Andy Schmookler: Talk to the people, Mr. President

By Andy Schmookler

Mr. President, why aren’t you out on the hustings talking to the American people? There’s an election coming up, and the American political system is more dysfunctional than in generations, maybe ever. What does it mean that you are not using this last opportunity of your presidency to talk to voters about what’s gone wrong and what they can do about it?

The people know that something has gone terribly wrong — just look at the record-setting low poll numbers for Congress. That probably has something to do with another record the Congress has set in the past four years: its failure to accomplish much of anything to meet the considerable challenges our nation faces.

I assume you know the problem — that Republicans made it their top priority, even before you took office, to make you fail by blocking everything you tried to accomplish, even though the nation faced major challenges.

• The economy was on the edge of an abyss, with an urgent need to restore consumer demand to stop the vicious cycle of lay-offs.

• Our health care system was bankrupting the country, costing twice as much as in other rich nations while leaving millions of Americans without coverage and causing the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands every year.

• The alarms about the disruption of the earth’s climate were becoming more intense as the science became ever clearer.

• The gutting of financial regulation had helped bring on the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the regulatory system needed to be rebuilt to prevent the same thing from happening again.

In the first two years of your presidency, Republicans — almost without exception — did everything they could to block solutions. But back then, your allies had the numbers in Congress, and on three of those four problems (not including climate change), Congress managed to enact solutions — imperfect, but at least a step in the right direction.

But for the past four years, Republican obstructionists have had the power to prevent the American government from dealing with serious problems, even though polls showed that big majorities of the American people (even majorities of Republicans) favored measures that were proposed.

• Congress failed to enact a jobs program to put Americans back to work during a time of high and persistent unemployment.

• Congress failed to enact any measure to keep assault weapons out of the hands of unstable people, despite horrific reminders of the need and even though a big majority of NRA members favor universal background checks.

• Congress failed to address the immigration issue, a festering sore in the body of America.

• Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, which is lower now in real dollars than 45 years ago and which is tied for lowest among all democracies, consigning many hard-working people to poverty.

In every case, Republicans made no good-faith effort to come up with solutions that would serve America. Their political strategy for regaining power — by making you fail — mattered more to them than the needs of the nation, or the will of the people.

Clearly to sacrifice the good of the nation in order to increase one’s power over it is to betray the nation. In the dictionary, the primary definition of “traitor” is “a person who betrays a friend, country, principle….”

Traitor is an ugly word — probably not appropriate for you to use. But Mr. President, you can still call out Republicans for their unprecedented disgraceful conduct. Such straight talk could raise the question: “Since this has been happening from Day One, why haven’t you called them out like this before?” An excellent question. But it’s not what this campaign should be about.

It should be about how to set things right — now — so that the nation can move forward.

You should tell the people that if they want a government that will do the people’s business, they’ve got to take power away from “the Party of No.”

Give voters a list of things you know they want done, and tell them that those things can be done, but only if they will reject lock-step obstructionists and send people to Congress who want to use our system of government the way our founders intended– not to indulge their lust for power, but to serve the nation.

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012. He lives in Shenandoah County.

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