Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Does Failure Mean?

Ever since Rush Limbaugh stated, shortly before the inauguration, that he hoped President Obama would "fail" there has been quite a bit of discussion (and derision) on just what Limbaugh and others who echo his thoughts ... er, sorry ... ditto his thoughts really mean. Lately, one of the apparent talking points is that Republicans don't want America to fail, they just want President Obama's policies to fail. For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) told CNN's Rick Sanchez "You bet, we want those policies to fail." To be fair, here is Rep. Pence's statement in broader context:
Everybody wants America to succeed but everyone like me, Rush Limbaugh and others who believe in limited government, who believes in conservative values, wants the policies that this administration is bringing forward, higher taxes, massive increase in government spending, a huge increase in the role of government, in our daily lives, departure from traditional values. You bet, we want those policies to fail. Because, Rick, we know big government, increases in debt, the micromanagement of the economy out of Washington, DC is a policy that will fail.
So let's take Rep. Pence at his word. But let's also think about what he's saying. Fine, he wants President Obama's policies to fail. First, let's ask why? Why would he want those policies to fail? Could it be that if those policies work then Republicans will have that much more difficulty getting back into the majority? After all, if President Obama's policies succeed then wouldn't that mean that he was right and the Republicans were wrong? Also, note the circularity of his statement. He wants the policies to fail because he knows that they are policies that will fail. Huh?

Second, think for a minute what it would mean if President Obama's policies were to fail. Perhaps that would mean good news for the Republicans, but would it really be good for America? Set aside whether you think President Obama's policies are a good or not. Those policies have been enacted largely as a method to address the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression (which was not caused by Franklin Delano Roosevelt despite recent Republican claims...). If those policies fail, what sort of economic condition will America find itself in? Republicans disagreed with the stimulus plan. Fine. But now that the stimulus plan has been passed, shouldn't Republicans hope that it succeeds? Which would be worse for America: the success of President Obama's policies to the detriment of the Republican Party or the failure of those policies to the potential economic detriment of America? Hmm, tough one. On one hand, we have the Republicans remaining in the minority while on the other hand we have millions more Americans out of work and millions more homes foreclosed. It seems like an easy answer to me.

And one more thing. Go back to the days when the the War on Terror, the war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq were the main focus of political discussion. Recall how offended Republicans were when someone would criticize President Bush's handling of the wars. Think of the days shortly after 9/11 when anyone who was critical of the President was labelled unpatriotic. If you didn't support the Patriot Act you were apparently in league with Al-Qaeda. Ann Coulter wrote a book called Treason in which she baselessly accused liberals of being traitors on the basis of their political views (how dare someone disagree with President Bush, let alone Ann Coulter or her political idol Joe McCarthy). So now that the proverbial shoe is on the other foot, how is hoping that President Obama's policies fail any different from criticizing President Bush's war effort? Actually, I would contend that hoping for failure is worse; criticism of the President is a core component of democratic freedoms while hoping for failure goes against the very fabric of our nation (united we stand, divided we fall...).

Republicans should feel free to criticize President Obama's policies (but they should be able to offer a competing vision and should rely on verifiable facts and statistics, not just innuendo, rumor, and fear mongering), to offer their own proposals, to vote against policies that they don't like, and to hold the Obama administration accountable for things within the administration's control. And they can certainly be ready with a plan of action should President Obama's policies fail. But they should never hope that those policies fail because then, despite what they may claim, they are really hoping that America fails or at least becomes worse off than it is presently.

So next time you hear a Republican say that they hope President Obama's policies fail, force them to defend that statement. Ask them precisely which policies they hope fail and don't allow them to offer broad generalities. Ask them if they hope that the stimulus plan fails to generate jobs. Ask them if they hope the economic bailout fails to prevent banks from collapsing. Ask them if they hope that more Americans can't afford health coverage or are forced out of their homes. Then gently remind them that it is acceptable to oppose policies that they disagree with, but that it is not acceptable to hope that policies implemented for the greater good fail.

And remind them that in November 2008, Republicans put their competing vision up for examination by the American public ... and lost.

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