Sunday, September 02, 2012

RNC, Pass By

Clint Eastwood at the RNC (©Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)
In past years I have watched both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, or at least larger portions of the former (and nearly all of the one in 2008), and smaller ones of the latter. This year, however, has been different. I only watched snippets of several speeches delivered during the broadcast hour of the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, one of my nightly staples, and in each case I had to turn them off, either because of the dishonesty being trumpeted (cf. the misrepresentation of the President's comments on government helping to build the infrastructure that makes American business success possible), the race-baiting, the nasty tone, or a combination of all three. I only heard and saw after the fact the truthless spectacle that was Paul Ryan's speech; the same was true of Clint Eastwood's now infamous mimicry with the empty chair. 

Certainly there are many issues on which to criticize President Barack Obama, though it appears that few of them, at least the ones I would lodge, such as a critique of his excessive support of the banking industry, his failure to firmly address the housing crisis, his war against whistleblowers, his steady advancement of the national security state and its attendant apparatuses, and his horrendous record on civil liberties, received any airtime in Tampa. What did get airtime were relentless, simplistic attacks on his handling of the economy, without any mention of the failed Republican and neoliberal policies, such as non-stimulative tax cuts, deregulation and non-regulation, unfunded wars and fiscal profligacy followed by fiscal austerity, bubble-producing monetary policy, and so on, which reached their apogee under Republican president George W. Bush, that led to the global economic collapse in 2008, or the almost continuous GOP obstructionism from the moment that Barack Obama took office in 2009. In fact, given what he had to deal with and the economic team he chose, as well as his half-hearted embrace of conservative austerity policies, his record, as lackluster as it has been, doesn't look so bad at all, and the GOP's obstructionism on taxes could produce an even better outcome if (when) Obama is reelected, as the Clinton tax rates would by law return, along with a resetting of the estate and hedge fund manager taxes (I believe), meaning the starvation the GOP has forced the government to endure, along with the savage cuts they have imposed, could spur a striking change in the country's fortunes.

In fact, the specter haunting the circus in Tampa was W. Bush, by most measures the worst president in US history. Obama, for all his faults, has steadily dug the country out of the abyss W created. We are mostly out of Iraq, and are scheduled, despite the neocons' best efforts, to get out of Afghanistan. The US car industry has not only survived is moment of crisis but is thriving. The private sector, even with the gross lack of demand, is growing. The stimulus bill, inadequate as it was, not only saved and created jobs, but underwrote a major shift, still mostly hidden to us, in terms of the US's technological and infrastructural future. Though I disagreed with the lawless manner in which he was killed, and with the attendant policies that violate the Constitution, Osama bin Laden is dead, and his Al Qaeda network is severely weakened.  Both Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are major improvements on the laissez-faire approach to health care and the financial industry than what came before. And so on. All of this naturally was going to be elided in Tampa, but what it represented a response to, the GOP's practical and ideological failures, in economic, military and social policy, were also not  mentioned. Of course one could look at things another way: these "failures," or "#FAILs," turned out to benefit the top 1% handsomely, so in fact they were weren't failures at all, but the outcomes, disastrous for most of us, of where the GOP has been heading for over half a century, towards a repeal of the New Deal, reconcentration of wealth and power in the hands of social and political elites, and corporate dominance of government so that it benefits corporations. Or, as Calvin Coolidge pithily put it, "the business of the government is business." That is a truism if there ever was one for the GOP. People, regular people that is, the 99% majority of us, be damned.

One of the most egregious examples of the Republicans' dishonesty is their continual charge about the president's actions on Medicare, one of the most vital elements of the United States' social safety net. Since I have seen TV commentator after TV commentator, and countless high level Democrats stumble in explaining what the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) does with regard to Medicare, I took it upon myself to state, at Twitter-length, what the ACA/Obamacare does. Not that a single person in the media will be listening to me, nor will any high level Democrats, but if any J's Theater readers encounter someone who asks about that $716 billion that supposedly was "cut" to "fund Obamacare," you can say this:

Obama is saving  & extending its life by putting $716 billion in savings from ending waste, fraud & overpayments to providers. 

That's 140 characters, and simple enough to state without rambling. You don't even have to credit me, and you can add: the ACA/Obamacare does not cut benefits for beneficiaries. So there you go. Obama did not raid the Medicare Trust Fund. He did not cut Medicare benefits to fund Obamacare. He is not ending the program--at least not yet, especially so long as that awful Grand Bargain scheme, which is really another means for preserving and extending tax cuts for the rich, doesn't pass--but extending it. Extending, not ending. Saving, not drowning. That $716 billion will no longer be overpaid to the providers, who in any case will all be getting more patients because of Obamacare! 

On the other hand, as countless people have pointed out, Paul Ryan's plan not only takes into account these savings from the Affordable Care Act, which he has nevertheless pledged and voted to repeal, but he furthermore wants to VOUCHERIZE Medicare, which would destroy it as it now exists.  The Republican Party fought against Medicare before it was voted into law under Lyndon Johnson, with Ronald Reagan making particularly outrageous claims about its effects, and repeatedly since, leading Republicans in Congress, as well as the GOP caucus, have attempted to gut it. But there is only one way that will happen outright: if Romney and Ryan are elected in November, along with a Republican Congress. 

That, and the knowledge that they want to do the same harm to Social Security by privatizing it (Ryan led the Congressional charge to do so with President Bush in 2005), and to Medicaid by block-granting it (Ryan also led the push for this as well), along with all of their other platform positions--extremely anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, anti-middle/working class/poor, etc.,--articulated on the campaign stump and by such leading Republicans as Todd Akin (R-MO), Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Phyllis Schlafly, Jan Brewer, and Ann Coulter, among others, was enough for me to pass by them. I may watch parts of the Democratic convention, though I feel much as I did in 1996; I worked to get the then-president elected, he was a severe disappointment, but he was a better choice than his opponent, and ultimately the country was better off four years later. 

Maybe a bit of my enthusiasm from 2008 will return. Even if not, I can say I helped add a bit of clarity on the Medicare issue, something millions Americans badly need. The clarity AND their Medicare!

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