Thursday, August 11, 2011

A response to Meghan McCain

Hi Meg, I’m Tom.

We’ve never met, but I’m a regular reader of your posts on the Daily Beast. I saw your August 10 piece on the ‘Obamaclypse,’ and the return of ‘politics as usual’ to Washington. You complain that “we’ve traded hope and unity not only for politics as usual in Washington, but for something far worse. We’ve entered a new chapter in government selfishness, new levels of disillusionment and public distrust of elected officials, something that the Twitter world has dubbed the “Obamaclypse” or “Barackalypse.”

Since I actually have a regular job and a part-time job, and am not a talking head and incipient professional celebrity—really, Meg, why are you hanging out with the Perez Hilton set?—who can blow off work to party in Vegas, it took me a couple days to find the time to write you a response.

I was a bit puzzled by the time frame you used. Apparently the problem is that you feel anxious because two and a half years after being elected, President Obama hasn’t fixed everything. You’re worried that the people who supported him in 2008 are going to feel angry and disappointed.

Now, I’m no fortunate one, no senator’s daughter (hat tip to John Fogerty), so things have looked pretty grim to me for a long time. It’s true, we’re totally bummed out that the economy is still creaking along, but our generation—yours and mine, since I’m only a few years older than you—is a pretty tough-skinned bunch sometimes. We kinda have to be. We’ve had a lot of disappointments over the last ten years, and the American Dream is pretty much a hallucination now. This country already has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world, and the middle class is sinking fast.

Yes, our generation saw Columbine and 9/11, as you mentioned—and a nice bit of sentimental appeal that was, too. Remember, though, that we also saw President Bush deliberately lie for six months and then lead the nation into a pointless war that has seen tens of thousands of Americans killed and wounded. We saw oil industry lobbyists practically write the administration’s energy legislation. We saw the results of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that Republicans rammed through Congress in the waning days of the Clinton Administration, as one bank after another crashed and burned in a cloud of debt. I saw a large number of the people I graduated from college with lose their jobs when the economy tanked during one of the several downturns we had between 2001 and 2008.

I’ll be honest. I voted for President Obama in 2008 because his vision was as close as we could get to the opposite the Bush Administration’s goals and track record. We had just had eight solid years of government by a political machine that fostered crony capitalism, deficit spending on a scale never seen before or since, and one Congressional scandal after the next; John Boehner handed out checks from lobbyists on the House floor! Jack Abramoff, anyone? CEOs from Enron to AIG were partying like the worst of the Roman emperors while laying off hundreds of workers, and running their companies into the ground. Wages didn’t budge after 2001, but inflation kept on going, so your salary bought you less every year. The baby boomers “dropped the ball on their burden of responsibility”—you’re absolutely right there. By the time the primary season ended in 2008, millions people were willing to believe in change precisely because the country obviously needed it.

So it’s no wonder that we’re a little burned-out and cynical. Nothing new there. I list the above not for the sake of blaming the Bush Administration, the Republican Party, or conservatives in general—though they bear responsibility for much of what’s currently wrong with this country—but to show you why the current mess isn’t a deal-breaker for me as far as President Obama. I’m used to stuff like this. Most people my age don’t look to leaders like President Obama for inspiration. We look to them for substance, and the ability to get things done. Some people are going to be disappointed or heartbroken, yes, but the rest of us are just going to have to keep calm and carry on, because we’re stuck in this situation.

I distinctly remember another inspirational figure. In fact, I campaigned for your dad, Senator McCain, in New Hampshire in 1999 and 2000, back when he was the maverick he’s now just pretending to be, the McCain of McCain-Feingold. Your dad and President Obama had a lot in common—they wanted to reach young people, they called for a wholesale change in the way Washington functions, and they wanted a new era of government transparency and accountability. Unfortunately the Republican leadership kicked your dad to the curb in favor of George W. Bush after the South Carolina primary, the first of several new low points for political smear campaigns.

Senator Obama was an inspirational in 2008 and he’s still an inspirational figure now. One of the most appealing things about him (and your dad too, for that matter) was that he wasn’t just ladling out pie-in-the sky solutions (Ron Paul), the tired crap that every Republican has recycled since 1980 (your dad) or bogus homespun wisdom (Sarah Palin). At the same time, though, give the man credit for being substance as well as style. Starting in the fall of 2008, President Obama has over the last three years consistently given probably the most candid assessment of the nation’s economy that any president has offered; even before he was inaugurated he was warning that recovery would take time.

He seems a bit different now, yes, but really, what president hasn’t had to trim his sails a bit after two and a half years in office? Still, he’s accomplished far more than he’s given credit for.

Let’s look briefly at some of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments (not in order of importance):

  • The rescue of the automotive industry. Whether you like the idea of bailouts or not, it saved a lot of peoples’ jobs and most of the money has been paid back to the government.
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus program) worked. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the February 2009 stimulus bill had put over 800,000 people back to work by the third quarter of that year.
  • In the process, the stimulus managed to accomplish a lot of too-long-deferred necessary work on the nation’s roads and bridges.
  • Terminated the Bush Administration’s practice of overruling scientific findings for political concerns.
  • TARP—the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program inherited from the Bush Administration—worked. Once again, billions spent, but billions repaid. Ironically, the reason Wall Street is still around to crash in 2011 is because the federal government rescued it in 2009.
  • A significant CUT in spending, which Fox News never talks about because it doesn’t fit in to the right wing’s mental universe.
  • Berzerk protests at town hall meetings aside, ‘Obamacare’ actually works, and fixed many of the problems created by the Bush Administration’s health-care legislation, including allowing governments to negotiate drug prices and eliminating the ‘donut hole.’
  • Fumigated the White House and Capitol Hill of the lobbyists that had infested them during the Bush Administration, imposing stringent new requirements on lobbyists and bans on gifts to politicians. Boehner’s Santa Claus routine is now illegal.
  • Scrapped the Bush Administration’s financial chicanery by actually counting the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the federal budget, rather than continuing to hide it in off-budget spending.
  • Shut down the Bush Administration’s programs of waterboarding and extraordinary rendition of suspected terrorists in favor of handling them with actual laws.
  • Started getting us out of Iraq.
  • Killed Osama Bin Laden.

That’s quite a track record for two and a half years, especially given the scale of the mess President Obama inherited from President Bush. I’m sorry you’re still not happy, Meg.

I have to call you out on some other stuff too.

We’re disappointed, yes, but we’re not blind. Anyone who’s kept up on current events knows that the cynicism hasn’t returned to Washington—it never left. President Obama is a breath of fresh air, yes, but that only goes so far when the rest of the room smells like a sewer. Really, the root cause that some of President Obama’s campaign promises (climate change, some banking reform regulation) have failed to live up to expectations is because the Republicans in Congress have done everything possible to gut them. In fact, the reason the President’s promise to being a new civility to Washington failed is because the Republicans took their ball and went home. I can’t really blame the president for this; all through 2009 and 2010, every time the administration offered compromise, the Republican leadership refused to play nice. John Boehner sure talks a line about spending cuts, but not when they effect the General Electric plants in his district. I keep mentioning Speaker Boehner, by the way, because he makes such a good example of what’s wrong with Washington.

When you said “The last election was all about hope and change and ushering in a new beginning and phase in America. Not only have we not been given hope and change, but generation Y is feeling disillusionment and asking ourselves what exactly we have to look forward to,” I think you forgot that there was an election in 2010, too, which for a variety of reasons put the Republicans in charge of Congress again, and gave the hard-line Tea Party group a disproportionate say in what happens in Congress. Your dad’s old colleague, Russ Feingold, one of the most respectable senators of the last twenty years, lost his seat to a wealthy Republican hack with no political experience and a cloud of ethics problems. That’s the problem of 2010 in a microcosm.

So now it’s 2011, and what’s bugging me just now? It’s not the president. It’s not even cynicism, which is at least predictable. It’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and his comment that “We weren’t kidding around, either. We would have taken it down.” The ‘it’ he’s referring to is the national economy, which Chaffetz and his allies in Congress would happily have crashed during the debt ceiling dispute. Now really, that’s a crisis of leadership right there— elected officials willing to wreck the country’s already fragile economy over a point of political ideology? These are the people who howl that President Obama is a radical? What is this, Opposite Year? This isn’t cynicism; it’s stupidity. The worst of the trouble over the debt ceiling came from the Tea Party scuttling every idea the Republican leadership came up with; it’s a bit embarrassing when your party can’t even keep itself together enough to even put something up for a vote, while the President sits there waiting for you.

So it’s no wonder that while the President is still pretty popular, Congress’ approval ratings could hardly get lower. John Boehner, the would-be kingmaker with skin the color of an Oompa-Loompa, is now less popular than the widely-vilified Nancy Pelosi. The Tea Party is turning into the Albatross Party, especially among mainstream Republicans because of how they repeatedly cut Boehner’s legs out from under him during the debt ceiling negotiations.

I’m not really certain how to end this response. Urging you to think positive would be a bit trite and pointless. “Buckle in for a bumpy ride” would be just as bad. Since you generally write interesting and thoughtful stuff, though, I think I’ll just suggest you keep up the good work, and not turn into someone like Sean Hannity, who essentially gets paid not to like President Obama, without regard for whether what he’s saying can be supported by facts.

Have fun,