H. Brandt Ayers: The fog is still there
Nov 11, 2012 | 2867 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party at McCormick Place. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party at McCormick Place. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
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As expected, Tuesday’s vote did not lift the fog of confusion about our future, and now leaders of both parties must stumble through the mist in hopes of finding solutions to immediate and critical problems.

The gloom is deepened for an Alabamian whose state rejected a black president, alienating itself further from American values by voting to keep racist language in its state Constitution and electing a chief justice of its Supreme Court who had previously disobeyed a federal court order and had been removed from office.

To be bound by nativity to a state I love but despair of is to feel a shame that surely God will forgive; but for a long time it will seep into everything we do or say, tainting even our prideful football victories.

Interpreting what lay beneath these disturbing events is a story for another day. No good will come from further moping about my state’s voluntary apartheid. The nation from which it is estranged is facing a fiscal crisis that, left unresolved, will plunge the country back into recession.

Pressures of time and the natural inclination of an inert Congress will prevent huge tax increases and drastic cuts in government from going into effect Dec. 31. Congress will do what it is good at; it will postpone the hard decisions.

Feeling confident that a do-nothing Congress will do nothing, let’s step back and try to divine the source of the fog of confusion and the obstruction in the governing process that has caused our sclerotic condition.

Remember that Barack Obama took office during a terrifying economic undertow that was undermining the nation’s financial structure, sucking up and discarding jobs by the hundreds of thousands a week.

Emergency bipartisan measures shored up the financial industry, a stimulus bill was passed that in time helped stop the bleeding and the government stepped in to save the auto industry.

These were emergency measures, the metaphorical equivalent of the U.S. fire department being called to put out a five-alarm fire. The fire department did not take ownership of the property that was on fire.

But this was strange, unsettling behavior for government, unlike anything most citizens had ever seen the federal government do, which was exploited for political purposes. The cry of “socialism” was heard in the land.

In the summer of 2009, people were still frightened by the recession, saw the government do strange, expensive things it couldn’t pay for and a vast new measure affecting health care was emerging.

There was a sense of dislocation, a sense that democratic capitalism had lost its mooring and was aimlessly adrift. In town hall meetings all summer long, Republican candidates colored these events in the most sinister hues.

Obama, meanwhile, perhaps believing that saving the banks and the stimulus program doing its work meant everything was going to be okay, concentrated on getting the health-care bill passed.

In the absence of symbolic presidential trips and fireside talks to reassure an anxious electorate, the political vacuum was filled by a hybrid Republican, the Tea Party, financed by special interests such as the billionaire Koch brothers.

These half-breed Republicans took office with a bizarre ideology that said hating one’s own government is the highest good, and any action that raises revenue is tantamount to treason.

This fevered reasoning was symbolized by the billionaire Hungarian refugee, Thomas Peterffy, who spent millions on a personal TV ad that ran even on Election Day.

In his ad, he says, “I grew up in a socialist country and I have seen what that does to people. There is no hope, no freedom, no pride in achievement.” He then goes on to insinuate a comparable “slippery slope” toward socialism in this country.

In time, with the auto industry thriving and independent, poor Mr. Pterffy’s fears will subside, he will see the difference between a fire department and Soviet socialism, and he can spend his millions on more useful projects.

But how can the nation remove the clot in Congress, which is restricting the flow of legislation to spur the economy to faster growth?

One way would be for the president and the Democratic Party to mount a concerted charm campaign to convince Southern states such as my own that the party likes us and wants to be our friend.

That will take an attitudinal change for a national party that effectively has been estranged from the South for roughly 50 years, dating from the passage of civil rights legislation.

A competitive two-party system in the South would cut into the obstructionist Tea Party caucus, 63 percent of which is from the South.

While I do not expect armies of national Democrats to invade the South with smiles on their faces and arms outstretched, at least the election provides an opportunity to focus on just where the obstruction lies.

Drawing a red line of blame around the congressional villain ought to give voters a target in the midterm election of 2014.

Obama’s re-election gives us a second chance at solving tough economic problems without confusing firefighting with subversion or Christian compassion with enslavement.

If the voters said anything, it was: Turn off the fog machine!

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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