2011-07-29 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

Opportunity Knocking?
Commentary by Stuart Mirsky

Listening to President Obama as he explained his take on House Speaker John Boehner’s abrupt walk-out on their joint talks to raise the nation’s debt ceiling recently (by the time you read this, we’ll know if the anticipated deadline was actually met!), I couldn’t help comparing the current President to his predecessor. By all measures, Obama is the anti-Bush. Where George W. Bush was awkward and prone to malapropisms, Barack Obama is polished and supple. Where Bush often left you wondering what he was actually trying to say, sometimes even shaking your head in dismay, Obama rarely fails to dazzle. His voice is mellifluous where Bush’s was nasal and whiney, his sentences well-formed, flowing into each other in a steady development of thoughts and ideas. Bush’s sentences, by contrast, often seemed to hang there, looking for connections – and sometimes finding them in strange places.

But polished rhetoric isn’t enough to run a country and Obama’s policies have nearly collapsed this nation’s economy. While his words may please listeners, charming many voters, and seem convincing to those who already share his views, the bottom line is that it’s this president, and his party, who have gotten us into our present pickle. Sure, the Republicans didn’t help in the Bush years and Bush set a bad precedent on spending, but Obama and the Democrats in Congress blew out all the stops, adding a trillion dollars or more of new entitlement spending the country couldn’t even afford before it was passed. How did the Democratic Congress expect to pay for it? Well it wasn’t by trimming other expenditures.

With more than forty cents of every dollar we spend now coming from borrowing, and a ceiling on new borrowing crimping the administration, the President and his allies in Congress figure the way out of this mess is to rev up the old tax machine. The President actually balked at any spending cuts until quite late in the game, demanding Congress give him a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling without a single cut back when the elaborate dance that passes for negotiations in Washington began. But Republicans in the House and Senate held the line (and continue to do so at this writing) obliging the President to come round. In recent weeks Obama’s even begun talking as if spending cuts were his idea. But he never quite gave up the holy grail of higher taxes as Speaker Boehner recently discovered at the negotiating table.

Like a latter day Robin Hood, President Obama wants to take from the rich to “spread the wealth around,” despite the damage these kinds of policies do to the national economy (the socalled rich are the ones who run and invest in businesses, after all, creating those much needed and currently much missed jobs). Of course, you can’t even tax the rich enough to cover the vast amount of new debt the President and Congress recently created. But who notices?

Republican House Speaker John Boehner felt the need to walk away from negotiations when the President “moved the goal posts,“ as the Speaker put it in his own post mortem press conference. Asked by a reporter whether he still trusted the President as a good faith negotiator after that, Boehner adroitly sidestepped, noting that yes, he had trusted the President. At least one commentator thought his emphasis on the past tense notable.

Wherever we end up by the time you’re reading this (and most analysts agree we’ll see some kind of deal, even if we don’t get it on the day it’s due), it’s clear the President’s silver tongue is one thing, his actions another. By this point it should be plain to most voters that the President’s agenda for the nation diverges radically from what he promised voters three years ago. Instead of a uniter he’s been a divider and source of bitter partisan bickering as he tries to forcefeed his vision of America into the body politic. Not for this president the strains of compromise and negotiation! His rhetoric promises just that, sure, but his actions deliver something very different. It all worked when he commanded a substantial Congressional majority but since 2010 the lay of the land’s changed.

As we near 2012, the President finds himself fighting to ensure his re-election by getting Congressional Republi- cans to agree to tax increases, thus severing them from their own base while enabling him to satisfy his. A grand deal taking him through the next election also effectively removes a contentious issue, allowing him to campaign without the big spending albatross around his neck.

But there’s already a race in 2011 that’s ahead of this curve and it’s here in our own backyard. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner, a vocal and contentious partisan of the left, was recently forced to resign over some stupid, sex tinged e-mails, leaving his seat up for grabs. In his last race Weiner faced an unexpectedly stiff challenge from local Rockaway resident Bob Turner, a former television producer who grew up in Forest Park and ultimately settled in Breezy. Now with Weiner suddenly out of the picture, Turner’s facing a different opponent: longtime pol and State Assemblyman David Weprin, a man who doesn’t even live in the district he wants to represent.

Turner, who does live here, staked out his territory in the Weiner run over a year ago and is making that case again by taking on the Obama administration and joining his voice to that of Congressional Republicans to demand a halt to out-of-control spending and repeal of Obamacare in favor of a more rational, less intrusive healthcare system. He wants to remove the government’s heavy foot from the neck of the American economy rather than follow the Weiner-Obama model of dreaming up new ways to put Americans into hock.

In fact, this year Rockawayites actually get a twofer with another special election for State Assembly pitting West Ender Jane Deacy, an ex-cop and teacher, against East Ender Phil Goldfedder, a former political aide to Senator Chuck Schumer (and Mayor Bloomberg before him). For years we’ve routinely returned Democrats like Weiner and former Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer to office. (Pheffer recently vacated her seat after twentyplus years of attending local events and issuing mind numbingly dull press releases for a plum political appointment.) What we got for our votes was a spending blow-out with taxes, and debt as far as the eye can see, plus endless promises to address concerns that were never actually addressed. In other words we got a snow job from those taking our votes, no matter the time of year.

The federally run Gateway National Park continued its downward spiral during the Weiner years, despite the blandishments of the cocky former Congressman while former Assemblywoman Pheffer issued endless statements and wrote letters to the MTA demanding that resident tolls be lifted but never did what she could have, and should have, done: Raise the issue in the Assembly via a bill to eliminate the tolls entirely – or call for hearings into MTA abuses and overspending. Voters never held her accountable for her inaction. Now no one ever will.

It’s hard to argue that we didn’t deserve that kind of representation because year in and year out voters sent these same people back to their respective legislative domiciles. Still, this year’s special elections offer a chance to rectify past mistakes. On September 13 we can go to the polls and vote for a couple of smart ordinary folks instead of just blowing our votes on two more professional politicos. Jane Deacy came from nowhere a few years ago to win a leadership position in the Queens Republican Party and has been politically active ever since. Bob Turner stepped out of retirement a little more than a year ago to send a message to Washington.

The crowd which seized Washington in Barack Obama’s wake gave us massive spending and a debt load that threatens to undercut our global status. The gang in the Albany legislature has done the same to New York, turning us into one of the highest taxed, lowest growth states in the country. But change is still possible.

Voters in Massachusetts surprised the nation, and the Obama majority in Congress, a couple of years back by sending Republican Scott Brown to fill former Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy’s once sacrosanct shoes. It was a second shot from Massachusetts heard round the world. And it heralded a sea change in Congress. Had it not been for that change there’d be no one in Washington today to put the brakes on the big spenders. Now we’ve got a chance to send that message to Washington again; with Bob Turner and Jane Deacy we can make this our own Scott Brown moment – if we’re bold enough, and fed up enough, to send it.

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