Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Look Ma! No Taxes!

Anybody still wondering whether President Obama will finally acknowledge to himself that the Republicans aren't much interested in putting party politics aside and working with him for the good of the country got their answer this past week. It looks as if he has finally had enough of being shunned by members of his own party and actively abused by the not-so-loyal opposition. Obama finally seems to have found his sweet spot of anger, and he is using it to fuel an effort to attack and hopefully destroy the Republicans' oppressive credo of no taxes. He seems ready to stage a revolt against the collective values he believes are spiritually wrong.

So hold on to your hats, everyone. A war has been declared--not on Libya, Syria, Yemen, or Palestine, but on Republicans. The president has drawn that line in the sand his base has been howling for: he is now seeking to raise taxes on the rich. Of the $3 trillion-plus in deficit reductions being proposed, $1.5 trillion would be made up of tax increases--which would include letting the Bush tax cuts for people with incomes above $250,000 expire. A consistent 71 percent of voters in polls favor reducing the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Part of the funding for Obama's jobs' plan will be the closing down of special interest tax breaks, deductions, and loopholes for corporations.

Already I hear the sound of enormous fans whirring near the door to the latrine, and the noisome stench of urine circulating. We already know the GOP would rather have O's head on a platter, the better to be able to piss on it, than pay a single cent more in taxes. So bye-bye, common ground! Let the games begin. So long, compromise, it's been good to know you! Sayonara, John Boehner, you walking-out-AGAIN piece of crapola! Cutting deals with you just didn't work out, did it? Hello to the new world of vicious tax wars--but with some fair warning: the rest of you may not like the end of this movie as much as you like the beginning. Will the political gridlock improve? Definitely not. Will things get worse? There Will Be Blood. Maybe even as far as your front door. It doesn't matter if the president is friendly or hostile or angry--the lions will not lie down with the lamb any time soon.

The right-wing spin machine has spent years persuading millions of Americans that Democrats are spendthrifts and liberals are evil, that the poor are lazy, and that government is the problem, not the solution. Government only manages to survive on the tax payers dime and is the bane of every liberty-loving individual's existence. Today, however, believe it or not, I am not here to depress you; I want to make you laugh. I wish I could claim authorship of the following vignette, but I can't. I found it in Vanity Fair, "as relayed by Henry Alford." Enjoy this hilarious vision of self-reliance in a Tea-Party world (once government has been duly shrunk and then drowned in a bathtub). Laugh, while laughing is still a possibility, laugh while your heart is breaking, laugh before everything around you crashes. I am laughing with you. Here it comes:

"TAKING AMERICA BEAA-YACK: The Campaign Journal of Krysti McCandless, Rising Tea Party Superstar"

"My hubby, Critter, keeps me afloat--he is my pool noodle. But who wouldn't love a guy who looks like Will Ferrell and speaks like Ron Paul? Dude is hot. Cable-repairman hot. And it was Critt who brilliantly realized that in our our efforts 2 dismantle the fed'l gov't, we shouldn't be fighting just for states' rights or even cities' rights. No. we gotta drill it down to fighting 4 cul-de-sac rights! Lock 'n load, people!
So how did we take control of our sac? It started, like everything gr8 does, with a trip 2 Costco. I bought rope and PVC tubing so Critt could build a crow's-nest lookout on our roof. Then he dragged the boat that's been sitting in our front yard all these years out to block the end of the sac property line! Then he told the other two families in our sac that we three families are now a mini-state under its own jurisdiction. They looked surprised, but very, very alert.
Now the mail-carrier leaves all mail at the boat and we auto-sort it ourselves. The 3 families are on the gold standard and we formed a militia. We home-school. We'll get all Willie Nelson-ish re tax-paying in April. We call ourselves "the 51st state," and on the back of the T-shirts it says, TAKE THAT, GUAM!
The Vastreps, on our left, have been totally on board: they are true Americans. But the Lancasters, on our right, have been a little weird ever since I had both their gardeners deported last summer. The Lancasters own a restaurant in Baltimore called Banc, which, hilariously, is pronounced "bonk." (Sometimes when Critt and I are walking around the house, we'll smash our bellies together like two tympany drums and cry, "I work at Banc!" Then I scream "LOL!") Anyway, the Bonkcasters needed more convincing, but I talked them off the ledge when I said "no taxes": everybody loves the kuh-ching.
All this sac stuff has been amazing, like summer camp without the bed-wetting. In my run for County Council here in Montgomery County, I've often invoked the early colonists and their bravery, but now I just talk about the sac. Because once you take your own future and your own welfare into your hands, you make an important realization: Destiny--it's not just a name for strippers anymore."

Before Virgil and I sign off, here's one more piece of information you should have: by a 53 to 28 percent margin, independents say they plan to vote against the president in November 2012. So this is some advice from my usual fav, Andrew Sullivan, with whom I am in total agreement here:

"Every time you think the ultras in the current GOP won't go there, they do. They'll sabotage economic growth for short term political advantage. They'll sabotage their own president in negotiating with allies. They're happy for the US to default if it means they can damage Obama. Their own plan for immediate, drastic austerity would be catastrophic for the global economy. Their pre-Arab Spring belligerence would shut America out of a critical opportunity to ease tensions with the growing and burgeoning Muslim world. And they have no problem treating the world economy as a partisan plaything.

If they claw their way back to power this way, our system really will be broken for a long time. And the great possibility of an adult conversation on pragmatic grounds to help the economy will be lost. And this is emphatically not Obama's fault. He tried. They threw it back in his face again and again. Which means, I believe, that we should double down in backing him, instead of the ear-splitting whine coming from the left."

Personally, I'm not sure I can survive a Rick Perry ferry. But I KNOW FOR SURE the country can't--and it won't.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vying for the "Cojones Vote"

"Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette once famously said of the unwashed masses whose lives were less fortunate than hers. Today we have the latest incarnation of that philosophy (minus the white wig), in the persona of presidential candidate Rick Perry--said to be capturing the "cojones vote" with his more candid approach to the disempowered underclass: "Let them Die." Cake, after all, is for sissies.

Applause audibly ramps up at Republican rallies and debates when Perry boasts about his record while governor of Texas for having had 235 criminals executed, and vetoing a bill that would have exempted the mentally ill from Death Row. His audiences love it when Perry says things like "Anyone convicted of murder in the Lone Star State faces 'the ultimate justice.' " So does this guy have balls made of human molars, or what? When bulbous fingers rise up in a victory "V" around Perry, the question rolling around on other people's lips is, "What about he of the watery spine? Is Obama ballsy enough to be president?"

Last week, the consensus seemed to be, "Yes, finally!" as pundits from David Brooks to Paul Krugman to Thomas Friedman all breathed a big sigh of relief and rallied round the President. On Thursday, Obama had actually shown some fire in the belly when addressing Congress on television and presenting his new American Jobs bill. The President seemed angry enough to launch an attack on the Republican solution to the economic crisis: "The only thing we can do to restore prosperity [according to them] is just dismantle the government, refund everybody's money, and let everyone write their own rules and tell everyone they're on their own." But, Obama added, "That's not who we are. That's not the story of America."

It may not be who we have been in the past, but it is definitely who we are becoming. Obama may have shown more toughness this past week, but he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the depth of the forces aligned against him--not just an intransigeant G.O.P. (who in Maureen Dowd's words, "wants to eat him alive"), but also the relentless damage to the economy being done by a constant stream of natural disasters. Disaster relief funds will run out in two weeks, and while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to pass a $6 billion emergency disaster relief bill in the Senate, his counterpart Mitch McConnell has already announced his unwillingness to "pass this bill now," as the president exhorted Congress to do, declaring the Republicans' lack of interest in any short-term relief. "No one believes," he said, "that this package will do any kind of long-term, have any kind of long-term stimulative effect on our country."

Meanwhile many states are broke, and new statistics just released show that an additional 2.6 million people landed in poverty last year, bringing the total to 46.2 million--the highest number since the government started tracking poverty in the 1950s. FEMA estimates that states have been hit with over $36 billion in disaster damages. The Census Bureau credits Social Security with keeping nearly 14 million seniors out of poverty in 2010--which must be the reason Rick Perry describes it as a monstrous lie, a Ponzi scheme, and a failure.

I had to take a little media fast this past weekend, because I couldn't front up to reliving the 9/11 attacks all over again, but Obama, unfazed, attended all the ceremonies--hailing American resilience, claiming the ensuing decade has proven that America does not give in to fear and has emerged stronger after the attacks. Stronger? Really? Personally, I was more in agreement with Kathleen Parker, who took a different tack in her column, claiming that the real legacy of 9/11 was a sort of emotional breakdown in the sense of who we are.

"Simply put," she wrote, "[9/11] damaged our collective soul and seems to have released a free-ranging hysteria that has contaminated our interactions ever since...[and has] caused us to go temporarily insane." The moral panic she describes rings more true to me than anything the president said. However, as she also rightly points out, no president can afford publicly to speak of such things--so maybe she'll be right that journalists could actually acquire a new sense of purpose by ponying up to the job instead. But I'm not holding my breath.

It is, of course, possible to argue that there was a kind of bittersweet unity in the aftermath of the attacks, but that singular joining of hearts and minds soon dissolved over the decade into what Nancy Gibbs refers to in Time magazine as "pitiless cage fights." Yow! In his essay on 9/11 in The New Yorker, George Packer also takes a dim view of the decade that followed the attacks. For all the talk about unity and a new sense of purpose, he argues, the attacks did nothing to unify the country--which was already entrenched in two politically opposed camps with the moderates in the Republican party barely surviving. Today that division is so extremely hardened that the very possibility of a common national narrative has been destroyed. Today. we live in mutually hostile and unintelligible, red and blue, partisan universes.

With what has to be a Pulitzer prize-winning comment, I will let Thomas Friedman have the last word on this, our sorry plight: "Our cupboard is bare, and the only thing we have in surplus is political venom. Indeed, if political venom could be turned into a transportation fuel, we'd be energy independent today! Alas, it's just venom, and it's weakening us--along with everything else we've done to sap our national vitality."