As President Obama and congressional leaders continue to joust in a last-ditch effort to avert the fiscal cliff, it’s time to articulate a brutal truth: There has never been a more incompetent group of negotiators than the modern Republicans.
Recent polls, including one just released by Reuters, bear this out. More Americans blame Republicans in Congress for the current fiscal cliff crisis than they blame congressional Democrats or President Obama.
The GOP has been so bad at negotiating during the endless cliff talks that they’re now in danger of losing tax cuts as their signature issue. They’ve also somehow abdicated their historic support for growth.
Their key mistake? They’ve failed to go after Democrats in a concerted, clear, strategic way on the massive spending problems in Washington, which will continue to hang over this country for years to come no matter what happens in the next few days.
The gaping debt in the U.S. is due to the spending of the last four years – and the Democrats and Obama have caused most of the problem. But the Republicans are getting heaped with the blame. How has that happened? How incompetent does one have to be to do this to oneself?
For all these long months and weeks, Republicans should have been pounding out, day by day, a steady, targeted, coordinated and lethal attack on the Democrats for ratcheting up spending to unsustainable and dangerous levels. But, no. Never happened.
If nothing else, one must admire the Democrats and President Obama for their cocksure belief in an economic philosophy that has repeatedly failed the world over. No political party and no political leader were as ever confident, and wrong, about their complete devotion to collectivism, which is simply the seizure of power from the individual by the state, for the state. That, of course, is what the current debate is about – as are most debates in this country. Power.
The trouble is that almost no one knows this. Certainly the American people sitting in their living rooms and worrying now about how the fiscal cliff will affect them – and it will, in the worst way – don’t know it.
The Republicans have been incapable of turning this cliff fight into one of the most important debates of our lifetime, as it should be. The dispute has been one-sided because the GOP has failed to make the case against centralized power, against the utter corruption and criminality of Washington, and for all individuals against the state.
Democrats are famous for defending the rights of minorities, except of course those not in the high echelons of the politically correct court. Double standards? Bah! Hypocrisy? Humbug! Individualists? Off with their heads! The Beer Hall Democrats demand fealty, not intellectualism.
Americans who earn more than $250,000 are not part of a protected minority, but that is beside the point. As the Queen said: They are guilty, so don’t bother charging them.
The current political standoff is hardly a surprise, given that America has been largely defined by division since the beginning of our history – with the exception of the hours and days after December 7, 1941. So dug in are the two warring parties today over the fiscal cliff that it seems they will not only risk, but accept and welcome, the looming cliff – or incline, or bunny slope, or whatever you want to call it – in order to gain the upper political hand in blaming the other party for the meltdown.
In all of the natter and chatter about the fiscal cliff, we keep hearing about how Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill negotiated everything between them over a beer while wearing superhero costumes – and how they saved Washington and the rest of the world. So why can’t our current leaders save us as well? The problem is that this argument is pure garbage. Reagan and O’Neill worked together only a couple of times, in reality, and Reagan never pursued another tax deal with O’Neill and the Democrats because he’d been so badly burned by them in 1982. O’Neill often viciously attacked Reagan and even Mrs. Reagan, so contemptuous was he of the two of them.
The debate today is not about the rich versus the poor, or a group that must "pay their fair share." It is about the headlong rush of this country towards a collectivist state. A debate about the worthiness of new taxes is not acceptable to the ruling classes and their obedient lapdogs in the national media. A debate about reducing American citizens to wards of the state is out of bounds. Obama is from the government and he is here to help. No, really!
Standing back and looking objectively, one has to wonder how the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and company bring to mind teams of the past: The Three Stooges, the Keystone Cops, the Marx Brothers. Except that this sad comedy has treacherous and lifetime repercussions. The American people’s investments and retirement plans and hopes and dreams are at stake here.
Even larger than that, we may be witnessing an epoch in time, in which the Democratic Party and its philosophy of collectivism are reaching an apogee of popularity – while Republicans and their organizing ideology of freedom are reaching a nadir.
Increasingly over the past decade, Americans have turned their faces and minds away from Washington, regarding the nation’s capital in the same way they would something foul smelling. Their government has become irrelevant to them and their daily lives, save those Americans asked to go fight and die in Afghanistan so the Afghanis can drive on paved roads.
For most, however, Washington has become something to be avoided and ignored. Until now. The decisions of the next several days will have severe repercussions for all of us for a long time.
But in the meantime, put your tray tables in the full upright and locked position as we fly over the moguls of the downhill run of the fiscal cliff. Why? As Bette Davis said, "It’s gonna be a bumpy ride."
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer and historian.