On Tuesday American voters are going to choose which section of the American elite they want to govern them. Who says that’s the choice? Conservative pundit George Will did, that was in the fall of 2008 during the Presidential elections.
Here’s what he had to say: “Surely in a democracy it’s time for us to quit being sentimental and say the question we settle in an election is not whether elites shall rule but which elites shall rule”
George Will did something that no one is supposed to do on American television. Acknowledge that we live in a class society. Of course, in elections we hear all about the middle class. One would think that presupposes there is a lower and an upper class (unless we live in something like an open-faced sandwich society),… but no one wants to talk about it, never mind suggest it’s the elites that rule. Mr. Will had to get pretty angry to break down that wall.
Well, in 2008 the majority of Americans decided to vote for a section of the elite that promised change they could believe in. Who would have imagined in Jan 09, when pundits were talking about a Democratic Party dynasty that could last for a decade, with such enthusiasm and so much public support, that two years later President Obama and the Democratic Party could lose 50 or more seats in the House, might lose control of the Senate and a string of governorships across the country.
Of course a lot of factors went into this but here’s my top six list of Obama Administration decisions that set the stage for a Republican resurgence.
Number 6: Not investigating Bush and Cheney for criminal actions while in office – including the deaths of at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians in a war founded on lies; illegal wire-tapping; authorizing the use of torture; and at the very least, for gross negligence or worse in the events that led to the attacks on 9/11.
First of all, it would have been the principled thing to do. It would have told all future administrations they are not above the law and the constitution. From a political point of view, it would put the Republicans on the defence for years to come. This decision not only let Bush/Cheney off the hook for all of the above, it was the start of Obama’s naive bipartisanship policy, that left the previous administration off the hook for the economic meltdown as well. Instead, Bush is rehabilitated with an assignment to go help Haiti.
Number 5: Bailing out bankers and not the banking system. Obama appointed a Wall Street crowd to advise him, allowed public money to refloat banks and investment houses that gambled and lost, without demanding any real public control or any public interest mandate. Bankers made more obscene bonuses and continue to sit on billions of cash, while unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies ruin countless lives. Instead of taking advantage of a moment when bankers were on their knees, he gave them back keys to their Lamborghinis.
Number 4: Not using the GM/Chrysler bailout as an opportunity to build a green economy. President Obama campaigned for rebuilding America’s infrastructure and a new green transportation system. Instead, after billions of public dollars, we are getting an auto industry based on lower wages, fewer jobs, making more or less the kind of cars they were already making. The message could have been if you want public dollars, then you have to serve the public interest. If a public option made sense for health insurance, why not for the auto industry as well? If we are going to take climate change seriously, where was there a better place to start?
Number 3: Not defending the public option for health care reform. The summer of 2009 was the start of the Tea Party surge and the rebranding of the Republican Party. For months, the White House fiddled while their health care reform burned. When the process began, polls showed that most people were ready for a government run health insurance program of some sort. The insurance industry wanted a more regulated environment where everybody had to buy insurance. The industry got what they wanted, big Pharma got a sweetheart deal to boot, and most people were left dazed and confused by the process.
Number 2: Not bringing a promised new mindset to US foreign policy. The underlying assumption that the U.S. must dominate the globe by projecting military power everywhere goes unquestioned. The almost trillion dollar military budget goes untouched, when the funds are desperately needed at home. Not only did this help to fiscally tie the Presidents hands, it put him in an unholy alliance with the Republicans who gave him more support for his Afghan adventure than he had within his own party. It also freed the Libertarian section of the Tea Party, people like Rand Paul who say they are against empire and the two wars, to cover up their unholy alliance with people like Karl Rove and the others that not only brought us two wars but also the Patriot Act and other things Libertarians are supposed to abhor.
The Number 1 reason for the resurgence of the Republican Party: The Democratic Party allowed Republicans to rebrand themselves as populist behind the skirts of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. How did the Dems accomplish this? By not fighting for a bigger more effective stimulus package. Not fighting for a direct government jobs program. Not fighting the deficit hawks by taxing those who had cashed in during the bubbles, and making them pay down the debt. Not fighting for promised legislation that would have made organizing unions easier and for polices that would have significantly lowered workers tax burden and raised wages. Not seriously dealing with urban poverty and immigration reform, which would have given blacks, Latinos, young people and the poor a reason to vote on Tuesday. By trying to negotiate by-partisan agreements instead of calling on the millions of people who voted for Obama to mobilize in the streets and on the web in support of policies that are more likely to have been effective. To talk to their neighbours; to win them over to a real change of course. In other words, by fighting for the change people thought they had voted for.
In 2009, when we were looking into the abyss, millions of people would have supported such dramatic and rational measures. Now, millions of voters are rejecting half-baked stimulus policies and think that radical reform will come from trickle down voodoo supply side economics, ideas that should have been buried a long time ago. And millions of people here and around the world will pay a terrible price for the austerity measures a Republican victory is sure to bring.
So in the end, George Will was right. As things stand, we get to choose between which section of the elite will rule. And maybe we do have to hold our nose and choose the elite that we think will do us less harm.
But perhaps it’s way past time we realize that we are not one nation, there really are two Americas. That the lack of civil discourse and extremes of competing ideology is not the underlying problem but a symptom of an objective difference of interest. That what’s rational for most billionaires may not be so sane for the rest of us.
Yes, we would like everyone to be in the same rowboat, all working hard to “get things done”, to solve the grave problems facing us. But the problem is some are sailing around in yachts, and the harder the rest of us row, the bigger those yachts get. The real division in America is not between the Democratic and Republican parties, it’s between the people who day after day, are out there pushing those oars and those that are taking a cruise.