There's a killer web graphic that was created back in the post-Republican Convention days while everyone was writing spasmodic, breathless "Obama should [fill in the blank]" blog entries and "Oh crap! We're gonna lose!" newspaper columns. Not that there's anything wrong with that, really. The Obama campaign slipped in the polls during Sarah Palin's very brief golden age -- an era of roughly two weeks following the Alaska governor's successful recitation of a convention speech without, you know, choking on her own vomit.
Very few of us were confident of an Obama victory at the time. After all, previous Democratic nominees had been riding bullet trains to victory in the polls, only to gradually and utterly bonk as the summer segued into autumn. Even candidate Obama was warning us about the Democratic habit of "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory." Yeah. Anyone who claims to have been absolutely 100 confident of a Barack Obama victory in the first week of September 2008 is either lying or lying.
However, some people were more confident (hopeful, perhaps) than others.
The web graphic is actually a photograph of Barack Obama from his Invesco Field acceptance speech. In it, he's looking directly into the camera with an expression of fierce determination on his face -- his teeth gnashed in an Eastwood snarl, his left hand gesturing as though he's kung fu fighting his way through an oversized cinderblock made of SlapChop-minced Republican skulls.
The large, white text superimposed at the top reads: "Everyone chill the fuck out." The text at the bottom exclaims: "I got this!"
Sure enough, two months later, we watched as this liberal African American man with the noble yet politically unusual name "Barack Hussein Obama" defied the odds and won red states like Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana and the commonwealth of Virginia.
Fade out the roaring crowds at Grant Park. Dissolve to late January.
The economy continues to creep nearer to the crumbling ledge of yet another Depression -- if it isn't there already. And yet the Republicans who very nearly shoved us over the ledge are prancing around as if their collective Reaganomics don't stink.
Republicans on the Hill, on the radio and on cable news seemed to have forgotten how ridiculous George W. Bush looked when he performed his pee-pants-dance in public; acting like a petulant, entitled twerp who could, at any moment, very nearly regress into an actual terrible-twos tantrum, only to pull himself back at the last second and find some restraint just before reflexively dropping to the ground in a raging tempest of elbows, fists and teeth. The Republicans seemed to have forgotten about the inefficacy of this routine because it's precisely the behavior they're exhibiting this week. They're acting like Bush Republicans.
Their political audacity, while never surprising, always seems to confound expectations and defy logic. Having relegated themselves to the status of a regional, minor party due to their unserious, fear-mongering wedge politics and well-documented record of disastrous policy-making, they remain so hubristic as to crap their cages and demand a seat at the Big Boy Table, as if they're the majority party in Congress -- as if they somehow earned an equal voice in this thing by way of their awesome record on the economy.
They haven't. It's only due to the magnanimity of the president that they haven't been completely steamrolled on this recovery bill. Magnanimity which, by the way, isn't nearly as plentiful or renewable as the Republicans might think. Especially when the Republicans are doing what they're doing right now.
Prompted by Drudge and Limbaugh, the Republicans are lurching around like less-cool, less-serious Beavis & Butthead knockoffs, snickering at the mere mention of birth control; their suit jackets slung over their heads Cornholio-style as they cackle, "He said rubbers! Mmm-heh-heh. Uhhh-huh-huh. But take us seriously or else."
Earlier in the week, it was birth control and by Wednesday morning the birth control headlines had been replaced with a new Drudge screamer about an STD prevention and education section of the bill. "Heh-heheh-heh. Crabs." But it goes without saying that the doofish snickering has less to do with a debate about whether or not poor people can afford necessary medical treatment, and everything to do with the Republicans getting to say "STDs" and "contraceptives" on television and thus making the bill appear silly, salacious and borderline immoral.
Then there's the mysterious Congressional Budget Office report which, the Republicans said, proved that most of the spending in the recovery bill wouldn't hit the road until 2011. Of course the cable news media and the conservative press were once again complicit in fluffing unsourced Republican evidence (see also: WMD).
None of these very serious news organizations bothered to discover that the CBO report didn't even exist. The Huffington Post reported last Friday that it didn't exist, yet there were the usual suspects on Meet the Press and the other Sunday shows talking about it as if it were real. All told, more than 81 different mentions of the totally unreal report. As recently as Monday night on CNN, Ed Henry was still parroting this Republican myth.
This bears repeating: the people who got everything wrong for at least the last eight years and then spent the better part of a week spreading misinformation about the most important economic debate since the New Deal are demanding to be taken seriously? That's rich. As recently as October, the Republican nominee for president and the Republican White House were repeating the laughable "fundamentals of the economy are strong" line. This week, the economy section of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) website read:
Thanks to Republican economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong. Republican tax cuts are creating jobs and continuing to strengthen the economy, yet there is still more to do so that every American who wants a job can find one.
Right. They deserve to have a say in vital economic legislation. But the ridiculousness doesn't end there.
Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) was on Hardball Tuesday night banging on his pots and pans about the recovery bill. There he was: demanding to be taken seriously by the president. Demanding a seat at the Big Boy Table. He and his colleagues insisting that they be included in the authoring of the bill. Insisting that his ideas have merit. Insisting that they be heard. And then, ostensibly to prove how serious and worthy of respect he is, he used the deliberately pejorative "Democrat bill" mispronunciation. You know the trick. Emphasize the "rat" syllable at the end. Get it? By the way, we're not talking about just the fringe wingnuts using this. Most of the congressional Republicans say it that way. You know, because they're very serious people who ought to be taken very seriously.
Altogether, it might appear as if the Republicans are using their ridiculousness as a means of duping the president -- hectoring him into capitulation and therefore allowing the recovery bill to be sabotaged with their taint. And when the sabotaged bill fails to help the economy, they'll blame the president. David Sirota outlined this strategy the other day, and while events might seem to point in this direction from time to time, there isn't much evidence to indicate that President Obama is naïve enough to be flimflammed by these very obvious Republican political tricks. Put another way, if you and I can spot the scams, I'm sure he can too. Though, it's important that the Republicans think they can sucker punch the president the same way they've sucker punched Senator Reid over and over.
The president's "I won" remark indicates that there's a limit to both his benevolence and his tolerance for Republican silly season hackery. "I won" means that he won't be played and he won't be taken advantage of. But the Republicans have miscalculated and misinterpreted the president, believing that "bipartisanship" means Democratic capitulation. Save for a few concessions in an otherwise massive spending bill, President Obama isn't calling for any half-and-half bipartisan compromise on this or anything else so far. His process with the Republicans is all about attaining some civility in the tone of the debate -- not caving. There's a difference. And in that process, the president is looking increasingly presidential as his style is contrasted against the smallness of the Republicans.
Recent history has proved that the president's Chess Match style will require a little more patience than we're accustomed to in order to see the endgame -- to see how this all plays out. And while it's crucial to keep a clear eye and critical mind, there's a lot of comfort in that web graphic from last September. Chances are: he's got this.
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