Sunday, July 31, 2011
Imagine this scenario: You're pro-choice and you attend a debate between two candidates for office on the issue of a constitutional amendment to criminalize abortion. The first candidate argues that abortion is murder, and if a doctor performs an abortion on a woman, both of them should be charged with first-degree homicide. The second candidate then rises in rebuttal, saying, "No, if a doctor performs an abortion, only he should be charged with first-degree murder. The mother should be charged with negligent homicide."
Would you feel represented? Of course not. But that's what has happened with the debt ceiling negotiations.
It's easy to take shots at the Tea Party-controlled Republican leadership for holding the American economy hostage to fulfill their extreme-right, not-supported-by-the-American-people obsession with cutting spending, and how their alleged concern over debt is really a smoke screen to fundamentally change American society, returning the country back to the 1920s when corporations and the wealthy were allowed to run amok and there was no social safety net for everyone else (leading, of course, to the greatest depression of the 20th century). I did just that last week.
But what has me so angry right now is the news of Harry Reid signing off on a compromise to the debt-ceiling clash that is, in essence, a complete capitulation to the Tea Party position. I have never been so pessimistic about the state of our political process and the future of the country.
I have one simple question: Where are the Democrats?
Isn't the Democratic party supposed to be the institution in place to oppose the Republicans when they offer bad policy, especially when polls show that a majority of Americans don't share the GOP obsession with spending cuts? (Not only did polls from CBS News and Gallup show that Americans favored revenue increases along with spending cuts to settle the debt ceiling impasse, but another Gallup poll on July 20 revealed that only 16 percent of Americans thought the deficit was "the most important problem facing the country today," while 27 percent listed unemployment and 31 percent said the economy in general.)
After all, you can't blame the Republicans for advancing their agenda. And while using blackmail and putting the country's economic condition in peril may be amoral, it's pointless to expect the John Boehners of the world to stand up to that amorality.
No, it's on the Democrats, who, not incidentally, control two of the three institutions necessary to make a deal, to stand up to what Steve Benen called "extortion politics."
It's the job of the Democrats to stand firm on the proposition that the debt ceiling (honoring past commitments democratically agreed to by a decade's worth of Congresses and presidents) has nothing to do with decisions on how to handle future budgets, and to link them is just extortion politics.
It's the job of the Democrats to make the case that while fiscal responsibility is an important long-term goal (after all, it was a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who signed the last budget with a surplus, while a Republican president working with a Republican Congress proceeded to sign off on budget after budget with deficits), with the economy struggling and unemployment high, slashing spending now will only make things worse for most (that is, those not in the top one percent of wealth) Americans.
It's the job of the Democrats to stand firm that not one dollar of spending should be cut before tax cuts are rolled back for the wealthiest Americans, tax breaks are discontinued for corporate jets, and subsidies are discarded for large oil companies raking in copious profits.
It's the job of the Democrats to continually highlight that massive spending cuts, especially slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, have a human face. That while the Republicans were straight-out lying (Politfact's top lie of 2009) when they told tales of death panels and policies to discontinue care to seniors, cuts to Medicare and Social Security would actually send countless senior citizens into desperate financial situations.
But what did the Democrats do? They accepted the Tea Party premise that it was vital right now to address spending instead of unemployment and the economy. They never held firm on the idea that the debt ceiling had nothing to do with future budgets. They never pressed the case that by not raising the debt ceiling, Republicans would be taking the unbelievably un-American step of forcing the country to renege on its already agreed-to obligations. They didn't make a clear case to the American people that the GOP was holding the American economy hostage to fulfill their political motives. (For example, John Boehner admitted that many in his caucus wanted to let the debt ceiling deadline pass and "create chaos" in order to force through their far-right fiscal policies, including a balanced budget amendment, and yet the Democrats did nothing to publicize this fact.) They failed to make the case to the American people that the cuts being thrown around by Republicans would negatively impact their day-to-day lives, far more than deficits would this year. They never held firm on insisting on the wealthiest Americans, who profited most from the last decade of fiscal irresponsibility, paying their share toward the fiscal solution with rollbacks of the Bush tax cuts, standing with those looking to support the wealthiest Americans instead of the rest of us.
In short, the Democrats did more than just cave. They actually adopted the Republican position, and then engaged in a debate on how extreme that Republican position would be (offering far-right crazy in opposition to the Tea Party's all-out, society-changing crazy).
Put another way, the Democrats didn't fulfill their duty in a two-party system of representing the opposing point of view on the debt ceiling (especially, again, when polls show that the people don't support the GOP's draconian position on the issue).
It has been argued that since the Tea Party members of the House, as David Brooks put it, "do not accept the logic of compromise," "do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities," and "have no sense of moral decency," the Democrats had to be the adults, doing what was necessary to avoid a default and the calamitous results for the American economy that would come with it. Under this argument, the Democrats could not stand firm because their first allegiance had to be preventing default, no matter what it took, while the Tea Party Republicans irresponsibly ran around declaring that a default would not be a big deal.
I don't buy this argument. In fact, I find that approach weak and counter-productive. What would stop the Tea Party from holding the economy hostage again and again? The Democrats had a moral obligation to stand firm to protect the American people from the Tea Party zealots in the House (and the members of the Republican leadership that were too afraid of a primary challenge to stand up to their lunatic fringe). And they failed.
As importantly, while a default and/or a credit downgrade would have been disastrous for the American economy, I'm not convinced that the drastic slashes in spending (with zero increase in revenues) in the "compromise" won't be as bad or worse. As Paul Krugman said on This Week today:
"We have 9 percent unemployment. These spending cuts are going to worsen unemployment. It's even going to hold the long-run fiscal picture because we have a situation where more and more people are becoming permanent long-term unemployed. ... I have nobody I know who thinks the unemployment rate will be below 8 percent at the end of next year. With the spending cuts it might be above 9 percent at the end of next year. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. We're having a debate in Washington, all about, 'Gee, we'll make the economy worse, but will we make it worse on 90 percent of the Republicans' terms or 100 percent of Republicans' terms?' The answer is 100 percent."
The debate over the debt ceiling was an epic test for leading Democrats, and each and every one of them failed miserably. Reid, as the majority leader of the Senate, had the ability to hijack the discussion in the same way Boehner did. Same goes for the president. But both chose to adopt the Republican position and, as Krugman said, fight over whether it would be 90 percent or 100 percent Republican.
Who was fighting for the traditional Democratic position, the one that looked out for middle-class and working-class Americans? No Democrat in a position of power.
(I want to acknowledge the argument many have made that this outcome is, in fact, consistent with the president's policy preferences, in that he, like the Republicans in Congress, favors massive spending cuts. We don't know what is inside the president's mind. But as a Democratic president, I feel like he had an obligation to stand up to the Republican madness, and, as such, I will hold him accountable for not doing so.)
So we got a "compromise" that was really a capitulation, and we had to endure sad-sack Democratic quotes, like Diane Feinstein not being pleased, and Carl Levin pointing the finger of blame at the president. It's unacceptable. If they're not happy, why didn't they stand firm against the GOP proposal?
And what is especially galling about the whole sad affair is that the Democrats have seen over the past year how far-right Republican policies are pushing voters over to Democratic candidates. It began in 2010 when Republicans lost extremely winnable Senate seats in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado and West Virginia because voters rejected Tea Party-GOP nominees (something I discussed last November). It continued through the emergence of buyer's remorse in states electing Republican governors, including New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin. It was on stark display in upstate New York when voters in a traditionally conservative district elected a Democrat in a special House election. And it is currently visible in the senate recall efforts in Wisconsin. Opposing draconian cuts, especially to Medicare, has been good political business for Democrats (something Republicans, of course, realize).
So not only is standing up to Republican excesses the right thing for Democrats to do, it has also been demonstrated to be good politics. But the Demcorats still managed to completely capitulate to the Tea Party position. And in doing so, they potentially removed the Medicare issue as one they could use to hammer Republicans in 2012.
The takeaway from the debt ceiling negotiations, for me, is that while the two-party system is alive and well in the United States when it comes to partisan bickering and political gamesmanship, when it comes to the powers in Washington deciding what to do for the country, the two-party system is dead. Democrats have abdicated the role of fighting for the interests of the American people, so that we now have Republicans and Democrats who will eventually accept the Republican position.
Such a state of affairs is upsetting to me as a liberal/progressive. But it is far more of a blow to me as an American citizen. Who in Washington is presenting the argument for what is best for the whole country, not just corporations and the wealthiest one percent? Nobody I see, and certainly not Harry Reid and Barack Obama.
The Republicans are the easy villains in this sordid affair. Their behavior in holding the country hostage to push a far-right agenda out of step with the beliefs of the American people has been disgraceful.
But the Democrats can't escape blame. When the moment of truth came, they showed no resolve. I'd honestly rather have faced a government default that would have been squarely on the shoulders of the Tea Party. At least then we would know exactly what happened and who was responsible. But when working class and middle class Americans, already hammered by a decade of increasing wealth disparity and an unemployment crisis, are further ground down by draconian and unnecessary budget cuts, while the wealthy enjoy tax cuts and oil companies continue to receive subsidies, it will be sad to know that the Democrats signed off on such an outcome.
We will look back and know that when the debt ceiling issue was in play, the Republicans made their case, but nobody in a position of power made the opposing argument. The Democrats just went along. And Democratic leaders will have to live with the consequences, along with the rest of us.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
If one message has emerged from the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, I think it's this: The Republican Party, at least in the House of Representatives, has been captured by far-right ideologues who are either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the practical effect of their insistence on ideological purity. And in doing so, they are putting the economic health of the nation at risk.
Raising the debt ceiling is not something that should be controversial. Congress (mostly with Republicans in power, and with the support of current GOP leaders) raised the debt ceiling 19 times during George W. Bush's presidency, and 17 times under Ronald Reagan (including with Reagan's support). And if you need any further proof that raising the debt ceiling is not a liberal enterprise, the very conservative, Obama-opposing, business-protecting U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out strongly in favor of raising the ceiling.
More importantly, something that isn't noted often enough is that raising the debt ceiling is not an action that involves new spending. Rather, it is a decision for the United States of America to stand by commitments that it has already made (and has made via the democratic process of congresses passing legislation that was then signed into law by presidents).
So opposing raising the debt ceiling is not in itself a move to stop future spending. More accurately, it is an attempt to go back and repeal old legislation, but without the guts--and political cost--of doing so head-on.
Opposing raising the debt ceiling is essentially an announcement to the world the United States will not stand by its commitments. No American should want to be part of such a statement.
Tea Party Republicans can talk all they want about the effects of a U.S. default being "exaggerated," but their position is not supported by an array of economic and political experts across the ideological spectrum, including major financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase, with the company's chief executive calling a default "catastrophic." Even Ronald Reagan wrote a letter in 1983 warning of the danger of not raising the debt ceiling, arguing:
"The full consequences of a default – or even the serious prospect of default – by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar."
Whether you think the country's spending and/or debt is a problem or not is not the discussion here. That's a separate debate. The two issues are only linked in that those who argue that the country's spending (but not the deficit, apparently, since these same people oppose any tax increases, even though state and federal taxes as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1950) is a problem are using the need to raise the debt ceiling as a tool to blackmail those who disagree. Otherwise, the two issues do not have any business being part of the same debate, since one addresses how we should proceed in the future (debt/spending), while the other asks if we will honor the promise to pay for money already spent in the past.
The bottom line is that despite the spending/debt debate, Tea Party ignorance (or willful indifference) and blind ideology is putting the economy of the United States at risk. These Republicans are putting fidelity to Grover Norquist's fringe anti-tax fanaticism above what is best for the country.
And it's not like the Tea Party position is supported by many Americans. In a recent poll 66 percent of respondents said the debt-ceiling solution should consist of both spending cuts and tax increases, with a Gallup poll discussed by Nate Silver revealing similar results.
(We won't even get into the fact that a key Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, may stand to financially profit if the country defaults.)
Two columns by David Brooks, a year and a half apart, illustrate how the GOP (at least in the House) has been captured by far-right Tea Party ideology (and lost all touch with practical governing). And why it's so dangerous for America's future.
On November 1, 2010, with the Republicans about to make gains in the midterm elections, Brooks wrote how pragmatic conservatives would keep the influx of Tea Party ideologues in line. He paraphrases Cantor as saying: "We can’t do anything that might unsettle [skeptical Americans], like shutting down the government," before predicting:
"Republican leaders are also prepared to take what they can get, even if it’s not always what they would like."
And to those who would argue that "there is no way the fire-breathing Tea Party-types are going to cooperate," Brooks had an answer: While he acknowledged the Tea Partiers would need to be addressed, he concluded with these paragraphs:
"But this leadership-versus-the-crazies storyline is overblown. The new Republicans may distrust government, but this will be a Republican class with enormous legislative experience. Tea Party hype notwithstanding, most leading G.O.P. candidates either served in state legislatures or previously in Washington. The No Compromise stalwarts like Senator Jim DeMint have a big megaphone but few actual followers within the Senate.
"Over all, if it is won, a Republican House majority will be like a second marriage. Less ecstasy, more realism."
At the time, I thought Brooks was delusional. It seemed clear that the Tea Party ideologues would put their far-right, impractical fiscal positions ahead of the best interests of the vast majority of Americans. And that is exactly what happened, something that Brooks was forced to confront on July 4. In a column lamenting the inability of the Republicans in the House to accept a staggeringly GOP-friendly deal to raise the debt ceiling (something he called "the mother of all no-brainers"), he wrote:
"Over the past few years, [the GOP] has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
"The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
"The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.
"The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor."The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name."
He reaches the conclusion that the Republican Party, as dominated by these Tea Party ideologues, just may be an "odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance."
Brooks's nearly 180-degree turnaround in 20 months gives stark illustration to what the Tea Party/GOP is doing to our nation. And Americans have noticed, with buyer's remorse breaking out across the country. Several recently elected Tea Party/GOP governors have seen plunging approval ratings, including in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin; a conservative New York House district recently elected a Democrat in a special election; the senate recall effort in Wiscosin has gained momentum; and a recent poll found President Obama ahead of every Republican presidential challenger, just to point to some more prominent examples.
Brooks and American voters are starting to realize that the Tea Party/GOP is an intransigent, dangerous force in the country, as they value far-right ideological purity over everything else.
But this epiphany won't change anything if Republicans in the House lead the country's economy over a cliff on the debt ceiling.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
David Brooks's New York Times column on Monday created quite a stir, getting major play on cable television news and online (at least between Casey Anthony reports).
Most of the discussion turned on Brooks' assertion that "the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative."
The idea that the current Tea Party-dominated GOP is single-mindedly focused on its far-right ideology at the expense of what is best for the country is not news to anyone who has been paying attention for the last two-and-a-half years. I suppose the fact the statement came from Brooks, a conservative, is what caused the column to get so much attention.
But I am way more interested in Brooks's premise than his conclusion. His declaration that the Republican Party has been "infected" is based on the fact that the Democrats are offering the GOP a great deal on the budget, but the Republicans are holding out for complete victory. Brooks's second paragraph reads:
"Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them. The Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill. They have agreed not to raise tax rates. They have agreed to a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession."
This infuriates me. Not that I disagree with Brooks's premise. He is, of course, correct. What angers me so is how easily the Democrats have rolled over to the Republicans, both because it's bad for the country and bad, strategically, for the Democrats' electoral chances in 2012.
With unemployment still high despite corporations rolling in profits (Think Progress recently relayed a Northeastern University study that showed that 88 percent of the growth in national income for the last 18 months has gone to massive corporate profits while only 1 percent has gone to wages, and the New York Times recently reported that top executives enjoyed a 23 percent pay increase in 2010), it is patently illogical, immoral and bad for the country to fund cuts in government spending with tax cuts for the wealthy.
But by using the debt ceiling issue to extort cuts in government spending, Republicans, who control only one of the three segments of federal lawmaking, the House of Representatives, are dictating to the Democrats, who control the other two entities (the Senate and the presidency), the terms of negotiation.
So why have the Democrats caved into the Republican assumption that cuts have to be made to raise the debt ceiling? The decision is especially vexing when you consider that the Democrats have not even tried to point out the two big lies at the heart of Republican claims.
First, Republicans talk about runaway spending, but a recent study revealed that when you control for population growth and inflation, 2011 federal spending is roughly equal to that in 2001 (Clinton's last budget), but in 2001, that spending level resulted in a surplus. Why? The Bush tax cuts. In other words, it's not spending that has gotten out of control, but a deficit has erupted due to tax cuts for the wealthy (plus the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq).
Second, the Republicans talk a lot about the federal deficit, but, in practice, they don't care at all about the deficit. If they did, they would put tax cuts for the wealthy, which could be used to balance the budget, on the table. Instead, they are resolutely protecting the wealthiest Americans, to the detriment of the rest of us. The party's priority is to effectively do away with safety net programs they have despised from their inception (like Paul Ryan's plan to destroy Medicare) and to cut taxes, regardless of the impact on the deficit.
The most troubling part of the Democrats' surrender to the GOP, though, is that the president has offered Medicare cuts as part of the deal to raise the debt ceiling.
For starters, raising the debt ceiling isn't (and never was) a controversial action. Bush approved the move seven times during his presidency, and the ultra conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-bashing right-wing-loyal business group, has come out strongly in favor of raising the ceiling.
So why are the Democrats surrendering on this issue? And why offer Medicare cuts?
Politics can be hard to predict sometimes. President Obama and the Democrats won in a landslide in 2008, only for the Republicans to make gains in 2010. But there has been one constant in recent elections and polling that could not be clearer: Americans don't want Medicare cuts, nor do they want massive cuts that affect the middle class to fund tax cuts for millionaires. (In a Gallup poll, 59 percent said they supported the end of the Bush tax cuts for those making more than $250,00 per year.)
Part of the Republican victories in 2010 can be attributed to opposition to the health care reform legislation, and much of that anger was stoked by right wing media lies, the biggest one of which was that the law would make massive cuts to Medicare benefits and result in rationing and death panels that would keep senior citizens from getting needed care. (I am in the beginning stages of a research project looking at how Fox News and MSNBC discussed health care reform in August 2009, and my preliminary findings show that Fox News prime-time programming hammered home claims that seniors would be denied care under the health care reform proposal being considered in Congress at the time.)
In 2011, Paul Ryan's budget proposal, which included the essential destruction of Medicare (turning it from a single-payer system to one with vouchers that would have been inadequate for tens of millions of seniors to fund health insurance, leaving them without health care), was so unpopular, Americans rebelled. In May, voters in a historically Republican House district in New York turned out in unusually high numbers to hand the seat to seat to a Democrat in a special election, almost entirely due to outrage at the Ryan Medicare plan. (New York's 26th district had been in Republican hands for all but 16 years since 1857.)
It seems clear: If you propose Medicare cuts, the American people will vote against you.
Due to Republican over-reaching on spending cuts and tax reductions for the wealthy, buyer's remorse is sweeping the country, with recently elected Republican governors in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Wisconsin facing plunging approval ratings. And a recent poll found President Obama ahead of every Republican presidential challenger (and even leading Rick Perry and Sarah Palin in Texas, one of the most conservative states in the country).
The American people may often be hard to read, but now is one time they are speaking loudly and clearly: Don't cut Medicare, and don't make drastic budget cuts without raising taxes on the wealthy.
So what are the Democrats doing? Not pushing hard enough for eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy, and putting Medicare cuts on the table. It's maddening. Bill Clinton came out and urged the president not to cave into the Republicans, arguing that there is no reason for the Democrats to agree to cuts without raising taxes on the wealthy.
To me, the take away from Brooks's column isn't that members of the Tea Party-captured Republican party "do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it." We knew that already.
No, the important part of Brooks's piece is the fact that the "Democrats have agreed to tie budget cuts to the debt ceiling bill."
It is easy to make the argument that the policies of the current, far-right GOP, with its goal of returning the country to the approach of the Hoover administration (and the wealth disparity and massive suffering that went with it, as well as the depression that followed), are bad for the American people. What is harder to understand is why the Democrats are so afraid to stand against these ruinous proposals, and why they have allowed the Republicans' false assumptions to be the accepted premise for the debate.
Brooks argues that if no compromise is reached and the debt ceiling isn't raised, independents will blame the Republicans for not acting reasonably. I'm not sure I agree. The American people have spoken, and they don't want cuts to Medicare. If the Democrats cave into the GOP and agree to Medicare cuts in exchange for the necessary and routine act of raising the debt ceiling, they will be every bit as responsible as the GOP for the pain the country experiences, and will get their share of the blame.
So if the Democrats don't stand firm, not only will the American people pay the price, the party will have missed out on a golden opportunity to win elections in 2012. The message from Americans is clear. The Democrats just have to listen.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
When Tea Party darling Herman Cain announced his candidacy for president in May, he decided to cite words from the U.S. Constitution to underline his key points. Unfortunately for Cain, he got his documents wrong. The passage he chose was from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.
Cain is not alone. There seems to be an epidemic of Tea Party Republicans botching historical accounts of the founding of the United States. Since Independence Day celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and given the recent Tea Party problems with history, I thought it would be fitting to look a little closer at Cain's gaffe, as it has both symbolic and substantive importance regarding modern American politics.
Symbolically, Cain's problem with historical accuracy represents a major characteristic of the modern Tea Party-dominated Republican Party. Whether it is Sarah Palin's butchering of Paul Revere's role in the American Revolution, or Michele Bachmann's truly revisionist mangling of the facts to claim the founding fathers tried to abolish slavery (not to mention her belief that John Quincy Adams was a founding father, even though he was born in 1767), the Tea Party has shown a disdain for knowledge, facts and learning. History is not something set in stone, but rather something to be twisted and manipulated to support the immutable, ideological beliefs of the movement.
So if Palin or Bachmann plainly get American history wrong, the response isn't to admit it (after all, the statements are not debatable; Revere was not riding to warn the British, and slavery was enshrined as legitimate in the Constitution, notably through the three-fifths compromise). No, instead, their supporters tried to change history to match the statements of their leaders, which in 21st century practice means Palin supporters editing the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere to reflect her mistakes, and Bachmann's followers doing the same for the page on John Quincy Adams.
The ignorance of Cain, Palin and Bachmann holds importance beyond a "gotcha" moment to demonstrate that these three individuals aren't up to the task of being president (similar to Mitt Romney's gaffe of telling an unemployed attendee at one of his events that he, too, was unemployed). More importantly, the lack of respect (or even caring about) facts, both by the candidates and their supporters, is indicative of the larger GOP approach to political positions. For example, Republicans support lower taxes for millionaires because that is what their core constituency and base ideology calls for, but they justify the position through unsustainable assertions that such tax cuts somehow create jobs, even though we know they don't (also here and here). Or, Republicans reject the existence of climate change to keep costs as low as possible for corporations regardless of the consequences, but justify their position by denying the existence of climate change, even though the overwhelming majority of scientists say it is real.
There are myriad issues for which Republicans rely on patently false assertions to back policy positions that may be otherwise unpalatable to the American public ("We're creating jobs" plays better than "Rich people shouldn't have to pay a lot in taxes"), but nowhere is this lack of respect for facts and history more prevalent than in the party's attacks on Barack Obama. Rather than oppose his policies on the merits, Republicans have engaged in a two-prong strategy of personal attacks meant to score political victories: First, they opposed every proposal made by the president, even if Obama called for the adoption of a policy once embraced by Republicans (i.e. becoming the Party of No, although I have argued they have evolved into the Party of F You).
Second, the right, including politicians and the right-wing, Fox News/Limbaugh propaganda echo chamber, has engaged in a coordinated assault to paint the president as being out of the American mainstream, regardless of the facts. They want you to think he is dangerous and un-American, that he was born in Kenya, and that his policy proposals are radical, and that he has no desire to keep Americans safe from terrorists with whom he actually sympathizes.
(Never mind that he has governed as a centrist and consistent with his campaign promises, which resulted in a hefty victory. For example, the stimulus package was smaller than many economists supported and included a ton of tax cuts; he didn't push for a single-payer system or even a public option as part of health care reform, instead getting behind a bill that pushed tens of millions of new customers into the hands of private insurance companies; and he stepped up the pursuit of Qaeda and Taliban targets, including drone attacks, taking out more terrorists than his predecessor, including Osama bin Laden.)
In right-wing rhetoric, the president is a threat to the American way of life, a socialist who wants to change traditional American values, even though there is no actual evidence to support these claims.
Why do these attacks matter? Well, that question segues nicely into the substantive problem with Cain's Constitution/Declaration gaffe, since the Tea Party regularly invokes an Obama attack on liberties, drawing on the Declaration of Independence (even if Cain thought he was citing the Constitution, not an insignificant error since the Constitution is the law of the land, providing a framework for our entire political system, while the Declaration is mainly historical in nature).
In his speech, Cain said:
"You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believe in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, don’t stop right there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says that when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it. We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do."
This kind of language should sound familiar, since it is the bread and butter of Tea Party ideology. And Cain is right about what the Declaration says (well, he got the wrong document, but he got the right sequence of passages). The second paragraph of the Declaration begins:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
And then the paragraph goes on to say:
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Warms the cockles of the Tea Party heart, right? Well, with a little more perspective and examination, not so much. First of all, I'm sure it's no coincidence Cain stopped where he did, since the next line of the Declaration is:
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes."
So yes, the Declaration supports "the Right of the People to alter or to abolish" the government when it becomes "destructive" to "unalienable Rights." But not for "light and transient causes." What did the founding fathers think were big enough threats to warrant revolution? The answer is right in the Declaration, a laundry list of grievances that make up the bulk of the document. It is a litany of charges that the King of England had impinged on American liberties by, among other things, engaging in the hindering and dissolution of of legislative bodies, ignoring laws, preventing the adoption of laws (including, much to the Tea Party's disdain, I'm sure, the "Naturalization of Foreigners"), interfering with the judiciary, quartering English soldiers, interfering with trade, and imposing taxes without consent.
In short, the founding fathers bristled at being ruled by a dictatorial monarch. It is easy to see how in the over-hyped, rabid and, most importantly, false and historically inaccurate rhetoric of the Tea Party, such a connection would be apparent, from the tyranny of a King to a president looking to institute a socialist/Nazi/Islamist dictatorship in the United States.
Only, much like Bachmann's and Palin's lack of knowledge of our history, Cain (and it's not like he is the only Republican who talks about Obama's assault on our liberties) completely misunderstands and misapplies the content and context of the Declaration's call for revolution. Republicans can't seem to understand that if the president disagrees with them on how to address the country's roster of problems, it doesn't make him a tyrant. It's doubtful the founding father would look kindly on anyone trying to argue that the Obama presidency was comparable to the reign of King George III.
The language of the Declaration of Independence doesn't provide the support the Tea Party thinks it does.
(As an aside, the core charges of the Tea Party against Obama are all false: They complain about taxes, but Americans are experiencing their lowest tax burden since 1958, with taxes lower than they were under Reagan. They charge Obama with wanting to take away their guns, but the president hasn't signed a single piece of gun control legislation, nor did he veto bills with pro-gun provisions attached. I could go on and on.)
Cain (and Bachmann and Palin) getting history wrong isn't just about a funny media story. Rather, the Tea Party's ambivalence about facts and history is a necessary component of the GOP political strategy, as the party seeks to continue its drive since the 2010 elections to return the country to the 1920s (attacking social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security, busting unions, cutting education, catering to corporate special interests and prioritizing eliminating abortion, all while further increasing the historically massive divide between the very wealthiest Americans and the rest of us). As Think Progress tweeted last week: "REMINDER: Current deficit + economy product of crisis created by deregulation + huge tax cuts. Solution isn't deregulation + huge tax cuts." (Just look at Tim Pawlenty's tax cut proposal, for example.)
Republicans, to win in 2012, are relying on Americans to forget history, not remember it.
So on this Independence Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, let's take the opportunity to read the document and better understand what it did (and did not) say, and, more importantly, against what the founding fathers were actually rebelling.
And let's try and stick to facts and accurate history when debating the issues. I know cognitive dissonance can be troubling for an ideologue, but here is a tip: If you find yourself literally trying to rewrite history, you're probably on the wrong side of a debate.