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“The Consequences Of Republican Obstruction”: We Need To Be Clear About Why Our Politics Is Broken Right Now

One of my favorite writers – Leonard Pitts – has weighed in on the topic du jour these days for pundits: what led to the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. He starts off with a quote from former Republican Senator George Voinovich: “If he was for it, we had to be against it.” That was the beginning of the Republican strategy against the newly elected President back in 2009.

The popular storyline goes that voters are seeking political outsiders this year in their frustration over a government where the legislative gears are frozen and nothing gets done. What that storyline forgets is that this gridlock was by design, that GOP leaders held a meeting on the very evening of the president’s first inauguration and explicitly decided upon a policy of non-cooperation to deny him anything approaching a bipartisan triumph…

Republicans and their media accomplices buttressed that strategy with a campaign of insult and disrespect designed to delegitimize Obama. With their endless birther stupidity, their death panels idiocy, their constant budget brinksmanship and their cries of, “I want my country back!” they stoked in the public nothing less than hatred for the interloper in the White House who’d had the nerve to be elected president.

And the strategy worked, hobbling and frustrating Obama. But as a bullet doesn’t care who it hits and a fire doesn’t care who it burns, the forces of ignorance and unreason, grievance and fear the Republicans calculatedly unleashed have not only wounded the president. No, it becomes more apparent every day that those forces have gravely wounded politics itself, meaning the idea that we can — or even should — reason together, compromise, form consensus.

Of course I agree with Pitts because I wrote basically the same thing recently. Just as it is critical for a doctor to accurately diagnose a disease in order to effectively treat it, we need to be clear about why our politics is broken right now in order to craft effective solutions.

One way to test the diagnosis Pitts has articulated is to think about what happened prior to the 2010 midterm elections – when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress – and afterwards. In the first 2 years of the Obama presidency, he and the Democrats managed to pass:

1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
2. The Affordable Care Act
3. The Dodd-Frank Act
4. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
5. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
6. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
7. The Fair Sentencing Act
8. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
9. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
10. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act

That’s a pretty impressive list for just two years, isn’t it? When you compare it to how little has been accomplished in the last 5 1/2 years, the contrast is astounding. The comparison is even more stark when you look at what the two Parties have been doing over those years. While the Republicans have spent most of their time trying to repeal Obamacare and threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get their way, President Obama and the Democrats have put forward a list of policy proposals that have been either ignored or actively obstructed by the Republicans.

1. Comprehensive immigration reform
2. The American Jobs Act
3. Universal pre-K
4. Raise the minimum wage
5. Paid family/sick leave
6. Free community college
7. Gun background checks
8. Criminal justice reform
9. Restoration of the Voting Rights Act

As a thought experiment, it’s interesting to contemplate what might have happened over these last few years if either the Democrats had maintained their majorities in Congress and/or if the Republicans had taken the advice of people like David Frum and actually attempted to negotiate solutions.

There are voices out there who diagnose our political situation differently than the analysis above from Leonard Pitts. Some in the media are particularly fond of the “both sides do it” mythology. As we’ve seen, Bernie Sanders comes close to embracing that idea with his analysis that the entire political process is rigged by big money – both Republicans and Democrats. While money in politics plays a role, it is clear that Democrats have an agenda to address the challenges we face and Republicans have cast their lot with fanning the flames of fear/anger in order to obstruct progress. The consequences of that decision by the GOP are that: progress has been halted, the stage was set for a Donald Trump candidacy and our political system has been gravely wounded.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 8, 2916

March 9, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Obstructionism, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP, An Incoherent Mess”: The Left Was Right About The Right All These Years

“If he was for it, we had to be against it.”

— Former U.S. Sen. George Voinovich quoted in “The New New Deal” by Michael Grunwald

The “he” is President Obama. The “we” is the Republican Party. And it is not coincidental that as the former pushes toward the end of his second term, the latter is coming apart.

The GOP is an incoherent mess. Republican-on-Republican rhetorical violence has become commonplace. Party members find themselves mulling whether to break away and form a third party or unite behind a coarse, blustering bigot whose scapegoating and strongman rhetoric has Holocaust survivors comparing him to Hitler.

The situation is so objectively and transparently grim that many on the right no longer even bother to spin it. “I’m a lifelong Republican,” tweeted historian Max Boot last week, “but (the) Trump surge proves that every bad thing Democrats have ever said about GOP is basically true.”

“It would be terrible,” wrote Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens last week, “to think that the left was right about the right all these years.”

But it can be argued that Trump is less the cause than an inevitable effect of the party’s looming disintegration. It can be argued that what’s really destroying the Republican Party is the Republican Party.

The popular storyline goes that voters are seeking political outsiders this year in their frustration over a government where the legislative gears are frozen and nothing gets done. What that storyline forgets is that this gridlock was by design, that GOP leaders held a meeting on the very evening of the president’s first inauguration and explicitly decided upon a policy of non-cooperation to deny him anything approaching a bipartisan triumph.

The party followed this tactic with such lockstep discipline and cynical disregard for the national welfare that in 2010, seven Republican co-sponsors of a resolution to create a deficit reduction task force voted against their own bill because Obama came out for it. They feared its passage might make him look good.

In the book quoted above, Michael Grunwald distilled the GOP’s thinking as follows: “As long as Republicans refused to follow his lead, Americans would see partisan food fights and conclude that Obama had failed to produce change.”

Republicans and their media accomplices buttressed that strategy with a campaign of insult and disrespect designed to delegitimize Obama. With their endless birther stupidity, their death panels idiocy, their constant budget brinksmanship and their cries of, “I want my country back!” they stoked in the public nothing less than hatred for the interloper in the White House who’d had the nerve to be elected president.

And the strategy worked, hobbling and frustrating Obama. But as a bullet doesn’t care who it hits and a fire doesn’t care who it burns, the forces of ignorance and unreason, grievance and fear the Republicans calculatedly unleashed have not only wounded the president. No, it becomes more apparent every day that those forces have gravely wounded politics itself, meaning the idea that we can — or even should — reason together, compromise, form consensus.

There is a sense of just deserts in watching panicked Republicans try to stop Trump as he goose-steps toward coronation, but it is tempered by the realization that there’s far more at stake here than the GOP’s comeuppance.

This is our country we’re talking about. This is its future we choose in November. And any future presided over by “President Trump” is too apocalyptic to contemplate. Yet, the possibility is there, and that’s sobering.

It is bad enough the Republicans may have destroyed themselves. One wonders whether they will take America with them.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 3, 2016

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Donald Trump And The End Of Civility”: Rejecting The Virtues Of Teamwork, Common Courtesy And Civility

For a decade we have seen article after article, study after study, comment after comment on the death of civility in our politics. Politicians, pundits and academics worried that gridlock and the paralysis of Washington was heavily due to the nastiness of the political culture and the vitriol inherent in today’s politics.

Well, as Donald Trump might say – you ain’t seen nothing yet!

My friend, Ira Shapiro, wrote a terrific book, “The Last Great Senate,” about the accomplishments of the civil and functional U. S. Senate that we were both privileged to be a part of a few decades ago. Whether it was the Panama Canal treaties, passage of environmental legislation or social security reform, Republicans and Democrats actually worked together, forged compromises and got the people’s business done.

But as Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann chronicled in their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,” published in 2012, the rise of tea party extremists and hard-right ideologues has polarized and paralyzed our constitutional system of government.

And now in 2016, we have Donald Trump, who would make Ornstein and Mann’s world of just a few years ago look like patty-cake. Trump, and many of his colleagues in this race who have followed his lead, has debased the dialogue and engaged in trash talk that would make a pro football player blush. It has truly spiraled out of control.

Facts and logical argument are cast to the wind like confetti; nasty statements about body parts are common and invective like “stupid,” “idiot,” “lightweight,” “choker,” “loser” are used by Trump in nearly every speech and press conference.

No one is writing about a return to civility so long as Trump has seized the stage, forcing a dialogue that has taken American politics even further down into the gutter. In fact, Trump has left many people who should be speaking out speechless instead. Now Republicans and conservative columnists are shaking their heads and wondering why the other candidates and Republican Party leadership have kept their heads in the sand for so long. A flood of pieces by the likes of David Brooks and George Will spell it out perfectly: talking about “the governing cancer” and Trump’s “demagogic cynicism and anti-constitutional authoritarianism.”

But I fault those Republicans and conservative pundits who clearly should have been focusing on this transformation from a government that governed and legislators who legislated into a collection of talking heads whose constant desire is to be on gladiator-TV. Or to give a speech that incites a crowd. Many of them embraced the tea party and chose demagoguery over dialogue.

What has happened to words such as thoughtful, wise, substantive, open-minded and even educated, learned and knowledgeable to describe those in the arena of politics and government? Why are those not the standards we use to judge our leaders?

I am left with the enduring cover image from The New Yorker a number of weeks ago, showing a television set with Donald Trump raging and Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt looking on in horror.

This is no longer amusing nor something that should be passed off as entertainment. This is not “The Apprentice” or some reality television show. This is real.

If we allow a person like Donald Trump to capture the Republican Party, let alone the country, the price we will pay will be lasting, and the damage will be serious and permanent. This is so far from anything we have experienced; that it has no parallel in our history. He is not, as he says, building a new expanded Republican Party. This “movement” is based on fear and loathing, racism and prejudice, xenophobia and hatred. It is based on our basest instincts, not on our best instincts. It is destructive, not constructive.

With a Trump ascendancy, common courtesy and civility will be considered weaknesses and the politics of irrationalism and fear will triumph. That must not happen.

 

By: Peter Fenn, Democratic Political Strategist and Head of Fenn Communications; U. S. News and World Report, March 3, 2016

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Fearmongering, GOP Presidential Candidates, Governing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Malign Contempt Since Day 1”: GOP’s Unrelenting Campaign Of Obstructionism And Insult

This was three days before Antonin Scalia died.

President Obama had just spoken before the Illinois General Assembly. Now, he and some old friends, all retired from that body, were being interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Obama was talking about the legislative gridlock that has marked his terms and how he might have avoided it.

“Maybe I could have done that a little better,” he said.

One of his friends wasn’t having it. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said Denny Jacobs. “Number one, you were black.”

Obama parried the suggestion, saying what he always says when asked about race and his presidency. “I have no doubt there are people who voted against me because of race … or didn’t approve of my agenda because of race. I also suspect there are a bunch of people who are excited or voted for me because of the notion of the first African-American president. … Those things cut both ways,” he said.

Jacobs, who is white, was unpersuaded. “That’s what they were afraid of, Mr. President,” he insisted.

Some might say his point was proven after the sudden death of the Supreme Court justice. The body was not yet cold when Republicans threw down the gauntlet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the president should not even nominate a replacement and should leave it instead to his successor. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley seconded this, saying his panel would not open confirmation hearings, although Politico reported Tuesday that Grassley told Radio Iowa he would not rule them out.

Understand: It’s not uncommon for the opposition party to warn that a nominee better be to its liking. However, to declare before the fact that no person put forth by the president will receive even a hearing is not politics as usual, but rather, a stinging and personal insult without apparent precedent. It is simply impossible to imagine another president being treated with such malign contempt.

But then, GOP contempt for Obama and his authority have been manifest since before Day One. McConnell’s refusal to do his job is just the latest example. On Twitter, a person who tweets as @bravee1 put it like this: “Mitch McConnell just needs to admit that he thinks President Obama was elected to three-fifths of a term.”

It’s a great line, but what is happening here is more subtle than just racism. To be, as McConnell is, a straight, 73-year-old white male in America is to have come of age in a world where people like you and only people like you set the national agenda. One suspects, then, that people like him see in Obama their looming loss of demographic and ideological primacy in a nation that grows more multi-hued and, on many vital social issues, less conservative every day.

Some people can handle that. Others would rather cripple the country, leaving it without a functioning Supreme Court for almost a year, and never mind the will of the people as twice expressed in elections: Barack Obama is our president. He has the right and duty to nominate a new justice.

It’s grating to hear Obama act as if the GOP’s unrelenting campaign of obstructionism and insult were the moral equivalent of some African-American grandmother or young white progressive who were proud to cast their ballots for the first black president. Moreover, his attempt to shoulder blame for the hyper-partisanship of the last seven years suggests a fundamental misreading of the change he represents and the fear it kindles in some of those whose prerogatives that change will upend.

It’s well and good to be even-handed and reflective, but there is a point where that becomes willful obtuseness. Obama is there. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said his friend. “Number one, you were black.”

It’s interesting that a white man in his 70s can see this, yet a 54-year-old black man cannot.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The New Republic, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Congress, GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Literally Since Day One”: GOP Hostility Towards Compromise Runs Deep

When an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found earlier this year that a plurality of Republican voters believe GOP lawmakers compromise too much with President Obama, it seemed hard to believe. Congressional Republicans have refused to work with the Democratic White House on anything, literally since Day One. Maybe respondents didn’t understand the question?

No, that’s not it. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted yesterday that rank-and-file Republicans just want as much confrontation as humanly possible. The latest report from the Pew Research Center makes this clear:

The survey finds deep differences in how Republicans and Democrats want President Obama and GOP leaders to deal with issues. Fully 75% of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15% say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7% say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.

Fewer Democrats (49%) want Obama to challenge Republicans more often; 33% say he is handling this about right while 11% want him to go along with GOP leaders more often.

That’s quite a bit of asymmetry. In the overall population, the number of Americans who want GOP lawmakers to go along more with the White House is roughly identical to the number of Americans who want Republicans to “challenge” the president more often.

But among GOP voters, the results are lopsided. This actually explains a lot.

We like to think there’s a natural resistance to gridlock – the public doesn’t like it when policymakers can’t agree on anything, and nothing gets done because institutions are paralyzed by partisan and ideological differences.

But results like these paint a very different picture. Republicans don’t just have an aversion to bipartisan cooperation, they also look at six years of near-total GOP opposition to everything the president proposes – including instances in which Obama actually agreed with the Republican line – and conclude, “It’s not good enough. We want even more partisan confrontations.”

This is broadly consistent with Pew findings from a year ago, which showed that liberals expect and support compromise, but conservatives are hostile to the very idea of compromise.

Christopher Ingraham noted at the time, “A party that is ideologically predisposed against compromise is going to have a very hard time governing, particularly within a divided government.”

It’s an important detail for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the reminder about who has Republican officials’ ear. It’s tempting to think elected GOP officials would see polls showing broad support for cooperation and compromise, and then adopt a constructive posture to align themselves with the American mainstream. Clearly, however, the practical realities show otherwise – Republican policymakers are listening to Republican voters, and no one else.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 22, 2015

May 23, 2015 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, GOP | , , , , , | 3 Comments

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