I have always scoffed at people who say there is only the Republicrat party in this country, but after reading this depressing piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone I’m not so sure.
What’s taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.
That’s paragraph three. It gets worse from there. (See also the exchange between The American Prospect’s Tim Fernholtz and Taibbi here and here.)
Meanwhile, we have a dysfunctional Senate in which completely unscrupulous people can abuse the rules to make sure that sixty votes are required for anything to happen. Ruminate on the fact that until relatively recently 67 votes were required to break a filibuster. Such a system can only work when there is a sort of gentleman’s agreement only to invoke the filibuster in extreme circumstances. Which until recently there effectively was.
The idea of a standing filibuster is simply abhorrent, but that is what we have now. And with the Republicans feeling no shame at all, we now have a situation where loathsome specimens of humanity like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson can completely derail legislation no matter how popular it is among the rest of the Senate or in the country generally.
I have been watching the chat shows lately, and one of the big topics has been why, exactly, Lieberman is being such a dick. No one, even the usually excellent Joe Conason on last night’s Hardball, has gotten around to stating the obvious. Hadassah Lieberman is a big shill for the health insurance industry, and Joe is probably looking forward to a career change in that direction when he either loses, or doesn’t run, in 2012. The provisions he is opposing, first the public option and now the Medicare buy-in, are precisely those that would give some competition to the insurance industry.
Since it seems he will get his way on this, the result will be a bill whose centerpiece is to force people to buy crappy insurance from a private insurance industry that faces no outside competition, and therefore has no reason to try to rein in costs. And since the subsidies for people to do this are likely inadequate, a result of wanting the bill to be “deficit neutral”, the result will be an expensive new mandate that will hurt the already reeling middle class. This, mind you, from Democrats. On tonight’s Countdown I just listened to Lawrence O’Donnell and Howard Fineman have a sage discussion about whether the Democrats are politically better off passing a bad bill or no bill at all. Charming.
The counter-argument, voiced moments ago by Tom Harkin on Rachel Maddow’s show, is that we need a starting point for future reform. Social Security and Medicare were limited when they were first passed, after all, but you need to get the foot in the door before you can make big changes. Perhaps. But what precisely is going to change in the next few years to make progressive health care reform any easier than it is now? Without even a limited public option or limited Medicare buy-in, what is there to expand on later?
If you are thinking that the thing to do is to eliminate the filibuster, as Harkin has recently proposed, then consider that it takes 67 votes to change the rules of the Senate. So much for that. On the other hand, according to the ever-useful Wikipedia, the Senate Majority Leader has the option of at least requiring a traditional, speak-til-you-drop style filibuster. But since the current leader is the toothless and empty-headed Harry Reid, I don’t recommend holding your breath.
What, exactly, is going to happen after the next election, when it is pretty much a sure thing that the Republicans will pick up seats in the Senate (and the House too, of course)?
This is where people start talking about skillful marketing and strategic politicking. Here’s John Neffinger over at the Huffington Post:
FDR’s quip goes to the heart of how our system works. If you want to make a good idea law, it’s nice to convince your elected representatives that it’s a good idea. But it’s a lot more useful to go out and create the political conditions that make it easier for your representatives to enact your idea than to avoid enacting it. Talk to the public, make the idea look reasonable, make the need seem urgent, knock its opponents off balance. If instead you rely on your leaders to spend their precious political capital on your idea just because it makes sense… well, good luck with that.
Pure rot. Progressives did a fine job of creating the conditions for real change to occur. They elected a President committed to change and majorities in both houses of Congress committed to it. The public opinion polls have consistently shown that comfortable majorities want a public option or something like it. What more could progressives have done? But the insurance industry will win anyway, mostly because of sick Senate rules and a conscienceless minority. The administration has absolutely no cards to play against Lieberman or Nelson, and neither of them expects to get many progressive votes in the future.
Then there is the delightful Climategate fracas. I do not generally write about global warming, since I know very little about the science of it. I know that all of the people I trust on scientific questions are on one side, while the braying right-wing morons are on the other, so I feel pretty confident about what I would find were I to undertake a serious investigation.
What’s galling about this, along with the ongoing talks in Copenhagen, is that the sorts of things you would do to fight global warming — curtailing fossil fuels, pursuing economic policies that discourage destruction of the rain forests — are smart, sensible things regardless of the truth about global warming.
Good luck trying to make that point, though, when all the television talking heads want to discuss is whether the whole thing is a fraud, based on a handful of e-mails that sound pretty bad when taken out of context. The only scandal here is that there are clueless academics who never learned the lesson about not putting anything in an e-mail you would not be willing to see made public.
People have already forgotten what a complete disaster the last eight years were, and look primed to hand the Republicans a big victory in November. Obama has not waved a magic wand and made jobs appear, you see. Which means that precisely the sort of people who would benefit most from Democratic economic policies are precisely the ones who are going to vote for Republicans in the greatest numbers.
So what should we do about this litany of awfulness? I recommend abandoning hope. Happy Hanukkah.