<b>The Do-Damage Congress: Who’s Responsible?</b>
Aug 2012 29

The Do-Damage Congress: Who’s Responsible?

Posted In Activism,Blog,Favorites,Politics

by Steven Whitney

As established by comparing statistics – what some might call bald-faced facts – last week, the present 112th Congress is categorically the worst in the history of our country. It’s scorned by reputable historians and the electorate, which gives it an all time low approval rating of just 10%. The two most respected inside observers of the Washington scene – Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein – have made it inarguably clear that the Republican Party is responsible for the most pernicious and dysfunctional body ever to plague the halls of American government, one that does much more harm than any good.

Especially after the epic triumphs of “the American century,” how did our government fall to this lowest of points just twelve years into the new millennium – and what members of the current legislature are most responsible?

In 1964, as a forerunner to today’s “approval polls,” a nationwide sampling by the Gallup poll asked Americans if they expected their government “to do the right thing.” Despite the turbulence of the Cold War and the JFK assassination, an astounding 77% replied positively. And, generally speaking, we had done the right things from FDR through JFK: ended a Depression, won a “Good War,” offered our former enemies humane treaties that would allow them to peacefully rebuild, became home to the United Nations, and built an infrastructure that along with a progressive but fair tax structure created a prosperous and stable middle class. America was the envy of the entire world.

But then LBJ escalated the Vietnam War beyond any reason and Nixon’s White House embraced a criminality more damaging to our country than Al Capone’s, including illegal slush funds held by CREEP (the Committee for the Re-Election of the President) that started the disastrous landslide of Big Money into national campaign coffers. Coming back-to-back, along with Nixon’s bogus “Secret Plan to end the Vietnam War,” American morale crumbled and its confidence waned. By the end of 1974, the majority of Americans no longer trusted government. The 77% approval rating of 1964 belly-flopped to 36% just ten years later, and has spiraled downward ever since.

Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s 1st inaugural address, in which he proclaimed, “…government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” Republicans leapt upon this disenchantment to hammer home a virulent anti-government message while fueling the flames of the culture war that began in the 1960s. Today, voters must generally decide between a political party that believes government is an essential and beneficial tool to its citizens and a party that wants to “starve it, shrink it, and choke it to death” – the no-government government as reflected by today’s GOP Congress.

When we elect men and women to Congress – the governing body of the United States – shouldn’t we expect them to actually want to govern? And to govern efficiently and in our best interests? Isn’t that the most basic job description of any member of Congress? So why would anyone vote for someone fiercely dedicated, as the Republicans are, to not governing and even to destroying the very process of governance? Doesn’t the GOP realize that if they are successful in destroying our government, they will also destroy our country?

Of those who still openly operate in today’s political arena, Reagan acolyte Grover Norquist was perhaps the first to put into motion a plan – the Taxpayer Protection Pledge – to intentionally dismantle our government. State and national office-holders signed the pledge as if in blood, promising that they would not vote to increase taxes, no matter what. Never. You want a war against al Qaida in Afghanistan – no taxes, just borrow the money. And let’s lower taxes so we bring in even less money. You want to illegally invade Iraq and wage a decade long war – no taxes, just borrow the cash from China. And let’s have some more tax cuts.

Eventually, of course, a dramatic surplus left over from a Democratic administration became debt, and the debt deepened as no new tax revenue was raised. So our country wound up essentially broke (and broken) and the pledge signers – numbering 95% of all Republicans in Congress – stuck their heads in the sand and proclaimed that the only way to save the country was to lower taxes on corporations and the upper 2% even more than they already had, and, of course, to drastically cut benefits they mistakenly call entitlements for the Middle Class and poor. And it all started with a premeditated and Machiavellian pledge intended from the start to destroy the balance of power in our democratic republic.

Ironically, the GOP sees itself as the party of business, so individual Republicans must know that most businesses fail when they are underfunded. Yet the party that prides itself on knowing how business works fails to see the connection. Or perhaps, ominously, they do recognize it as a perfect storm to blow away government and replace it with the Free Trade Market of their dreams and our nightmares – no oversight, no regulations, no taxes or levies, no unions, no living wages, and no big damages payoffs for oil spills, chemical spills, nuclear meltdowns, distribution of potentially lethal products, or any other fatal or disabling disaster that is the direct result of their immoral business practices. And this is the party that blathers endlessly about “personal responsibility?”

As Speaker of the House in 1995, Newt Gingrich became the standard-bearer for Norquist’s Pledge and accordingly shut down the government for 28 days in a wrangle with President Clinton over – you guessed it – spending on Medicare, education, the environment, and public health. Clinton vetoed a Republican budget bill that cut all of those and Gingrich rather testily threatened to not raise the debt ceiling – a maneuver the GOP tried again last year (and which contributed to the downgrade of our credit rating) – thus closing down our capital. The conflict was resolved in January of 1996 and the government once again opened for business. But Newt’s hypocrisy, unwillingness to compromise even to keep America open, and his contagious nastiness not only became the model for the new GOP, but also left an atmosphere sufficiently poisonous to asphyxiate our very democracy. While this revisionist scholar from Hell is happily long gone from Congress, his influence as a so-called intellectual is still so substantial that for a few jaw-dropping weeks he was the frontrunner in the Republican Primaries for President.

But four members of our present 112th Congress, which has reached record lows in lack of governance, stand above (or perhaps below) all others in the wretched wasteland they have made of this formerly august body.

As Jon Stewart has pointed out, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) actually looks like a turtle. But more damaging is the tortoise-like manner in which his head retreats into a hard-cased shell from which no interaction is possible whenever action is desperately needed – say, anytime in the last four years. Most despicable is his disdain for real democracy. If any law proposed by Democrats might pass – even by vast 59-41 margin – he engineers a filibuster or cloture requiring 60 votes for passage so the proposal dies before a floor vote can be taken, thus robbing the American public of the “majority rules” principle on which our nation stands. This 60 vote standard almost ensures that Congress cannot pass any bill more significant than the naming of a Post Office, and absolutely guarantees no passage of a bill opposed by 41 minority Senators – and our government winds up completely frozen.

But even though McConnell has frequently been dubbed “the worst Senator in history,” the worst legislators reside in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, led by Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Michelle Bachmann, head of the Tea Party Caucus

This trio not only blocked the American Jobs Act, but has voted to repeal Obamacare 33 times. They’ve introduced myriad bills that are anti-environment / pro-pollution, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-NPR/PBS, anti-sexual and gender variation, and extremely pro-gun. These bozos have continually attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and proposed hundreds of bills to lower taxes on corporations and the wealthiest 2% of Americans while severely slashing benefits to the Middle Class, unemployed, foreclosed upon, and poor. This was not what our founders had in mind when they envisioned a system of “checks and balances.”

To be fair, Boehner – whose eyes well with tears at the mere mention of Ronald Reagan – did reach a negotiated agreement with the President on the Debt Ceiling, but Cantor – a strange, smarmy know-it-all who appears to be running for student council on an austerity platform – killed it, heightening the debate while lowering our credit rating. Indeed, Cantor’s staff-written bio page on the House website has the gall to describe him as “a results-oriented leader” even though his House has delivered the worst results in the history of American government.

Over the last decade, it’s hard to imagine anyone who has spewed forth more insanity than Bachmann. Take your pick – warning parents that The Lion King was gay propaganda, claiming Glenn Beck could solve the debt crisis, assuring her constituents that Nobel Prize scientists supported Intelligent Design, likening her visit to Iraq in 2007 to shopping at her home state’s Mall of America, and many more that should have landed her in a loony bin (not coincidentally, her Tea Party cohorts just banned the word lunatic from the floors of Congress). But instead, she’s the leader and Poster Girl for the Tea Party. And, one must admit, she’s the right woman for the job, especially given her latter-day Joe McCarthy witch hunts, first to vet all citizens whose views she considers “anti-American,” and recently to investigate anyone she suspects might have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (which includes a respected aide to our Secretary of State). Call it vilification by The Six Degrees of Michelle Bachmann. She also advocates abolishing the minimum wage to create jobs – and she might be right on this one, if you want to work for fifty cents a day.

At the height of Ancient Rome, its government was led by the First Triumvirate – a political alliance of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Crassus. Sadly, Western Civilization is now at least partly in the hands of a different kind of Triumvirate – one as pitiful as Rome’s was great – the three House Republican leaders we’ll call Weepy, Creepy, and Crazy.

The tragic result is a vicious circle which is potentially fatal to our democracy – House Republicans pass odious laws that cannot get through a Senate vote, while Senate Democrats propose humane legislation that can’t even get to a floor vote, resulting in complete paralysis. Solely for political gain, Republicans would rather block and bloviate than help their fellow citizens recover from a massive crisis, especially one caused by an immoral GOP administration that in just eight years devastated America in every way possible.

The upcoming November election presents voters with a clear choice – to continue a cruel and abysmal charade pantomimed by a true confederacy of dunces or to sweep into office those who actually care about governance, about democracy, about human rights, about fairness, and about the 95% who need their Congress to restore dignity not only to government itself but to their own lives.

This time we better get it right.

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