Things That Need ‘Splanin’ [to quote Ricky Ricardo]
July 30, 2012
Here are some interesting passages from a book entitled Do Not Ask What Good We Do by Robert Draper.
This one is about the Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“….the greatest emotional challenge for E.C….involved his disappointment in the Obama administration. The CBC chairman and his colleagues had met with the president and his chief of staff, Bill Daley, more than once to protest the White House’s supine response to the Republican agenda. During the H.R. 1 program-slashing debate, Cleaver told the president, ‘Look, I was mayor of Kansas City. The community development block grant program? Huge for me. That is how I got infrastructure projects funded….’ And yet Obama’s own budget had proposed a $300 million reduction in the block grant program.
“Of late, Cleaver…had been conferring with his good friend and fellow Texan Jeb Hensarling, along with Paul Ryan and Appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson, about a project that would redirect federal funds in grant-making agencies to the districts that had been most persistently impoverished. Many of these were white districts, like Emerson’s. The three Republicans were enthusiastic about working with Cleaver. Boehner seemed open to it as well….But when Cleaver brought the matter up to Barack Obama, the former CBC member was less than encouraging. Not only did Obama believe such a bill was unlikely to pass during the 112th Congress; he also preferred that Cleaver not try to do so, for fear that it would complicate his ongoing negotiations with the Republicans.
“And now this eleventh hour debt ceiling compromise. When Cleaver scanned the outline of it…,he could see that it was of a piece with previous Obama White House capitulations. As he would say later, ‘It is hard to condemn the president for hope.’ But this plan…was sure to fail: ‘Stevie Wonder could see it coming.’ The following morning, August 1,…the reverend wrote: ‘This deal is a sugar-coated Satan sandwich. If you lift the bun, you will not like what you see.’” [pp. 255-56]
This next one is about Boehner and his relationship with Obama and with members of his own party.
“At a conference in late July, Boehner had led off by describing how his talks with Obama indicated that the president was willing to make big concessions on spending and entitlement reform. Raul Labrador immediately went to the mike and said, ‘I have to tell you, I feel a whole lot better than I did thirty minutes ago. Thank you for sharing the information with us. And I urge you to keep doing that in the future so that we don’t have to learn about it in the newspaper.’
“After the conference, a number of senior members thanked the frequently contrarian Idaho freshman for his show of appreciation. But they were missing the point – which was that Boehner’s reticence was an ongoing concern to the Tea Party mavericks like Labrador who had come to Washington innately distrusting both its customs and the leaders who practiced them. One monologue by Boehner had hardly quelled all suspicions.
“Around the time of Labrador’s remarks, four of Boehner’s closest pals in the House….contacted Barry Jackson and told the chief of staff that they needed a meeting with the speaker right away.
“’John may not see what’s going on, but we do,’ they told Jackson. ‘Cantor’s staff is running around telling people that Boehner actually told Cantor to walk out of the Biden talks because Boehner was mad that Cantor was getting all the ink. Bullshit like that.’
“’That’s what Cantor and Ryan want,’ Jackson smirked. ‘They see a world where it’s Mitch McConnell [as Senate majority leader], Speaker Cantor, a Republican president, and then Paul Ryan can do whatever he wants to do. It’s not about this year. It’s about getting us to 2012, defeating the president, and Boehner being disgraced.’ That, said the chief of staff, was Cantor and Ryan’s ‘Young Guns’ vision of a better world.” [pp237-238]
When I was much younger, people called such activities “shenanigans.” I did not know then nor do I know now exactly what this word means but I do know that our politicians engage in “shenanigans” to the detriment of the country. I would imagine that their behavior has something to do with their egos, with their ambition. James Madison, in Federalist #51, labeled this stuff “the defect of better motives,” following a policy of getting “ambition to counteract ambition” and, thereby or allegedly advancing the public good even absent good motives. I may be wrong but it seems to me that “the defect of better [or good] motives” is hard to supply and that ambition does not seem adequate to the task. As Ricky Ricardo use to say to Lucy: “You need to do some ‘splanin!”