In a remarkably candid and forthright press conference today, President Obama addressed the current standoff between the two parties with unusual insight and clarity. And we agree completely with many of his observations and comments. Since no transcript is currently available, the quotations below are not exact, but are, we believe, sufficiently accurate to eliminate any objection as to their meaning and intent. Chief among them are the following.
About the government shutdown:
“One party can’t insist on having everything its own way.”
We’re glad he thinks so — but: some might argue that this is exactly what he is doing. In fact, at the moment, both parties are saying “The other guys won’t give an inch, but we’re not going to cave.” Obama is right, of course. Parties need to be able to negotiate in good faith. Yet we recall a pivotal moment during the last “fiscal cliff” negotiation, when Obama demanded $1.6 trillion tax increase on the “wealthy” (families earning more than $500,000) in exchange for minimal “cuts” — reductions in the rate of increase, really — to discretionary spending. Boehner agreed, after weeks of brinksmanship on both sides, to accept Obama’s offer of an $800 billion increase.
Boehner sold this to his fellow Republicans at great personal risk. Obama then turned around and said “I’ve changed my mind. I need $1.9 trillion.” Boehner was humiliated. He concluded, perhaps understandably, that it was going to be difficult to do business with someone who defined “negotiating in good faith” so very creatively. Relations since that Munich-like moment have been frosty, with some sympathy extended by apparently reasonable people for Boehner’s subsequent reluctance to accept the President’s assurances at face value.
About political contributions and campaign finance:
“The country cannot be held hostage to political extremists with a big bankroll.”
The president observed, in something of a reach, that the current deadlock owes something to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, decrying the ability of “millionaires and billionaires” to “override the will of the people” through contributions. To be fair, the President shyly acknowledged that “no one in politics is blameless” of courting the wealthy, especially, perhaps, the President who spent more money than any candidate in history to secure his election. Suffice it to say that the vast majority of this campaign chest did not come from “the little guy.” Republicans have their millionaires and billionaires; Democrats have theirs.
But are not the Democrat big spenders morally superior to the Republican fat cats? And isn’t it the Republicans who are “political extremists?” Certainly many think so. Many others, however, look askance at the President’s longstanding and still unrepudiated alliances with names like Ayers, Wright and the like. There are also his relationships with financiers such as Soros with a history of donating to causes that are questionable at best. The president sails into uncomfortably dangerous waters when he tosses around words like “ideologue” and “extremist.” Here, it might be best for the president to let sleeping dogs lie, lest he come up with fleas.
On the shutdown and possibility of default:
“The congress has to understand that we have to pay our bills. That’s the way personal finance works; I can’t understand why they think the nation is any different.”
Here we salute an impressive concession from the president. For as along as I can remember, Republicans have been insisting that the nation cannot spend beyond its means, just a a family cannot. Certainly there have been Republican presidents, including Reagan and Bush, who have increased deficits, but with the assurance that the debt taken on was safely affordable. Now we have an administration that considers a reduction in the rate of increased spending to be equivalent to a “budget cut,” and an appetite for debt that would impress a compulsive gambler on a drunken spree.
Suddenly, however, we are told that we must honor our obligations, come what may. He is correct, of course. But a default deferred is still a default. This whole crisis has been precipitated over a vote to increase the debt ceiling. The president has asserted, to our mind surprisingly, that “Congress has always raised the debt ceiling.” Need we point out that historically there are many things that the Congress had “always” done that we are heartily glad it decided to stop doing?
This brings us to the issue at the pustulent core of this political boil called “shutdown.” It is literally scandalous to watch the national government behave they way we have witnessed over the past few weeks. In our opinion, however, all traces itself to yet another episode in which the president, unheedful of warnings that the future might hold consequences that were both dangerous and unpredictable, ignored his own advice about one-party domination, and without any effort at discussion, negotiation or compromise, rammed through the Congress and the Senate, where he held majorities, a bill that has turned this nation on its head and, whomever one wishes to blame, has ultimately brought us to this precipice.
The president and his supporters note frequently and loudly that “Obamacare is now the law of the land.” So was slavery. So was prohibition. So was the male monopoly on the vote. With the exception of Prohibition, these were things that Congress had “always” upheld. But they ultimately, so their lasting credit and honor, rejected them.
Is there may be a reasonable argument that the Republicans in Congress should at least allow Obamacare a chance to operate before demanding that it be abandoned?
Perhaps. But there is also a reasonable argument that this legislation is so badly flawed, so ineffective at achieving its professed goals and so dependent on wishful thinking that we should immediately go back to the drawing board and try again. If it has been adequately demonstrated that a ship will sink, it is folly to adopt a “let’s launch it and see” approach. Three suggestions:
- Obama should agree to a one-year postponement across the board in implementation and agree to negotiate in genuine good faith the best ways to bend an admirable concept into a practical and affordable framework.
- Republicans should accept the premise the affordable universal healthcare is desirable from any reasonable viewpoint, and work honestly and fairly to effect it. We’re the only G8 nation without it.
- Obama needs to get together with Boehner, and they need to work out a way they can do business together for the next three years without this childish and transparently bogus incendiary “they’re the devil” rhetoric that currently characterizes their public commentary. Obama may start by apologizing to Boehner for trick-fucking him so outrageously at the beginning of his incumbency.
- They really need to call it something other than “Obamacare.” That’s just rubbing it in. If this thing works, it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity and a lot of effort from a lot of people. It was bad enough when that Weiner twit called it by hat name; when the president adopted the practice, it was almost intolerable.
Mr. President: “you didn’t build that.”