America Stuck in Neutral

America Stuck in Neutral

There’s not much to say about the disgusting failure of the United States Senate to muster sixty votes to expand background checks for gun purchases that hasn’t been said already. Suffice it to say that if we can’t even agree to close a loophole that allows dangerous people such as felons and certified nutcases to purchase firearms through a legal seller, there can be no better example of our country’s abysmal dysfunction.

I’m not a big fan of Maureen Dowd but a recent column on President Obama’s failure to use his office effectively to get a better result on the gun bill did resonate with me. To some extent I accept the sharp rebuttal from his defenders that it’s unfair to blame Obama when the real problem is a radical GOP that provided just five votes for the expanded background checks and only one (Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois) for bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. The fact remains, however, that in addition to the four Democrats who voted down the expanded background check, ten also failed to support a ban on high capacity magazines and fifteen the banning of assault weapons – both of which were used in the mass shooting of children and teachers at Newtown.

Yet just four months into his second term, the president overall seems to have reached a dead end, and with him the country. The goals he set out in his most recent State of the Union address are laudable and dead right for the country – universal pre-school, significant investments in infrastructure and scientific/technological research and development to name a few key ones – but seem completely out of reach in the current political environment. And the president has suffered from a number of self-inflicted wounds as well.

In the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, for example, which yielded the monstrosity that is sequestration, it is clear he miscalculated the willingness of Republicans to tolerate steep across the board defense cuts which, in turn, led him to agree to omit tax increases from the automatic trigger, as he had originally proposed. We now have harsh cuts to worthwhile programs in the discretionary budget that disproportionately affect children and the poor. To add insult to injury, Democrats have retreated the first time the public at large actually felt the pain of sequester cuts and, in the process, handed the GOP a significant victory.

Another example is the fiscal cliff negotiations wherein he effectively held all the cards yet won a paltry $600 billion in new revenues; inequities such as the favorable tax rates enjoyed by hedge fund managers and the likes of Mitt Romney on his unearned income remain.

And the president seems almost passive in the face of the outrageous refusal of Senate Republicans to allow his nominations for federal district and appellate court vacancies and even some agency heads an up or down vote. Added to which is the fact that he has been slow to send up nominees for many such appointments. Things will hardly get better in the future as Republicans become increasingly confident of gaining control of the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. This does not bode well should a Supreme Court vacancy arise.

That the country is stuck in neutral is indisputable. And while it’s possible another Democratic incumbent with keener political and negotiating skills could have done better, you really have to wonder how much difference it would have made. The GOP has moved so far to the right it really has become a radical party, home to anti-tax and pro-gun zealots as well as Tea Party fanatics. It is clearly more intransigent and obstructionist with a Democrat in the White House now than it was even in the Bill Clinton years; to the point of a willingness to be destructive to the country’s economic interests if doing so furthers its ideological aims.

The reason is not hard to see in considering the yawning chasm between Blue and Red America, a development even the vapid editorial writers of The Washington Post have noted. And the GOP, driven by a base that brooks no compromise, will have ample opportunities for even more mischief in the days to come, what with the debt ceiling looming again. And next year when Obamacare kicks in and suffers inevitable teething troubles, the situation will be just ripe for exploitation by a party that couldn’t care less if millions of Americans don’t have adequate health insurance.

Like I said, with Democrats trying to move us forward and Republicans taking every opportunity to drag us back, we are stuck in neutral.

And what does all this presage? Merely that if you think things are bad now, just wait.

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