Romancing the Republicans

How quickly we seem to forget. Suddenly the Republicans are the go-to political party, reinvigorated, eagerly anticipating the midterm elections this November, feeling the wind at their backs and gleefully pointing to the recent win in Massachusetts, which elected Republican Scott Brown to Edward Kennedy's Senate seat, upending the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate and wrecking any possibility of a blended healthcare bill.

And now the Republicans are declaring it is they who are the last and best defense against the fiscally irresponsible Democrats, who are in the process of taxing and spending America into oblivion. Their chutzpa is stunning and, alas, seems to be winning the day.

It's time the Democrats forcefully and repeatedly reminded Americans what state the union was in when Barack Obama took the oath of office little more than a year ago.

So, here are the facts, based on a Harper's Magazine article published in January 2009, written by Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz (who won the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics). And this is not about blame; it's about reality. Lest we forget, it was those born-again Republicans, now preaching a righteous fiscal restraint, who, pedal to the metal, drove America deep into a ditch. Extracting ourselves will be no easy task and may take at least a generation.

Here's a January 2009, snapshot: After eight years of Republican stewardship, nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs had vanished. The cost of health insurance had risen by 87 percent to $12,680 per annum, and the number of uninsured was up almost 20 percent to 45.7 million. Income had remained stagnant, actually declining by 1 percent, from 50,557 to $50,233. The war in Iraq, handed to Obama, is expected to cost the taxpayers, in the end, some $3 trillion. Think of it: $3 trillion for a war of choice and not necessity. Plus Afghanistan, a conundrum of monumental proportions costing $30 billion for 2010 alone. And we continue to hear the Republicans breathlessly pointing to efforts to extend healthcare to all Americans as a budget breaker. The hypocrisy is palpable.

When Bush took office he inherited a surplus of $128 billion. The Republicans immediately lobbied for massive tax cuts for the rich while preparing to launch two wars and simultaneously increase government spending by 59 percent. He also launched the Medicare Plan D prescription drug program. The result was massive deficit spending, pushing our national debt to nearly $11 trillion and may be as high as $15 trillion. Our major lenders are Japan and China. They own us.

Of course, Americans were complicit in this financial crisis. They maxed out their credit cards, going on an unprecedented spending spree while using their homes as ATM machines, encouraged by unregulated lenders to buy now or trade up and then sell and repackage loans that were often referred to as liar loans. It was, on many fronts, criminal. Personal debt in 2009 was more than $14 trillion.

Meanwhile the Republicans continued to argue that government regulation was the enemy of capitalism. Let the dogs of Wall Street loose and watch the economy thrive. Right. In 2009 the number of foreclosures per day reached 5,000 and the number of families living in poverty during the tenure of Bush increased from 6.4 billion to 7.6 billion, up 19 percent.

For countless families what is occurring now is not the Great Recession but the Great Depression Redux, a scythe of unemployment sweeping across America, leveling millions. It began on the Bush-Republican watch, well before our recent election. And it can't be solved in 12 months, or 24 months.

Not if you're trying to do this alone.

Recall that the strategy of the Republican Party, without exception, has now been to obstruct any attempt by Obama and the Democrats to solve the myriad problems they inherited. The Red Dogs have made a cynical and calculated pact to put party before country and to resist and reject any solutions proffered by the Dems no matter how efficacious. Considering what is at stake, their strategy is shameless.

All of this begs the question: Why would the electorate once again embrace the Republicans/Tea Baggers? After only one year? Being angry is not a reason to unhinge a healthcare bill that offers the possibility of covering millions of Americans who currently can't afford insurance; a bill that places pre-existing conditions off limits; and a bill that draws a circle and transforms a for-profit system that is, as presently constructed, unconscionable and increasingly unaffordable.

Is it possible that a disgruntled nation will go to the voting booths this fall and open the door once again for the Republicans/Baggers, meaning those folks who carry signs at rallies declaring, "Proud Member of the Angry Mob and I Vote!" "Gun Control is being able to hit your target!!" while linking Obamacare to socialized medicine and Hitler. Of course, angry protests are not policy, but it does seem to strike a chord. As it did in Massachusetts. What's next?

Chris Honoré is a freelance writer who's lived in Ashland since 2003.

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