by Joe Shea
August 5, 2010
THE U.S.P.S. NEEDS TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The calendar may read 2010, but politically, all I see is 1994.
I look at President Obama, and see Bill Clinton.
I look at John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and I see Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich.
I look at the Democrats, and I see the party again outfoxed by the Republicans, just like in 1994, when the GOP rode a wave of manufactured discontent and took control of Congress.
The parallels between 1994 and 2010 are certainly evident.
President Clinton and the Democrats accomplished much in the first year of the 103rd Congress in 1993. He raised taxes on the wealthy, got an increase in the earned income credit for poor families, ended most federal restrictions on abortion, created a budget plan that starts making a dent in the federal deficit and won passage of the Brady Bill.
The following year, the conservatives reasserted themselves and killed all the centerpieces of the Clinton agenda - health care reform, campaign finance reform and welfare reform, chief among them.
Once conservatives discovered that the Clinton Administration would allow itself to be kicked around and not fight back, and that they could vilify Mr. Clinton and get away with it, the talk-show demagogues and conservative columnists threw everything but the kitchen sink at him.
Instead of attacking President Clinton politically, the conservatives went after him personally and used contrived political scandals like Whitewater and contrived sex scandals like the Paula Jones case to undermine his credibility. Mr. Clinton became increasingly unpopular, which reduced his chances for success in Congress. The mistakes that were his, as in the Lewinsky scandal, only made a bad thing worse.
It was gridlock, pure and simple, and the GOP reveled in it. "We don't make any apologies for protecting the American taxpayer from bad legislation," then-Senate Minority Leader Dole said in 1994.
Sound familiar? Over the past 19 months of his presidency, President Obama managed to get three major pieces of legislation enacted - a $768 billion economic stimulus package, a health care reform bill and some re-regulation of the financial industry. While all three bills were flawed by the compromises needed to get them passed, they represent a significant achievement for Obama and the Democrats.
And the Republicans? As bad as the GOP was in 1994, they are even worse today. They have taken legislative obstruction to unprecedented levels - effectively requiring a super-majority of 60 votes for virtually every piece of legislation in the Senate through their repeated abuse of the filibuster.
What's the Republican agenda should the party retake control of Congress in November's elections? As outlined by congressional leaders in interviews over the past few weeks, it is to repeal health care reform, stop climate-change legislation, renew the Bush tax cuts and launch endless investigations against the Obama Administration.
In other words, it doesn't sound that much different from the agenda of the Newt Gingrich "Contract with America" Congress that swept into power in the 1994 elections.
However, there are significant differences between 1994 and 2010.
The Tea Party movement - which is simply a new name for the most conservative members of the GOP - has pushed out what few moderates remain in the party and are rapidly remaking it into a haven for racists, xenophobes and loopy conspiracy theorists.
The Tea Party candidates may win GOP primaries, but the rest of the electorate is appalled by these new Republicans and what they believe. Google "Sharron Angle" or "Rand Paul" to see what I mean.
The economy now is much worse than it was in 1994, and that hurts Democrats. Even though the huge deficits (mostly due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush tax cuts), the stock market crash and the bank bailouts all happened on President George W. Bush's watch, Mr. Obama is getting most of the blame for the current recession.
Republicans are banking on maintaining the gridlock through the November election, insuring that no new economic stimulus spending takes place and that the economy will stay bad long enough for the GOP to take over Congress.
The conservative noise machine was just getting revved up in 1994 and the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. Now, the GOP has its own propaganda channel, Fox News, to go with its continued domination of talk radio and its increasingly sophisticated use of online media.
As was the case in 1994, the elite media is too afraid to call out conservatives on their lies and distortions.
If our President is truly as skilled a politician as many say, he and the Democrats have to remind people over and over again that the GOP's traditional role, as Kevin Phillips wrote in his 1989 book, "The Politics of Rich and Poor," has been "to tilt power, policy, wealth, and income toward the richest portions of the population."
In blocking the extension of unemployment benefits, in support for the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, in its shameless exploitation of racism and fear of "the other," the Republicans leave no doubt as to where they stand.
It's up to President Obama and his party to make sure that the American people understand where the GOP really stands, and define their opponents in November before their opponents define them.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.