Martin Schram: How our leaders grew and shrunk before our eyes
by Martin Schram
Columnist
July 14, 2011 12:00 AM | 720 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Martin Schram
Martin Schram
slideshow
Our leaders have been growing and shrinking in office, right before our eyes - with all the subtlety of Fourth of July fireworks.

Today, at the intersection of the news media, policy and politics, we are focusing on influential acts by four of Washington's preeminent powers: President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

At a Monday news conference, we saw President Obama grow in stature, command and competence as a leader. He seemed to reach a maturity of wisdom and leadership that was the promise of his potential.

Plunging into the budget standoff with Republican leaders, Obama courageously challenged leaders of his own party as well as his opponents to quit chanting their ideologically outdated short-think mantras and boldly achieve a long-term grand compromise that will slash deficits. Angering Democratic liberals, he began talking about big Medicare cuts (perhaps shifting the starting age from 65 to 67) and reforming Social Security. Angering Republicans, Obama insisted on a long-term deal and vowing to veto a mere 30, 60 or 90-day debt ceiling extension. And he warned Republicans plunging America into a first-ever debt default wasn't acceptable - and would force all Americans to pay higher interest rates.

Perhaps surprisingly, Boehner also grew a bit as well this week - but his growth spurt happened in private. In golf course talks with Obama, Boehner reportedly agreed to seek the long-term grand bargain Republicans once championed. And Obama surprised him by including Medicare and Social Security. As long as the deal also included some new revenue (that's newspeak for "taxes").

But with the speaker nearing a deal giving Republicans almost everything they'd dreamed of getting, giving up only modest tweaks of "new revenue," Cantor pulled a political lever of his own. He undercut his speaker, crowning himself king of the new faction of Anti-Tax-No-Matter-What House Republicans whose zealotry goes well beyond ideology.

The Virginia conservative had to know the deal could be the best policy for America. But he boosted himself as the House's most-anti-tax leader by urging Boehner to reject a grand bargain with any tax increase giblets. So we saw Cantor shrink his own leadership stature.

And that brings us to yet another conservative public figure whose bold and intellectually unassailable leadership may well prove to be the most influential in molding Washington's prevailing new majority in this summer of our economic and political discontent. The New York Times' David Brooks is a fellow columnist whose work I consider must reading, even though his philosophically conservative conclusions usually take him well to the right of my own.

But not on July 5. His remarkably reasoned day-after-Independence Day column - headlined "The Mother of All No-Brainers" - is must reading for all Republican political leaders and followers. Also for all independents searching for a trustworthy conservative plan to make Republicans the new majority party.

Except the GOP's congressional leaders don't get it.

"If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment," Brooks wrote. "It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases."

But, Brooks lamented, "The Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative."

Brooks named no names (such as those above), but detailed the sins of their "movement." Example: "The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation's honor."

If Washington's Republican leaders don't heed their fellow conservative's warning, independent swing voters will blame "Republican fanaticism" for America's catastrophic and immoral default.

And that date will mark the birth of America's new Independents Day governing coalition - as independents vote with the pragmatic Obama Democrats.

Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service.

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