Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged

Frank Rich
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
February 27, 2010

No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. (Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.) The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.

The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.
The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president. As George F. Will recently pointed out, Palin will not even be the G.O.P. nominee “unless the party wants to lose at least 44 states” (as it did in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Waterloo). But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism. This ideology is far more troubling than the boilerplate corporate conservatism and knee-jerk obstructionism of the anti-Obama G.O.P. Congressional minority.

In the days after Stack’s Austin attack, the gradually coalescing Tea Party dogma had its Washington coming out party at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), across town from Capitol Hill. The most rapturously received speaker was Beck, who likened the G.O.P. to an alcoholic in need of a 12-step program to recover from its “progressive-lite” collusion with federal government. Beck vilified an unnamed Republican whose favorite president was the progressive Theodore Roosevelt — that would be McCain — and ominously labeled progressivism a cancer that “must be cut out of the system.”

A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation. Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged. At the conference’s conclusion, a presidential straw poll was won by Congressman Paul, ending a three-year Romney winning streak. No less an establishment conservative observer than the Wall Street Journal editorialist Dorothy Rabinowitz describes Paul’s followers as “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged.”

William Kristol dismissed the straw poll results as the youthful folly of Paul’s jejune college fans. William Bennett gingerly pooh-poohed Beck’s anti-G.O.P. diatribe. But in truth, most of the CPAC speakers, including presidential aspirants, were so eager to ingratiate themselves with this claque that they endorsed the Beck-Paul vision rather than, say, defend Bush, McCain or the party’s Congressional leadership. (It surely didn’t help Romney’s straw poll showing that he was the rare Bush defender.) And so — just one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office — the heretofore milquetoast Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”

Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it. Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives. In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”

In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history. In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.

In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.

Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The appeal of unreality

Conservatives keep screaming for small government, as if their darlings, Reagan and Bush II, hadn't enlarged it

Garrison Keillor
Februray 23, 2010

Ever since that night in June when we filed onto the football field in our mortarboards and gowns and the distinguished speaker (what was his name?) informed us that we were entering a time of rapid and unparalleled change, we've been waiting and hoping, but here we are, all grown up, and the same soupy music is dripping from the ceilings of lobbies, the internal combustion engine rules the land, ditto the hamburger, fashion is retro, movies tend to be remakes, and Congress is more like itself than it ever was before. The same stuffed peppers are harrumphing and pontificating and posing for photos with the 4-H'ers and the winners of the 2010 Western Regional Wiener Eating Contest and reading prepared statements on C-SPAN denouncing folks who would throw grandmothers down the stairs and meanwhile hustling the money and working the angles and keeping their eyes focused on their very own tasseled loafers.

When Al Franken ran for the Senate, people questioned his credentials, but good grief, people, comedy is hard work compared to harrumphing. It takes brains and elegance and courage to make people laugh. A comedian who joins the Senate has taken a step down on the social scale and everybody knows it.

Congress needs to do a few simple, sensible things just to show us they are alert and on the job. Could we start by passing a resolution ordering the Transportation Security Administration to immediately cease the P.A. announcements in airports warning people against accepting packages from persons unknown to carry aboard an aircraft?

This is an insult to the American traveler. It's like telling people to please not approach the security checkpoint at a fast trot while yelling "Allah is great." People know not to do this. If they are likely to accept a box from a stranger who wants them to carry it to Denver and mail it, then they should not be traveling around unescorted.

Unparalleled change? I don't see it. You walk into an icy-chill shopping mall in the middle of July and imagine the consequences of all that refrigeration, our descendants living in an arid country, living in abandoned office parks by the ruins of freeways and wondering how their ancestors could have been so dense. Nothing new about selfishness, nor about paranoia: For the rest of our lives we will be removing our shoes and waiting on the other side of the scanner while a nice woman wipes our laptop with a swab and puts it into an expensive machine to test for plastic explosives, meanwhile our children go to school at 6 a.m. to save money on buses and they doze through history and algebra.

Our healthcare system could be fixed by smart public-spirited people in a weekend, but in our current democracy it is very hard to budge the blockade, and things may need to get much worse and Republicans be boosted back into power and they can propose the very same legislation they are adamantly opposed to now and the system will change a little bit.

Unreality remains pretty much the same, and its appeal in politics is as strong as ever. Look at the recent powwow of the conservative choir in Washington. Their goal is to reduce government to where it was in Coolidge's time. They are sticking to this, though their presidents, Reagan and Bush II, only succeeded in enlarging government. As for their foreign policy, it's the old Flag In Your Face, Nuke The Whales, Talk Loud, Walk Tall, Proud To Be Dumb & Who Gives A Rip Anyway, Republican bravado that's all for domestic consumption and makes perfect sense if you're a shut-in and your TV is locked on Fox News but not if you are ambulatory and able to read English.

Meanwhile, our president, who is more or less forced to live in the real world, has seen his numbers drop alarmingly because unreality is so beautiful to so many people, such as the tea baggers. The conservatives should, in all decency, lie low for a few years. When you've driven the car into the swamp -- up to our eyeballs in debt, fighting two wars on behalf of shaky regimes, trying to keep a lid on Iran, Congress in a frozen stupor -- and then you throw mudballs at the tow-truck driver, you are betting on the electorate having the memory of a guppy. You can parade up and down stark naked and pretend it's very fine silk and fool a lot of people, but eventually word will get around.

(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)

© 2010 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The GOP's "small government" tea party fraud

Glenn Greenwald
February 21, 2010

There's a major political fraud underway:  the GOP is once against donning their libertarian, limited-government masks in order to re-invent itself and, more important, to co-opt the energy and passion of the Ron-Paul-faction that spawned and sustains the "tea party" movement.  The Party that spat contempt at Paul during the Bush years and was diametrically opposed to most of his platform now pretends to share his views.  Standard-issue Republicans and Ron Paul libertarians are as incompatible as two factions can be -- recall that the most celebrated right-wing moment of the 2008 presidential campaign was when Rudy Giuliani all but accused Paul of being an America-hating Terrorist-lover for daring to suggest that America's conduct might contribute to Islamic radicalism -- yet the Republicans, aided by the media, are pretending that this is one unified, harmonious, "small government" political movement.
The Right is petrified that this fraud will be exposed and is thus bending over backwards to sustain the myth.  Paul was not only invited to be a featured speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference but alsowon its presidential straw poll.  Sarah Palin endorsed Ron Paul's son in the Kentucky Senate race.  National Review is lavishly praising Paul, whileAnn Coulter "felt compelled [in her CPAC speech] to give a shout out to Paul-mania, saying she agreed with everything he stands for outside of foreign policy -- a statement met with cheers."  Glenn Beck -- who literallycheered for the Wall Street bailout and Bush's endlessly expanding surveillance state -- now parades around as though he shares the libertarians' contempt for them.  Red State's Erick Erickson, defending the new so-called conservative "manifesto," touts the need for Congress to be confined to the express powers of Article I, Section 8, all while lauding a GOP Congress that supported countless intrusive laws -- from federalized restrictions on assisted suicide, marriage, gambling, abortion and drugs to intervention in Terri Schiavo's end-of-life state court proceeding -- nowhere to be found in that Constitutional clause.  With the GOP out of power, Fox News suddenly started featuring anti-government libertarianssuch as John Stossel and Reason Magazine commentators, whereas, when Bush was in power, there was no government power too expanded or limitless for Fox propagandists to praise.
This is what Republicans always do.  When in power, they massively expand the power of the state in every realm.  Deficit spending and thenational debt skyrocket.  The National Security State is bloated beyond description through wars and occupations, while no limits are tolerated on the Surveillance State.  Then, when out of power, they suddenly pretend to re-discover their "small government principles."  The very same Republicans who spent the 1990s vehemently opposing Bill Clinton's Terrorism-justified attempts to expand government surveillance and executive authority then, once in power, presided over the largest expansion in history of those very same powers.  The last eight years of Republican rule was characterized by nothing other than endlessly expanded government power, even as they insisted -- both before they were empowered and again now -- that they are the standard-bearers of government restraint.
What makes this deceit particularly urgent for them now is that their only hope for re-branding and re-empowerment lies in a movement -- the tea partiers -- that has been (largely though not exclusively) dominated by libertarians, Paul followers, and other assorted idiosyncratic factions who are hostile to the GOP's actual approach to governing.  This is a huge wedge waiting to be exposed -- to explode -- as the modern GOP establishment and the actual "small-government" libertarians that fuel the tea party are fundamentally incompatible.  Right-wing mavens like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin and National Review are suddenly feigning great respect for Ron Paul and like-minded activists because they're eager that the sham will be maintained:  the blatant sham that the modern GOP and its movement conservatives are a coherent vehicle for those who believe in small government principles.  The only evidence of a passionate movement urging GOP resurgence is from people whose views are antithetical to that Party.  That's the dirty secret which right-wing polemicists are desperately trying to keep suppressed. Credit to Mike Huckabee for acknowledging this core incompatibility by saying he would not attend CPAC because of its "increasing libertarianism."
These fault lines began to emerge when Sarah Palin earlier this month delivered the keynote speech to the national tea party conference in Memphis, and stood there spitting out one platitude after the next which Paul-led libertarians despise:  from neoconservative war-loving dogma and veneration of Israel to glorification of "War on Terror" domestic powers and the need of the state to enforce Palin's own religious and cultural values.  Neocons (who still overwhelmingly dominate the GOP) and Paul-led libertarians are arch enemies, and the social conservatives on whom the GOP depends are barely viewed with greater affection.  Sarah Palin and Ron Paul are about as far apart on most issues as one can get; the "tea party movement" can't possibly be about supporting each of their worldviews.  Moreover, the GOP leadership is currently promising Wall Street even more loyal subservience than Democrats have given in exchange for support, thus bolstering the government/corporate axis which libertarians find so repugnant.  And Coulter's manipulative claim that she "agrees with everything [Paul] stands for outside of foreign policy" is laughable; aside from the fact that "foreign policy" is a rather large issue in our political debates (Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia), they were on exactly the opposite sides of the most intense domestic controversies of the Bush era:  torturemilitary commissionshabeas corpusGuantanamoCIA secrecytelecom immunity, and warrantless eavesdropping.  
Part of why this fraud has been sustainable thus far is that libertarians -- like everyone who doesn't view all politics through the mandated, distorting, suffocating Democrat v. GOP prism -- are typically dismissed as loons and nuts, and are thus eager for any means of achieving mainstream acceptance.  Having the GOP embrace them is one way to achieve that (Karl Rove:  some "see the tea party movement as a recruiting pool for volunteers for Ron Paul's next presidential bid . . . . The Republican Party and the tea party movement have many common interests").  Additionally, just as the Paul-faction of libertarians is in basic harmony with many progressives on issues of foreign policy and civil liberties, they do subscribe to the standard GOP rhetoric on domestic spending, social programs and the like.  
But that GOP limited government rhetoric is simply never matched by that Party's conduct, especially when they wield power.   The very idea that a political party dominated by neocons, warmongers, surveillance fetishists, and privacy-hating social conservatives will be a party of "limited government" is absurd on its face.  There literally is no myth more transparent than the Republican Party's claim to believe in restrained government power.  For that reason, it's only a matter of time before the fundamental incompatibility of the "tea party movement" and the political party cynically exploiting it is exposed.
Copyright ©2010 Salon Media Group, Inc. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Playing Both Sides of the Stimulus

Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Pat Garofalo, and Alex Seitz-Wald
The Progress Report
February 18, 2010

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the day that President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, i.e. the stimulus) into law. "One year later, it is largely thanks to the Recovery Act that a second depression is no longer a possibility," said Obama. "So far, the Recovery Act is responsible for the jobs of about 2 million Americans who would otherwise be unemployed. These aren't just our numbers; these are the estimates of independent, nonpartisan economists across the spectrum." Indeed, as the New York Times' David Leonhardt detailed, "perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, estimates that the stimulus saved or created between 800,000 and 2.4 million jobs. The gross domestic product also grew at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 5.7 percent last quarter, much of which can be attributed to the stimulus package. "The economy has shed some three million jobs over the past year, but it would have lost closer to five million without stimulus," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's and former adviser to Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign. "The economy is still struggling, but it would have been much worse without stimulus." However, Republicans are using the Recovery Act's anniversary as an opportunity to continue making false claims and clouding public perception regarding its effectiveness. 

GOP HYPOCRISY: "One year later, one thing is clear: the stimulus bill has failed," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) added, "This was not the plan Americans asked for or the results they were promised." However, Republicans are not so down on the stimulus when it comes to trumpeting money in their home states and districts. A new report by The Progress Report released yesterday documents 110 Republicans -- more than half of the GOP caucus -- who are "guilty of stimulus hypocrisy," as they voted against the act but have since claimed credit for its benefits or asked for more funding. For instance, McConnell has returned to Kentucky to brag about money for the Blue Grass Army Depot; Rep. Steve King (R-IA) "issued an upbeat statement" about stimulus dollars dedicated to widening U.S. Highway 20 in Iowa; and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has hosted multiple job fairs populated by stimulus recipients looking to hire. Plus, the Wall Street Journal reported that "more than a dozen Republican lawmakers supported stimulus-funding requests submitted to the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forest Service." As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow put it, "[O]n policy terms, [Republicans] have been caught bragging on the stimulus as good policy." However, Republicans are steadfastly refusing to concede that their actions are hypocritical, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) writing that there is nothing wrong with trying to claim stimulus money if Democrats are "hellbent to spend the money anyway."

GUBERNATORIAL GAMES: Congressional Republicans aren't the only ones taking advantage of Recovery Act money after criticizing the bill that provided it. For instance, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) has said that it is "ludicrous" to claim that the recovery act boosted the economy, while characterizing stimulus money as "misdirected" and "largely wasted." He recently added that "just sending some cash out as a Band-Aid is not going to solve the problem." However, this week, Pawlenty released his proposal to balance his state's budget, and as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported, "nearly one-third of the governor's budget fix would rely on $387 million in federal stimulus money." Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA), meanwhile, thanked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week for $24 billion in money to upgrade health care information that came from the recovery act. McDonnell said in a statement that "the federal funding awarded to Virginia will...provide our physicians with the technological tools they need to provide the highest quality service possible." However, McConnell has previously criticized the stimulus as "massive new federal spending" that "is not going to be good long-term for America" (though he also added that Virginia should "collect its share" anyway).

IMPERILED SENATE JOBS BILL: Yesterday, Obama said, "If we're honest, part of the controversy [regarding the stimulus] also is that despite the extraordinary work that has been done through the Recovery Act, millions of Americans are still without jobs." Indeed, the recovery act is doing what analysts expected it would, but in an economy that is weaker than anticipated. Currently, due to conservative misinformation, only 6 percent of the public believes the stimulus created any jobs and additional jobs legislation, though necessary, is imperiled in the Senate. Late last year, the House of Representatives passed a $154 billion jobs package, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he doesn't have the votes to even begin debate on a very scaled down $15 billion bill. As the Center for American Progress' David Madland wrote, "To give a sense of how big this jobs hole is, we would need to create 350,000 jobs per month for the next 24 months just to recover what we have lost since the recession began, and that's not even compensating for population increases." Still, Senate Republicans have said that, in order for them to consider a jobs package, it has to include various non-jobs related tax extenders and a promise to consider cutting the estate tax, providing a huge tax break to the heirs of multi-millionaires. Republicans even criticized Reid for removing billions of dollars in tax breaks from the proposed legislation that they admitted wouldn't have created any jobs

Copyright 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Broken System

Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald
The Progress Report
February 17, 2010

While running for president in 1976, Jimmy Carter said that America must have "a government as good as its people." Today, our political system isn't living up to that challenge. Sixty-two percent of the public thinks the country is headed on the wrong track, and 75 percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. With political stalemate the norm in Washington -- on health care legislation, terrorism issues, economic reform, and presidential nominees -- Americans are looking for progress and hoping that politicians will break the gridlock. Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta gave one of the most blunt assessments of the current political climate recently, telling the Financial Times that the "health of American" "It feels like a very frustrated country," he added. This week's shocking retirement announcement from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) further brought the dysfunction into focus. Instead of offering the usual reasons for stepping down, Bayh cited "too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving." Bayh's analysis is on the mark, even though he was often part of the problem. His decision to walk away from public service is, as Center for American Progress Action Fund Fellow Matt Yglesias has noted, "not a recipe for good conduct." James Fallows of The Atlantic recently wrote that the "American tragedy of the early 21st century" is that it has "a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world's talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke." But if the country doesn't fix what's broken, "we face a replay of what made the months after the 9/11 attacks so painful: realizing that it was possible to change course and address problems long neglected, and then watching that chance slip away."
BAYH'S OPPORTUNITY: Former President Teddy Roosevelt famously praised "the man who is actually in the arena," who, "if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." Bayh fell short of this standard. Instead of staying in the arena to help repair the political system and push for progress, he decided to step aside. Bayh said that he may join the private sector, citing his desire to help create jobs and perpetuating the dishonest right-wing myth that Congress is unable to do so. "If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months," he said. Bayh is the son of the legendary former senator Birch Bayh, a man remembered "as a key architect of Title IX, a proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, and a crusader for sensible political reform like electoral college abolition." The Guardian's Michael Tomasky noted that Bayh was "a darling of centrist Democrats," but "[n]ever a profile in courage." The Nation's John Nichols added that "for the better part of a quarter century," Bayh "worked to turn the Democratic Party into a kinder, gentler version of the GOP." Instead of helping his Party pass popular progressive legislation, he was "taking the view that the best way to handle the country's long-term budget situation was to cut taxes on multimillionaires." Bayh, however, now has a chance to be remembered differently. Fallows suggests that now that Bayh is freed from re-election concerns, he should use his remaining time in the Senate to "apply all the power you can to advance causes you care about" and "call out people -- by name...when you see them doing what they should be ashamed of." One area where he could step up to the plate is by joining Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kerry (D-MA), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and taking the historic opportunity to help write bipartisan, comprehensive clean energy jobs and global warming pollution reduction legislation that would help Indiana and the nation transition from a high carbon to a low carbon energy economy.
FIXING THE FILIBUSTER: A major part of the problem in the Senate is that it now takes a supermajority -- 60 votes -- to pass just about anything. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic notes that "Republicans threatened to filibuster at least 100 pieces of legislation this session, far more than any other since the procedural tactic was invented." The filibuster gives a undue amount of power to individual senators and allows them to exploit the process for their narrow interests. For instance, Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) threat to filibuster health care reform forced the removal of the public option and the Medicare buy-in, despite their tremendous popularity. Moreover, the filibuster removes electoral accountability by giving the losing party the ability to obstruct the winning party's agenda. While the House passed health care reform bill with a robust public option, a clean energy and greenhouse gas pollution reduction bill to fight climate change, and a comprehensive financial regulatory reform bill, each bill languished in the Senate because of the filibuster threat. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has proposed legislation that would gradually lower the number of votes the Senate majority would need to block filibusters, and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) also has a petition to reduce the Senate's cloture threshold to 55 senators. Changing the filibuster would not be without precedent, as was done in 1975. A recent poll also shows that more Americans are in favor of changing these Senate rules. In his remaining time, Bayh -- if he's truly frustrated by the inability to push progress in the Senate -- could join his fellow lawmakers and help reform the rules. "I don't understand how you make things better from the outside," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). "I share the frustration, but I would have hoped he would have stayed around and voted to change the filibuster rule."
DESTRUCTIVE OBSTRUCTION: By listening to Republican lawmakers and many political pundits, the American public would get the impression that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress has been a complete failure. The facts are quite different though. American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman J. Ornstein points to the $787 stimulus legislation, one of the largest tax cuts in history, funding to improve health-information technology, dramatic K-12 education reform, and a massive investment in energy and environmental programs. "Any Congress that passed all these items separately would be considered enormously productive," he writes. "Instead, this Congress did it in one bill." Yet at the same time, Republicans continue to focus on the "short-term rewards of obstruction." They reflexively oppose anything that Democrats support -- even if they supported it at one time -- and use the fact that Democrats have only a narrow majority in the Senate to block progress. The system has become so dysfunctional that one man -- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) -- can set back the functioning of the federal government by placing a hold on every single one of Obama's pending nominees, all in the interest of securing home state pork projects. "Washington, right now, is broken," Vice President Biden, formerly a veteran senator, said in an interview this week with CBS News. "I've never seen it this dysfunctional." 

Copyright 2010