Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Class Clowns

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Once the masters of evil politics, Republicans have been reduced to half-assed buffoonery, providing comic relief for desperate times

Following the Republican Party of late has been a movingly depressing experience, sort of like watching Old Yeller die — if Old Yeller were a worm-infested feral bitch who spent the past eight years biting children at bus stops and shitting in neighborhood swimming pools. As a useful force in American politics, the Republicans have been dead for a while now. But in the seven months since Sarah Palin's nomination, they have taken on an intriguing new role: providing much-needed comic relief during dark times, serving as the unofficial rodeo clowns of the Financial Crisis Era.

If there were any doubts about the once-mighty party's hilarious new role in American society, they vanished in recent weeks, as the Republican leadership's attempt to stop the passage of Barack Obama's budget turned into one of the most half-assed public-relations campaigns in congressional history. Watching this amazingly amateurish performance by a party that not long ago was led by highly skilled and ruthless political assassins like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove was just the latest bummer in the spiraling American-decline story. Not only don't we make good cars or airplanes anymore — now our Republicans have apparently lost their touch for evil politics.

The comedy began in late March when, after weeks of sniping about the high spending in the president's budget, the Republicans — steered by House Minority Leader John Boehner, one of the few influential Republicans in Congress to survive the Bush era — called a press conference to release an 18-page "alternative budget." The document quickly entered Washington lore as one of the most preposterous things a politician has ever handed, with a straight face, to a reporter on the Hill. Intending to counter accusations by Democrats that Republicans had become a "Party of No," blindly opposing every Obama initiative without a real plan, Boehner sternly waved the thinnish "Republican Road to Recovery" pamphlet at reporters gathered at his presser.

"The president said, 'We haven't seen a budget yet out of Republicans,'" Boehner croaked. "Well, it's not true, because here it is, Mr. President."

Except that "it" contained almost nothing inside. The actual text, which included no specifics or numbers at all, was full of wildly general phrases like "Republicans would fully fund our ongoing commitments overseas while devoting the entirety of any savings from reduced fighting to deficit reduction." As one observer put it, it was like an invasion plan that read, "Send ships, land troops, kill Germans."

Not only that, the pamphlet looked like it had been laid out by a college student trying desperately to meet his professor's requirement for "20 pages, double-spaced" — unnecessarily huge graphs on almost every page, fonts jacked up to readable-for-the-legally-blind size, absurdly placed clip-art images (to wit: photo of cute child with broken arm, gratefully gazing at the caption "Provide Universal Access to Affordable Health Care"). While reporters flipped through the idiotic text, searching in vain for content, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who had already made brief introductory remarks, stealthily slipped out of the room, leaving Boehner to the wolves.

The onslaught started quickly. "There's no detail in here," grumbled one reporter.

"This is the blueprint for where we're going," Boehner barked. "Are you asking about some other document?"

Reporters stared at each other. "What about some numbers?" another asked.

Republicans, Boehner dithered, would provide details on the budget "next week."

Opposition politicians rushed on the air to rip the Republican nonbudget budget to shreds. The Democratic National Committee released an online ad that opened with a graphic: "This DNC ad is brought to you by the number zero. That's how many numbers are in the GOP's 'budget.'" Even White House press secretary Robert Gibbs got in on the act, lauding the document's depth. "It took me several minutes to read it," he quipped.

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