Saturday, April 09, 2011

Budget Showdowns, Appomattox and Civility

So the Republican Party finally decided to blink and allow the Federal Government to operate for one more week. That's really the issue here: one more week. What we have seen thus far is that some of the Republican Party's leaders, like Mike Pence (R-IN), are such anarchists at heart that they relish the idea of shutting down the Federal Government. They remind me of the late Sixties radical who thought revolution will be a glorious thing and wanted to see the Federal Government destroyed.

We know better, and we know better for multiple reasons. But one of those reasons is because we know that beneath the Republican budgetary positions, there is hatred among a plurality of Republicans, starting in the American South, that is motivated in significant part by racism--a racism which in turn emanates from the cause and effects of the 19th Century American Civil War. It is foolish for us to ignore the fact there is an aspect of the hatred of the federal government among too many, though not a majority of white Americans, in all regions, which is based upon such particular persons' false belief that too many blacks and other minorities work for it (That belief is false because it asks the wrong question: Instead of asking why are blacks overrepresented in government jobs, the question should be why are so few blacks employed in the private sector? And further, what about all the numerical plurality of whites in public sector employment, which includes teachers, police and firefighters. Are they race traitors? Is that an emotional underpinning at work in such denunciations of public sector unions?). There are many white Republicans in the current American South who see the US government that way, which is analogized through this poll showing 40% of white Republicans in Mississippi wish to reinstate miscegenation laws.

And before we just blame the South, allow me to reveal a personal story: During the health insurance/health care debate of 2009, a Jewish relative from deep in Yankee territory told my folks, with all seriousness and earnestness, that President Obama wanted reform in this area "to help his black friends get free medical care--just like his black mother." How much ignorance is wrapped in that simple statement? How many hours of FoxNews did this, again, Northern Jewish relative of ours have to watch to wrap up that package of ignorance and hate?

Make no mistake. There is also hate behind a proposal such as Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's budget proposal. There is, sadly, a deep seated self-loathing with respect to Representative Ryan: It turns out Ryan received Social Security benefits starting when his Dad died when Ryan was just 16. Again, the analogy to the spoiled rich graduate student in the late 1960s who becomes a radical determined to hit back against "Daddy" is fairly remarkable...with the "Daddy" Paul Ryan hates being the federal government which financed his higher education.

Concurrent with this anarchists' sort of hatred for the federal government is the current lack of civility among Congressmen and Congresswomen. We can, unfortunately, trace this modern lack of civility within the Congressional halls and chambers to the Newt Gingrich era of leadership in the Republican Party, when he and Frank Luntz began to institutionalize, around 1990, four years before Gingrich engineered the Republican Congressional landslide of 1994, a contemptuous disrespect of the Democratic Party and its members. One of the less noxious, but more insidious methods to show disrespect was the deliberate mispronouncing of the name of the Democratic Party, where Gingrich and his cohorts began to routinely refer to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat" Party--as if Democratic Party members were like "bureaucrats," which, in the United States, became the insult term of choice to use against public servants starting in the 1950s. That insult, previously used in France in the early 19th Century, and then to describe Communist leaders in Stalinist Russia in the 1930s, became far more often applied to American public civil servants, starting again in the American White South as governors, mayors and business people down in Dixie fought against government policies promoting racial integration. This term, "bureaucrat," proved to be an important tool to de-legitimize the United States government among people in that region of our nation.

The combination of "bureaucrat" and "Democrat Party," which began in earnest under Gingrich's leadership of the Republican Party, became institutionalized when he became Speaker of the House in 1995. A Republican Party member of Congress, or a Republican Party pundit on television or radio, could no longer refer to the Democratic Party by its proper name. It was "Democrat" through and through. And if a Democratic Party congressperson or commentator objected, the Republican political figure who said it was taught to act with even more derision and contempt, as in "How dare you even speak that way to me!" as if the objecting Democratic Party member was the one insulting them.

This was a brilliant stroke, as corporate media political talk show moderators rarely if ever challenged the Republican leaders and representatives and pundits who bandied the derisive term about, or at most reduced the issue to a "he said/she said" that a truly honest moderator should not have allowed in the first place. And we call this a "librul media"?:-)

Substantively, and currently, the national Republican leadership is again being brilliant as that leadership has actively promoted a refusal to govern as a strategy to get back into full power, the way Jacksonians (that's Andrew, not Jesse Jackson) in the mid-1820s in the US Congress steadfastly refused to allow any legislative victories to President John Quincy Adams in order to de-legitimize him. Like Adams, Obama searches and searches for a consensus with people who truly despise his very presence as president. The modern Republicans may say they like President Obama, like ol' Doc Coburn said the other day, but war is war and Coburn will de-legitimize Obama at nearly every conceivable opportunity. He is not "the" president to people like Senator Coburn, any more than Clinton was. He is simply a "Democrat President." That is another example of incivility, where Republican leaders during the Clinton era would routinely--yes, routinely--refer to Clinton when speaking to their Democratic Party counterparts as "your president," not "the president."

This lack of civility, however, has consequences that may be uncontrollable, as John Boehner has found in dealing with the radicals in his own party who were elected on the drug-addled Tea that was drunk by a portion of the electorate in the 2010 congressional elections. Jesse Jackson, who knows about rhetoric and knows about racism, and who himself has been disrespected and then by turn disrespectful with words about others, understands what Bohener may himself privately fear: there is a potential, and I repeat, potential consequence to this long-standing, deep-seated attack on the Democratic Party, and substantively, the best aspects of the US Federal Government. Jackson has actually uttered the phrase "civil war" to describe this political dispute over the budget and shutting down the US government. It is a phrase that should horrify us and cause us much fear not merely among progressive people, but people with higher education, people with secular sensibilities and people who are also in the economic elite. For the people with guns ain't you folks, it's people who really believe Sarah Palin scores debating points when she says to someone, "You think you're so smart!" as if that is an intelligent response to a reasoned, logical argument with public policy based factual information. The people with guns are those who think Larry the Cable Guy is the essence of "funny." These people are not dumb. They are led in a particular way, and the feeling they have that their status as middle class people is deteriorating is true. But they hate us, and I say "us" because I'm part of at least of two of those sub-groups I mentioned.

And perhaps in a portent of irony, today, the morning after the tentative and temporary Congressional budget deal, is the 146th anniversary of the end of the US Civil War. That most bloody of American wars--bloodiest for us as Americans I must add--ended largely and perhaps only because the Southern Confederacy General Robert E. Lee had had enough of bloodshed, and saw that the slavery cause was no longer worth the fight. As I remarked in a review of book reviews a week ago, Jay Winik's "April 1865" is the best single source for this insight. And, as any intelligent book on the post-Reconstruction Era should be able to help a reader understand, the American Southern leaders of the Confederacy treason regrouped within five or six years after the end of the Civil War to re-institute oppressive measures against African-Americans in the form of segregation and sharecropping. And the Northern politicians and businesspeople were only too pleased, in the name of unity, to adopt segregation policies (without the institutionalizing of lynchings, but nonetheless effective) as well.

Sitting at this computer typing away this morning, it seems to me that the only way we are going to restore civility in Congress and in corporate media commentary is for the Democratic Party stalwarts to first and formally demand respect. That begins with calling out Republican commentators and leaders who matter-of-factly say "The 'Democrat' Party," or talk about "bureaucrats," or talk about "worthless I.O.U.'s" when discussing Social Security. Confronting, and demanding respect for the Democratic Party, for civil servants or the sanctity of our bond credit rating as a nation, could make things worse, as happens as an argument descends to the level of a fight in a neighborhood bar or nightclub. However, ignoring the insults, as most Democratic Party members have done over the years, has clearly not worked. And Democratic Party leaders need to re-gain and re-emphasize the now almost completely lost New Deal sensibility, a sensibility which will do more than anything else to unite the working class in this country--as may be starting to happen in places like Wisconsin or Ohio. This is not a class based unity, however, as there are more than a few people in our nation's economic elite who know or at least recognize that a healthy working class is the best cure for economic instability and anxiety.

Unfortunately, however, President Obama remains a weak Democratic Party leader, and his plan for re-election is simply to say "The Republicans are worse!" That is not a viable plan to improve our nation's prospects. Does anyone think I am being unfair to our beleaguered and missing in action president? If so, then please consider another semi-personal story: This past week, my wife received in the mail a survey from the National Democratic Party. The survey's first three questions concerned who she thinks the Republicans will nominate for president, and even asks whether she's read any of the Republican candidates' books. My wife asked me, "Why are they asking me these things?" "Because," I replied,"they are wanting you to be so scared of Republicans that you will vote for the weak and corporate marinated Democratic Party incumbents and candidates." It's not really a survey, I also told her, it's propaganda. She sighed, and I sighed, too.

In closing, this is not merely about budgets, the commemoration of the end of the 19th Century American Civil War, or the lack of civility that reigns in Congress. We are a nation which is in deep economic trouble. Our salvation depends not on attacking government in general, and more particularly the federal government. Far from it. Instead, our salvation will be through enacting national or federal government policies that promote the restoration and rebuilding of infrastructure. It is in government policies that promote simplicity and genuine cost savings, not more complexity and spending more for less, in the delivery of health insurance to every American--and by simplicity and cost savings, I mean a program many of us have simply called "Medicare for All." It is in government policies that promote re-industrialization so we as a nation make more of what we buy, and buy more of what we build. It is in government policies that restore higher tax rates on the wealthy elite, the top 1%, and for those who live solely at the highest levels of interest income (So often, we forget that the capital gains tax is a completely flat tax at a rate below 20%, which is why Warren Buffett says he is taxed at a lower marginal rate than his very well-paid, salaried secretary). With the other policies, most of our wealthiest fellow Americans will not mind the marginal increase in their taxes, as this is as much a cultural issue as an economic one in terms of what rich folks can "take" in the form of higher taxes.

On the other hand, no matter what rhetoric fills corporate media airwaves, our nation's deep structural troubles are not cured by cutting the guts of our governments' national, state or local social services. Our troubles are not cured by undermining Social Security or Medicare. Our troubles are not cured by continuing imperial wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or even in an ever deepening military commitment in Libya. Our troubles are not cured in depriving a woman of an ability to undergo an abortion procedure, or depriving her of information regarding her physical health in those areas that make her a woman, and not a man--nor depriving her and her significant other of information regarding family planning. Our nation's troubles are also not cured based upon a naive or cynical (it's one or the other) belief that a less than zero percent corporate tax (the effective corporate tax rate for General Electric and other corporations) creates jobs in the USA. The below zero corporate tax rate did not, do not and likely will not ever create more jobs in the USA.

So there we have it. Happy Appomattox Day. And here is a hopeful wish that Democratic Party members show they care about being treated with respect and concurrently restoring civility. And here is an equally hopeful and possibly Pollyanish wish that, substantively, Democratic Party leaders begin to affirmatively reach the 20% of the American electorate, the voters who call themselves "independent" but are so often low-information voters, who switch parties in their voting patterns from election cycle to cycle, and help those particular voters realize the folly of electing people who truly despise using government for anything other than imprisoning people or engaging in more war and torture. This includes not merely Republicans, but also too many Democratic Party leaders, including our current president.

This is a very tall order, but we ought to be on guard as the nation continues to fail. President Obama, for example, could surprise us and pivot from his weakness and his promotion of policies (inaction is also a policy in this situation) that have led to a deeper undermining of our nation's middle class at the hands of financiers and international corporate CEOs. But Obama must prove his genuineness in making that pivot, not with flowery rhetoric uttered in front of a teleprompter, but with clearly enunciated policy proposals and taking action by appearing around the nation and speaking directly to people, starting in places like Wisconsin and Ohio. Instead of being absent from the attacks made against public employee unions and this fight over the budget, he should be reaching out directly into the deepest parts of America, standing in front of and with labor union members. He must stand with the people who have recently been on the front line of a political dispute that increasingly looks like a mere a dress rehearsal for more consequential political, economic and cultural strife in our again deeply troubled nation.



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