Sep 232010
Howdy Doody Mitch McConnell
Image by uvw916a via Flickr

Americans complain about the federal government’s failure to restore the economy, and they largely place the blame on the Democrats because they are in power. But while the Democrats have their share of culpability, the Republicans have earned their title as the “Party of No.”

Ironically, the party whose members claim unwavering dedication to the original spirit of the Constitution has relied upon a parliamentary maneuver that was not part of the Framers plan and used it to obstruct the process of government. The filibuster, which did not exist at all until 1837 and did not require a super-majority to break before 1917, has become a prominent feature of the obstructionist Republican minority.

The filibuster was used sparingly up until 1970. Between 1919 and 1960 there had been only 27 filings of cloture (motion to end a filibuster). But in recent times it has grown in popularity, with the Republican minority of the past two congresses setting all-time records. Prior to the 110th Congress (2007-08), the Democratic minority had held the record with 68 filings in 2005-06. The last two Republican minorities eclipsed that total by stopping the wheels of government 139 times in 2007-08 and already 118 times in the current Congress.

This is obstructionism, plain and simple. Our democracy is based on political deliberation and debate that culminates in a vote, and the Republicans have strived to stop this process from occurring. They have essentially fought to block anything and everything the Democrats have proposed and offered nothing in the way of alternatives. So egregious is their barricade of democracy that they have no defense against charges of deliberate sabotage at the expense of American citizens.

The Republicans blocked healthcare, and they stood in opposition to Wall Street reform. They opposed job aid to the states, and they fought against extending unemployment benefits. They filibustered small business stimulus and attempted to stop the closing of loopholes to disrupt the offshoring of jobs. The Republicans have even repeatedly resorted to filibustering President Obama’s appointments, adding greatly to their excessive number of holds, which have led to fewer than half of the President’s judicial appointments being confirmed. The inescapable truth is that the party that wants people to believe that government is ineffective has done everything within their power to make it so.

Yet as counterproductive as this “just say no” tactic has been inside the Congress, the distortion and spin so prevalent in the media has been even more destructive. Witness the Stimulus: routinely portrayed as an abysmal failure by Republicans, non-partisan experts credit it with adding as much as 4.5% to the GDP and trimming 2 full percentage points from unemployment. In fact, as stated by economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s, it just happens that the month the NBER identified as the end of the recession was the month in which Stimulus spending was at it’s maximum.

Interestingly, it was also June of 2009 when former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich told the crowd at a Republican fundraising event that the Stimulus had “already failed.” His claim was obviously untrue, but when the objective is strictly confined to discrediting the opposing party, regardless of the costs to the American people, the rules of honesty and common decency have no bearing. From Sarah Palin to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell to John McCain, the Republicans have set aside any semblance of sincerity in order to mask their commitment to the wealthy and regain power on the backs of a struggling middle class.

Next: Broken Government — Democratic Inadequacy

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Sep 222010
President Barack Obama is joined by Vice Presi...
Image via Wikipedia

Whether you’re conservative or liberal, Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian, there’s one thing upon which most people will agree: our federal government is broken. The American economy crashed in 2008, and though the experts say that the Great Recession has officially passed, most people would beg to differ. The sad truth is that most Americans were hurt in the collapse; they either lost wealth or income or both. Now, two long years later, far too many people are still struggling and waiting for a dysfunctional government to implement effective solutions.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) reported on Monday that the most severe recession since the Great Depression had ended in June of last year. The NBER made their determination based on several economic indicators, including total output and industrial production. The facts, according to the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), are that we’ve now regained 69% of the GDP and 38% of sales. The problem is that only 9% of private sector jobs have returned.

As of the end of August, national unemployment was still stuck at 9.6% and the broader U-6 rate, which includes the underemployed, was at 16.7%. So, it doesn’t take a psychologist to understand that with nearly 15 million unemployed Americans, people are justifiably angry with a government that was able to restore the banks, but seems unfazed itself and unable to help the average citizen.

With the 2010 midterm elections now only six weeks away, this sense of anger toward what’s perceived as an ineffective and self-serving federal government is what’s feeding public opinion. Wall Street brought down the economy, but they’re doing fine. Washington set the stage for the collapse, sat idly while it occurred and has not yet brought back the wealth or employment that was taken from the middle and working classes. Is the federal government culpable? Absolutely — but Americans would be well served to recall the depths of the pit from which we’re trying to crawl.

Although the recession that “ended” last June officially started in December of 2007, by the end of July 2008, unemployment was at a comparatively low 5.7%, with total job loss for the year of 463,000.  Then in September, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the freefall began. By October all lending had stopped; the GDP was down 6%; job loss totaled 1.7 million, global trade collapsed, and net household worth had dropped by $5 trillion.

President Bush signed the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) into law in October, and although it did feed the thieves behind the housing crash, it could very well have prevented the 25% unemployment levels that hit in the 1930s. But TARP or not, when President Obama took office, the economy was hemorrhaging nearly 600,000 jobs per month, and total job loss for 2008 had been recalculated at 3 million.

The new administration was desperate to enact measures to prevent further economic decay, but with interest rates nearly at zero percent, monetary policy had already been exhausted. So, in response, President Obama championed the only course of action still available to the federal government — a stimulus.

It was one month into the new Democratic administration, the economy was in dire straits, and the number of jobs lost each month was still increasing. The federal government needed to act, so a stimulus spending plan was quickly formed, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed by Congress and signed into law on February 16. Sadly, a sign of things to come, the legislation was passed without a single Republican vote in the House and only three in the Senate. The most partisan period in contemporary politics had begun.

Next: Broken Government — Republican Sabotage

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Sep 212010
New Tea Party Symbol
Image by dsb nola via Flickr

Article first published as Tea Party; GOP Friend, Foe, or Foil? on Technorati.

Many people scoffed when the Tea Party first appeared on the political scene last year. The nascent movement was labeled “fringe” and dismissed as inconsequential. But now, more than a year and a half later, polls show around 20% of Americans claim to be a part of the Tea Party. The growth and success of the movement cannot be denied. Thus far, the GOP has been the beneficiary of the movement’s enthusiasm. But as we press nearer the November election, one serious question remains unanswered — is the Tea Party really helping or hurting the GOP?

When the movement originally began to gather steam, certain prominent figures in the Republican Party took notice and positioned themselves to leverage the excitement. Former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey was amongst the first, throwing the support of his FreedomWorks behind the Tea Party, he embraced the movement and helped craft their “Contract from America” in time for “Tax Day” 2009.

Sarah Palin was another early proponent. The former Republican candidate for vice president actually resigned her post as Governor of Alaska three months after the “Contract” was formed and soon thereafter became a vocal advocate of the movement. The half-term governor solidified her position as co-figurehead of the movement, sharing her influence with Fox News political barker Glen Beck, when she appeared as the keynote speaker at the Tea Party’s inaugural convention this past February.

The first fruits of the movement were harvested shortly before the convention, when Scott Brown rode a Tea Party endorsement into being the first Republican elected to represent Massachusetts in the Senate since 1972. Tea Partiers basked in the glory of the first successful candidate, but in certain ways, the thrill was short-lived. Being more than a little moderate for the Tea Party, before February was done, Brown split from the GOP and became one of five Republicans to vote in favor of the jobs bill.

Since February, much more has happened. Sarah Palin has been fully engaged in the Tea Party speaking tour, often handing out her sought after endorsement and amassing a respectable record of primary victories. To date, Palin has made 43 endorsements of which 24 have been for Tea Party candidates, and 23 have been women and 21 men. She’s presently batting nearly .700 with 25 victories and only 11 losses, and just over half of the wins were by Tea Partiers.

But in the midst of the reverie surrounding the trail of victory are growing concerns that the momentum may be taking the Republican Party far right — right off the edge of a cliff. Four of Palin’s endorsees, including her most recent, are signaling cause for alarm. One early endorsement, Rand Paul of Kentucky, spoke out against portions of the Civil Rights Act that made it illegal for business owners to discriminate against customers on the basis of race. Another of her Tea Party candidates, Sharon Angle of Nevada, ran on the “transitioning out” of Social Security and the elimination of the “unconstitutional” Department of Education.

Palin’s more recent endorsements include Joe Miller, Senate candidate from Alaska, another advocate for privatizing Social Security and eliminating the Department of Education, who also believes that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional. But the crown jewel of Palin’s string of primary victories has to be Christine O’Donnell, who formed a successful underdog campaign and beat former Republican Congressman Mike Castle to be Delaware’s Republican candidate for the Senate.

O’Donnell, who also ran for the Senate in 2006 and 2008, is an avowed fiscal conservative who has spoken strongly against “spending money we don’t have,” yet seems to have trouble practicing what she preaches. Accused of criminal activity, the records indicate that O’Donnell misappropriated campaign funds, spending the money on personal expenses. She is on record stating that “America is now a socialist economy” and is on video talking about her teen years dabbling in witchcraft and how she believes that scientists experimenting with cross-breeding have created mice with “fully-functioning” human brains.

Obvious to the most casual observer is the fact that all of these Tea Party candidates are empty vessels. They consistently take positions popular to the far-right and routinely state opinions with little to no basis in reality. Not a one of this gang of four believe that global warming is an issue for America. They are all against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. Each of them is in favor of radical shrinking of the federal government and further cutting of taxes without being able to articulate how they would achieve the balanced budgets they promote. They’re all against cap and trade, in favor of the repeal of the healthcare legislation, and none of them will speak to the media except under the protected umbrella of Fox News.

These bagger candidates are the Frankenstein monsters of the leadership of the Republican Party. People like Armey, Gingrich, McConnell and Boehner seem to think that words and rhetoric are transitory, that they can spread whatever lies, distortions and half-truths they wish in order to promote their positions and obfuscate the truth. But the fact is that speech has creative power: it triggers emotional and intellectual responses that impact perception, direct opinion and in the end define political “reality.”

The problem for these Republicans is that their complete lack of veracity and substance has created a movement fueled by belief in a veneer of talking points. There is no substance beneath the surface. Guys like McConnell and Boehner, Gingrich and Demint all know how things really work, but none of them have spoken the truth in years. When you profess to support average people but in reality sacrifice them for the top 2%, you can’t speak the truth. So, now the dishonesty of these self-serving manipulators has taken the form of an army of zombies who have nothing to offer but the talking points through which they were created.

Palin, Paul, Angle, O’Donnell, or Miller, it doesn’t matter. None of them have a clue beyond their “government is bad” rhetoric. They all actually believe that tax cuts pay for themselves. They buy into “small government” blindly, without even evaluating what it might mean. The country needs thinkers, and the Tea Party is giving us winkers. What will they do when more than a sound bite is needed? Sadly, they’ve all gained power because American culture is so easily exploited, never looking for substance or asking for facts. Hopefully, they will fulfill their Frankenstein destinies and ruin their creators before they have a chance to govern and take a real toll on the nation.

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