Year-End Realities

It’s an odd December. This time we have that fiscal cliff we are almost certain to go over unless Obama and the Republicans work something out, which seems unlikely. The angry Republicans spent four years blocking everything Obama tried to do, and they mostly failed. Now that Obama has been reelected, rather convincingly, and the Republicans failed to regain the Senate, as everyone assumed they would, they’re certainly not in a good mood. Yeah, they managed to block almost all judicial appointments, so the federal courts are understaffed and running on empty, but Obama got his two justices on the Supreme Court – Sotomayor and then Kagan. They managed to block almost all infrastructure spending, so the roads are deteriorating and the bridges are falling down, which should have made Obama look bad, but Obama got his big stimulus passed early on, and as meager as it was it did some good, and then he went and saved GM when they all said that was foolish, just throwing good money after bad. Now GM is thriving and folks are back at work. Drat. At least they blocked renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, but then the first thing Obama did was sign that Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay thing into law – they said it was just a stupid gift to tort lawyers, but making it possible for women to sue for equal pay for equal work seemed a quite popular idea. At least it was more popular than being outraged at those stupid greedy lawyers who make it so hard for pleasant businessmen to just run their pleasant businesses and turn a pleasant but not all that excessive profit. Being on the wrong side of that issue must have made them grumpy.

Then there was the Affordable Care Act, which they sneered at calling it Obamacare, with its death panels and all. Obama finally said fine, call it Obamacare – he was proud of it. All the talk of the government taking over all of healthcare and how some people, the losers and deadbeats, shouldn’t be offered the chance to buy basic health insurance in a free-market system, went nowhere. People who had always been unable to buy any kind of health insurance at any cost were pleased, even if they didn’t understand all the details of how this would work. That’s okay – no one does, as it’s still a work in progress, a bit of an experiment, but a necessary one by all accounts. Republicans tried to stop this in all those town hall meetings with the scare stories and the planted shills weeping about how they were losing their country, and then tried to stop the thing in Congress, but they lost. It did pass, and then they tried to stop it in the courts. Surely it was unconstitutional, and the Supreme Count was still stuffed with reliable hard-ass conservatives, even with Obama’s two appointments – but they lost there too. Their guy, John Roberts, said nope, the Affordable Care Act seems constitutional, and he turned out to be the swing vote. There was a lot of talk about how Roberts had betrayed them all, but the sad fact was that the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land. All they can do now is have Republican governors refuse to implement the state insurance exchanges, turning down tens of billions of dollars for each state and assuring the poor and unlucky will remain without any chance of being insured at all, and have the House, going forward, refuse to authorize funds for implementing key provisions of the thing, or any provisions at of it at all. Even if they think that will come off as noble and heroic, that’s a gamble, as the poor and lucky do vote – and they have long memories too. An additional problem there too is that all the efforts to keep the poor and unlucky from voting – the new ID laws and restricting early voting and all the rest – were shot down in the courts. Unfortunately, you have to let everyone vote. That’s how things work.

This is a mess, and you can see why the Republicans don’t want to compromise with Obama on the fiscal cliff thing. They’ve been beat up enough as it is. A shred of dignity would be nice, but even that is hard. One of the conservative Big Thinkers says his side has now been reduced to one message – taxes should not go up on the wealthy and your health benefits should be cut, and it’s deadly to be the Eat-Your-Vegetables-and-Shut-Up Party. He’s in despair, and Republicans in Washington are just grumpy, and in no mood to give in on letting taxes on the rich revert to their formal levels, to keep the government running. There has to be something to hold onto, except that now there’s this:

A broad swath of the nation’s leading chief executives dropped its opposition to tax increases on the wealthiest Americans on Tuesday, while the White House quietly pressed Wall Street titans for their support as well.

Before Tuesday’s about-face, the Business Roundtable had insisted that the White House extend Bush-era tax cuts to taxpayers of all income brackets, but the executives’ resistance crumbled as pressure builds to find a compromise for the fiscal impasse in Washington before the end of the year. “We recognize that part of the solution has to be tax increases,” David M. Cote, chief executive of Honeywell, said on a conference call with reporters. “That’s the only thing that allows a reasonable compromise to be reached.”

Kevin Drum’s assessment:

The Business Roundtable isn’t a center-right organization. It’s a pretty central player in movement conservatism. The fact that they’re publicly urging Congress to accept higher revenue – “whether by increasing rates, eliminating deductions, or some combination thereof” – is a significant step.

It may be the nail in the coffin, and from Brian Beutler, in conversation with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, we get this:

“We tried to get the president to do it last year. We now have another opportunity here at the end of the year to try to engage that discussion again. We’ll have another opportunity later, when the debt ceiling issue arrives.” …

I asked McConnell whether Dems’ unity on this point will leave Republicans isolated if they attempt to use U.S. creditworthiness as a bargaining chip to secure cuts to major social insurance programs. “I think I can speak for every single Republican that we think a request of any president to raise the debt ceiling in the future should involve a discussion with whoever the president is about what we might do about the debt,” he said. “And we shouldn’t treat it like a Motherhood Resolution… that the decision to raise the debt ceiling is a perfect time to have a discussion about the debt.”

Kevin Drum here adds this:

Republicans are quite plainly scared to death of entitlement reform. They’re happy to vote unanimously for symbolic bills like the Ryan budget because they know no one really takes them seriously. But if you ask them to put real, concrete cuts to Medicare and Social Security on the table, they tentatively suggest a couple of smallish items (raising the retirement age, adopting chained CPI) and then back off. The reason for this is pretty obvious: they know that long-term cuts won’t affect the current deficit, while short-term cuts will provoke an angry backlash among seniors. And they can’t afford that backlash since seniors make up a big chunk of their base.

There’s nothing mysterious about this. It’s the usual reason that entitlement reform is hard. Still, what is McConnell expecting? That if Republicans put enough pressure on Obama he’ll eventually propose big cuts of his own? That doesn’t even make sense. Surely McConnell knows that if Republicans really want to slash Medicare and Social Security, they’re going to have to put their own proposals on the table. Obama simply has no incentive to do it himself.

No wonder they’re grumpy, and there is also this:

Why the obsession with the debt ceiling? It’s an unusually reckless bit of extortion that opens up Republicans to legitimate scorn, but it’s not really necessary. If Republicans want to fight over spending, they can instead fight over the budget. That would lead to a government shutdown a la 1995, followed by a deal of some kind. The pressure this puts on Obama is similar, but it’s far more defensible. Republicans aren’t refusing to pay their own bills and they aren’t recklessly putting the creditworthiness of the United States at risk. So why not have this fight over the budget rather than the debt ceiling?

Why? You do that because it’s the only thing left to do. In December, looking back on the past year, and the past four years, all there is to see is failure. The election just capped it all off. They lost the Latino vote by thirty or forty points, and the youth vote, and the black vote and women’s vote by similar wide margins. They even lost the Catholic vote, in spite of agreeing with the current German Pope that abortion and contraception were no less than murder. As usual, they lost the Jewish vote by a wide margin, in spite of rather overt support from Netanyahu and his Likud Party in Israel. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire, who has long financed Netanyahu and his Likud Party, threw tens of millions of dollars their way, but he has only one real vote after all.

This was a disaster, and now there’s this:

Republicans need to dramatically improve their standing with Latino voters or risk becoming a “regional party” of disaffected whites, according to a study released Wednesday by a GOP pollster.

“Republicans have run out of persuadable white voters,” Resurgent Republic pollster Whit Ayres and the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network’s Jennifer Korn concluded in a memo detailing the results of the study.

The gory details are at the link. Bad things happen when you run out of persuadable white voters. That was the backstop to everything, and then there’s a new Bloomberg poll showing that most Americans understood the election to be just what John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the rest said it wasn’t:

Sixty-five percent of Americans say the Nov. 6 results gave Obama a “mandate” on his proposal to raise tax rates on income over $250,000 and “to get it done.” Forty-five percent of Republicans agree.

Yes, that would be nearly half of all Republicans too, including these:

The election “was basically a referendum that wealthy people could and would pay more,” said poll respondent Jim Johnson, 66, of Littleton, Colorado, a retired telecommunications executive and a Republican who voted for Mitt Romney. “It was perfectly clear. That was Obama’s stance throughout the election.” Poll respondent Gerald Watts, 75, of Lake Quivira, Kansas, a retired engineer and another Republican who voted for Romney, read the election results the same way. “Every time we listened to him on TV, he’d start talking about raising taxes on the rich – every news conference, every time he went up in front of a group,” said Watts. “He didn’t want to talk about anything else.”

Andrew Sullivan calls this exactly a choice between one approach – Bush/Cheney/Romney – and another – Obama/Clinton and voters chose the latter decisively:

The longer the Congressional Republicans remain in denial about this, the more isolated they will become. … These two men are smack in the middle of the GOP’s current demographics. And, unlike the foam-flecked mouth-pieces on Fox, they are admirably civic in their understanding of politics. Listen to them, Mr Speaker. And lead.

Good luck with that.

Still, over at the American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie argues that the Republicans really don’t need any new ideas to turn everything around:

As long as the GOP can offer the appearance of reform – by placing the same ideas in new, multicultural packaging (see: Marco Rubio) – it can likely convince the public – to say nothing of key elites – that it deserves power. To wit, the mere mention of poverty by Rubio and Paul Ryan was enough for moderate Republicans David Brooks and Ross Douthat to declare a new era of reform.

Yeah, well, some people are easily duped, especially those two in-house conservative columnists at the New York Times. They’re pleasant fellows paid to make conservatives seem reasonable. For others, the mere mention of poverty just doesn’t cut it, particularly when it’s always followed by the notion that poverty is best addressed by eliminating capital gains taxes and ending the inheritance tax on anything over seven million dollars or so, and by ending unemployment benefits right now. Multicultural packaging won’t help.

Other true-blue conservatives, or pure red conservatives in the current iconography like Jonathan Bernstein, seem to prefer reality:

The dysfunction in the current GOP makes successful governing if they do win extremely difficult. I think we’ve seen that for some time, and I think it was part of why George W. Bush was such a poor president; there really are major governing penalties for finding it hard to accept reality.

That is to say that even if these guys win again, somehow, they’ll screw everything up once in office. It’s not just that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Brownie wasn’t doing a heck of a job – even if you successfully fight against reality to eke out a win, somehow, once in office you do have to deal with the real world. It will always bite you in the ass.

That makes it hard to see how Mitt Romney would have governed had he won. The current congressional Republicans, fighting reality on every front, have nothing on him, as his whole campaign was based on a series of what can only be called lies. Yes, if he really believed what he was saying you might call them something else – politically useful delusions he wished to share with America, and for which he expected to be appreciated. There may be no name for that.

There is, however, PolitiFact.com – the project operated by the Tampa Bay Times that is forever fact-checking everything politicians say, and which everyone cites. On one end something might be true and on the other end it could be Pants on Fire – pretty much an outright lie. They’ll tell you which it is, or where it falls on the scale, and each year they come up with the lie of the year. In 2009 it was Sarah Palin’s endless talk about the Obamacare Death Panels. In 2010 it was all the Republican talk of how Obamacare represented a total “government takeover of healthcare” – which is a neat trick if private insurance companies get all the business. In 2011 it was all the Democrats saying that the Republicans wanted to end Medicare, when all the Republicans wanted to do was turn it into a voucher program that provided no services at all, just a coupon you could use to go shop for whatever insurance you could find. That too is a program, and handing out coupons would still be named Medicare, so the Democrats were blatantly lying.

No Democrats were pleased with that, but this year PolitiFact made up for it:

It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign – that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep’s parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.

And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.

So we have a winner:

PolitiFact has selected Romney’s claim that Barack Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China” at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 Lie of the Year.

Wait. Maybe he believed it, so it wasn’t exactly a lie – but no one is cutting him any slack, especially Salon’s Joan Walsh, even if she adds perspective:

In fact, of the top 10 worst political lies Politifact nominated, four came straight from Romney. In addition to the Jeep lie, he was dinged for claiming Obama began his presidency “with an apology tour,” that the president gutted the work requirement for welfare, and that he told business owners “you didn’t build that” when in context he said they didn’t build businesses alone. Only two of the top lies came directly from Obama (exaggerating George Bush’s responsibility for the deficit and claiming Romney called Arizona’s draconian immigration laws a model for the nation). The rest came from campaign surrogates or television ads. In what feels like standard Politifact false equivalence, Democrats and Republicans were responsible for five lies apiece.

Yes, the press says both sides do the same thing, and they must report that, fairly, but Walsh isn’t convinced that even their main choice makes sense:

Romney’s Jeep claims and ads were pretty horrific, even leading some Chrysler workers to panic and ask supervisors if they were losing their jobs. They made a desperate effort to avert defeat in Ohio, and they failed. But I think Politifact missed the top lie of the year, which had to be Romney and Paul Ryan’s claim that Obama had “gutted” the work requirements in current welfare law. “Under Obama’s plan (for welfare), you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check,” intoned an ad from Romney’s campaign, against a backdrop of mostly white families.

It was such a lie that not only Bill Clinton but Newt Gingrich and Ron Haskins, the GOP staffer who’d developed the original bill, came out and said it wasn’t true. (Obama had granted some program waivers to governors, including Republicans, who wanted to try some local innovations to increase the number of people working – and only under the condition that work rates go up.)

Well, there is that, but there was an effort to find the last of those persuadable white voters:

The welfare ads came at a time when the campaign was realizing that Romney couldn’t close the deal with the GOP’s white working-class base. That necessitated taking a few favorites from the party’s old racial dog-whistle hymn-book. As the New York Times reported in August,  “Convinced [Romney] needs a more combative footing against President Obama in order to appeal to white, working-class voters,” the campaign “has added a harder edge … injecting volatile cultural themes into the race.” The welfare ads, the Times reported, reflected that new edge. An anonymous Romney advisor made the same point to BuzzFeed:  “This is going to be a base election, and we need them to come out to vote.”

Romney and Ryan’s welfare claims made it seem as though Obama was letting slackers and moochers leech taxpayer dollars again. So even though the program in question makes up .07 percent of the federal budget, and even though its caseload has declined 58 percent since 1998, it became a major theme of the summer campaign.

Fine – that’s a sensible choice too – but either choice raises the question of how Romney might have governed. If he believed what he was saying about the Jeep business, would he have taken some odd action against China, or against Italy, because Fiat owns controlling shares in Chrysler-Jeep? Would he forbid American companies from trying to make a buck tapping the vast Chinese market? And what would he have done when he found out all the old Clinton-era welfare-to-work requirements were still firmly in place – abolish them and reinstate them, saying they were his idea? It’s hard to tell, but it’s no different than the congressional Republicans now convinced that everyone agrees that the fix for everything is taxes should not go up on the wealthy and your health benefits should be cut, and all that needs is a touch of multicultural packaging. Not everyone agrees with them.

That’s what makes it an odd December. At year-end you look back and assess what was really what, and what was nonsense. That’s hard this year with all the fiscal cliff turmoil in Washington and the labor-rights fighting going on in Michigan – but it’s not impossible. This is the time of year for all those best-of and worst-of lists, and for PolitiFact to choose it’s big lie of the year. A year-end realty-check can work wonders on your perspective, and especially in politics, and especially at the end of an election year. Republicans ought to try it.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Obama's Mandate, PolitiFact Lie of the Year, Republican Denial of Reality, Republican Obstructionism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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