Monday, February 15, 2010

Same Old Same Old

E.J. Dionne says that President Obama could learn a thing or two from the last Democratic president who tried to be bipartisan and pass healthcare reform, and how to deal with the Republican opposition.

Consider, first, that Clinton, like Obama, started out as a unifier who disdained ideological quarrels and saw himself as a problem-solver. There is not a dime’s worth of difference between Clinton’s war on “the brain-dead politics of both parties” and Obama’s insistence that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America.” Both sought to occupy the middle ground of American politics. Both believed that they could win over Republicans. Both were sure they could govern differently.

During an interview with Obama in the fall of 2007, I was struck by just how much he sounded like Clinton when he spoke of the importance of wringing “the excesses of the ’60s” out of the Democratic Party. Then, unprompted, Obama added that “Bill Clinton deserves some credit for breaking with some of those dogmas in the Democratic Party.” Remember, Obama was running against Hillary Clinton at the time.

But Republicans (and in retrospect, you can say this was shrewd politics) understood in 1994, as they do in 2010, that allowing these talented icon smashers to govern differently and draw in members of their own party would be fatal to a GOP comeback.

So in Clinton’s case, Republicans voted to a person against his economic recovery plan that — combined with President George H.W. Bush’s deficit-reduction moves — put the nation on the road to budget surpluses. Remember those? And then they killed Clinton’s health-care plan.

The lesson of President Obama’s first year is further proof of the theory that the Republicans have a very tough time accepting the fact that the country has elected a president who isn’t a Republican. They can’t deal with it, so they do everything they can to undermine him and do whatever it takes to bamboozle the electorate — usually with the cooperation of some Democrats — into letting the GOP run the show again, usually with impressively disastrous results (see Gingrich, Newt and Bush, George W.).

The one thing the GOP has done is revitalize the right wing nutsery that came of age during the Clinton years. Always burbling in the background and easily dismissed as the cranks and crackpots that they were (and still are), they got their footing with paranoid wet dreams about black helicopters and thought they saw proof of it at Waco. Even before Mr. Clinton took office there were the stories about the “truth” about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s drug-running and Mafia connections that today run with the same crowd as the birthers and the mindset that the duly elected president — without the help of the United States Supreme Court — didn’t deserve to be in office.

I don’t object to the Republicans being the opposition party; I do object to them being unoriginal and repetitive. We have another Democrat in the White House, so they’re pulling out the same old canards and filling in the blanks like political Mad Libs: “President _____________ is a ______________ so we won’t pass ___________ because we don’t cooperate with _____________.” It’s like they haven’t had a new idea since Richard Nixon ran for office in 1948.

*

After watching the back-and-forth on the chat shows yesterday between Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney, it’s pretty clear that not only have we not heard the last of Mr. Cheney, he’s basically doing what a lot of Republicans and conservatives want: make the case for a do-over. Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog lays it out.

I’m picking up the word “relitigate” from a Marc Ambinder post on Sarah Palin, who, Ambinder apparently believes (incorrectly), is unique among top Republicans in wanting to challenge assumptions that might have seemed settled:

… she wants to relitigate a bunch of issues that once were settled but now seem to be unraveling. The unrestricted embrace of immigration and the dilution of an American culture. Overweening Greenism. A complicated socially engineered tax code. A much larger role for government…. The rule of experts. Even the concept of bipartisanship itself.

As I said in response to that a few days ago, all front-list Republicans want to relitigate most or all of these things — certainly all the GOP presidential candidates in 2012 will.

And Dick Cheney wants to relitigate the following: the 2006 elections, the 2008 elections, his crummy poll numbers, his nominal ex-boss’s crummy poll numbers, every sane person’s judgment regarding the wisdom of going into Iraq, every sane person’s judgment regarding the conduct of the Iraq War for years after Saddam’s overthrow, and the notion that torture is immoral. On at least the last one, he’s actually succeeding.

Right-wingers’ desire to relitigate the past is hardly new — the shift of the South to the GOP in the last few decades can be read as an attempt to relitigate the civil rights era, the Civil War, and the cultural changes wrought by other ’60s social movements (feminism, gay rights, etc.).

This is the nature of conservatism. They are opposed to progress; everything was fine the way it was the generation before last, so there’s no need to change anything. As William F. Buckley famously said, the role of conservatives was to stand astride history and yell “Stop!” So when history and the elections go against them, they have to say, “Wait, you didn’t understand me the last time.”

No, actually, we heard you loud and clear.