The Democrats Must Fight

“It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.”
Republican operative Mike Lofgren, upon retirement  (full article here)

I have been amazed at the change in the Republican party during my life time.   Today’s Republican party looks nothing like what it used to be.    That’s also the message of Mike Lofgren’s parting shot at a party he served for over thirty years, driven by his amazement that the GOP could engage in what he called “economic terrorism” in the debt ceiling crisis and other issues.    Where once Eisenhower could defend extremely high marginal rates on the wealthiest taxpayers (up to 90% on the highest incomes), now when Obama suggests closing loopholes during a time of crisis to pay to create jobs — keeping taxes on our wealthiest the lowest in the world — some make the claim that’s “class warfare.”   More accurately class warfare is refusing to close loopholes so that the poor do all the suffering in a time of crisis!

Here’s another interesting bit from that article:

“A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.”

That kind of cynicism — to try to foster distrust of the institutions of democracy for electoral gain — is profoundly and deeply anti-American and of course anti-democratic (with a small ‘d’).   So are the arguments made recently that only those who pay taxes should vote, or here in Maine wild hysterics with no supporting evidence that Democrats were ‘stealing elections.’   Vote suppression has become a tactic across the country, embraced proudly by Republicans who believe that making it harder to register and to vote will help them at the ballot box.

After listing some of the vote suppression efforts, Loftgren notes the purpose – to stop “those people” from voting.

“You can probably guess who ‘those people’ are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama’s policy of being black. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.”

Lofgren charges the media with being complicate in this attempt to subvert democracy.    Thanks to Fox news there is pressure to be ‘fair and balanced,’ which means treat each side the same.   Be no more critical of one side than the other, and blame both parties when things go wrong.   A commenter to my blog (classicliberal) has accused me of the same thing.   Beyond that, the far right uses talk radio and emotion-driven media to get their themes through.  Having studied German history I find I cannot listen to people like Limbaugh and Hannity.   To call them “entertainers” and dismiss their over the top vitriol understates just how much their methods, use of emotion, demonization of whole classes of people and simplification of the world into “us good, them bad” are so much like the tactics of Joseph Goebbels.

The author also blames the Democrats for ceding ground to the Republicans on this (again, echoing classicliberal’s criticisms of Obama’s center-right drift in comments on this blog).    The result is a country with dysfunctional politics, a major party that is in the hands of extremists who sound like any taxation is bad, play to fears (of Muslims, the poor needing assistance, Obama, etc.) and refuse to compromise because their goal is not to solve the country’s ills but to take power to realize their ideological vision.

All this coming from a Republican insider who knows what’s happening behind closed doors gives it immense credibility.   The author also doesn’t believe that most Republicans, not even most Republican politicians, share such a perverse perspective.   In Maine neither of our two Senators, my GOP State Senator nor my state Rep are like that — they reflect the true values of the Republican party.   However, at the national level the party seems to have been taken over by extremists who are so caught up in their own cause that they ignore the impact this has on a country that has functioned by competition between two parties who realize solving the nation’s problems is more important than electoral politics.

I am coming around to realizing that classicliberal was right.  I still defend Obama’s pragmatism — it demonstrated an effort to treat the Republicans as an opposition that should be taken seriously.   Perhaps they spat in Obama’s face more than he should have tolerated, but no one can accuse him of not making trying.   And on the debt ceiling Obama had to ultimately give in — the Republicans were crazy enough to sabotage the economy if he did not, the 14th amendment was not  a constitutionally valid approach (to do that to win a political fight would have been the equivalent of what the GOP was doing — to save the constitution you can’t abuse it), and it made clear who was at fault for the impasse.   It’s no surprise that since then the ratings of Congress and the tea party have plummeted.

But no more.   With all due respect to my conservative friends, Republicans who I believe do not represent the extremes and have legitimately skeptical views of many government programs, the Democrats and the President have to go on the offensive.  Call it class warfare if you want, but they have to point out the fact I’ve shown in this blog that the middle class have been net losers while the wealthy have had their incomes expand dramatically in the last thirty years.  Our taxes are the least progressive, our wealth distribution the worst in the industrialized world, and the wealthy haven’t made jobs with their gains, but produced bubble after bubble as the country went greater into debt and lost its productive edge.  Our infrastructure is falling apart — in part because that’s one of the things you need government to do!   In education we rank near last in the industrialized world in terms of PISA scores (standardized tests given to 15 year olds), and our country is in serious decline.

Cutting taxes and government won’t solve this.  Removing regulations isn’t some kind of simple miracle cure that will magically produce jobs (indeed de-regulation was a major cause of this crisis).   Easy, simple, painless answers have been GOP stock in trade (or pain only for those whose benefits are cut — people often dismissed as freeloaders anyway).   The Democrats have to shift tone to a more aggressive defense of their proposals, challenging the GOP.

However, they can’t become like their opponents.   They can’t ignore the middle ground to pursue their own ideological war.   They have to recognize that, as I think President Obama clearly enunciated in numerous speeches, the American people deserve better from their politicians.   But he has given the Republicans every chance to compromise and has shown a willingness to work with them to solve problems.   They’ve responded with insults, holding the economy hostage, and deriding the President.    The Democrats have to fight back.   Hard.

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  1. #1 by reflectionephemeral on September 10, 2011 - 20:27

    “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” — Warren Buffet, 2006

    Anyone who whines about “class warfare” in response to the manifestly centrist and incrementalist policies of the Obama administration reveals that they don’t care about policy one whit.

    As you point out, no one is talking about returning to Eisenhower tax levels; what’s more, the top 5 percent of wage earners have reaped about 100% of the benefits of economic growth in the past 30 years. One can reasonably object to this or that policy, but it requires a policy argument, not simply falling back on the fact- and history-averse “you’re a poopypants” shriek of “class warfare”.

    • #2 by classicliberal2 on September 13, 2011 - 08:22

      “Anyone who whines about ‘class warfare’ in response to the manifestly centrist and incrementalist policies of the Obama administration reveals that they don’t care about policy one whit.”

      More than that, they reveal that they don’t know anything about policy, either. They’re just parrots.

  2. #3 by plainlyspoken on September 10, 2011 - 23:38

    The extremists of the Republican Party hold sway over the Party for sure – making them a destructive force. It will be no better for the country when the extremist progressives gain control over the Democratic Party (which in my thinking is only a manner of time).

    The two parties have locked up the political playground for themselves for the most part – even “independents” have to play under one of the party umbrellas.

    Yet the voters will sit back and continue to support this dysfunctional political structure.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on September 15, 2011 - 01:15

      A lot of Republicans are talking about changing election laws to divide up electoral votes. They’ll only do it in states that the Democrats are likely to win (though it could backfire on them) and some say that would doom Obama’s re-election chances. The fact they’d change election laws to win an election is rather scary — neither party should do that for that purpose. BUT if that were to happen, it may increase the possibility that third parties could have more of an impact. That might be something we need at this point.

  3. #5 by modestypress on September 10, 2011 - 23:57

    My parents, and my uncles and aunts, were children of Jews who left Eastern Europe for the United States. Although I have no knowledge of ancestors dying in the Holocaust, I did hear tales as a child of pogroms against Jews and persecutions by Cossacks in the Ukraine.

    My parents were traumatized by the Great Depression of the the 1930s, and were frightened by their parents’ tales of the persecutions of the “Old Country.” When they listened to Father Coughlin on the radio in the 30s (a hugely popular, demagogic Catholic priest), they feared that something like Nazism was about to overtake the United States. So as depressing and frightening as modern day politics and divisions are, they are not quite as different and as startling as we might think.

    Although I never lived in the Southern United States, I have lived in a variety of communities in several states from New York, Wisconsin, Illinois, and on the West Coast. As a child, I remember hearing Senator McCarthy on the radio (as well as the HUAC hearings, which were as bad or worse). I remember when lynchings were common and accepted in much of the country.

    Although I never encountered actual lynchings, living in areas such as Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, and teaching in some ghetto schools, I encountered quite a bit of racial conflict, and was on the periphery of some dangerous situations.

    We are a very dangerous and prejudiced species, and what we have gained in the way of civilization has been hard won and is always in danger and always needs to be guarded and defended.

  4. #6 by classicliberal2 on September 13, 2011 - 09:05

    Republican efforts “to try to foster distrust of the institutions of democracy for electoral gain” is, indeed, anti-democratic, but there’s a partisan character to the sort of mistrust Republicans try to foster. The elite of today’s national Republican party are not, as Lofgren puts it, “programmatically against government.” Lofgren follows the press and just about everyone else in using “anti-government” as a shorthand description of their views, but it’s not appropriate. What they’re against–and against most vehemently–is the small “d” democratic portions of government. This, broadly speaking, is the ideology to which they subscribe, and with many of them, fascism is not an inappropriate label for it. They’ve not “anti-government.” They’ve shown themselves to be great enthusiasts for running the government with an iron fist. They unquestioningly turned over dictatorial powers to the executive during the Bush administration, refusing, along the way, to conduct even basic oversight. Bush was one of them, and shared their views, including their contempt for democracy. When they’re out of power, though, it’s all about getting it back, and they suddenly stand opposed to even the dictatorial powers they approved when they were in power.

    The reason every move by the Obama, regardless of its substance, is vehemently opposed, why every bill is filibustered to death in the Senate, why even Republicans who author various pieces of legislation immediately abandon that legislation whenever the Obama endorses it is that the immediate Republican goal is to regain power. The Republican base is built and maintained around a constant atmosphere of (manufactured) outrage, and every move by the Obama must be turned into some sort of outrage; the unalterable impression must be that there is something fundamentally wrong with this administration and everything it does, and this fundamental wrong must be associated with “liberalism,” even when–as is the case with Obama–it makes no sense at all. Mitch McConnell is perfectly comfortable publicly admitting, on several occasions, that his parties’ primary goal is to defeat and remove Obama.

    With the Republicans, you don’t have a political party with genuine political concerns anymore. The national party has been reduced to a collection of ill-intentioned fruit-loops, committed to a poisonous ideology of power.

    • #7 by Scott Erb on September 15, 2011 - 01:12

      I think in terms of propaganda, anti-democratic impulses, and especially the link between government and business, there are comparisons to fascism. However, in the broader discourse I try to avoid stressing those because I don’t think most people who self-identify as Republicans and conservatives truly have those beliefs. I don’t believe that most Republican supporters want there to be a close government-business link, with the elites benefiting — I think they believe the rhetoric of freedom and free markets. It plays into the hands of the propagandists who operate on rage and victimization if Republicans are called fascists — they’ll tell their supporters, “they’re calling you fascist because you support American values.”

      I’ll go further. I think there are wide swathes of the Republican party that really don’t like what the extremists are doing, but feel like they can’t do anything at this point because the extremists have the power in the party. It’s similar to the early 50’s when the McCarthy era had Republicans running scared for a couple years before a few like Margaret Chase Smith had the balls (ironically) to stand up. Eisenhower ultimately saved the GOP during that era (while warning about the military-industrial complex and defending high marginal tax rates because ‘you can’t cut taxes when you have high debt.’) The optimist in me says this could be overstretch after the 2010 election. The pessimist remembers that bad economic times is what gives extremist views power. I mean, when polls say that 70% of Republicans think Obama is a socialist, well, there’s some ignorance out there.

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