A year ago, I wrote that Republicans were putting the “bye” in bipartisanship. A commenter told me I was being premature because President Obama had only been in office a month. A year later, I bet the same commenter would now agree with me. You cannot have bipartisanship unless both parties can come together on a preponderance of disparate issues. When one side refuses to play ball, well that is clearly not bipartisanship.
Watching the “bipartisan” health care reform meeting on Thursday at Blair House was an exercise in mental torture. Even the Supreme Court would have to agree that no Gitmo inmate should be forced to listen to all eight hours or so of this “dialogue”. Watching it was kind of like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall. Not that President Obama did not try to lead out Republicans or ask them pragmatic and civil follow up questions. It’s just that Republicans did not have a whole lot of viable suggestions. The script was very shopworn even before the first Republican opened his mouth: start from scratch on a new health care reform bill. The only aspects of health care reform they seem willing to agree to are malpractice reform (which would affect less than one percent of health care spending) and allowing citizens in one state to get health insurance from other states. Everything else: forget about it! Cover the uninsured? Not interested. Seriously reduce the number of uninsured Americans? Not interested. As business reporter Steven Pearlstein pointed out recently in The Washington Post, based on the “discussion” at the Blair House, Republicans don’t give a crap about those too poor to have health insurance and certainly don’t want one dime of taxpayer money spent on the uninsured. In their ideal world, the uninsured would not get into the emergency room until they first brought a statement from their bank that they are credit worthy.
One of the definitions of insanity is to not learn from the same mistake. By this measure, Republicans (and this includes Conservatives and Tea Baggers) are insane. We usually deal with the insane by getting them psychotherapy or, if a menace to others or themselves, putting them in a rubber room. A clinical case could be made that the vast majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill should be in a rubber room. Because although we have tried massive tax cuts for the wealthy not once but twice and the result has been to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, Republicans are still convinced that all we need are yet more tax cuts affecting primarily the wealthy to change the situation around. In short, they are insane.
Republicans are insane on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. Most of them deny that climate change is happening and many of them also want to abolish the EPA. This could revert the United States back to the 1960s when we had no environmental laws and polluters could pollute without restraint. They want to reduce fuel efficiency standards for cars. They actually think we can solve our dependence on foreign oil by drilling off our coastlines. The effect will of course make us more dependent on foreign oil, which will come principally from overseas and at higher and higher prices by not weaning ourselves off oil. It is just insane!
Perhaps most insane of all is that Republicans have this dichotomy about wanting to take a meat cleaver to reduce the size of government then, when asked, find it hard to find something to cut. Take a look at this 2008 American National Election Survey where self identified conservatives try to find things they would cut in federal spending. The number one thing that conservatives would like to cut is foreign aid, which accounts for less than 1 percent of our budget. Even there conservatives could not muster a majority (only 49%). Well, that certainly won’t solve the budget deficit! The next thing they most want to abolish are welfare programs. This is essentially Medicaid and food stamps, but even here, only 35% of conservatives want to do this. Presumably, 65% do not. About twenty percent want to cut funding for the war on terrorism. I assume this is the Ron Paul wing. It is clear from the chart that while tax cuts are always in season, if they were back in charge cutting the size of government would be mostly lip service, as it was under Reagan and two Bush presidencies.
But of course now these same people are in a froth because we are doing all this deficit spending. Moreover, they are deeply upset at President Obama for deficit spending money on tangible goods that we need like new bridges and road surfaces which also help to get us out of a bad recession. They prefer tax cuts and fairy dust instead. (Actually, Obama accommodated Republicans and added plenty of tax cuts in his stimulus package, including tax cuts for small business, and they are still upset.) They are telling us the government should live within its means, even during a severe economic recession. Yet, it is clear that if they were back in charge, the first thing they would do is cut taxes some more, and thereby exacerbate the budget deficit!
So why do Americans keep putting these bozos back in power? It must be because the majority of us are even dumber than Republicans, or as a nation, we suffer from ADD and cannot even remember all the debt we piled up under the last administration. Actually though the polls do not give as much comfort to Republicans as they might hope for. Americans are pissed off that divided government means that things like health care reform are not being accomplished. (By the way, Americans still strongly support health care reform, including a public option.) What is driving voters insane is the inability of politicians to find common ground at a time when it is essential. They are paying the price in house foreclosures, rising health care costs and unemployment. As much as they dislike the way Democrats are using their majorities, they like Republicans even less. Voters have a lot of visceral anger but little way to express it. Moreover, who could blame them? Obama promised change you can believe in, but a progressive president cannot necessarily turn around a deeply partisan and recalcitrant Congress. This was borne out on Thursday at the Blair House.
One thing is clear: you won’t get bipartisanship by electing Republicans. If voters want to end gridlock by voting for Republicans, they might end up breaking the gridlock but it is unlikely they will get real solutions to the problems they care about. Put Republicans back in power and for sure, you can count on more tax cuts for the privileged. You can also count on deficits that will make today’s look small. Voters would be insane to do so. Unfortunately, when you are really, really angry you are not usually thinking clearly in the first place. You are letting your emotions take control of your faculties, instead of using your brain.
If voters want bipartisanship then they have to vote for people who are running on the platform of being bipartisan. These candidates should have a track record of moderation and crossing the aisle. You certainly won’t find that in a tea bagger! Unfortunately, you are unlikely to find any such a creature nominated by the Republican Party this time around, and the odds are not much better for the Democratic Party either. With the exception of the lunatic left wing though, you can at least rest assured that the Democrats running will at least be sane. At least we have one foot firmly in reality.