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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!

12 comments:

Mycue23 said...

Jack, as always, you present the facts and argue the point with great clarity. I too have made the point that bi-partisanship is a waste of time, yet the President seems to persist in this fantasy. There are days when my faith in his ability to affect change is badly shaken (and you've seen that represented on my blog a few times), but on other days I think he's got a plan that we just can't see. I don't know which one is right. I hope, for all of our sakes, it's the latter.

Jack Jodell said...

I'm in the same boat as you, Mycue23. We can only hope and pray that, with time, people will tire of the constant GOP mud-slinging and that their current practice of being the party of "no" will blow up like an atom bomb in their face. For Obama has a great deal of good to offer the country, and the Republicans have absolutely nothing. They should be challenged on, and lose, on that basis alone. CALL THEIR BLUFF, OBAMA AND YOUR PARTY!!!

TomCat said...

Sigh! Organizing Democrats is like herding cats. :-(

SJ said...

@Jack,
agreed on all points.
--And the bottom line is, the country didn't vote for bi-partisanship anyway, to put it brusquely.
The last elections were a blanket rejection of the GOP's ethos and current approach.
The Democrats are at the wheel now because they were voted into that position, no matter what Rupert Murdoch and Roger ailes think, and Obama had better start acting like it or he'll find himself and the country going nowhere fast as Republicans only seem interested in slashing tires until 2012.
-SJ

Jack Jodell said...

TomCat,
I read you. We just need far more liberals, that's all.
----------
SJ,
I think the country wanted a semblance of bi-partisanship. They certainly didn't want more Bushonomics, extended war, or obstructionism. They voted for change, and they wanted, and are fully correct to, expect some definitive action. It's time for no more Mr. nice guy from Obama.

SJ said...

@Jack,
the bi-partisnaship some Americans may have wanted just wasn't, and isn't possible. I wasn't part of that camp in the last election cycle because I didn't ever see the point, because as you, Mycue and I have discussed several times, these are not true Republicans or Conservatives in any case, -they are big-business sell outs who will always put corporations ahead of their constituents. You cannot negotiate with people who are trying to destroy whatever you are trying to do -there is simply no consensus to build unless you drop your whole program of goals in a situation like this. The GOP idea of bipartisanship is "don't do anything we don't agree with" -The Obama adminsitration refuses to concede this obvious reality and act acordingly. The GOP has said it will vote against any Healthcare Reform, so how on earth does anybody do anything with that?
Whichever principled "real" Republicans there may have been once upon a time, the Chuck Hagels, the John McCains, the Arlen Specters have been lost to retirement, become divorced from their party's center of power or now skewed identity or have moved across the aisle already, or even become independents like Lincoln Chaffee.
Obama's gotta become LBJ real quick, and I mean in the medicare civil rights way, -not the Vietnam way...
-SJ

Oso said...

Jack,
I think you're right on all counts.In Krugmans book Conscience of a Liberal he points out how the Welfare State/New Deal was so popular that the Right more or less had to live with it,hence the Eisenhower era.There was a lot of bipartisanship and not so much meanness.They weren't idyllic times for minorities but in terms of foreign/domestic policy and the way the elected politicans got along-there was bipartisanship.

Until circumstances changed (vietnam/gold window closing among many things)and the Right was able to chip away at the New Deal till it began to crumble. and I agree with SJ too-the 2008 election was NOT about bipartisanship.
and TomCat-yeah herding cats is tough and doesn't pay off !

SJ said...

"bi-partisnaship" -I still hate typos.
-SJ

Jack Jodell said...

SJ,
The GOP is indeed now a party of lost souls abd working substantively with them on anything is all but impossible. They are behaving like a swarm of killer bees who want to completely annihilate all who differ from them. They deserve nothing but a heavy dose of insecticide. Classic bipartisanship is therefore dead.
----------
Oso,
I think your description of the New Deal's effect on the right and especially regarding the '50s is insightful and wholly accurate. And that, I think, is why the current far-right GOP is so opposed to Obama and particularly his push for a public option. For, like FDR, Obama has a clear understanding of exactly what the average citizen today needs and wants to deliver it for them. The GOP is deathly afraid the public will strongly embrace universal, government-run health care. This will adversely affect all their corporate backers, and both they and their big business pals will be completely shut out again, which the GOP wants to avoid at all costs. I say, to hell with them: their time is deservedly up.

Marc McDonald said...
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Marc McDonald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>ultra-conservative Republicans
>>will emerge as de facto winners,
>>and the balance of power will be
>>on their side.

Frankly, it seems to me like the balance of power has been on the GOP's side now for nearly 30 years, since Reagan. The GOP has enjoyed victory after victory (even during the Clinton years). They've slashed and gutted the nation's social safety net so extensively that they now have a tough time just finding more programs to cut.

The nation has moved so far to the right that Nixon was actually to the left of Clinton on domestic policy.

Will Obama be another corporatist like Clinton? So far, he hasn't really shown much in the way of progressive polices.

We really haven't had a progressive in the White House since LBJ---and it's pretty much been downhill since then.