I'm glancing through my copy of Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Krugman's book The Conscience of a Liberal. The paperback edition, published just as President Obama was about to take office in 2009, includes this optimistic observation:
"The old Democratic majority was a weak coalition of Northern liberals and southern conservatives. The new majority is much more solidly progressive, largely because it was achieved despite the disappearance of the Dixiecrats. Meanwhile, the Republican party, having taken over the South, has lost the rest of the country and has largely been reduced to a Southern rump... Indeed it's a good bet that the remaining non-Southern Republicans in Congress, especially in the Senate, will prove relatively accommodating out of fear for their own reelection prospects" (my emphasis).
Wow, early 2009 seems like such an innocent time now. Republicans prove accommodating? Dream on. The GOP quickly adopted a policy of total opposition and obstructionism. Politically, this policy was a big success. In the 2010 elections, Republican voters turned out in droves, while disillusioned Democrats stayed home. It's not that the country wasn't ready for progressive change, it's just that disappointment over the state of the economy and promises not kept meant that Democrats were not about to get a ringing endorsement in the midterms.
I've heard it said that even when the Republicans are out of power, they act like they're in power, and when the Democrats are in power, they act like they're out of power. During the last two years, the Republicans used the Senates cloture rules like a sledgehammer. The results speak for themselves. More than 400 bills passed by the House were never taken up by the Senate. Nearly one out of every nine federal judgeships remain vacant. Dozens of Presidential nominees have been held up in the Senate, even though there are no substantive objections to most of them. A single Senator – Richard Shelby (R-AL) – was able to hold up 70 Presidential nominees, including the top intelligence officers at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, because he was upset about possible elimination of some pork barrel spending in his state.
I had originally outlined this post as a report card on two years of government by President Obama and the Democratic Congress. But again, it's the Republicans who have defined everything that's happened in the last two years. How can the President worry about immigration reform and climate change legislation, when thanks to Republicans he's just inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, two failed wars, the largest budget deficit ever, and the imminent collapse of America's banking and automobile industries? Combine all this with a Republican congressional caucus dedicated to seeing that none of these problems actually get solved, and it's a miracle the country survived. Mr. President, Senator Reid, Speaker Pelosi, thank you.