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Chris Honoré: Not in their self-interest

As President Obama’s final term in office draws to a close, I often find myself wondering how he feels about his two terms as our president.

Recall that he inherited a train wreck of an economy, created by the Republicans and soon defined as the Great Recession. Our nation was bleeding jobs, compounded by the fact that financial institutions and the auto industry were teetering on a precipice. And not to forget Iraq.

We know that Obama spent at least the first year of his presidency triaging the country’s economy while working tenaciously on the Affordable Care Act.

What I don’t think he was prepared for was dealing with partisan Republicans committed to obstructing his every policy proposal while making it their mission not to work on pulling the nation back from a ruinous calamity through compromise and much needed legislation, but making him a “one-term president.”

And so the GOP turned obstructionism into an art form, ignoring the fact that blocking any and all legislation was not governing but a form of paralysis. Their only fallback was the mantra of “austerity” while pointing to the nation’s deficit/debt. America essentially came to a standstill and it took some time for Obama to sort out who he was dealing with.

Meanwhile, for far too long, we have ignored the needs of our people and our infrastructure. Over the last eight years Congress could have launched a “Rebuild America” effort, using money borrowed at incredibly low interest rates (approaching zero). Our bridges, water treatment plants, roads, airports, hollowed out urban neighborhoods and schools are in desperate need. We could have put millions of unemployed Americans back to work, provided jobs and training while renewing our country. FDR provided a template.

Working Americans pay taxes and buy goods. We would have created a long-term stimulus package that could have boosted the nation’s financial recovery. It was a lost opportunity. And so many Americans who today feel angry and frustrated, in effect left behind, whose wages have remained stagnant, would have had a completely different decade.

What the Republicans have done well is convince the nation that our deficit/debt represents an existential threat (recall it was the GOP that invaded Iraq, costing $3 trillion and counting). They sold a balanced budget amendment as the solution.

They also convinced working Americans to vote against their own best interests.

Democrats, they’ve long insisted, are the party of tax and spend while Republicans are the party of fiscal conservatism. Ronald Reagan convinced voters that government was not the solution but the problem and it was up to individuals to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (assuming there was a level playing field and they had boots to begin with).

It was the Democrats who decades ago began constructing the social safety net, beginning with Social Security and later Medicare and Medicaid. And it is the Democrats who have been accused of squandering billions on the slackers who are getting a free ride.

The Republicans have also been effective in focusing on what was termed as “the culture wars,” suggesting that America was in the grip of a decline and value voters should draw a line and vote conservative, not Democratic. Examples of America’s decline: same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion rights, secularism, feminism, the hoax of global warming, teaching evolution in schools instead of creationism, birth control instead of abstinence, the promotion of solar and wind instead of coal and oil, belief in science and the acceptance of non-traditional families.

Which brings us to the emergence of Donald Trump, ultimately a creation of the GOP. What he has done is take the anger of those who see our demographics changing and brilliantly channeled it, offering up convenient scapegoats — Muslims and Mexicans, for example. His campaign thus far has been a long riff of nonspecific promises as to how he will fix our problems while making America great again. He will rip up our trade agreements, trash the Iran nuclear deal, bring China to heel, repeal Obamacare, unqualifiedly protect the Second Amendment and get new and great deals for America once again.

That’s it. Sarah Palin has lauded him for “going rogue.” Let’s see if the voters do.

Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.