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Friday, December 10, 2010

If Only 44 was 42 or Even 43

(Posting's been light on account of my increasingly frenetic job search plus revising my new novel The Toy Cop plus finishing the last third of the upcoming Assclowns of the Year but I couldn't help but write this, a rare Brilliant @ Breakfast exclusive.)

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)

President Obama should be getting on the phone right now and asking Bill Clinton for advice. For that matter, I'd even suggest he also call George W. Bush for advice. I'll wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor before I unpack my suggestion.

Now, it goes without saying that Bill Clinton or George W. Bush's administrations were hardly were what one would call progressive. Clinton gave us NAFTA, DADT, DOMA, was in favor of capital punishment and cozied up to dictators like Suharto. He allowed Glass Steagall to get trashed, setting one of the stages for the current financial-housing meltdown.

George W. Bush, outside of Wall Street, gave us 1984 in real life and in real time. To find a worse example of a world leader, one would have to go back to a certain beer hall putsch in the 1920's.

But both these men can claim something that Obama has yet to even come close to: Pushing through unpopular legislation after having lost the House.

Clinton lost the House halfway through his first term in the ultimately failed "Republican Revolution" of 1994. Then as now, freshman Republican congressmen charged into Congress like so many horny bull elephants, led by their man Newt Gingrich who became the new Speaker of the House waving around something called "The Contract With America" (that eventually wasn't honored, virtually all of its 8 reforms and 10 bills having either been laughed off the House floor or killed by presidential veto. In fact, the 95 major programs slated for funding cutbacks actually increased by 13%).

Bush lost the House midway through his second term yet the surge began the month after congressional inaugurations and a change in chairmanships. Later that year, after an abortive start, he got his multi-trillion dollar bailout, facing the strongest opposition from his own party. Afghanistan dragged on. Nothing truly changed between 2007-2009 during the 110th Congress.

How did they do it? Well, some dick-twisting largely through Dick Cheney certainly had something to do with it, as well as having the press on his side. Clinton, never truly a media darling since at least Monica Lewinsky, no doubt did some back room dick-twisting of his own, too. The 42nd president and the First Lady didn't get their health care reform bill passed, true, but that was largely due to the interference of health care lobbyists. Obama got his own health care reform bill passed but only largely due to the interference of health care lobbyists.

In the meantime, even against a hostile House, President Clinton nonetheless lifted over 2,000,000 households out of poverty with modest changes in the earned income credit structure, gradually built up a record surplus and managed to keep us out of any major wars.

Against a hostile House, George basically got everything he ever asked for (and in some cases, more) and the only things denied to him was his attempt at immigration reform and privatizing Social Security. Clinton was and still is a compromiser by nature and managed to strike deals with a hostile Republican majority in the House. George W. Bush, immigration reform aside, got what he wanted by being inflexible and almost admirably disciplined (or rigid, as some would say). Plus, don't forget, Bush didn't have the majority of the Senate on his side in the first two years of his first term. It may be surprising to remember that Bush only truly owned Congress for four out of eight years, 2003-2007.

Obama has yet to learn the difference between compromise and appeasement or capitulation. With the Senate still on his side and almost 200 fellow Democrats in the House, Obama has bowed to the GOP in a way that's making even notoriously spineless Democrats revolt. Obama had struck a deal with the Devil that's going to result in poor peoples' taxes going up, rich peoples' taxes staying low and people on unemployment, whether they get an extension or not, will lose that extra $100 a month that 99ers have long since counted on as part of their meager income.

DADT is still stalled in the Senate despite the Republicans having only 41 of their number in that chamber, and the GOP had struck down a cloture vote on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, still firmly oppose UI extensions on the basis it won't be adequately paid for (without explaining how $700,000,000,000, the official amount of the TARP bailout, in lost tax revenue will be) and even financial aid to 911 rescue workers.

Obama comes across as looking like a rookie lifeguard, far out of his depth, beyond the bouys and getting pulled under by the riptides. Neither Bush nor Clinton would've stood for this and they would've walked away with something more substantial than the lint that Obama has pulled from the Republican Party's Brooks Brothers suits. He shows us handfuls of lint and tries to make us think it's a bolt of rich cloth. But this time around, we know the difference between compromise and capitulation and one has to wonder what's going through Clinton's and Bush's minds as they see this administration slowly sinking and becoming just an extension of the Republican Party.
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