Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The Republican Response?
President Obama's rousing speech last night, though it often contained a few rehashes of previous rhetoric, was a strong attempt to negate the naysayers and justify the need to spend close to a trillion dollars in taxpayer money. I, as an unapologetic liberal, applaud this effort as a good first step because I have observed the incredible impotence of the Republican response to this crisis. In short, states cannot often be trusted to effectively govern their own affairs. Insularity in thought and in local government is a restrictive force that delays progress and fosters backward-thinking logic. Tax cuts are no panacea. The government that governs least governs without a rudder.
The stimulus package, as I understand it, often boils down to a laundry list of improvement and upgrade plans that should have been enacted long ago. They've been part of the Democratic Christmas list for decades. We've long needed new roads, new interstate highways, new bridges, new sewer systems, new power grids, new and more effective public transportation, an expansion of broadband internet access, and the like. We've long needed substantial reforms of both Medicaid and Medicare. We've long needed a renewed focus on energy conservation and alternative sources of fuel. That it has taken a severe recession and economic downturn to enact these measures speaks to the time-honored fact that change will not be made when it is possible to avoid confrontation, prolong the status quo, and not ruffle Congressional feathers.
As for the Loyal Opposition, if Bobby Jindal's speech last night was any indication, Barack Obama should coast easily into re-election in 2012. If this is the best the Grand Old Party can do, it is in more trouble than I could have ever imagined. Jindal's affected speech was a combination of Sunday school teacher, Bible salesman, and milkman. As has been mentioned exhaustively by talking heads, columnists, and pundits alike, the Republican Party have no new ideas and instead have dug in for pitched battle and siege, hedging their bets that the recession will worsen precipitously, Obama's initiatives will fail, unemployment will swell, and that they will then be able to make gains in both chambers in 2010 by playing the I-told-you-so card.
At this point, I think I may need to cite my credentials. Though I am often partisan I am also not a kool-aid drinker. This very same guerilla warfare approach was taken by the Democrats after the Republican Revolution of 1994 put them out of power in both the House and Senate for the first time in decades. Lacking neither a strong leader, nor much in the way of new blood or new shining stars, Democrats at times resorted to obstruction, rumors of filibusters, threats of filibuster, and on a few occasions, outright filibuster. These often are the only substantial cards dealt to any party out of power. Yet, it goes without saying that as the minority party, there was a severe limit to what these tactics could accomplish by themselves. This stalemate produced a new class of Democratic politicians whose desire and passion were stirred by helplessly observing just how strait-jacketed their party had become at the hands of a rubber stamp Congress and dangerously incompetent President. Since politics runs in cycles, I know that with time the Republicans will toil in the wilderness long enough to inspire their own Obama-figure. I know that power corrupts and that eventually the Democratic brand will accumulate its own tarnish.
Still, the hope is that before best intentions go awry, a party can manage to stay a couple decades ahead of the opposition, thereby making it far more difficult for a revived opponent to reverse the gains made in the name of progress. For four years, at least, liberal or at least moderate judges will be appointed to Federal posts. Liberal to moderate judges will fill any vacancy that might arise in the Supreme Court, thus swinging the balance of power in that chamber more towards the middle than the right, as it currently is weighted. Abortion rights will be protected. Gun control will be an option on the table. Government will have a stronger say in many avenues and the private sector will neither be trusted to regulate itself nor exalted as anyone's savior. Though I wish we'd see the end of our enemies forever, I know enough from my own admittedly modest life experience and the study of history to know that hubris, greed, money, and power have always eventually poisoned the most idealistic of causes. The point, then, is to take stock of this, temper our expectations accordingly, and use this rare opportunity to lay the groundwork for the coming years.