Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The Corner has up a post with the text of a letter from House GOP Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor (R., Va.) responding to President Obama’s invitation to a bipartisan health-care summit. This letter is seriously ugly.

Let’s leave aside the fact that I think the letter is very poorly put together, with ideas jumbled together, logical flow choppy or non-existent, and paragraph breaks seemingly occurring based on word count rather than by key points. That may be a matter of style (theirs stinks) and personal opinion (I’m right). The real problem is that this is not the letter of a political party that wants to lead; this is the letter of a political party that wants to sit back and make political hay by taking potshots at those in power.

First, the stench of political point making arises from the pixels like noxious fumes from a, well, a fever swamp. The letter begins by pointing out that the GOP asked for a bipartisan discussions way back in May but would Obama listen? No, of course not, so now he’s getting his comeuppance. The snarky “assuming the President is sincere” (twice!) is just bush-league - and a mistake I doubt either the elder or the younger George Bush would make. The references to the “job-killing bills” is unnecessary and frankly stupid if the GOP really wants to get something done; it assumes facts not agreed on by both sides and is deliberately provocative. Then there’s the stuff that sounds like something a fifteen-year-old girl would scream at her mother before slamming the door to her bedroom. For example: “‘Bipartisanship’ is not writing proposals of your own behind closed doors, then unveiling them and demanding Republican support.” And, of course, there’s this laugher:

The President says Republicans are ‘sitting on the sidelines’ just days after holding up our health care alternative and reading from it word for word. The President has every right to use his bully pulpit as he sees fit, but this is the kind of credibility gap that has the American people so fed up with business as usual in Washington.

Right. As opposed to this letter which is concerned solely with policy and with getting something done for the American people.

Even worse than the political posturing, though, are the questions. A party that wants to lead doesn’t ask questions about what the President will do; a party that wants to lead sets its own agenda. There are 979 words in the body of the letter; 295 of those words are contained in questions: Will the President give up the idea of reconciliation; will he make legislative proposals available at least 72 hours before voting; will he include these guys and those guys and opponents and people from the States and these experts and those experts and special interest groups? The Republicans sound like an over-anxious mother grilling her kid about who’s going to be at Barack’s house. Worst of all is this question: will Republicans be permitted to invite health care experts to participate? Permitted? Now the GOP sounds like a nine-year-old asking if he can invite friends over for dinner.

Don’t ask. Tell. The President has invited the GOP to sit down and discuss health care reform. The GOP shouldn’t use its response to score political points - or, more accurately, try to score political points since I don’t think they’ll succeed with this approach. Nor should the GOP hand all the power over to the President by asking him what he’s going to do about this, that, and the other. Rather the GOP response should set out - clearly, calmly, and without nastiness - the conditions under which the GOP will agree to such a meeting. Somebody has to be the grown-ups here. How about if the GOP gives it a try?


Cassandra said...

It's hard to think of many things more depressing than to watch one's own "side" fulfill every cheap shot taken at them in the past.

Cataloochee said...

I think the GOP expects to attract a great many votes this fall. I believe they will not cooperate with any significant legislation that Obama wants. On the small stuff they might. As the GOP reads the tea leaves, they think they win by saying "No". I think they may be sadly mistaken.

Paul Brinkley said...

You make a great point. I wonder how many Republican congressmen agree with the tone of that letter.

As Cataloochee says, assuming the Republicans aren't being sincere here (heh), they're taking this tone to get more votes this November. If they are being sincere, then they're letting emotion stop them from thinking more than one year ahead, which is what usually irritates me about the Democrats.

What if they really are trying to get something done regarding health care? Is that made clear in the letter? I just read it over again; there is some talk of specifics, but the petulant tone keeps bringing me out of it. I feel like I'm trying to dodge a lot of noise in order to focus on the signal.

Neither party seems interested in consensus as much as they are interested in extremely secure seats. (One wonders what they would do with themselves all day if one party had every seat completely locked down.) And as long as we citizens have only two choices of cola to pick from, we have a hard time making this opinion felt at the voting booth. Then again, I fear too many citizens can't help but respond to this rabble rousing in exactly the way politicians desire. We're sadly not that interested in consensus either.

Cataloochee said...

Unfortunately Paul unless we adopt a parliamentary system of government we will always have two parties. Any third party will eventually replace one party or merge with one. Our system doesn't work otherwise. Since we elect our President, instead of having the ruling majority (coalition) organize a government appointing a prime minister, it would be difficult to pass anything out of congress and get the President to sign it.

Eventually it would devolve into a two party system which always guarantees that one side or the other is in charge.

Elise said...

I'm not entirely convinced of that, Cataloochee. First, I think it's the organization of Congress that presents problems more than the existence of a President. Congressmen get committee assignments and other perks from their party which provides the incentive to submit to party discipline.

Second, it would be interesting to see what health care reform we could come up with if we took the Blue Dog Democrats and put them in a room with the Republicans on the Left wing of their party. If we assume that group would be in the middle politically and that most Americans are in the middle politically, we might get something useful.

On the other hand, I do agree the Republicans may be miscalculating. Despite what the pundits on the Right and Left say, I don't think the Tea Party movement is pro-Republican. Nor is it anti-Democrats. I believe it's anti-incumbent.

To pick up on Cassandra's point, I believe that a lot of people who think well of the Tea Party movement don't think, "I heart Republicans". They think, "Neither the Democrats *nor* the Republicans are my side any longer."

And, finally, yes, Paul. The best thing we could do for our country is get the States to redraw House districts. Do it by computer: start in the upper-left (north-west) corner and move down (south) and right (east) until you've got enough people for a district. Then draw the next one. Nobody gets a lifetime gig in the House just because they're clever enough to hand-pick their district's voters.

Anonymous said...

I agree the tone doesn't help, and you're exactly right about "don't ask, just tell."

On the other hand, bipartisanship is not crafting a proposal in secret and then demanding Republican support for it. And no matter how much the Republicans irritate me in this process, a gun to my head couldn't force me to vote for anyone who supported that steaming pile of healthcare proposals in either the House or the Senate (or the Stimulus Bill). Nor do I feel I can stay home. So the Republicans are pretty much going to get my vote. I'll do what I can in the primaries to ensure that I get the best possible choice of Republicans.