PBS's Tavis Smiley and Guest: Republicans Don't Want to Help Jobless

A taxpayer who doesn’t favor Barack Obama might not mind subsidizing a show where he’s attacked as unserious about the country’s problems. But with PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley, it’s been a relentless attack on Obama from the left. Everything he’s done isn’t half-socialist enough.

On Wednesday, Smiley welcomed fellow leftist and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to his show to denounce Republicans for keeping Obama from passing a woefully insufficient second “stimulus” attempt. Herbert thinks Obama's new spending proposal is about one-tenth of what's needed. We need a four-trillion-dollar plan.

SMILEY: To your point now, then, whose fault is it? If the president can't put something forth that you believe Republicans will support, is it the president's fault, is it the Republicans' fault that we don't have a serious jobs bill in this country that can put Americans back to work?

HERBERT: I'm starting to feel like I guess the majority of the public feels. You look at the leadership in Washington and it becomes a pox on both their houses. The Republicans have undoubtedly been obstructionists from the very beginning. We've been in this terrible economic crisis for a long time now and they have thwarted every effort by the administration to do anything substantial.

SMILEY: Speaking of Republicans, what do you make of these growing numbers, at this hour, at least, growing numbers, it would appear to me, of Republicans, some of them well known, some with major committee assignments, saying publicly that they will not attend the president’s jobs speech. What do you make of that?

HERBERT: Well, the political back-and-forth in Washington has gotten to absurd levels. I think it is highly disrespectful not to attend a joint session of Congress that’s being addressed by the president. At the same time, I do think that this is a largely political move on the president’s part.

So I think that what we’re seeing on both sides right now is the kickoff to the president campaign of 2012. I don’t see this as a serious effort to get the economy moving again and put millions of Americans back to work.

That line of attack didn't exactly match reality in the end. Due to leadership prodding, Republicans largely showed up. (Dana Milbank noticed there were more Democrats missing, and some who attended looked bored.) Smiley and Herbert also explored how Republicans want the country to suffer another two years so they can win in November 2012. It's not enough for Obama to suggest they won't put country first, they want people to stay jobless and hopeless:

SMILEY: I try not to be cynical. I think skepticism is healthy, I think cynicism is a bit much. Yet let me ask this question, because I’m just trying to figure out what the value is, what the benefit is, what the net net is for Republicans doing anything to put Americans back to work.

The bottom line is if the numbers stay where they are, as you well know, it plays to their advantage, one would theorize, when it comes to next year’s national elections, that the president has not been able to right this economy, to put Americans back to work. That narrative is the narrative they want to run on, so what’s the impetus for them, Republicans, that is, doing anything to put Americans back to work?

HERBERT: Tavis, I don’t think that’s cynicism, I think that’s realism. The Republicans are so close now, politically, to regaining the White House and recapturing control of the Senate that they can taste it.

No one can say this publicly, and they won’t even talk about it privately, but I would be extraordinarily surprised if you have a lot of big-time Republican politicians who would like to see a sudden turnaround in the economy with hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions of jobs being created so that sometime next summer the president and the Democratic Party would be getting the political benefits of this turnaround. I just don’t believe they want that to happen.

SMILEY: One of the things, it seems to me at least, that the White House has been arguing for some time now, and I don’t think the campaign is dumb enough to say this explicitly; I could be wrong, maybe they will. But I’m just trying to figure out how “it could have been worse” is going to be a winning strategy.

HERBERT: That’s not going to be a winning strategy. Politically, the president is in terrible trouble. I think if the election were held today he would very likely lose. But that’s not a winning strategy, and another aspect of the president’s approach that’s not a winning strategy is this obsession with bipartisanship.

He may be the only person in the country who still believes that the Republicans would in any way work with him in a constructive manner on the problems facing the country. It’s just not going to happen. Yet he still talks about doing something with the other side, reaching out to the other side to do something constructive for the American people. He is asking the -

SMILEY: Is it – please, go ahead, finish. I’m sorry.

HERBERT: He’s asking the Republicans to put aside politics and do what’s right for the country.

If Republicans were truly cynical about their politics, why are they still allowing PBS to fund this kind of nightly attack on them? Why couldn't presidential candidates state in debates that if we can't cut public-broadcasting subsidies, there's really nothing that's "non-essential"?

Tavis Smiley Bob Herbert
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