Year of decision 

Holding back the GOP, even as we wish the prez were more impressive

Compared to the high hopes we had, [the president] is a bitter disappointment. 

—Joseph Rauh, of the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action

Mitt Romney, whose wife Barbie affectionately refers to him as Ken, got something right the other day. Campaigning in Iowa, he said this election would determine what kind of nation we would be.

He was right about that, though pretty much everything he says about this is carefully calibrated, market-tested horse exhaust. "The question we will decide is this," he likes to say: "Will the United States be an entitlement society or an opportunity society?"

Naturally, he argues that Republicans want to expand opportunities for people who are smart and want to work and get ahead, while President Obama and the Democrats want to redistribute the wealth created by the productive people to the lazy and shiftless who feel "entitled to it." And while Romney, who is still the most likely eventual GOP nominee, will never say it, it is clear what kind of people he intends his voters to picture when they think about those in the "entitlement" culture.

The truth is just the opposite. Republicans, especially those running for president, really believe those in the upper 1 percent of incomes should be entitled to the opportunity to do pretty much whatever they want. The idea that someone whose father wasn’t the head of American Motors and the governor of a major state, as Romney’s was, starts life having an "equal opportunity" with a poor kid whose parents weren’t well educated is absolutely ridiculous. 

The only way poor kids can have anything like a shot at success is if society attempts to give them a playing field they can manage, through decent education and scholarship opportunities. Republicans largely want to do away with those.

Democrats are sometimes corrupt, often send mixed messages, and break their promises. Nor has President Obama been the same kind of great communicator as president that he was as a campaigner. Too often, he has seemed frustratingly aloof, and he has failed to explain to most Americans what his health care plan will do for them.

But this much is clear to anybody who looks at the record and thinks rationally what kind of nation we want: The best possible one for everybody, including multi-millionaires and billionaires who need to be saved from their own folly. Though they have been inarticulate about it, the Democrats recognize that we live in a world where we are, in fact, interdependent, and have a stake in one another’s welfare.

Nobody calls having an army or police force "socialism," though those are, in fact, both quintessentially socialist institutions. Society also needs good roads, good bridges, food that isn’t tainted, and some level of affordable education and health care for all.

Some of those running for president may sneer contemptuously at much of this as outrageously promoting the "nanny state." Some of the same people would, however, discriminate against those whose sex lives are different from what they think they should be.

Talk about nannyism gone wild! The vast majority of Republicans are totally against legalizing gay marriage — and also against allowing governments to provide "domestic partnership benefits" for those in committed gay relationships.

Essentially, then, virtually all the Republican presidential candidates, not to mention nearly their entire caste of political leaders at every level, are either too stupid to realize the consequences of what they are offering, or a bunch of hypocrites gleefully working hard to delude enough common citizens to give them the power.

Apart from sanctioning the continued transfer of wealth to the rich, the GOP today is a "social conservative war party," according to supporters of the only Republican candidate who is different.

That would be Ron Paul, the wizened, gnome-like figure who was coming on strong in the last week before the Iowa caucuses. Paul is essentially a libertarian who actually believes what he says.

Nor is everything he says wrong. He thinks correctly that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were an unlawful and illegal waste of money and blood, and that we have no right to bomb Iran just because we feel like it. However, he also apparently wants to abolish the Federal Reserve System, thinks that "probably 80 percent of what the government does is unconstitutional," and would try to shrink the U.S. government to the size it was in the 18th century. This might all be nice, if we didn’t have to live in a reality-based universe.

Thirty-two years ago, President Jimmy Carter told us that, like it or not, we were living in an age of limits, and the days when we could pretend to be cowboys on the open frontier were over. Ronald Reagan then emerged and offered us a "shining city on a hill" fantasyland, and while there were other issues in that campaign than that, we bought it. Twenty years later, we bought the bargain-basement version from George W. Bush.

We’re still paying the price.

Living responsibly isn’t always exciting, or flashy. Giving up the fantasy that you, too, might be a billionaire and concentrating on making sure your kids can get health care and a job someday may not give you the world’s greatest adrenalin rush. But it is important.

Yes, President Obama hasn’t seemed to live up to the impossible hopes he stirred in us during his first campaign. Nobody could. This has gotten otherwise sensible liberals to bitterly say that they’ve been betrayed, and may not vote.

Two people I know say they might even vote for Romney, on the grounds he couldn’t be worse. But that is both infantile and nuts. People always pin more hopes on their presidents than is realistic.

Check out the quotation at the start of this column. Fits Obama perfectly, doesn’t it? Except it wasn’t said about him, but about John F. Kennedy, when he was president. Historians today feel differently.

I’d bet my sweet bippy they’ll see this administration differently from the way the chattering class now does too.

Trouble is, much of what Obama has done is so far invisible. Most of the features of the health care plan that will improve the lives of millions haven’t yet kicked in. Mostly, his policies prevented what would have amounted to another Great Depression. Think of what would have happened if Obama hadn’t been elected. The domestic auto industry would have gone out of business, based on what John McCain, Mitt Romney and the Republicans said they would do.

Last year ought to have been a bucket of cold water in the face for all of us, regardless of ideology. America turned over control of half of Congress to the Republicans in the midterm elections.

Here in Michigan, we turned over control of everything to the GOP. Nationally, try to name one positive thing Speaker of the House John Boehner and his majority Republicans have accomplished, or even added to the national debate. (Good luck with that.)

In this state, the picture is more complex, but is mainly one of a nontraditional governor with some worthwhile ideas trying to cope with a Legislature controlled by narrowly ideological, often nasty and vindictive members of his own party.

Unfortunately, at year’s end they seemed more and more to be winning, and Snyder increasingly allowed himself to be pulled along.

This year, we ought to learn what he is really made of.

As this presidential campaign progresses, we should find out what this country is made of too.

More by Jack Lessenberry

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