First, we are a civilized people. We are, after all, Berkeleyans. We abhor violence and have institutionalized and elevated the pursuit of peace to the level of religion. We led the resistance to Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and our Congressional district’s representative—herself a resident of Our Fair City—was the only one of more than 400 House members to vote against U.S. action in Afghanistan immediately after 9/11. So we would never raise a hand against another human being, not even in self defense. We are, after all, Berkeleyans….
But I want you join me for a moment in a little exercise, a mind game, if you will. I’m going to say two words, and you tell me your galvanic reaction—what fantasy comes immediately to mind. Okay, don’t restrain yourself, here we go:
Whoa there, Bunky, I can see your blood pressure rising, your face is flushed, your jaw clinched—and you’ve balled your hands up into fists. Now be honest: just for a second, didn’t you fantasize slapping that smug, insulting little thug around? Swiping those wire-framed glasses off his apple-slice of a nose? Teaching this sarcastic, hypocritical pendejo some humility? Come on, now, you did, didn’t you?
Take some deep breaths and let the impulse to beat the living crap out of ol’ Mitch and his four or five fleshy chins pass. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re a sensitive, fair-minded person, and your reaction is understandable. The important thing is you didn’t act on it, and it doesn’t mean you’re latently violent, just human. And a Berkeleyan.
Ironically, though, the Senate minority leader can be lauded for one gesture: his honesty in revealing a major component of the Republican agenda. We may be fighting two unnecessary wars, some 24 million people effectively may be out of work (and many will never work again in their chosen careers), the country may be going to hell in a hand basket, but Mitch’s overriding mission is to do everything he and his Republican henchmen can to scuttle Barak Obama’s presidency. He alludes to it in almost every public appearance. This represents the triumph of ideology (and possibly, racism) over common sense and the best interests of the country and its citizens. Harrah!
Which brings us to the current (alleged) debate on raising the nation’s debt limit before the world’s largest borrower defaults on its loans, shutting down the gubbiment at the end of the month, and where the other component of the Republican agenda comes into play. This is the single-minded, arms-linked obstinacy of the Republicans to terminate George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest [Bushspeak] ‘Mericans that Obama wants to use as a means of raising desperately needed revenue to pay down the huge deficit mostly run up by GWB and his cohorts during their eight dreadful years of warmongering and wrecking the country. McConnell and his Republican counterpart in the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, have consistently stated that any form of tax increase is “off the table” and that the solution to the debt dilemma is to “reduce spending.”
This has become a mantra for the Republicans, most likely orchestrated by anti-government sociopath Grover Norquist, purveyor of no-tax-increase pledges, destroyer of moderate Republican careers, speaker of catty little epithets like wanting to get government small enough to drown in the bathtub, who sets the Republican’s agenda at his weekly K Street strategy meetings. Now the party line, it is recited in lock-step repetition by every Republican pundit who manages to get in front of a video camera, e.g., Rep. Peter Roslean (R-Ill.), in a July 11 appearance on the PBS “News Hour”, observing that it was mandatory that Obama “change the trajectory of spending in Washington, D.C.”
What kind of spending? Defense allocations? War spending? Stimulus payments to oil companies racking up the highest profits in corporate history? Nope, for the Republicans, “reducing spending” is code for “eliminating social programs.” To put it another way, the Republicans have been waiting 70 years for an opportunity to dismantle Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs, especially Social Security and, since the 1960s, Medicare and its state-administered equivalent for the poor, Medicaid. With the blood-soaked ground prepared for them by Bush/Cheney and an ultimatum looming at the end of the month that could have dire economic circumstances—namely, shoving an already feeble economy off a cliff into world depression—now they have their chance, a tailor-made situation to back Obama right to the wall. It’s a gamble, to be sure, but the Republicans are banking on the premise that, hard up against an election year, and given the choice between throwing the country to wolves or cutting the left’s beloved social-support programs to the bone, the President will cave.
So far, despite some posturing and what has become the trademark Obama inspired speech, it looks like he may. Rumors abound that in the secret meetings the President has convened with the Republican leadership, Obama has placed Social Security and Medicare on the carving board and agreed there will be no tax increases. The fact that Obama is even willing to negotiate is a mystery, since it should be obvious by now that he’s unlikely to get anything meaningful from the Republicans in Congress. Was he listening when McConnell opined that his party’s objective was to devote all its energies to ensuring his failure? Even Obama’s mentor Abraham Lincoln, deep into a civil war the North was losing, is reported to have said that consensus can be paralyzing and that, beyond a certain point, one must act.
The President’s reluctance to stand by his principles and deliver on his campaign promises was never more apparent than this week when he abandoned Elizabeth Warren, his original choice to head the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, charged principally to be a watchdog on the kind of post Glass-Steagall bank speculation that brought us mortgage-backed securities, which the banks knew would fail, then simultaneously betted against with hedge funds and reaped billions in profits when the economy deep-sixed in 2008 as a result. (Not bad…you sell securities made up of bundled junk mortgages for inflated prices, then hedge against them with a division in your own brokerage, so you get paid both ways.)
Formerly a professor in the Harvard Law School, steel-trap bright, gutsy, and an outspoken defender of consumer rights, Warren is feared and virulently despised by both Wall Street and the Republicans (who have treated her with open hostility in Congressional hearings) and probably wouldn’t have made it through her confirmation hearing anyway. Nevertheless, Obama could have appointed her via executive order and put real teeth into the CFPB. Now we’ll have a mainstream Democrat in charge, and the agency will probably become a pawn for the right. Obama’s refusal to defend his own disciples (Warren had been a member of his inaugural advisory team, subsequently tapped to put the CFPB together, and was initially anointed to run it) is further indication that he is unlikely to stand fast against evisceration of social programs and support for the poor.
Hope we can believe in? Sure sounded nice in ’08….
For the good of all of us, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. Maybe Obama has something up his sleeve. Maybe he will get a concession or two out of the Republicans and save social support programs. Maybe the Republicans will come to realize how immensely unpopular they’re becoming in the eyes of the voters with their draconian policies and obstructionism and come to the bargaining table in earnest. Maybe Obama will bring the troops home early from Afghanistan, cancel the contracts for the 250,000 government contractors (i.e., mercenaries) also there, and save us taxpayers $2 billion a week. Maybe the wealthiest Americans and the representatives they own in Congress will suddenly suffer a pang of conscience, realize there are few places on the planet where they could have accomplished what they have here, and agree to ante up some bucks to keep the country afloat.
And maybe I can fly by flapping my arms. But ya’ gotta’ believe, Bunky, ya’ gotta’ believe. Now go break into a closed state park and take a nice, soothing walk in the woods.
The “Occasional Curmudgeon” is Berkeley writer David Esler