Despicable

I founded Armchair Firebrand as a direct response to Republican obstructionism in our government and the widespread proliferation of Right-wing misinformation throughout our media. In the weeks and months since this endeavor began, those nefarious forces have only grown stronger.

Washington D.C. shut down well before last weekend’s epic snowstorm descended upon our nation’s capitol. Thursday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) placed a “blanket hold” on nearly seventy Obama Administration nominees currently awaiting Senate approval.

Shelby’s objection has nothing to do with these qualified individuals themselves. Rather, it hinges upon a pair of earmarks, recently eliminated from our nation’s budget, that would benefit his home state of Alabama. Placing these narrow interests above filling so many vacant posts within our government is both irresponsible and inexcusable.

Shelby’s intransigence is also a sharp rebuke of President Obama’s recent request that the G.O.P. govern responsibly rather than blindly obstruct his agenda. If Senate Republicans insist on throwing such temper tantrums every time they don’t get their way, our country will soon become ungovernable.

Even more despicable is the venomous vitriol spewing forth from the Tea Party’s inaugural convention in Nashville, Tennessee. Friday, in his speech at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo fervently denounced our President as “a committed socialist ideologue” elected by “people who cannot even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English.”

Then there was Sarah Palin, an unsuccessful G.O.P. Vice Presidential candidate and half-term former governor, who reportedly received $100,000 for delivering the convention’s keynote address Saturday night. Palin began with a stunning indictment of optimism and progress, rhetorically asking Obama voters, “How’s that hope-y, change-y stuff workin’ out for ya?”

Meanwhile, Palin’s political paradigm or, to employ her preferred populist parlance, presumably, “that fear-y, status quo thingy,” seems to be working out just fine, at least for her. This self-centered strategy has proven extremely effective in the short-term, upping Ms. Palin’s media profile while lining her pockets at the same time.

However, appealing to people’s irrational fear of change generally brings out the worst in them (a fact demonstrated by the many misguided and offensive slogans spouted at tea party events last summer).

And assuring voters that we can continue consuming resources at or above our current rate is as reckless as it is dishonest. To use a tired metaphor, at a time when Americans must get leaner, Palin is scoring political points by telling us we can eat ice cream every night for dinner and never gain weight or run out of milk.

Journalist Jacob Weisberg recently bemoaned this cheap brand of political charlatanism in his piece for Slate.com, “the politicians thriving at the moment are the ones who embody this live-for-the-today mentality, those best able to call for the impossible with a straight face…Middle-class Americans really don’t want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them.”

As Weisberg notes, in our democracy, the buck stops with us: the American People. We’re the ones enabling the despicable words and actions of cynical charlatans like Shelby, Tancredo and Palin by failing to expose the obvious flaws in their logic. Instead, we’re left with a public unwilling or unable to separate fact from fiction and make the tough choices necessary to bring our country back from the brink.

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23 thoughts on “Despicable

  1. I assume the earmarks you refer to in speaking about Senator Shelby are the Air Force Tanker and the FBI IED analytical center. I don’t dispute the IED center being an earmark, but disagree over the Air Force Tanker. The contract was originally awarded to Northrup Grumman in a bid process that had been touted as the most “rigorous, fair, and transparent acquisition process in Department of Defense history”. Boeing filed a protest after the award, and the RFP has since been redrawn in such a way as to heavily favor the Boeing submission. Senator Shelby is bringing attention to this by placing the holds. His duty is to represent the interests of his state, and being from Alabama, I have no problem with his tactics.

    • Regardless of the Northrup-Boeing dispute’s details, refusing to allow votes on scores of completely unrelated nominations is irresponsible and inexcusable, by any objective metric. Putting the narrow interests of defense contractors in his home state above our national interest is the very definition of unpatriotic. If every Senator followed suit, our country would quickly become ungovernable. I encourage you to rethink your position.

      • What harm did placing the holds on the confirmations for a few days actually cause? I don’t believe he is serving the interests of the defense contractors as much as he is serving the interests of the people of Alabama.

        I would agree it would be bad form to continue to hold up all the nominations, but he has since released all but those directly related. If he would not have place holds on all nominations in the first place, then no attention would have been drawn to the issue.

        • Placing an indiscriminate blanket hold on scores of nominees holds up the confirmation processes, resulting in government posts remaining unfilled for extended periods of time. It also slows down the Senate’s agenda, making it more difficult to solve the myriad problems our country faces.

          And if you think Richard Shelby is sticking up for the Alabama “everyman” by defending Northrup-Grumman, you’re delusional. Shelby’s maneuver is a bush league move meant to protect the interests of one of his biggest campaign contributors.

          • But what actual harm did not having the seats filled for two more days actually cause?

            I expect Richard Shelby to look out for the interests of those in Alabama. This contract will bring jobs to Alabama. It happens in this case that the interests of Alabama coincide with the interests of Northrup Grumman. I fully expect that Northrup Grumman would have donated money to any and all politicians it believes will help it get the contract. That’s how politics work. Did Obama not accept any campaign contributions from corporations or labor unions?

            • It’s more the principle of the thing. Shelby’s blanket hold was not an isolated incident but rather the latest instance of Republican obstructionism. If Senators of either party continue to act like this, the consequences for our nation will be dire.

              • Is it obstructionism if you truly do not agree with the policies that are being pursued? When the republicans had control of congress, I had no issue with them blocking any legislation that they did not believe in. I don’t expect anyone to lay down their principles. I would be perfectly happy if neither party ever had control of both the executive and legislative branches. They are guilty over over-legislating. When framing the constitution the founding fathers actually wondered if there would be enough business to warrant a meeting every year. However, as a “check on the Executive department” they required congress to meet at least once a year.

  2. Jeremy,

    I wonder if you would feel the same if it was a Democratic senator from New York or one of the other 48 states that aren’t Alabama was holding out for some project that doesn’t serve your interests.

    Yes, Senator Shelby is one of Alabama’s senators and it is part of his job to serve the best interests of his constituency, but he’s also responsible to the rest of the nation, especially when his actions affect all of us, as in the 70 or so appointments that he held hostage for his pet projects — those jobs being done by underlings or not at all — until the Senate can do its job and vote on them. He isn’t only the senior Senator from Alabama, he is a United States Senator, responsible for the functioning of the Senate, or the lack thereof.

    [BTW, I went over the relevant portions of the Constitution, and funnelling pork back home is not part of the job description for a U.S. Senator.]

    What harm did it do? Well, first of all, the Senate isn’t doing their jobs because each of these blocks requires a vote for cloture, which they cannot now win. Even if they were able to overturn the block, there are also delays built into the process. Each of these could a week or more to break.

    He held 70+ Federal appointees hostage to his own self-interest instead of considering what the nation as a whole needs. Not only that, but by forcing the President to use recess app0intments to get around this obstruction, he and the rest of his party lose their voice in the selection process. Say that some of these people really shouldn’t be in those positions and the Republicans have valid objections. They won’t get to raise those objections or reject the appointees, since they won’t permit a vote.

    Finally, the United States is in crisis at present. Wall Street is running amok, enriching itself at the expense of everyone else; health costs are running out of control, eating up over 17% of the Gross Domestic Product; there are 2 wars to conduct; jobs are being shipped overseas with no replacements in sight; and an economy that’s in the toilet. Do you really think that Senator Shelby is serving anyone’s best interests, beyond his own and his corporate sponsors’, by using parliamentary tricks to gum up the works?

    • I would have the same opinion. For example, I see no issue with Senator Nelson negotiating special deals for his state. That’s his duty.
      I believe a Senator is to represent the interests of the individual state – not even the interests of the people. This is why Senators were originally elected by state legislatures.

      I think I see where we differ, though. I don’t believe we actually NEED the 70+ positions. The government is far too large in my opinion, and these positions are just another form of waste.

      I agree that the U.S. is in crisis now. However, most of the issues can be traced back to government intervention. Things will not improve until the government gets out of the people’s business.

      • As Henry pointed out, it’s not any senator’s “duty” to hold up the entire legislative process to benefit the narrow interests of his constituency, especially on an issue as important as health care reform.

        Second of all, what are you basing your opinions on? How can you say with such confidence that we “don’t need” all of those positions in government if you don’t specifically know what functions they perform? What if they deal with vital, national security interests? Would they then be “just another form of waste?” You can see the obvious flaw in your logic.

        Also, please enlighten me as to how, “most of the issues” that got us into this crisis were caused by “government intervention.” In fact, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, financial deregulation (less government oversight of the economy) lead to our current conundrum.

        Unless you’ve got a Nobel Prize your not telling me about, I’m inclined to take his word over yours.

        If you don’t have any facts to back up your “beliefs” (which really just sound like G.O.P. talking points), please don’t bother posting on my site.

        • Likewise, how can you say that we do need all of those positions if you don’t know exactly what their functions are, or how many of their functions overlap. Obviously you can see the flaw in your logic.

          Also, Milton Friedman, who is also a Nobel prize winner, was a strong proponent of decentralization of power and minimization of the functions of the federal government. Paul Krugman may once have been an economist, but he is now more of a political pundit than anything else. I’m more inclined to take Friedman’s word over Krugman’s.

          • Milton Friedman’s obsolete philosophy of financial deregulation, also espoused by his disciples like Alan Greenspan, have been proven wrong by the events of the recent financial crisis. This is the consensus among mainstream economists.

            Also, Krugman won his Nobel Prize in 2008, two years after Friedman passed away. As I stated above, I consider his theories obsolete.

            • I disagree. Freidman was one of the most respected, if not he most respected, economists of the 20th century according to the Economist magazine. I would hardly call Greenspan a disciple of Freidman, since Freidman supported abolishing the FED. I admit that partial regulation of the market will cause the market to malfunction. Saying that the free market doesn’t work since securities were regulated – while regulating interest rates – is like saying that cars don’t work when the brake lines are cut.

              • My apologies. Above should have been “Saying that the free market doesn’t work since securities were not regulated – while regulating interest rates – is like saying that cars don’t work when the brake lines are cut”

              • I don’t take issue with Friedman being one of the most respected economists of the 20th Century. However, we live in the 21st Century and have 21st Century economic problems that Friedman’s theories don’t account for, specifically globalization.

                Abolishing the Federal Reserve would be a disaster for domestic and international markets. Worse, it would destabilize our currency and infuriate our most important trading partner and debt holder, China.

                Put simply, it is neither a desirable nor a feasible policy. Again, the Fed might not be perfect but it serves an important function, whether you acknowledge it or not.

  3. Nice post, I have a similar post on the Q&A Obama did the other day. You should stop by check it out. I am a republican who agrees with you on this.

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    • I will definitely check out your site and look forward to it. For the record, I have the utmost respect for actual Republicans. David Brooks, Gen. Brent Scowcroft, James A. Baker III and Bob Gates are all people who I greatly admire (there are many more but for brevity’s sake I’ll stop with Gates). Thanks for proving that we can find common ground on some issues. Republicans have some great ideas. Neo-conservatives, on the other hand, scare the hell out of me!

  4. You know there are more of us out here than the news media likes to give attention to. We simply expect these educated, well-paid, people to do their jobs with integrity and fairness. It’s really ridiculous at this point the games that are tolerated in poltics. I commend you for spreading your voice.

    If anyone’s interested, check out my blog too, it’s along the same sentiment. The more of us that spread the word that common sense is back with a vengence, maybe we can get some accountability back to Washington. http://crazyfolks.wordpress.com/

    • I checked out your site and really like it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I also really like your slogan of common sense being “back with a vengeance.” Cheers to that!

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