The GOP is indeed terrified of Obama; it is now becoming patently obvious. In the debate over the (first) stimulus package and especially in the aftermath of its passage, they could barely talk about the real issues themselves. (And there surely were some real ones, about stimulus, not tax cuts, to talk about. This was evidenced by some-to-much unhappiness about in various progressive to left-wing quarters.) All GOPers could do was moan and groan about “the failure of bipartisanship” that was, of course, all the President’s fault.
McCain’s crocodile tears, for example, were so voluminous that one became concerned that the poor old guy might be biting them. Once again, as is their wont, Republicans cried about process, while leaving the substance, what their policies of the last eight years have done to the country, and what needs to be differently to fix the mess, virtually unmentioned by them. Unfortunately for the nation, their wailing not only predictably was echoed evermore loudly in the Republican Scream Machine, but also dominated the discussion in the mainstream media. They discussed the supposed “failure of bipartisanship,” Obama’s fault of course, much more than they did the real problems, and how we are going to solve them in ways that can work.
So Cantor and Boehner and McConnell and Rove (!) and (Joe) Scarborough and Buchanan (to say nothing of O’RHannibaugh and their clones) moan and groan about “the failure of bipartisanship.” But underneath all that is the fear that if Obama is even somewhat successful, the GOP will disappear politically for quite some time. (If they don’t recognize that possibility off the record, then these folks are truly whistling past their potential graveyard.) But why are they so fearful? Is it simply the outcome of elections? No. That too, but there are two other much more fundamental factors that have the GOP terrified. Concerns what Obama stands for in terms of the functions of the Federal government and, second, is what his success would do to the major interests of the three major sectors of the power elite whom the GOP serves: extractive industries, prison-industrial complex, and the military-industrial complex.
President Obama taught Constitutional law for, I believe, about 12 years. Not only did he read the Preamble, the Statement of Purpose for the Federal government, many times, for sure, but also, unlike all the raft of “small government” people, Republican and Democratic (think Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council) alike up with which we have had to put for the past 35 years, it is apparent that he takes what it says seriously. And here it is: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” No Rx for “small government” there.
The most important speech that the President has given since his Inaugural Address was his Lincoln Day address in Springfield, IL. He clearly declared that there is a lengthy list of problems that our nation faces that the “free market” and private enterprise on their own simply cannot deal with. So the President clearly wants to restore the activist role of the Federal government that dominated national policy from the time of FDR through the days of Lyndon Johnson before he drowned in the Big Muddy of Vietnam. The GOP has been winning elections on its “small government/cut taxes” mantra since the success of the tax-cutting/education system destroying Proposition 13 in California in 1977.
Reagan’s famous “government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem” was actually echoed by Bill Clinton in his first State of the Union Address in 1993. Given the problems in, for example, education, health care, infrastructure, environmental preservation, global warming/climate change, transportation policy, energy policy, and deregulation, it has always been a false message. But because for many years, there has been no effective Democratic opposition, it has worked wonders for the GOP in elections. But if President Obama can make the Federal government work again, despite the best efforts of Bush/Cheney to destroy it along with Constitutional government as a whole, and by doing so he manages to pull the U.S. back from the brink of a Great Depression II that some economists think could be even worse than the previous one, that could cook the GOP’s electoral goose for many a moon.
Now let’s turn briefly to a consideration of what particular policies that the Obama Administration is adopting or might adopt would do to specific interests of these three principal power elite sectors that stand at the core of the GOP. Let’s say an effective alternative energy policy is created and in fact foreign oil imports drop, let’s not say to nil, but very significantly in 10 years. What does that do to Exxon-Mobil’s profits? Bingo!
Furthermore, if our dependence on foreign oil is significantly reduced, then the overseas role of the U.S. military will be significantly reduced as well. In addition, there is pressure from the left in Congress (e.g., Barney Frank) to begin looking at a series of complex, high-tech, weapons system that are really good for providing profits for the military-industrial complex. However, one cannot seem to find any possible potential military opponents for them. Plus, the GOP itself is screaming about the deficits and foreign borrowing. (Both are a real problem, to be sure, but one that didn’t seem to bother them when tax revenues were plummeting and we were borrowing about $200 billion a year to fight the War on Iraq.) Unnecessary military spending would be a good place to look. Uh oh. Profits down for the second leg of the GOP stool.
Finally, with the appointment of a forward-looking police chief from Seattle as the new “Drug Czar,” the Obama Administration may be signaling that at some point they may begin to take a serious look at the race-based so-called “drug war” that provides the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the world. The true drug-use problems caused by the currently illicit drugs pale in comparison to those caused by alcohol, nicotine in tobacco products (e.g., 20,000 deaths per year for the illicits vs. 500,000-plus for alcohol-tobacco), and the non-prescription use of prescription pharmaceuticals. All present serious public health problems, and yet none are dealt with by the “drug war.”
What could an end or a serious modification of the “drug war” do? Well, for example, it could provide a significant new source of tax revenues for the Federal and state governments, just like the legalization of gambling and lotteries have. It would cut the rug out from under the chief sources of funding for the Taliban. It would end the true drug war in Mexico that is so destabilizing to our neighbor to the south and our border with it. It would give us a chance to comprehensively attack the primary source of all harmful drug use in our population: smoking and drinking by minors. It is a fact that virtually no one either becomes a smoker or an alcoholic or becomes a regular user of one or more of the illicit drugs, without starting first in childhood on alcohol or tobacco. BUT, ending the “drug war,” with its concomitant sharp reduction in the U.S. prison population, would put a severe crimp on the prison/industrial complex. Oh my.
The GOP and those interests they serve are terrified of Obama. Indeed they are. And for good reason too.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. He has also published numerous articles and reviews in both the academic and the lay literature on health policy, health and wellness, and athletics. On politics Dr. Jonas is a www.TPJmagazine.us Contributing Author; a regular Columnist for the webmagazine Buzz Flash; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC; a regular contributor to Thomas Paine’s Corner; and a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad.