By Brigitte L. Nacos
President Obama can no longer sit on the fence in the battle for America’s short-term and long-term budget priorities. He should no longer speak with a soft voice only but must use the stick. The bully pulpit that the White House provides him with is a powerful and unique stage. And now is the time to use that stage, go public forcefully, and explain in plain language how the Tea-Party-driven Republican budget plan would take from the middle and lower classes and give to the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Appealing for sanity, unity, cooperation, and compromise will not work, when dealing with leaders who are held captive by a fanatic minority within their own party and the nation.
Tea Party extremists and their Republican captives in Congress as well as an assortment of presidential hopefuls have intensified their inflammatory rhetoric to sharpen the partisan-ideological divide. They push their radical, reactionary agenda, not equitable and workable policies. When House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin explained his 2012 budget proposal this week, he proclaimed outright, “This isn’t a budget. This is a cause.”
This cause is not for the benefit of the American people as the populist leaders in the unholy alliance of Tea Party movement and Republican Party claim. On the contrary, the budget plan is in reality a shocking road map to demolish America’s modest social safety net that was woven step by step since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency to provide a modicum of care and security for the old, the disabled, and the poor—especially children.
The war against what the Wall Street Journal and other guardians of the economic and political power elite call with obvious disdain “the entitlement state” is in reality a campaign to make the tiny strata of the richest Americans richer und the most profitable corporations more profitable.
Apart from some hard-hitting editorials, opinion pieces, and talk show hosts, most of the mainstream media and cable talk shows have not exposed the appalling nature of the Republican budget plan. Instead, Congressman Ryan and his proposal received quite a friendly media reception. The discussions of and comments by generously compensated talking heads, for example on MSMBC’s “Morning Joe,” as they discussed Ryan’s budget proposal and the suggested elimination of entitlements, such as Medicaid, Medicare, have been particularly frustrating as has the benign coverage of GOP leaders’ demands that the U.S. Senate and the White House capitulate.
To be sure, reforms are needed to rein in government spending. But the proposals of the President’s bi-partisan Budget Commission, not the agenda of the right-extreme fringe that has taken over the Republican Party should be the starting point of discussions. The budget crisis will never be solved by not tackling both the spending and the revenue side. The Ryan plan is heavily biased against the vast majority of hard-working Americans and the growing number of those families under or barely above the poverty line.
The problem is that most Americans have no idea how negatively the unholy Tea Party/Republican Party agenda will affect them, their families, and friends. At the tumultuous town hall meetings against President Obama’s health care reform in the summer of 2009, some of the old Tea Partiers spoke out against a government take-over of Medicare. And some of the veterans, well represented in the ranks of Tea Party supporters, protested against government-run health care—obviously unaware that their own medical needs are provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
That’s why President Obama must use the bully pulpit to fully inform the public about the intentions of the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party. He must lead the public debate about the nation’s economic and fiscal problems now and in the future. And he must enlist public opposition to the Tea-Republican Party’s scheme to slow down the nation’s economic recovery for selfish partisan and ideological purposes: The defeat of the president and the Senate majority in the 2012 election.