How Dare You Clean Up Our Mess?
One of the few things that irritates me more than Barack Obama is Barack Obama’s critics.
Or, at least, some of them. I’m one of his biggest un-fans, and in that sense I join legions of progressives heartsick in watching this right-wing president either doing nothing at all, or doing nothing at all that we ever would want.
But, of course, Obama’s biggest opposition comes from the lunatics on the right, who basically hate him for what is essentially the crime of not being Republican. Given that his policies are so similar to George W. Bush’s, I really think that’s it – even more than any race-based vitriol.
That’s fine, in principle. Since Obama sends me ballistic with enormous frequency, I can hardly begrudge them the same privilege.
Unless, of course, I were to be hypocritical.
Which is perhaps the single most nauseating attribute of our good friends on the regressive right. You know the rules. One set of sexual standards for us, another for them behind closed doors. Big thumping militarist patriotism when our kids go off to war, rather less when it’s their turn. Itsy-bitsy small government ideology for the lil’ folk, Washington as a great big candy-covered sugar teat for them. Etc., etc.
Nowhere does this astonishingly brazen hypocrisy manifest itself more plainly nowadays than in the criticisms of Obama from the right. And nowhere can you find more ridiculous and more historically myopic claims than from these folk (another favorite trait of theirs). It is as if we’re supposed to believe – which pretty much all of the right’s regresso-bots actually seem to – that history began on January 20th of this year. Hey, no wonder they’re so angry! It was all just dandy until Obama came in and wrecked everything in sight!
The biggest claim of this sort concerns deficit spending, of course. I must say, I’m glad people are worried about this. The amount of debt that we’re currently handing off to our children is astronomical, and what’s worse, it’s rising rapidly. All that said, there are just a few inconsistencies in this line of attack that are more than just a bit irritating.
To begin with, where the hell have these people been? While the deficits currently being wracked up are huge, they are only dangerous and they are only onerous because of the mountain of existing debt onto which they’re being added. They are the proverbial straws breaking the camel’s back.
American government has been running in the red for eons, but it took the regressive movement coming to power in order to turn those debts into killer quantities. The beloved Saint Reagan pioneered the path here, by tripling the national debt in his eight years in office, and doing so through the combination of giant tax cuts for the wealthy (and thus equally giant revenue cuts for the government), along with massive military spending increases. Woo-hoo! It’s a party, everybody!
It didn’t take magic to figure out what the result would be. In fact, it took magic to imagine it could be anything different. Which is why George Bush (not the Satan one, but the father of the Satan one) called it “voodoo economics”. At least that’s what he called it when he was running against Reagan for the 1980 presidential nomination of the Precambrian Party. When he lost that battle and desperately wanted instead to become Reagan’s running mate, he somehow stopped making that particular critique. Magically, Reagan’s unchanged plan rapidly became perfectly sound economics for vice presidential nominee Bush. You might call that one of the greatest sellouts of the public interest in all of American history. Indeed, since he did it in pursuit of his own personal interests, you might even call it an act of treason. But then, of course, you would have to be a sentient human being to do so, which lets out just about all of the nice people over on the right. So Reagan gets a pass.
Then the Little Bush comes along and does Reagan one better. He inherited the greatest budget surplus in American history and instantly turned it into the greatest deficit in history. Nice work! And he did it the old fashioned way, handing enormous tax relief to the already wealthy – and equally robust ‘revenue relief’ to the federal treasury – while spending huge chunks of cash on the military. Bush also figured out a great way to funnel tons of money to his pals in the pharmaceutical industry, through a prescription drug bill which just incidentally also happened to provide a small benefit for American seniors. The cost for that puppy was entirely and completely unfunded in the legislation (can you say, “not deficit neutral”?). The Bush people lied to their own party in Congress about it when they promised that the total bill would not exceed $400 billion in cost over ten years time. Then they told the administration’s Medicare actuary, who knew the truth, that they would fire him if he testified before Congress. Now, a couple years later, the bill is priced at one trillion bucks over ten years. And, again, every one of those trillion dollars is completely unfunded. Which is to say, borrowed.
Contrast this to what the Democrats are doing on healthcare today. It is, to my mind, very much an incomplete bill, at best, and possibly a prescription for ruin if insurance companies go on a pricing binge after it’s passed, which they’ve actually already begun doing before it’s passed. But, whatever its other serious flaws, it make a fairly earnest attempt at fully paying for itself, and – a few gimmicky budget tricks aside – largely succeeds. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill now being considered by the Senate would actually reduce the annual federal deficit slightly.
And yet regresso-atavists are apoplectic at the giant damage that Obama’s healthcare bill will do to the deficit! Even though it won’t. And they were silent about the major damage that Bush’s bill did to the deficit! Even though it did. Nor did we hear boo from them as Bush doubled the size of the national debt in eight years. Somehow, borrowing is only a problem when a Democrat does it. In fact, it would appear that borrowing is even a problem when a Democrat doesn’t do it. Go figure. Maybe it’s the Democrat part that turns out to be problematic. I’m just thinkin’ out loud here…
Of course, that’s just good old fashioned regressive hypocrisy at work, though the outrage on the right is insulting for another reason as well. People can say whatever they want about Barack Obama. (And, clearly, that’s exactly what they do – without the slightest regard to fact.) But you have to be desperately self-deceiving to believe that he came to office wanting to start off his presidency by spending $800 billion on some hodgepodge stimulus bill, and wanting to become the new owner of American automobile, insurance and banking companies. I don’t think Obama has any more desire to gobble up the American private sector than did Herbert Hoover. Why would he? It’s not like he’s making money off the deal. And if he did want to own corporations, why would he be grabbing only companies that are such total train-wrecks?
How deluded do you have to be to think that the president of the United States has some sort of bizarre jones for owning imploding corporations? And how absurdly unbalanced do you have to be to believe it’s all just a coincidence that it’s happening right now? And that the only companies that the government is buying are those which have been dropped from 150 story buildings and were inches from the ground at the time that Obama stepped in?
This is historical myopia to the point of psychosis. The lunatics on the right have completely divorced Obama’s actions from the context in which they took place. It’s like pretending there’s no difference between murder and self-defense. Perhaps they’ve not heard, but despite the fact that they both involve killing another person, one is done without justification and the other is completely justified and even highly admired.
Like so much that goes on in Starboardville, it makes no sense whatsoever. Unless, of course, you realize that the real logic is actually about avoiding sense. Hence the tenacious embrace of dogma, the facts be damned. In this particular case, what the facts show is that regressive economic policies drove the economy off the cliff, and are still now causing enormous pain for huge numbers of people worldwide. How unbelievably cheeky is it, therefore, for the Neanderthal Set to come along and trash the very people who have rescued the economy from the mega-crisis they themselves bequeathed to all of us? You’d think that after all the damage they’re responsible for creating these nice folks would have the decency to go crawl off into the closet and hide for a century or two. Ah, but that would be to misunderstand profoundly the movement we’re dealing with here.
The facts show that regressive policies drove the economy over the cliff, alright. And what the facts also show is that the only thing that prevented it from smashing headlong into the ground 300 feet below was the federal government’s intervention. Meanwhile, what was the right’s prescription to deal with the outrageous mess they themselves had made?
That’s a third way in which their critiques of the current government’s policies are so obscene. What is their alternative? Near as I can tell, it’s do nothing. Or, give some additional huge tax breaks to the wealthy – which also means do nothing, but while adding even more to the national debt.
Isn’t it bad enough that these lovely folks and their lovely policies have wrecked the country? Isn’t even worse that they get so agitated at the people trying to repair the damage that they foam at the mouth in rage? Yes and yes. But it’s a still greater crime yet that the folks shredding the folks fixing have absolutely no solutions of their own to offer as alternatives to the nightmare they’ve created.
It actually gets worse from there, however. It isn’t a nightmare they’ve created, but rather nightmares. The economy is only Problem One. Then there are the wars, the environment, education, infrastructure, debt, human rights and lots more.
We are talking here about a country deep in multiple crises. Maybe Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt had more on their plates when they assumed the presidency. Maybe. But if they did, only they did. Obama came into office with the country just about going off the rails in just about every way possible. And the people who gave him – and us – these disasters have done nothing but criticize him in the fiercest manner from the get-go.
Worse is that their reckless critiques are gaining traction everyday, and the Obama presidency is sinking rapidly. This is chiefly because Obama seems incapable of mounting an effective communications strategy, incapable of advocating for his policy preferences, and incapable even of defending his administration against the most scurrilous and deceitful of attacks.
That adds salt to the already grievous wound, but worst of all is that he really is one of them. A close examination of his policies quickly reveals that they run the gamut from regressive economics to regressive foreign policy to regressive human rights and beyond.
Maybe that’s why the president has such a hard time defending himself from the insane and obscene critiques of the hypocritical, historically myopic, and alternative-lacking regressive right. He’s merely the kinder, gentler version of them.
Lucky us. Once we had a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Now it’s Tweedle-Destruction and Tweedle-Disaster.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.