Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Danger of Taking Political Rhetoric Seriously

Andrew Sullivan is a brilliant thinker. He's principled, fair-minded, and honest, if a bit dramatic. Of course, I read his blog every day, several times a day, to keep current on the events and issues I care about, because he cares about them too. A few days ago, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (WI) proposed a sweeping plan for financial reform that purports to reduce the national debt by $6 trillion over the next decade, and includes a serious look at cuts in the sacred cows of government programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Whether or not you agree with Ryan's plan -- and there are many things to dislike about it, like how it forces Medicare recipients to shoulder a greater burden and does not tax our wealthiest Americans and corporations one penny to raise revenue -- it's at least a "serious" attempt to start the dialogue. I'm certain Ryan doesn't expect his plan to be adopted by President Obama, but, politically speaking, it's an effective shot across Obama's bow just as he begins to gear up for re-election. So, today, Sullivan posts why he can't stand the Democrats, because they made a statement on the record that predicts Ryan's plan will hurt them in 2012. Sullivan writes, "This is the kind of politics Obama swore to avoid in the campaign." Well, let's be real: first, campaigning for election is a lot different than campaigning for re-election. Obama ran on the idea that the scorched-earth politics of the GOP that had dominated Washington for decades could be overcome, that the voters could be trusted with more information about what government is doing (and his website proves that he walks the walk), and that agreements can be reached between the two parties. Now, despite what gets reported in the right-wing corporate press, real cooperation between the right and left has occurred. One only needs to look at both the healthcare reform law and the financial reform law to see that there's enough meat in there for both parties (both to love and to hate, by the way). Regardless of what many would like to believe, Obama has absolutely changed our politics for the better. (That being said, I am terribly disappointed in some of his steps lately, particularly over Libya and civil liberties/Gitmo.) In a re-election campaign an incumbent must call attention to the differences, whether subtle or stark, between the two parties vying for the White House. Given the increase in birtherism among the GOP hopefuls, Obama doesn't have to work all that hard to distinguish himself in a positive fashion. Still, it works sometimes to sling a bit of mud when it's appropriate. Sullivan, unfortunately, wants everyone to believe that Ryan's plan marks the end of the GOP fiscal dishonesty, but he and most other smart people know better. Second, what the Democratic strategist said which set Sullivan off was not untrue. Ryan's plan exposes the GOP to some real political danger among large segments of the voting population. Medicare/Medicaid recipients and the middle class get shafted with a greater burden for this reform package because the GOP cannot, under any circumstances, justify new taxes, or upset the very large industrial and corporate interests that line their wallets. Calling attention to that fact at this stage is a savvy move, particularly when there are so many GOP hopefuls trying to garner attention. Obama needs to come up with a cogent and detailed response to Ryan, and will of course risk his own political fallout, but that's how the game is played. As much of a hopeful figure Obama cut during the 2008 campaign, as an incumbent, hope must give way to realism. And he has a great deal of real accomplishments on which to hang his hat. We all want our politicians to govern more and politicize less, but Sullivan, who has regularly recapped with great zeal all that Obama has accomplished, is stuck in a tape loop of "What Have You Done for Me Lately?"

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