Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stop focusing on the Tea Party; watch out for the other guys

Laments such as this one on the exasperatingly demented behavior of our GOP Wacko Brigade proliferate across the Web, and private conversations throughout the land. But while true as far as they go, I believe they miss the point.

The danger to our polity and our wellbeing, in the long run, is not—or not solely—due to the reactionary nuttiness of the Ted Cruzes and the Michelle Bachmanns, but also to the steady adoption of several of their key assumptions in slightly modified form by their supposed adversaries. We can debate whether this is intentional or unconscious but not, I repeat, whether it is taking place. In a process that directly parallels the British New Labour self-seduction into Thatcherite neoliberalism, the Obama Administration and the Democrats as a whole skate ever closer to the GOP view of the role of government and social solidarity, thus setting the stage for even more devastating attacks on the poor, workers and the middle class.

In other words, while we can and should fear the occasional tactical victories of the radical right wing and cheer their defeats, we should not lose sight of their continuing strategic triumph.

Gloating over the Tea Party/GOP plunge in popular opinion after they engineered the recent shutdown has obscured their success in setting the terms of our national debate over spending. Obama himself talks incessantly of an alleged need to reduce government spending despite the clear evidence that employment recovery is still distant. His abysmal reaction to the last round of Tea Party blackmail was the sequester, which locked in 8% cuts across all social spending, relief from which is not even on the table. Some defeat for the ultras of the GOP! Instead of having to do the tiresome and tedious work of lopping off bits and pieces through the normal legislative process, they intimidated the majority party into giving up 8% of the store in exchange for nothing.

The apparent struggle over budgetary priorities masks the Obama surrender on a key ideological point: is there a federal deficit “problem”? As Dean Baker has insisted for years in his essential Beat the Press column, the shortfall in our public purse is not the cause of our economic ills but the result of it—the banker-induced crash of 2008 wrecked federal finances, and full employment would repair them.

The destitute and the unemployed should be demanding action from Obama on jobs, but instead they are given the spectacle of goofy Sarah Palin and repugnant Eric Cantor calling for debtors’ prisons and chain gangs. The Dems, who enjoy the craziness to the extent it will get them votes, do nothing to reframe the debate. Instead, they shake their heads like Serious Adults and prepare the way for cuts in Medicaid and Social Security that will further harm the needy.

Rather than fight the tendentious and dishonest Republican complaints about the deficit (which, by the way, would have ended instantly had Romney become president), Obama has made their rhetoric his own as he begs his sworn enemies for a Grand Bargain to begin dismantling the New Deal in exchange for them to like him. The GOP Br’er Rabbits pretend not to want it, and we should all pray hard that they keep refusing.

Meanwhile, further ragging on the excesses of the drunken sailors in the House of Representatives is a misguided diversion. By themselves, the Teabag contingent can only perform sabotage. But real long-term damage is within the power of the liberals like Dick Durbin of Illinois who just promised to open the Pandora’s Box of Social Security reductions so as to further glut the insatiable trough wherein the troops of the renascent Confederacy feed.

So those among us who eagerly await the congressional election of 2014 so that the Teabagger minions can be disapatched back to their plantations should be careful what they wish for. If there is no sustained pushback from alarmed citizens against the growing assault on our retirement security, we may welcome back to Washington a Democratic majority just in time to witness it hand the cashbox over to the Wall Street financiers.

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