While I often wade into political discussions with my friends, I have attempted to keep my politics fairly muted on my own Facebook page. Above all, I firmly believe in keeping an open mind and being respectful of people with differing views.
What's on my mind today? Well, a lot has been lately. It has taken some time to gather my thoughts during this highly charged political season. I have presented countering arguments to my conservative friends, especially when the hyperbole against President Obama reaches absurd heights. Frankly, I object to character assassination, deliberated distortions, and manipulation on both sides of the political fence, and firmly believe that the first casualty in political warfare is the truth.
Knowing that the “truth” is always hard to come by, even in the best of times, the truth for an individual is the most meaningful. And, perhaps this is the most important thing... that my truth is not always going to resonate with another person. So, in the interest of being respectful to that principle, I offer my own perspective about why it is so important to re-elect Obama as President. I welcome reasoned contrary opinions, and enjoy respectful debate on this matter. This is why I invite comments on this topic here. The other reason is because I am tired of trying to keep track of where I have responded to contrary opinions.
Propaganda aside, Obama has been a very effective president, especially considering the situation he was presented with when first entering office. We all know what that situation is, so there is no need to rehash it here. The Republican party, through Congress, has obstructed Obama at every turn, with the express, and single-minded intention of making him appear to fail. To do so, Republicans in Congress have embarked on an ideological crusade that has resulted in a dangerous abrogation of its duty to legislate and govern. The blind ambition to fulfill that mission has been done at all expense... even bringing the nation to the brink of fiscal disaster.
1. Republican Leadership Has Created A Situation of Permanent Deadlock by Placing an Extra-Government Pledge Ahead of Their Constitutional Obligations
In the 112th Congress, 238 House members and 41 Senators have taken a pledge to commit themselves in writing to oppose all tax increases. On the state level, 13 governors and 1249 state legislators have taken the pledge. All pledgers are Republicans, save for three Democrats. The actual text for the pledge is as follows:
“I,_______, pledge to the taxpayers of the state of____, and to the American people that I will:
ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and
TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
The pledges are required to be signed, dated, witnessed, and returned to Grover Norquest and an organization called Americans For Tax Reform.
Legislators making such a pledge to their constituents, then holding themselves accountable to a third party entity is unprecedented in our history. It is, to my mind, an unconscionable act that binds a representative to one course of action when that legislator is elected to be free from any outside influences.
In fact, the oath of office for both the House of Representatives and Senate is as follows:
“I, (name of Member), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God”
The oath of office stands in direct opposition to the pledge legislators make to the Americans For Tax Reform organization because it limits their ability to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution. The obligation of office, which members of Congress take “freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” must supersede any and all other oaths regarding matters of governance.
Congress is elected to legislate and govern. It must work with the Executive branch to enact legislation that provides the best solutions to our common problems through law. Compromise is a necessary ingredient in government at all levels. Reasoned debate, give and take, and a willingness to reach across ideological and party lines is fundamental to our democratic way of governing. Because Congress has the power to tax and appropriate funds as necessary, flexibility about issues concerning taxes and spending is absolutely required to effectively govern.
My argument is that every person who has taken the so-called “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” forfeits their right to hold office because they have placed both a creed and ideology in a position superior to the U.S. Constitution.
I further argue that Republicans, who are the vast majority of signers to the extra-government pledge, are fully aware that their pledge makes it impossible to compromise on fundamental issues of governance (since nearly every other substantive act of legislation stems from taxes and spending). Any perceived failing by Obama pales in comparison to the grievous insult to our Constitution perpetrated by those signatory to the so-called “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”. Imagine if Obama made a similar pledge to the United Nations to refrain from military actions under any circumstance.
2. Failure By Design
We've all heard the hyperbole by conservatives that masquerades as “reasons” for why Obama has “failed” as a president. It is well known that from day one of his presidency, the Republicans announced that no matter what Obama did, they would oppose it. Jobs bill? No. Deficit solution? No. Nothing mattered to them but defeating Barack Obama... not necessary compromise nor effective governing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a signer of the “Tax Protection Pledge” said on 10/27/10 "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." In July of 2012 McConnell,a signer of the “Tax Protection Pledge”, said that he did not see a way for Republicans and Democrats to come to agreement on meaningful deficit reduction “...as long as President Obama remains in office.”
In a CNN poll (1) from 2011, Republicans are the only group that wants Obama’s policies to fail. When asked: “In general, do you hope that Barack Obama’s policies will succeed or do you hope that his policies will fail?” 51 percent of Republicans responded they wanted Obama's policies to fail.
By contrast, 66 percent of independents want his policies to succeed, and 67 percent of overall Americans want that, too.
Even more interesting, when Republicans are then asked about some of the Obama policy ideas themselves — without Obama’s name attached to them — majorities support them.
What is the reason for this?
When Tom Delay, former House Majority leader was asked if the conservative movement feels “liberated” now that President Bush is out of office, he responded that conservatives feel “liberated” because they've got an enemy they can focus on, referring to “the left”. It’s not surprising that DeLay is hoping for the President to fail; he had been slandering Obama for months. “I tagged him as a Marxist months ago,” DeLay boasted during the campaign, recalling his earlier assertions Obama had an “old school Marxist, radical liberal failed ideology.” (2)
There are many reasons for what I call the “Failure By Design” attempt by Republicans. In my less generous moments, I liken their attitude to ones held by military commanders during WWII who allowed black pilots from the Tuskegee Institute to receive pilot training in order to prove that they could not fly. Perhaps I am a bit sensitive to this reality of life, but I believe there is merit in it. My more generous side says that the reason why Obama has been set up to fail by Republicans is because he (and his policies) represent a progressive liberalism that they wish to see fail. Either way, the question arises... why not work with the President anyway? You can cherry-pick the policies you like and fight him (or her) on the policies you don't agree with. Why reject everything?
The reason, of course, is because Republicans decided from the beginning that they will do everything they can to cause Obama to fail, and blame him for the failure. This single-mindedness about causing Obama to fail, coupled with the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” has created a poisonous environment for governance on all levels.
My wife, Carol, stole a little of my thunder a few days ago when she published a spreadsheet I did showing how Congresses since the 97th performed from a legislative perspective. Go to https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BxS57bOiqT5_QjYtUWJsVEpTdzA/edit for the analysis. Without going into a detailed analysis here (which you can make for yourself), it is clear that Congressional throughput has been dramatically curtailed during the Obama administration. Again, this is a measure of the performance of Congress – not the President. The effects of purposeful deadlock and obfuscation is plainly seen. The Republican strategy of “Failure by Design” is apparent – and frightening. Their willingness to force Congressional failure for the sake of damaging the Presidency is breathtaking. As can be seen in the spreadsheet, Presidents have worked with Congresses with different parties in power quite well in recent history. It is not until the 111th Congress that the brakes have been put on so forcefully.
3. How Reasons Became Excuses
We hear much about how President Obama has “not kept his promises” as a reason for disapproving of his service so far. Although I believe that to be a rather unrealistic measure, I will indulge the line of thinking for a moment. Let's compare Obama's campaign “promises meter” with that of the GOP leadership's pledges (3). According to the Tampa Bay times “PolitiFact.com” the Obameter Scorecard is:
Promise Kept 190 (37%)
Compromise 71 (14%)
Promise Broken 81 (16%)
Stalled 50 (10%)
In the Works 114 (22%)
Not yet rated 2 (0%)
GOP Pledge-O-Meter Scorecard
Promise Kept 11 (19%)
Compromise 4 (7%)
Promise Broken 11 (19%)
Stalled 3 (5%)
In the Works 11 (19%)
Not yet rated
What is clear from this comparison is that Obama is much more willing to compromise that his GOP counterparts. He has kept many more promises, but importantly, has broken many (but not more than the GOP by percentage). Why is this? It is because the “broken promises” can be directly attributed to the recalcitrant Congress Obama has had to contend with.
Among his faults, I believe Obama held too closely to the notion of “bipartisanship”. "What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply," he said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 2008.
The new president demanded bold and swift action to fix a battered economy. Eight days later, the Democratic-led House approved an $825 billion stimulus package — without a single Republican voting for it. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democrat in charge of rounding up votes on the stimulus, says most Republicans had no interest in helping the bill move forward. "I don't think they wanted the president to have any success at this, and the net result of it was the recession went on for longer than it should've," he says.
The GOP leadership, and Congressional representatives have consistently followed a course of drumming the message that Obama has “failed” and has made excuses instead of making progress. They say that he has blamed the previous administration for every one of his own failures. Furthermore, they insist he “hasn't done anything” while in office. That very effective meme, of course, has been transmitted to likely GOP voters, who have largely accepted it without questioning its validity.
For those who choose to question the GOP rhetoric about how ineffective Obama has been as a president I am delighted to refer you to an excellent progressive blog. (4) The writer says, “What makes the 'disappointment' argument even more irritating is that it's simply not true. He's done nearly everything we elect a president to do, and he did it all with little support from the left, and massive obstruction from the right.” The well researched site lists nearly 200 accomplishments of the Obama administration. Every item on the list includes a link to a citation supporting it.
4. The Progressive Cause Under Attack
“We Are Taking our Country Back”, is the cry from Republicans after their recent convention. One question I always have when I hear this is “back from whom”? We're all Americans. No one from Pakistan or China has invaded and stolen our country from us. Another question that comes to mind is “back to where?”. As a social progressive and fiscal conservative, I am deeply concerned that the conservative policies Republicans wish to enact will both cost us a great deal more in the long run, and do irreparable harm to our nation.
Under their plans, which have passed the Republican-controlled House twice in slightly different versions, the Internal Revenue Service would tax the wealthiest Americans less, but many of the poorest ones more; Medicare would be transformed; Medicaid would be cut by about a third; and all functions of government other than those health programs, Social Security and the military would shrink to levels not seen since the 1930s.(5)
Republicans concede that their plans would not balance the budget this decade, predicting it could be balanced by the "mid-to-early 2020s" because their plans would ignite rapid economic growth. They argue that the key to economic growth is not balancing the budget but lowering tax rates.Significantly, neither Republican candidate (Romney nor Ryan) have specified any tax breaks they would eliminate. Independent analyses have shown that offsetting the tax cuts would require changing things such as the mortgage interest deduction, the tax exclusion for employer-financed health insurance or other popular tax preferences widely used by middle-income households.
In sum, Romney's plan would put off entitlement reforms for 10 years, and rules out reductions in defense spending and major changes to the current tax code, while promising to bring federal spending below 20 percent of GDP by 2016. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein argues this is either fantasy mathematics, or Romney would essentially have to cut every single federal program by 40 percent.
We will live in a vastly different nation under the Republican vision. There will be no universal health care, women could not obtain abortions – even in circumstances of rape or incest, welfare would disappear, giant corporations will be unopposed and unregulated, corporations would be much harder to litigate against, the power of unions will be greatly diminished, the environment will not be considered in either domestic of global policies, there will be dramatically reduced taxes to pay for essential services, and transportation infrastructure will not be adequately funded.
Republican proposed changes would reshape American government, achieving long-sought conservative goals of destroying “entitlement” programs and reversing an 80-year path of federal programs designed to progressively lift the quality of life for all Americans. The war on the middle class will be completed.
I have concentrated my criticisms against the GOP, its leadership, and the Republican Congress, which has all opposed President Obama. I consider Romney and Ryan's positions are indistinguishable from their GOP leadership.
The party that brought us off the books wars and off the books tax cuts wants to come back. They want us to forget the lies they made to drag us into wars that have wrecked our economy. They wish us to not remember the deregulation and huge deficits they left us with the last time. They don't want us to remember that the past Bush administration organized behind the “stimulus” packages they now blame the Democrats for. They have held the business of the people hostage to their ideology by choking Congressional effectiveness and poisoning the legislative process. They have refused to offer substantive legislation as alternatives to Democratic proposals, but instead, adopted a policy of refusal to work with President Obama under practically any circumstances.
This party, which holds allegiance to its own ideology as superior to their duties under the Constitution of the United States, wants to come back to power by any means possible. Simply put, The GOP has put obfuscation, delay, and obstruction of President Obama as its primary goal instead of governing.
I agree with Paul Glastris, who wrote in the April 6, 2012 the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris that what Obama has accomplished so far "is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. ... " And Glastris goes on. "That Obama has done all this while also steering the country out of what might have been a second Great Depression," Glastris observes, "would seem to have made him already, just three years into his first term, a serious candidate for greatness."
People both love and hate Obama. That, I can easily accept. What I find amazing is that they don't seem to see the wizard, in the form of Congress, behind the curtains. Credit must go to the Republican spin machine for so effectively maintaining their cover while so masterfully manipulating the American public.
In conclusion, I'd like to see Obama re-elected to a second term and the House and Senate with Democratic majorities. That way we'll be able to benefit from the competent leadership, exemplary statesmanship, and bold vision that Obama has displayed, even in spite of the tremendous impediments that would have defeated a lesser man.
Please write to me for Footnotes (x) because FaceBook has blocked some of them.
(2) ThinkProgress, Feb 27, 2009
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!