in which I despair over American politics

Today I sent an email to my colleagues in which I said that the more optimistic newspaper reports suggest that we’re heading for a government shutdown, while the more pessimistic ones suggest that the Democrats will just cave completely.

The Republicans in Congress are proposing deep cuts in core services, and the Democrats seem to be meeting them half way.   The deficit commission itself included in its core principles that we should not balance the budget on the back of the most vulnerable, and that we shouldn’t cut so quickly that we put the recovery at risk.  They suggested that we should start stabilizing spending in 2012,  and yet we’re slashing services in this year’s budget, with the year half way gone.  I’m increasingly convinced that  for a significant part of the Republican party in Congress, cutting social safety nets is a goal in itself, not a means to the end of cutting deficits. And if given the choice between cutting taxes and cutting deficits, they’ll choose cutting taxes every time. Meanwhile, the Democrats take the rhetoric about deficit cutting and shared sacrifice seriously, and go after their own base to show that they’re serious.

And it’s killing me, because it was completely predictable that this would happen in December, when they made the grand bargain to extend unemployment benefits for another year, and the Bush give aways to the rich for two more years, but didn’t pass a continuing resolution, and didn’t extend the debt ceiling.

I just finished reading Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Winner Take All Politics, and I am deeply depressed and scared.  I’m not entirely convinced by their economic analysis (which I’ll write more about another day), but I am totally persuaded by their tale of how big business and the financial sector have consistently blocked increased taxation  of the hyper rich and regulation.  (Not that this is a new story to me, but they do a good job of putting it in historical context.)  But the book came out last year, so they leave it pretty much as a story about how divided government and the increased use of the filibuster protects against any progressive changes through “drift”.   But what we’re seeing now is not drift, but an all out attack on the role of government.

And meanwhile, I get lots of messages on Facebook and twitter about the attack  on abortion rights and the threats to NPR, but most of my lovely middle-class progressive friends don’t seem to have noticed that there’s an all out war on the poor.  I know, that’s not quite fair, some of you have.  And I haven’t been banging the drums about it myself, because it doesn’t feel like it will make any difference.  But unless we can build a movement that Chuck Schumer is as afraid of as John Boehner is of the tea partiers, we’re going to get compromised down the river every single time.

5 comments on this post.
  1. Jody:

    Yes. I know I haven’t taken the action I need to take, but it’s so exhausting, even thinking about what to do.

    There’s a pastor on my feed burner who quoted someone last week, a commenter on a blog he reads, to the effect of, we get caught up in red vs. blue all the time, and that’s deliberate, because it distracts us from the fact that actually, it’s about rich vs. poor.

  2. Laura:

    I know. It is incredibly depressing. Mr. Geeky and I keep talking about how lucky we are, how we recognize we’re not among the mega rich, but that thanks to a growing income gap, we’re in the top 5%. They’re doing things on a state level as well, including privatizing liquor stores, which would eliminate thousands of union jobs that pay really well. And they’re going to start looking at education soon, too, I’m guessing. And the tax code–don’t even get me started.

    And I haven’t done anything, because I don’t know what to do. I’m represented now by a conservative democrat and a seriously conservative republican. Like they’re going to listen to me. Sigh.

  3. Phantom Scribbler:

    Honestly, I just don’t think there’s much we *can* do until the people who are most at risk are ready and willing to stand up for themselves at the voting booths. There just aren’t enough of us lovely middle-class progressives to make enough elected officials quake at the ballot box, you know? I’d like to think that the union-busting in Wisconsin and elsewhere has served as the wake-up call for working people who thought somehow Republicans were going to represent their interests, but if it doesn’t, I think the class war that’s going on now will take generations to resolve.

    (Also, I think it’s pretty clear that attacks on abortion rights and women’s health services ARE part of the war on the poor, since most of us lovely middle-class progressives will still have the social capital and financial wherewithal to access what we need when we need it.)

  4. Pam Johnson:

    I don’t understand why the Democrats in power are not telling the story of the enormous shift in wealth to the top 1%, that we have the biggest income gap of any developed nation, that real wages have fallen for the majority of those employed, that the majority of the middle class – let alone the poor – will not have enough money saved for retirement now that defined benefit plans have gone away and that kids from a large proportion of families will not be able t o go to college without placing an impossible burden on either themselves or their parents . Of course that might be related to the fact that Goldman Sachs “owns” most of the top government economic/financial posts either via alumni of the organization or through academic economists with undeclared allegiances to GS and their ilk from whom they get consulting fees that far exceed their academic income.

    We have to put defense spending on the table in a serious way in addition to raising the income level for medicare contributions and removing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

    I don’t understand how the Republicans have sold their story to the middle classes – but it seems that the Democrats are not offering a story at all. The non-affluent middle class will have to make common cause with the poor to make any difference.

  5. Kristen:

    We’re in a whole lotta despair here in Madison these days – but there is also an enormous amount of hope. The protesting and marching and canvassing and everything has brought an amazingly diverse set of people together. Trash collectors and lawyers. Children and retired teachers. Black, white, young, old, rich, poor. (Well, “rich” except for that 1%, perhaps.)

    And the meetings. Have I mentioned the meetings? All of us are feeling like we are working two full time jobs these days – it turns out revolutions require lots of meetings, here in the Midwest.

    But everyone I know – and I mean everyone – has added 5 – 10 hours a week of volunteer political activism. It’s exhausting. Our houses are a mess. We serve frozen pizza for dinner. We don’t do laundry unless that red Solidarity T-Shirt is starting to smell funky.

    But we are engaged and inspired so we protest and march and canvass and yes….go to one more meeting….

Leave a comment