Column, 679 words

Our Nation, on Its Knees

Donald Kaul

My favorite part of the budget negotiations is when a glum-looking John Boehner — backed by the vulpine Eric Cantor, eyes blazing — steps in from of the cameras and accuses Barack Obama of “not negotiating in good faith.” And he does it with a straight face.

Apparently, good faith negotiation to a Republican consists of demanding unconditional surrender and an apology for disagreeing in the first place. This qualifies as theater of the absurd. Republicans can’t even negotiate in good faith with each other, for crying out loud, let alone with the president of the United States.

I had high hopes. I admit it. The economy was starting to revive, we had beaten the barbarians back from the gates of the city in the election and Mr. Obama seemed informed by a new resolve.

I was encouraged by Obama’s tough talk at the onset of the budget negotiations. He was prepared to cut the size of government and gradually reduce Social Security benefits through a complicated formula, yes. But he was also going to let tax rates rise by a few percentage points on income of more than $250,000 to even things out.

That wasn’t good enough for the Republicans. They kept holding out for no rate hikes on the rich, instead leaning heavily on taking money and benefits from the sick and the disabled to balance the budget.

Then Obama offered to raise the tax threshold to incomes of $400,000 or more.

“Oh no,” I said to myself. “He’s starting to negotiate with himself again. He always does that and he always loses.”

boehner-cantor-cliff-negotiations

Talk Radio News Service/Flickr

But then John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of House, started to negotiate with himself too. He offered to accept a tax rise for incomes of $1 million or more.

This, of course, was unacceptable to Democrats but, as it turned out, the Republican knuckle-draggers in the House wouldn’t go along either.

So, at this writing, there we are, on the very edge of the fiscal cliff with no easy way back. (Republican conservatives have an ancient Greek warrior streak in them. They stake out a position, then burn the boats they came in.)

One thing the Republicans were able to agree on was to cut out the cuts in military spending that were coming as part of the cliff deal and apply them to other spending in the budget — frills like subsidies for higher education, public housing for the poor, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter put it: “Without such spending, the government becomes little more than a heavily armed pension plan with a health insurer on the side.” And not a very good insurer at that.

Every once in a while, the question arises of whether the United States of America constitutes “the greatest country in the world.” Most Americans, say: “Sure we are.”

Really?

I’ve always had my doubts about that. Whenever international rankings of nations come out — categories like infant mortality, educational achievement, even overall “quality of life” — the U.S. seldom cracks the top ten.

The one place where we have absolute, undisputed supremacy is the percentage of our people who are locked up. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we’ve got 25 percent of the planet’s prisoners. We rank No. 1 in this regard, well ahead of the much-larger China, which also happens to be a police state, and Russia, where they put singers in jail for making fun of Vladimir Putin.

Those just don’t seem like the kind of statistics the greatest country on earth should generate.

Nor would it put up with a political system where a determined group of informationally challenged zealots could bring the nation to its knees on any pretext that struck its fancy.

We’re a pretty good country — don’t misunderstand me. I’m glad I live here. But the greatest on earth?

I’d like a second opinion.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is his second column since late July, the month he had a heart attack and decided to take a break. OtherWords.org

  • Catherine

    Thank you, Mr. Kaul.

  • http://twitter.com/trepicer Tee Price

    He’s baaaaack!
    Great column.

  • davidmcdonald

    Sorry Mr Kaul, second opinions aren’t allowed under ObamaCare. Think back to 2010 when the Democrats lost the house due to over spending. “You Coulda Had It All” in 2008 to 2010 when you controlled all three branches and you were “Rollin In The Deep”. But, they chose to spend spend spend and never passed a budget. Spending trillions since the Great Society, maybe it’s not the fault of “Rich People” but the fault of “Slackers”.

  • Wayne from Sheboygan

    When it comes to American exceptionism, there are a number of things I wish we weren’t so exceptional at, and you just named several of them – especially guns, of course. Wouldn’t it be great if we had Finland’s educational system, Japan’s life expectancy (at about 25% of our per capita cost), Germany’s unionized worker training program, Germany’s solar panel business, Australia’s electoral system, etc? Justice Kennedy (a conservative Republican) has been critcized for looking to other countries’ experiences as a way of solving some of our own complicated legal problems. Too bad we’re already perfect – maybe we could learn a few things. Remember: hot dogs aren’t vegetables; take care of yourself. You’re probably tired of hearing that from your family and now you’re getting it from your readers.

  • James Beranek

    Don,
    I’ve been reading your columns since Over the Coffee days at the Register. Having you back is the best news since the election. Thank you for reconsidering.
    Best wishes,
    James Beranek
    Cedar Rapids, IA

  • T4D

    Write on, Donald! However, please remember that some counties limit their prison population by frequent capital punishment. Also the families pay for the bullet.

  • MaryElizabeth Isom

    Welcome back !!!!! Your fans are happy now.

  • JB

    Wonderful to read Donald Kaul again!

  • awings

    I am thrilled you are back – my best Christmas gift this year!!!

  • Jaylah

    I see you are being your usual kind (understated) self in saying that Obama is “negotiating with himself.” I just call that his repeated caving in to the GOP.

  • GaryB

    OT – great to see you back in the saddle again.

  • Pingback: The Fiscal Cliff And Republican Boat Burning | Blog for Iowa

  • Tom Ryan

    The problem is not the politicians, the problem is with the people who hire them, the voters. In 2008 we elected a guy who was pretty clear about what he wanted to do. He said, “Vote for me and I will do a, b, c, and d. That’s my plan, that’s my program: a, b, c and d.”

    We-the-people said, ok, that sounds fine. And we elected the guy who promised to do a, b, c, and d.

    Two years later we looked around and said to ourselves, “Oh My God! The President is doing a, b, c, and d! We can’t have this!” So we-the-people voted in a majority in the House that vowed to stop, at all costs, the President from doing a, b, c and d. Exactly what result did we-the-people expect we would get?

    Frustrating as it is to see the Tea Party types doing all they can to protect the rich and to prevent the President from accomplishing any part of his program, we have to admit that they are in fact doing exactly what they promised to do when we-the-people voted them into office.

    If you hire employees who vow–up front–that they will do everything they can to prevent each other from succeeding, then it’s not the employees who are to blame for failure, it’s the employer.

    “The greatest argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with an average voter.”

    – Winston Churchill

    • ardeousnancy

      Donald Kaul
      Home (734) 994-0144

      841 Asa Gray Dr

      Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2566

  • Homer as in homerun

    Mr. Kaul: I got introduced to you today. I must say you have the IQ of a “wharf rat”–you go where the corn droppings lead you. And…you are almost as sophisticated.

    • simplysamson

      Donald W Kaul
      Home (734) 994-0144

      841 Asa Gray Dr

      Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2566

  • George Begis

    Donald W Kaul

    Home (734) 994-0144

    841 Asa Gray Dr

    Ann Arbor, MI 48105-2566

  • freedom fighter

    I hope you are the crazy that comes for my gun. Your type should leave the USA now and leave it in the safe hands of us that believe in freedom and the right to bear arms.

  • AmericaFirst

    Absolute lunatic, liberal rubbish. Thank you for clearly encapsulating all that I and most level headed American’s stand against.

  • Will Crash

    Wow…you guys employ people so they can give their incredibly biased opinions about what they feel is right or wrong. If you are going to have a idiot like Kaul, than you should have someone on the other side to dispute his puke and rhetoric. Until he leaves I will not read another page from you guys. “He” and Michael Moore is what is wrong with America.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.ahrens Dominick Ahrens

    Another liberal who expresses his discontent with our country, but probably considers his “contribution” – a career constructing hate-filled propaganda – to be of the same caliber and benefit to our country as the sacrifices made by our founders and those who have served in our armed forces.

    Oh, who am I kidding. Their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” don’t mean squat, after all, they were all rich white male slave owners. And those in the armed forces? Just non-college educated felons in training expanding american (sp intentional) imperialism for the military-industrial complex, right? How lucky we are to have educated sophisticates like Mr. Kaul to illuminate our obvious shortcomings, as well as calling for the elimination of those who don’t understand the genius of the left.

  • Red_Ruffansore

    This communist gun grabber should name his soap box “Random Shots from a Big Bore”.