Filling the room with smoke. Or something...
After listening to some Republican governors in the press for the last few days, you cannot help but wonder why some of them insist upon punching more holes in the bottom of a boat which is already sinking. Largely representing the RNC is Gov. Bobby Jindal (R. LA), there is a move afoot to decline certain federal monies from the $787B stimulus bill which just became law. Here is a report of some of the news on 2/23/09, the very day the President brought together a confab of affected, affecting, inflicted and inflicting economic players and decision makers at the White House:
It goes without saying that there are far more people either unemployed or under-employed in the country right now than we have seen or experienced in a very long time. To put it bluntly, the boat is sinking. A leading -- phony, stumbling -- argument for several governors pretending at fiscal heroism (California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and Florida's Charlie Crist excepted) is they claim that "strings attached" to such funds will force the states to alter their rules and regulations on the eligibility for the states' unemployment payments, and thereby hamstring and cripple their budgets in the future, long after the stimulus funds are exhausted.
It is beginning to appear as if posturing, grandstanding, and an irresistible urge to obfuscate has completely overtaken these state executives. They are puffing up their chests when they should be grabbing buckets and bailing water. Their desire for "personal gain," political advancement and national publicity seem to matter far more than their desire to effectively serve the constituents who so desperately need their help right now. On Feb. 23, MSNBC Hardball host,Chris Matthews, played clips of three republican governors who as much as said they were posturing for a run for president 2012, by taking a stand against acceptance of some stimulus funds.
And Fox News reporters (according to Countdown, MSNBC-TV) said that, despite the straightforward quote, Ms. Bristol said abstinence was "absolutely realistic" (yes, you read that correctly). You might just guess that, in the minds of many in the GOP, black is white, up is down and yes is no (and "no" seems to be a favorite GOP word, these days). For some of our illustrious leaders, even bass-ackwards seems ass-backwards. Doing the wrong thing seems to be the right thing, or so thinks the right. These headline-grabbers are hoping we won't remember how they made us dogpaddle, as the boat sank, when they come up for a next election...and we are "left" behind.
After the White House gathering earlier this week, Jindal was all over the television, applauding the President's efforts, while simultaneously attempting to hamper and stultify them. It was a photo op which did nothing to help the unemployed and disenfranchised of Louisiana. Jindal doesn't get it and I don't get him. I hope no one else does, either. I think this is what you call operating without a hint of shame. If he is the rising star of the GOP, the dawn may a long time coming. According to Firedoglake, the President said (something like) this, to today's assemblage: " When we are talking about $7B out of a package of $787B, which is 5 ,6 , or 7% of the total, it sounds more like politics than anything else...which doesn't make sense, when we have work to do."
Obama also reminded them that there was still "plenty of time for campaigning." If this was a poker game, he just called the governor's bluff. During all of the discussion prior to the passage of the stimulus bill, the universal descriptor for the Republican congressmen was "obstructionist." They were also tiring and boring, and were testing everyone's patience with their tedious linguistic pranks (Boehner was banal and Graham is crackers). They developed a party line that was anchored in the faulty mortar of more tax cuts and a lack of "real stimulus." And now, even after they failed to stop the bill's momentum, the governors are pretending to take up the mantle of smoky confusion to prolong the agony of tedium and empty rhetoric. To refuse needed funds out of grossly misguided principals is destructionist. Has no one thought ahead to the costs of "re-construction"? Politics for politics' sake is always expensive down the road, and the state of the nation -- and the states -- has no time for peacock feathers and glory hounds. But see Jindal strut.
There are no perfect solutions for this completely imperfect economic travesty, and there is no faultless foresight concerning the crisis before us, but there is some awfully good hindsight about the last eight years of tax cuts and de-regulation that got us into the fix in which we are semi-fixed. We seem to be sitting atop a legacy of either doing nothing or doing as little as possible. However, like my Uncle Alex used to say -- "Let's do something, even if it's wrong." We're at the point where we must do something. In some ways, the proposed delays, distractions, arguments and completely unhelpful "posturing" is akin to the environmental studies that stop needed construction projects: there is a small rabbit in the road, ahead of the bulldozer. Rather than spend a million dollars and two years' study before the levee washes away the town, someone should stop screwing around and move the damn rabbit. It will take about ten minutes and save the local landscape from devastation the next time it rains. (Does the GOP even realize it is raining?)
This nonsense about "permanent" and/or irreversible state legislation about future unemployment policies is hogwash. These "united states" are still free to introduce legislation which augments, alters, defies or flies in the face of federal programs, whenever they like. They have certainly done so often enough in the past. I do not know what the governors are smoking, but the room is becoming hazy. Perhaps these captains of their ships of state are hoping the populace will get stoned from the smoke, and then somehow forget and not hold them accountable later on. But I hope we are not that gullible and short on memory. If anything should be permanent right now, it should be a determination to see that all of those we hold responsible stand up and act -- do something.
Post Script: Since this was first written, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has chastised Jindal and other governors by saying that the stimulus money is not a buffet wherein states could pick and choose what monies they would or would not take. In other words -- get a life, get with the program or get lost. Sen. Barney Frank (D-MA) hinted that there may well be a legal precedent for this condition, although I do not know about that -- taking off-the-cuff television remarks at face value is risky. Then the President gave a speech on the economy, and never directly mentioned the controversy with the governors at all...which I thought was both polite and politic.
Not everyone was completely happy with some sought-after details and FactCheck.org bemoaned some shortcomings, but Howard Fineman, commenting immediately after on MSNBC-TV, said the speech "exuded confidence." And the next morning there was this. In the Republican rebuttal (few "re"'s and lots of "buts") offered by none other than Jindal himself, there was no clear follow-up to any of the substance of the President's remarks, but rather offered a long and rambling apology for past governmental failures and yet more supports for tax cuts. It had all of the (pardon me) "earmarks" of a lead balloon, and did not even please some traditional conservatives.
The basic message seemed to be that "the right is right and everyone else isn't." I was reminded of a scene from an Eddie Murphy movie, when his character responds to criticism by holding his hands over his ears and yelling, "I can't hear you! Nah-nah, nah-nah!" As for Jindal's reminiscence about walking down a grocery store aisle with his father, who told him proudly, "Americans can do anything," I thought Jindal might try walking down an aisle of a Wal-Mart and look at all of the products from China.
Most baffling, however, was a response I received to this article, after I posted it on another site site, by a man from the red state of Tennessee. He told me that he had a long, heart-to-heart talk with his congressional representative, who "educated" him in the complicated ways of government (That sounds patronizing: "Hi! I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you!"). His representative explained (?) to him that to accept the unemployment funds would require the state to set up laws and regulations that would later require his state to pay out funds it would no longer have. Or something.
Curiously, Tennessee is among some red states that are broke or nearly so, and they do not have the money even now. This makes the point moot, because you cannot spend money you did not have in the first place. Or something. He told me I should "investigate more" (I did) before I "judged" (I didn't). I got the distinct impression that a) he was led down a primrose path by his representative, and b) he didn't carefully read anything I said about the permanence, any more than Bobby Jindal paid careful attention to the President's remarks.
Lately, many politicians (Jindal, Frank, Obama, Biden) have said repeatedly that we "need to be clear" and that America's affairs should be transparent. Apparently they are nowhere near "clear," because it increasingly appears the only persistent condition that is permanent in America -- at least from the understanding of my friend in Tennessee -- is that some continue to insist upon selective perception and hearing only what might soothe them.