Janesville69.5°

Sifting through the debris

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Rick Horowitz
August 4, 2011

I’m still trying to dig up the quote.


I know it was President Obama, and I know it was at least a few months ago, and I’m pretty sure I can picture him at a lectern in the Rose Garden when he said it. The president was explaining the deal he and Congress had reached on some piece of legislation, including a particular concession he’d agreed to make during the closing stages of the negotiations.


I still can’t find the exact words, but it went something like this: Yes, he’d wanted this or that provision in the final bill he’d just agreed to, but the Republicans had made clear that they wouldn’t yield on that point, so he’d backed down instead.


When I heard him say it, my heart hit the floor.


Somewhere in Washington, meanwhile, Mitch McConnell must have been grinning like a Cheshire. Talk about handing over the secret formula!


* * *


Then there’s the quote I can dig up, the quote I find myself turning to more and more often in recent years.


This one is from Bill Clinton, and it explains so much. (And no, it’s not “Shutdowns make me hungry—can you send over an intern with a pizza?”) It’s this:


“When people feel uncertain, they’d rather have somebody who’s strong and wrong than somebody who’s weak and right.”


Being the grown-up in the room will only get you so far. Sometimes you need to be the grown-up with the hammer.


* * *


There was a day or two during the debt-ceiling debate when the politicians carrying water for the tea party zealots actually seemed uncomfortable about supporting tax breaks for oil companies and hedge-fund managers and private-jet owners at the very same time they were demanding devastating cuts in programs for people far less fortunate.


But they got over it.


* * *


The normal push-and-pull of politics went totally AWOL this time. Normally, when a party finds itself far out of step with public opinion, it trims its sails a bit. It moves back toward the sensible center. Not this time.


Despite all kinds of polls showing that all kinds of people—not just Democrats, or independents, but rank-and-file Republicans, too—wanted a budget solution that was a mix of program cuts and increased taxes, GOP politicians refused to budge.


“We don’t need a ‘balanced solution,’” they kept saying, the sneer only barely concealed. “We need a balanced budget.”


And what the voters needed? Wanted? Irrelevant, apparently.


How strange! Weren’t these many of the same folks who, as soon as they’d turned public opinion against Obama’s “death panels for Grandma” health-care plan, were screaming that attention must be paid? That public opinion drives the policy train?


That was different.


Oh.


* * *


What if we started calling them “the Clinton Surplus tax cuts”? Then could we get rid of them?


As long as they’re the “Bush-era tax cuts,” they’re holy things, and beyond the reach of mere mortals. But call them the “Clinton Surplus tax cuts” and suddenly you’re giving credit where Republicans hate to give credit. You’re also describing the conditions that made those tax cuts possible—conditions that have long since vanished.


The Clinton Surplus is gone. Haven’t “the Clinton Surplus tax cuts” hit their pull date, too?


* * *


Thought for the Day: If putting your philosophy into practice always makes you the big winner, maybe it’s not really a “philosophy” at all. Maybe it’s just an excuse.


* * *


“Not a penny more from the comfortable. Send the pain somewhere else.”


It’s chilling, isn’t it, to see it put so nakedly? But it’s true.


The rock on which they’ve built their fortress: greed and callousness dressed up as principle.


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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