Tuesday, April 16, 2013

America's Political Nightmare in One Paragraph

My god this may be the finest paragraph Paul Rosenberg has ever written:
In truth, the Republican party only has three problems: its policies are unpopular, its policies do not work, and they hate everybody who does not agree with them. In contrast, the Democratic party has only one problem: it wants to be more like the Republicans. 
Don't look to me for the bog standard two party "duopoly" rant because I think adding more parties to a corrupted system is like asking the staff for a new set of dice at a crooked casino - the new dice will be loaded too.  Whatever forces are corrupting the two parties would almost certainly corrupt any new party that emerged absent some kind of deeper understanding of those forces of corruption and real means to defeat them.

Rosenberg's apt synopsis of the Republican party's problems is actually the less important part of his thesis, which is: What the hell is wrong with the Democratic party?  To wit:
But the Democrats have it even worse. They have won the popular vote in every presidential election since 1992 except for 2004, and yet they have been playing defence - rather badly - throughout most of this period. They do not have the means to even consider what it might look like to go on offence, except as a kabuki theatre to rev up their base come election time. 
Examples of this really are legion, from the failure to enact Hillarycare in 1993, triangulating through the rest of the Clinton presidency, failing to end the Iraq War in 2007 with control of Congress, failing to kill the filibuster in 2009, 2011 and now in 2013, the too-small stimulus, voluntarily killing ACORN under a nonsense trumped up non-scandal, falling over themselves to condemn Move On for actually opposing right wing warmongers like Bush, Cheney and Petraeus, failing to get prosecute corrupt bankers and financiers, and we can add stripping the Public Option from Obamacare.  Yes, there were a variety of villains to blame for each of these failures from Liberman to Nelson to the Blue Dogs to Obama himself but the core of it a party unwilling to really grasp the rusty levers of power and effect significant change when it counts.  Keeping the stupid filibuster in place was probably the most obvious sign that at some level, they're happy to have the excuse not act.  Not necessarily because they're "corrupt" in the sense of consciously being bought out to not do what voters sent them to do (though some no doubt are) but in not really wanting to, or being afraid to.

The Republicans are the party that won't take "no" for an answer from the voters, returning with the same bad enrich-the-rich policies over and over, year after year, but the Democrats are the party that won't take "yes" for an answer and give the voters what they want: sound liberal economic policy.  Jobs,  economic security, schools that work, a clean environment.  The Democrats had two chances in 1992 and 2008 where they controlled the trifecta of both houses of Congress and the Presidency and in both cases failed to deliver bold liberal policy that would measurably improve people's lives quickly and noticeably.  That's the big secret of what FDR did to achieve the amazing political success of the 1932-1994 Democratic coalition.  He/They (Democrats) enacted policies that made their lives better.  Not some arcane neoliberal tax credit to employers that only economists can detect any impact from, the government started mailing seniors actual cheques.  They hired people who needed work.  They built stuff that needed building and would be useful anyway - bridges, libraries, schools.  It wasn't complicated, and it worked. People felt things improving, and in 1934 and 1936 gave FDR historic supermajorities to do more of the same.

These insights don't take political genius to understand, in fact it takes a special kind of political genius for the Democrats to avoid these lessons and try to handwave away these obvious truths.  Right wing ideologues and hacks have obvious motives to ply sophistry and revisionism to deride FDR as they simply don't want to win by implementing liberal policy.  They, ultimately, must trick voters into voting against their own interests.  That's much tougher and it's why they lose the popular vote so often, even with their generally better electoral messaging machinery and rampant voter suppression.

Yes, I know the causes are in some sense obvious, lobbyists and corporate money and so forth.  But all that stuff existed in 1932, but Rosenberg suggests a deeper problem, that the leadership of the Democratic party simply don't really want to implement bold liberal policy because they don't believe in it:
Regardless of your own ideology - conscious or unconscious - you just have to wonder why Obama clings so doggedly to both substantive policies and political strategies that repeatedly fail so profoundly. No doubt there are multiple factors involved, but the most compelling answer, I have come to believe, comes down to a lack of vision: Obama quite simply cannot see any alternative. His politics are drastically confined by the crabbed nature of his neoliberal imagination, formed in the shadows of Reagan and Thatcher.  
I tend to agree.  Despite its rampant failure in the past few years, neoliberalism still has the world's elites in thrall.  They evidently cannot turn from it.  Even the ones who know it is failing can't imagine what could take its place.  I hope democratic politics can find some way to dethrone the lot of them and let some new blood take the reins for a spell, because the alternative ways this ends are not good.

Do read Rosenberg's whole piece.

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