much of his domestic agenda Obama outsourced the policy making to Congress, which meant that the liberals took over and had no use for the right. The President ran as a change agent, and then, once elected, handed the ball to the troglodytes.
The American people are not happy. This is not what they voted for, and they will make their displeasure known at the ballot box.