Posts Tagged ‘Washington’

The Republican Party: Mean to the Bone

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

Trump signs a bill allowing the shooting of Alaskan bear cubs, as they hibernate.

In much the same way that a broken clock is correct twice a day, so did our narcissist-in-chief (NIC) stumble into a truism the other day when he described a “health-care” bill approved by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as “mean.”

Why did our clueless leader suddenly think a bill he had only recently pushed for and extravagantly celebrated at the White House was “mean”? Surely not because almost everyone who knew anything about it except for Tea Party Republicans thought it was mean. That’s never bothered him before.

I suspect it had more to do with the fact that he needed the Senate, also run by Republicans, to also pass a health-care bill so he could brag about it again and he just happened to be in the room, sitting there like a broken clock, when someone said if there was any hope of getting a bill through the Senate it had to be different from the House bill, which was, as he subsequently repeated, “too mean.”

Those are the kind of simple words the NIC understands. Big. Great. Best. Bad. Fat. Lousy, Mean. He likes to use them. A lot. Mean is not good. It’s bad. People don’t like mean things. How is the bill “mean”? Nuance is another matter.

Well, the bill that was presented to the Senate by a 13-member, all-white, all-male, Republican-only task force was apparently only a tad less mean than the GOP House bill, which means most of the country still thinks it’s awful policy, as do a handful of Senate Republicans. Actually, a lot of Senate Republicans think it’s not mean enough. In fact, not enough Republicans like it for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to a vote that would carry, so he put it off to allow for arm-twisting and bribing.

As he apparently demonstrated at a ballyhooed arm-twisting meeting with all the Senate Republicans at the White House, the NIC doesn’t know — or even care — how the bill works. He’s apparently confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, stuff like that. No matter. Mean or not, he just wants a health care bill passed so he can have another Rose Garden celebration and thumb his nose at Barack Obama. That’s pretty much the entire Trump policy.

McConnell, for his part, resorted to his favorite weapon — bribery — to try to get 50 Republicans to buy in to the bill. That comes in the form of billions of dollars in local projects for Republican senators who might face difficult reelection if they vote for the still-mean health care bill.

Tell me that’s not an awfully mean way to conduct public policy. And to no purpose other than to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans so they will continue to fund campaigns and vote for Republican candidates who promise to cut taxes even more, to eliminate pesky regulations that force businesses to be accountable for any harm they do, and to remove all those “deadbeats” Rush Limbaugh rails about from the Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment and welfare rolls.

In other words, Republicans have totally lost the concept of governing for the public good. They have been against everything for so long they don’t know how — or seem to even care to try — to work with Democrats on creating useful legislation. I’ve been trying to figure out when “mean” became the Republican go-to word in policy. Maybe it was Ronald Reagan’s phony trickle-down spiel. The middle class and poor are still waiting for the first nourishing drops. A lot of them — many Trump supporters — are those supposed “deadbeats” of Limbaugh’s. Of course, they did have to suffer through a major economic disaster brought on by those rich individuals and corporations, who apparently didn’t have enough stashed away from the tax breaks so they had to simply cheat people out of their money. And they got away with it.

By the way, Republicans just voted to do away with an Obama regulation that required people dealing with other people’s money — brokers — to tell their clients what was in their best financial interests, not the brokers’. Bad idea, according to Republicans. Mean, I say.

Mean is slashing hundreds of millions from Medicaid, which pays for health care for 20 percent of Americans, including seniors in nursing homes, simply to cut taxes for those who don’t need it — the one percent. The very wealthiest Americans. Mean is cutting funding for Meals on Wheels and food stamps. Mean is promising coal workers that their dying industry will be revived while creating no jobs for them, but allowing coal companies to dump their waste into streams from which the workers get their drinking water. Mean is putting the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects Americans from such things as water pollution, under the direction of someone who wants to eliminate the agency.

Mean is looking to do away with hundreds of regulations that protect people from health and safety risks posed by unscrupulous cost-cutting minded corporations looking to improve their standing with shareholders. If Republicans want to take an object lesson about such short-sighted governing, they need only to look at the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London that killed 79 people.

The fire is believed to have been started by a faulty refrigerator and spread rapidly up the high-rise, fueled by a highly flammable exterior wrapping, called cladding, that is banned for use on high-rises in the United States, but which its maker is allowed to sell in places where regulations aren’t as stringent. In the aftermath of the deadly blaze, Arconic — formerly Alcoa — said it would no longer sell the cladding, which has a polyethylene core, for high rise projects anywhere in the world. The company makes a more-expensive, fire-resistant cladding. Grenfell is a public housing project whose residents had complained for years that there were no fire alarms, no sprinklers, no safety tests and only one stairwell.

Public housing. No safety features. Total disregard for safety regulations. Cheaper construction material. Years of complaining with no response from British politicians more concerned with helping businesses save money rather than protecting people’s lives. Mean.

Since Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they have eagerly worked to erase safety regulations issued late in the Obama administration, including rules to keep coal companies from dumping waste in streams and denying federal contracts to dangerous companies. And it’s not just people who are the target of Republican callousness. The NIC recently signed a bill to allow the shooting of bears and wolves — including cubs — as they hibernate. Heartless.

This list could go on and on and undoubtedly will so long as Republicans, once the proud party of Lincoln, now seemingly a collection of mean-spirited individuals lacking in compassion and tolerance, have access to power. Trump is not really even a Republican, but party leaders have been cynical enough to try to use him to advance their cruel agenda.

It is an utterly depressing state of affairs that calls for new Republican leadership or a new party entirely. If you’re a Republican and are offended by any of this, that’s your problem. The rest of us are appalled. It’s your party. You are responsible for what is being promulgated and promoted in the seats of power in Washington. Your silence is tacit approval.

Like the clueless one said, “Mean.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

The Incivility of Any Civil War

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

A brutal civil war is being fought in Ukraine.

The Ukraine people look haunted in the newspaper photos. Some want to stay with their country, some want to separate and join Russia. We tend to think of them as non-overlapping groups. My experience this past weekend on a trip to Washington, D.C., led me to think about the matter differently.

Our own Civil War divided our country in ways hard to fathom. I know little about the Civil War beyond the Ken Burns series and what I gleaned in high school and college. I have heard that books about Lincoln sell better than anything else, and given that, I am hesitant to put forward any views at all to readers who may be much more knowledgeable than I. But there must be some who don’t know all the things I learned this weekend.

First, I went to hear a concert at the Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington. An attractive church with great stained glass and excellent acoustics, it is pre-Civil War and housed wounded Union soldiers during the fighting. According to the historical poster outside, Washington as a whole was essentially a southern, secessionist city, and that was especially true for the area of the city around the church. Most of the members were for secession. Jefferson Davis was a member with his own pew until conflict with the minister, who was strongly pro-Union, led to his departure. The poster mentioned that Mary Todd Lincoln had a brother and three half-brothers who fought for the Confederacy. Two of them were killed and one was wounded.

The next day we (I, my brother and sister-in-law) went to Arlington National Cemetery. I’d been before, but the lines after lines of white gravestones, stretching off in all directions, still made me gasp. These dead are from all our wars, of course, not just the Civil War, but there were three quarters of a million deaths in that war, the most costly of our history.

We climbed a steep hill to the former home of Robert E. Lee. Arlington Cemetery was built on his property just over the line in Virginia. It was  confiscated by the Union early in the war as a sort of statement: “See what you’ve done.” When you look out from the front porch, you see a bridge crossing the Potomac and right at the end of the bridge, the Lincoln Memorial. The two men seem enmeshed, or at least their differences bridged. I knew from Ken Burns that Lincoln had asked Lee to head the Union Army, and with great difficulty Lee had refused.

I didn’t know that Lee had released all his own slaves five years before the Emancipation Proclamation. I didn’t know that his wife returned to the house after the war ended and died five days later, apparently of a heart attack brought on by the level of destruction. Few of the articles in the house today are original, except for furniture or dishes or pictures that have been returned by some descendant of a Union soldier who stole them. Now the site is a National Monument, and rightly so, for Lee was a remarkable man. After the war, he became president of Washington and Lee College, and tried to help heal the divisions in the country.

Another thing I learned, not this weekend but when doing research on the 1692 witch trials for The Book of Maggie Bradstreet, was that my ancestors in Massachusetts had slaves. They were called servants, but they were slaves. Tituba, who set off the whole Salem witch hysteria, was a slave from the West Indies. Northerners didn’t need slave labor the way the plantations needed it, but that didn’t prevent them from using it when they could.

It’s a kind of cliché, “brother against brother,” but the ways the Union and Confederacy were linked and divided were so complicated, they can’t possibly be reduced to “good vs. bad” or “right vs. wrong,” the way we learn in high school to think about it.

When we see the division in Ukraine, or in Syria, or earlier, in North and South Korea, and North and South Vietnam, we could reflect more on our own experience. People suffer, for such a long time and in such complicated ways, from a Civil War.

 

Barack Obama II: No More Mr. Nice Guy

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

President Obama delivers his inaugural address.

By Bob Gaydos

OK, bring it on. That was the unvarnished, unmistakable message of President Barack Obama’s second Inaugural Address. No pussy-footing around. No avoiding the controversial. No kowtowing to political opponents who have figuratively spit in his face from Day One, whatever the issue. No reason to.

No reason to.

There can be something freeing about presidential second terms. Unburdened by the need to proceed in a manner conducive to reelection — more cautious as a rule — a second-term president can speak his mind and declare his positions with more clarity — more honesty, if you will — as he focuses on legacy rather than voter registrations.

Barack Obama wasted no time letting Americans know that, yes indeed, inside the veneer of the cautious consensus-seeker of his first term beat the heart of a true, progressive politician.

On the second day of his term (Sunday was the first official day) Obama delivered an address that spoke of gay rights, global warming and even gun control. For the record, America, your president believes in all three and, for those who do not, he made it clear he intends to tackle all three in the next four years. Indeed, the relatively brief address was remarkable for the number of challenges he hurled at tea party obstructionists and members of the Republican Party who have let the nay-sayers define their party.

The million or so people gathered on the Washington Mall to witness the event had barely started paying attention to the speech when Obama lit into the know-nothings: “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought and more powerful storms.” It’s like he was saying, “Pay attention, folks, this is no ordinary speech.”

He even went after Republicans who tried to deny Americans the right to vote in the last election with a series of crippling hurdles to the fundamental democratic act: “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

That journey was a recurring metaphor in Obama’s speech, as he conjured the spirit of the nation’s founders in bringing “we, the people,” along with him on the journey, “including “our gay brothers and sisters.” He equated the struggle for gay rights with the struggles for women’s equality and civil rights for blacks, an extraordinary statement for an American president. Indeed, a first in an inaugural address.

And he made clear that immigration reform leading to citizenship would be central in his second-term agenda and that, whatever weapons the NRA might muster to fight it, gun control would not be avoided because it is too controversial.

Not this time.

The speech at once energized Obama’s faithful and antagonized his opponents. But clearly, after four years of trying unsuccessfully to find a sane Republican voice with whom to at least try to reach some consensus, the president had obviously decided to play the victor’s card. He won the election convincingly and public opinion is behind him on virtually every issue, including gay rights and gun control, while Republicans are getting most of the blame for the obstructionism that has paralyzed Congress the past four years.

Politics as a profession often gets a bad rap. “You can’t trust any of them.” “They’re all out for themselves.” Etc.

Much of it is deserved, but without politicians we can have no government. Someone has to do the job. Sometimes it is messy. Sometimes it involves going against one’s own wishes — compromising. Sometimes — and this is tough for followers to accept — it requires patience. Things change. People change. The world changes. Timing is essential to good politics. Timing and an honest assessment of the situation as it is.

Barack Obama has not changed. He has merely waited for the right moment to let his inner, progressive self out. He inherited a recession bordering on depression and led the country (perhaps the world) out of it. He inherited two wars and has all but ended one and pushed up the timetable to end the other. (“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he said, with those who would love to attack Iran clearly in mind.)

For good measure, he let the tea partiers know that “we cannot … treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

Conservatives may not have liked the speech,, but then, they lost the election, didn’t they? And they rejected every offer of bipartisanship from their president, didn’t they? The president obviously believes he has “we, the people” on his side and intends to pursue his agenda aggressively with that mind. (And, by the way, GOP, don’t think you’re going to dismantle Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid either.)

There were no details in the speech and the goals (save for immigration reform perhaps) will not be easy to achieve. But Barack Obama is through playing Mr. Nice Guy to folks who never gave him the time of day. Is it the right approach? At the very least it would be an honest approach, one true to the president’s ideals and convictions. If the recalcitrants are offended, so be it. (“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle …”)

With little to lose and a legacy to create, Barack Obama has taken off the gloves. Four more years. Some might say it’s about time.

bob@zestoforange.com