Monday, February 15, 2010

How sclerotic is our national political process?

Digby gets "shrill" in discussing Blue Dog corporate Democrat Evan Bayh's decision to step down from his Senate seat, making it vulnerable to a Republican win:

But we've heard Democratic establishment rumblings that they'd actually prefer to have a Republican congress because then nobody can expect them to deliver anything but bipartisan neoliberal policy which is what they prefer to deliver. It's hard to see how Obama rallies his base even for the presidential, though, unless the Republicans run Dick Cheney in 2012. Which is possible. The Democrats are a bunch of timorous little schoolkids, but the Republicans are flat out nuts. Oy. [my emphasis]
I assume the "establishment rumblings" to which she refers are incidents we've seen played out in public rather than reference to anonymous sources.

The Democrats' unwillingness to govern according to their own announced program on health care reform, terrorism policies, workers' rights and financial reform has to be seen relative to the Republicans' Predator State governance. A McCain-Palin administration would surely have let General Motors go bankrupt and used the crisis to bust the United Auto Workers union, for example. That's what the Congressional Republicans actually advocated. And their Party actually tries to enact their major economic priorities.

But given the magnitude of the economic crisis a year ago, the strength of Obama's mandate coming into office and the large Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress, it's also the case that the Democrats have enacted about as little as they could get away with doing.

Democratic governance and the prospects for reform that benefits working people in major ways are facing what I see are three major meta-problems. Meta-problems that will have to be solved in many steps but which also require a change in the framing of the public conversation, the political terms in which they are considered by voters. The dominance of neoliberal economic ideology that Digby mentioned is one: the commitment to deregulation of business and finance, gutting of workers rights, weakening of the social and protective functions of the state, promotion of corporate-friendly "free trade" as a virtually unqualified good. The current bipartisan hand-wringing over the deficit, whose danger for the US right now is marginally more than that of Iraq's non-existent "weapons of mass destruction" were in 2003, is a symptom of this bipartisan pathology.

The other two are the fact that the US just flat spends way, way too much money on the military and the national security bureaucracy, with corresponding theories of the Long War against an always-urgent global Enemy; and, the successful setting aside of the rule of law and the Constitution under the Cheney-Bush administration and the acceptance of that fact by the Obama administration.

But even the political shock to the system of nearly having a new Great Depression, which was a live possibility just a year ago, hasn't been sufficient to shake the political system (i.e., the Democratic and Republican Parties) into seriously questioning any of those three basic problems and corresponding sets of assumptions.

I see institutional problems like the death-grip that the infotainment industry has on the news media, the reactionary majority on the Supreme Court and the filibuster rule in the Senate as major problems and serious threats to democracy. But those are more concrete problems with more proximate solutions - even the media problem which is seriously bad.

For the long run, I'm not pessimistic. But as John Maynard Keynes famously said, "In the long run we are all dead." And it's worth remembering that he said it in this context:

Now "in the long run" this [way of summarizing the quantity theory of money] is probably true.... But this **long run** is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again. [my emphasis in bold]
The health care reform battle is still a linchpin for the immediate prospects of democratic-reform politics. If the Democrats this year can put through a substantive reform plan with a public option - and that's still a possibility - that could open the door to further reforms and a change in the political conversation that would challenge the neoliberal consensus in a serious way.

It's obvious that the Democrats as a whole have had to be carried along kicking and screaming to get to even this point. But Nancy Pelosi has been a stronger leader in the House than Harry Reid in the Senate or Obama in the White House. That's a positive factor. And the Republicans fundamental opposition strategy of "just say no" to every constructive Democratic domestic proposal may force the administration to take a more reformist stance. It's most likely the case that the administration wants to hide behind the declared need for the bipartisanship so sacred to the David Broders of our world to justify passing a placebo health care reform. But if the Republican just flat won't cooperate on the charade, that gives the House Progressive Caucus the clout to do what the Blue Dogs have been doing for decades now: to say if you want this reform that has become a political necessity, you'll meet our minimum conditions.

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