For the past two years, I have been absolutely stunned by the inability of the large Democratic majority in the Senate to get things done. Republicans have shamelessly abused the filibuster to block bill after bill, often for no good reason other than to be seen standing up to President Obama. It really calls into question the entire legitimacy of the filibuster. But that aside, it is high time the Democrats turned that procedural nonsense back against the Republicans, specifically on the issue of the expiring Bush tax cuts.
Fresh off an election victory they say resulted from Democrats not listening to the American people, Republicans are busy plugging their own ears. The latest obstructionism revolves around approval of a new nuclear weapons treaty negotiated between President Obama and Russian President Medvedev. The treaty would reduce the number of nuclear warheads held by both countries and set up a mutual inspection system so each side could verify the other’s compliance. It is supported by 2/3 of the American public, including a majority of Republicans. Support for it has also been voiced by the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as past Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defense from both parties.
It isn’t the first time, and probably will not be the last, but the House of Representatives today failed to pass an extention of unemployment benefits despite a stubbornly high recession driven jobless rate, effectively telling unemployed Americans they are on their own. The reason? 143 Republicans (and 11 Democrats) voted against the extentions on the grounds that the cost to the government of the extended benefits have not been paid for elsewhere in the budget, which would result in an increase to the deficit of $12.5 billion.
As the country has become more and more polarized, election results have become more and more of a pendulum, swinging rapidly from one party to the other and back again. The 2010 midterms provide a good example. Just two years after a dramatic swing to the left, the pendulum has now swung back to the right. What’s going on? In addition to the historical norm of voter preference for split party rule, it seems there are two factors conspiring together to yield this result. We have an ever increasing polarization of the party bases, combined with a disasatisfied independent electorate.
It turns out all those 2008/2009 bailouts may not have been such a bad thing. There were quite a lot of them, and they had many Americans understandably concerned. It was, after all, their tax money going to prop up companies that were failing, and many felt (still do) that they should be allowed to fail. The arguments for and against the bailouts were relatively straight forward. Opposition was centered around the ideas that A) government bailouts amount to government takeovers. A socialist concept anathema to our free market self image; and B) any business should be left to face the consequences of its own decisions, not rescued at everyone else‘s expense. Support was built upon the notion that the economy was facing no ordinary downturn and that so many large companies failing simultaneously would plunge an already contracting economy into the 2nd Great Depression.
In every culture there are certain words that automatically evoke negative images for most members of the society. In our culture, "socialism" is a biggie. You might as well call someone’s mother a whore as call them a socialist. Knowing this full well, a favorite trick of hard core partisans is to label a policy or program as a form of socialism in order to take advantage of our cultural prejudices and color the impressions of moderates who might otherwise have a positive perception of it.