In 1995, the Republicans swept into the House of Representatives winning 57 seats and running on term limits and a balanced budget amendment that they never passed. They implemented a strategy of obstructing everything that President Bill Clinton wanted to do and initiated a huge set of overlapping and expensive Congressional investigations of every aspect of the Clinton administration.
Today, still suffering from PTSD over their 2006 and 2008 election “thumpings,” the Republicans are now playing to their narrow rump state of hardcore Rush Limbaugh acolytes. They’re doubling down their bets on the assumption that by obstructing everything President Barack Obama wants to do they can then blame him for their own economic incompetence and rejoin their entitled place as the majority party in Congress.
They can then continue selling off the country lock, stock, and barrel to the richest and most powerful corporations and investors the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Gilded Age. With Speaker of the House John Boehner firmly in charge, there will be a new day for the Grand Old Party and the final shredding of the nation’s social safety net can finally be completed. They will no doubt be discussing this “strategy” at their “retreat” this weekend.
But they’re dead wrong.
Their strategy is as anachronistic as their ideas about how to run a modern economy.
Barack Obama is NOT Bill Clinton. He’s not a Southern governor in bed with WalMart and Tyson chicken that won a plurality with 43 percent. Obama changed the electoral map winning 365 electoral votes. By winning Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, and Nevada, Obama won a landslide. He has “realigned” American politics.
As the first African-American chief executive, he as also changed the demographics of the presidency. His roots are in urban movement politics, community organizing, and the legislative branch of government. He has inspired youth in a way we have not seen since JFK. When two million people show up to see an inaugural speech, most sane people would conclude that it means something.
Obama operates outside the traditional “micro-targeting,” “micro-trend,” focus-group politics that has dominated things since the early 1990s. He has tapped into the artistry of leadership, the intangible and symbolic that reminds us that politics is part of the humanities. It’s the kind of leadership that has been the hallmark of our truly great presidents.
Combine these facts with the terrible crisis we face as a nation and you have a volatile political mix that defies recent trends. When Alan Greenspan admits to “flaws” in his worldview and says that this crisis is the kind we see only once in a century, then you know the poop has really hit the fan.
I hope the Republican Party leadership continues to play their game like it is 1993 instead of 2009. They seem to be the only ones who have yet to hear that the economy is in shambles; and it finds itself in this sorry state after years of Republican misrule. They controlled the House from 1995 to 2007, and the presidency from 2001 to 2009. When the dust settled the United States had a $10 trillion national debt, two costly wars, a home foreclosure crisis, high unemployment, and a financial catastrophe. John Boehner and the rest of them are behaving as if they were innocent bystanders during all of this mayhem instead of those whose policies brought it on.
So go back to your states and districts guys and gals of the GOP and try to sell your obstructionism to your unemployed and foreclosed constituents. Small businesses are taking it on the chin and if they constitute your base you’re going to be in for a big surprise. If you make gains in the 2010 midterms it will be truly a miracle.
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Reprinted with permission from the author.