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Thursday, April 9, 2009

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY TODAY

Some of my Republican friends have correctly noted that I have seldom criticized Democratic officeholders or the Democratic Party itself in this blog. The reason for this is simple: for much of the past 30 years, it has been the Republican Party in control of the White House and, since January, 1995, they have had de facto control of Congress for all but the past 27 months. Republicans have framed the country's political debate and have directly or very influentially determined national policy. In that time, they have successfully shifted the American political paradigm so very far to the right that it would make relative moderates like Dwight Eisenhower or Nelson Rockefeller blanch in utter shock. For the Republicans have nearly eradicated labor unions and have triumphantly pushed through numerous deregulation and free trade measures which have effectively frozen workers' wages here and resulted in the shipment of millions of good paying jobs out of this country. They have effected a secretive and authoritarian form of governance which has eroded social freedom and trampled all over the first and fourth amendments to the Constitution. They have succeeded in packing the Supreme Court (and many lesser courts as well) with justices who are hard core anti-labor, pro-corporate, and pro-authoritarian. The GOP's laissez-faire, 1920s-style approach to economics has blatantly favored the rich and big business while seriously neglecting the poor and eroding the middle class. In practicing this theory, they have wiped out all the economic gains made by the non-wealthy over a 70 year period, from the mid-1930s onward. Their policy has shifted wealth from the large, lower economic strata to a very small and narrow group of economic elite at the very, very top. In so doing, they have ruined our economy and brought us to the brink of another Great Depression. Our overall standard of living is dropping, not rising. So there has been much to criticize the Republicans for, and I have not hesitated to do so.

But the Democrats have not been blameless either, so in this blog, they will be deservedly chastised as well. However, it will probably not be in the way my Republican friends may have hoped for (they should be careful for what they wish).

The Democratic Party loves to describe and market itself as the party of the common man; the worker; the disadvantaged and deprived; the party of fairness and inclusion. Yet on numerous occasions they have failed to live up to those attributes. They were at their best, and achieved their strongest following and influence, when they actually DID measure up to their description. In the 1930s-1960s, the party was heavily dominated and influenced by progressives and therefore much broadly beneficial social and economic legislation was enacted. Unemployment insurance, Social Security, the 40 hour work week, overtime pay, labor unions, Medicare, Medicaid, civil rights and consumer-protection laws were all passed. The country experienced the growth of a prosperous middle class, and many rose out of poverty. Labor as well as business made money. This was achieved because the Democratic Party put forth a bold agenda which benefitted the vast majority of citizens. But by the 1970s, the party began to become less responsive to the everyday, average American and thus began its long and gradual decline. The party became complacent after many years of nearly uninterrupted power and control. It slowly and increasingly became tainted with corporate and special interest money. When it stopped putting forth bold initiatives for the majority, it became almost indistinguishable from the rival Republican Party. People began to refer to the parties as "tweedledee" and "tweedledum", both ineffectual and irrelevant. This enabled economically conservative corporate America and the socially conservative religious right to become allied and begin promoting different proposed solutions to the nation's problems. They gained political traction and completely conquered the Republican Party starting with the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980. We have been paying the price ever since, in economic favotitism for the rich and increasing social intolerance and disunity. Democrats stood by meekly and allowed this conservative bloc to not only dominate the political agenda, but push our whole country far to the right and definitely off-center. In fact, many weak Democrats even aided and abetted these conservatives by acting in collusion with them. By the time George W. Bush took over the presidency in 2001, many timid and wimpy Democrats capitulated altogether, voting for unnecessary tax cuts for the rich, not opposing ridiculously one-sided free trade measures, and even supporting the GOP in enacting unconstitutional aspects of various "national security" bills. The once-progressive Democratic Party had allowed conservative Republicans to steamroll it into submission. Their compliance and lack of political backbone has cost us all dearly. The Democratic Party has failed us miserably by beicoming a variety of "Republican Lite".

When it became starkly obvious that the Republican economic and foreign policy miscues of the Bush administration were proving disastrous, the Democratic Party finally began to wake up. Voters were becoming fed up with dropping standards of living, secrecy in government, rising and unchecked executive power, and favoritism for the rich. Calls for an end to a costly and fraudulent war in Iraq, coupled with the growing economic distress of the population seemed to refresh the party and progressive voices and ideas started again to spring forth in abundance. Democrats recaptured control of Congress in the 2006 elections, and control of the White House in 2008. President Obama was elected by promising massive change for the benefit of average Americans and for a new openness and transparency in government. But will the Democrats truly fulfill their lofty campaign pledges this time around? Will they regain the boldness and progressivism they displayed in the 1930s and 1960s? There are disturbing signs of late that they may once again fall short of the mark they need to hit.

Obama's new Attorney General, Eric Holder, made a disheartening claim of "sovereign immunity" a few days ago, inferring that the government cannot be sued for practices like illegal wiretapping. This was just a warmed-over version of the Bush claim of "executive privilege" for the executive branch, meaning that a President can do damn well whatever he or she wants without having to answer for it. Holder's apparent endorsement of this unconstitutional nonsense is VERY disturbing and not progressive in the least. The mumbling and grumbling recently heard coming from conservative, "blue dog" Democrats concerning Obama's budget is also an unnerving sign. Our faltering economy needs boldly increased spending to get it back on track. Republican refusal to increase government spending deepened the depression in 1930, and their pressure on FDR forcing spending cutbacks did the very same thing in 1937. The country needs universal health insurance for all citizens. NOW. Failure to deliver in these important areas will be a disaster. That is why Democrats cannot stand in defensive fear by acting in collusion with conservative Republicans, but they may unless strongly prompted otherwise.

The Democratic Party is the only realistic power bloc voters can rely on to get a progressive and badly-needed new bold agenda passed. Republicans will NEVER enact legislation beneficial to working people or the needy. Therefore, the Democratic Party must be pressured, by independents as well as the apolitical and nominal Democrats, to throw off their fear and inaction and start to once again produce and pass legislation directly beneficial to average Americans, like jobs and infrastructure programs and national health insurance. I strongly urge EVERYONE to call, write, and enail your Democratic officeholders, and let them know in no uncertain terms that you want progressive action taken NOW! For there is starting to be a few unstable signs in Democratic ranks. Independents and average citizens must do all they can to keep the Democratic Party performing properly. Collusion with Republicans kills good legislation. There is uncertainty and instability which MUST be shored up. Such is the state of the Democratic Party today.

8 comments:

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Jack...
This capsule is so exactly hitting the nail on the head! And a fine WHAO BOY signal to the Democrats straddling the middle right now. There is no middle. I've been hammering on a piece looking for any common ground with the opposition... it's going to be a study in dark humor, of course. But hey, I am Pollyana. Right? Well writ! Well done!

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks, Gwendolyn, The Dems MUST be bold and forge and pass bold new progressive, people-oriented bills. Passing the Employee Free Choice Act and national health insurance are good places to start. They have caved in to conservatives and the GOP for far too long now, and it has resulted in disaster!

Mycue23 said...

Great post as always, Jack. I agree that the Democrats must be bold, but I fear they will not be. Whenever I hear something out of the Justice Department that flies in the face of the "change we can believe in" slogan, I fear that we are in for the same kind of disappointment that the Clinton years turned out to be for the progressive agenda. I still have hope and I realize that the alternative would be much worse, but leaving the changes that we would like to see in the hands of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid is no more than a crapshoot. I have little faith in the Democratic party to enact the changes that are needed because they ran like a dog with it's tail between it's legs even during the past two years, when they held a majority in the House. I'm worried Jack. I am so appreciative that we have a President who can actually walk and chew gum at the same time, but I'm much less hopeful than I was that there is real change coming.

Jack Jodell said...

I share your disappointment and concern. Even though 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing, once you start thinking about the measly 10%, you still feel cheated. But I am VERY concerned about the precedents being set by the Justice Department, and by the way this administration is apparently going to let the Bushies skate, and maybe even embellish on their unconstitutional practices. GRRRR!!!!

Max's Dad said...

Democrats are truly the lesser of two evils. Perhaps soon they will grow a pair and realize what needs to be done to the previous band of miscreants that ran this world into the ground. Prosecute and incarcerate.

Jack Jodell said...

I'm with you, MD! We have never needed illegal wiretaps in our entire history, not even at the height of the Cold War, when our enemies had large active spy networks, huge standing armies, and nuclear missiles pointed directly at our cities, so we certainly don't need them now. Nor should the government or pivate industry be immune from prosecution for violating the 4th Amendment! As for the previous administration, trials for treason and war crimes would definitely be in order. The current administration's reluctance to prosecute, and thereby uphold the Constitution and the law, is unconscienable!

Manifesto Joe said...

I've heard it said that Bill Clinton was the best Republican president since Eisenhower.

I hope Obama doesn't follow suit.

I'm also reminded of Noam Chomsky describing the U.S. as basically a one-party state. You have the right wing of the Business Party vs. the left wing of the Business Party.

But, the experience with Ralph Nader in 2000 shows what can happen when people aren't prepared to vote for the lesser of two evils. Nader, in essence, gave us 8 years of Bush II. (But, at least we didn't have to have Lieberman as VP.)

Jack Jodell said...

Great points, Manifesto Joe! I always laugh when I hear conservative Republicans refer to Bill Clinton as a "liberal." (Of course, since today's Republicans are farther to the right than Hitler, anyone left of, say, Mussolini, is a liberal to them). Clinton, as a "new Democrat," pursued a very center-right economic policy. Yes, he rasised taxes SLIGHTLY on the upper incomes (and those crybabies screamed as though they had been held up at gunpoint), but he went right along with them on matters of deregulation and free trade. They hgad nothing to complain about with Clinton, but complain they did anyway, with hatred unlike I have seen in a long time. That's when I fully realized how petty and insane the modern conservative Republican bloc is. Chomsky nailed it with his description of our political landscape. And, like you point out, the only thing that keeps me from ditching the Democrats for an independent like Nader or someone else is fear of giving the election to another right-wing kook, like Palin or even worse. That's why I strongly urge everyone to pester their Democratic legislators non-stop to let them know that corporations can go to hell and we want a progressive, pro-worker agenda enacted NOW!