By Donna Brazille, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
The new year has picked up where 2012 left off, with America being unnecessarily pushed, again, to the edge of a fiscal cliff. As most national politicians squabble over who should head the Defense Department and posture how much money to cut from the budget, two leaders are — as much as possible — overlooking politics and looking to get things done.
This nation is blessed to have two strong, principled leaders like President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. They understand that proposals may be partisan, but solutions generally have to be bipartisan.
When Hurricane Sandy devastated the upper East Coast, Obama and Christie worked together in good will and without rancor to expedite aid and relief. On the campaign stump, Christie had been one of Obama’s toughest critics. But when the emergency came, the campaign was put on hold. That Obama and Christie were genuinely friendly and truly gracious was obvious to all who saw them interact.
Many Republicans felt betrayed and went into tantrum mode. Christie responded on Twitter: “Today I’m touring NJ with President Obama. Yes, he’s a Democrat, and I’m a Republican. We’re also adults, and this is how adults behave.” Forced to defend himself at a press conference, Christie explained the obvious, that politicians are elected not to carry the water for their party or for lobbyists, but to serve the people. And Obama, he said, “provided help to my people at one of the worst crises that this state has ever faced. ... When somebody does a good job, they deserve credit.”
Weeks later, with the Northeast still reeling from the aftermath of Sandy and in desperate need of federal emergency funds — not just for infrastructure, but for food and shelter for thousands facing a brutal winter without either — the House Republicans went into “not my job” mode.
Speaker John Boehner realized House Republicans would reject any expenditures after the fiscal cliff deal increased revenues. He canceled a vote on $60 billion for Sandy aid. Pressured, he allowed a vote that resulted in $9 billion for now. The rest? Well, House Republicans will get back to you. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, defending Boehner, said he had prevented “a rape of the U.S. Treasury.”
Gov. Christie excoriated House Republicans. Once again, it seems, he had to remind members of his party “how adults behave.”
This brings me to an email from a thoughtful citizen who feels that my last column wasn’t balanced. In it, I said Republican leaders were responsible for the failure to reach a “grand deal” on the fiscal cliff. He felt I should have placed equal blame on Obama for not cutting spending enough.
Fact: Under President Obama, government spending is at its lowest levels since Ronald Reagan’s administration; the 1.4 percent annualized growth of Obama’s first term is considerably less than Reagan’s 8.7 percent or George H.W. Bush’s 5.4 percent. The big-spending presidents have been, ironically, the Republicans.
The reader repeated some of the more egregious and erroneous talking points of the far-right media, including the false comparison between business and government, each of which exists for a different purpose and has a different responsibility. (Business exists to generate profit; government exists to “provide for the general welfare.” Those two purposes may be in conflict.)
His email illustrates why I alternately despair and hope. I hope because of people like Gov. Christie and my email correspondent. Dialogue is still possible.
I despair because, as the media accelerates the radicalization of our politics, such dialogues may become rare. Political scientists, using objective measurements, have documented that both parties have moved toward their edges, but that for every step the Democratic party drifts to the left, the Republican party jumps three to the right.
Today’s Republican Party bears no relation to the party of Eisenhower, Reagan or even the elder Bush. The party isn’t merely divided; it’s splintered among amoral establishment leaders, radical fiscal conservatives and former Rep. Ron Paul’s anti-government libertarians.
This isn’t just a former interim chair of the Democratic National Committee talking. Republican professionals like Steve Schmidt, who ran McCain’s 2008 campaign, have warned that the party must move to the moderate center or risk going out of business.
That would be a shame, because we need everybody’s voice in the dialogue.
Unfortunately, one of the parties has been captured by extremists who want the United States to default on paying for things that they themselves authorized.
Ironically, and to the exasperation of many Democrats, Obama is the moderate. Business Insider reported on a scholarly study that surveyed every vote Congress took since 1789 and compared Obama’s positions to them. It found him to be the most moderate president since World War II.
I didn’t blame Obama, because he isn’t the problem. Now, can we find the decency to just listen to each other and work together?
(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.)