Monday, May 23, 2011

The GOP Has Gone from the Party of No to the Party of F You

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

When Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012 (a week after Mike Huckabee also chose not to run), he said it was because of the "interests and wishes" of his family.

And while I have no reason to doubt Daniels's claim, I can't help think that there may also be another factor in play. Daniels has carefully built his reputation as a reasonable governor, one who puts practical solutions in front of ideological battles. (Whether he actually is the above-the-fray leader he portrays himself to be is a different story, of course.) But, as Jacob Weisberg astutely pointed out in Slate on Friday, to be a national Republican figure today, you have to embrace a litany of lies, distortions and flat-out factually incorrect positions. The GOP lives now, he says, in "a mental Shangri-La, where unwanted problems ... can be wished away, prejudice trumps fact ... expertise is evidence of error, and reality itself comes to be regarded as some kind of elitist plot."

And living in a self-produced and Fox News/Rush Limbaugh-protected bubble of false reality has practical consequences. For the first two years of President Obama's administration, the Republicans were the Party of No, obstructing every one of the president's initiatives to address the pile of problems left behind by George W. Bush, all for political gain. But after winning control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections (as well as state governor's mansions and legislatures across the country), the Party of No morphed into something else, fully embracing a far-right, Tea Party-driven, wealth-and-business-obsessed, social and fiscal conservatism that sits to the right of even Ronald Reagan.

The GOP is now the Party of F You. (Fitting, given last year's infectious hit of the same name by Cee-Lo Green.) And that might be too much for Daniels to embrace.

After all, the Republicans campaigned in 2010 on jobs, deficits and health care, but it was all an act, a strategy to get elected. Once in office, the GOP has embraced a very different agenda, one that could easily be called the F You Agenda. Simply put, if you are wealthy or a large corporation, the Republicans have nothing but hugs and kisses for you. But for the rest of us? The GOP only offers a stern "F you."

- Are you out of a job because of the financial collapse-induced recession that spiked the country's unemployment rate in 2008? The Republicans say "F you." Unless you believe the fairy tale that tax cuts for the rich create jobs (a lunatic fringe position not accepted by virtually any respected economists), the GOP has done nothing to help address unemployment. They've fought federal programs to boost job growth (including stimulus proposals, even lying about the effects of the 2009 stimulus legislation). And if not addressing the problem wasn't bad enough, Republicans have blocked efforts to extend unemployment insurance to those out of work, at both the state and federal level.

- Are you worried about another financial collapse due to a lack of regulation of the industry? The Republicans say "F you." The 2008 recession, the effects of which are still with us today, was precipitated by a near collapse of the financial system, which was brought about by major financial institutions unscrupulously taking huge risks on junk securities, all while making billions in the process. This conduct was made possible because of 30 years (dating back to Ronald Reagan) of repealing regulations that had prevented just such abuses for nearly 50 years, from after the crash of 1929 until the Regan administration. So you would think it would be common sense that regulation would be needed to ensure that the financial industry can't do it all over again. But you would be wrong. The Republicans fought the modest financial regulation bill, Dodd-Frank, that was finally enacted in 2010, and have continued to fight to weaken it or delay its implementation ever since.

- Are you worried about cutting the federal budget deficit? The Republicans say "F you." The GOP doesn't care about deficits, despite its rhetoric, because if it did, it wouldn't adopt the position that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy cannot be rolled back, adding billions to the deficit in the years ahead. (And it's not like we're being over-taxed as citizens right now. The Bureau of Economic Analysis recently found that Americans now enjoy their lowest tax burden since 1958.) No, the Republican agenda is to cut taxes at all costs for corporations and the wealthy, and then to use the deficits that are created to justify draconian cuts in government spending. The end game is undoing the safety net created by the New Deal and the Great Society, including government programs like Medicare and Social Security that Americans have come to rely on. Paul Ryan's proposed budget (based on ludicrously optimistic projections provided by the right-wing Heritage Foundation), which effectively destroys Medicare by replacing government-paid-for health care for seniors with vouchers that won't begin to cover their insurance costs (assuming they can get insurance at all), is the realization of 80 years of conservative dreams of returning the country back to the 1920s. Which leads to ...

- Are you someone who hopes to have medical care when you're elderly? The GOP says "F you." Acceptance of Ryan's proposed budget, with its destruction of Medicare, has become unassailable dogma in the Republican party ( just ask Newt Gingrich). As I described above, Ryan's plan would leave many seniors without health care (including in his home state of Wisconsin). But hey, that's a small price to pay for an ideological victory, right?

- Do you believe a woman should have the right to control her own body if she gets pregnant? The Republicans say "F you." Since taking office, both in the House and in the states, eliminating a woman's right to have an abortion has been at the top of the GOP agenda. In fact, the very first bill introduced in the GOP-controlled House this session, HR 1, was laden with anti-abortion provisions.

- If you are a woman who has been raped in a way House Republicans don't think is rape, they say "F you" to you. GOP legislation introduced in the House sought to redefine rape, limiting the types of acts that constitute rape.

- In fact, if you are a woman, period, Republicans say "F you" to you. Even beyond abortion, GOP proposals have been so detrimental to women, especially women's health services, that myriad organizations and writers have used the term "the Republican war on women."

- Do you want the government to responsibly manage the country's finances and prioritize the financial health of the nation over strict ideological games and tests? The Republicans say "F you." Despite the fact that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned that failing to raise the debt ceiling "threatens the health of our entire global economy and the jobs of millions of Americans," and an independent report outlined the potential disastrous consequences to the economy, the Republicans are playing games. They're using the need to raise the limit as a bargaining chip, trying to extract draconian budget cuts in return, all while disingenuously downplaying the impact of failing to raise the ceiling (also this), even as John Boehner traveled to New York to assure financial executives that the limit would be raised.

Keep in mind, it is truly the ideologically driven radical right behind the debt ceiling obstruction. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an Obama-despising conservative institution, as well as financial executives like the managing director of J.P. Morgan, want the debt ceiling raised.

- Are high gas and oil prices having a real impact on your family's budget? The Republicans say "F you." Republicans in the Senate voted to protect subsidies for big oil companies, who have made billions in windfall profits thanks to high prices, choosing their corporate benefactors over the American people (not to mention blowing an opportunity to cut into the deficit and perpetuating a dependence on oil that has grave national security, economic and environmental implications for the United States).

I could go on (global warming denying, birther-coddling, union-busting, etc.), but the Republicans repeatedly say "F you" to everyone in this country except for the elite wealthy and big corporations. The party has moved so far to the right, its core policies are far out of the American mainstream. No wonder so many Republicans are dropping out of the presidential race, including Daniels, who would have to surrender his carefully developed persona as a reasonable, pragmatic leader if he wanted to have even a prayer of getting through the far-right-dominated GOP primary process.

I know Daniels is worried about the scrutiny on his past marital problems, but I can't help wonder if, at least in part, he just didn't want to be the standard bearer for the Party of F You.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Been a Bad Week for GOP Lies About Obama

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

A study came out this week demonstrating, not surprisingly, that pundits and politicians tend to be consistently wrong with their predictions. (As an aside, I was not surprised but quite happy to see that Paul Krugman was rated as the most accurate prognosticator, with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Sen. Charles Schumer, and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi close behind; George Will was among the least accurate.)

It made me think of how, from the time Barack Obama stood on the steps of the Capitol and took the oath of office, Republicans made destroying him politically their number one priority. In doing so, facts were optional (death panels and socialism, anyone?). After all, like the study shows, they could make all kinds of outlandish threats and predictions, and they didn't have to be (and weren't) correct.

But as the last week or two unfolded, I was struck by how several news events absolutely obliterated three of the top lies told by Republicans to try and bring down the president (no matter the cost to the country).

1. President Obama is soft on terrorism/won't protect the country/is a Muslim sympathizer. From the time Obama took office, he has had to contend with a Republican campaign to portray him as week on national security. The attacks really took off after the unsuccessful attempt by the "underwear bomber" on Christmas Day 2009, as the Republicans engaged in what Steve Benen brilliantly described as a "collective display of pants-wetting."

But the record shows that Obama has been more aggressive than his predecessor was in targeting and killing terrorist group leaders, including authorizing more drone attacks. But the last couple of weeks really made the Republican scare tactics look downright silly. First, NATO bombed Muammar el-Qaddafi's home, killing his son. Then, putting nearly 10 long years of frustration to bed, Obama authorized a daring and well-planned operation to kill Osama bin Laden at his retreat in the suburbs of Islamabad. (Remember, George W. Bush didn't prioritize catching or killing bin Laden.)

And while terrorists may be able to strike in the United States no matter what precautions are taken by the president, it is telling that the greatest domestic terrorist attack of the last 100 years took place on Bush's watch (despite being given a memo in August 2001 entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US"), but, to date, under Obama, no foreign attacks have been successful on U.S. soil.

Based on the week's events, Republicans will look idiotic if they again try to engage in scare tactics based on an idea that Obama isn't capable of keeping the American people safe.

2. President Obama wants to raise your taxes. These attacks were works of pure fiction, given that Obama campaigned that he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone making more than $250,000 per year, and would cut taxes on most families below that range. And what did he do? Exactly what he promised. In fact, he went beyond his campaign promise, agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthy. The result? The Bureau of Economic Analysis just found that Americans now enjoy their lowest tax burden since 1958.

You can argue the wisdom of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy (I think it was a horrible decision that will further increase the deficit while helping nobody who needs assistance). But despite the fear mongering tactics of Republicans who promised the American people Obama wanted raise their taxes, he has been a tax-cutting president.

3. President Obama wasn't born in the United States. The thing is, it's not like anyone with a quarter of a brain actually doubted Obama's place of birth. After all, he released a scan of his birth certificate in 2008, and Honolulu newspapers reported his birth at the time. But on April 27, as unnecessary as it was, Obama released his long-form birth certificate, putting the issue to rest once and for all.

Many Republicans claim they never questioned Obama's place of birth, and that the birthers represented a small percentage of the party. But even days before Obama released his long-form birth certificate, a CBS News/New York Times poll showed that 45 percent of Republicans believed the president was born outside of the United States. And more importantly, most Republican politicians and pundits who claimed not to be birthers offered only lukewarm dismissals of such claims, refusing to condemn those that questioned the location of the president's birth.

The release of Obama's birth certificate has given Americans a lot of questions to ask themselves: Why did Republicans spend so much time on a patently ludicrous accusation, even while the country was grappling with important problems, including a struggling economy, two wars, and national security, just to name a few? What does it say about a party that would conduct its business that way? And why was this president hit with this kind of an accusation? Nobody asked John McCain for his birth certificate or doubted his eligibility for the presidency, even though he was actually born outside of the continental United States (in the Panama Canal Zone). To be clear, I am not challenging McCain's eligibility. It would be ludicrous to do so because he was legally qualified to run. I am only pointing out that McCain didn't have to endure this kind of scrutiny about his place of birth. Why do you think that is?

Bonus Lie: President Obama is a socialist trying to nationalize industries, as evidenced by the automobile bailout. When, shortly after taking office, Obama decided to bail out Chrysler and General Motors to avoid two million lost jobs at a time when the country was already reeling from high unemployment, he was met with criticism from Republicans. Sen. Richard Shelby, a month before Obama took office, said that attempts to help the auto companies were "only delaying their funeral." But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral home. By 2010, with the auto makers prospering and getting ready to go public again, Obama declared the bailout a success.

And drowned out by the bigger stories of this week, GM quietly announced Thursday it has tripled its profits.

GOP claims about Obama's actions in the auto industry have been proven to be wrong.

Republicans have been portraying Obama as a socialist, someone out of the political mainstream, since he took office. But the facts show that this just another GOP lie. One third of Obama's stimulus bill was made up of tax cuts, he extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and his health care overhaul, rather than cut out the private insurers, instead handed them millions of new customers. And, of course, his 2012 budget proposal includes a five-year freeze on domestic spending and cuts to a bevy of programs that help low-income Americans and the environment.

Again, you can argue the merits of his proposals, but the Republican lies about Obama's ideological position have been exposed. And the news of GM prospering is just the latest example of Republicans mischaracterizing the president. He never intended to nationalize the industry.

In any event, at a time when the country faces important decisions to make and short- and long-term problems to address, no real effort is being made to come up with solutions, and no real debate is taking place, mainly because Republicans are too busy doing whatever they can to politically destroy the president, often by making false claims about him. But the events of the last two weeks have highlighted the strategy, revealing so many GOP assertions as being straight-out wrong.

I have no hope that the Republicans will change how they operate. But I do hope the American people have taken notice and will react accordingly.