Sometimes we wonder if we’re too hard on the Republican Party. But the daily news just doesn’t offer us much recourse.
We’re old enough to remember when Republicans were willing to work with Democrats to pass bills for the good of the country. Lyndon Johnson got 27 Republican senators to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 13 Republican senators voted to establish Medicare in 1965. Richard Nixon worked with Democratic majorities in Congress to create the Environmental Protection Agency and he signed the Clean Air Act and Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970. Even conservative St. Ronald Reagan was willing to work with Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill to raise taxes and debt limits when necessary to pay for government in the 1980s. He also supported reforms that stabilized Social Security and gave a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
But George H.W. Bush was the last president from that generation of old-line Republicans. He was never forgiven by the ascendant hard right for agreeing with the Democratic Congress to raise taxes to get a handle on deficits generated during the Reagan years.
After the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Republicans began their policy of obstruction. But they raised sabotage to an art in opposition to Barack Obama’s administration. President Obama was still celebrating his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, when top Republican lawmakers and strategists were meeting over dinner to discuss ways to destroy his presidency, Robert Draper reported in his new book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives.
According to Draper, the plotters included Republican Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Pete Sessions (Texas), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.), along with Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Ensign (Nev.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). Non-lawmakers on hand included Newt Gingrich and wordsmith Frank Luntz. The group agreed to attack incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and vulnerable congressional Democrats immediately and show united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies.
Absent from the meeting were House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but they apparently signed off on the plan. The next day, Kyl aggressively questioned Geithner on his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes while at the International Monetary Fund. Eight days later, Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous opposition to Obama’s economic stimulus plan. And the first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.
When McConnell admitted in October 2010 that the party’s top priority was to prevent Obama’s re-election, it was treated as “remarkably candid and deeply cynical,” Sam Stein of HuffingtonPost.com noted April 25. “Had he said it publicly in January 2009, it would likely have caused an uproar. By extension, however, the Draper anecdote also negatively reflects on the Obama administration for failing to appreciate how quickly congressional Republicans would oppose the president’s agenda.”
Obama managed to gain approval of the $800 billion stimulus package in February 2009, but to overcome the Republican filibuster, Dems had to reduce the size of the package to gain the votes of three Republican senators. Obama also provided loans to General Motors and Chrysler, allowing them to reorganize — over the vocal opposition of Republicans, including the once and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who now preposterously claims credit for the US?car industry’s recovery.
In Obama’s first year the unemployment rate crested at 10% in October 2009, but since then it has come down, steadily but slowly, to 8.1% in April.
Unfortunately, Romney has not felt compelled to stick to the truth about economic recovery under Obama. For example, FactCheck.org in April found that Romney’s claims in a March fundraising letter to Floridians that the numbers for unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures are “soaring” were “simply not true. They all started rising sharply under Bush, continued to rise for a time under Obama, but then peaked and are currently declining,” FactCheck reported April 6.
Romney also claimed Obama stood over “the greatest job loss in modern American history.” But as a matter of fact, more jobs were lost under his predecessor, FactCheck noted.
And Romney was wrong when he claimed Obama increased the budget by more than 20%. “Romney attributes to Obama a big rise in spending for fiscal year 2009 — which began under Bush, nearly four months before Obama took office. Spending in Obama’s latest budget is proposed to be about 8% higher than the fiscal 2009 spending levels.”
The CBO also found that Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan positively affected the economy, making its strongest impact in 2010. It reduced unemployment by as many as 3.6 million jobs and by May the economy had recovered the 4.2 million jobs that had been lost in the Great Recession that Obama inherited from Bush.
But faced with the 26th month of private job growth in April, Romney said he wouldn’t be impressed until unemployment reached 4%. Robert Reich noted on Twitter that the last time the jobless rate was at 4%, he was secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. Reich added, “We got there by raising taxes on rich and investing in [education] and [infrastructure].
The fringe has become mainstream in today’s GOP. A few weeks ago Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) claimed that there are “78 to 81” Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party. This was news to actual Communists, of course, but it was remarkable that West’s channeling of the spirit of Joe McCarthy did not draw censure from Republican leaders.
Tea Party Republicans in Indiana unseated Sen. Dick Lugar, as straight-arrow a conservative as there is in the Senate, for the sin of admitting friendship with President Obama — even though Lugar has opposed most of Obama’s initiatives — and being willing to cross the aisle to deal with Democrats — mainly to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. “The time for being collegial is past,” Lugar’s Republican challenger, Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, recently told the New York Times. “It’s time for confrontation.”
Ironically, Lugar’s defeat should give Democrats a better chance of picking up the seat with moderate Rep. Joe Donnelly.
When a woman at a rally May 7 in Cleveland, Ohio, told Romney that President Obama was “operating outside the structure of our Constitution” and should be tried for treason (which got a big round of applause from the audience), Romney didn’t bother to ask the woman about the grounds for the supposed treason.
In contrast, when a woman in October 2008 said she could not trust Obama because “he’s an Arab,” Sen. John McCain responded immediately, “No ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”
(Note that we don’t consider the Republican cabal that plotted on Obama’s inauguration night to sabotage his efforts at economic recovery to be treasonous. Unpatriotic and contemptuous of the working class who have suffered during this stubborn recession — perhaps — but unlike the new Republican extremists we don’t consider political disagreements to be a capital offense.)
But Romney is unwilling to stand up to right-wing crazies like McCain did. Romney declined to criticize Rush Limbaugh when he repeatedly slandered a law student as a “slut” and a “prostitute” and demanded that she provide sex tapes after she dared to testify about the need for contraceptives. Then, after American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer demanded the resignation of Ric Grenell as Romney’s foreign policy adviser because Grenell is openly gay, Grenell was gone within a week. Fischer later mocked Romney: “How is he going to stand up to Putin? How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?”
That is just the start of the questions Republicans should be asking about their party’s standard bearer and other leaders.