Thursday, March 19, 2009

You Must Remember This

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) reminds his Republican colleagues of who was in charge at the time when this financial crisis was in the making.

In recent weeks, my friends across the aisle have expended a lot of breath proclaiming that the Democrats caused the present financial crisis by failing to pass legislation to regulate financial services companies in the years 1995 through 2006.

There is only small one problem with this story — throughout this entire period the Republicans were in complete charge of the House and for the most critical years they controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.

In the House of Representatives, the majority party has almost unlimited power over the minority party. The majority party owns the committee chairmanships; it controls what bills come to a vote; and it is under no obligation to consider the ideas of the beleaguered minority. When the Republicans were in the majority they ruled with an iron first; it is no accident that Tom DeLay was known as “The Hammer.”

That is why I find it particularly flattering the Republicans now claim that in the years 1995 to 2006 I personally possessed supernatural powers which enabled me to force mighty Republican leaders to do my bidding. Choose your comic book hero — I was all of them.

I wish I had the power to force the Republican leadership to do my bidding! If I had had that power, I would have used it to block the impeachment of Bill Clinton, to stop the war in Iraq, to prevent large tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, and to stop government intervention into the private life of Terri Schiavo. Yet that power eluded me, and I was unable to stop those things.

It isn’t so much a case of mass amnesia on the part of the Republicans as it is the sense of entitlement they have. They never accepted the idea that Bill Clinton was a “legitimate” president and they did everything they possibly could to undermine his administration and its agenda, not because they objected to the ideas per se, but because, as William Kristol noted in a memo in 1993, passing a Democratic program such as universal health care would work too well and therefore undermine the political future of the GOP. The same goes for Barack Obama; the stunningly gob-smacking movement to question his birth certificate is the stuff of madness, yet even one member of Congress is tangentially buying into it. Again, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the details of the agenda; it’s that the Republicans refuse to believe that anyone other than one of their own is destined to lead the country and therefore anyone outside of their community is, by definition, a usurper.

Contrast that with the way the Democrats dealt with President Bush, whose election in 2000 was suspect at the least. The Democratic members of the House and Senate may have disagreed with his policies and procedures, but they never questioned his right to hold office, and there were times, much to the chagrin of many progressives, when the Democrats went along with the majority in Congress. It was because they had the radical idea that opposition to a law or a policy should be based on its merits as opposed to bearing a personal grudge against the president who proposed it or the possibility that it could have an impact on the election prospects of their party. (The cynic in me acknowledges that one of the reasons some of the Democrats went along with some of the Bush policies was out of fear of the Right Wing Noise Machine and the GOP’s propensity for projectile vomiting their own motives and methods onto their opponents.)

While the Republicans are relying on the hope that because the electorate has the collective memory of a goldfish and therefore can be overwhelmed by the inundation of information and sound bites that pours in through 24 hours of cable TV and the internet, there are those who will remember what they said, what they did, and what was the most important priority for them.

They say that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But the collective amnesia of the Republican Party will not only hurt its members — it threatens to hurt all of us. Is there a cure for amnesia? We can only hope.