When the best that can be said about the president's proposal is that it has no chance of being enacted, the truth about it is that it is an astonishing failure. When the confidence that bad policy will not be enacted is grounded in the certainty that the Republicans are too stupid and unhinged to accept "yes" for an answer, we have reached the point of political surrealism. Particularly when that bad policy has been proposed by a Democratic president.
Good proposals aren't being offered, and the excuse that the Republicans wouldn't pass them anyway fails by its own logic. If the Republicans won't pass anything the president proposes, then why not propose something good, and argue for it, and make a case for it, and defend the principles and ideals that have defined the Democratic Party since the New Deal, thus drawing a clear contrast between the Democrats and the Republicans both on policy and politics? How about letting the Republicans kill good legislation, so they can be blamed for that, rather than letting them kill bad legislation, for which they will claim credit? Instead, we have a Democratic president proposing bad policy as if the bad politics somehow will make it all okay.
It is a political Danse Macabre, full of ominous symbolism that signifies a politics of nihilism. Failure is presumed. Failure is expected. So rather than fight for the good, all that is offered is the not-as-bad, and failure thus becomes the best case scenario. The cynicism of it bleeds. In a time of record low borrowing costs, rather than take advantage of that to finance some serious Keynesian stimulus, a Democratic administration instead offers up Social Security cuts, even though Social Security has absolutely nothing to do with the deficit, which shouldn't even be a concern right now, during a demand crisis, anyway. And just to prove the pointlessness and dishonesty of the entire game, in response to a non-existent threat, the same Democratic administration is going to throw another billion dollars down the sinkhole of a perpetually failed technology that has for decades accomplished nothing but to funnel endless pallets of taxpayer cash into the pockets of already incomprehensibly wealthy defense contractors. Austerity is for flesh-and-blood people, not for corporate people.
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This is not a time to succumb to emotional reactions, whether they be critical or defensive. It's about the clear and present danger of failures of logic, common sense, and basic human decency that are consigning to poverty or subsistence survival tens if not hundreds of millions of Americans. As has been watching the continuing meltdown that is European austerity, and that is witnessing the rise of right-wing extremists not seen in Europe since the decade that led to the Second World War, American austerity is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Alfred Hitchcock once explained that suspense isn't dropping a big surprise on an audience, it's allowing the audience in on a secret about which the characters in the film don't know, leaving people squirming in their seats, wanting to yell at the screen that there's a ticking timebomb, and that if no one looks under the table to find it, they'll all blow up. But there are no secrets about what is happening, right now. The timebomb is ticking, and everyone can hear it, but some are ignoring it, some are trying to distract from it, and some are even claiming that we need the bomb to blow up, anyway.
We have the lessons of the Hoover administration, which refused to take action and relied on a combination of private enterprise and the confidence fairy, even as the Great Depression steadily grew worse. We have the ongoing lessons of Europe, which we have observed in real time, as austerity steadily dismantles economies, emboldens and enables what once was but an almost forgotten lunatic fringe, and loosens the more dangerous demons of human nature. And we expect the worst from the Republican Party, because it has degenerated into a freak show that would be comical if it were not itself so dangerous. But we do not expect the Democratic Party to be party to the degeneration. We expect at least a fight. We expect at least to hear Democratic Party principles framed and explained and presented as opposition and opportunity. It's about jobs. It's about income security. It's about wealth disparity. It's about fostering a culture of caring for one another. It's about doing right today not only for today but for tomorrow and all conceivable tomorrows. Or at least it should be. Because it clearly isn't.
Has it really come to this? But for those relative few Democrats and independents in Congress who do speak out, but whose voices are all but drowned out by the more prominent and more powerful, do we have no responsive government left at all? It's been almost exactly two years since Joseph Stiglitz defined the politics of economics of our time, with his seminal article "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%", and the Occupy Movement that for a brief shining moment seemed to be redefining the political narrative about economics. It now seems that the politics is too broken for such easy resolutions. It may be necessary that the Occupy Movement will come to be seen as but the dress rehearsal for something the broken politics is making necessary.
When the Roosevelt Administration acted to create the New Deal, amid cries even from some in its own party that they were communists, it was partly out of a genuine caring for tens of millions of people in dire need. It also was partly out of a fear of what would happen if it didn't act. Revolution was in the air. As in Europe, extremists on both ends of the political spectrum were gaining supporters and political strength. We have the lessons from that era, both from here and in Europe. We have the continuing lessons from European austerity. This isn't a time to be cutting the safety net for millions of people who depend on it for survival, this is the time to be strengthening it, while also creating opportunity for those who won't need a safety net if opportunity exists. Some make the excuse that things sometimes have to get worse before they get better. Those making such excuses tend not to be those who will suffer most from things getting worse. And when things do get worse, for far too many they don't ever get better. Sometimes things just get worse.