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Will Republicans Be Rewarded for the Moral Cynicism?

Posted: 09/24/2012 4:18 pm

If President Barack Obama wins reelection, it would be the first time voters returned an incumbent to the Oval Office with unemployment so high. The August unemployment rate sits at 8.1 percent -- nearly a full percentage point higher than President Ronald Reagan who holds the record for highest unemployment rate for a winning incumbent president in 1984.

If that were the strict barometer by which one evaluates the president's fortunes for reelection, history suggests his chances in 2012 are unlikely. It is because of this scenario that Republicans felt this is an election they should win.

But history, though cyclical, does not always provide an exact comparison. There is another question that has been entered into this year's election that could offset the president's less-than-stellar unemployment record. I'm not referring to Mitt Romney's recent foreign and domestic gaffes; it's something more shameless.

Should the Republican Party be rewarded politically for their brazen display of moral cynicism?

Moral cynicism is defined by the refusal to entertain well-reasoned moral arguments or actions. What is the well-reasoned moral argument or action that Republicans have refused to entertain? How about the more than 69 million voters (53 percent), who supported the president in 2008?

One would think, given the economic shape of the country when the president assumed office, Republicans would work to reestablish credibility by conducting the people's business. Instead they opted for the low road of obstructionism.

It has already been documented in Robert Draper's book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, on the same day the president was inaugurated a number of Republican members of Congress, including vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, met to discuss their actions going forward. Their plan was to derail the president's agenda.

The will of 53 percent was not a priority. The goal, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was to "deny President Obama a second term." But what was the cost for their cynicism?

The short answer was gridlock while playing loose with the facts of public discourse. Once gridlock became the route taken to derail the president's agenda, the 53 percent morphs into the overwhelming majority of the American people.

They criticized the president for his inability to lead, citing his 60-seat Senate majority for two years. I have been critical of the president's leadership skills, in particular his inability to communicate to the American people. But the 60-seat majority critique is another of the right-wing talking points that possess just enough truth to not be considered out right mendacity.

After the election the president had a 59-41 majority in the Senate. But soon after Massachusetts Senator Ten Kennedy's health declined and Minnesota Senator Al Franken had not yet been seated due to a recount.

This gave Democrats a 57-41 margin. Even though Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector switched parties, when one factors the illnesses of Kennedy and Robert Byrd, including the two independents in the Senate, the Democrats held a 60-seat majority for only four months, not two years.

This is important because it opened the door to Senate Republicans invoking Rule 22, which allows for an "invisible" filibuster in that the minority need only state their intention to filibuster.

As a consequence, the Dream Act, tax incentives for U.S. companies to bring jobs back to America, and the prohibition of foreign owned companies participating in U.S. elections, are examples of legislation that enjoyed majority support but were stymied by Rule 22.

In the summer of 2009, already committed to blocking the president's efforts to pass health care legislation, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint famously wrote in an email: "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him."

Conservative commentator and director of the documentary 2016: Obama's America, Dinesh D'Souza, recently suggested to Bill Maher, the president "could have taken one or two of the Republican ideas and he would have had a bipartisan (health care) plan."

That runs counter to the facts that indicate the controversial individual mandate was an idea originated by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which served as the underpinnings for the Republicans erroneous "government takeover of healthcare" argument.

In 2010, every Republican member of the House of Representatives who sat on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission voted against it. House and Senate leaders promised to hold votes on the committee's recommendations for budget savings if 14 of the commission's members agreed to the plan. It only received 11 votes. This prohibited the plan from going to Congress.

In 2011, by any reasonable standard, the debt ceiling crisis, led by House Republicans, was an irresponsible display of the public's trust. It led to Standard and Poor's downgrading the country's bond rating.

For more than three years, Republicans have uniformly opposed the president to the detriment of the American people. They have shrewdly utilized gridlock as a key tool for reclaiming power.

What makes this practice so insidious has been their willingness to tear down their own credibility in the process. The Republican-led House of Representatives is polling at all-time lows.

Republicans have not violated any laws that I am aware; they have, in my view, violated the spirit of our public morality. At the core of our public morality is the deeply held belief that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. The evidence clearly suggests the governed have been a secondary consideration.

But politics is an amoral enterprise. Should voters reward such Machiavellian tactics? If successful, it could add a permanent level of toxicity that would only be defined as unproductive to the body politic.

Being against all things Obama is an understandable political objective, but should it come at the expense of governing? Sadly, Republicans on Capitol Hill have met that question with an unequivocal yes. How will the electorate respond in November?

 

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