Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2011

THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL GRIEVANCE.... Congressional Republicans all but dared President Obama to engage in a fiscal debate on their terms, demanding to know whether and how he'd tackle long-term debt reduction. The president agreed and presented a credible, realistic plan to cut $4 trillion from the debt over 12 years.

GOP officials obviously weren't going to like his vision, but I'm a little surprised they're still whining that Obama was mean to them.

The three Republican congressmen saw it as a rare ray of sunshine in Washington's stormy budget battle: an invitation from the White House to hear President Obama lay out his ideas for taming the national debt.

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise. But soon after taking their seats at George Washington University on Wednesday, they found themselves under fire for plotting "a fundamentally different America" from the one most Americans know and love.

"What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?" Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. "It's just a wasted opportunity."

Paul Ryan was reportedly "furious" and complained that the speech "was extremely political, very partisan."

It's worth fleshing this out, because there are some important angles to keep in mind.

First, the Republicans' politics of personal grievance is based solely on their hurt feelings. They're not saying the president lied or that his numbers don't add up, but rather, they're outraged that Obama was a big meanie. That's kind of pathetic, and it reinforces fears that the House GOP majority is dominated by right-wing lawmakers with temperament of children.

Second, exactly what kind of reaction did Republicans seriously expect? Their fraudulent and callous budget plan, approved yesterday despite bipartisan opposition, eliminates Medicare. It punishes the elderly, the disabled, and low-income families, and rewards millionaires and billionaires. It calls for devastating cuts that would do widespread damage to the middle class and the economy. Were Republicans seriously waiting for Obama to politely pat them on the head and say, "It's OK, you tried your best. I'll give you an A for effort"?

Third, why is it Republicans expect one-sided graciousness? They expected a "peace offering" after pushing their own plan that was "deliberately constructed to be as offensive to Democrats as it's possible to be," and didn't even bother with insincere "nods in the direction of bipartisanship." I'll never understand why Obama is expected to be conciliatory with those who refuse to do the same.

And finally, having a debate pitting two competing visions isn't a bad development. Greg Sargent's take on this rings true.

Throughout the first two years of Obama's presidency, leading Republicans have regularly claimed that Obama is taking America towards socialism. Yet when a Democratic president stands up and aggressively defends his vision and worldview, and contrasts it sharply with that of his foes, something's wrong. That's not supposed to happen.

Obama's characterization of the GOP vision was harsh. But so what? Politics is supposed to be an impassioned argument over what we all think the country should be. Is it possible to cross lines? Sure, but Obama didn't cross any lines -- in fairness, neither has Ryan -- and no one was blindsided. No one was the victim of any sneak attack. We should want politicians who think their opponents' worldviews are deeply wrongheaded to be free to say so in very vivid terms. Otherwise, what's the point of it all?

I'd add just one last point. For two years, Obama pleaded with Republicans to play a constructive role, work in good faith, and compromise. They refused. Lucy doesn't get to complain when Charlie Brown doesn't want to run at a football that's going to be pulled away anyway.

Steve Benen 8:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Jeez, you know Dad's SUCH an asshole!

After I stole his car, got drunk, ran Grandma over, and crashed it into a police station, the asshole brought me home, sat me down, lectured me, and sent me to my room!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 16, 2011 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

but, but, but, didn't anyone but us read our charts? These just aren't meaningless numbers. We created these numbers! Wait ...

Posted by: lou on April 16, 2011 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Steve, for this posting. This is something that has been making my head explode all week.... the Republican party has spent years castigating Obama as a Kenyan Socialist Hates America and Wants to Kill Grandma. They've lied shamelessly and repeatedly about him, and exhibited the worst sort of Derangement Syndrome.

Now, when he describes his competing vision for the country and disagrees with the Republican vision, he's a big ol' meanie. It's Obama's fault that there is no "bipartisanship". It's Obama's fault that the Republican feelings are so hurt.

It just makes me so ANGRY!

Posted by: Eeyore on April 16, 2011 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Media Matters has a post about this same topic. Paul Ryan's feelings may be hurt but that didn't stop him from making attacks against President Obama in his budget.

Paul Ryan Can Dish It Out, But He Can't Take It
April 15, 2011 12:52 pm ET — Jamison Foser

And what did President Obama do to hurt Paul Ryan's feelings? Simple: Obama criticized Ryan's policy preferences. That's it. That, according to Paul Ryan, constitutes excessive partisanship. Apparently, Obama was supposed to praise ideas with which he disagrees. With that in mind, let's take a look at Ryan's budget document, shall we?


Posted by: Ladyhawke on April 16, 2011 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Apparently, Republicans need to reminded that "Politics ain't beanbag."

Posted by: DAY on April 16, 2011 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Typical. Inside every bully is a crybaby.

Posted by: the seal on April 16, 2011 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, the Republicans are just appealing to their base.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on April 16, 2011 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

So Mr. Ryan's fee-fees are hurt. There must be some kind of specific gene combination that combines Republicanism, intellectual dishonesty and thin skin - all I can think of is the government shutdown of 1995 because of Newt's umbrage over seating on Air Force One.

Posted by: blondie on April 16, 2011 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

I remember very clearly Ryan lecturing Obama during that televised health care meeting/summit about the doc fix. He failed to mention the 'doc fox' had been in place for a decade(which included 6 years of Republican reign), and it was the result of the Gingrich crowd's overzealous cuts to Medicare.

Ryan is a fraud. If a Democrat had been so serially dishonest about his/her 'expertise', he/she would have been laughed out of Washington by the stooges in the beltway press long ago.

Posted by: Holmes on April 16, 2011 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

If President Obama had wanted to "insult his enemies" with an "extremely partisan, very political" speech, he might have, oh I don't know, asked Congressional Republicans to produce their birth certificates, called them Nazis, and suggested that their budget plan would lead to death panels. They just can't handle the fact that this particular guy is so much smarter than they are.

Posted by: R on April 16, 2011 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe the best idea would be a repeat of yesterday's action in the House. Let the Republicans have the opportunity to show their real, unabashed, true colors and agenda by allowing them to pass whatever their little rightwing pinheads want to (by the Democrats voting 'present") and then leave it to Obama to veto the dreck while presenting a quick lesson to Americans as to why the right's insanity won't stand on his watch.

Let the radical GOPers run on tv and tell the country just how wonderful their ideas and bills are and perhaps the media will finally do their jobs and present some actual reporting as to the likely impact should these fantasies become law.

Bottom line is that until WE THE PEOPLE pay enough attention and make enough noise to those we've voted for, the Democrats won't have the spine everyone says they'd like to see. So let Frankenstein out of the policy closet so America can see how deranged the GOP vision really is. Energized public support will then be all the wind progressives have been clamoring for over these last 2+ years and it will give Pelosi and Reid what they need to keep their own members in line.

Posted by: tonyroma on April 16, 2011 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should have just taken the opportunity to yell "Liar" at them and they would have felt right at home.

Posted by: martin on April 16, 2011 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

I applaud both Obama's speech and the accidental(?) open-mic "Do you think we're stupid?" thing reported yesterday. In all the talk of audience and winners/losers, though, I can't help but think/wonder if Congressional Democrats are listening, too. Obama is only as powerful and successful in getting policy passed as the Democrats' willingness to not be afraid of political shadows (whether their own or the Republicans').

"Good policy is good politics," Obama has told his party's caucus. I do wish they would take that to heart a little more often. This past week's events should show everyone who's been paying attention that the Republicans really are weak: Ryan is not quite the golden boy of fiscal policy that some would claim, and Boehner clearly does not speak on behalf of a unified caucus that he controls. I think it's fair to say that, on balance, this Congress's accomplishments have been to the Democrats' credit--but too often, it seems, those have come about despite congressional Democrats, not because of them.

Posted by: John B. on April 16, 2011 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Once again, this time with feeling: If they are squealing like stuck pigs, you're not doing it right.

They rely on Dem civility, but refuse to rein in their nasty, obnoxious, LYING spokespeople/networks. This generation of Republicans needs to be utterly smashed. A genuine conservative party is a necessary counterweight to liberals and a good thing for civil society. We don't have one these days.

Posted by: danimal on April 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

I've noticed how little criticism there has been of Obama's palm details. It's all been about the tone and partisanship.

I wonder in this case about the Fox News effect. Conservatives have put themselves in such a media bubble that I doubt they actually hear much from the opposition. It's offensive to them to even have to consider other views now it seems.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope on April 16, 2011 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Edit: If they are NOT squealing like stuck pigs, you're not doing it right...

Posted by: danimal on April 16, 2011 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

I'd love to hear a conversation between Paul Ryan and Paul Johansson right about now. They've got to be the two most wounded and aggrieved men in the world right now (see just about any review of Atlas Snoozed).

Posted by: hells littlest angel on April 16, 2011 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK
First, the Republicans' politics of personal grievance is based solely on their hurt feelings. They're not saying the president lied or that his numbers don't add up, but rather, they're outraged that Obama was a big meanie. That's kind of pathetic, and it reinforces fears that the House GOP majority is dominated by right-wing lawmakers with temperament of children.


Posted by: navamske on April 16, 2011 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

I actually think their reaction is deliberate and calculated. Remember how the public likes the word "bi-partisan"? Their only chance to counteract Obama's populist position is to characterize it as "partisan." I'm betting they're also counting on latent...let's go ahead and say "racially tinged" dispositions in so many of us (especially seniors) to think that the public (especially seniors) will react more negatively to Barack Hussein Obama being a partisan meanie (scary black man) than they did when William Jefferson Clinton stood up for the middle class and seniors.

We'll see where the ratings go from here...

No question though that Obama can't be out there all by himself.

Posted by: Mark on April 16, 2011 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

And Republicans desire to return to 19th societal values  is NOT partisan? Hypocrites all, everything the Republicans do including Paul Ryan's proposed budget attempts to destroy Johnson's Great Society and Roosevelt's New Deal, without even balancing the budget, and continues the trend towards an inequality of American income that would embarrass Queen Victoria.

The Republican Supreme Court gave corporations pre-20th century influence in politics. Many Republicans would rewrite the 14th amendment to keep kids of undocumented workers from citizenship. Still more would stop unemployment insurance and like AZ Governor Jan Brewer jail undocumented workers in privately run prisons.

I admire many things about the 19th century -- abolition of slavery, intellectual curiosity, the progressive movement, neo-classical architecture, workers rights... Yet, I would never want to return even in part to the morality, health care, social structure, and income inequality of that complex culture.  

Those Republicans  wanting to shrink the federal government to Coolidge-era size and influence, I think, kill that which made our society great - a movement up and up in terms of income euqality, human rights, a strong federal system, free education for all, and a spirit of exploration... All  incompatible with the mid-Victorian legal, moral & state rights values, the worst of the 19th century, Republicans seem to love and which the rest of us discarded 150+ years ago.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 16, 2011 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

Nice headline, navamske.

I can only hope that is where we are headed this time around.

The media loves a good fight. They will cover our position by necessity if we give them one.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 16, 2011 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Knocking over the 11 dimensional chess board.

I like to think that it was a trap -- that the Obama team convinced the Republicans that Obama would congratulate them on their seriousness and make concessions. Frankly, that was a possibility (IIRC you were just about the only progressive blogger who wasn't totally panicking and I definitely include myself).

Then he was meanly partisanly harsh. And they acted like crybabies.

Frankly, the only thing that worked in 95 and is missing in 2011 is a Crybaby on the front page of the New York Daily News

That was a major event in US political history.

Obama got exactly the reaction which was best for him (and the country and the world).

I'd like to think it was 11 dimensional chess and not sheer luck (I am open to the possibility that winning 11 dimensional chess is always sheer luck but I hope his luck holds).

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on April 16, 2011 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

Last night on Lawrence O'Donnell's Last Word a Republican Congressman (I forget who) was played a clip of President Obama criticizing Paul Ryan for voting for two wars that were not paid for, for voting for tax cuts for the rich that were not paid for, and for voting for a prescription drug plan that wasn't paid for and was more expensive than the president's own health care bill.

When given a chance to defend Ryan's deficit-exploding votes in light of Ryan's House-passed plan to take from the poor to give to the rich, the Republican Congressman mumbled something incoherent about Ryan's intention to fix those previous votes and then launched into an obviously Frank Luntz poll-tested screed about Obama's "bitterly partisan and ad hominem attacks" that were "beneath the dignity of the President of the United States."

Boy, these guys can dish it out but they sure can't take it. This is the character of the new Republican Party. Like all bullies they are really sissies at heart.

Calling someone a hypocrite, as Obama did Paul Ryan at the fundraiser, but then citing chapter and verse the reasons why that is so, as Obama also did when he called out Ryan for his specific deficit aggravating votes, is not the same thing as what right wingers routinely do, which is to name-call their enemies socialists or fascists and leave it at that.

Now, that's an ad hominem attack. But Republican brains are so rotted by their own far right ideology that they can no longer distinguish between a concrete argument made on the basis of documented facts and any counter-opinion that departs from the right wing party line. All they can hear is that President Obama is not one of them and so must be surrounded and destroyed like anti-bodies attacking a foreign virus.

They are like an army of brain dead zombies, ad hominemly speaking!

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 16, 2011 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, good lord...now we have to add "nannies for republicans" to the budget.

Posted by: montana on April 16, 2011 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Fantastic review of the events. Succinct, and exactly correct! Appreciate all the you do.

Posted by: steven on April 16, 2011 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Why invite Camp, Ryan, and Hensarling? I can imagine several reasons:

1. he wanted them to hear all of it, not a version filtered through their staff and media arms. There could be several reasons for this:
(a) to provide a stark contrast to let them know how far from previous budgets they have gone.
(b) to clarify that a fair reading of the facts reposes nearly ALL blame for the deficits on Republicans.
(c) to emphasize that he, Obama, can sell this (truthful) story.
(d) if Republicans do not think they caused the deficit, it is one way of letting them know, however they may deny it, now and in the future.
(e) the contrast might, in the future, cause them pause during crucial moments of future budget negotiations, since the deficit has been caused by Republican policies.

2. Now that the Republican ideologues have prepared the fateful step of voting for such a draconian budget, might as well let them know: GAME ON!!

Posted by: jdog on April 16, 2011 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I keep hearing on TV the talking heads saying social security and medicare are the largest drivers of long term debt and deficits, first of all social security is Ok for awhile, I understand medicare needs a bit of a fix, but the wars seem to be lost in the memory of republicans, and the Medicare part D prescription drug bill - why don't they negotiate for generic drugs (like the VA), I am beginning to think Bush announced that bill for 2 purposes - to give more to drug companies and break medicare!

Posted by: j on April 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Ryan may have gotten the impression that Obama was going to be cooperative from reading liberal blogs and watching the msnbc night time line up. They were pretty all saying Obama was going to cave so I can't blame the GOP for their ignorance.

Posted by: Alli on April 16, 2011 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

An old friend of mine had an expression - I don't know the origin- "Beware the anger of a patient man." Listen & learn, GOP.

Posted by: gelfling545 on April 16, 2011 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Alli is right; even on this blog the assumption of 'caving' before the president's speech was absolutely rampant and yet baseless.

Republicans simply cannot deal with Obama because they assume they are superior due to the color of their skin, and they also assume that culturally, people of color are accommodating toward them, the white masters.

Obama is so much smarter than they are. One wonders in the long run what all their Sturm und Drang have netted the Republicans? They won the House, but that may be temporary. They lost big on a whole host of policy issues. So what have they go but their attitude, which is designed entirely around telling their wealthy patrons, "Give me money,"

Posted by: jjm on April 16, 2011 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Are these guys more thin-skinned than Palin?

Steve makes great arguments why they should have expected to be smacked down. But whining? After they've been attacking Obama since 1/20/09 for being a socialist, communist, Kenyan, foreign, exotic, all of which are bogus and they know so.

Of course, they will claim this animosity will prevent them from doing anything to cooperate, but they weren't going to do that anyway. I'm glad Obama got tough with them and laid out his own vision of America. Apparently he was "itching for a fight" as he said months ago.

Grow up, GOP. I dare you to spend a week following actual Americans around for a day to see what they are struggling with.

Posted by: Hannah on April 16, 2011 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Rep. Ryan. I think you are an arrogant, ignorant asshole, whose very being is motivated to enrich an oligarch at the expense of your constituents. You are a fraud; your plan is filled with intellectual and numerical dishonesty and deceit. Every time I hear your whining pathetic affected " aw shucks" voice, or read some so called analysis of your half-assed so called plan, I want to puke.

Now that, sir, is how I feel. What Obama said was pure kindness compared to the abject loathing that many of us feel toward the morally and intellectually bankrupt bunch of pathetic corporate syncophants that is called the republican party.

You inability to be an elected official and not be able to stand a clear, polite summary of your ridiculous ideas and phony math simply emphaise the points I make. You are a pure schmuck.

Posted by: Bigtuna on April 16, 2011 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

This is a great opportunity for Obama if he plays it right. One of the big attractions for the pro-wrestling, NASCAR-worshipping, "Reagan Democrat," "Angry White Male" segment to the Tea/Republican party is that they are attracted to the image of strength. They want to believe they are part of the "strong" tribe, they want "toughness" even if misguided (like W's "Bring 'Em On").

So Obama should respond to this whining by calling the Republicans out as sissies. Moreover, they've given him a great opening to keep repeating his criticism.

"Now, Paul Ryan and some others have complained all week that it wasn't 'nice' of me to point out that their economic proposals are bad for American and throw away 200 years of the ideals that made this country exceptional. I'm not about to apologize for telling the American people the truth about the major issues of the day. Their budget ideas are what got us into this mess and now they want to make it even worse. And when I point this out -- after years of their side questioning my citizenship and raising other issues that are irrelevant to the jobs and the economy, the things the people want us to be working on -- now they have their sensitive feelings hurt. Over how I described their budget? Makes you wonder how they'd stand up to a real crisis, some foreign warlord that could care less about their feelings, doesn't it? I just hope it isn't like 1995 when Newt Gingrich shut the whole government down because he had to sit in the back of Air Force One. Because we have a country and an economy to move forward, I'm working hard at that every day, and the jobs and economic security of Americans in towns across this country are what I am looking out for. If that makes the Republicans feel bad, they need to step to the side and catch their breath, not stand in the way of our getting the country moving again."

Posted by: zeitgeist on April 16, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Great first read in the morning, after sleeping in! I'm listening to this - from the Ryan folk - and asking myself a school yard question:

Did any of these guys get a bloody nose defending themselves in school, K-12?

Or have they been so insulated their entire lives they've never been afforded an opportunity to measure productive civil discourse against the brutal field of reality? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 16, 2011 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Ryan has been basking and believing his reviews from the fawning press. It was flat out hilarious to see his blue eyes so honestly aggrieved by an honest assessment of his budget. As Steve stated, their complaints did not dispute Obams's factual reading of what is actually in their plan. He was just too direct for the big babies.

Posted by: Kathryn on April 16, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Next time you hear a Republican say that Social Security is one of the biggest drivers of government debt, just remember that by that logic banks are the biggest driver of national debt because they lend people money. Because that is what Social security does: It lends money to the government; it doesn't borrow it. But since it lends money only to the government (by buying T-bills just like foreign governments and Wall Street) conservatives who want to destroy Social Security like to pretend that Social Security is "driving" debt.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 16, 2011 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise.

Now that's hypocrisy we can believe in! What a bunch of precious, arrogant pricks, with the stress on the word arrogant.

Posted by: Squeaky McCrinkle on April 16, 2011 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK
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