Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Washington Freeze--What's New about It?

by Richard Crews
Historically the U.S. Federal Government has been frozen up before. The Founding Fathers faced enormous resistance over such issues as loyalty to England and States' rights, the far-flung economic and cultural differences among the Colonies, and, most of all, the very newness of it all--building a government and administrative system from scratch. As the country grew and matured, it was brought to its knees by corruption and populism (Jackson), slavery (Lincoln), mega-business (Teddy Roosevelt), international isolationism (Wilson), and the Great Depression (FDR), to mention only a few of the historical highlights.

The Bush era left the nation in disarray and disrepute. Education suffered from "No Child" lack of funding and teach-to-the-test; science and the environment, from the political-speak called "junk science"; civil rights (even human rights), from secret government intrusions; international relations, from preemption and cowboy diplomacy; and the national (and world) economy, from deregulation and trickle-down myopia.

Obama swept into office with large majorities in both houses of Congress and a mandate for change. He was a brilliant, charismatic, and populist-centrist liberal, dedicated to collegial, bipartisan functionality in government. Yet a year later Washington politics is frozen solid. What went wrong?

Obama's hands-off respect for Congress and the separation of powers left the Congressional leaders in a predicament, the Democrats flush with arrogance, the Republicans, with despair. As health-care reform festered, the Republicans discovered that by distortion and political hype, they could have some influence, much as a child's tantrum brings a family party to a halt. During the summer break, they sent agitators throughout the country to distort and disrupt town-hall meetings on health-care reform. This strategy proved so successful in garnering public notice and tea-party-type support, that over the ensuing months the Republicans escalated it--largely through aberrant Senate procedural rules--to total legislative shut-down.

Of particular note in perpetrating this debacle are Senators Mitch McConnell, Jim DeMint, Richard Shelby, John McCain, Jim Imhoffe, and Tom Coburn. Powerful lobbying groups contributed their heft--Dick Armey of FreedomWorks (previously Citizens for a Sound Economy), Labor Unions, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the Club for Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others. Dedicated media added their venomous fuel to the fire--Rush Linbaugh, Jane Hamaker, Frank Laentz, and even (perversely) Paul Krugman.

For a discussion of the individual roles played see--;page=1

What's to become of us? There are three factors to note. First, Obama is a brilliant and pragmatic politician. Second, he has nine months until the mid-term elections. Third, the country has been in constipated pickles like this before; we shall overcome.