Tonko on ‘tragedy’ of GOP hostility

Rep. Paul Tonko dropped in for a visit here at the Gazette yesterday, and I asked him about the Repu

Rep. Paul Tonko dropped in for a visit here at the Gazette yesterday, and I asked him about the Republican hostility toward President Obama, which was so evident during the State of the Union address last week — all those otherwise distinguished-looking senators and congressmen squirming in their seats, smirking and chuckling while Democrats applauded.

They might have been listening to a particularly smarmy carnival barker trying to lure them in to see the world’s biggest pig, for all you could tell from their body language, rather than to the president of the United States.

“It’s a tragedy,” Tonko, a Democrat, said, but, “What feeds it is the willingness of this president, with his intelligence, to take on monumental issues, his aggressiveness to really change.” It might be different, he thought, if Obama acted as a mere caretaker.

Maybe so. Certainly Obama plunged right in, promising to reform something so large as our health-care system (or non-system), but my own sense is the hostility toward him on the part of Republicans and independent-minded Angry Ones goes a lot deeper than his health-care proposals.

“No victories for Obama,” is the Republican position in the Senate, Tonko said, and I could sense that right from the beginning. The whole teeth-clenching mood of anti-government resentment now had a focus.

It was a little problematic being anti-government when a conservative Republican was president, since the president was supposedly anti-government also, but with a more or less liberal Democrat in office, well, watch out. You could almost see the Republicans rubbing their hands in anticipation.

And now we’ve got the result: absolute uncompromising opposition.

Still, I ask myself: Why? For all the reservations I had about Obama when he was cozy with a black nationalist preacher, he seems like a reasonable and decent enough fellow. He is certainly intelligent and articulate, probably more intelligent and more articulate than most of the Republican legislators smugly chuckling through his speech, and probably more knowledgeable too.

He doesn’t propose anything frightening, at least to me, like eavesdropping on our telephone conversations or suspending our right to publish newspapers. He proposes expanding the government’s role in health care, which might or might not be a good idea but certainly has the appearance of a social good, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which I for one would not want to do without.

And there is his coolness. He’s not just intelligent, not just well reasoned, but he’s serene about it, and I think maybe we don’t find that nearly as uplifting as a certain agitated irrationality, like the kind that George W. Bush offered on Iraq.

Remember that, how stubborn Bush was when his invasion of Iraq was going from bad to catastrophic?

The world was still simple: Good vs. Evil. The Almighty still wanted people to have freedom, and he was going to give them freedom. The hell with plain-as-day facts.

How invigorating that was, for many of us, as opposed to Obama’s rational analysis of problems and his reasoned, imperfect solutions.

It’s just a guess on my part, but I think there’s something inspiring about irrationality and something chilling about realism. We like wild hopes and fantasies delivered by a confident-looking man. They let us believe we are not tied to the dreariness of this world after all. Just think how many confident-looking men have fashioned illustrious careers out of enunciating wild hopes and fantasies in place of reality.

Better a preacher than an accountant, we feel. Better a prophet than an engineer.

Obama is an accountant, or an engineer. He takes his measurements, does his calculations and says here’s how we can build a better bridge.

And what happens? A large part of the country explodes in anger. We don’t want a better bridge; we want to fly. We want the impossible, the fantastic, the utopian.

Mainly, these days, we want to live without any interference from government. Just free men and women, freely buying and selling each other’s goods and services.

That’s the dream that currently drives a lot of us. Government, get out of our lives!

Sure, government getting out of people’s lives has not worked very well in Haiti and has not worked very well in Somalia, but we’re not Haitians or Somalians. We’re Americans.

Tell us it’s not only possible but that it’s our God-given right, and we’ll pay $349 a head to hear you say it, which is what a lot of people will pay to hear Sarah Palin say it at this week’s Tea Party convention.

Fair to guess that some of those will be the same people who scoff and sneer at Accountant Obama’s calculations of how to improve our health care.

Maybe Tonko is right, that Obama prompted opposition by taking on such a large task, but I think his approach would always look anemic when compared with the utopian.

Categories: Opinion

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