I have been watching the government shutdown/lockout with anger and dread. I know many people who are directly affected by this travesty. No one is getting paid; some may get paid when this is over, while others - contract employees - are out of luck. All of them have bills to pay. Yet the Republican clowns who are carrying out this shutdown continue to receive their salary.
Yet in looking at this situation there is a very basic question about Republican strategy. As I mentioned some time ago in an earlier column, there is much that is reminiscent - in the Republican Congressional strategy - of the approach taken by the Nazi Party in the Reichstag prior to the rise of Hitler. Specifically, the Nazis, though elected officials, were not at all interested in governing within the context of the Weimar Republic. Their main objective was to discredit the Weimar state and to bring about its collapse, thus permitting a complete assumption of power by the Nazi Party.
In listening to and reading the comments of the Tea Party Republicans who have been moving the shutdown, one has to be struck by the cavalier approach that has been taken. It is not simply that they are shutting down the government, yet receiving paychecks themselves. It is more about an orchestrated attempt to discredit the function of government. By this I mean not only discrediting public service, but also discrediting the ability of the political system to operate.
As someone on the political Left, I harbor no illusions about the alleged democratic state in which we live. At the same time it is fairly clear that the Tea Party Republicans seek a different sort of state, and one that may only be able to emerge out of chaos. It is for this reason that we have begun reading these strange stories about the Tea Party Republicans losing corporate donors, and of several so-called moderate Republicans turning against them. There is a fracturing going on within the political Right, and this fracturing is not about tactics. It actually comes down to longer term objectives AND the manner in which to achieve them.
The circus atmosphere of Congress is the subject of many jokes and cynical remarks, but when a system of government appears to be grinding to a halt, alternative systems of government can emerge, both at the national and local levels. If the political Left were a stronger force in US society, we might actually be talking about contending for power. But at present the alternative systems tend to be arising on the political Right and are deeply authoritarian and racist.
A further point. The political polarization of the US political system has always been present. It is now, however, approaching a certain juncture where it is a bit clearer and may not be able to be contained within the existing two party system. This means that hoping for "moderates" to reemerge is pointless. What is actually necessary is to clarify the extent of the very real differences over the future of the USA and the future of this planet. This includes the differences with the Tea Party Republicans, but it also includes differences with Democrats who embrace neo-liberalism and empire.
For some time I have argued for a "neo-Rainbow" political approach, that is, a progressive bloc that mounts open challenges against conservative Democrats and Republicans in a long-term fight for power. This approach involves working both inside and outside the Democratic Party but having our own clear, programmatic approach to addressing the needs of millions of working people.
In view of the circus on Capital Hill, let's put it this way: now more than ever is such an approach needed. Popular cynicism will not strengthen progressive politics; it will only promote despair.
We have our work cut out for ourselves.
Wednesday, 9 October 2013