Monday, October 21, 2013

Ted Cruz, the best buddy Obama never wanted

By Dominique Paul Noth

It clearly annoyed Barack Obama – a totally wasted three weeks of October that cost some $24 billion in lost commerce while spreading international doubts about keeping the US the gold standard of fiscal responsibility given those children in Congress so close to the destruct button.

Ted Cruz, inadvertent Obama fan
It was a useless insulting replay for a president who won re-election in 2012 against superior ad money and nasty words about Obamacare. Yet that same small but well funded sliver of the Republicans, the so-called Tea Party that never accepted the people’s will, was again forcing Obama to validate his resolve.

If there was a perverse silver lining, it came from contrast, inadvertence and sheer stupidity.  Obama’s big buddy in fresh appreciation of his policies is that blustery frosh GOP senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who was posing as his most ferocious opponent.

It really wasn’t Obama who exposed the weakness of the GOP brand. That was Cruz. His stridency to defund Obamacare at all costs reinforced its worth throughout America, forcing the GOP to rethink and succumb. Even the Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation and other groups backed away from his frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) though they simultaneously moved theattack to state by state and court interference.  (The slowness and complexity of web portals for the ACA are a mix of government haste and that continued interference by mainly Republican governors and statehouses).

More importantly for future elections, Cruz’s actions destroyed a central tenet of GOP ideology – that big government especially big federal government is a bad thing. Rather than sensibly address trims, his blunderbuss approach reminded citizens of all persuasions of the inherent value and commitment behind government services.  Except for how folks feel about the intelligence of Congress, they sure appreciate the dedication of federal workers.

All the nation got from this ridiculous exercise that limped to a conclusion Oct. 17 was a belated temporary return to normalcy.  The budget negotiations the Democrats had sought to start for seven months are now rushing toward Dec. 13 conclusion. The full government is reopened through January 15. The nation’s debt is protected through February 7. But it came because Obama stood firm after the GOP bought into Cruz’s false promise that the president would cave.

Obama won much more than a return to normalcy -- a 7% jump in poll popularity. Thanks to Cruz’s misbehavior, GOP hopes were wiped away for gaining in the Senate – not with the Cruz carnival gumming up the works. Even more startling, the Democrats based on national polls can now talk seriously about winning back the House, something that a few months ago seemed totally out of reach.

Cruz had help in all this – a party so open to being bullied on the inside that it thought Obama was cut from the same unstrung cloth.  The difference in styles and success is what the voters will remember – the unflappable steady president and the publicity-hungry pontificator who smacks the public with a verbal barrage akin to a two-by-four.   He’s the darling of some rich funders who threaten opponents with a primary challenge. He hypnotized the House GOP to follow his lead, even cowing the more responsible GOP lawmakers – certainly for weeks.

His “take no prisoners” attack on AHC -- screaming that the whole thing didn’t work -- prevented the GOP from addressing what wasn’t working well, such as the websites swooning from enormous public interest.  Apparently the government more than the public feared that the anti-Obama ads would prevent early visitors.  So the White House rushed to engage private contractors operating under low-bid regulations to ready a system far more complex than a smart phone app or an Oracle database.  There were clearly design issues from rush and failure to beta-test.  

Yet the GOP was so married to the Cruz approach that they failed to exploit the problems, giving healthcare.gov a second chance to make a good first impression.  Which it is now well on its way to doing.

It was almost as if Cruz had been hired by the Democrats. He smacked the public hard enough to wake them up to the value of affordable health insurance for the 15% of Americans left in the cold.  Reaction to the shutdown he caused -- and still voted not to end -- will resonate on Main Street into future elections. It tore the fabric of the community – permeating not just the 17% of the workforce employed by the federal government but millions more who depend on them as customers, know them as neighbors or rely on their response to problems. 

Citizens who had once railed about taxes now realized how much they value disease experts, firefighters, storm forecasters, park rangers, food monitors and countless others abandoned to make a point the right-wing extremists can no longer explain or justify. The public anger is now concentrated on dillydallying Republicans, laughing off the FOX News excuses that this was a “slimdown” not a shutdown, just a temporary quick shave.  After 16 days of shutdown, this “shave” grew whiskers and a beard.

The piecemeal legislative rescues offered by the House GOP were equally ridiculous – a government by headlines, trying to reopen services after press revelations that halting cancer tests would kill children. The House GOP engaged in Wack-A-Mole, with another monster popping out of the holes wherever the hammer hit.

For instance, the Center for Disease Control did more than cancer trials and was still hamstrung in flu prevention or epidemic outbreaks.  The skeleton EPA was ill-prepared for another oil spill, and it happened in North Dakota.   FEMA was saved by Mother Nature, not the GOP, when a hurricane turned into a tropical storm. Restoring death benefits for military killed in action only revealed that other military and veteran support was piling up – including food for families and teachers for infants.  Salmonella outbreaks couldn’t be addressed, food inspected, workplaces or airplanes examined -- and on and on.

No wonder the Republicans are drowning at a new bottom of the national poll pool –70% disfavorable, the worst judgment in modern history.  It was unbelievable that more mature Republicans went along.

Cruz’s methods have an amusing side, of course. If his academic and intellectual credentials (Harvard and all that) led so many lemmings to follow him off the cliff, he has set the image of higher education back a century.

 He singlehandedly broke the unwritten Reagan Commandment (“thou shalt speak no ill of a fellow Republican”). Not by just what he said about others. From private grousing about Cruz, the GOP has erupted into open attacks. His supporters in Texas, including the state’s largest newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, now question their own endorsements of him.

In the 1950s, knowing better but fearing to speak out against McCarthy’s funding clout and right-wing icon status, a Republican president and his party waited far too long to step on a disruptive bug whose tactics were ruining their reputation. The party is back there again, with  another bug they’re loathe to step on, this time eating them out of House and home.