Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mr. Brady Fights Back

President Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as three members of the National Labor Relations Board got me thinking about a classic Brady Bunch episode.  In A Fistful of Reasons  (Season 2, Episode 8), Cindy is teased by a bully named Buddy Hinton because of her lisp[1].  When older brother Peter tries to mediate, Buddy gives him a black eye.  When Mr. Brady counsels Peter to attempt “calm, cool reasoning” with Buddy, it does not work and Mr. Brady’s attempt to get Buddy’s dad to get Buddy to stop is similarly unsuccessful.  So dismissive is the Hinton clan that Peter is finally told he needs to fight back, which he does, knocking one of Buddy’s teeth loose and subjecting him to the ridicule and scorn of his classmates[2].

I have often thought that President Obama has been leading with a mini Mike Brady on his shoulder, constantly whispering “calm, cool reasoning” into his ear on everything from health care to financial reform, from the debt ceiling debate to the federal budget.  For all of Mr. Obama’s attempts at conciliation, he’s gotten beat up a little worse each time he attempts to avoid a fight.   Part of it probably had something to do with the President’s 2008 campaign, and his desire to lower the partisan rancor once he was elected.  Another part may simply be his natural inclination toward compromise (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you) and a desire to find a middle ground solution that respects disparate views and differing opinions.  Whatever the reasons, it seems clear that the President is done turning the other cheek. 

Bullies only respond when you punch back, and the President is punching back.  For nearly three years, Republicans in Congress have done everything in their power to stop the President from implementing his policies.  The record is replete with examples from meaningless procedural votes to stall legislation to holding up confirmations of senior executive branch officials for months on end only to have those holds removed and the nominees approved by overwhelming majorities.  As I discussed in a prior post, President Obama and the Congress of Doom, important pieces of legislation that keep the government running and our ability to borrow to pay (past) bills, are now subject to “hostage taking” tactics that imperil the government’s ability to function and are only resolved when substantial concessions Republicans would not otherwise be able to achieve through the normal legislative process, are granted.

Perhaps the final straw for the President was the filibustering of the Public Printer (GAO) or the denial of an up or down vote on Caitlin Halligan’s appointment to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the shenanigans and non-sense that Republicans have thrown out there is no longer being humored by the President.  Firm pushback will be needed for the legislative battles to come, as 2012 will see the expiration of all the so-called “Bush Tax Cuts,” the 2013 federal budget and the potential sequestration cuts that target the Department of Defense and other agencies.  On a more granular level, the President needs to force Senate Republicans to honor the “Gang of 14” compromise and no longer filibuster judicial nominees and, if necessary, Senator Reid needs to move for changes to the cloture process to stop these stalling tactics. 

For the mainstream media, this sudden dust-up is just another narrative that they insert into the “conflictinator” framed as a Presidential “declaration of war” on Congress or a sign that the President is ready to “do battle.”  Of course, this media narrative has both the advantage of sensationalism and the disadvantage of being factually incorrect[3].  Republican use of the threat of the filibuster has been invoked in more instances than at any other time in the modern history of the Senate.  The blocking of Mr. Cordray, as some, to their credit have noted, had nothing to do with his qualifications, but rather, after-the-fact changes Senate Republicans wanted to the law creating the CFPB itself – a rationale never before used in the history of that august institution to block a nominee from serving.  That this level of intransigence is somehow transformed into the common meme of “Washington dysfunction” does the body politic great harm because it suggests that both sides are at fault, when in fact, the President’s judicious use of the recess appointment (now 32 times, compared to more than 170 under George W. Bush and 243 under Ronald Reagan) speaks to the caution and deference he has attempted to employ in dealing with the Senate. 

Of course, asking the mainstream media, which has largely morphed from a news gathering and reporting entity into a stenographic pool for political talking points, to accurately report this information is probably asking too much.  When stories are written about a lagging job market, rarely do you hear that stimulative measures like infrastructure funding are being bottled up in Congress or that private sector growth is not what is dragging down the recovery, but rather, that the historic number of public sector job losses[4] are helping to keep our unemployment numbers high.  Other stories having to do with the regulatory light hand the Obama Administration has used[5] are either limited to coverage in the liberal blogosphere or ignored entirely when politicians appear on cable news talk shows railing against the overly burdened private sector.  To suggest that there are provable right or wrong answers to questions would crater the current political atmosphere that feeds entirely on conflict and a “he said/she said” discourse that refuses to acknowledge the accuracy or falsehood of one side’s claims.

As for the President, I encourage him to continue fighting back against the entrenched opposition on Capitol Hill.  Polls consistently show not only the popularity of policies the President is advancing[6] but also an understanding that Congressional Republicans are largely at fault for Washington gridlock.  Instead of timidly negotiating, the President needs to stay on the offensive.  Politicians have a strong survival instinct, and Republicans on the ballot this year understand that lockstep opposition to politically popular ideas is a losing proposition.  Small fissures are already being seen.  For example, Senator Scott Brown chastised his own party for blocking Cordray’s nomination, and, with regard to the payroll tax cut, a number of House and Senate Republicans in difficult re-election races came out in support of the compromise before Speaker Boehner finally capitulated.  Ultimately, if the President turns the heat up on job creation, infrastructure spending and tax policy that benefits the middle class, Republicans in tight races will do the political calculus and understand they do not want to be vulnerable to charges that they are impeding nascent economic growth or raising taxes on middle class families but protecting the wealthy. 

So fire away, Mr. President.  Calm, cool reasoning has not worked, no one will begrudge you taking a big old swing at the loyal opposition.

[1]   Viewers may recall Buddy’s signature line “Baby talk … Baby Talk .. It’s a wonder you can walk.”
[2]   Although Peter, to his credit, tells the students to knock it off.
[3]   Sadly, the latter does not seem to matter much to journalists these days.
[4]   Nearing 1 million in the last two years.
[5]   Obama has approved fewer regulations than President George W. Bush had at the same point in his presidency and the cost of regulations is half of what they were at their peak, under President George H.W. Bush.
[6]   To take just one example, a December 2010 CBS News poll indicated that 60% of all Americans, and 43% of Republican primary voters, supported raising taxes on millionaires.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad he's finally had enough. I've been feeling very discouraged while waiting for him to stop bending over for the obstructionist swill that just gets more outrageous every time he takes it.