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A Tale of Two Debates

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, looks on during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo: AP/Rainier Ehrhardt)

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Well, maybe not the best, but the Republican debate last week was certainly about as bad as it gets.

Let’s look at some of the worst of times– that is to say, the Republican debate.  It’s clear they live in an alternate universe; one that is not tethered to reality in any way whatsoever.  The bug-eyed, fear frothing statements of Rubio and Christie, the hate-filled jingoism of Trump, and the old-testament self-righteousness of Cruz and Carson should have been a source of deep national embarrassment. When Jeb Bush and Governor I-forgot-your-name-oh-yeah-it’s Kasich are the closest approximation to rational you’ve got … well, you should be laughed off the stage.

But this is America, where the media is owned by the oligarchy, so their lengthy list of lies, self-contradictions, deceptions, and baseless ad hominem attacks and their fear frenzied rhetoric was treated as if it were a serious discussion.  For example:

Obama is the root of all evil.  To hear Republicans tell it, Obama has wrecked the economy and driven us into catastrophic debt, weakened us to the point where we’re like the world’s weakling and our salvation depends upon electing a Republican.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Obama, but compared to his Republican predecessors, the performance of the economy during his presidency looks pretty damn good.  One of the best summaries I’ve seen comes from a letter to the editor written by a Canadian citizen, Richard Brunt:

             …. Consider, right now in America, corporate profits are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is below 6%, U.S. gross national product growth is the best of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gasoline prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining …

He closes his letter, which was entitled, “You Americans Have No Idea,” by asking if Canada can borrow Mr. Obama when we’re through with him. With the exception of the stock market, things have only gotten better since Mr. Bond wrote the letter, with unemployment down to 5% and the deficit at its lowest point since Bush’s Great Recession. And as the Obama noted in his State of the Union, the US auto Industry has been rescued and is thriving, and the last two years of job growth have been the best since the 90’s.

Meanwhile, Republican budgets – from Ryan to Rubio – all explode the deficit to unheard of levels, just as they always have.  They try to hide the extent of their deficit hypocrisy with magic asterisks  -- imaginary trillion dollar cuts and revenue increases that simply aren’t there -- just as they have since Reagan. There’s a reason deficits increase when Republicans are in control, and shrink when Democrats are, and that reason has a lot to do with how dishonest Republicans are.

Why do they resort to fantasy cuts and supply-side fantasies?  Because being honest with the American people would reveal the real intent of their budgets – to transfer enormous amounts of wealth from the poor and middle class, to the uber wealthy.

The US is weak … this is part of the Republican’s strategy of all fear, all the time, designed to distract you from the fact that you're getting fleeced by fat cats and plutocrats.  Look, the US spends more on defense than the next eight countries combined, and terrorism is not an existential threat.  On the scale of things that threaten us, it is quite small and it generally doesn't work.  They’re playing a classic grifter’s game – distract ‘em while you lift their wallet.

Being wrong on everything carries no penalty in the Republican Party.  They issued hysterical warnings on debt, deficits, a weakening dollar, joblessness, and another recession unless we pursued extreme austerity budgets (leaving out tax cuts for the rich, of course) – but the EU, which followed that strategy has had  double dip recessions and prolonged economic stagnation, while the US, which ignored it, has the strongest economy in the developed world.

No matter, those are just facts, and the Republican Party is immune to facts and impervious to reason. 

And history – you know, facts and reality again – shows you could fashion a flawless foreign policy by doing precisely the opposite of what Republicans and neocons recommend. No, invading Iraq didn’t cause Democracy to flourish and terrorism to wither; it destabilized the entire region and created terrorists. No, an agreement with Iran didn’t allow them to build nuclear weapons; it prevented them from doing so.  On and on it goes.

Then there’s climate change, which the Party of ostriches pretends doesn’t exist, and claims that trying to do something about it would cause catastrophic job loss, and economic pain.  Here again, reality shows that investing in low carbon energy creates more jobs and better jobs than fossil fuel investments do and it has for years now. 

But that’s just reality and … oh, you get the gist by now.  Republicans don’t need no stinkin’ reality.

The Democratic debate – not exactly the best of times but at least they are tethered to the real world, although the link gets tenuous where Hillary Clinton is concerned.  After veering sharply leftward away from long held positions on financial reform, the XL pipeline, the TPP, and a neocon foreign policy, she actually tried to accuse Sanders of flip-flopping.  Just another cynical ploy from her, along the lines of the best defense is a good offense, no doubt.

She’s good.  And the moderators kept throwing her lobs, so the degree of her coldly calculated – and no doubt poll-tested – lurch to the left wasn’t as apparent as it could have been.  It didn’t help that Sanders largely let her off the hook.  Only O’Malley called her on it.

But for the most part, Democrats are talking about real issues using facts and data.  Yes, Hillary is a PAC product, beholden to Wall Street, and about as sincere as a midnight promise “to love you in the morning,” but even she pays lip service to the real world and the issues Americans care about.

Meanwhile, O’Malley and Sanders are striking the political Gordian Knot – the undue influence of money in politics.

Sanders, in particular, seems to understand that the only antidote to the oligarchy is to ignite a people’s movement.  In the end, the only thing that can trump money in politics is an energized and educated electorate.  People who say Sanders won’t be able to enact his ambitious agenda don’t understand one thing: the only way Sanders wins, is if he gets the 50% of people who’ve given up on politics back into the game.  If they show up at the polls, then Bernie wins, and we get a dramatic turnover in Congress.  If they don’t, then Bernie loses and we get the same ol’ same ol’ Congress, and the PAC politics that are destroying the country.

So, it may not be the best of times, but it could be, if we the people insist on it.

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John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and he has just completed a book on the 2016 elections titled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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