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Can The Left Stage A Tea Party?

Why hasn’t there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship?

That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation’s political energy has been monopolized by the right from the beginning of Obama’s term. This has skewed media coverage of almost every issue, created the impression that the president is far more liberal than he is, and turned the nation’s agenda away from progressive reform.

A quiet left has also been very bad for political moderates. The entire political agenda has shifted far to the right because the Tea Party and extremely conservative ideas have earned so much attention. The political center doesn’t stand a chance unless there is a fair fight between the right and the left.

It’s not surprising that Obama’s election unleashed a conservative backlash. Ironically, disillusionment with George W. Bush’s presidency had pushed Republican politics right, not left. Given the public’s negative verdict on Bush, conservatives shrewdly argued that his failures were caused by his lack of fealty to conservative doctrine. He was cast as a big spender (even if a large chunk of the largess went to Iraq). He was called too liberal on immigration and a big-government guy for bailing out the banks, using federal power to reform the schools and championing a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Conservative funders realized that pumping up the Tea Party movement was the most efficient way to build opposition to Obama’s initiatives. And the media became infatuated with the Tea Party in the summer of 2009, covering its disruptions of congressional town halls with an enthusiasm not visible this summer when many Republicans faced tough questions from their more progressive constituents.

Obama’s victory, in the meantime, partly demobilized the left. With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, stepped-up organizing didn’t seem quite so urgent.

The administration was complicit in this, viewing the left’s primary role as supporting whatever the president believed needed to be done. Dissent was discouraged as counterproductive.

This was not entirely foolish. Facing ferocious resistance from the right, Obama needed all the friends he could get. He feared that left-wing criticism would meld in the public mind with right-wing criticism and weaken him overall.

But the absence of a strong, organized left made it easier for conservatives to label Obama as a left-winger. His health-care reform is remarkably conservative — yes, it did build on the ideas implemented in Massachusetts that Mitt Romney once bragged about. It was nothing close to the single-payer plan the left always preferred. His stimulus proposal was too small, not too large. His new Wall Street regulations were a long way from a complete overhaul of American capitalism. Yet Republicans swept the 2010 elections because they painted Obama and the Democrats as being far to the left of their actual achievements.

This week, progressives will highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken at a conference convened by the Campaign for America’s Future that opens Monday. It is a cooperative venture with a large number of other organizations, notably the American Dream Movement led by Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who wants to show the country what a truly progressive agenda around jobs, health care and equality would look like.  Jones freely acknowledges that “we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right” and says of the progressive left: “This is our ‘Tea Party’ moment — in a positive sense.” The anti-Wall Street demonstators seem to have that sense, too.

What’s been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.

The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, is whether progressives can “establish independence and momentum” while also being able “to make a strategic voting choice.” The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be, but to rally support for him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.

A real left could usefully instruct Americans as to just how moderate the president they elected in 2008 is — and how far to the right conservatives have strayed.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 2, 2011

October 3, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Elections, GOP, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boehner The Extortionist: “Give Us Trillions In Cuts In Medicare and Medicaid Or We Blow Up The Economy”

Stripped of its politician’s gloss, this is the message that House Speaker John Boehner delivered to Wall Street Monday in discussing the price Republicans demand for raising the debt ceiling.

Boehner portrays himself as a reluctant extortionist: “It’s true that allowing America to default would be irresponsible.” But he told the barons of Wall Street he has no choice. The Tea Party made him do it: “Washington’s arrogance has triggered a political rebellion in our country. And it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without simultaneously taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.”

Notice the Speaker’s phrasing. He curses deficits and debt but he isn’t focused on them. He is focused on “our spending addiction.” “Everything is on the table,” he says, “with the exception of tax hikes.”

And even that is a half-truth, since Boehner and his party have also no appetite for real cuts in the defense budget. Boehner isn’t pushing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan and roll back the costly U.S. global police role. In the budget that Boehner pushed through the House, Republicans voted to give the Pentagon back most of the relatively nominal defense cuts that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had projected over the next years. And many harshly censored the president for suggesting that another $400 billion in cuts might be chipped out of the more than $8 trillion the Pentagon will spend over the next 12 years.

So if tax hikes aren’t allowed—even though the wealthiest Americans are now paying a lower effective tax rate than their chauffeurs—and defense cuts are off the table, how does Boehner propose to get “trillions” in spending cuts? Medicare and Medicaid get the ax. Or as Boehner puts it in politician speak, “Everything on the table” includes “honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare.”

The budget math is inescapable. The federal government, as Paul Krugman puts it, is basically an insurance system for our retirement years that also has an army. About half of the government’s spending is in retirement programs—Social Security, Medicare, much of Medicaid and other insurance programs. Defense is half of the rest. All of the rest of government —public health, environmental protection, the IRS, the FBI and Justice Department, education, Pell grants, roads, health research, R&D—consumes the last fourth. When Republicans take taxes and defense off the table, and call for trillions in spending cuts and you have no choice but to go after Medicare, Medicaid and/or Social Security.

Which of course is what they are doing. The House budget cuts nearly $800 billion out of Medicaid over the next five years—and ends Medicare as we know it.

There is a bitter irony to this. The current deficits stem largely from three sources—the Bush tax cuts, the two wars that were fought on the tab, and the Great Recession that cratered tax revenues and lifted spending on everything from unemployment to food stamps to the recovery spending. Boehner argues that “adding nearly a trillion to our national debt—money borrowed mostly from foreign investors—caused a further erosion of economic confidence in America.” But he ignores the trillions added to the debt by the Bush tax cuts, the wars and the Great Recession, focusing only on the Obama recovery spending, which made the smallest contribution of all of these to the deficits. And, he rules out reversing the top-end tax cuts or cutting the military spending to address the deficits that they helped to create. (And if we actually adopt his policies, he’s likely to extend the Great Recession as well).

Boehner argues that adopting his position would show that Washington is “starting to get the message” from the American people. But Boehner isn’t hearing what most Americans are saying. Americans are concerned about deficits, and they are certain that government wastes significant portions of their money. They also oppose the billions squandered on subsidies and tax breaks for Big Oil, Big Pharma, Agribusiness and the like—tax breaks that Republicans defend, arguing that repealing them constitutes a tax increase.

In fact, the vast majority of Americans don’t agree with Boehner’s priorities. The Campaign for America’s Future, which I help direct, has started an American Majority campaign to remind the media of this fact. Three quarters oppose cutting Medicare to help balance the budget. Two thirds oppose raising the retirement age. Three fourths oppose cutting state funding for Medicaid. Over 60 percent favor raising taxes on those making over $250,000 to help reduce the deficit. A growing majority think defense cuts ought to be on the table.

Boehner wants to extort his cuts now—at a time when the economy is struggling, and the country is suffering from mass unemployment. With interest rates near record lows, the construction industry idle and our infrastructure in deadly state of disrepair, the country would be well advised to use this occasion to invest in rebuilding the country, and put workers back to work.

Instead, Boehner offered Wall Streeters a shower of conservative shibboleths, stuck randomly like pieces of lint on a serge suit. “The massive borrowing and spending by the Treasury Department crowded out private investment by American businesses of all sizes,” he argued to what must have been a bemused audience well aware that with interest rates low, and business sitting on trillions in capital waiting for demand to pick up, the only “crowding out” comes from ideology displacing reality in Boehner’s head..

Boehner argues that business people crave stability. Even the mere threat of tax hikes causes them to retreat from investments they might otherwise make. Regulatory changes are similarly disruptive:

“For job creators, the ‘promise’ of a large new initiative coming out of Washington is more like a threat. It freezes them. Instead of investing in new employees or new equipment, they make the logical decision to stand pat.” Sadly, Boehner didn’t explain why the threat to blow up the economy if he can’t get trillions in unidentified spending cuts doesn’t constitute the “promise” of a large new initiative coming out of Washington.”

What happens now? Boehner’s position is untenable. He is holding a hostage—the economy—that he dare not shoot. He is demanding trillions in cuts from programs that he dare not name. He is looking for a back room negotiation in which he can get the president to give him cover in enacting cuts that are unpopular to the American people and likely to be ruinous to the economy. If the president falls for it, Republicans make progress in dismantling the Medicare program that they have always opposed, and the president takes the rap for the bad economy.

What’s to be done? Jonathan Chait gets it right. The president—and the country—would benefit from an open discussion, not a backroom negotiation. The president needs to call Boehner out. What are the trillions in cuts that he wants as the price for letting the economy go free? If he lays them out, as in passage of the House budget plan that ends Medicare as we know it, the President can show Americans why they are unacceptable, and use the bully pulpit to take the case to the country. If Boehner isn’t prepared to lay out his cuts, call his bluff. Surely he can’t long threaten to cripple the economy if he doesn’t get cuts that he isn’t prepared to define.

One thing Boehner says rings true. Americans are sick of the arrogance in Washington. But it is hard to imagine a more arrogant politician than one threatening to blow up the economy if he doesn’t get his way.

By: Robert Borosage, CommonDreams.org, May 10, 2011

May 11, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government Shut Down, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Social Security, States, Taxes, Tea Party, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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