The conventional wisdom is a fickle beast. Seems only yesterday the cognoscenti were drafting obits for a Republican Party geared to alienate women, immigrants, and homosexuals, among others, while going out of their way to tick off self-styled moderates by shutting down the government. Things were looking up for Democrats. Then came the healthcare.gov rollout debacle in tandem with the revelation that President Obama’s claim that under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) people would be able to keep their current health insurance if they desired to do so was not exactly 100 percent accurate. It has generally escaped mention that overblown and boneheaded promises of this sort, claims that are at most, and least, more or less accurate, are routinely made by politicians of all political stripes, on both wings of the political bird, including those silly-hatted loons of the Tea Party persuasion. Not that this lets the president off the hook.
Each party has its factions and blocs that endorse their own measure of delusional thinking. The propagandists of the right have to a large extent won the day in terms of framing the debate. Policies and programs once considered mainstream or at most moderately liberal are now branded extreme, radical, far left. Democrats generally and the president in particular have not only failed to offer an effective counter-narrative, they have to a large extent rolled over and bought into the right’s storyline. Barack Obama pushed through health care legislation that redounds to the benefit of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and under his administration “not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be.” (Jed S. Rakoff, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, The Financial Crisis: Why Have No High-Level Executives Been Prosecuted?, The New York Review of Books, 9 January 2014, ). Yet his agenda is branded hard-left, socialist, communist, by all manner of right-wing politicos, commentators, think-tankers, and the usual blowhards, aided and abetted by the centrist bloc. Only a pinhead armed with a comic-book acquaintance with socialism could make such a claim. Ezra Klein got it right on his Washingon Post blog: Barack Obama: Worst. Socialist. Ever.
A lot will happen between now and November 2014. Only a greater fool than I would predict how the worm might turn in the days ahead. A few months ago we might have wishfully thought of a Democratic majority in the House for the concluding years of the Obama presidency. The key note for that kind of thinking is “wishful.” Democratic gains in the House joined by Republicans of a more moderate stripe, “moderate” as always an exceedingly relative term when speaking of Republicans, was a more reasonable hope. Now even that looks to be a reach, while the specter of a Republican takeover of the Senate casts a darkening shadow over the landscape.
Andrew Hacker nutshells the Democrats’ dilemma in an essay in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:
On the Democratic side, the problem is that the party itself has a relatively small core of voters who will always turn out when needed…. most [who voted for Obama] are not willing to make the effort to vote in off-year elections. Nationally, Republicans may be the minority party, but politics is a more important part of their lives, and not just for the Tea Party fringe. (2014: Another Democratic Debacle?)
I may not be atypical on this one. I am not and have never been a member of the Democratic Party. There are few Democrats for whom I have any enthusiasm—Elizabeth Warren an obvious exception—and any number of them make me wince, Anthony Weiner the equally obvious example here. I vote for Democratic candidates not because I have any illusion about them or their party but because the Republican alternative is beyond awful. The doctrinaire left’s analysis holds that it does not matter which party is in power because when push comes to shove business and moneyed interests call the shots for both; or as Bill Moyers, I believe it was, put it, we have one political party in this country, the business party, with the Democrats making up the moderate faction and the Republicans the right wing. There is something to this in a broad, ideological sense. In terms of concrete policies that affect individuals in their daily lives, however, the differences between the two parties are stark. Torn, tattered, and inadequate as the social safety net is, Democrats believe there should be one. The same holds for government’s role in protecting the environment, education, and so on pretty much across the board. Democratic officeholders believe they have been elected to govern. Some may even hope to govern well and wisely. That they will fall short is a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless it is a standard to which they may be held. Too many Republicans believe they have been elected to dismantle the government. One need not be a Nostradamus to predict the outcome.
The prospect of Republican majorities in House and Senate is sufficient to consider reaching for the rat poison, though it is hard to see how it could be much worse than the status quo. There is little prospect for good government either way; even that qualifier “little” may be wishful thinking.
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Mark Shields made an interesting observation recently on the PBS Newshour, 20 December 2013:
There were 196 million Americans in 1966…at that time, there were 2,721,000 Americans working for the federal government. Today, with 316 million Americans, there are 2,000 more [federal employees]…
… Rand Paul…when he found this out was just rather amazed…because he had bought into the idea that this was—they were hiring and hiring and hiring and spending and spending.
Former GOPer: How Republicans Went Crazy, Dems Lost Their Mojo, and the Middle Class Got Shafted
Bill Moyers interviews Mike Lofgren, life-long Republican, former senior staff member of House and Senate budget committees, and author of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middleclass Got Shafted
Lofgren tells Moyers he left the Republican Party “because it was becoming an apocalyptic cult. Because you cannot govern a country of 310 million people that is the greatest economic power on earth and the greatest military power on earth as if it’s a banana republic. You can’t govern it with people who think that Obama was born overseas or who believe in all manner of nonsense about climate change….”
He thinks the Republicans went crazy “when they started identifying Obama as the Antichrist…. Meaning, ‘He’s not a legitimate president. We must do everything we can to obstruct him.’”
As for the Democrats,
…they got complacent during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. And then finally after that period, they woke up, found they had lost three straight presidential elections. So they had to retool and make themselves more corporate friendly…. And it certainly helped Bill Clinton get elected. And while he did some good things like balancing the budget, he also unleashed Wall Street by repealing Glass-Steagall, and he signed bills that would end regulation on derivatives. So he is at least to some degree responsible for the Wall Street debacle.
This is good stuff.
David :: Dec.29.2013 ::
House Red: Politics & Current Affairs ::
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