This article by former GOP staffer Mike Lofgren has been going around lately, and if you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth reading no matter your political inclination. Not so much for any new insights but as a coherent “where things stand” piece. It’s long and covers a lot of ground, but here are two particularly important bits:
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'”
The problem with the debt ceiling debate was not one of “partisan bickering.” It was one of Republican obstructionism. Framing it as partisan bickering, which establishment media has a tendency to do, was negligent reporting. Every single issue ends up being described this way.
The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.
This was also demonstrated by the party’s eagerness to engage in deficit spending when the spending was going to enrich defense contractors in the form of war spending during the Bush administration.
(As a side note, my hopes for a left/libertarian alliance were dashed again during the deficit ceiling debate, with libertarians typically siding with the GOP on the issue even though the Dems were only pushing to close tax loopholes. I should have expected that, because even when Republicans suggest that tax loops for the rich should be closed, the general response is usually “shut up commie.”)
My biggest point of disagreement with Lofgren is probably his take on the Democrats. I don’t think Democrats are merely spineless any more. They serve the same corporate donors that the GOP does. It’s not in their best interest to actually pass the measures they propose. You can see the same sort of behavior, occasionally, from the GOP – the bailout for example.
The bailout was and is unpopular among the conservative base, and with good reason. But except for a few token objections the GOP, for the most part, fell in line and bailed out their masters. The way the stimulus package worked out (mostly it was tax cuts) and the health care bill (Dems happily threw-out the public option without a fight) was not a fear of the GOP, it was loyalty to their donors. They made a show of trying to enact progressive legislation for their base, but their actions show who they really serve (I’ve made this case before). As Matt Taibbi wrote last month:
The Democrats aren’t failing to stand up to Republicans and failing to enact sensible reforms that benefit the middle class because they genuinely believe there’s political hay to be made moving to the right. They’re doing it because they do not represent any actual voters. I know I’ve said this before, but they are not a progressive political party, not even secretly, deep inside. They just play one on television. […]
The Democrats, despite sitting in the White House, the most awesome repository of political power on the planet, didn’t fight at all. They made a show of a tussle for a good long time — as fixed fights go, you don’t see many that last into the 11th and 12th rounds, like this one did — but at the final hour, they let out a whimper and took a dive.
We probably need to start wondering why this keeps happening. Also, this: if the Democrats suck so bad at political combat, then how come they continue to be rewarded with such massive quantities of campaign contributions? When the final tally comes in for the 2012 presidential race, who among us wouldn’t bet that Barack Obama is going to beat his Republican opponent in the fundraising column very handily? At the very least, he won’t be out-funded, I can almost guarantee that.
That is what leads to so many of us on the left and dare I say the center feel powerless, and see the two parties as essentially being the same – not because of “partisan bickering.”
I should also note that I don’t think this is a “real” conspiracy. I very much doubt the Democrats are having meetings deciding to throw fights or even elections. I don’t think there are lobbyists calling up Obama telling him what to do. They don’t need to tell him, and congress doesn’t need to be told how to play the game.