Saturday, July 23, 2011

Social Security, Medicare and the future(s) of the Democratic Party

I don't share Glenn Greenwald's optimism about the possibilities of a meaningful strategic political coalition between Old Right isolationists and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But in this article, Barack Obama is gutting the core principles of the Democratic party Guardian 07/22/2011, he gives a good description of how the two-party system in the United States works to restrict the range of political debate considered legitimate by the mainstream media and the punditocracy. And how the "tribal" imperatives of partisan politics works in particular on Democratic activists to push them into defending more conservative issues and candidates.

Obama is now on the verge of injecting what until recently was the politically toxic and unattainable dream of Wall Street and the American right – attacks on the nation's social safety net – into the heart and soul of the Democratic party's platform. Those progressives who are guided more by party loyalty than actual belief will seamlessly transform from virulent opponents of such cuts into their primary defenders.
Glenn also understands what many Democratic bloggers and activists may well be misunderstanding about the gravity of a Democratic President agreeing to cuts in Medicare and himself introducing cuts to Social Security: "And now he is devoting all of his presidential power to cutting the entitlement programmes that have been the defining hallmark of the Democratic party since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal." I would have preferred that he didn't employ the Republican propaganda word "entitlements" in describing those programs, but he does understand the significance.

Here's Obama's weekly message of 07/23/2011, striking a less than inspiring pose, weakly pretended that the proverbial both sides are at fault in the current impasse. And impasse which was entirely self-chosen by Obama himself. Everyone knows the debt ceiling has to be raised. But Obama wanted to use the cover of negotiations with Republicans to insert a giant step toward his Grand Bargain which begins the phaseout of the Medicare and Social Security programs.

Here's a different approach from a Democratic leader faced by recalcitrant Republicans negotiating in bad faith. This is California Gov. Jerry Brown on 03/29/2011:

Jerry there was pitching for progress on negotiations. But he wasn't making any phony both-sides-are-to-blame equivalencies. He was putting political pressure on Republicans by showing he's willing to inflict political damage on them. But Jerry is a real Democrat. Obama aspires to be the postpartisan leader who earns the respect of Republicans by caving in to them and caving in to them and caving in to them again.

If we look at it from a distinctively Left viewpoint, as a left third party would, we could say without doing violence to the facts that both the Democratic and Republican Parties are parties of Big Capital. But both are other things, as well. To the extent organized labor has influence within the two parties, it's almost exclusively within the Democratic Party. The Christian Right and Tea Party types largely have the influence they do within the Republican Party because there are plenty of wealthy Bircher types who give them significant financial support. But they also appeal to a real voting constituency (conservative white people), and a party operating within an electoral system has to be able to command majorities at the polls.

But even if we view corporate dominance of both parties as a fact of life and take it in the most cynical sense, for the Democratic Party to continue to function as a party capable of contending for majority control, it has to get voters from somewhere. By endorsing and pushing heavily for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, President Obama has removed the biggest single distinguishing feature that voters see between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Add in the effect of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision that opens the floodgates for unlimited amounts of partisan corporate advertising in elections, and after the next two Congressional election cycles (2012 and 2014), we could be looking at a Democratic Party reduced to a minority in Congress and unable to contest the Presidency for decades into the future. A long period of one-party dominance by the Republicans. Karl Rove's dream.

I'm hesitant to speculate too much about possible futures for the Democratic Party until after the 2012 elections. But if Obama loses in 2012 and the Republican Party winds up with majorities in both Houses of Congress, doomsday scenarios for the Democratic Party will be in order.

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