Let Our People Go

We almost talked ourselves into an optimistic piece today about how fortunate we are as a nation, as individuals, as people who come to the aid of their stricken family and friends. This was Thanksgiving after all, and we did, and do, have reasons to be hopeful, to be proud.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we couldn’t. The Republicans wouldn’t let us.

Despite President Obama’s three million vote margin, despite losing a couple of Senate seats, despite the sensation we all have that Congress won’t let the country go over that fabled economic cliff —- despite the sense that the Recession may have bottomed out and while millions still need help, jobs, education, and a renewed sense of value, we as Americans can after all do it. Our boot straps are long and strong enough to make a difference in all our lives.

When what to our wondering eyes and ears do we hear and see? The Republicans cannot, and will not, admit they have been beaten. They still believe they are in the drivers’ seats, frightening us, warning us, wanting to move backward by at least ten years to times when we spent money without thinking, when we were only beginning to understand that foreign forces were determined to attack us, when most of us still imagined we were Kings of the Road.

How could this happen and who’s behind it?

The answer to question number one is simple: the Republicans, for ten years, have bullied the nation into believing what it wants them to believe. They have filibustered, out-flanked, threatened disaster, and told us repeatedly that our President comes from some other civilization wherein understanding is a gift of the distant past.

This worked. Obstruction and denial, propaganda and lies, brought meaningful progress on infrastructure, in education, on job creation to a complete halt. Every reasonable plea by the President for Congress to do the business it was elected to do was repulsed.

Lubricious Mitch McConnell’s oft-stated aim of making Mr. Obama a one term president failed. Clearly this is a disappointment that has caused the Republicans to become unhinged, and they can’t decide what or how to go about being the Loyal opposition.

The answer to question number two – who’s behind this intransigence – is a little more complex and yet startlingly simple: the losers.

Content in their safe cocoon – where benefits and power go hand-in-hand – Congress, the Republicans that is, clearly decided that to maintain their attitudes of combativeness and uncooperation was the easiest path to take for the next two, perhaps even four, years. After all, they were used to it, knew how it worked, saw it working, and brought the country to the brink of devisiveness not seen since the Civil War. Why fix what works? Or, in this case, what doesn’t, and hasn’t, worked?

The single stumbling block to remaining the God Old Boys from the South is that there is no national leader after whom the Republicans, like sheep, can follow, bleeting at the top of their lungs their warnings, their plans for national destruction of what we have come to rely on as the national safety net. Worse, Obamacare – the Affordable Healthcare Act – now seems if not cemented in place, at least a lot harder to tinker with. Just as governing is a lot harder than campaigning to govern.

With no one of stature at the top of their particular pyramid, the Republicans have allowed a rickety figure from the past to fill this power vacuum. And he, bless him, loves it.

This is more than simply appearing on Fox Sunday talk shows week after week. Because of his earlier life, trials, successes, John McCain has, like some prehistoric monster coming at us out of the poisoned fog of the past, stepped into the vacant leadership role for the old guard. “Old” is the operative word. His concerns, his attacks, his focus are all on matters that long ago seemed settled or, worse, seemed insignificant.

We are not saying that the death of four American diplomats in Libya is inconsequential.

But to align himself with Fox in hourly diatribes about who knew what and when, and then, finally, with his cohort Lindsay Graham of the Senate as his Sancho Panza, to attack what is, after all, a hypothetical – that Susan Rice might be named Secretary of State after Mrs. Clinton retires – simply demonstrates once more McCain’s predeliction for futile violence in a world he no longer understands.

For it seems to us – Syria apart – that the current Democratic administration has in fact learned some valuable lessons from the Arab Spring. Foremost, of course, is that it is The Arab Spring, not ours.

To give credit where it’s due, attacking Ms. Rice as a putative Secretary of State against whom to vote, against whom to campaign, is not by any means an incredibly stupid thing to do.

For here is what happens. Whether or nor the President actually wants Ms. Rice in that post, suddenly he is wedded to the proposition that she is qualified for it. None of us knows whether that is true.

But – and here Republican genius still lies – McCain, Graham et al have boxed President Obama into a very small space indeed.

For should he want to name to this post John Kerry, or even take a real flier and nominate John Huntsman, he will seem to many as having been rolled just one more time, still unable to stand up to the Republicans. He will have caved.

Suppose Ms. Rice is NOT the finest, most capable candidate for that post. (Suppose, as a sidebar, President George H.W. Bush had not presented us with Clarence Thomas as the most qualified black jurist in the country when he sought to replace Thurgood Marshall? Nonetheless, filling the “black” seat on the Supreme Court was more important that who filled it. Oh, that we could re-visit that decision!)

Suppose even Ms. Rice favors another diplomat for this key spot? Suppose she’s happy and content doing her current job, at which admittedly she is pretty good. Neither she nor the President can now easily duck and cover without being portrayed as weak-kneed or timid, or as a “tool” of the administration. (Another side-bar: did the Republicans go berserk when Colin Powell at the United Nations upheld the intelligence he was fed by the second Bush administration? It was Powell himself who felt betrayed, not the braying war-mongers on the Hill.)

All which is to illustrate why we couldn’t just have relaxed and talked today about Thanksgiving and family and food and need and helping the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

The Republicans have once more put down a marker. Strategically this is brilliant. For the health of the nation, it comes close to sucking.


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