As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, one thing is clear: We are living in an age of strange and persistent cruelty, and our politics is making things worse.
In Washington, where lawmakers are taking yet another break from a Congress that has been the least productive in a generation, three truths have ground the entire governing project to a halt: Barack Obama exists.
And because Barack Obama exists, Republicans have deemed that nothing of substance will pass the House of Representatives. And by ensuring that nothing of substance will pass the House of Representatives, Republicans hope to regain power, so that they can ensure that nothing of substance passes the Senate, either.
House Speaker John Boehner made the bizarre pronouncement in July that Congress should be judged, not on how many laws they pass (the name “lawmaker” apparently being a term of art) but on how many laws members repeal. First among the things to be repealed, must be the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature achievement, which Democrats managed to pass during the five-month stretch, from July 7, 2009 — when Al Franken was finally seated following the disputed Senate race in Minnesota — until January, 2010, when they enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and before they lost the House in the 2010 midterms and the new Congress was sworn in.
At any cost, Republicans have said, Americans must not have access to the benefits of universal healthcare, and so they would rescind the right to coverage despite pre-existing conditions, the ability of young people to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26, the end of lifetime coverage caps and rescission and, most important, the opportunity for as many as 40 million Americans — many in the rural South — to get health insurance for the first time in their lives. They must not have these things, because Obama exists, and this achievement of his cannot be allowed to stand.
Therefore Republicans are gleeful that one method of accessing that lifesaving care, the Healthcare.gov website, has had a tough rollout. Those on the far right (which increasingly is the only right) are just as gleeful — immorally so, in my estimation — that some 5 million Americans will be locked out of Medicaid coverage by the dispassionate political calculus of their Republican governors.
Because Obama exists, food assistance to the poor must be slashed by $39 billion, despite the fact that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, kept an estimated 5 million Americans, including 2.2 million children, out of poverty last year. SNAP must be gutted, and millions of children thrown off of not just food stamps, but the school lunch programs they are tied to, so that Republicans can strip the federal government of any available power to interrupt the natural process of social Darwinism — the only form of Darwinism many conservatives apparently believe in.
Obama has had the temerity to try and use the power he earned through two elections to do just that — intervene on behalf of those who weren’t blessed with inherited riches or a keen eye for business (or the access to funding to start one up.)
In the estimation of this Republican Party, Obama should never have tried to exercise power. And so the Republican Party has made rolling that power back its sole reason for being in Washington. (Of course, this will be reversed if a Republican should become president. Then, we’ll welcome back the “unitary executive.”)
Obama, to this way of thinking, must not appoint judges. He must not appoint agency heads. (Which is why Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats had to reform the filibuster now, rather than waiting until the Republicans do it themselves.)
He must barely govern at all. His election was, to some on the right, meant to be a holiday ornament; a testament to the benevolence and greatness of America, which conveyed one of its once-despised minorities to the highest ceremonial office in the land.
The president has come very late to this realization. But it’s clear that he finally understands just what he’s dealing with in the opposition party, which whether motivated by unbridled Obama hatred or simple cruelty and lack of interest in the plight of fellow Americans who are struggling, is determined to end his presidency here and now.
For the sake of Americans who remain on the economic margins, here’s hoping he hasn’t realized it too late.