CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a career in education, I still find myself looking back in summer. A review of major political stories will help me complete a report card for government.
On Sept. 11, 2012, protests and an attack on the U.S. Embassy relating to an anti-Muslim video erupted in Cairo, Egypt. There was also an attack on a consulate in Benghazi. In the days following, attacks on U.S. Embassies relating to the video occurred in more than a dozen countries. President Obama and his spokespersons attempted to address the tragic loss of life of U.S. Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans in Libya using language condemning both the attacks and the makers of the inflammatory video.
Mitt Romney and other Republicans accused the president of sympathizing with the attackers, then of incompetence in responding to the attacks, and finally in the months that followed, of falsely attributing the attacks to protesters instead of to an organized terrorist group. A cover-up worse than Watergate, some pundits and politicians screamed. Congressional investigations have found no "smoking gun."
In November, Obama was re-elected. Republicans were caught by surprise, confident that no president could win re-election with such high unemployment. In disarray, the party was torn between those who say the problem was the candidate and those who say it is time to stop being obstructionist, start working with the president, and try to win over Latinos, the fastest-growing demographic group in the country. Unfortunately for their long-term prospects, too many in their party have dug in their heels on immigration reform and a host of other issues.
A month later, the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre took place. A bill to reduce gun violence through tightened regulations looked possible for the first time since the Brady handgun bill was passed and signed by Bill Clinton. The NRA lobbyists went to work and stopped it. Even West Virginia's unlikely gun law advocate Joe Manchin, expressed shock in how they mischaracterized his bill. (Maybe he should start checking up on the truth of what he and the coal lobby call "Obama's War on Coal.")
As 2013 dawned, the "fiscal cliff" threatened increased taxes for nearly everyone and across the board spending cuts known as the sequester. While keeping low tax rates in place for all but the top 1 percent, rather than work on a deal to close corporate tax loopholes and find sensible cuts, Republicans held the line on the sequester, another example of their so-called jobs agenda which results in more job losses.
In May, North Korea threatened to start a nuclear conflagration. A unit of the IRS was found to have targeted "social welfare" groups with "tea party" in their names for extra scrutiny, thinking they just might be engaging in politics. A House committee made one more attempt to make something out of Benghazi. And with the news that AP reporters' phone records had been seized by the Justice Department in a leak investigation, pundits and media declared a trifecta of scandals that might be Obama's Waterloo. But by the end of the month, it was deadly tornados of historic proportions that grabbed our attention as all those issues fizzled.
As I look back over the politics of the past year, I see a Republican party that failed in their mission to limit Obama to one term by resisting his efforts to improve the economy and trying to create scandals where none exist. By opposing almost everything the president suggests, the Republican Party has become a party of extremists. They get failing grades and Not Satisfactory for Works Well with Others.
Presidents are always attacked by their political enemies when problems occur within government. Obama acts decisively, but not until he has the facts. Those responsible are fired or prosecuted after appropriate investigation. What is most often revealed are the efforts of earnest government employees to do their jobs. We see our president working hard for us every day, trying to work with Republicans, earnestly working with other nations to solve the world's problems. This is why none of the so-called scandals have damaged him severely. This is why the Republicans, if they want the opportunity to govern again, should work with him instead of against him.
We have to give the president low marks for setting unrealistic goals. He thought if he offered legislation Republicans had supported in the past, they would vote for it. He gets an A for effort, although many important issues remain unsolved: gun violence, immigration, and a "Grand Bargain" to undo the sequester, close tax loopholes, reduce deficits, and ensure the health of Medicare and Social Security.
But what grade do we, the voters, get? Have we done everything we can to put the right people in office? Can we help inform and educate our friends and neighbors to counteract the falsehoods endlessly repeated on radio and TV? Another election is just around the corner in 2014. If we want the president to solve problems, we need to put lawmakers in office who will support his agenda. We must stop the red tide of Republicanism flooding our state. Let's vow to get to work and earn better grades in Citizenship in the coming year.
Epstein, a retired teacher, is a musician and writer living in Charleston.