Tea Party, not Progressives make a statement Pt.2 with Norman Solomon
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. Joining us again is Norman Solomon. He’s on the national committee, advisory committee of the Progressive Democrats of America. He’s the author of the book War Made Easy. Thanks for joining us again, Norman.
NORMAN SOLOMON, MEMBER OF PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA: It’s a pleasure.
JAY: So when talking about why the progressive message is not breaking through, certainly not anywhere near as much as the Tea Party kind of right or right libertarian message seems to be having certainly more effect—and we talked about the power of Fox News and the money behind that movement. Is there a lack of a distinct, critical economic voice coming from the progressives, and is that part of the reason for their weakness?
SOLOMON: Well, I think the distinct or discerning progressive voice has been largely kept out of the electoral frame, or what is seen as within the policy-possibilities arenas. I mean, you have even, you know, Robert Reich or Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz, not per se left-wingers, but they’ve from the jump had a strong critique of the so-called stimulus that came in with the Obama administration—too small, not ambitious enough. They really pointed out that quantity becomes quality, and if you call something “stimulus” or “job creation”, but you don’t put the money behind it that plausibly would be necessary, then you sort of set it up to fail, which is exactly what has happened with so-called job creation from the Obama administration. Not only can we say 20 months later that it was predictable, but it was predicted by many, including at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, economists such as Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot. So that critique has been out there, but it doesn’t have the carry or the ripple effect through the mass media, and it hits a wall on Capitol Hill as soon as the word comes down and the pressure comes down from the White House. And so if you don’t have people fighting for authentic, what I would say is very strong Keynesian economic formulas, then it all becomes a sort of watered-down thing. One of the big problems now, here towards the end of 2010, is you have the right wing able to say (and I heard this the other day on C-SPAN television from Jonah Goldberg, one of the right-wing talking heads), well, the New Deal was tried here in the last couple of years under Obama, the New Deal has been tried, and failed; whereas we’re in the worst possible position, in that the Obama White House never tried anything akin to the New Deal, they just simply said, let’s not and say we did, and then we’re stuck with the result, which is official unemployment right around 10 percent in real unemployment, and then underemployment way above that. It’s about job creation through the government versus tax cuts and a little bit of money thrown in and calling it a stimulus.
JAY: But what I’m getting at is, should there not be a more vigorous response to the idea that you can’t just keep stimulating without paying for it in some way? Now, the Obama administration keeps, you know, more or less claiming they’re going to not increase the deficit, and buying into the austerity language, which partly leads to why the stimulus, you know, is half what people think it should have been. But I’m saying something else. I’m saying there hasn’t been a vigorous enough fight on the issue that there’s plenty of wealth in the United States and it needs to be taxed. In fact, the tax debate’s really just confined itself to the issue of whether the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are going to expire or not. But a more vigorous argument that, yeah, maybe there shouldn’t just be, quote-unquote, “printed money”. The state doesn’t have to borrow it. It can tax it. But you don’t really hear that argument with enough vigor, at least in my mind.
SOLOMON: Yeah, there’s no doubt that the issue’s been framed about whether that top 2 percent of the wealthy above a quarter million a year should have their tax cuts from the Bush era extended, and then that’s the frame of the debate, whereas I think what you say is alluding to a key question of are we going to get progressive taxation in this country or not, ’cause we don’t right now. And you look at the Eisenhower era and, you know, the fabled 90 percent marginal tax rate for the very wealthy, and now it’s down to what? Under 40 percent. So that battle. And it needs to be fought not only at the federal level but at the state levels. I, mean, California, again, the tax burden, as federally the case, falling more and more on moderate-, medium-income people and shifted away from corporations and the wealthy. That’s happening with the federal and the state budgets, but it’s only the feds that can really deficit spend. And I see a combination there, where we need to have—and fight for, first, so we can get it, which the Democratic Party from the top has not been willing to do, fight for genuine progressive taxation, taxing corporations a lot more, taxing the wealthy a lot more. We also need to cut military spending. When more than $2 billion a day—that’s with a b—$2 billion a day flowing out of the US Treasury for what’s called defense but is really military spending, and most of it lowercase d, it’s not defense. So if you look at progressive taxation, slashing the federal military budget and also a redirection of priorities, then we could spend money to create jobs. I would argue for re-creating in modern terms, including technological jobs, the WPA [Works Progress Administration], CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps], the different ways that the New Deal created more than 10 million jobs through government employment. And this is another facet which ties in to the budget question as well. The Obama administration has framed a way to create jobs largely as tax cuts for businesses to give people employment, which I think would cause FDR and the New Dealers to roll over in their grave. I think if we can change the frame on all these debates, we can not only create jobs, but we could have a much more egalitarian society.
JAY: The other thing I wonder if the progressives and the Democratic Party have not addressed, you know, with enough depth, the libertarian/Tea Party (even Republican) argument, even though, you know, one would think it’s disingenuous, given they didn’t make a smaller government—and that’s what I’m getting at—when they were in power, but the issue of big government is alienated from people. And one finds, both in the Democratic Party and even in the left in the Democratic Party, not enough, it seems, recognition of the fact how alienated people feel from government, and deal with that head-on instead of just attacking people who say they’re in favor of smaller government.
SOLOMON: Well, it’s part of an ideological question of whether corporations and the holders of wealth are somehow more responsive to the common good and the common will compared to government. We don’t get to elect corporate people, at least ostensibly. We elect and do, in a sense, at least, elect government officials, with all of the problems there. I would say that ultimately we’ve got to look at what we mean by big government and fight that battle in public about whether the era of big government is or should be over. You know, it was President Bill Clinton who proclaimed joyously, the era of big government is over. But there was an asterisk: except for the big P’s—prisons, police, and the Pentagon. And whether having big government in different realms—. I mean, I think we should have big government for Social Security. Rather than talk about whether it should be eroded, I think it should possibly be doubled. And there are studies moving in that direction to make that case. We should have big Medicare. We should have big Social Security. On health care it should be not for the benefit of the pharmaceutical firms, the hospital, corporations, and the insurance industry, but for people. So I think that, if you will, ideological or theoretical or values-driven debate needs to be joined and driven by progressives, not just cede the ground as to whether it’s small government or big government: what kind of government functions are we really talking about?
JAY: Well, I mean, the question that doesn’t seem to get raised enough is whose government, I mean, whether big or small. I mean, the argument that some of the libertarians make is that you can’t break the corporate control of government; so just make government smaller, so the corporate control of government has less to deal with or less power because government simply has less resources. Don’t these kinds of questions need to be taken on?
SOLOMON: Well, I think they need to be taken on. And when we look at, say, what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, the paradigm that says that you downsize, for instance, the regulatory function of government so that the ostensibly regulated corporations can de facto regulate an agency like the BPA or the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is a huge problem, and it turns on its head the notion of a government of, by, and for the peoples. Those issues have to be fought. The question is—one of the questions is whether corporate power and corporate rule is to be accepted as somehow as good or even better than government rule, and whether corporate power has anything to do with democracy is a central question. I would say the answer is no.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Norman.
SOLOMON: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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