President Reopens Government with a Warning

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., October 21, 2013 – Not to be disrespectful, but President Obama misled the American people at the conclusion of the speech with which he reopened the Government on October 17, 2013. He chided partisan politics by saying: “We come from different Parties, but we are Americans first. And that’s why disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can’t degenerate into hatred.”

Of course, it can, Mr. President. Look at the actions of both Parties leading up to the shutdown and in the brief time that has passed since; listen to the rhetoric of the Parties and those groups that support them; or just read other facets of your speech.

Dysfunction defines partisan politics in today’s world.  Building upon gross generalizations and negative accusations allows the Parties to play upon people’s fear, guilt, and greed until those emotions can be fanned into something tantamount to hatred. The tactic is used to divide and conquer; it impedes legitimate political competition; and it extracts the money and votes that are necessary to maintain Party power.

Let’s examine the actions of the Republican and Democratic Parties before and after the most recent “manufactured” crises, and then, Mr. President, we’ll examine yours.

When it comes to the budget and our National debt, the Republican Party wants us to believe that Congressional Democrats are profligate spenders who fund programs that are both ineffective and never-ending. While this may be true, it ignores the fact that Congressional Republicans are also profligate spenders who fund programs that are both ineffective and never-ending.

The Democratic Party wants us to believe that Congressional Republicans are fundamentally committed to creating loopholes in the law that line the pockets of those who fund their campaigns. While this may be true, it ignores the fact that Congressional Democrats are also fundamentally committed to creating loopholes in the law that line the pockets of those who fund their campaigns.

The Democrat-controlled Senate failed to produce a federal budget from April 29, 2009, until May 25, 2013. Congressional Republicans argue that this is a clear violation of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which requires a concurrent resolution to be reached no later than April 15th of each year. The Republicans are correct in this regard.

However, when the Democrat-controlled Senate did finally produce a budget this year, Congressional Republicans refused to appoint budget conferees until the night before the shutdown was to take place. In fact, Congressional Republicans blocked requests to convene a budget conference 18 times prior to that date.

Of course, while Congressional Democrats complained about this Republican “obstruction,” they refused to appoint conferees when the Republicans finally offered to conference with them; an offer that otherwise would have averted the shutdown. Instead, Congressional Democrats professed to have no culpability in allowing the shutdown to move forward and declared it to be a “Republican Shutdown.”

Conversely, the Republican Party referred to the stalemate as a “Democratic Shutdown” or, in the alternative, the “President’s Shutdown.” However, two things are clear: The Republicans have absolutely no idea how to successfully craft a political message, and it is unlikely that this President will ever be held accountable for anything.

In the spirit of true compromise, maybe this particular act should be referred to as an “Irresponsible and Infantile Shutdown.” That would seem to be a far more accurate description.

President Obama’s skill and influence were also on full display. He remained disengaged from the debate until it was too late; just as he did when the nation faced the debt ceiling “crisis” in the summer of 2011.

Then, the President inflated the significance of the shutdown well beyond the 17 percent of the Government that it actually impacted. The sky was falling, and we were all going to die “because of a few irresponsible Republicans” (i.e., Senator Ted Cruz and his fellow “Tea Party” Republicans) and the fact that Speaker Boehner had “lost control of the Republican Caucus” in the House.

Just as had occurred in the initial days of the sequester, decisions were made in the Executive Branch that tangibly impacted citizens of the United States and lowered other nation’s respect for our country. National monuments were shut down at a cost that exceeded keeping them open; national cemeteries were closed for no apparent reason; entrances to national parks were blocked; and profitable public events were canceled and turned into losses … all to make a political point.

In the past 17 shutdowns, we had leadership that was embarrassed by its failure and went to great lengths to mitigate any exposure that might be incurred by the American people. That is no longer the model. Instead, our leaders inflict as much pain as possible in hopes of securing a political advantage in the next election.

When some of the decisions raised more public ire than was anticipated, our elected officials simply disavowed knowledge of who made the decisions and tried to cover them with a political Band-Aid while blaming the other side. That’s what passes for leadership in Washington, D.C., today.

Upon ending the shutdown and temporarily averting the debt ceiling, everyone claimed victory while nothing was really accomplished.

Some members of the Republican Party declared a moral victory. It’s almost the only kind of political victory that Party has earned in recent years. While on a Cincinnati radio program, a more subdued Speaker John Boehner admitted, “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”

In an interesting twist, the Tea Party was apparently resurrected. While it had been proclaimed “dead” by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid earlier in the year, it was now predominantly blamed for the fiasco. The political translation is that its impact on the 2014 mid-term elections is still feared.

Remarkably, several high-profile darlings of the Tea Party movement have tried to raise their profiles from the ashes of the shutdown.

Senator Cruz, who taught us when a “filibuster” isn’t a “filibuster,” did provide some educational moments during his protracted monologue. He had an excellent segment in which he provided a historical perspective of how our Nation and its Constitution evolved. That he was able to do so without the assistance of a TelePrompTer added to the significance of the event. Unfortunately, the media seemed more preoccupied with his apparent misunderstanding of Green Eggs and Ham.

In an entertaining paradox, Senate Majority Leader Reid scolded Senator Cruz at the end of the latter’s soliloquy, describing it as “a big waste of time” that interfered with the Senate’s important business. The Majority Leader noted, “With all due respect, I’m not sure we learned anything new.” When the Senate resumed its normal schedule, we were treated to what could best be described as another big waste of time in which we learned nothing new.

Senator Cruz has since been hailed by his supporters as a man of principle, and he has become the poster child for defeating “Obamacare” by any means necessary and at any cost. Unfortunately, while he seemingly has a strong understanding of our Constitution’s history, he seems to lack an understanding of certain relevant components of that document.

Specifically, a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate by a majority vote. Then, it has to be signed by the President. If the President chooses to exercise the power of veto, the bill only becomes law if two-thirds of the Senate votes to override such veto.

Let’s do the math. There are 52 Democrats in the Senate, along with 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, versus 46 Republicans. In today’s polarized political environment, assuming Majority Leader Reid even lets a bill to repeal or defund “Obamacare” get to the floor, it will lose. Even if such a bill somehow secures a simple majority in the Senate, the President is on record as promising to veto it and there is no realistic way to override that veto in the current Senate. Thanks for playing!

The stunning defeat also revived the effervescent cheerleaders, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Ms. Palin embarrassed herself in an interview with Fox News host, Megyn Kelly, by trying to force in every talking point she had been given. One can only surmise that she was told to read whatever was written on her hand before allowing a question to be asked.

Additionally, there was Representative Michelle Bachmann, who described the reopening of our Government as “a very sad day.” At a rally, she boldly called for the President to be impeached and even filed a resolution with the House calling for the same.

Rep. Bachmann said, “…in shutting down the government, President Obama has committed economic treason against the United States of America, and he must be removed before it’s too late.” It would be interesting to hear her explain why she believes that reopening the Government is “a very sad day” while she also believes that shutting down the Government is “economic treason.” Then again, it doesn’t really matter since there is no such crime as “economic treason.”

Treason is the only crime that is actually defined in the Constitution (Article III, Section 3): “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Rep. Bachmann would be well advised to read that document someday given that she was also “going to repeal Obamacare on (her) first day in office” had she been elected President; a power that the Constitution does not afford a President.

Not to be outdone: The Progressive movement has had similar moments of absurdity as it’s taken its victory lap.

In an attempt to appear as irrational and uninformed as the Palin/Bachmann contingent, allowed a petition to be posted that called for the arrest of “Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Speaker of the House John Boehner, and other decision-making House Republican leaders for the crime of seditious conspiracy against the United States of America.” Coincidently, the petition has recorded nearly as many signatures as the Affordable Care Act has recorded enrollees. In any event, it’s good to see that neither political faction has a monopoly on either misreading or ignoring the letter of the law (see Section 2384 of the Federal Penal Code in this regard).

Similarly, in the heat of the battle, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi proclaimed on CNN’s State of the Union that, “The cupboard is bare. There’s (sic) no more cuts to make.” Perhaps the Republicans do have a point when challenging whether Congressional Democrats will ever negotiate a budget in good faith without other legislative pressure.

Then, there is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who joined House Minority Leader Pelosi (and even President Obama) in arguing that all Speaker Boehner had to do was put a clean Continuing Resolution to a vote. This is the same Senate Majority Leader who has effectively created a political black hole into which nearly all Republican-sponsored House bills are crushed by his tyrannical exercise of discretion before they ever reach the floor for a vote.

This brings us to the President.

President Obama was absolutely amazing both during and after the budget and debt crises. He remained cool and calm at all times; even playing golf the day before 800,000 Government employees were to be furloughed. Then again, when your negotiating strategy is to refuse to negotiate, maybe this should be expected.

After his famous speech following the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords (2011), he called upon the Parties to use language that “heals” rather than “wounds.” Using terms like “arsonists” to describe certain Congressional Republicans and suggesting that he was being asked to negotiate “with a gun to the head of the American people,” he led by example; an example that Majority Leader Reid, Press Secretary Carney, and other members of the White House staff eagerly took to the next level with language such as “anarchists,” “terrorists,” “suicide bombers,” and “jihadists.”

The President also showed great restraint. He was able to wait until the second sentence of the speech with which he reopened the Government before he denigrated elements of the Republican Party.

Then, the President skillfully shifted focus in his second paragraph. He said, “These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy. We don’t know yet the full scope of the damage, but every analyst out there believes it slowed our growth.” That set the stage to blame any future policy failures on the “Republican Shutdown.” Brilliant!

The President continued, “We know that families have gone without paychecks or services they depend on.  We know that potential homebuyers have gotten fewer mortgages, and small business loans have been put on hold.  We know that consumers have cut back on spending and that half of all CEOs say that the shutdown and the threat of shutdown set back their plans to hire over the next six months.  We know that just the threat of default — of America not paying all the bills that we owe on time — increased our borrowing costs, which adds to our deficit.” 

Keep in mind that the shutdown only lasted 16 days and affected 17 percent of the Federal Government (with Government employees scheduled to get back pay). Yet, an economic Armageddon is being described. Why?

Next, consider the fact that what even the President now refers to as a “manufactured crisis” could have been reasonably anticipated and averted. Any possibility of the budget crisis would have been eliminated had Congress simply complied with the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

The President also could have helped by submitting a timely and responsible budget as is required by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. Instead, he submitted budgets that were markedly late four of his five years in Office; budgets that went down to defeat in the Democrat-controlled Senate by votes of 97-0 and 99-0 in the two prior years before passing by a vote of 51-49 this year.

President Obama’s speech went on to misdefine the role of Government under the Constitution, but that almost seems to be in vogue these days. He also noted, “… that (economic recovery) won’t be easy.  We all know that we have divided government right now.”

That raises an interesting question. Is economic (or social progress) any more difficult under a divided Government than it is under a united Government? If it is, the Democrats have some explaining to do.

A total of 81 years have passed since the New Deal fundamentally changed our Nation’s direction under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A Democrat has served as President in 45 of those years with the benefit of a Democrat-controlled Congress (i.e., House and Senate) in 34 of those years, a Republican-controlled Congress in 8 of those years, and a divided Congress in only 3 of those years.

Comparatively, the Republican Party has held the Presidency in only 36 of those 81 years. It enjoyed the benefit of a Republican-controlled Congress only 6 of those years while facing a Democrat-controlled Congress 22 of those years and a divided Congress in the remaining 8 years.

If you don’t like how far we’ve come, you now know which Party to blame.

It is time for the rabble-rousers to get out of the way of those who are willing to lead our Nation responsibly. In that regard, please answer two questions:

What suggestions can you offer that would align the collection of taxes, duties, imposts, and excises to “provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States” as prescribed by Article I, section 8 of the Constitution?
What suggestions can you offer with respect to election reform that will help us break our “definition of insanity” habit of electing the same people over and over again and expecting a different result?

Otherwise, the President’s implied prophesies will come to fruition: We will be burdened with the “dysfunction” of partisan politics and our differences will “degenerate into hatred.”


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.