Almost everyone over the age of sixty will remember the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. In the film, Luke (Paul Newman) is severely disciplined by a man known as the “Captain” (Strother Martin), the brutal warden of a Florida prison camp, following one of Luke’s many unsuccessful escape attempts.
As Luke is struck with the Captain’s cane and tumbles to the bottom of a ditch, the Captain announces to the inmates gathered nearby, “What we have here is… failure to communicate.”
Although congressional Republicans actually have the strongest hand to play in the ongoing struggle over the so-called “fiscal cliff ,” watching them being regularly taken to the cleaners by the likes of Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi is almost more than any rational observer can endure.
The only success that the principal negotiators for the Republican side, Speaker John Boehner (R-IL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), can claim is that they’ve been successful in turning their strong hand into a losing hand. Watching them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, day after day, week after week, one can’t help but be reminded that what we are seeing is simply a “failure to communicate.” For those of us who consider ourselves to be on the Boehner/McConnell team, it is distressing beyond words to have to conclude that they don’t seem to understand what game they’re playing in, or the rules of that game.
A USA Today/Gallup poll posted on the Internet is clear evidence that the vast majority of Americans understand that the federal deficit is primarily the result of too much spending, as opposed to too little tax revenue. Overall, 73% of those polled agreed with Republicans that the deficit is caused by too much spending, while only 22% agreed with Obama and the Democrats that taxes need to be increased to meet all of our revenue needs.
Sorted by political affiliation, 91% of Republicans, 73% of Independents, and even 56% of self-identified Democrats agreed that the federal deficit problem, hence the burgeoning national debt, is the result of too much spending. Only 7% of Republicans, 20% of Independents, and 38% of Democrats felt that government raises too little revenue through taxation. Yet, if we were to ask the American people which of the two opposing forces… John Boehner and the Republicans, or Barack Obama and the Democrats… is on the right side of the issue, the overwhelming number of people would name Obama and the Democrats. Go figure!
One would think that, after contending with Democrats in the White House and in Congress on a daily basis for twenty, thirty, forty or more years, Republican leaders would have caught on to the Democrats’ game by now… but that obviously is not the case. Nor are they willing to take good advice. While Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and other Democrats get all the time they need or want before the national television cameras, Speaker Boehner has a tendency to make a brief statement, field three or four questions, and then turn abruptly and walk away… as if what awaits him in his office is anywhere near as important as informing and educating the American people.
When Democrats elect leaders in the House and Senate, they look for leaders with glib tongues and the ability to lie with a straight face… people with the ability to take one side of an issue today and the opposing side tomorrow, and do it smoothly and seamlessly. In short, they look for those individuals with the least integrity and the least intellectual honesty.
Republicans, on the other hand, look to seniority, breadth of congressional experience, and knowledge of the issues. They pay little or no attention to the prospective leader’s ability to generate quotable quotes or to take the hide off Democrats. In my lifetime, Republicans have had one Senate Leader, Everett Dirksen of Illinois (January 1959-September 1969), and one House Speaker, Newt Gingrich of Georgia (January 1995-January 1997), who understood the nature and scope of congressional leadership. There has not been a single Republican House Floor Leader in my lifetime who has had the ability to go “toe-to-toe” with the Democrats.
In the recent crisis, for example, Speaker Boehner never seemed to understand what it was the people failed to understand about the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Trying to be helpful, I have written letters to the Speaker and I’ve left messages on his office telephone, suggesting that he needs to paint a mental picture of the situation that all adult Americans can understand. I’ve suggested that, after his next fruitless negotiating session with Barack Obama, he go before the TV cameras and say this:
“Every working American understands that it’s impossible to spend and borrow their way out of debt. Short of taking a second job, the only way to keep from going further into debt is to reduce non-essential spending. The same is true of the U.S. economy. We can’t reduce our deficits by spending more and borrowing more. The only way to get out of the fiscal hole we’re in is by growing our economy, yet the president insists on taking more money out of the pockets of those who invest money and who create jobs with their investments.
“Let me put it in terms of a metaphor that everyone can understand. I know that the president doesn’t drive his own car. I don’t even know if he has a driver’s license. But I do know this: if he drives a car the same way he tries to run the U.S. economy… with one foot pressing on the accelerator and the other jammed on the brake… I’d be scared to death to ride with him.”
Even the most economically illiterate Democrats would understand that concept.
However, there are those of us who have felt that, while professing otherwise, Obama would like nothing better than to see the U.S. economy go over the “fiscal cliff.” That being the case, the Speaker had nothing to lose by being painfully honest with the American people. He could have described the frustration he felt from negotiating with an inexperienced dolt like Barack Obama by going before the TV cameras and saying:
“Ladies and gentlemen… it is difficult (sigh). In attempting to negotiate a solution to our fiscal crisis with the president, I have 232 Republican colleagues that I have to satisfy… all of whom understand how the U.S. economy functions. But we have only one president, a man who has absolutely no experience whatsoever in the private sector. After four years of trying to work with him it is finally quite clear to me that he simply does not understand how the U.S. economy works… how jobs are created and how the economy is made to grow.
“That being said, it begins to look less and less as if we will be able to reach an agreement with the president on what needs to be done. The members of the House have done their job. Our Budget Committee proposal, which contained some really tough choices, passed the House on April 13, 2012, by a vote of 235 to 193. By comparison, I feel compelled to remind everyone that the president’s latest budget proposal failed in the House in March 2012 by a vote of 414 to 0, and in the Senate on May 16 by a vote of 99 to 0. Not a single Democrat, in the House or in the Senate, has voted for either the president’s budget or ours.
“The budget passed by the House, a very responsible approach, has been gathering dust on Harry Reid’s desk since May 17 of last year. The only thing I can suggest is that the American people demand that Mr. Obama and his friends in Congress finally get serious about our debt problem. If they don’t, every American is going to suffer and the poor and middle class will be hurt the worst. Now, I have an hour to spare. I’ll be happy to take your questions.”
Two things should be crystal clear to almost every thinking person by now. First, it should be perfectly clear that all Democrats, from Barack Obama on down, oppose any form of spending cuts. Why? Because, for the past eighty or ninety years, Democrats have built their party by catering to special interests, all of whom want something from government. What makes it impossible to put our country back on the road to fiscal sanity is that, at every turn, we run headlong into one Democratic constituency or another. When Democrats confront spending cuts, the first thing that pops into their minds is the loss of votes on Election Day.
And finally, the American people need to understand that whenever Republicans talk about the need to cut spending, the first words out of every Democrat’s mouth are, “Exactly what would you cut?” If they could get even one Republican to suggest which entitlement programs they would cut, for weeks thereafter the lead stories in the press would be about nothing more than how those “heartless Republicans” would put old folks out onto the street, take food out of the mouths of school children, or subject workers to unsafe conditions in the workplace. Democrats don’t mind if the United States becomes a failed state, going over the “fiscal cliff.” Their only concern is that they be at the helm when the end comes.
While the one thing that most typifies Republican leaders is their inability to communicate with the American people at a level they can comprehend, they are at least wise enough to avoid stepping into the trap of getting out front on specific spending cuts. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans fail to understand these basic facts of political life and it is the fault of the Republican leadership that they do not. It’s time that we all lean on our Republican senators and representatives, demanding that they elect only leaders who have the ability to communicate.