[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Looking back on 2009, much of the discussion on TV news shows is whether President Obama and the Democrats in Congress correctly handled the problems facing the country. Somehow, a narrative seems to have emerged that the Democrats failed and would pay the price in the 2010 midterm elections.
But where is the discussion of how the Republicans have behaved in the last year?
It has been less than one year since President Obama was sworn in. When he sat behind the big desk in the Oval Office for the first time, he found himself responsible for a free-falling economy (and mounting staggering job losses), a massive deficit, the manpower and financial burden of hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq, a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and a militant Islamic movement looking to inflict damage on America and American interests, all of which came as a direct result of the failed policies of his predecessor. Obama also had a host of other problems to address, from global warming, to energy dependence to a corrupt and dangerous Iranian government struggling to hold onto power and capable of real danger, just to name a few.
The president didn't create any of these problems. Not one of them. And it is completely unrealistic to think that any person or party could solve these issues in less than a year.
Now, there has been much debate over whether Obama's handling of these issues was up to snuff. From listening to the ridiculous rhetoric from the right, you would think that the president was trying to turn the country into some bizarre combination of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. And many progressives are unsatisfied with Obama's handling of the re-regulation of the financial industry, as well as his approach to health care, LGBT issues and other points of contention.
But another way to put it is that the criticism form the right is not only unfounded, but the Republicans have offered no real alternatives to address the issues, aside from advocating for the failed Bush policies of the last decade. And progressives seem to forget that the arcane rules in the Senate limit what can be done with only a majority, while Republicans in Congress are single-minded and united to do anything they can to politically damage the president, without any concern for actually governing for the American people. We saw that in play in the health care debate, as the 40 Republican senators remained rock solid in support of the insurance companies and the status quo (the current system is a disaster, as health care costs chew up more and more of the country's GDP while leaving Americans with more and more health care expenses and less and less coverage).
What have the Republicans offered aside from "no"?
To me, that should be the real story of the first year of the Obama administration. The discussion should be about the utter disdain the Republicans have shown for the American people, as the party has put political games and protecting its corporate interests in the first position on every issue. That, and the out-and-out lies that have become the go-to strategy of the party (death panels anyone?).
Consider that in the last two weeks alone, we have been treated to:
- GOP senators blocking confirmation of Obama appointees as a way of securing petty political victories. (What kind of system allows a single senator to hold up confirmation of an appointee? How is it that a party can control 60 seats in the Senate and still not have the ability to confirm the president's appointments? Does this seem like a good idea to anyone interested in maintaining a functioning government?)
- Republican senators holding up funding for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as a tactic to slow down health care reform. (When Democrats in Congress during the Bush years balked at writing a blank check for a failed war in Iraq, Republicans questioned their patriotism. But now, to Republicans, it's okay to block funding the troops as a way of slowing down health care reform? How is this not a story? Why is this not provoking voter outrage?)
- Republicans opposing health care reform on fiscal grounds, even though the bill will lower the deficit, and despite the fact that the same Republicans had no trouble ballooning the deficit in the Bush years by approving massive tax cuts for the rich, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Medicare prescription drug program without paying for any of them.
- Sen. James Inhofe traveling to Copenhagen to undermine President Obama at the Copenhagen climate change summit. (Can you imagine the charges Republicans would have thrown at a Democrat who traveled to a conference Bush was attending to undermine his position? I promise you the words "patriotism"--as in lack of--and "treason" would have come up.)
- GOP senators calling for the watering down of financial reform legislation, just a year after the misconduct of the banks caused the economy to go into a death spiral. (If there is a lot of anti-bank feeling in the country now, why isn't the biggest defender of the finance industry, the Republican party, getting hit with the blame? And how can any legislator oppose reform in the face of developments like a credit card legally charging 79.9 percent interest?)
- Sen. John Thune lying on the floor of the Senate as to when benefits take effect in health care reform legislation. (Thanks to Al Franken for not being intimidated and pointing out a lie when he saw one.)
- Republican superstar Sarah Palin reiterating the lie that health care legislation called for death panels, and changing the basis for the accusation when her original charge was proven untrue. (This kind of dishonest fear-mongering is more contrary to American ideals of democracy than anything in the health care legislation itself could ever possibly be.)
- Sen. Tom Coburn demanding a reading of an amendment to the health care reform bill calling for a single-payer program (which would have taken 12 hours, but which only went several hours before Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrew the amendment) as a way to slow down health care reform. (If the Democrats had tried something like that during the Bush years, they would have been pilloried by Republicans for not respecting the American people's wishes as expressed by the election results.)
Again, these events are only from the last two weeks. And the list is hardly complete.
So if the Republicans are supposed to be guaranteed to win seats in 2010, on what will these victories be won? What have the Republicans done to help the American people with the grave problems they face? (Sen. Mitch McConnell seems to think that the health care reform bill will be enough. Will Americans really support the Republicans on this one?)
To be clear, I am not arguing that the president and the Democrats in Congress have been beyond reproach in 2009. I think there is a lot of fair criticism to be levied, and a fair debate can be had as to whether the Democrats handled health care reform and other issues as well as they could have. But any deficiency in the Democratic approach pales when compared to the shameful conduct of Republicans during this time. The Democrats were making an effort to clean up Bush's messes. The Republican motives in the last year have not in any way involved actually trying to fix problems (or, even worse, they don't even acknowledge that many of the problems exist in the first place).
The story for 2010 should be the Republican party's complete disregard for the needs of the American people. The party's decision to prioritize scoring political victories over the president, protecting corporate interests, and relying on lies to do it over solving problems and governing should be clear to anyone paying attention. Let's hope that when voters go to the polls in 2010, they remember who was trying to solve problems and who wasn't. Time will tell if we will ever fully recover from what Bush did to the country. The last thing we need is more Republican rule, offering more of the same failed policies.