No Good News for Democrats Because There’s No Good News

“All politics are local,” Tip O’Neill famously said, and the political smoke signals being sent up locally going into the 2010 midterms all point to systematic failure on the part of the governing party. Democratic constituencies have been forced to sit back while the politicians they elected are helpless in the face of an unprecedented attack on public institutions.

There’s no good news for Democrats this election season because there’s no good news. Yet it’s hard to believe that the American people this November are going to return the party to power that not too long ago lied the nation into war, doubled the national debt, and collapsed the economy. When has a political party ever been returned to power so soon after destroying the lives and livelihoods of so many people?

There was a window of opportunity to bring Wall Street to heel and to bolster the neglected and maligned public sector institutions, but President Obama chose instead to play nice with the Republican nihilists in the Senate who don’t care about anything other than fooling enough people to win the next election and squeezing every ounce of political gain out of each 24-hour news cycle. It’s hard to believe that even in our duopoly people would be stupid enough to return the Republicans to power after they killed the American dream for so many millions of our fellow citizens. In a normal country, the Republicans would be out of luck for at least a half dozen election cycles.

Then again, the Republican Party has the Koch brothers and every other rich bastard showering them with money; the Supreme Court augmenting its Bush v. Gore disgrace with Citizens United opening up even larger floodgates of corporate political cash; right-wing talk radio from sea to shining sea; Fox “News,” and an enormous echo chamber, etc. Most mainstream media commentators talk about the angry Right as if it were a full-fledged social movement. But in reality, it’s just an elaborate exercise in ruling-class power, the rich versus everyone else, much of it cloaked in Astroturf and liberal sounding “public policy” groups like “Americans for Prosperity,” etc. The Oligarchs control such a loud megaphone they can drown out everybody else. They’re sophisticated too. Vilifying ACORN, and public schools, and the role of government (unless it’s serving corporations and rich people).

In 1988, Michael Dukakis made a fatal error when he failed to defend the term “liberal” when Lee Atwater and Poppy Bush were savaging him and dirtying up the word. Now we’re losing the word “progressive” too. Twenty years later, it appeared for a time that Obama was going to reclaim the legitimacy of government action on behalf of working people and the downtrodden. It appeared that he was going to reclaim the liberal tradition in this country so maligned by both parties since the days of Jimmy Carter.

But he didn’t. And now his party might pay the price.

Often missed in the mainstream commentary about the angry political climate is the fact that it was “conservative” ideas, “conservative” policies, and “conservative” governance that brought the country to the sorry state it finds itself in today. Deregulation for corporations like Goldman Sachs, DeCoster egg farms, and British Petroleum; privatization of vital public services including “national security”; tax cuts for the Oligarchs and corporate behemoths; the wholesale denigration and denuding of vital government functions relating to health and safety and infrastructure; grossly inflated budgets for warfare that are rife with waste, fraud, and profiteering while social programs were slashed that might have helped average folks; not to mention the dumbing-down and Atwaterization of our political discourse.

The entire eight years of the George W. Bush presidency proved what terrible stewards of the common good contemporary Republicans have become. Chalmers Johnson describes Bush in the introduction of his new book, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. Bush, Johnson writes,

“was a man superficially well enough qualified to be president. The governor of a populous state, he had also been the recipient of the best – or, in any case, most expensive – educations available to an American. Yale College and Harvard Business School might have seemed like a guarantee against a sophomoric ignoramus occupying the highest office in the land, but contrary to most expectations that was precisely what we got. The American public did not actually elect him, of course. He was, in the end, appointed to the highest office in the land by a conservative cabal of the Supreme Court in what certainly qualified as one of the most bizarre moments in the history of American politics. . . . The history books will certainly record that George W. Bush was likely the single worst president in the history of the American republic. Nonetheless, they will also point out that he merely accelerated trends long under way, particularly our devotion to militarism and our dependence on the military-industrial complex.” (p. 3; 5)

There are no longer any truly “teachable moments” in America anymore because for a moment to be “teachable” there must be a populace willing to learn something new. Everything that happens to this country — terrorist attacks, economic collapse, war, bungled natural disasters, oil spills — is absorbed, spun, manipulated, and chewed up until it doesn’t mean anything anymore. It all just becomes more political fodder for the Right to win tactical points in 24-hour increments. It’s death on the installment plan. In the diseased and dysfunctional politics of contemporary America we can see how otherwise sensible people are tricked into fighting against their own interests.

From 1995 to 2007 the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives. Creepy men like Dick Armey, Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and Jack Abramoff pillaged the treasury and bankrupted the nation while pretending to be more pious than the rest of us. Any criticism of Bush, we were scolded, was a criticism of “America”; to criticize the President in “war time” (even when he was prancing around in a Top Gun costume on an aircraft carrier) we were told was “unpatriotic” or downright “treasonous.” This knee-jerk jingoism ruled the roost. Yet the moment Obama became president no criticism or accusation was out of bounds, “war time” or not.

Right now public schools, public parks, public health, and public safety are all being gutted before our eyes and the Democratic politicians at the local and national levels have thus far been powerless to stop any of it, and in many cases they have been its enablers and “bipartisan” co-conspirators. Even the previously sacrosanct “first responders” (police and firefighters) are being downsized, laid off, “furloughed,” or forced out with early retirement. Look at Sacramento for instance, a Democratic city in a Democratic district in a Democratic state where Democratic constituencies are getting creamed. Where are the Democrats we elected who were supposed to stop the bleeding of the public sector?

While Obama was trying to play nice with Wall Street he allowed the Republican Right to blame our current economic catastrophe on public employees, Fannie and Freddie, unions, taxes, and regulations. The Democrats have already lost the 2010-midterm elections because they have already lost the narrative. And if they do lose big this November it will be because they appeared helpless to stop the draconian cuts in social programs that have eroded the quality of life at the state, county, and municipal levels, which are what people who vote in midterms are going to be thinking about the most. The Republicans didn’t have to “nationalize” the midterm elections because this time around the “local” politics are playing out in their favor.

Joseph Palermo

Crossposted with Joseph A Palermo


  1. Nathanael says

    Elaine, you don’t know tax law: businesses pay taxes on NET income, not GROSS. So businesses with a GROSS income of $250,000 have a NET income of more like $125,000, if they’re very very high-margin, or $25,000 if they’re low-margin.

    “We are not stupid”

    Apparently you were stupid enough to believe zombie Republican lies about the tax code. Hope this helped.

  2. Elaine says

    When Bush left office he left with a 1.3T debt. Obama has got it at almost 14T debt. So who did what to the American people. We do not want his Big Government, we want the Bush Tax Cuts left along. Because you gross 250,000 a year with a s-corporation or a small business does not mean you are rich. You pay your employees, you match their FICA, you pay the overhead, utilities, parts, supplies, etc. to run your business and you usually find the one to two employees make more money then you. You carry workman’s comp. insurance on their tools, your tools, the alarm system, etc. & you find that now you are suppose to be rich and they are not only going to stick you with Obamacare and more taxes. All Obama has to do is cut back on these programs that are a waste of money, get rid of those sneaky snake in the grass czars & get that payroll stopped. Take away the raise the House gave it self. We are not stupid. But that administration sure thinks we are.

  3. NY Hud says

    “While Obama was trying to play nice with Wall Street… “

    Why is he playing nice with them at all? That doesn’t help working Americans.

    “There was a window of opportunity to bring Wall Street to heel and to bolster the neglected and maligned public sector institutions, but President Obama chose instead to play nice with the Republican nihilists in the Senate …“

    Obama deliberately destroyed our chance to get socialized medicine. He subverted the movement and gave us socialized health INSURANCE instead. He’s just like Bush, as indicated in his continued support of war profiteers and oil barons, but with Wall St, insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry jumping on the Obama handouts as well.

    Basically, the problem lies with us. If we demanded Obama take care of us for a change, I think he would stop his obsessive support of the super rich. But many liberals are so busy trying to force the support of illegal aliens and welfare cheats that they forget who pays the bill for all of this “progressivism.” (It’s not even progressive, by the way, it’s just naiveté and good people trying to be nice, but getting tricked by others who abuse our generosity.)

    What we should do is demand that Obama stop sucking up to the rich and babying the deliberately self-impoverished. Instead, the government should support the middle class and working poor over the self-impoverished poor. Moderates and conservatives are sick and tired of footing the bill for cheaters who would work if we didn’t keep offering them free housing, free food, free Obamacare, free cell phones, etc., etc.

    Until liberals and progressives stop being so naïve about how to deal with poverty, and believe me, welfare is NOT the solution to poverty, the right wing will justifiably slam us in elections.  

  4. jeff says

    Your article mentions the failures of the Obama administration briefly, but then diverts to blaming Republicans. Explain more in detail the failures of Obama, without the viewpoint that he is some sort of ordaned messiah, and the number showing increased deficit due to the failed Stimulus, unemployment up, dollar down or stagnant, one and on and on. Don’t blame without accepting failure.

    As an independant who sees all politicians for what they are, power seeking, big egoed public idols, I’m reminded of the old LA Rams, who would keep bad quarterbacks in all game, staying the course till the end of the game. The entire crowd, knew they would lose and wondered why they wouldn’t change mid-stream during the game, but no… stay the course, stick with the plan, and…lose.

    Until politicans learn not to stick to their party ideologies, and be flexible to change and adapt, each party will continue to trade off power every four to eight years.

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