Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Poltical Courage: Truman had it, Ryan doesn't

The GOP and its water carriers have gone on and on about how brave Paul Ryan was in submitting the GOP House budget.  The statements of his courage were based on his willingness to be truthful with the American people about the true state of our finances and the potential collapse of our economic freedom by the twin gargantuan entitlements of Social Security and Medicare.  It seems courage and brave are as frivolously applied as ‘celebrity’ in today’s culture.  Before I lay siege to Mr. Ryan’s courage, let’s apply some context:

For the sake of argument and to maintain consistency, I am only considering the notion of courage in terms of the political dimension. 

On a scale of 1 – 10, one would have to place the Founding Fathers, especially the likes of John and Sam Adams, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, at the top echelon of a 10.  The words and deeds of these men, when the majority of colonists were opposed to protest, let alone revolution.  They risked their lives in the belief that the nature of men was to be free of the yolk of tyranny. 

On a presidential scale, one does not have to look further than Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman.  Lincoln not only put his political career at risk, he put his life on the line and eventually his uncompromising position to keep the union together and to achieve for all men what Jefferson had laid out in the Declaration of Independence cost him his life.    Lincoln showed political courage by bringing his rivals into his cabinet when most of men would have tried to sideline them.  Salmon Chase (Secretary of Treasury), William Seward (Secretary of State), and Edward Bates (Attorney General) became key members of Lincoln’s cabinet having lost the Republican Party nomination to the man they initially despised and even tried to undermine.  But even Lincoln realized that one needed political capital to make bold moves, and even as Frederick Douglass publicly harangued the President for failing to abolish slavery, Lincoln knew he needed to get the general public on his side.  In order to get that, he needed to secure victories on the battlefield.  Once it became apparent to the border states and new territories that the North would prevail, they would be inclined to go along with emancipation.  No matter, President Lincoln was a courageous shrewd politician.

Some could argue that Harry S. Truman wasn’t so much politically courageous as he was politically reckless.  Truman fought an unpopular war in South Korea, angered both management and labor in a series of labor disputes, used an executive order to desegregate the armed forces, inflation, and the firing of a popular general.  Nonetheless, Truman refused to back down from a combative Congress and even though his approval rating was mired in the 20’s, Truman stuck to his guns continued to push what he believed was right for the nation, even if the nation was unwilling to take the tough medicine.

Even President Obama has been too calculating and insufficiently courageous.  He has tried to play both sides of issues such as immigration, same sex rights, marijuana legalization, and the war in Afghanistan.  I know this will strike many liberals as an unfair attack on our Commander in Chief, but it is my opinion based on observing him over the last three years.  True the GOP has been a major roadblock to the President, but the DADT repeal came from the Senate while he has been able to remain ambivalent on the topics noted above because the GOP has routinely painted themselves in the corner of public mistrust and distaste.

But I save my strongest critique for Congressman Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans who call his 2011 and 2012 budget proposals courageous.  So what justifies these lofty claims? To hear the GOP tell the story, these budgets are honest proposals for the American people because they tackle Medicaid and Medicare.  What Ryan has done is simply packaged the GOP platform into a budget:

·         NO defense cuts

·         NO tax increases

·         Cuts to social programs

·         Privatizing Medicare

·         Sending Medicaid to the states where it can die under the guise of state fiscal responsibility

Where’s the courage in that?  Perhaps a truly courageous Republican budget committee chairman would propose a budget that included:

·         Tax revenue enhancements

·         Cuts in defense spending AND other government agencies

·         Funding for infrastructure and education

·         Medicare reform that reduces benefits to the wealthy via means testing

·         Medicaid reform that eliminates fraud and waste

Yes failing to make a decision due to political winds and polls is not courageous, but building a budget from the same termite-laden lumber used to make the planks in your party’s platform is neither courageous nor honest. 

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