On the 112th Congress: Radio Essay for April 2, 2011

I recall with some fondness the kindly countenance of Ed Koch, the three term Mayor of New York City in the late 1970s and through the 80s. He described himself as a “liberal with sanity,” and would always ask anyone who would answer, “How’m I doin’?”

Today marks the 5 month anniversary of the Republican sweep to majority in the US House of Representatives and the shift away from a desperate minority position in the Senate. The balance of power clearly moved towards a more conservative legislative mandate. That mandate was fueled, in large measure, by an awakening of the American People.

Some would credit the Tea Party for this momentous change and they would be partially correct. True, the Tea Party movement provided invaluable “feet on the street” to power upstart candidates who espoused conservative and Constitutionally compatible viewpoints into office. While it would be correct, in my opinion, to credit their activism for the ideological shift, it would be incorrect to say that Tea Party activists accounted for all of the votes.

If we credited every Tea Party vote to a Republican candidate in 2010, we would fall far short of the number necessary to explain the good fortune of the Republicans. What the Tea Party did is to ignite a latent sense of outrage among what was formerly called the silent majority. Silent no more, disillusioned by the partisan rancor, the ideological gridlock, and the seemingly self-serving interest of long term incumbents who had never earned a paycheck, they voted to “throw ‘da bums out” last November.

When the Democrats label Tea Party activists as extremists, as Senator Charles Schumer recently did in front of a live microphone, they are essentially painting the mainstream American public with the same broad brush. They do so at great peril.
The issues last November were centered on the ailing economy; the soaring national debt; and, immigration reform, especially focused on illegal immigrants. Here are some issues you might recall from the campaign: the GM bailouts; the union-oriented stimulus bill; Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona immigration law. There were many more.

The questions before us three months into this term is this: has the 112th Congress advanced the ball? Have they advanced it in terms of reducing the national debt, or even in passing a budget for FY2011, now half over; have they advanced it in terms making a substantial dent in making American corporations more competitive by reducing income taxes; are US jobs being retained and increased here in the US; have they advanced the ball by requiring stricter border enforcement? In each case, the answer is, “no.”

The Tea Party caucus is struggling to do precisely what they were sent to Washington to do: reduce spending, reduce taxes and secure our borders. Instead, our Congress is kowtowing to special interests and focusing on gaining marginal victories on conservative social issues. They are compelling but can easily distract us rather than seize the advantage granted them last November. Our government is on the brink of shutdown as early as next week as Congress tinkers around the edges of reducing the amount of growth in the budget rather than resetting the bar to 2008 levels. Immigration reform is on the back burner.

So, what has changed since November? Unfortunately, not much. The “system” is weighing down the change agents in Washington. They are going to need our help to keep the faith and to fight the good fight to restore the promise of the American Dream for our children and their children. Do not become distracted by extremist rhetoric and do not give up hope. We have made tremendous inroads but the conservatives who have secured the beachhead need reinforcements and firepower. That happens in 2012.
So, as Mayor Ed Koch would, “How’m I doing?” My answer so far is: press on.

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