Suicidal Tendencies Among Democrats

It used to be that the Republicans wanted to overturn the New Deal and take us back to the days of Herbert Hoover but lately it has become clear that it is the other Roosevelt, Teddy, whose legacy they want to expunge and return us to the Gilded Age. 

The radical budget they just passed is a roadmap to a new American plantation, with tax cuts for the super-rich who have already been taken care of by the Bush tax cuts that were extended.  As the rich get even richer than ever, having successfully sold the deficit hoax, the Republicans are now selling their solution to a mythical problem.  Lower the deficit by cutting programs for the elderly, the poor and children.

At the heart of their mean-spirited social Darwinism is a strategy to lock in the redistribution of wealth so that the bulk of the public money from middle class and working American’s taxes, is transferred into private hands.  No other democracy operates this way with citizens paying their taxes but having their services cut while subsidizing the rich and private corporations. 

If only the Democrats would describe it for what it is, not “tax and spend” but "spend and cut".  We don’t have a deficit problem.  We have a revenue problem!

With more tax cuts for the top one percent, and a blank check for industry to pollute and charge whatever the market will bear without regulation or consumer advocacy, clearly the plutocrats who back right wing ideologues like Congressman Ryan are getting more than their money’s worth.  But what explains the supine silence on the Left?

The dynamic is in place and the Republicans are calling the shots as they inexorably move the debate to the right.  Ryan’s budget is a giant leap into right field, but guess what the Democrats will do?  They will compromise and in doing so they will move further to the right too.  In a negotiation that is the equivalent of one side asking for more and the other side not offering less.  So when they eventually meet in the middle, the side that asked for more gets it while the side that agreed to compromise gets screwed.

But the reason for the craven and cowardly silence of the Democrats can be squarely laid at the feet of most people who call themselves Democrats.  They are just not motivated and fired up like the Tea Partiers are.  In fact they are plain disengaged. 

And to the extent they are engaged, they complain about their Party and its leaders, but do not have their backs.  The Tea Party is pushing the Republicans into enacting their crazy ideas, but Democratic activists are whining and bitching about Obama selling out as though the last election did not happen.  Haven’t they noticed that they lost the House in 2010 and are in danger of losing the Senate in 2012?  Will they blame that on Obama too? 

Last night I hosted a farewell dinner for an old friend who is one of the country’s leading authorities on power generation and the most knowledgeable advocates of alternative energy.  He is on his way to a new venture to make Palestine the world’s first solar state.  

When the discussion turned to Obama, the sparks flew.  Then the debate got pretty boisterous when a friend of Dennis Kucinich argued that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” and we should run Sherrod Brown against Obama in the primary.

This is not new in the annals of the suicidal tendency of Democrats to self-destruct.  In 1968 liberal Democrats abandoned a good progressive Humphrey for a quixotic Eugene McCarthy and helped elect Nixon.  In 1980 they abandoned Carter for Ted Kennedy in the primary then supported a phony Republican Anderson in the general, thus helping elect Reagan. 

In 2000 enough progressives on the Left voted for Nader to ensure Bush’s fraudulent victory in Florida, thus resulting in one environmentalist defeating another and helping elect an anti-environmentalist who ran up a third of our national debt on losing wars and appointed two reactionaries to the Supreme Court who have permanently enshrined Corporate control of our elections.   

And so it goes, as the poet Yeats lamented, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity”.  As I watched the argument rage between disillusioned progressives who were insulting the hopeful pragmatists, and vice versa, my daughter stood up and called for a time out, suggesting that this senseless infighting was making it easier for the very people we believe are ruining the country to plunder it further, capture it completely and irrevocably change it to the detriment of all but the fortunate one percent. 

From the generation we are handing this mess over to, a moment of wisdom caused the gathering to pause for a moment and agree that divided we will be conquered.  Then the argument resumed.

Suicidal Tendencies Among Democrats

 

It used to be that the Republicans wanted to overturn the New Deal and take us back to the days of Herbert Hoover but lately it has become clear that it is the other Roosevelt, Teddy, whose legacy they want to expunge as they return us to the Gilded Age. 

The radical budget they just passed is a roadmap to a new American plantation, with tax cuts for the super-rich who have already been taken care of by the Bush tax cuts that were extended.  They've successfully sold the deficit hoax, so as the rich get richer than ever, they're now selling a cynical solution to a mythical problem; lower the deficit by cutting from programs that help the elderly, the poor and children.

At the heart of their mean-spirited social Darwinism is a strategy to lock in the redistribution of wealth, so that the bulk of the public money from middle class and working American’s taxes it transferred into private hands.  No other democracy operates this way with citizens paying their taxes, but having their services cut while subsidizing the rich and private corporations. 

If only the Democrats would describe it for what it is, not “tax and spend” but "spend and cut".  We don’t have a deficit problem.  We have a revenue problem!  

With more tax cuts for the top one percent, and a blank check for industry to pollute and charge whatever the market will bear without regulation or consumer advocacy, clearly the plutocrats who back right wing ideologues like Congressman Ryan are getting more than their money’s worth.  But what explains the supine silence on the Left?

The dynamic is in place and the Republicans are calling the shots as they inexorably move the debate to the right.  Ryan’s budget is a giant leap into right field.  But guess what the Democrats will do?  They will compromise and in doing so they will move further to the right too. 

In a negotiation that is the equivalent of one side asking for more and the other side not offering less. So when they eventually meet in the middle, the side that asked for more gets it, while the side that agreed to compromise gets screwed.

But the reason for the craven and cowardly silence of the Democrats can be squarely laid at the feet of most people who call themselves Democrats.  They are just not motivated and fired up like the Tea Partiers are.  In fact they are plain disengaged. 

And to the extent to which they are engaged, they complain about their Party and its leaders, but do not have their backs.  The Tea Party is pushing the Republicans into enacting their crazy ideas, but Democratic activists are whining and bitching about Obama selling out as though the last election did not happen.  Haven’t they noticed that they lost the House in 2010 and are in danger of losing the Senate in 2012?  Will they blame that on Obama too? 

Last night I hosted a farewell dinner for an old friend who is one of the country’s leading authorities on power generation and the most knowledgeable advocates of alternative energy.  He is on his way to a new venture to make Palestine the world’s first solar state.  

When the discussion turned to Obama, the sparks flew. Then the debate got pretty boisterous when a friend of Dennis Kucinich argued that Obama is a “Manchurian Candidate” and we should run Sherrod Brown against Obama in the primary.

This is not new in the annals of the suicidal tendency of Democrats to self-destruct.  In 1968 liberal Democrats abandoned a good progressive Humphrey for a quixotic Eugene McCarthy and helped elect Nixon.  In 1980 they abandoned Carter for Ted Kennedy in the primary then supported a phony Republican Anderson in the general, thus helping elect Reagan. 

In 2000 enough progressives on the Left voted for Nader to ensure Bush’s fraudulent victory in Florida, thus resulting in one environmentalist defeating another and helping elect an anti-environmentalist who ran up a third of our national debt on losing wars and appointed two reactionaries to the Supreme Court who have permanently enshrined Corporate control of our elections.   

And so it goes, as the poet Yeats lamented, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity”.  As I watched the argument rage between disillusioned progressives who were insulting the hopeful pragmatists, and vice versa, my daughter stood up and called for a time out, suggesting that this senseless infighting was making it easier for the very people we believe are ruining the country to plunder it further, capture it completely and irrevocably change it to the detriment of all but the fortunate one percent. 

From the generation we are handing this mess over to, a moment of wisdom caused the gathering to pause for a moment and agree that divided we will be conquered.  Then the argument resumed.

Didn't The Right Side Win?

Yesterday some Americans paused to remember that the Civil War began 150 years ago with the Confederacy’s attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and today we heard the President speak about restoring economic justice and reviving the American dream.

In terms of the former, the question arises: What are they remembering, and how much is the country still divided by enduring myths and historical revision? And in terms of the latter, are we able to see what is happening to our country or are we divided by these myths and distracted by atavistic fantasies?

In Charleston, South Carolina today, not far from where the great American bloodletting began, there are two separate tours of the historical city. On the tour for whites, the guide does not mention slavery and portrays a genteel culture of Rhett Butlers and Ashley Wilkes’ standing up for Southern values, whatever that means.  The other tour for blacks shows an alternative universe of slave quarters, auction blocks, and chains and shackles that tell a very dark and different story.

Which is closer to the truth?  First the caveat that there is the unfortunate fact that the truth is a moving target nowadays with Americans reality shopping online for their own versions of the facts that are managed and manipulated by spin doctors in a polarized media.  But that aside, surely the historical record is clear, even if the interpretations are murky.

The Civil War was largely a struggle between two economic systems, one that relied on the unpaid labor of slaves who were the property of a Southern landed gentry and the other, in the more industrial North, a capitalist system based on paid wages. 

Needless to say the British aristocracy, who lost the Revolutionary War, supported the South while the German, Scandinavian, and other immigrants from Europe in the North believed in honest labor and the Union. It is no coincidence that they later embraced that other important union, the labor union, and their descendants are leading the fights in Wisconsin and Ohio today.

Likewise, it is no accident that the South today is the home of the “right to work” states, meaning no labor unions and a plantation economy.  And it is also the home of the new Republican Party, which due to Nixon’s successful southern strategy that pried the Dixiecrats away from the Democrats, has divided the country along a new political Mason/Dixon line of Red states in the South and Blue States in the North.

When Lyndon Johnson signed in Civil Rights Act in 1964 that finally freed the descendents of slaves from Jim Crow in the South, he knew that the Democrats were handing the South to the Republicans. But it was also good riddance for a lot of Democrats in terms of the Party’s uneasy alliance between Northern liberals and Southern reactionaries. 

The bottom line, however, is that Southerners again made their choice of what side of history they wanted to be on.  Ironically, their racism and resistance to black rights caused them to switch, virtually overnight, to the party they had been raised to loath, the Great Emancipator’s GOP.

I remember a scene in an otherwise unmemorable film about the Civil War, “Cold Mountain,” where a wounded Confederate soldier is recuperating in a Southern plantation house converted into a field hospital.  A gaggle of Southern belles are doing the rounds with an exhausted doctor who surveys the broken bodies and ruefully remarks “I’ll never understand why these boys are fighting and dying for the plantation owner’s right to replace them with slaves.”  I have the same problem understanding why working Americans today consistently vote against their interests.

But the gentlemanly myth of a noble Confederacy lives on as does the denial about the role that slavery played in the events of 1861 that still divide the nation.  According to a new national poll by the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union.

When it comes to white Southerners, the number rises to nearly four in ten. And as to whether the Civil War was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state.  However a substantial minority of 42 percent believe that slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

Unsurprisingly the divide over slavery’s importance to the war that killed more Americans than all its other wars combined up until the Korean conflict, breaks down along political party lines. Most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents are split, and a large majority of Republicans said slavery was not the main reason. Apparently the pollsters did not ask the crucial follow up question: If it wasn’t slavery, what did cause the Civil War? I suspect they may not have a good answer other than to preserve the “southern way of life.”

Again in terms of the Rhett Butler factor, today’s Republicans also mythologize the Confederate leadership. Eight out of ten Republicans claim to admire the South’s Civil War leaders. Ironically, this number is almost identical to the 79 percent of Republicans in the 1860s who expressed admiration for their own leadership in the North.

Alas the body of historical evidence is moldering in the grave, and the truth is marching backwards as America becomes a plantation economy.  While our revolutionary spirit rots, the Arab spring is reviving the values we claim to stand for.

Ironically, in terms of our economy, we are turning back the clock, becoming captives of our own Mubaraks, Qaddafis, and Ben Alis who, like the Confederacy, ruled in the name of tradition, religion, and family values.  While young Arabs today are exposing the emperor’s nudity, many Americans are revisiting the same old myths of Southern values—myths that serve the few, while enslaving the many.

Waiting For The People

 

Like a broken record, the inevitable last word in interviews lately comes down to the same conclusion, the people are getting screwed and sooner or later they’re going to rise up and throw the bums out.  Time and time again I hear from seasoned observers and analysts that we have to do an end run around our national politics because both parties are beholden to big money, with the Republicans a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America and the Democrats Corporate Lite.

The sad refrain that emerges, without much conviction I might add, is that the people have to organize because our politics and media have been captured and we have to find a way around the corrupt and broken system to reclaim our democracy.  Easier said that done, but there is little evidence that we are even anywhere near that critical mass of a breaking point that could trigger a populist uprising.

Indeed the highest court is continuing to push the country towards a complete capture of our politics by corporations and oligarchs.  The Supreme Court’s recent striking down of the Arizona public campaign financing law is yet another victory for the absurd notion that money is speech.  And while the law of the land is taking us back to the Gilded Age, the Republicans and the media are locking up our public discourse, foisting a suicidal compact on the beleaguered American middle class.

Although it makes no economic sense to cut spending during a recession, the very people facing economic extinction are swallowing the deficit hoax, hook, line and sinker.  Instead of focusing on their own household debt crisis and how that got into the mess and who led them into the trap, Americans are distracted by the abstraction of a short and long-term deficit crisis that is a total lie.

We are a rich country with plenty of money with no end of people around the world eager to loan us money presumably with the expectation of getting paid back.  So why are the American people drinking the Kool Aid ladled out by the same people who ripped them off with the housing crisis that ended up with Main Street getting stiffed with Wall Street’s bill? 

Why do the guileless believe the same people who are gouging them now at the gas pump and in the supermarket, as the price of basic staples go through the roof?

If the Republican get their way and throttle Obama’s anemic economic recovery in its cradle, they might well win the 2012 elections, but the middle class voters who elected the Republicans will be signing their own death certificates.  We are already close to a plantation economy as Warren Buffet has warned us.  And it won’t take much to squeeze that last measure of income from the debt-burdened wage slaves to tip them into permanent penury.

America’s middle class have not seen a pay raise since the 1970’s, they pay more in taxes than the rich and corporation, they have been living of credit to maintain a semblance of a standard of living the American dream promises, they’ve been encouraged to borrow against what they already have on credit, and now their every last cent is being extracted as they are forced to pay more to drive to work and put food on the table.

With no political leaders to turn to, and a media that continues to distract us with fantasy, delusion and disinformation, what and where do we turn to?  History’s dark verdict would indicate a shift to the right as we could easily slide into an American brand of corporate/religious fascism.  On the other hand during the last Gilded Age there was a huge left wing populist movement of rural and urban poor united around religion against the oligarchs.  But the Christian right has effectively neutralized the resurrection of that possibility and the Christian left has yet to get off the ground.

Where does that leave us? Living in hope, with some on the left believing that things have to get worse as you give the capitalists enough rope to hang themselves with.  The opposite seems to be true, with enough rope they can tie us down like helpless slaves.  The other hope is vested in the Constitution that is designed to enable a revolutionary flush of malignant power whenever a government becomes destructive of the ends of our founding father’s dreams.

The final hope is to trust in the people and that appears to be our best bet.  Although as was once said when we needed a new government but the people elected the same old one, “maybe we need a new people”.

The Empire Strikes Out

I read an article this morning by Chalmers Johnson’s widow about her late husband and the fierce intellectual honesty and curiosity that drove him to write his seminal books on the follies of American empire as he struggled against a debilitating disease.

Crippled by rheumatoid arthritis, “Chal” produced the great trilogy on the American Raj starting with “Blowback”, as he fought both the pain of the disease and the cruel irony that the worst president in American history, George W. Bush was accelerating America’s demise and foreclosing any hope for a change of direction. 

Had he lived a little longer he might be experiencing a little pleasure in the pain of our Gulliver-like empire, tied down by its tentacles of hubris, writhing in irrelevance as the world passes us by.  The sorrows of empire indeed; but even worse we are trapped in our own contradictions as democratic eruptions in the Middle East, inspired by our values, leave us sidelined as history is being made by others. 

The inconsistencies are stark as we were caught by surprise by the Tunisian uprising, struggled to catch up with the Egyptian revolution, fumbled the Libyan revolt, tried to have it both ways in Bahrain and now don’t really want the Syrian dictator toppled.

Perhaps we are having the soul searching that Chalmers Johnson had hoped for, but our entrenched and metastasized military industrial complex and its global network of bases is on autopilot, just as the Afghanistan war is, and while billions are poured down the drain, there is little evidence the American people are paying attention.

Except of course for Ron Paul and now the game show politician Donald Trump, who point out the folly of filling potholes in Kabul and not on Main Street U.S.A. 

Perhaps there could be a bottom line awakening that we are wasting money on ungrateful people who hate us while our own people are being downsized as their jobs are outsourced, but that conversation would require focusing on Wall Street.  And since Wall Street clearly owns both political parties, and the Supreme Court has accelerated the total capture of our politics by big money, there seems little hope for improvement there. 

But just as the Berlin Wall fell, the wall of ignorance we have built up about the outside world is slowly crumbling and while we are learning that Arabs want democracy just like us, we might also learn that Europeans and other democracies actually take better care of their own people than we do. 

Even though there is an example right next door with Canada, one would think the intrusion of reality about their better standard of living would be inevitable.  But don’t underestimate the power of the enforcers of myth and the plutocracy of greed. 

America’s oligarchs will not stop until they have squeezed every last dollar of public money into private hands and unless the people act soon to reclaim their government, there won’t be anything left of the American dream, or of America the beautiful.