Oct 19 2009

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“Roads Less Traveled”

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  • We know enough about what is wrong.
  • Nine months into a new Administration, a gnawing uncertainty has replaced hope and gauzy moderation as the North Star of President Obama’s management. It has been fed by startlingly intrusive government action that is deeply at odds with the rhetoric of the Obama campaign. Shared responsibility, transparency and accountability have given way to vastly expanded government control of major facets of the economy, with unprecedented speed, stealth and partisanship.
  • Perhaps the situation wouldn’t be so dire if the results weren’t so meager when compared to all the flair and hype.
  • Consider the facts.
  • Almost three million more Americans are unemployed today than when the near trillion dollar stimulus, designed to “jump start” the economy, was passed in February.
  • A Democratic health care initiative to expand coverage to the uninsured has evolved into a regulatory abomination that threatens the quality, cost and availability of medical care for the 85 percent of Americans that have coverage.  If you are a senior covered by Medicare, you should be particularly concerned as $400-500 billion in cuts to that program are the “life blood” of “deficit neutral” health care reform.
  • Further, Democratic efforts at an energy bill envision mass regulation and the necessity of economic dislocation, scarcity, increased cost and joblessness, all to reduce global warming by a fraction of a degree.
  • Moreover, the red ink from these initiatives shatters all records for government borrowing, placing a staggering financial burden not just on today’s children, but their children, with an inevitable decline in quality of life.
  • The dollar, once the currency of record, is under intense pressure. A mix of foreign uncertainty and actuality of American printing presses that cannot get enough dollars out the door, threaten to undermine our currency and ultimately our economy and livelihoods with the specter of inflation.
  • Don’t believe me? Check the flood of cash rushing to inflation-hedged commodities such as gold. And you thought last year’s Wall Street crash devastated your retirement?  Just wait until the great inflation takes its toll.
  • Last November, it was hard for many not to believe that the hand of Providence was at work, embodying the possibility of a new American political consensus and comity.
  • Looking back on 2009 however, the President and Democrats have not so much reached out to unite America as they have looked to their formidable, liberal majorities as the embodiment of America with license to do as they see fit.
  • Far from the bipartisanship and unity we were promised, citizens are now confounded by bills passed without review, hearings or comment.  In the case of the recently passed Senate Finance Committee health care bill, it was passedwithout any legislative text.
  • And far from openness, only a handful of Senators and White House aides, huddle behind closed doors, will blend the various health care bills together in secret.
  • Under those circumstances, which is more likely?  A bill that genuinely improves health care in America, or a bill that can get 60 Democratic votes (or 51 under reconciliation) to pass. And yes, they are mutually exclusive goals.
  • Nancy Pelosi is trying the same thing in the House.
  • What happened to transparency and accountability?
  • This process of secrecy, speed and stealth was road tested in the Stimulus. But we are not naming a post office here.  We’re transforming 1/6th of the US economy.  The legislative process has degenerated into madness.
  • At moments such as this, it is good to remember that it didn’t have to be this way.
  • Had the President chosen pragmatism over ideology, the outcome could have been different.
  • Had the President exercised a measure of discipline on his congressional majority, it could have been different.
  • Had the President chosen to govern a nation through leadership and compromise instead of governing with Democrats through force, it could have been different.
  • Rahm Emanuel is famous for saying, “never let a crisis go to waste,” and it is clear that Team Obama loaded the legislative agenda full to get as much done while an air of crisis pervaded the populous in the days after his inauguration. With strong majorities on paper, the strategy seemed tight, focused and disciplined in January
  • Today, the reality is a frayed, brittle and worn coalition that was never as strong as it seemed. In January, the question was how much Obama could do in his first year.  Now, with about 24 legislative days before Christmas, the question is whether anything but the boondoggle Stimulus will see the President’s pen.
  • A savvy and tested leadership would have known from the start the coalitions that were possible across the aisle if they were willing to pursue them in genuine fashion. Consider what a modicum of good will that Obama lavished on the world community, apologizing for alleged American sins,  might have achieved if it had been part of the strategy to bring Republicans into a governing circle from the beginning.
  • Look at the Stimulus. Obama had clear ideological public sector priorities. But he could still have reached across the aisle to Republicans, adding tax cuts for businesses or a larger tax cut for individuals to gain GOP support for increased government spending on shovel ready projects. Having decided on the size of the stimulus, Obama could simply have assigned the GOP a percentage of the spending based on their representation in Congress.
  • Consider health care. The grand compromise could have been a marriage that would have incorporated health savings accounts, real tort reform and greater competition among private providers with Democratic priorities of access, quality, portability and pre-existing conditions. Obama could have sequenced Medicare reform on the establishment of a “public option” if private insurance was not reaching those in need.
  • Partisans recoil, I know. Purity seeking conservatives would never cut a deal that would have enabled “reckless” public spending anymore than purity seeking liberals, finally in power, would accept hated private sector incentives. And yes, Obama won convincingly and the citizens expanded Democratic control of Congress. Hard not to see a repudiation of Republican policies here and an endorsement for Obama, so why bother?
  • But the majority is still in the middle. Critically, 54 of Pelosi’s Democrats in the House are fiscal hawks or social moderates. Up to 12 of the Reid’s 60 Senators are pro-business and dubious of increased government control of the economy.
  • An appeal rooted in recruiting these Members on policy and not political grounds could have attracted Republican support at a time when the GOP was beaten, demoralized and unfocused. Instead, Democrat treatment of the GOP- with the exception of Olympia Snow and turncoat Arlen Specter – has been nothing short of humiliating.
  • Moreover, the advantage to Obama in making the outreach was obvious from the beginning, and nearly cost-free.  He could fulfill his campaign promise for post-partisanship. If genuine attempts to attract Republicans failed, the Republicans could be marginalized as obstructionists. Conversely, if concessions to Republicans ended in a bipartisan bill, the GOP was on the hook as much as Obama in the final result.
  • True, Obama would have gotten less than his ideological allies wanted, but, critically for Obama, the path would have been set. In Machiavellian fashion, the outreach would not only have brought the opposition on board, it would have kept Team Obama from veering too far to the left and preserved or even enhanced his public support.
  • Loyal readers should know that I have road tested this concept to slack jawed and disbelieving Democrats who sputter with indignation.  Uniformly, they say that such outreach and compromise was never part of Bush’s agenda, and thus why, with their majorities should they do something Bush didn’t?
  • Not to put too fine a point on it, but based on the campaign and the very idea of Obama, doesn’t the question answer itself?
  • Instead though, ideology has trumped pragmatism. The rush to pass unread and even unwritten legislation has damaged the Democrats’ credibility. The leftward turn from campaign to governing has struck many citizens as more than they had bargained for.
  • Consider that the Tea Parties, raucous town hall meetings and the 9/12 protestors aren’t tools of a still-reeling Republican Party, but for Team Obama a much more alarming grass roots effort of concerned citizens, much like the Perotistas of the 90s. This is a central element that seems beyond the grasp of Obama decision makers who look at these groups as little more than fringe trouble makers.
  • Polls that show increased citizen unrest at Washington activism are dismissed or attributed – way too casually – to racism and president-hating. This makes legitimate policy fights on consequential issues into more liberal-friendly slander-fests were opponents of Obama’s policies are themselves caricatured as agent provocateurs, bent on stopping Obama by any means necessary.
  • This flows, sadly, to Team Obama’s favorite rhetorical device; change is solely between their proposal and the status quo. If you’re not for their change, you are obviously for keeping things as they are.
  • It is one dimensional and simplistic, but more ominously, ignores citizen concerns about the economy, health care, the environment, the auto industry and the finance industry, where Obama’s “either/or” rhetorical construction is wholly beside the point.
  • Jamming half baked bills through the system without  debate and amendment, passed on party line votes without a sensible strategic plan,  will shortly come home to roost for the Democrats.
  • White House and Democratic leaders in Congress merrily assemble a mammoth health care take over that is opposed by 54% of Americans.  Democrats may have the votes to pass it, but do they have the legitimacy to make it law?
  • On the horizon, President Obama will have to make tough decisions on Afghanistan. If he goes with his military commanders, his liberal base will desert him. He will have to rely on Republicans for the support necessary for a troop increase. He would be in better stead for such a plea had he engaged the GOP from the beginning.
  • The sad fact today is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are hollow and hypocritical descendents of the very Republicans they tossed out of power in 2006 for cutting corners, cutting deals and forgetting why they were sent to Washington to begin with.
  • Democrats promised change in 2008, but only swapped out one set of special interests for another, and added a mountain of debt that made the Republicans look like pikers in comparison.
  • It could have been different, America.  Mature leadership that found the balance between vision and pragmatism, that took control of the agenda and created durable policies could have forged a new governance in this country.
  • Instead we have a majority, powerful on paper, pursuing a narrow, ideological agenda that is increasingly at odds with the voters who sent these officials to Washington.
  • Exactly one year ago today, I wrote these words, “And don’t be fooled. The new agenda won’t be post-partisan.  In fact, it will be the most toxically partisan, liberal agenda since the Great Society or New Deal. If it were to appear post-partisan it would only be by the absence of any legislative method to protest or block its implementation.
  • When Obama talks about unity he is not talking about compromise. Indeed, he has no record of compromise; only of towing the Party line. Bringing people together is not intended as an acknowledgement of views at variance with his own, but rather a rhetorical model to bring his supporters together with those that can be convinced. The irony here is that instead of Bush-Cheney partisanship based on small majorities, this is partisanship based on larger majorities. It is many things, but bipartisan is not one of them.1
  • So, weep for the lost opportunity, the once-in-a-generation opportunity, where chance and circumstance could have led to real change. And worry for your children, and their children, who will have to pay for the policy mistakes, political miscalculation and tidal wave of debt we are constructing as a result.

1. www.duffysoapbox.com, October 19, 2008


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