Opinion: Why Republicans Always Pick the Fights and Almost Always Win

Friday, July 29, 2011 - 12:45 PM

President Obama began this year, in his State of the Union Address, calling for investment in infrastructure to keep us competitive with growing economies around the world.

Now, he's just trying to keep us out of default.

The past six months have not marked a proud direction for debate in America. However the debt ceiling issue is resolved, this trajectory suggests a bigger problem for ever properly investing in our country.

Instead of talking about investing in smart grids, high-speed rail and refurbished bridges, we are wondering what happens to a great country when its creditors shut off our credit. Instead of technology in our classrooms, we're cutting early childhood programs. Instead of talking about how our youth can out-compete youth around the world, we are a country of citizens who believe, for the first time, that their children won't have it as good as they had it.

Earlier this week, Speaker Boehner spoke of our nation's spending sapping the "drive" of the American people. There is lack of jobs while big companies sit on record cash-reserves. There is a foreclosure crisis targeting regular Americans. There is a sense of hopelessness compounded by shortages in unemployment relief, foodstamps and vocational education.

Those seem like elements that might sap our national drive, but the government is handcuffed by a small group of right-wingers who have no issue defying their party leadership. President Obama, a natural compromiser, has made clear again and again that he will disappoint his own party's liberal guard.

Boehner - afraid and powerless - can't do the same.

In this morning's address, the president reiterated the imperative to compromise and the necessity of bipartisanship. Yet the House Republicans can't even agree on their own plan, nor have they shown any willingness to consider alternatives.

As a result, as the countdown clock to default ticks down, the debate keeps drifting rightward. One side won't budge; the other side won't let this country fail. As a result, we no longer debate how to engineer a new generation of grand investment in our country; we debate how austere we need to be. We no longer talk about how to put Americans back to work; we talk about two competing proposals that focus on cuts instead of revenue.

The Democrats keep inching closer to the Republicans: Willing to talk about entitlements, putting aside new taxes, focusing on cuts. The Republicans then keep backing into deeper stances: Demanding Constitutional amendments, rejecting a crackdown on corporate give-aways, walking away from the table.

Whatever happens to raise the debt ceiling - and there will be a deal of some sort, one that shifts more burden onto working Americans and lets the richest accumulate and hoard even more resources - the problem of this dynamic will not go away.  The right-wing is good at picking fights.  They choose something that seems absurdly irrational - like threatening a government shutdown or toying with national default - and force the Democrats to treat the position seriously.

This will only continue. And if the Democrats think that rationally waiting for the American people to reward them for being the compromising grown-ups is a good strategy, they'll just keep losing ground.

Boehner is right that our drive is being sapped. Democrats need to recognize that the drive is out there - but it won't be reignited by talks of cuts and austerity. There is energy that can be harnessed by bold plans to end corporate welfare and plow the money into job-creation; there is a citizen army that would mobilize behind ending our occupations overseas and building infrastructure here at home.

That energy won't be tapped in the next week, sadly. And every time the Democrats give ground, it makes them less likely sparks to ignite that patriotic passion. But the debt debate won't be the end of the right-wing's war to defund our government and our country, and the sooner Democrats pick a few fights, rather than getting picked on, the sooner we all will have a chance.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


More in:

Comments [9]

Ginny from Fairfield,CT

ALL DEMOCRATIC representatives & senators need to return to DC NOW!
Take the high ground issue & put the FAA workers, who all have mortgages, car, college payments, etc, back to work.

Aug. 04 2011 10:25 AM
Is Obama a closet REPUBLICAN ?

Is Obama a closet REPUBLICAN ?

It is true that most Democrats nowadays are to the right of President Nixon. Many are to the right of Ronald Reagan's policies. But now it seems that President Obama, and the democrats who are supporting this bill are to the right of 1990's Gingrich!

What happened to the Democratic party ?
Who will represent the poor and middle class ?

Perhaps it's just that the Republicans have found the solution to Bill Clinton's triangulation strategy - the answer : each time Pres. Obama tries to run right to triangulate, the Republicans run even more extremely to the right, until the Democrats are chasing them into extremist right wing territory.

But maybe we're just foolish outsiders.

Maybe, despite his flowery words, in his heart Pres. Obama IS A CLOSET REPUBLICAN.

Perhaps this piece of theatre was his way of getting his own party to vote to harm their own base - and to accept extremist Republican arguments without disputing their validity or premises, and without proposing any constructive real Democratic alternatives.

Aug. 02 2011 12:00 PM
diane g. from Queens,NY

I entirely agree with Justin Krebs analysis. Luckily my New York senators vote the way I prefer. But Anthony Weiner was my Congressional representative. Who represents me in the House where the numbers are a problem?
I hope some good journalist is investigating the role of the Kock brothers in all this, They fund the Tea party, George Mason U. and a think tank. They strategically helped Tea Party candidates get in office.
The interests of few could kill the "Golden Goose" that is America. Where is democracy?

Jul. 31 2011 02:55 PM
Nick -Greenpoint

Can someone please explain the following?

1) Why should we take the rating agencies seriously when they are the same people who created triple A ratings for the mortgage backed securities that tanked the market

2) Who on earth are we borrowing money from and why do we have to borrow it

3)If we are borrowing it from the banks then does anyone else see a problem where we are once again relying on the people who crashed the market - specifically the banks and rating agencies

4) Seriously please tell me if I understand this wrong


Jul. 30 2011 06:55 PM

The Democrats SHOULD have the high ground on this issue. It wasn't a Democrat-controlled Congress and Executive that took a budget that was in SURPLUS and drove it into deficit with Tax Cuts, two wars and the prescription drugs entitlement.

I would support any candidate who proposed the following:

1) Elimination of ALL tax deductions. Rates would also go down but deductions first, rates second.

2) Increase the earnings that FICA withholding applies to 5X the median income. Decrease the rate. Cut the employer match at 3X except for the self-employed, stop that at 2X.

3) Implement the Feds collecting the state sales tax and FORWARDING the collections to the states. This should relieve some of the pressure on state budgets.

A flat taxer would NEVER get my vote.

Jul. 30 2011 12:15 PM
Reza Chowdhury from Long Island, NY

I have listensing to NPR 93.9 and 820. lot of good jouralist, lot of talk. they are are aout President Obama saying this, Speaker boehner saying that, but nobody is saying what the congressman should do at this point when the country is in the verge of economic collapse. I agree we need to cut our spending, but not right now.
Good citizens of America, wake up before the great disaster. save the country. Call our senator to raise the debt ceiling.
this is common sense, the country is in economic crisis, in the verge of collapse, in this time who should contribute to save the country, the person who has ten dollars or those persons who have 10 millions or 10 billions in their pocket. Of course the rich. they woe to this country, because of the infra-structure of this country , they are so much rich now. they should contribute to save the country. not the middle class to poor policeman, firefighters or teachers.
lets raise the ceiling, save the country, then all party , all senators all journalist, economist sit together, make a 5 year plan to cut expense, implement it. find out how we can generate more jobs, business, industry.
No journalist is telling that we should tax the rich, we cannot drustically cut budget, that means lot of teachers, policemen and lot of city workers will loose their job and we will go to a deeper crisis.
all the intellectuals should come forword and tell that what republicans are doing is wrong. they are playing with our live and with our nation.
most people in this country is lost and confused with all the big talks, republican is saying this, democrates is saying that, just come forward and tell us the truth.
1. raise the ceiling
2. gradual and progressive cut down of budget
3. find out ways to increase revenue, increase productions of American goods, e.g. cars, computers, more job, more industry, so America can regain its economic super power again. And we don't have to see China or India beat us as world economic leaders

Jul. 29 2011 09:44 PM
Damian Laugher from Tenafly NJ

I am a republican who is utterly disgusted with the GOP's behavior as it has driven America to the brink of economic catastrophe all for ideology. They are holding a simple short term, but necessary, house keeping issue hostage in order to roll back entire 20th century. That is why I am exploring the possibility of forming a PAC to support centrist republicans, who will do the people work, not the work of the wing nuts.

Jul. 29 2011 08:20 PM
Peter Reda from Brooklyn

I’m honestly beginning to believe that neither party is interested in helping this country or the people. They may argue on Friday but they play golf together on Saturday. The out-and-out apathy of people leaves me sad; that we allow a two party system is unreal, that we allow wars to begin without cause, that elections are stolen, that the health care plan did not offer a public option and follow blindly behind the same rhetoric from one president to the next. In my life I have not seen much difference between the parties’s- one sets the agenda and throws a tempter tantrum while the other speaks good game and then caves. It almost seems as if they are after the same goals in a twisted good cop bad cop routine. If anyone brought up the fact that we are “borrowing” our own money to pay interest on our money to the Fed Reserve-which is NOT a government agency - we may come closer to seeing that we don’t need to be in this situation. Why we allow these people and this system to put a stranglehold on the economy is sad, unethical and illegal. But we allow it- year after year as long as the next guy can convince our short attention span that they are for “change we can believe in”. Where are you Obama, did you forget about us? Use your power- we all saw Bush run rough shot on us for 8 years, why can’t you do anything for us now?

Jul. 29 2011 03:57 PM
thomas goggin from nyc, ny

I agree that Republicans, especially the most extreme ones, are driving the agenda of this country. That doesn't mean that Democrats are off the hook however. The ones I admire (Cong. Nadler and Sen. Chuck Schumer) are aware of what is happening and aren't willing to compromise with radical Republican ideas. Pres. Obama is another story. He has accepted this stupid grabbag from the beginning and because he seems to think that only the middle class is worth mentioning or fighting for, he's lost his grip on reality. His centrist nonsense is threatening the present and future of a huge group of Americans who need their President to remember them and fight for them like FDR did when the Republicans were intent on cuts and status quo when all hell was breaking loose. If the President can't stand the heat, some member of the administration needs to step up and direct him some better ideas than the ones that he's been missing. tom goggin

Jul. 29 2011 02:08 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About It's A Free Blog

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a blog, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at



Supported by