Tuesday, October 6, 2009
BALANCE OF POWER
There is an outstandingly thoughtful post called "All Aboard" penned by Mycue23 currently running (Monday, October 5, 2009) on the superb blog Random Thoughts (http://hamsandwich66.blogspot.com/). He expresses frustration with the way the Democrats have not been able to get much done even though they enjoy lopsided majorities in both houses of Congress. He illustrates how the Democrats are a bigger tent, and more fragmented party than are the Republicans, who are overwhelmingly conservative in ideology, and more disciplined and cohesive in methodology, and are therefore usually more effective in passing their agenda than are the Democrats. I would say this is entirely accurate, and I would suggest a few other reasons for the lakluster Democratic performance that weren't presented.
As Mycue23 points out, the Republicans are a near monolithic force today. The Democrats, supermajority and all, are not. Looking back in history, we will find this is not a unique occurence. There were disputes among Democrats even dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. When asked about the fragmented nature of his Democratic Party, four times elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed that there were many ways to move forward, but only one way to stand still. So it was then and so it is today: Democrats favoring many new initiatives and Republicans not wanting to budge at all. But there are critical differences between FDR's time and today, and even the LBJ era of the 1960s and today, both periods of strong Democratic control which resulted in huge amounts of legislation being passed which benefitted the poor, minorities, and working America.
The Democrats enjoyed even larger majorities in Congress during the 1930s and 1960s than they do today. Then, as now, they were composed of a coalition of northern liberals and southern conservatives and moderates (the Blue Dogs of their day). But in those decades, the Congressional delegation was composed of a much greater proportion of liberals and progressives, supported and funded by strong labor unions. Today, labor unions are far weaker, their rank and file membership is far smaller, and their influence is very pale compared with 35-70 years ago. Recent decades have also seen the rise in influence of political action committees and lobbyists, both of which are funded by special interests and both of which line the ever-hungry coffers of congressional reelection campaign warchests. These newly-powerful groups not only fuel congressional opinion, but now are attempting to fuel popular opinion too through the use of one-sided TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine ads. We average citizens are getting shut out in the process. Our wants and needs are being swept away in a tsunami of corporate buy-outs of, and domination over, our government.
Much of this corporate collusion has benefitted Republicans, as they have always been traditional friends of big business and big finance. But a good amount of this corporate dominance has also affected a number of Democrats as well. This explains the existence of Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln, who blatantly opposes a public option for health care even though a majority of those in her state and those in the medical field in her state favor it. Senator Lincoln has been bought out by the health insurance industry, plain and simple. She represents them, not her constituents or the rest of us.
Another reason congressional Democrats have failed to get much done is their, and the President's, silly focus on "bipartisanship." George W. Bush and his then-dominant Republican Party didn't reach across the aisle to pass their insane tax cuts for the rich and deregulation schemes. Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert and crew simply rammed it through and got it done. They didn't waste time courting Democratic approval. They simply got the legislation passed in spite of the Democrats. They used their majority to pass legislation. They didn't waste time being nice. So today should it be with the Democrats.
Congressional and Presidential leadership was far stronger in past decades, and this, yoo, explains why passing the Democratic agenda has been so slow this time around. FDR enjoyed huge popular support due to the dire straits his predecessor and the GOP had left us in during the Great Depression. He had far more liberals pushing legislation then than we see today. LBJ, long a power-broker and insider, knew how to manipulate and bully to get the job done. While in Congress, LBJ had nuts - big ones - and he used them to great success. Today's counterpart, Harry Reid, has only shriveled-up raisins by comparison, and couldn't bully me aside even in a crowded elevator. As President, LBJ was a masterful dominator and manipulator, and used his insider knowledge and influence to browbeat congressional opponents into submission. Unfortunately, President Obama lacks this dominance and has adopted a nice guy approach. But unfortrunately, when it comes to getting things done in Washington, nice guys finish last.
The balance of political power in this country is teetering. I thought after Bush's disastrous presidency and the abysmal failure of the Republicans' economic policies that the GOP may disappear altogether, but now I'm not so sure. Democrats hold the numbers, now at least, and Republicans are deservedly at their weakest numbers of electoral support in 80 years. But their alliance with big money and big business, along with the pathetic corporatist media we have today, plus their proven propensity to lie, cheat, and steal to gain office, makes me think the balance of power just might be tipping a bit in their direction once more. The Democrats seem too weak and disjointed to effectively govern, and the Republicans seem too corrupt and short sighted. Barring a miracle, like Harry Reid suddenly sprouting pumpkins and President Obama becoming tougher and finally getting a few breaks, I don't see much hope for the progressive cause in the very near future. For Reid and Obama were both able to sell the country on the President last November, but both have failed miserably in selling us his very important agenda. If this situation persists, the ultra-conservative Republicans will emerge as de facto winners, and the balance of power will be on their side. The result will be endless stalemate and preservation of the status quo, and that is exactly what the country does NOT need going forward!