Posted by: JanF | October 12, 2010

Last touched

Today’s post is a dribble to the right, a dribble to the left, a swift kick…and some misdirection.

I was at a soccer game over the weekend and one of the plays near the end of the game stuck with me. The ball took a funny carom off one of our players, an opposing player got a foot on it and pushed it towards our goal and the goalkeeper’s hand slipped and the ball went under her into the goal.

Our defensive player felt badly but the blame was not really hers. The ball was touched by 4 or 5 players as it made its way down the field. She was simply the last one who touched it.

The realization that the one who “last touched” the ball might get blamed for the outcome came back to me in full force when I read our local right-wing rag’s endorsement of Scott Walker for Wisconsin governor. It was to be expected…that newspaper has a reflexive dislike of all Democrats even to the point of every two years endorsing any Republican with a pulse instead of our excellent Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.

What struck me this time was the headline: “Walker Best on Jobs” — the same Walker who wants to refuse $600 million in high-speed rail projects from the federal government. Money that will create 5,500 jobs and improve our transportation infrastructure. Walker’s fiscal conservative bona fides get burnished by claiming he will turn down federal money but you know he will be front and center at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the first rail line (or handing over the gigantic cardboard check to someone while carefully covering the ARRA logo with his hand). After I finished laughing (and recovering temporarily dislodged body parts resulting from LMAO), I realized that it was history replaying itself in Wisconsin and in our country.

In Wisconsin, Democratic governors have a long history of being handed budget deficits by self-described “fiscal conservatives”, repairing those deficits (because we can’t print money), often in ways that made enemies, and then losing the next election because they were unpopular. This year, Jim Doyle is not running for re-election but Tom Barrett is being called a “Jim Doyle Democrat” by his opponent probably because this tactic of blaming the guys who fix the problems has worked so well in the past.

The party who last touched the ball, in this case repairing a deficit without totally destroying the government’s ability to help people who needed help, gets blamed for the deficit created by the last administration (Republican Tommy Thompson’s).

Just this past week, a Nobel Prize winning economist discussed the stimulus bill and said:

the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: we never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.

I agree that we needed a bigger stimulus and I agree that jobs are the critical missing component needed for recovery but did you notice what he said? First, there are no “Obama years”. President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. Unless I missed something, this is Obama “year plus 8 months”. Why is this semantic difference important? Because using it totally buys into the Tea Party GOP message that this is now Obama’s Great Recession…simply because he was the last to touch it.

This recession is George W. Bush’s Great Recession…the only time the word Great will ever be used in reference to a thing associated with his administration. Anyone who forgets that needs a course in history … and maybe a better calendar.

People conveniently forget that the reason that President Obama did not go bigger is because he was forced to try to create bipartisan solutions in order to get bills passed. In the course of creating the bipartisan solutions, the better solutions got watered down and in the end he got zero zip zilch nada nothing diddly squat bipartisan support. If he can be faulted for anything it was his fervent hope that republicans actually cared about their country and would not play political games with something as important as the lives of ordinary Americans…those hurt the most by the economic catastrophe brought on by the greed of the banksters and their enablers.

Of course, he was wrong. Republicans do not care a whit about the lives of ordinary Americans.

Republicans plainly and simply want to destroy government. They are running this year in the hopes of getting Congress back to do even more nothings. Larger zeros. More humongous zips. Diddlier squats. Government has been cut to the bone already yet they are running on promises to cut it even further. We are already at the point where vital services have been reduced: teachers, firefighters, police protection, garbage pickup, water purification, road repair, bridge repair. Which of those services can we live without? The correct answer is none of them. So if Tea Party Republicans are running on cutting government, why is no one asking these guys: what is left to cut?

It is important to look not at who last touched the ball…you need to look at the progress of the ball down the field and who had a chance to change the course of that ball.

Most of the touches were by a Republican Congress and a Republican president. If the ball gets to the other side of the field and finds its way through the last defender, it is not the fault of that single defender.

President Obama and the Congressional Democrats did what they could and they are getting blamed, not just by those who are blaming them for purely political gain (the Tea Party GOP) but by those who are supposedly more inclined to support Progressive Values.

Seventy-one percent of the American people blame George W. Bush for the problems with the economy. But it seems like 99% of the pundits call it Obama’s Great Recession and blame him for taking so long (20 months and COUNTING!!!) to fix it.

And one more thing about being touched. Because the word struck me in a different way as I was working on this piece.

The Tea Party GOP is completely untouched by one of the most important Progressive (and human) Values: empathy. They really and sincerely do not think that taking care of people and making their lives less painful is an appropriate role for government. To them government could just as easily be run by machines because there is no touching and no connection to real people’s lives.

It is true that what you do with the last touch can change the game. But unlike in a game, in real life the clock does not run out so our last touch is only the latest touch and we have a chance to get that goal back. Let’s not hand the ball back over to the other side before we get a chance to score some more goals.

(A version of this was originally posted on 10/12/2010 at BPI Campus)