We heard plenty of contradictions, distortions and untruths at the Republican candidates’ Tea Party debate, but we heard shockingly little compassion — and almost no acknowledgement that political and economic policy choices have a moral dimension.
The lowest point of the evening — and perhaps of the political season — came when moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul a hypothetical question about a young man who elects not to purchase health insurance. The man has a medical crisis, goes into a coma and needs expensive care. “Who pays?” Blitzer asked.
“That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” Paul answered. “This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody. . . .”
Blitzer interrupted: “But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?”
There were enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah!” from the crowd. You’d think one of the other candidates might jump in with a word about Christian kindness. Not a peep.
Paul, a physician, went on to say that, no, the hypothetical comatose man should not be allowed to die. But in Paul’s vision of America, “our neighbors, our friends, our churches” would choose to assume the man’s care — with government bearing no responsibility and playing no role.
Blitzer turned to Michele Bachmann, whose popularity with evangelical Christian voters stems, at least in part, from her own professed born-again faith. Asked what she would do about the man in the coma, Bachmann ignored the question and launched into a canned explanation of why she wants to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told the Pharisees that God commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” There is no asterisk making this obligation null and void if circumstances require its fulfillment via government.
Bachmann knows a lot about compassion. She makes much of the fact that she and her husband took in 23 foster children over the years. But what of the orphaned or troubled children who are not lucky enough to find a wealthy family to take them in? What of the boys and girls who have stable homes but do not regularly see a doctor because their parents lack health insurance?
Government can reach them. But according to today’s Republican dogma, it must not.
Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Bachmann, Paul and the others onstage in Tampa all had the same prescription for the economy: Cut spending, cut taxes and let the wealth that results trickle down to the less fortunate.
They betrayed no empathy for, or even curiosity about, the Americans who depend on the spending that would be cut. They had no kind words — in fact, no words at all — for teachers, firefighters and police officers who will lose their jobs unless cash-strapped state and local government receive federal aid. Public servants, the GOP candidates imply, don’t hold “real” jobs. I wonder: Do Republicans even consider them “real” people?
Government is more than a machine for collecting and spending money, more than an instrument of war, a book of laws or a shield to guarantee and protect individual rights. Government is also an expression of our collective values and aspirations. There’s a reason the Constitution begins “We the people . . .” rather than “We the unconnected individuals who couldn’t care less about one another . . . .”
I believe the Republican candidates’ pinched, crabby view of government’s nature and role is immoral. I believe the fact that poverty has risen sharply over the past decade — as shown by new census data — while the richest Americans have seen their incomes soar is unacceptable. I believe that writing off whole classes of citizens — the long-term unemployed whose skills are becoming out of date, thousands of former offenders who have paid their debt to society, millions of low-income youth ill-served by inadequate schools — is unconscionable.
Perry, who is leading in the polls, wants to make the federal government “inconsequential.” He thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and a “monstrous lie.” He doesn’t much like Medicare, either.
But there was a fascinating moment in the debate when Perry defended Texas legislation that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state universities. “We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you,” Perry said.
The other candidates bashed him with anti-immigrant rhetoric until the evening’s only glimmer of moral responsibility was snuffed out.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 15, 2011
The point of presidential candidate debates is to offer the public a chance to scrutinize and evaluate those seeking national office. Occasionally, though, voters get the chance to scrutinize and evaluate those in the audience, which is nearly as interesting.
The candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination are a pretty scary bunch — remember, one of them stands a reasonably good chance of becoming the leader of the free world in about 17 months — and the two-hour display on CNN last night was a depressing reminder of what’s become of the GOP in the 21st century. That said, maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to find the audiences for these debates even more disconcerting.
Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical scenario to Ron Paul, asking about a young man who makes a good living, but decides to forgo health insurance. Then, tragedy strikes and he needs care. Paul stuck to the libertarian line. “But congressman,” the moderator said, “are you saying that society should just let him die?”
And at that point, some in the audience shouted, “Yeah,” and applauded.
Earlier in the debate, Blitzer asked Rick Perry about his attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous,” Perry said. “I think that is a very clear statement of fact.”
The audience loved this, too.
What’s more, note that in last week’s debate, the mere observation that Perry has signed off on the executions of 234 people in Texas, more than any other governor in modern times, was enough to generate applause from a different GOP audience.
Taken together, over the last five days, we’ve learned that the way to impress Republican voters, at least the ones who show up for events like these, is to support letting the uninsured die, accusing the Fed of treason for trying to improve the economy, and executing lots of people.
There’s a deep strain of madness running through Republican politics in 2011, and it appears to be getting worse. Those wondering why the GOP presidential field appears weak, insipid, and shallow need look no further than the voters they choose to pander to.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 13, 2011
Thank you, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for emerging from your secure, undisclosed locations to remind us how we got into this mess: It didn’t happen by accident.
The important thing isn’t what Bush says in his interview with National Geographic or what scores Cheney tries to settle in his memoir. What matters is that as they return to the public eye, they highlight their record of wrongheaded policy choices that helped bring the nation to a sour, penurious state.
Questions about whether President Obama has been combative enough in dealing with the Republican opposition — or sufficiently ambitious in framing his progressive agenda — seem trivial when viewed in this larger context. Obama is tackling enormous problems that took many years to create. His presidential style is important insofar as it boosts or lessens his effectiveness, but its importance pales beside the generally righteous substance of what he’s trying to accomplish.
It was the Bush administration, you will recall, that sent the national debt into the stratosphere and choked off federal revenue to the point of asphyxiation. Bush and Cheney decided to fight two wars without even accounting — let alone paying — for them. Rather than raise taxes to cover the cost of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush opted to maintain unreasonable and unnecessary tax cuts.
So far, the wars and the tax cuts have cost the Treasury between $4 trillion and $5 trillion. If Bush had just left income tax rates alone, nobody except Ron Paul would be talking about the debt.
My aim isn’t to attack Bush but to attack his philosophy. When he was campaigning for the White House in 2000, the government was anticipating a projected surplus of roughly $6 trillion over the following decade. Bush said repeatedly that he thought this was too much and wanted to bring the surplus down — hence, in 2001, the first of his two big tax cuts.
Bush was hewing to what had already become Republican dogma and by now has become something akin to scripture: Taxes must always be cut because government must always be starved.
The party ascribes this golden rule to Ronald Reagan — conveniently forgetting that Reagan, in his eight years as president, raised taxes 11 times. Reagan may have believed in small government, but he did believe in government itself. Today’s Republicans have perverted Reagan’s philosophy into a kind of anti-government nihilism — an irresponsible, almost childish insistence that the basic laws of arithmetic can be suspended at their will.
The Bush administration also pushed forward Reagan’s policy of deregulation — ignoring, for example, critics who said the ballooning market in mortgage-backed securities needed more oversight. When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Bush did regain his faith in government long enough to throw together the $800 billion TARP bailout for the banks. But he failed to use the leverage of an aid package to exact reforms that would ensure that the financial system served the economy, rather than the other way around.
Faced with similar circumstances, would today’s Republican leadership react at all? Or is it the party’s view that the proper role of government would be to stand aside and watch the world’s financial system crash and burn?
This is a serious question. Just a few weeks ago, the Republican majority in the House threatened to force the United States government to default on its debt obligations — a previously unthinkable act of brinkmanship. Everything is thinkable now.
The Bush administration took Reagan’s tax-cutting, government-starving philosophy much too far. Today’s Republican Party takes it well beyond, into a rigid absolutism that would be comical if it were not so consequential.
We face devastating unemployment. Many conservative economists have joined the chorus calling for more short-term spending by the federal government as a way to boost growth. But the radical Republicans don’t pay attention to conservative economists anymore. The Republicans’ idea of a cure for cancer would be to cut spending and cut taxes.
Perhaps they’re just cynically trying to keep the economy in the doldrums through next year to hurt Obama’s chances of reelection. I worry that their fanaticism is sincere — that one of our major parties has gone completely off the rails. If so, things will get worse before they get better.
Having Bush and Cheney reappear is a reminder to step back and look at what Obama is up against. You might want to cut him a little slack.
So the big, bad storm huffed and puffed and didn’t blow all the houses in.
Reversing Katrina, on the sixth anniversary of that shameful episode in American history, the response to Irene was more powerful than Irene.
And that made some solipsistic Gothamites who missed their subways and restaurants grouchy. There is no greater abuse to New Yorkers than inconvenience.
Once the storm became “Apocalypse Not,” as The New York Post called it, there were those who accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey of overreacting to make up for their infamous underreactions to last year’s Christmas blizzard, when Hizzoner was baking in Bermuda and the Guv was playing at Disney World in Florida with his family.
In a Wall Street Journal column, Bret Stephens suggested “a new edition of the Three Little Pigs, this one for the CYA age.”
Ordered to evacuate from his Manhattan home near the Hudson River, Stephens took his family to his parents’ wood-framed house in Connecticut, where a 50-foot elm crashed in the yard. So he went hard on the Chicken Little mayor. “What’s the wisdom of the ages,” Stephens asked, “when a mayor wants to erase the stain of mishandling last winter’s snowstorms by forcibly relocating people from his zone of responsibility to places that are somebody else’s zone of responsibility?”
Should those whose job it is to prepare for the worst be punished because the worst didn’t happen?
What determines your judgment of politicians’ reaction is what happens to you. Those washed out from North Carolina to New Jersey to Vermont don’t think government overreacted. As Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”
Asked at a Saturday hurricane briefing about the response in relation to the debate about the role of government, Christie made it clear that saving lives was the most important thing. The Republican said he didn’t think that Democrats and Republicans were debating this: “Protecting the safety of our citizens is one of the bedrock roles of government.”
Not so bedrock for some of the Flintstones types in Washington who are now hotly debating austerity versus salvation. The impressively hands-on performances of Christie, Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York were not enough to make Tea Partiers, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor root for big government against rampaging nature.
Paul, a libertarian whose scorn of government is so great that he doesn’t even want it to coordinate in natural disasters, insisted that FEMA, which he calls “a giant contributor to deficit financing,” should be shut down.
Though his state of Virginia was the epicenter of an earthquake before being hit by Irene, Cantor has insisted that additional money for cash-strapped FEMA must be offset by spending cuts, echoing his remarks in May that money sent to traumatized tornado victims in Joplin, Mo., would mean cuts somewhere else.
The callous comments about disaster relief in recent days by Cantor, Paul and, believe it or not, the disgraced former FEMA Chief Michael “Heck of a job, Brownie” Brown infuriated Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator touring his inundated state. He told Carl Hulse of The Times that coming together to help on disasters “is what being a nation is about.”
In a briefing at the White House Monday, FEMA Director Craig Fugate said that the lesson of Katrina is for the federal government to “get things going earlier” and not wait until an overwhelmed state “says we’re going to need help.”
Too bad that didn’t occur to W. in 2005. He met with Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Air Force One and correctly assessed that they were not up to the job but then retreated behind clinical states’ rights arguments as a great American city drowned.
In his new memoir, Dick Cheney faults Blanco for dithering and not requesting that the president federalize the response to Katrina. It’s a variation on Rummy shrugging that “You go to war with the army you have.”
Always the hard-liner, Cheney notes: “President Bush has written that he should have sent in U.S. troops earlier, which may be true, but which to my mind lets state authorities off the hook too easily.” Why save lives if you can slap bumbling Democrats around? Proving once more that he is truly delusional, Vice praised President Bush in the wake of Katrina for “reaching out to people who needed to know that their government cared about them.”
The awful hypocrisy is this: As we saw when they spent trillions trying to impose democracy on Iraq and Afghanistan, W. and Cheney believe in big government, in a strong, centralized executive power. But with Katrina, they chose not to use it.
By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 30, 2011
Hurricane Irene obviously has the attention of millions of Americans, but some are handling the threat better than others. On the right, some of the rhetorical responses haven’t cast conservatives in the best light.
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul wants to eliminate FEMA; congressional Republican leaders are reluctant to approve emergency disaster relief; and Fox News is running pieces like these, calling for the elimination of the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service.
As Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, news stations bombard our televisions with constant updates from the National Hurricane Center.
While Americans ought to prepare for the coming storm, federal dollars need not subsidize their preparations. Although it might sound outrageous, the truth is that the National Hurricane Center and its parent agency, the National Weather Service, are relics from America’s past that have actually outlived their usefulness.
The Fox News piece touts private outlets, including AccuWeather, without alerting readers to a key detail: these private outlets rely on information they receive from the National Weather Service. Indeed, the NWS makes this information available to the private sector for free, since the NWS is a public agency and the data it compiles is public information.
The Fox News item goes on to say, in reference to the Weather Service, “It issues severe weather advisories and hijacks local radio and television stations to get the message out. It presumes that citizens do not pay attention to the weather and so it must force important, perhaps lifesaving, information upon them.”
This is not, by the way, a parody.
Glenn Beck, meanwhile, told his radio audience on Friday that Hurricane Irene “a blessing. It is God reminding you — as was the earthquake last week — it’s God reminding you you’re not in control. Things can happen.”
This divine “blessing” has already killed at least eight people.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 28, 2011