By now, Barack Obama has extended so many olive branches to the Republicans they could plant their own vineyard and press up some pure virgin. Sometimes I wonder if he is a stealth Blue Dog Democrat, since he's more of a centrist than Bill Clinton. Yet the right-wingers continue to howl "socialist" and block his every attempt to drag the economy back from the precipice, at least before the election. More concessions were offered to placate the conservatives and get them on board with the president's jobs plan. Somehow, Obama is the last to realize that principled conservatives have lost control of the GOP to the rabid right and their single intent is to deprive him of any political victory that may lead to reelection, even if it means destroying what remains of the economy in the process.
Obama continues to refer to himself as an "eternal optimist." I'm reminded of the concerned parents who decided to cure their overly optimistic son's naivete at Christmastime by filling his stocking with horse manure. On Christmas morning, when the boy discovered his "present," he gushed, "Oh, thank you. You got me a pony but he must have gotten away."
School boards all over the country are passing stiff anti-bullying laws in their districts. Maybe we should enact anti-bullying legislation in Congress toward Obama. I'm not saying the president is compliant, but he gets pushed around more than Larry Flynt; first by John Boehner and then by the NFL. He can't schedule a speech on the same night as the Republican debate because, God forbid, he should step on the official unleashing of Rick Perry into the fray. And he can't schedule opposite the grand opening of football season because it would cost him votes. I was going to rail about a game being more important than a major policy address on job creation, but right about now, even the most casual fan would prefer watching the Saints and Packers over yet another speech about unemployment. The president's speech to Congress was stirring, but the game was more exciting, partly because the House Republicans behaved like teenagers forced to attend the opera. They chortled and snickered over suggestions to pass legislation extending unemployment benefits and squirmed about taxing the morbidly wealthy. Even the criminal Bush was never treated with such disrespect.
Obama needs to spice up his joint congressional addresses NFL style. Instead of some dour schoolmarm intoning the president's name before he takes his handshaking stroll down the aisle, let Al Michaels bring on the major players to the musical accompaniment of Hank Williams Jr. "Starting at State, from Wellesley, Hillary 'The Crusher' Clinton; at Treasury, from Dartmouth, Tim 'The Troublemaker' Geithner; and at Defensive Speaker, John 'Big Orange' Boehner." Our team has the talent to win the next Super Bowl. We just need to make a couple of substitutions. Joe Biden will never be elected president. He's only a few gaffes away from earning his union card. Hillary Clinton has announced she will be stepping down as secretary of state at the conclusion of Obama's first term. So I say, "Clinton in for Biden." Hillary could spend the next four years preparing for a presidential run and Biden's long suit is foreign policy. It would be just like subbing Aaron Rodgers for Brett Favre. And Hillary can block for Obama, too.
Watching the president's address to Congress offered a stark contrast to the Republican presidential contenders who gathered the night before at the Reagan Library for another in a series of meaningless debates. I can sum up the Republican economic plan in three words: more tax cuts. The message came with many melodies, but everybody sang the same lyrics. The most sensible of the candidates is Jon Huntsman, which is like being the Lord of the Flies in this bunch. His rational approach automatically disqualifies him in this year of the irrational. Texas governor Rick Perry's addition to the carnival, however, is most entertaining. Presenting himself as a wild-west Nero, Perry questioned climate change science as "unsettled" while his state was being consumed by wildfires during the hottest August on record. A fiscal conservative, Perry had cut fire department funding by 75 percent, including volunteer forces trained to fight just these types of fires. The pundits are already calling this a Perry-Romney contest, even though Perry makes the rigid Romney look like Socrates.
The most telling moment of the debate came not from a candidate's remarks but from the audience's response to a question. When moderator Brian Williams pointed out that, at 234 and counting, Perry has executed more death row inmates than the next two states combined, the crowd broke into sustained and enthusiastic applause. In earlier times, this was the same kind of mob that would gather to watch a public hanging and jeer at the condemned. Have we regressed to the point where our bloodlust and revenge fantasies cause us to cheer for more state executions? The West Memphis Three should be grateful they were in an enlightened state like Arkansas or they'd be dead.
Rick Perry is the perfect Tea Party candidate. For him, Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie." The Lord told him to run and every word he speaks reminds voters of George W. Bush. Only, he's too extreme for even Karl Rove. When "Bush's Brain" thinks you're too radical, you've got to be pretty far out there. My conservative friends often ask me, "When are you going to stop blaming everything on Bush?" How about when you admit that this human wrecking ball was a tragic president whose wars of choice and reckless de-regulation of Wall Street brought this nation to the brink of economic calamity. Meanwhile, Rick Perry is exactly like Bush, minus the humility. Are you watching all this, Sarah? Always room for one more.
Randy Haspel writes the blog "Born-Again Hippies," where a version of this column first appeared.