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A Tale of Two Town Halls

Joseph Palermo: The Republican House members who voted for Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand wet-dream budget are apparently getting an earful from their constituents.

The Republican House members who voted for Paul Ryan’s Ayn Rand wet-dream budget are apparently getting an earful from their constituents. And the earful isn’t coming from people wearing Bradley Manning T-shirts, but from crusty old baby boomers who probably voted for the GOP in the last election.

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Too bad their angst isn’t being amplified a hundredfold through a gigantic echo chamber like the one Fox News and talk radio leashed out to the Tea Party in their anti-”Obamacare” outbursts of August 2009.

The biggest difference between the two is not the astroturfing from Americans for Prosperity or all the corporate money from America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and the other predatory corporations feasting on the corpses of sick people, but the Grand Old Party — you gotta hand it to ‘em — the GOP latched on to the Tea Partiers, the Birthers, the disgruntled white folks, in short, their base, and rode their anger into power in 2010. The Great Shellacking.

And the Democrats’ response to the wave of anger arising from their base? Do you think they’re going to channel it and ride it into power? With people like Kent Conrad and Erskine Bowles and Mark Warner who for some bizarre reason still affix a large-case “D” to their names, more or less endorsing the Paul Ryan-Ayn Rand wet-dream budget, but a slightly less Randian version (or so they say), my hopes aren’t running high.

And where does our leader stand on all of this? As was the case with holding Wall Street accountable, or Guantanamo, or the public option, or the wars, etc., he’s what we might call “out-of-the-loop.” Afraid to give the workers in Wisconsin or Ohio or Michigan or Florida his full-fledged support lest it might upset the Goldman Sachs boys who he needs to pile up that $1 billion in campaign cash to get re-elected. And, of course, if we just wait it out now, when he gets re-elected then all the “Change” and “Hope” at that time is gonna come asplashin’ down all around us.

The Republican base matters, the Democratic base doesn’t. That’s how the game has played out for decades now, through the Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush years, only now we’re really in a deep crisis with neither the will nor the vision nor the ability to climb out of it.

Isn’t it amusing that we hear the loudest yelps about not burdening “the children” with a large national debt from the same politicians who:

  • Created the debt in the first place; and
  • Now doing everything in their power to stop any sensible tax increases on the rich and corporations to deal with the debt?

And isn’t it also kind of funny that these same politicians who are so concerned about “the children” when they’re talking about the debt are blocking any progress on cap and trade to reduce greenhouse gases? And they’re trying their damnedest to shred the safety net for everyone in this country who is unlucky enough NOT to have been born wealthy or isn’t over 50 years old.

Sitting right on the table in front of Erskine Bowles and Kent Conrad and Mark Warner and the rest of the Democrat-in-name-only (DINO) deficit “hawks” is easily about $700 billion in corporate taxes that could be collected today, and no one among the middle or working classes would feel it one bit. In fact, even the corporations — these “human” entities endowed by their creator (the Supreme Court) with certain inalienable rights — wouldn’t “feel” it either.

If corporate profits account for about 10 percent of our GDP, and the GDP is about $14 trillion, if we taxed McDonalds and Home Depot and Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs for just one year at a 50 percent rate, we could dump $700 billion right into the U.S. Treasury. But since these corporations apparently own both major political parties, the Supreme Court, and both houses of Congress (not to mention state houses and governorships across the land) we can forget about seeing any relief for working people any time soon. In fact, the opposite is happening.

We have a Democrat sitting in the White House at the very moment the public sector is experiencing across-the-board (state, county, and municipal institutions) the most drastic and onerous contraction since before the New Deal.

And you know what’s really hard to swallow? That these bond holders that our “leaders” are dismantling the public sector to serve would probably respond more favorably if the rich and the corporations were forced to pay more in taxes than seeing the destruction in the name of “the children” of public institutions across the country that took decades to build and contribute mightily to making the United States an attractive place to invest (or at least a nice place for foreigners to park their money).

Even when the polls show that his position on the budget is more popular than the Republicans’ assault on Medicare and Social Security, President Obama always finds a way to capitulate to the Republicans.

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Back in 1996, Bill Clinton’s strategy “worked” (he got a second term), but it produced a long-term set of terrible public policies that proved disastrous for the country and for the Democratic Party (unless you think losing the House, the Senate, and the White House is a “success.”) Clinton aided and abetted the outsourcing of manufacturing and the deregulating of financial services. He ended welfare “as we know it,” and triangulated against the Democratic base. He got lucky that the Republicans nominated a weak candidate that year (but they had George W. Bush waiting in the wings).

But you know what? We aren’t living in 1996 anymore. We’ve had three decades of Republican/Democratic public policy out of Washington that has given us Gilded Age levels of wealth maldistribution, recession, wars, unemployment, a crippled public sector, trade imbalances, $5 a gallon gas, and massive budget deficits. Clinton had the luxury of riding the Internet boom and $30 per barrel oil and no $3 billion-a-week wars.

President Obama inherited the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and two misguided and costly wars (one he started to wind down, the other he foolishly escalated). But his failure to stand up to Wall Street and put a tourniquet on the home foreclosures (and now all his talk about austerity) means he owns the economy now. Like Clinton in 1996 he’s going to try to pile up the Wall Street cash and keep his fingers crossed the Republicans nominate a weak ticket.

But unlike 1996, which we might look back on now as “the good ol’ days,” the working class in this country today has its back against the wall and is facing the most vicious assault from ruling elites we’ve seen since the days of John D. Rockefeller and Henry Clay Frick (the Kochs and AFP alone could give them a run for their money). The only person in the entire Obama administration that has a clue about the gravity of the situation confronting the middle class is Elizabeth Warren, and she is being systematically sidelined and shunted so Obama can shake down Wall Street for campaign contributions for 2012.

Obama’s Simpson-Bowles commission set the table for Paul Ryan’s cat-food budget.

We’ve learned today that Washington is so corrupt, so dominated by corporate interests and the big Wall Street banks, that nothing good in the name of working people is capable of coming out of that place — only nice-sounding words and false promises, pandering and demagogy.

If Obama is willing to “compromise” with the extremists who now control the Republican Party on bedrock Democratic programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, then what we’re seeing is the logical outcome of the trajectory that Bill Clinton set the Democratic Party on: dismantling its own programs while serving the same corporate interests that dominate the Republican Party.

What we need is a president who is willing to take a political chance once in a while, with no guarantees, in the name of what’s right for working people.

President Obama say he thinks it’s “encouraging” that the Republicans want to work “with” him on “entitlement reform.” Isn’t that special?

By ignoring the crisis of the states, counties, and municipalities that are rolling back public institutions at an unprecedented clip, and with public services being terminated that will never come back, Obama looks like the Enabler-in-Chief for the Republicans’ austerity budget — “austerity” that is, for anyone earning less than $250,000 a year.

We are in the midst of a multi-year, multibillion dollar contraction of public institutions at the state, county, and municipal levels. We’re seeing the systematic pillaging of the commons. The City of San Carlos in the relatively prosperous San Francisco Bay Area has been debating whether to privatize its fire department.

Why are we allowing the politicians from both parties to use the fiscal crisis Wall Street created as a cudgel with which to further Wall Street’s agenda of dismantling the public sector? No wonder these little cowboy jack-booted governors in Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio think they can rule their states like Hosni Mubarak.

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If things continue to play out as they have been for the past two years then the next time a Democratic presidential candidate runs on a platform of promising boldly progressive policies and spouting slogans lifted from the United Farm Workers — who’s going to believe it?

Joseph Palermo
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