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By Jose Antonio Rodriguez
“The Tea Party acted like terrorists in threatening to blow up the economy,” said Vice President Joe Biden, according to Politico, during a two-hour meeting with angry House Democrats. In a CBS interview, the Vice President denied using the “terrorism word”. Kendra Barkoff, Biden’s spokesperson, added further clarification: “The word was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse.” The closed-door caucus meeting took place amidst the scramble to pass a deal to raise the debt limit before the August 2nd deadline, a deal that some Democrats called a “Satan sandwich”.
The perpetually thin-skinned Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska and John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate during the 2008 election, immediately took offense to the comment. “To be called a terrorist because of our beliefs from the vice president, it’s quite appalling, it’s quite vile,” she said during a Fox News interview. Of course, she herself is quite famous for casually throwing around the “terrorism word”. During the 2008 election, Palin famously accused then-Senator Barack Obama of “pallin’ around” with terrorists, a reference to the fact that Obama sat onChicagoeducation boards with a former member of the Weather Underground named Bill Ayers. Indeed, Palin resurrected those allegations, saying, “He didn’t have a problem palling around with Bill Ayers back in the day when he kicked off his political career in Bill Ayers’ apartment… You know, shaking hands with Chavez and saying he doesn’t need any preconditions with dictators… wanting to read U.S. Miranda rights to alleged, suspected foreign terrorists.” She added that, if she and her ilk were actually terrorists, “heck, shoot, President Obama would be wanting to pal around with us, wouldn’t he?”
It should be added that Paul O’Neil, a Treasury Secretary for President George W. Bush, made remarks similar to the ones that House Democrats made during the meeting with Vice President Biden: “[The] people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really — they’re really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk.”
But how far off the mark are Paul O’Neil and the angry Democrats? Not that far.
The U.S. Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” The TEA Party backed freshmen in the House, elected in 2010, have threatened to shut down the government and throw it into default. More recently, they have shut down the Federal Aviation Agency, resulting in the furlough of 74,000 people, the halting of about 200 construction jobs, and causing the federal government to lose out on roughly $30 million a day in revenue. In every instance, these TEA Party backed members of the House have held the American people hostage, threatening to inflict economic violence if their narrow political, ideological demands are not met. Their efforts have supporters in conservative corners and from the Facebook page of the former Mayor of Wasilla. “Don’t retreat,” Sarah Palin routinely reminds her supporters. “Reload.” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, had this to say about the tactics of the House Republicans: “If you hold one-half of one-third of the reins of power in Washington, and are willing to use and maintain that kind of discipline even if you will bring the entire temple down around your own head, there is a pretty good chance that you are going to get your way.”
This is not the first time our government has been threatened by right-wing zealots, however.
In the elections of 1994, Republicans took control of the House and Senate. Led by Newt Gingrich and motivated by his “Contract with America”—or, as Democrats termed it, the Contract on America—right-wing ideologues in Congress sought to reshape the government by gutting programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency, and programs for the poor, such as Head Start, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Contract withAmerica also outlined an ambitious agenda, which included legislation for a balanced budget amendment and term limits. Gingrich, the new Speaker of the House, even threatened to not raise the debt ceiling. These right-wing freshmen were operating on two assumptions: (1) that the American people had provided them with an historic mandate to carry out their agenda and (2) that President Bill Clinton would cave in to their demands. After all, the American people just overwhelmingly swept the Republicans into power for the first time in over forty years. On the second point, they believed that President Clinton was politically weakened by scandals, which were manufactured by ultra-conservative Clinton-haters and fueled by a pliant media; they also believed that he was without convictions of any kind and lacked moral fortitude. By the end of 1995, they would be proved wrong on both fronts.
On the night of November 13, 1995, hours away from an impending government shut down, Republican leaders of Congress met with President Clinton in order to craft a last minute budget deal. Just a few days earlier, the Republican controlled Congress sent the President a budget that inflicted draconian cuts to entitlements and programs that millions of Americans depended upon. They also sent him a bill to raise the debt ceiling for another thirty days. The President, much to the surprise of the Republican leadership, vetoed both bills. During the tense, last minute negotiations in the White House, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and Speaker Gingrich made conciliatory statements, while the zealous Dick Armey (now the leader of the TEA Party group Freedomworks) verbally attacked the President. Armey accused the President of fear-mongering, saying that he “could hardly get” his mother-in-law “into a nursing home, you guys have scared her so much.” President Clinton, who still nursed resentment over Armey’s claim that Hillary Clinton was a Marxist, lashed out at Armey: “I don’t know about your mother-in-law, but let me tell you, there are a lot of older women who are going to do pretty darn bad under your budget.” The President was feeling his blood boil. “So don’t expect any pity from me.” Armey, in a moment of petulance, retorted that the Republicans would shut down the government and effectively endClinton’s presidency. “If you want to pass your budget,” the President said with a glance to Bob Dole, who was planning to run for the presidency in 1996, “you will have to put somebody else in this chair!” As if to signal that the meeting was now over, the President declared that he didn’t “care if I go to five percent in the polls. I am not going to sign your budget. It is wrong. It is wrong for the country.”
At midnight, the government shut down began. Nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed and the lives of millions of Americans were inconvenienced. In order to prevent default, Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin borrowed $61 billion from retirement funds and employed some financial gimmicks, a move that elicited cries for his impeachment from Republicans who preferred that the country be thrown into default. Briefly, the government shut down ended, and it appeared that there would be a budget deal. But the Republican lead Congress continued to send the President bills that unnecessarily inflicted economic pain on the most vulnerable Americans. So, it was not to be, and the government was shut down for a second time. The American people were angry. The poll numbers for Republicans (and Gingrich in particular) plummeted, while the President’s poll numbers skyrocketed. In some polls, his numbers were almost 70% among likely voters over the age of 50. The American people rejected the extremism of the right-wing ideologues and supported President Clinton’s defense of programs that helped millions of Americans keep their heads above water. They rewarded him for not caving in to the demands of over-zealous Republicans, who were holding the American people and the economy hostage. In early January 1996, a contrite Gingrich apologized toClinton, saying, “We made a mistake. We thought you would cave.” On January 6, the government was back in business.
It is difficult not to look back over the last year and see that President Obama has, time and time again, been rolled by House Republicans, lead by Speaker of the House John Boehner. He has caved in to the demands of the TEA-orists, who have threatened to wreak economic violence if their demands are not met. In the wake of the recent debt limit deal, Speaker Boehner has boasted that he got 98% of what he wanted. Emboldened, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hinted that his party would continue the tactics that have allowed them to cut spending and risk government default. “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this— it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming.” The deal allows the debt ceiling to be raised until early 2013, but it cuts nearly a trillion dollars in discretionary spending over the next ten years and creates a bipartisan committee, which will be tasked with cutting an additional 1.5 trillion dollars. The TEA Partiers have thrown sanity into the wind. Though they brought the nation to the brink of economic devastation, many refused to vote for the deal that provided them with virtually everything they wanted and virtually nothing that the President wanted. These are people who will not take yes for an answer.
Not everyone is thrilled about the deal. Obviously, Democrats are enraged. Some progressive groups, such as MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, are threatening to withhold support for the President’s 2012 campaign. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has described the debt deal as an economic “disaster”, warning that it will make our deficit problem worse and “takeAmericaa long way down the road to banana-republic status.” Lawrence Summers, a former economic advisor to President Obama, said that there is a “one in three chance” that there will be a double-dip recession. Standard & Poor, a major credit rating agency, has also responded to the debt deal by downgradingAmerica’s top credit rating. In a statement following the downgrade, S&P cited a dysfunctional political system and a failure to produce a credible, balanced plan. “The majority of Republicans in Congress,” a representative from S&P said, “continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.” The American people, according to recent polls, also strongly dislike the deal. According to a CNN poll, 52% of Americans disapprove of the debt deal. The poll also found that three out of four Americans would describe elected officials as “spoiled children”. A New York Times/CBS News poll, for example, has Congress’s approval rating at a dismal 14%. Speaker Boehner’s disapproval rating is at 57%, ten points higher than the President’s. Public approval of the TEA Party is at a mere 20%. There are signs of hope for the White House in the polls, however. According to the latter poll, the American people trust President Obama over the Republicans with economic issues. They also blame Republicans for the crisis, believing that they refused to compromise. Despite all the drama, President Obama still stands with a 48% approval rating.
At some point, President Obama is going to have to take a stand and draw a line in the sand. During the debt ceiling negotiations, he warned Rep. Eric Cantor: “Don’t call my bluff.” Yet, when they called his bluff, President Obama caved. In 1995, President Clinton demonstrated that he had conviction and moral fortitude. He held firm, risking his political career, and refused to be rolled by the right-wing zealots who were trying to gut government programs and remake the country in their image. When the dust settled, President Clinton not only succeeded in his 1996 election, but his fiscal discipline resulted in a balanced budget and a projected surplus in the trillions of dollars. Today, President Obama faces an equally fanatical and nihilistic group of TEA Party backed Republican freshmen who are willing to blow up the economy. Unfortunately, the TEA-orists have learned that they can get their way if they take hostages. This is a fundamental fight for the future of our country. President Obama needs to decide if he has the conviction to risk his poll numbers and his Presidency in order to preserve our way of life and win the future.
The Republicans in Congress have proven that they hate the poor and middle class, but really love the rich. Recently, they allowed unemployment benefits for 2 million people to expire. They have also blocked several attempts by Democrats to continue the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of Americans. Talk about class warfare.
Yet President Obama has not done very much to exploit this. He has, instead, proclaimed that he will work with these people, even though they have bashed him repeatedly. Some Republicans, like Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the third-ranking House Republican, have said that President Obama and the Democrats do not want anyone to get a tax cut, which is a total lie. Pence stated: “Should Democrats get their way, every income tax bracket will increase on Jan. 1, 2011. Every single one.” While it is true all tax brackets will see a tax increase on January 1, 2011, it will not be because of the Democrats. President Obama has made it clear that he wants to see these tax cuts extended for those families making less than $250,000. He has even indicated that he is willing to make a deal with GOP leaders. The Democrats in Congress have attempted several times to extend the Bush tax cuts for the bottom 98% of Americans, but Republicans like Pence have blocked those pieces of legislation.
Why? Because they exclude the rich. The top 2% of income earners do not need unemployment, so why pass an extension? The top 2% need a tax cut, so why exclude them? This debate only underscores their affinity for the wealthy. They try to cover this by claiming that they are fighting for small business owners. They argue, with no one in the White House really disputing them, that they are trying to stand up for those who are in need of a job, so they cannot fathom a tax hike on the job creators. All of this is a load of crap.
First of all, only 3% of small business owners would be affected by the so-called “tax hike.” Most small business owners do not make $250,000 in profit.
Secondly, the Republicans just blocked the passage of tax cuts for 98% of Americans, just so the top 2% can have $100,000 tax cuts. They are doing this at the same time they are saying that we cannot afford an extension of unemployment benefits and demanding that we start lowering the deficit. It’s hypocrisy and blatant favoritism of the rich. A recent CBO study found that for every dollar spent through unemployment benefits there is as much as $1.90 put into the economy. A dollar spent by the rich from the tax cuts generates somewhere between 10 and forty cents . In fact, the CBO found that extending unemployment benefits would be the best stimulus for our economy, while extending the Bush tax cuts was dead last.
Thirdly, as for it being a “tax hike,” these were tax cuts that were set by President Bush and the Republicans to expire at the end of 2010. These were not implemented as permanent rates, but a temporary tax gimmick to gin up support. Dan Bartlet, a former Bush White House Communications Director, admitted that they deliberately used the tax cut deadline as a trap for future political leaders: “The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”
And lastly, it is a falsehood to suggest that not extending the tax cuts for the rich would have an impact on jobs. When President Bush first introduced the tax cuts, he argued that it would create jobs. Over his eight year term, the economy only added 2.4 million jobs. In Clinton’s first budget, he increased taxes for the rich. By the end of his eight year term, the economy added over 23 million jobs . This is a fact: job creators are motivated by demand. That’s economics 101. As it stands now, the business sector is sitting on 2 trillion dollars, which they are not spending. Why? Because they have excess supply. People do not have the money to purchase things as they have in the past, which is causing this recovery to move sluggishly. So, money is not the problem: demand is. It’s a vicious cycle: many people are out of work or are tightening their fiscal belts, so they do not consume as much, which causes businesses to have excess supply, which then prevents them from investing in their company, precluding any additional employment. And the cycle begins again.
This is why extending unemployment benefits is so important. Not doing so is a job killer. People who are unemployed spend the money they receive, which goes to businesses. Now that 2 million people are not going to be receiving unemployment benefits they will be tightening their fiscal belts even more, which will lead to even more excess supply and less demand. This will create a situation that will make it even harder for the business sector employ people.
But some people would rather pretend that giving the top 2% of income earners a tax cut will create jobs. It won’t.
In the final analysis, it becomes evident that any time the poor or middle class need some help the Republicans can be counted on to ignore their pleas. You get some millionaires and billionaires complaining that they cannot afford to maintain their fifth house or buy the small island they wanted the Republicans are there to lend a helping hand. They like to play the “We feel your pain” game, but they are only doing so in order to score political points. If they really cared, they would have voted for the extension of tax cuts for 98% of Americans and for extending unemployment benefits.
It’s not just the moral thing to do: it’s smart economics.
By Jose Rodriguez
Barack Obama ran for President promising to bring “change” to Washington D.C., which turned out to be a winning promise. Even though Americans elected him to bring that change, there has been a shrill and loud portion of our society, motivated by partisan hatred, who have stopped at nothing to block his efforts to bring the change that Americans elected him to enact. Change is a frightening prospect for this segment of society, who respond with scurrilous allegations: Obama is really a Muslim; he hates America; he’s a socialist; he was not really born in this country; he’s a Nazi; he wants to kill old people; and on and on and on. People, like Rep. Joe Wilson, want to engage in that form of demagoguery in order to uphold the status quo. They want to shout down the President during an important speech, calling him a liar or contradicting him.
But Joe Wilson is not the first Wilson to shout at a President advocating for change during a speech.
In late November 1995, President Bill Clinton became the first U.S. President to make an official visit to Northern Ireland. More so than any President before or since, Bill Clinton was heavily involved in the Irish peace process; Clinton even appointed former Maine Senator George Mitchell to be the first Special Envoy to Ireland (George Mitchell is now the Special Envoy to the Middle-East, where he hopes to broker a peace deal). The conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland seemed so intractable that no previous President wanted to expend any energy finding a solution. President Clinton, however, had made bold promises to the Irish community in the United States, and he intended to keep them. By going to Ireland, he hoped to jump start the failing negotiations between Catholics and Protestants, who had been locked in conflict (known as the Troubles) for decades. Before long, not only had Clinton fallen completely in love with the Irish, but the Irish fell head over-heels in love with the Clintons (Hillary benefited from this love during her Presidential run in 2008). That the leader of the free world would come and meet with Irish leaders and everyday people was an immense honor for them. Protestants and Catholics alike flocked by the thousands (culminating in a speech attended by 100,000 people in Dublin) to see and hear the President of the United States, who was there to advocate for change and peace.
While a majority of Irish on both sides of the conflict wanted change and peace in Northern Ireland, fringe elements within both communities wanted to uphold the status quo. They were the loudest and most violent, so they were successful, for decades, in prolonging the conflict. These people criticized the President’s visit, saying that he had no business being in Ireland, and that he certainly had no business interfering in the on-going negotiations.
However, as Clinton got out into the public, shook hands, hugged hundreds of people, shared stories, and even accepted a few beers (which the Secret Service quickly poured out), the Irish public were very warm and receptive to Clinton and his message of hope. The Irish flocked to Clinton by the droves, swarming him and enveloping him, wanting to touch him and be in his presence, as though they could be infused with his energy and power. In reality, it was the President who was feeding off their energy, driving him for nearly 48 hours with virtually no sleep. The Secret Service was alarmed by this obvious inability to maintain security, but the President was more than eager to drown himself in the sea of people. This was, as he put it, the happiest time of his life.
While in Ireland, President Clinton stopped at the Mackie factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was owned by a Protestant, but he employed Catholics and Protestants. This place was, ostensibly, a symbol for peace and co-existence, but many of the employees either belonged to the IRA or for Protestant para-militaries in their time off. Before Clinton spoke, two children gave speeches that told of their suffering, but also called for peace. After young Cathy Hamill brought the room to tears with the story of her father’s murder, Clinton took the stage.
President Clinton, wagging his finger and clenching his fist, proclaimed, “only you can decide between division and unity, between hard lives and high hopes. You must say to those who would still use violence for political objectives: ‘You are the past, your day is over!'” This was a bold statement, considering that those people were in the room with him. It was also an obvious play on the famous IRA slogan, which said “Our day will come.” Clinton was challenging these people to turn their backs on the past and to move forward toward change, toward peace.
Not everyone was receptive to his message of change.
Cedric Wilson, a Protestant leader of the Northern Ireland Unionist party, shouted, “Never!”
As Clinton promised to “walk with” them if they chose to “walk the path of peace,” Wilson continued to heckle President Clinton: “Never!” “Those who showed the courage to break with the past,” Clinton said, “are entitled to their stake in the future.” Again, Wilson shouted, “Never!” Clinton pointed out Wilson, the heckler, who stood for the past, not the future of Ireland.
“Peace must be waged with a warrior’s resolve– bravely, proudly, and relentlessly– secure in the knowledge of the single greatest difference between war and peace; in peace everybody can win.” The President received a standing ovation that seemed to last forever. The people of Ireland were resolute: they were rejecting the Wilsons of the world.
In the end, due to the tireless efforts of Clinton, Mitchell, and the interested parties in Ireland, there was a negotiated peace in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement (April 10, 1998) was not only supported by the Irish governments and the British government, but it was also supported by the Irish people through a referendum. The people made a
choice for peace, rather than protracted violence and conflict. Though in recent years groups in Ireland have tried to re-ignite the Troubles, the people have held fast to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. Hillary Clinton has even appointed Declan Kelly to be the U.S. Special Envoy to Ireland, and she plans to visit Northern Ireland next month to review the peace process and to give a speech about the threat to peace posed by para-military groups in Ireland. This focus on Ireland is a break from the Bush administration, who largely ignored Ireland and left the U.S. participation in the peace process to the State Department. Had they continued Bill Clinton’s level of involvement, the situation in Ireland might be less perilous.
In the end, in a round-about sort of way, there are Wilsons in our world who shout “You lie!” or “Never!” to people who are interested in change, or in making progress. They are defenders of the status quo. As our country struggles to make sense of the health care bills in Congress (while continuing to be raped by insurance companies), we should all, at least, agree that we want to move forward– that we all want change and progress.
And we should all agree to ignore all the Wilsons of the world.