America is in a whole lotta trouble, but I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know.
We unleash the so-called free market, and then once that free market has destroyed millions of lives and livelihoods, government must come to the rescue to save the system from itself. And once the oil company despoils the oceans with millions of gallons of black goop, or the criminally greedy mining company allows its workers to perish in an unsafe mine, government must intervene to restore a regulatory framework and rein in corporate excess. And yet, the guardians of the status quo would seemingly fight reform, even if it meant bringing down the entire country.
The standoff in the Senate over the extension of unemployment benefits is a perfect example of the depths of the problem. To be sure, they did pass unemployment benefits for the 2.5 million people whose checks ran out in May. But there will be another standoff in the months to come. And the fundamentals of the political dysfunction will be the same.
In a normal world, helping out distressed families in a virtual depression is a no-brainer. It is the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, but it also makes good sense to use unemployment benefits to help stimulate an anemic economy. But Congress, particularly on the Senate side, is being held hostage by a minority party that clings to a failed economic philosophy known as trickle-down economics. This is the theory that if you give the wealthy more money in the form of tax cuts, subsidies, corporate welfare and the like, those benefits will trickle down to the lower rungs of the population, and everyone will be happy and prosper in the end. Remember the Reagan years? In simpler lay terms, trickle down is also known as theft.
That is what the $1.6 trillion in Bush tax cuts have amounted to—theft of the middle and working classes, the poor, and everyone else at the bottom. The top 1 percent now owns about 35 percent of America’s wealth, and the top 20 percent owns 85 percent. This gross disparity was exacerbated by horrendous policies such as the Bush tax cuts, of which half went to the top 5 percent of U.S. households, while the bottom 60 percent of Americans received a mere 15 percent of the leftovers. No investment, no economic growth, no jobs—just highway robbery, the way it was meant to be in the first place.
The Republican party faithful care little about the lives of everyday people. But they do care about their corporate benefactors. They claim to care so much about deficit reduction that they do not want to extend unemployment benefits, yet they want to extend the very tax cuts that wrecked the U.S. economy. Three GOP-inspired policies— financial ruin, the senseless yet costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tax cuts for the rich—put us in this mess that turned a Clinton-era surplus into a $1.4 trillion deficit.
And yet, we’re in a recession, a Great Recession, and perhaps for another ten years. This year, foreclosures could reach one million or more. Still, conservatives are on the deficit reduction bandwagon. The Obama administration, having learned nothing from the lessons of history, is drinking the Hooverade as well, saying there is ”no great appetite” for aid to the states. Now that’s just dumb. Stressing deficits over job creation is suicidal in a broke economy. This strategy speaks to an administration that, however brilliant and accomplished, expends too much energy appeasing its adversaries and protecting those of its advisors who rate in the mediocre-to-incompetent range, even as it throws good people under the bus amidst rightwing smear campaigns.
Speaking of good people, it is speculated that the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will use his authority under the newly-minted financial reform and block Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Perhaps he doesn’t want anyone to learn where the bodies are buried, in a metaphorical sense, and he knows the Harvard law professor will protect consumers and not allow banks to continue their abusive practices. For an administration that has backtracked and settled for second best when faced with the prospects of great reform (i.e., single payer and the public option in the healthcare debate) this would be the last straw. But time will tell.
In the meantime, when presented with viable options to fix our problems, there is this tendency for America to take the road to ruin. You have no choice but to come to this conclusion when you look at this country’s military spending. While other nations seek to achieve economic and technological superiority, the United States aspires to win the Cold War. Expensive, deadly and pointless, America’s exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a price tag of $1 trillion, have amounted to the second most expensive military action after World War II. And with hundreds of military bases around the world, the U.S. spends far more on its military than any other nation, and about as much as all other nations combined, for that matter.
Slaves to our dysfunctional politics, America treats dysfunctional and racist movements as legitimate. We walk a fine line when dealing with the Tea Party—pay too much attention and we give them more publicity than they deserve, but ignore them and we fail to learn the lessons of our troubled racial history. But in any case we must ”repudiate” them.
Not actually a movement, the Tea Party is little more than a corporate lobbyist-supported project of the GOP, with a pseudo-populist overlay. Their aversion to taxes, to government spending, social programs such as universal healthcare, and their visceral hatred of a black president, have their origins in the Republican Southern Strategy. Lee Atwater taught them well, though he repented on his deathbed. Taxes, big government, social programs, all of these were code words for fear of black people, when it was no longer acceptable to use the “N” word.
Atwater was able to finesse the racist sensibilities of the Dixiecrat legacy in order to secure Republican victories. The strategy worked, but the moderates left the policy and the base remained. Some of the base has aligned with white supremacists, militias and jingoists, with a hate group helping to write Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, and white supremacists donating money to defend the law. These are the folks who are providing the energy in the Republican Party today, and some conservative politicians hope to harness this energy, racism and all.
So, the question is, why does America allow dysfunctional politics to result in horrible, even suicidal policies? The question is not rhetorical, I really want to know.
This article first in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.