Sunday, October 13, 2013

Congress Republicans Backed into a Corner as President Obama Stands Firm

On the 8th of October, eight days into the government shutdown, President Obama spoke from the White House about the need for Congress to understand that funding the government and paying the nation’s bills are not bargaining chips, they are part of Congress’s primary role. He said “…members of Congress - and the House Republicans in particular - don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs. And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America is paying its bills."

Obama’s message has been consistent throughout the government shutdown crisis. He will not negotiate with blackmailers. He has said a number of times that if a person blackmails you once, they'll do it again. And again and again. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agrees with him. His stand is ‘open the government, raise the debt ceiling and we’ll negotiate’. Colleagues and aides have said recently that in all his 25 years in the Senate Reid has never been this outraged or aggressively proactive. House Republicans have crossed a line in his opinion. As Democrat Senator Patty Murray said of Reid, “He feels passionately that if we allow our country to be run by hostage-taking - ‘I feel [strongly] about an issue, and I’m going to shut down the government unless I get my way’ - it is bad for today, it’s bad for tomorrow, it’s bad for democracy.”

On October 6 President Obama had spoken at FEMA and challenged Boehner on his stand that he didn’t put a clean CR to a vote because there wasn’t a bi-partisan majority to pass it (despite that Democrats and even some House Republicans having said there was one).

“If [some] Republicans and Speaker Boehner are saying there are not enough votes, then they should prove it. Let the bill go to the floor and let’s see what happens. Just vote. Let every member of Congress vote their conscience and they can determine whether or not they want to shut the government down. My suspicion is, my very strong suspicion is, that there are enough votes there.” That suspicion has been shared by many all along. If Boehner was telling the truth he had nothing to lose by putting it to the vote.

Congress has played this game since Obama began his presidency – of taking a hard line when the stakes were high and pushing Obama and Democrats to making concessions. In the beginning Obama was willing to be flexible because that, he has insisted, is what democracy is all about. But he’s also said that when it matters he knows how to draw his line in the sand.

That’s the part that Congress didn't believe. With the government shutdown and their job approval ratings according to Gallup at 11%, one percentage point higher than their lowest in Gallup history, they blindly tried the same tactic again recently when Obama invited the House to speak with him. John Boehner said last Sunday, after that invitation was issued, that he would not let a default happen, which got him a few kudos for a day or so because most people believed he was saying he wouldn't participate in blackmail again.

But they were wrong. What he didn't say on Sunday was that his idea of not letting the default happen was to continue the blackmail but with the stakes so high that the President and the Senate would have no option but to cave. 

He and his Tea Party backers not only proved Obama to have understood them perfectly, but they also miscalculated badly. Neither Obama nor the Democrats caved and the House has truly backed itself into a corner with the debt default date looming - something that even hard-core members like Ted Cruz have begun to realize. He's not making any grand speeches these days.

Perhaps they've finally looked at the polls and realized where reality lies. They're still whining about Democrats and the President refusing to negotiate but they're sounding embarrassingly pitiful now. With Congress job approval ratings virtually at an historic all-time low, overall favorability is at 28%, down from 38% in September (as opposed to Democrat job approval at 43%). As for the Tea Party, the highest support it’s ever had was 32% in late 2010. That support has dwindled to 22%.

It becomes clearer and clearer that the Tea Party isn't interested in democracy but wants to impose its will on a reluctant American electorate. It seems to have a vested interest in the Republican party imploding, even if it means that the US economy falls apart. They clearly see themselves as David versus Goliath and a new world order emerging with them triumphantly heralding it in. The point they haven’t apparently grasped is that a new world order always has a huge groundswell moving it with a fully representative leader. This group of political bandits hasn’t just taken on Obama, they’ve pit themselves against the voters, actually creating a groundswell - of opposition to themselves. 

It’s very strange in a civilized country to see a political party so blinded by self-delusion and behave so stupidly and self-destructively as this one has since 2008. 

The Republican Party is a rag-tag bunch now, disintegrating at the speed of light. Controlled by a group addicted to blackmail and gambling, unable to see or acknowledge how lousy they are at both. 

It was always going to be difficult for Republicans at the 2016 elections as their main support base – older whites – dies off and as minority groups become increasingly franchised. But they’re making it worse for themselves, actively doing all the dirty work for Democrats, making it even easier for them way ahead of the next elections. It defies belief. If there are any sensible Republican politicians, now is the time for them to show leadership and fiercely lobby for what the American voters really want - a clean CR and to raise the debt ceiling - and show the electorate that not all Republican politicians are gamblers and hostage takers. 

But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen. More moderate Republicans in Congress are being more open about their desire to stop the hostage taking but so far none of them seem to have the courage to really take a stand against the Tea Party. No  wonder. Those who have, have lost Tea Party funding and support. The President isn't the only who's been blackmailed. 

All of which casts a pretty optimistic light on 2016; a Democrat President, Democrat Senate, Democrat Congress. 

It’s a tragedy of history that President Obama hasn’t had that kind of support, solely because of an undercurrent of racism and fear of losing status quo that is still embedded deep into the psyche of so many Americans, so deep that it's unacknowledged and hotly denied. But it's an absolute triumph that he has established a legacy that will impact on the US and the world for a long time. He is the man who has truly heralded in a new world order, the leader of a genuine groundswell in America with a genuinely representative leader. When change happens, whether it's in an individual or a nation, all the entrenched, destructive old ways fight to the death. That's what we're seeing here: the death rattle of the old order.