Friday, February 19, 2010

Memo from NYC

President Obama's been in office over a year now. In my humble opinion, he's doing a great job. I know this flies in the face of the media, the Republicans, and the political intelligentsia's consensus of him, in which he's doing a horrible job. Never mind that he still has a 50%+ approval rating -- according to these brilliant folks, everyone in America hates him. He's a huge "disappointment"; "What happened to 'hope and change'?" And on and on and on. Because these insiders hate him so much, in their line of thinking, so does the rest of the country.

They are America, and so can we.

But no question about it, President Obama's had a rough year. Healthcare reform has stalled due to the Democrats dithering and financial reform is facing vicious resistance from -- who else? -- the financial industry! (Never mind that they caused this economic catastrophe in the first place -- it's just so unacceptable to them that the government dare try to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. Dah' noive!). And even though the bailout and stimulus plans prevented this country from slipping into an even deeper economic crises, the economy is still in very rough shape. Like most people I found the bailout and stimulus plans -- plus the resulting deficits -- distasteful. However, I viewed them as the economic equivalent of chemotherapy: as awful as the treatment is, leaving you feeling even sicker afterwards, it's quite preferable to the alternative, namely (economic) death. So thanks to President Obama, Congress, and the Fed, America is now recovering from a nasty recession instead of wallowing in another great depression.

But Presidents don't get credit for preventing depressions, only booming economies, and one of those is a long way off. Also, in tough times, it becomes uber-fashionable to bash the government both for not doing enough to solve the problems and for creating the problems in the first place. Never mind, in this case, that it was an out of control private sector that caused this mess and it's the government that's mopping it up. We can only vote against the President and the Congress -- not against Wall Street or the real estate industry -- so the political deathmatch continues.

Still, President Obama admirably labors on. And not only in economic matters.

He deserves credit for banning torture, re-establishing the rule of law, and improving the nation's image around the world. Yet these are intangibles -- it doesn't give any one a job. And none of this is easy and all of it is politically treacherous.

Cleaning up the slime of the Bush presidency and years of Republican misrule has ignited heated opposition from -- guess who? -- the Republicans! This is understandable. After all, his election was a total rebuke to their party, their governance, and their worldview. And he has kept his word since taking office, trying to pull us out of their wreckage. Needless to say, the Republicans are offended by this and, more importantly, very scared that if he's successful he'll do great damage to their future electoral prospects. So they're currently doing everything they can to ensure he fails, in order to make themselves look more politically palatable -- specifically, this November.

The scary thing is, it might work.

The Republicans are, in the words Bill Kristol, one of their intellectual henchmen, going for "the kill." And the Democrats are predictably acting like lambs at the slaughter.

Predictably. After first, I didn't understand why the administration and Democrats in Congress were so caught off guard by the Republicans exasperating, mean spirited, destructive opposition. Did they really think the Republicans would behave any differently out of power than in? Haven't Democrats learned anything about how Republicans operate after all these years?

Then I realized something. Something fundamental about the differences in the DNA of both parties.

Republicans look at Democrats and think, "They're bad people. Whatever we do to defeat them -- break the law, violate longstanding norms, engage in violence, use hate speech, shred the very Constitution we supposedly love -- is fine because it helps put us in power. "

Democrats look at Republicans and think "They're not bad people. They're good people who just disagree with us. And we should debate them civilly, work with them when we can, and respect the political process."

And so this nation's existential nightmare continues.

It's not so much a partisan divide as much as an attitudinal divide that's wrecking our country. The Republicans want to destroy the Democrats while the Democrats want to work with the Republicans. One side is engaging in battle while the other side wants to ... debate ... In short, there's a political war in this country and one side doesn't realize it.

This is not a choice the Democrats have right now. Or ever. They have to fight! I hope they realize this and sometimes I think they do but more often than not I see they don't. They have to wake up and start fighting the Republicans like their lives depend upon it because lives do depend on it -- their political lives as well as the physical lives of their constituents. This is a political war and there are no rules, there are no norms, the gloves are off, and all tactics (except illegal ones) are acceptable. And until Democrats start looking at Republicans as bad people -- which is what they are -- and develop a war-like, take-no-prisoners, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead mentality -- in short, until they start hitting the Republicans harder than the Republicans hit them -- then the Democrats will keep losing.

And the people that the "party of the people" are supposed to represent will continue to suffer for years to come.

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