'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Obama's Midterm Victory 

UPDATE 2: Patrick Martin of the World Socialist News Website nails it:

Establishment liberalism is concerned about lifestyle issues and identity politics, but is utterly distant from the needs of the working people who are the vast majority of the population. It has moved so far to the right that the economic program of Obama and that of the incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans differs only on minor details.

Coming out of the election, Obama will renew the drive towards bipartisanship with which he began his administration, going out of his way from the moment of his election to rehabilitate a completely discredited Republican Party. All the compromises that he proposes will amount to acceptance of Republican demands for deeper reductions in social spending as well as further tax cuts and other concessions to corporate interests.

UPDATE 1: Embedded within a provocative, informed analysis of the midterm election results by lenin:

Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued, in Why Americans Still Don't Vote, that the exclusion of the working class from elections is actively desired by politicians. They suggest that if politicians were interested in crafting a policy mix that would appeal to the poor, the poor would respond, and they would be able to command electoral majorities. Pippa Norris of Harvard University concurs: the evidence suggests that turnout among the working class will increase at elections if there are left and trade union based parties that are capable of mobilising them. But it is again worth stressing that the exclusion of the poor from the electoral system is not wholly voluntary. Thomas E Patterson, in The Vanishing Voter (2009), points out that the electoral system in the US has had a long tradition of seeking to exclude the uneducated and the poor, and Patterson argues that voter registration rules still work to limit the size and composition of the electorate. He notes that the US has a disproportionately high number of non-citizens among its total population (7%), and ineligible adults (10%). Thus, 17% of the total adult population at any given time is legally excluded from voting. The exclusion of so many voters is the result of deliberate projects: in one case to manage labour migration flows to benefit capital (non-citizens cause less trouble than those permitted to naturalise); and in the other case to construct a carceral state that imprisoned more poor and black Americans than ever before. On any given day, 1 in every 32 American adults is directly in the control of the criminal justice system, either through jail, parole, probation or community supervision. This only hints at the wider effects that this behemoth has on American society, but suffice to say that it deprives millions of the right to vote where it would easily make a significant difference to the outcome.

In 2008, liberals and progressives apparently believed that Obama was a Moses or Spartacus that would empower these people within the existing political system. There was never any factual justification for it.

INITIAL POST: Political parties have been obsolete for quite some time, at least to the extent that they actually represent coherent ideological alternatives, and serve as the administrative mechanism for holding elected officials accountable to the people who vote for them. If you turn on the television, you will hear that the Republican Party will seize power in the House of Representatives and sharply narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate. It is, according the commentators, a huge defeat for the Democrats and the President. But they are wrong, because the political parties are merely fig leafs that conceal the actual operation of power within the US political system.

In fact, the President has achieved a result that he and his advisors have wanted for quite some time, the destruction of any remaining vestiges of progressive influence in Washington. One of the worst kept secrets of the campaign has been his deliberate effort to alienate core Democratic constituencies by refusing to move on initiatives important to them, such as the DREAM Act for Latinos and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell for gays and lesbians, and maligning progressive critics, so as to depress turnout and engineer a Democratic debacle. During the first two years of his term, he struggled with the public difficulties of disciplining balky liberals and concealing his true intentions. For example, it took over a year to get a health care reform measure passed on terms dictated by health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies, and, it took extreme measures to do so that generated no end of embarassment, such as strongarming any Democratic Senator who was considering requesting a vote for an amendment in favor of the public option. Meanwhile, he found himself subject to perpetual sniping from those in the Congress who objected to his implementation of economic policies that favored financial institutions at the expense of a more robust recovery.

The President has never been particularly interested in the hardships of those forlornly looking for jobs that don't exist while trying to avoid foreclosure and put off bill collectors. Instead, he has been envious of the bonuses that corporate executives, like the chief executive officers of J. P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, received:

I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen. I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.

Of course, one can attribute the success of people like Dimon and Blankfein to many things, political influence, direct and indirect subsidies through the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the tax code, even international trade agreements and the coercion of the US military, but the illusory free market is not one of them.

The President has implemented corporate friendly policies for the benefit of capital across the board, with his top priority, health care reform, transformed from a progressive priority of social support into one requiring the middle and lower middle class to purchase policies from providers without any meaningful cost containment, a massive transfer of income from workers to investors and corporate executives. Commitments made to environmentalists and labor unions were conveniently forgotten at the behest of advisors solicitous of needs of corporate donors and potential future employers. He aligned himself unequivocally with the military-industrial complex before taking office when he retained Robert Gates as Defense Secretary.

In effect, the President positioned himself and his presidency squarely within a bipartisan group of legislators, lobbyists, academics, financial institutions and corporate enterprises that dictate policy in the US. One can perceive their influence most clearly in the US Senate, where figures like Joseph Lieberman, Max Baucus, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid, among others, serve as gatekeepers, allowing House members to release populist pressures by passing measures more in tune with the public mood while relying upon the cloture rule to either kill them or eviscerate them before passage. In the rarified world where important political decisions are actually made, one's party affiliation has, at best, marginal significance. The elitism of the founding fathers, as expressed in their antipathy towards political parties as disruptive factions, has prevailed in an unanticipated way.

With the progressive peril, as puny as it was, exterminated, the path is now clear to remove the legislative barriers that were manipulated to prevent progressive measures from reaching the President's desk, despite substantial Democratic majorities in both houses. Influential senators have already been reaching across the aisle before election day to negotiate possible deals that would push federal fiscal and tax policy further to the right, although one of the participants, Russ Feingold, was not reelected:

Politicians from both parties are debating ideas on taxes and spending that move the discussion to the right, putting pressure on the White House and top Democrats to work with a newly empowered Republican Party after Tuesday's election.

Politicians from both parties are debating ideas on taxes and spending that move the discussion to the right, with the GOP expected to gain power following Tuesday's election.

Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, a liberal Democrat who is trailing in his reelection bid, is working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), a tea-party hero, on new legislation to trim billions in federal subsidies and other spending programs, Mr. Coburn said in an interview.

Two other Democratic Senate candidates, Chris Coons of Delaware and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are bucking the Obama administration's bid to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, as momentum builds for a broader extension of the cuts. Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) have suggested they see room for negotiations on taxes and trade.

Most ominously, the President has finally come around to reforming the filibuster with the emergence of Republican and moderate Democrat control of the Congress. First up, cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, as recommended by the Deficit Reduction Commission, in the lame duck session as the first, admittedly huge step, that prefigures a broader agenda to be pursued in the next Congress.

As explained by the President's chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina:

Rouse and Messina see areas for possible bipartisan agreement, like reauthorizing the nation’s education laws to include reform measures favored by centrists and conservatives, passing long-pending trade pacts and possibly even producing scaled-back energy legislation. You’ll hear more about exports and less about public spending, a senior White House official said. You’ll hear more about initiative and private sector and less about the Department of Energy. You’ll hear more about government as a financier and less about government as a hirer.

The President now resides in what he and his advisors consider to be the best of all possible worlds, one in which he can more fully carry out what I have described as the Second Reagan Revolution, while simultaneously seeking to win a second term by contrasting himself with the extremists to his right that facilitate his program. But they may discover that they have been too clever by half.

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