We heard them everyday in the summer of craziness during President Obama's first year, breaking up meetings members of Congress had to discuss a reform of the health care system, bullying those with contrary views. Not exactly the beer hall putsch, but not how we think our political system should or does operate.
The overheated screams accusing the President of being a fascist, a socialist or both, struck many of us as truly odd since our complaint was not the government was threatening to take everything over, but that it had become unresponsive to great needs on the one side and rampant fraud and corruption on the other. Before we could worry about a government dictatorship, we needed to see the existence of a government at all.
And in rapid succession over the past weeks or so, the point was graphically illustrated for us. 60 Minutes broadcast a searing report on the growing number of children suddenly thrown from a middle class life into abject poverty when their parents lost one, then both incomes. At least a few people watching this had to wonder whether insuring that the extreme wealthy continued to receive the tax breaks they berated Congress into giving them in 2001 and demanded their extension last winter, at the cost of disabling any effective government programs to help those with such sudden needs
The answer is surely not as simple as private citizens coming to the aid of the specific people identified in a television program, who represent a much larger community. The question is how did it come to pass that government has abandoned the mission it took on in 1933 to protect those who need its help?
You know the answer. The creed of the greedy, masquerading as a political philosophy:
So, they tell us today not to pay attention to starving children. The country's problem is caused by a federal budget deficit, and the only thing to do now is to cut, cut, cut. Shrink it until you can drown the government in a bathtub as Grover Norquist once told us.
The other view, the one that got us through the Depression and ushered, after a world war, the greatest period of prosperity the nation has ever known, that government must spend when others cannot or will not, is simply ignored in the flood of certainty that the federal budget deficit must be reduced even if children must go to sleep hungry, is nothing worth considering. As forecast in these very pages last week (not a particularly daring prediction, of course) polling which shows growing numbers of people disagreeing with the Official Wisdom of our public officials, would be dismissed as nothing more than the reluctance of a stubborn electorate unwilling to come to terms with What Must Be Done.
And since these opinion makers do not like too many people to notice how few clothes their emperors are wearing, they rig the debate and simply ignore any opinion other than the one they have embraced. As is universally understood, the motion picture actor, David Gregory (attempting to play the part of journalist, though not convincingly enough to completely debunk the idea that he is simply parodying actual news correspondents) illustrates better than anyone else the Beltway Knows Best ability to simply blow through opposing points of view.
One day in January he asks the Senate Majority one of those usual loaded questions that presupposes the conclusion he and his friends have already reached.
MR. GREGORY: Social Security, how does it have to change? What they put on the agenda is raising the retirement age, maybe means testing benefits. Is it time for Social Security to fundamentally change if you're going to deal with the debt problem?
Nothing in that question about what "debt problem" he means, particularly since social security is funded and administered outside of the federal budget which is said to be so horribly out of balance. So the question really is nothing more than why won't you agree to these Republican ideas, Mr, Majority Leader?
so the answer is not the one he wanted:
SEN. REID: One of the things that always troubles me is, when we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. Social Security is a program that works, and it's going to be--it's fully funded for the next 40 years. Stop picking on Social Security. There are a lot places we can go to...
MR. GREGORY: Senator, you're really saying the arithmetic on Social Security works?
SEN. REID: I'm saying the arithmetic on Social Security works. I have no doubt it does. For the next...
MR. GREGORY: It's not in crisis?
SEN. REID: No, it's not in crisis. This is, this is, this is something that's perpetuated by people who don't like government. Social Security is fine.
Oh, my. We can't have that. It's not in crisis? Is Senator Reid crazy?
Must be, because less than two months later, Gregory flatly tells his audience that social security is a "budget busting program." Not that people say it is. It is. He says so.
MR. GREGORY: The White House and Republicans are far apart on how deeply to cut government spending. But is there an opening to fix budget-busting programs like Social Security and Medicare? I'll ask my exclusive guest this morning, White House chief of staff William Daley....
We will put side for now the ridiculous MTP (under Gregory, the showman) assertion that all of its guests are "exclusive" meaning, it appears, that at the exact second they are on MTP, they are not talking to anyone else.
Of greater importance is the "know it all" faux-question posed to the President's chief of staff, about "the big driver of the deficit, as you know"
MR. GREGORY: The big driver of the, of the deficit, as you know, Social Security, Medicare, those are the real budget busters. And it was interesting, Speaker Boehner gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal. I'll put a portion of it on the screen. This is what he said. Speaker Boehner said Thursday, "...he's determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed. In an interview with The Journal, Boehner said House Republicans would offer a budget for the next fiscal year that gets goals for bringing the programs' costs under control."
Is this an opening here? Did the president and Boehner talk about this and say, "Look, let's do something here together?"
Not only does he define "the problem" as the way Republicans see it, he tells the chief of staff that the Republican Speaker is courageous in trying to limit, end, destroy or otherwise trim back programs Republicans opposed when they were enacted, came to terms with eventually, but now want ended, lest they cost their benefactors anything.
Sorry, David. No dice. Sorry to disappoint you.
MR. DALEY: Well, the president's been saying for quite a long time that we, we've got to, not only address our current budget problems, we've got to get to these large--I would take some exception with your statement. Social Security is not the big driver of the deficit right now.
Well, actually, ever but we can accept that answer.
So this is how it all breaks down. And as far as sides trying to take over the government; trying to end the traditional functions of the legislative process within a republic, try these on for size:
Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 2, 2011:
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At the last minute, Ohio Senate Republicans have changed the makeup of a committee that will vote whether to approve a controversial bill that would overhaul the state's collective bargaining rights.
Sen. Bill Seitz, of Cincinnati, who opposes the bill, has been removed from the committee and replaced with Sen. Cliff Hite, of Findlay. The switch was made to ensure the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee passes the bill, said Sen. Kevin Bacon, chairman of the committee.
Senate President Tom Niehaus decided to replace Seitz with Hite, Bacon said before the committee hearing this morning. As president, Niehaus has authority to remove and replace Republican committee members.
or this lovely example of representative democracy:
Those who decided to sit the last election out because they were angry with something the President did or did not do made all of this possible. But what these people have or are threatening to do with their supposed Mandate establish that the extreme fears expressed during the election were not extreme. Yes, the President owes us more than he has shown us, but punishing him with a lack of support endangers us all.
P.S. Tomorrow will bring us Frank Rich's last column in The New York Times. We will find him when he finally surfaces in New York Magazine this summer, but this is not a good time to lose his voice, even for a few months, and to have it re-appear in a less popular place than where it is heard right now. Nothing we can do about it, but to relish what we get as a farewell, and hope for the best in short order.