Another Possible Lesson from Vietnam?

Paul Evans

During Vietnam President Lyndon Johnson used the authority defined through “all necessary means” to wage war in Southeast Asia (associated with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) to wage a war – and fund it.

In the last few days, Speaker Boehner, Senator McConnell, and newly reelected President Obama have held their press events, looked into the camera, and carefully explained their respective positions on the upcoming “fiscal cliff.”

The pundits see both flexibility and inflexibility in the prepared commentaries.

In some ways these post-election events are an American style of Kabuki Theater: at least on the part of the recently weakened Republican Party.

That said, all involved understand that the next four years – cannot be – like the last four.

At McConnell’s bequest, Republicans did everything possible to prevent a second term for President Obama. And truth be told, they got close.

But not close enough. Once awakened, America responded: Obama won decisively in the Electoral College – and the Popular Vote.

America may or may not come to love Barack Obama, but Americans respect him – they know he is working on behalf of a stronger, more secure country.

He has earned some “political capital” and folks should prepare for an even more emboldened leader with a fresh mandate for action.

Although McConnell may wish our nation failure, Boehner wants a deal (for his own reasons). As Speaker he cannot afford to be the cause of flying over the cliff. He will lose his majority in 2014 if the Republicans are shown to be unwilling to put the country first – again.

Boehner has a problem: he will lose a floor fight over raising permanent tax rates (and likely his Speakership) now, or lose his majority in 2014 without being seen as a “partner” in solving the challenges of our times.

Therefore, a traditional “Congressional” solution may be unlikely.

It may even be unnecessary.

There may be another, admittedly unexpected, way to raise revenues without endangering our financial markets – or our economy – which would most certainly come with a failure to extend the so-called “Bush Tax Cuts.”

If the Republicans in Congress seek to make themselves irrelevant, then it may be possible to learn from the past on how to help them achieve this goal.

During Vietnam President Lyndon Johnson used the authority defined through “all necessary means” to wage war in Southeast Asia (associated with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution) to wage a war – and fund it.

Back then, everyone (Democrats and Republicans alike) knew fighting a war meant paying for war: it is a principle that desperately needs to be relearned.

War should never be cheap, or easy, or free.

Americans paid for the war in Vietnam even if they didn't know it (although most still remember).

Perhaps President Obama could use his executive order authorities under the various Congressional Resolutions passed in support of the “Global War on Terror” to direct the US Department of the Treasury to implement a 48-month temporary surtax for all US Citizens (including corporations).

Obama could even implement this plan for a 12-month period to showcase the plan and demonstrate to the "Citizens United" folks that all "citizens" making more (and benefitting much more) will be called to account. It might end up in the court, but it would most assuredly reframe the rhetorical circumstances inside the Beltway - and out.

The IRS is an administrative function of the government. In the absence of preventive guidance, the President should exercise its full authority in pursuit of the mandate earned this last week.

It could be implemented through a “flat rate” percentage (above the poverty level), or with a progressive % for those earning more than $250,000.00, or through a combination of the two approaches with something else.

America elected President Obama to lead and has accepted (and through an election mandate supported) his executive orders thus far.

In this debate, the President has the tactical (and strategic) advantage: he should use it with all deliberate speed.

Everyone knows we need more revenue.

Everyone recognizes the necessity of reviewing the Simpson-Bowles Plan through the new environment (post-2012 campaign).

And everyone knows that someone has to do something, or risk the loss of something that cannot be replaced.

President Obama could implement an executive order using the authority for war-making in this way and then watch the circus. In the end, the Republicans would likely bark loudly – but recognize it as a gift – for the country.

President Obama took an oath (and will again) to defend our America against all enemies, both foreign as well as domestic: greed and selfishness remain among the most dangerous of our enemies.

The worst that could happen is a national conversation over tax policy - and this is something that needs to happen anyway.

It is time for creativity: we have a leader with the grit and strength to push our nation off "dead-center" and onto financial stability.

Many of us are still frustrated with the disproportionate weight of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq being placed upon the folks that couldn’t afford “not” to join up and serve.

Most of us are in disbelief about the Bush Administration’s choices to fight this war on the national credit card.

With swift action President Obama could reset the table in Washington (showcasing decisive leadership) as well as implementing a solution that would end with his term – thereby leaving little collateral damage (if there was any).

This decision would also set a precedent: when America goes to war, America – all America – pays for it.

At any rate, this is offered as a potential policy option for consideration: the President has a mandate to lead, and a recalcitrant Congress. I hope he continues to push forward – daring the opposition to challenge the values of his decisions.

We win, again, each time this happens.

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    Let the Bush tax cuts expire. Let the GOP assume responsibility for the increase of taxes on the middle class. That's the reset button.

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    Paul, you've argued for caution at the state level, why such different advice for the national level?

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    BJ - Thanks for the question.

    Tea Party, Tea Party, and Tea Party.

    At the national level there is a desire by those with sufficient resources (ref: military industrial complex, MNCs, Citizens United Court) to wait out progress.

    At the state level, there isn't that same tolerance for "being right, even if we fail..." In Oregon, people expect a part-time legislature to work out its problems and punish those that don't.

    I think we can win with a strong national strategy, a tailored state operational plan, and local tactics. We can win - and push our agenda - as long as we allow everyone to have a say (at least here).

    That said, it's just an opinion.

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    BJ - a last comment: in Oregon the Republicans respect Kitzhaber (even if they don't like him). There is little doubt that he can/will/has (and would again) veto to push an agenda.

    I think the Republicans (until this election) didn't respect the fight in our President.

    Sometimes, a leader has to showcase the willingness to slash to the enemy's rear - they are on their heels right now, so it's time to accelerate the fight and gain advantage.

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