Monday, January 31, 2011

From Sputnik to Nitwit

Oh do I love my job. So much stupidity, so little time. Last Tuesday night the President gave his State of the Union address to the nation, followed by the Republican response, which was then followed by, a·hem, another Republican response. It was like having both Curly and Shemp in one evening. All that was missing was the pie fight.

If you actually had the strength to sit through the entire State of the Union address, and BOTH rebuttals, courtesy of CNN, the most trusted name in infomercials, you are in deed a brave soul. You also got a chance to see a major political party in disarray, and that party is the Republican Party. Want evidence? Just listen to John Boehner’s reply when asked if he had listened to Michele Bachmann’s SOTU response. “I had other obligations.” Yeah, like breathing.

I seldom feel any sense of empathy towards people with whom I am diametrically opposed on just about every front, but if I were Boehner, I’d keep a case Excedrin right next to my Kleenex. He’s going to be needing both. While the President was offering up a vision of hope and challenging America to realize its new Sputnik moment, Michele Bachmann was doing her best impersonation of a history student flunky who didn’t even know where the correct camera was, and apparently has no idea that the ’09 federal budget was submitted by George Bush and not Obama. And then there was that deer caught in the headlights look she always manages to give off. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t looking directly at the camera.

Seriously, barely a month into the “Reclaiming America by Mandate” era and the GOP can’t even coordinate a unified and cohesive response to a President who, on his worst day, still runs rings around them in the opinion polls. Imagine how much worse things could get once the electorate gets a gander at just how extreme many of these “public servants” actually are.

If I were Barack Obama I would continue to do just what I’ve been doing the last two months: be the adult in the room. I wouldn’t change a thing. I would continue to offer up a plan of attack on how to get the country moving forward, continue to reach across the aisle for consensus building, then sit back and watch the fruit loops contingent drag down the Republican Party. The last thing I would do is throw them a life preserver, especially when they seem so intent on drowning themselves.

Don’t worry about getting specific right now; that’ll come later. After all, that strategy didn’t seem to hurt Republicans any when they were bashing this President and Congressional Democrats for their wasteful spending. Now that the GOP has a share of the responsibility, it should be quite amusing to listen to them as they offer up real tangible cuts to the bloated budget they have had such a wonderful time critiquing the last two years. And, oh yes, I can’t wait to hear the response from the voters as House Republicans map out a strategy on how they are going to balance the budget without touching the third rails of politics: entitlements and defense spending. Yep, that should be some, how do you say, creative math.

Now the monkey wrench here could be progressives, who historically have a habit of looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying, “No thanks.” They should resist every urge to step in and “bail out” this mess. That doesn’t mean they should lie down and pretend they don’t have a voice, but it does mean they should pick their spots carefully. For instance, now would be a good time, given the recent opinion polls, to highlight the benefits of the healthcare law that the GOP seems hell-bent on repealing. I’d love to be a fly in the room when Republicans have to explain to seniors that the $250 rebate checks they received for costs in the “doughnut hole” will have to be paid back if the law is repealed; or that the millions of non-seniors who have pre-existing medical conditions could once more be precluded from insurance coverage just for getting sick. Put that in your pipe, Mr. Speaker, and smoke it.

And then there’s that little matter of the debt ceiling that is looming larger than life right over the horizon. When Tom Coburn, a supposedly “knowledgeable” and “responsible” Republican, goes on Meet the Press and says that failing to raise the ceiling would be “nothing compared with what's going to happen to us if we don't address the real issues facing our country,” you’re not just dealing with your garden variety form of irrationality, you’re dealing with reckless insanity. Democrats in general and Obama in particular must draw a distinction between dealing with the long-term consequences of the national debt and the immediate and dire consequences of defaulting on the debt ceiling. The former is like a cancer that threatens to consume the patient; the latter is a massive coronary that will strike down the patient in mid stride.

Put bluntly, defaulting on the national debt would be like playing Russian roulette with bullets in every chamber. To even hint that this game of chicken is appropriate given what’s at stake is to deny reality. Reasonable people can debate on how to best deal with the growing deficit. On the one hand there are those who insist that draconian cuts to the budget could lead to a double-dip recession, while others maintain that the price tag for a $14 trillion-dollar debt will inevitably cripple the U.S. economy far worse than any recession could. Both sides have fair points to make, and over the next few months a “spirited” debate will no doubt take place. What America cannot do is announce to the world that it is cutting up its credit cards and at the same time refusing to pay the money owed on them.

Yep, it’s a tough job being the adult in the room, especially with so many misfits, but then someone has to do it.

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