A friend, not usually one to be overtaken by excessive enthusiasm,said, during the few days after the 2008 election, that it meant that the United States was finally entering the post-racial period we thought might come about after the end of the civil war, after Brown v Board of Education, or, at the very least, after the enactment of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid 1960s and the abolition of the poll tax. We may be on our way there but, at least so far, we have not come close to that day, despite the election of President Obama.

The post-partisan era that the President believes in is not as close to the horizon and it remains uncertain whether it is such a good idea anyhow. After all, things work best when what government does is based on a robust debate about the alternatives, rather than some royal personage simply announcing what fits their fancy. What we have today is neither, though. We have, as has become increasingly obvious, rational debate trumped by made up facts, gossip, and winks and nods suggesting a knowledge of secret truths which are, actually, false. As the wise and observant Kurt Andersen put it today in the Times:

the most troubling thing about [Texas Governor Rick] Perry (and Michele Bachmann and so many more), what’s new and strange and epidemic in mainstream politics, is the degree to which people inhabit their own Manichaean make-believe worlds. They totally believe their vivid fictions.

With that as the basis of our politics, the idea that people will set aside their preconceived goals for the benefit of the country is almost absurd. One thing is clear and undebatable: talking about it does not make it so. Hence, this now oft viewed clip when the President told Mark Ambinder last December about how he expected the debt ceiling to be raised, should be seen as a lesson learned:

Look, here’s my expectation — and I’ll take John Boehner at his word — that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.

Equally certain—or at least virtually so—is the idea that the massive stimulus fueled by government spending, “investment” as the President likes to call it, which our economy desperately needs, will not be enacted in the near future. That is what has the stock market in free fall and why Standard and Poors issued its foolish and ridiculous downgrade of the nation’s credit rating. Republicans have decided that their electoral success is dependent on a poor economy and are determined to make certain that is so. After all, the New Deal prevented them from controlling any house of Congress for over forty years except for two slight blips in the 1950s. Fool me once, as a President, a fool himself, once said.

Indeed, it was former Senator Groucho Marx who famously described the basic policy of the Republican Party with respect to anything a President from the other party might propose:

So, if nothing is possible, why propose anything at all? The White House sucked all of us in the other day—including the guy scribbling this crap—by its flamboyant leak last Sunday about a supposed “debate” in the White House about doing nothing because

Mr. Obama and his aides are skeptical that voters will reward bold proposals if those ideas do not pass Congress. It is their judgment that moderate voters want tangible results rather than speeches.

This article accomplished what, at least this chastened blogger thinks, it intended. It provoked screaming, yelling and gnashing of teeth, including the ones facing this computer screen but an understanding that proposals which cannot be enacted nonetheless serve a purpose.

What we have heard so far is not, in Christine Romer’s words, “cut it.” Yes, it is true that much of what the President actually says and proposes does not get publicized, but the idea that an extension of the so-called “payroll tax holiday,” trade agreements with foreign countries and patent law reform (whatever that is) is going to have any real impact is nothing more than a sad joke. To hear David Axelrod contentiously tell Bob Schieffer a couple of weeks back that he had listed

five things that we can do right away that would have a positive impact on the economy

based on the same tepid half measures (“infrastructure bank”?) which, though useful, are not the kind of thing we need or even want to hear, is to hear people who do not have a clue just fumbling along. Surely they have a better and bigger plan and are just low balling us until they announce it with a big flourish. Maybe the two ideas we heard floating around have some merit or would if tweaked a bit, Joe Nocera’s “fund” to encourage small businesses to hire (though it has been rightly asked why, even with incentives, businesses would hire people to make and sell things when there is no market for such purchases), or the Maddow propagated Steve Benen idea to “approve” what ever stimulus crap Republican members of Congress have themselves proposed for their own districts, on the perhaps wrongheaded view that they cannot oppose what they themselves have demanded (extended perhaps to also include projects proposed by Democratic members as well). Maybe they don’t have merit. Something, though, bigger and better than what we have seen needs t be put before us. It does.

The always crucial Rachel Maddow presented a basis for hope yet again that the President understands this. She reported that, while on vacation, the President is apparently reading Rick Pearlstein’s book Nixonland (which the rest of us might read, too, were it not for the $5 more than usual price that is required to purchase it as a Kindle book). More significantly, she mentioned an article Pearlstein published in his usual haunt, Time magazine, in which he gently explains the part of his book that the President should take to heart:

It concerns the two major axes upon which major national elections get fought. Sometimes they become battles over the cultural and social anxieties that ordinary Americans suffer. Other times they are showdowns about middle-class anxieties when the free market fails. Normally, in the former sort of election, Republicans win. In the latter, Democrats do — as we saw in 2008, when the tide turned after John McCain said “the fundamentals of the economy are strong.”

Consider 1960. Even with all that ­famous 1950s prosperity, 1959 saw a recession. Richard Nixon blamed his defeat on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s failure to use government to subdue it. John F. Kennedy, meanwhile, enhanced New Deal programs like Social Security — and a promise to extend that legacy with ­Medicare was central to his appeal. People remember the U.S.’s first televised presidential debate for the contrast between JFK’s cool and a frantic and sweaty Nixon. What’s forgotten is what made Nixon so frantic: Kennedy’s unanswerable argument that Democrats had created those programs while Republicans opposed them.

Indeed. This, Mr. President, is the point. Having not yet reached the valhalla where national interest trumps partisan politics, voters expect a president who runs as a Democrat to defend what that party accomplished and to bring those programs forward. They further expect the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan to oppose those efforts. You cannot rise above that cloud and it is foolish to try to do that.

You can say that thing have changed since FDR and can even claim—quite falsely—that President Kennedy was all words with nothing to show for them. Jon Stewart, though, proved all of that to be pointless. The arguments that gave the party of FDR comtrol of Congress for decades after the New Deal are quite applicable today and easy to state: Watch and this, too.

There is little question that President Obama will be re-elected. (Oh, for shame. How can you say that? Look at his poll ratings.) Much of his declining popularity is from disaffected liberals, all of whom will vote for him when the time comes, as will independents who have seen what’s going on and are not ready for any of these Republican candidates.

Unless, though, he is elected with a sweeping and real Democratic majority, which will not happen unless he explains why his election alone will not solve any of the monumental problems facing us, we will waste more time and slide further into oblivion.

Keep reading, Mr. President. You apparently read a lot of FDR books before taking office but found them to be inapplicable to our current times. It is time to reconsider that view.


3 thoughts on “Post-Partisanship

  1. My anxiety is one which bemoans and is centered upon the almost complete disappearance of truth from the public lexicon.

    We can’t continue to frame anything and everything in some crazy old haphazard way and expect to get by.

    In everything, we have a growing complexity which requires an ever increasing precision. We’re so careless with this.

    In this regard our public officials are making so dismal an effort I am sick from it.

  2. Barth

    I don’t know that I am sick, but yes, the disappearance of truth, and its apparent irrelevancy seems to be at the heart of our malaise.

    No leader has ever been completely comfortable with unhappy truths, but it is today a time for them to speak “with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”

    People can try to minimize FDR’s achievements, but one of them was the way he presented the issues: honestly and directly, but with a clear sense of what could be accomplished.

    As in,

    “I am not going to indulge in issuing proclamations of overenthusiastic assurance. We cannot bally-ho ourselves back to prosperity. I am going to be honest at all times with the people of the country. I do not want the people of this country to take the foolish course of letting this improvement come back on another speculative wave. I do not want the people to believe that because of unjustified optimism we can resume the ruinous practice of increasing our crop output and our factory output in the hope that a kind providence will find buyers at high prices. Such a course may bring us immediate and false prosperity but it will be the kind of prosperity that will lead us into another tailspin.”

    1. Our government has taken on the corporate PR model in all regards. It really is no less than propaganda as practiced by Wall Street and Madison Ave. If you ever sit in on a shareholders annual meet put on by all the big corps they’re sickening affairs which are staged from top to bottom. That’s what we got.

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