Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fighting Words

There's been quite a bit of controversy throughout the liberal blogosphere pegged off a couple of comments made recently by Rolling Stone columnist and avowed prick Matt Taibbi. As a writer Taibbi's always had strong opinions, and despite being regularly left-leaning, he's never shied away from taking those who typically embrace him to task when he thinks their adherence to stereotypical dogma amounts to shooting themselves in the foot. This is one of the qualities I've always admired in him: He's an honest-to-God individual and doesn't really give a crap what either side of the aisle thinks of him; he seems to revel in pissing down the back of everyone.

The comments that have some of the usual suspects on the left in such a tizzy come from Taibbi's blog (which as far as I'm concerned is required reading) and have to do with the current battle over health care reform. At first glance, they seem to defend the tactics of the Bush Administration.

The most recent:

"I’ll say this for George Bush: you’d never have caught him frantically negotiating against himself to take the meat out of a signature legislative initiative just because his approval ratings had a bad summer. Can you imagine Bush and Karl Rove allowing themselves to be paraded through Washington on a leash by some dimwit Republican Senator of a state with six people in it the way the Obama White House this summer is allowing Max Baucus (favorite son of the mighty state of Montana) to frog-march them to a one-term presidency?"

Then there's this one (posted here last week):

"Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, or anyone else. If the Obama administration wanted to pass a real health care bill, they would do what George Bush and Tom DeLay did in the first six-odd years of this decade whenever they wanted to pass some nightmare piece of legislation (ie the Prescription Drug Bill or CAFTA): they would take the recalcitrant legislators blocking their path into a back room at the Capitol, and beat them with rubber hoses until they changed their minds."

It goes without saying that to think Taibbi is suggesting that the Bush White House had its merits is to miss the point completely. What he's expressing, rightfully and angrily, is frustration.

For eight years we watched George W. Bush and his band of corrupt cronies get away, almost literally, with murder. When the GOP held absolute control over every arm of the government, it abused that authority thoroughly -- not only cutting out but publicly belittling the political minority that it knew didn't have the numbers to make a successful stand against it. The Republicans truly were the Evil Empire in Washington, DC; they treated the Democrats as a non-entity, annoying gnats to be swatted away with the wave of a fat, sweaty hand. Here's the thing, though: Like it or not, agree with their sickening platform or disagree, the Republicans got things done. They got things done because they did what they always do: get behind a person or simply a set of obscene and ridiculous talking points and stay there. True, if you were on the other side during this dark period in our nation's history, you likely shouted to the heavens about how unfair the whole thing was -- how unconscionable repugnant turds like, say, Jim Sensenbrenner were for literally standing up and shutting off the lights and walking out of the room while their Democratic counterparts were trying to speak on the Hill. You no doubt despised the special brand of GOP thuggery.

Once again, though -- these tactics, as deplorable and antithetical to the spirit of the American political system as they were, pushed the Republican agenda through with unsurprising ease.

It's not right, but it worked -- in the sense that it accomplished what it set out to.

And to this day, there have been no negative, lasting repercussions for those who chose to undertake this course. Bitch all you want, these assholes are still walking around free -- and they will be from now until they die fat and happy on a set of 1,000 thread count sheets somewhere. George W. Bush is already preparing his memoirs; Dick Cheney isn't up against a wall behind the Hague; Tom DeLay's on Dancing with the Stars for fuck's sake. They got away with it.

And now that the tables are turned and the other side has near-complete control of the White House and the Hill, what do we get?

We get spineless waffling, pathetic half-measures, a supposed push for bipartisanship in deference to a group that giddily trampled its political opponents underfoot for nearly a decade and have no compunction about continuing to, despite the fact that it's in no position whatsoever to exert such force -- not anymore.

And that's what Taibbi's getting at. His comments pose an interesting question: Is it better to be able to say that you were completely "fair," or that you got things done? This becomes especially thorny when you consider that, despite all your attempts at being obliging and conciliatory, the other side isn't really interested in bipartisanship. The Republicans are only pretending to give a shit about fairness; the reality is that they'll never bend to the will of the Democrats -- they'll block Obama at every turn and by any means necessary. Try to appease them all you want, it'll get you nowhere.

By now, the Democrats should've realized this and should be rolling over the GOP obfuscation, misdirection and conspiracy machine with a tank. They have the power and the numbers, and yet they continue to behave as if the other side would show them the same courtesy were the roles reversed -- as if the last eight years never happened.

It's time to lay down the gauntlet and not fight back -- since the Democrats should in no way be on the defensive right now -- but fight.

This is what Taibbi's getting at, and he's 100% right.

Being able to say that at least you played fair will be little consolation four years from now when nothing's been accomplished and a Republican president is back in office.


Web Dunce said...

Taibbi is right in that the dems seem to be showing no spine. I get why the left is in disagreement with his premise, though. I for one do not want the Obama administration or the democrats to behave like Bush and Co. We need a modicum of civility and rule-following. However, there is one very significant all most deal-breaking point that Taibbi doesn't seem to highlight in his piece. The democrats represent a much larger, diverse population than the republicans and they need to cater to this population very carefully otherwise they won't hold on to their power. Republicans represent for the most part white angry men and their wives. In the end I think (and hope really) that the dems will do the right thing, but they need that pressure from all sides of their constituency to actually make a bold move. The news media isn't helping - in fact they are hurting the process by highlighting the lunatic fringe on a daily basis as if they were an equal force to be reckoned with. They're not and we all know it, but apparently a gun-toting, Ron Paul supporting knuckle dragger at a Presidential town hall makes for good tv. If that's seen as a "good get" then we're all doomed.

Chez said...

Very true. But it's precisely the fact that the Democrats currently do represent so many points of view that they have the capital to step up and beat down all this nonsensical crap being spewed by the GOP.

Anonymous said...

Spot on.

Michael J. West said...

I'm actually participating in the "live strategy meeting" that's being reported in the NYT and WaPo today, and that's in essence the question I've submitted: now that the Republicans have said outright that they're not interested in compromise, will Obama and the Dems finally grow some balls and move on this thing by themselves?

Anonymous said...

Liberals are mostly wusses. I say this as a liberal. Look at Yale University press and its shameful decision to not reprint the Muhammed cartoons in a book ABOUT THE MUHAMMED CARTOONS. The tepid response to Sarah Palin and company's outrageous lies and distortions is another example. Republicans will stand up and speak lies, even easily debunked lies, much more forcefully than democrats will stand up and speak the truth. Given that is it really a surprise that there's no part discipline and that they run scared from phantom menaces like Republican resistance. The Democrats don't need a single Republican vote to do ANYTHING and still they want to bargain and trade even when the Republicans are acting in bad faith. The Democrats care so much what the other side thinks that they forget to pay attention to their own constituency and that's why they lose. Push through a good health care reform bill and the votes will be there in 3 years after people get used to the new system and like it. Don't, and why should we bother to vote for you?

It's amazing. When the Republicans are in office their constituency gets what it wants. When the Democrats are in office the first thing they do is start to worry about what the Republican constituency wants, because they don't have the spine to push through legislation that's unpopular with 40% of the electorate.

We're not asking you to put people in secret prisons or break longstanding international treaties. We just want poor people to stop having to use the emergency room as a primary care method and going broke whenever they get sick. We just want to stop 30% of our medical expenses going to bureaucracy and yachts for CEOs. If you can't get behind that and take a stand THERE, then what the hell good are you?

John O said...

Barney Frank appears to have had enough of trying to engage these twits with respect...

supermaren said...

I actually think Obama said something like "the public option, whether it ends up in the bill or not..." which doesn't necessarily mean he's willing to back down; it just means that he's willing to let Congress figure out how best to structure the bill. Unfortunately, news outlets who are hungry for any kind of controversy just to get the ratings have oversimplified that statement into a sentiment that makes it look like the White House is backing down. I for one, think it's stupid not to have a public option, and I'm sure there are plenty of Dems that think the same thing.

Beckylooo said...

I check in with MT daily. I've been noodling this point of his for a while, as he's made it more than once, and it just doesn't hold up. The rubber hoses didn't work so well for GWB when it came to immigration and social security reform. Two major initiatives comparable to health care in scale. Tax breaks and a war are far easier to understand and sell. I empathize with the frustration, I'm just not convinced Rahmbo going Tonya Harding on Ben Nelson et al would solve anything.

Chi Dingo said...

This kind of post is why I keep coming back everyday to see what you post Chez. Great fucking piece.

Jeremy said...

"Being able to say that at least you played fair will be little consolation four years from now when nothing's been accomplished and a Republican president is back in office."


While I in no way condone the kind of tactics employed by the Bush administration in strong arming the opposition, there are times when you need to use your mandate, to bring back a popular phrase from the Bush administration years, to champion your agenda. Particularly when failure to act on the items that got you elected threaten to undo the baby steps toward progress we've started if we lose the White House again in four years.

Liberals might want to be fair and conciliatory, but that doesn't have to equal milquetoast pushover.

countryjoe said...

The American people told the Republicans to "Get Fucked" in not one but the last two election cycles.
We put the 1st African American liberal in the White House for chriss sakes and all the Dems. act like a bunch pussy whipped choir boys. You won Obama, You won Dems. Now grow some fucking balls and do what the people elected you to do. Wipe your ass with the GOP.

Deacon Blue said...

One of the key things is that Cheney & Bush (and I put them in that order because I think we all know who the brains were in that team) rode the patriotism/national safety meme for many of their biggest successes. Except perhaps for raping the environmental protection laws and food safety shit, which most Americans just flat out seem to ignore until their entire neighborhood develops brain cancer.

What is needed by the Democrats, I think, is to get people outraged about the healthcare issue. I don't know how you do that.

I mean, these are people who either have parents using Medicare or who are using Medicare themselves, and would kill anyone who pulled that away. So they clearly don't get it.

But somehow, the Dems have to express to people that it is simply unpatriotic to let our population be sick and die early. If for no other reason than we cannot be a strong nation and we cannot get back on top if we won't even take care of our own and ensure that they live long lives to work, reproduce, learn, grown, amass wealth, change the world, and discover the secret to cold fusion. Or perhaps simply to get a chance to fuck Angelina Jolie if they're lucky.

This has to become not something about more than altruism or social responsibility and has to be presented as a fucking necessity for our survival and success...something that is more important that working our soldiers like field slaves overseas.

Anonymous said...

My father, who I have the utmost respect for, has always said that the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. Do the right thing and get it done. You don't have to apologize for fixing something.

robpo said...

Couple thoughts. Blue Dogs are why Dems can't get it done. And yes, its more important to be completely "fair". Not in a literal sense, but as a basic value of moderation.

But I agree too - screw 'em, lets drive over them if they're not willing to climb aboard or get out of the way.

Mart said...

Even when he campaigned as a progressive I figured Obama was/is a corporatist. Another in a long line of Presidential corporate shills.

I puddled when the black first family walked out on the stage in Chicago; but for issues like bank bailouts and healthcare I never had much "Hope". Obama, and much of congress, is only interested in being completely "fair" to corporations.