There is almost a universal consensus: the nation's political system has ground to a halt. We are paralyzed (Rich, NYT, January 31). We are "stuck." (Friedman, NYT, January 31). The country is in desperate need of leadership.
But America now does have a leader, and a consensus across much of the political spectrum: he must lead. No more passing the buck to Pelosi and Reid. Obama did step up and reassert his direction in his State of the Union speech. He then met with Congressional Republicans and reminded them of "their obligation now" (after Massachusetts) to govern.
But Congressional Republicans have no incentive to get to yes. Ever since September 2008, when they threw all caution to the wind and opposed the TARP bail-out proposed by George W. Bush and his treasury secretary Hank Paulson, they have wallowed in saying no. Incredibly after 8 years of nearly universal Republican control, they cavalierly dismissed the crisis as "not our problem," and bluffed the Democrats into supporting the rescue. Paulson got down on one knee before Pelosi and begged for her aid. Characteristically, the Democrats played chicken briefly, but then stepped up to take responsibility and prevent the catastrophe. One week after Obama's inauguration, Sean Hannity announced that it was now "Obama's economy."
Congressional Republicans, learning from Nancy Reagan, continue to say no. They oppose all tax increases and hypocritically reject any cuts in Medicare, a federal program they largely opposed. Apparently they are being rewarded. Massachusetts elected a Republican Senator.
But Congressional Republicans are a small, if effective, minority in Congress. They represent a divided, largely leaderless, ideologically diffuse rabble that is itself a small minority. And Congressional Republicans, like all members of Congress, are notoriously unpopular.
Mr. President, Congressional Republicans must be isolated and diminished. That is what you must do. That is what leadership is about.
When Obama spoke to the Congressional Republicans he cited Republicans Howard Baker and Bob Dole as supporters of health care changes similar to those he is seeking. The President must ask them to come forward. He might have mentioned Richard Nixon, who contemplated similar reforms, admittedly in the eye of impeachment. Nixon is dead, but former members of his Administration could bear witness to his relative sanity.
This week Paul Volker, associated with the Reagan administration, took the lead on financial regulator reform. Governor Schwarzenegger has shown signs of independence on financial and environmental issue. God forbid but even George H.W. Bush might show some patriotism now that his son is no longer in office. Maybe he thinks that the no-new-taxes crowd is leading the nation astray again. Perhaps his colleague, Bill Clinton, could ask him to join in a program of national reconstruction. How about Alan Simpson, retired Republican Senator, who thinks that the Religious Right has hijacked his party?
All of these men know that Obama did not create this mess. They also know that the Congressional Republican talking points, principally that the stimulus is not working and tax cuts are the answer, are false. They know the country is in trouble.
And how about some New England or even New York or perhaps other California Republicans, who cannot be thrilled with the idea of a country moving toward Palin and threatened by Tea Party anger. Admittedly most have not survived the Republican Party move to the right, but even out of office, they could be influential. And some are still in office: Maine's two senators surely are worried about the radicalization of the Republican Party and the political viability of the country. Friedman, in his piece in the Times on Sunday, January 31, mentioned Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham who have shown some independence on environmental and financial regulations issues. Or how about John McCain, who seems to have had a mind transplant after giving his conciliatory, non-partisan, post election concession speech. Perhaps a rousing "Country First" appeal might bring him back to placing the nation ahead of election fears.
And how about seeking the support of business leaders who recognize that further tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy as proposed by Congressional Republican, will not stimulate demand at a time when interest rates are below zero. They also understand that the current medical "system" is not viable and makes American industry non-competitive. They should be asked to come forward and renounce the create-deadlock-and-failure Republican approach that puts the destruction of this presidency above the welfare of the country.
Mr. President, America is famous for the power of its private institutions. Many of the leaders of these institutions from Wall Street to Main Street, from Silicon Valley to Route 128, from universities to rock bands, supported your election. They know that our health care system is not sustainable. They know you are not responsible for the deficit and that you, like FDR, cannot, as Rich points out in his Sunday Times piece, be held responsible for our current economic crisis.
John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and their lieutenants can repeat and repeat their talking points, and will carry with them the Fox and Tea Party crowd, but in your moderate, rational positions, your measured tones, you can isolate them. Keep populism to a minimum, but historical and economic truths up front. Do not acquiesce in the "its Obama's economy now" falsehood. The No folks created this fire. You are the fireman who has to flood the area and destroy more of the structure to remedy the disaster they have created. It took FDR eight years and World War II to get over Hoover's depression, and history still places the economic woos of the '30s on President Hoover.
Mr. President: Congressional Republicans are unpopular. You must make them ineffective.