We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us
In President Obama’s State of the Union speech this past week, he continued some of the same themes of unity and bipartisanship from his speech in Tucson a couple of weeks ago.
“We are part of the American family,” he said. “We will move forward together, or not at all.”
But the greater challenge may be not just creating a unity of purpose between Republicans and Democrats but getting members of the two parties to get along with the people who are allegedly on their own side.
Rep. Paul Ryan was picked to give the traditional response from the loyal opposition. Ryan’s speech was, like all Republican rhetoric on the deficit, long on exhortations to cut spending but awfully vague on exactly which spending to cut. This may be because Ryan’s own plan, dubbed the “roadmap,” calls for severe cuts in Social Security and the dismantling of Medicare, two huge benefits paid to the GOP’s most loyal constituency: senior citizens.
It’s quite a balancing act the Republicans do. If they really tried to make the cuts that would be required to balance the budget without tax increases, their elderly supporters would storm the Capitol (albeit very slowly) and drag their congressman down the street by the heels behind their little Medicare-funded Rascal scooters.
But then, after Ryan’s response, something unusual happened. CNN broadcast another response from another Republican, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who claimed to be giving the “tea party” reaction.
You can always depend on Bachmann to bring the crazy, and she didn’t disappoint. She delivered the whole speech staring off camera, as if she couldn’t bear to look the American people in the eye.
As it turns out, she was looking into another camera, the one broadcasting to the tea party faithful via the Internet, which was also the camera with the teleprompter. It seems that teleprompters, like everything else the right claims to despise, are just fine if you’re a Republican.
And what would a speech from Rep. Crazy-Eyes be without a heaping helping of paranoid fantasies and outright fabrications?
Fresh from her interview in which she asserted that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery,” Bachmann doubled down on the misinformation, repeating frequently debunked claims that “Obamacare” would result in “16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing” the bill and bizarre warnings about “government bureaucrats telling you what light bulbs to buy.”
CNN’s decision to air the speech drew criticism from some Republicans. One aide sent out an e-mail calling it “irresponsible journalism” for CNN to aid Bachmann in her quest to become the GOP’s loosest cannon.
The most surprising criticism, however, came from a tea party group in Bachmann’s home state.
“Please call Michele Bachmann’s office and tell her that she does not speak for the tea party,” the group said in a mass e-mail. “The Tea Party Patriots Organization is a grassroots organization. One person has no right to speak for the whole organization.”
Wow. Too crazy for the tea party. That’s pretty impressive.
On the other side of the aisle, the president got some immediate pushback from his own party. In response to his promise to veto any legislation that arrived on his desk with so-called “earmarks,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sniffed that it was a “great applause line” but that Obama “should back off and let us do what we do.” Which is, apparently, diverting as much government money as possible to their states or districts to keep the voters happy.
It’s another one of those dirty secrets closely held by lawmakers of both parties. Everyone pretends to deplore “pork” or “earmarks” or whatever they’re calling it this year, but every legislator knows their voters won’t keep loving them if they don’t bring some of that federal money home to them. It’s the one thing both parties have always seemed to agree on.
Even Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was resisting a proposed earmark ban until someone from the tea party put a severed horse’s head in his bed or something and caused him to reverse himself, at least in public.
It remains to be seen if this will continue, or if GOP lawmakers will revert to their traditional stance that it’s not “government spending” if the money’s going to their district or their big campaign contributors.
Meanwhile, the two parties continue to squabble, not just with each other, but also among themselves. Maybe what we really need is not just bipartisanship, but multi-partisanship.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage.
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