One of the strangest memes to come out of the Republican Party in recent months has been their critique of Obama supporters as people who just want things, or stuff. This is an extraordinarily bizarre view of politics which lends itself to criticism in many different ways. This view, which has been stated by Bill O'Reilly and other Republican pundits and strategists, reflects shoddy math as advocates of this view, includingmost prominently Mitt Romney, throw around numbers like 47 percent as if that is both the number of people who get things from government and who voted for Obama.
The Republicans in Congress have dramatically misplayed the debt ceiling negotiations. In addition to failing to play a constructive role in averting a debt and financial crisis for the U.S. which could have a global impact, the Republicans have also demonstrated that they are still more adept at attacking the president than they are at governing, and have missed a great opportunity to drive another wedge into the Democratic Party.
A few months ago, Paul Ryan was considered something of a rising star in the Republican Party as he sought to address the federal deficit through serious, non-ideological approaches. Ryan created an image for himself as a thoughtful centrist interested in tough solutions to tough problems. It turns out that was mostly just spin. As people became more familiar with Ryan's plan, it became clear that he was essentially just another Republican seeking to balance the budget by placing an unfair burden on lower income Americans. Like most in his party, Ryan sought to cut programs for poor Americans while refusing to raise taxes on the wealthiest, thus forcing those who have already sacrificed the most, to sacrifice even more.
Of course, using government resources to levy taxes and provide services including defense, infrastructure, education, economic incentives and programs is not socialism. It is governance. In America socialism is the bogeyman that is wheeled out from time to time to oppose programs that are viewed as too big or too costly, but even that is not entirely accurate. Defense buildups throughout the last decades have infused enormous amounts of money, through lucrative and often wasteful government contracts, into the economy, transferring hard earned tax dollars into profits and jobs, but nobody really calls that socialism
The serious points on which this argument is based are first that a public option or any other serious effort to provide health insurance to the millions of Americans who are currently without insurance will not be cheap. This is reasonably obvious. The question of whether the government should be making this type of spending commitment at this time is a legitimate question. However, it should also be kept in mind that a public option will likely save individual Americans, including but not limited to those currently uninsured, money as costs for health insurance and health care generally will likely drop if we have a more rational system for providing health insurance and care.
Eight months or so into the Obama presidency, it is pretty clear that Obama's bipartisan efforts have not been, and will almost certainly not be, fruitful. Critics of Obama might claim this is because Obama has already been captured by the far left of his party, while people more sympathetic to the president might point out that the Republican Party has been captured by an angry and out of touch right wing that has driven the party to irrelevancy. The question this raises for the Obama administration is whether or not it is now prudent to abandon efforts at bipartisanship and seek to pass major legislation, most obviously health care, alone.
One of the mantras of the opposition to meaningful health reform has been a fear of a government takeover of the health care sector. This fear is expressed virtually nonstop on talk radio, the right wing blogosphere, Fox News and at town hall meetings across the country. As we know, for better or for worse, the Obama administration is not proposing a government takeover of the entire health care system, but overstatement and exaggeration is unavoidable in these kinds of debates.
Bobby Jindal has "seen enough" and Dan Quayle thinks President Obama needs to "tame the left wing of his party." Perhaps it is time to give the Republican Party some credit for consistency, if not exactly relevancy or accuracy. Dan Quayle, who has gracefully made the transition from boy wonder vice president to elder statesman of his party without pausing along the way to actually accomplish anything, and Bobby Jindal, who seems to have succeeded in combining the politics of Ronald Reagan with the earnestness and credibility of Ronald McDonald, seem to agree that the biggest threat to the country is that President Obama will pass health care reform and lead the country irrevocably down the road to socialism.
An Obama presidency will, almost no matter what, be a welcome relief and major improvement on the current administration. The impact of that alone should not be understated. If, however, Obama is a four year interlude between Republican administrations like Carter was, or if, like Clinton, he fails to pass any major legislation or build the party, Obama will have been a disappointment. Moreover, a truly successful Obama administration will not only succeed legislatively, but strengthen the Democratic Party moving forward.