For the first weeks of the Obama Administration, it seemed that we were also suffering from a deep recession of civil discourse from the political right. Other than being bonded with Gorilla Glue to the Bush tax cuts that haven't worked since their arrival as a gaudy and costly artifiicial Christmas tree nearly eight years ago, the congressional conservatives had nothing of substance to offer as a substitute. They grew tiresome taking their turns wherever a TV camera materialized to glimpse their sullen faces and record a perfect overlay of phrases to condemn the plan as "generational theft." If the "debate" had gone another week, this distraught gang might have fired on Ft. Sumter.
It is something for which they have considerable experience. Bush/Cheney's misguided Iraq war has been projected by Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz and his partnering author Linda Bilmes (former chief financial officer of the Commerce Department) to cost $3 trillion even though the invasion was initially sold by the neocons as costing little more than pocket change.
(Is it reasonable to ask whether the "con" part has a more familiar negative meaning?)
So adding up those trillions plus the estimated cost of Bush's tax cut extension plans at a couple trillion and my simple math comes to about $5 trillion. Does that, plus the financial industry's assault on the huddled masses, suggest how we ended up in the economic muck today? Somehow, against those figures, the $787 billion plan doesn't seem quite so profligate. Even the bank bailout, which exposed the high priests of the industry as self-indulgent royal spendthrifts, had its bizarre footnotes: The wife of House Republican whip Eric Cantor is the managing director of a privately owned bank that received $267 million in bailout money. You may recall that Cantor had staged a resistance movement against wild pending in the bailout. But let him explain: neither he nor his wife knew about the money channeled to her bank. Drum roll, please!
My head spins as I read what Ohio Sen. George Voinovich tells the Plain Dealer: While he is quite sympathetic with those people who are severely distressed today (see: the senator's hometown, Cleveland) the plan contains too much spending and not enough stimulus. The objection has made its rounds so insistently that it has become a bumper sticker abstraction because no one has explained how a stimulus would work without some spending. It is a form of circular logic that leads us to those Bush tax cuts again.
The battle also provided Obama with a lesson that money can't buy: He's stuck with a Republican caucus that will refuse to compromise on anything that doesn't have something good to say about Ronald Reagan. As I've noted before, it continues to live in a gated community that is America's version of the Green Zone. He would have been better off going eyeball to eyeball with Iran to prepare him for his encounters with Boehner, McConnell et al. The president wasted far too much time and energy trying to penetrate their walls. (As he was looking for friendly openings, four Tennessee congressmen decided to outflank him by joining the effort to disqualify his presidency with the idiotic charge that he isn't an American citizen! Congressmen! ) Unfortunately, Obama had the political capital that Bush once boasted of, but unlike Bush, he chose not to use it and came away bruised, but perhaps wiser.
He needed to be prodded by the words of one of America's most profound in-your-face philosophers, Leo "The Lip" Durocher, who was fond of reminding everybody:
"Nice guys finish last."
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