TIME TO STOP GOP-BASHING AND PLACE THE BLAME WHERE IT BELONGS
My fellow progressives. I have but a simple message for you: just say no to Republican-bashing. Stop it right now!
Resist the temptation to lambaste McConnell or Boehner. Pay no attention to that loopy Arizona congressman who thinks that money in the hands of unemployed people doesn’t help the economy – just laugh him off. Leave Palin and Limbaugh alone too, at least for the moment. When you hear some blowhard on TV defend Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, just smile and turn the channel. Don’t pay these people any mind. The long-term health of our democracy depends on it.
If you need to stop watching Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann in order to give up your addiction, then do it. Turn them off. They’re still addicts. They’ve been spending a decade insulting the Republicans night after night, blaming them for every war, every act of corruption, every drop of economic inequality, and every environmental disaster. They wouldn’t know what to do if they couldn’t blame the Republicans for all the problems of the universe.
I can relate, believe me. I’ve spent many an hour shaking my head at the idea that many of the most powerful people in our society are so-called Christians who have magically turned Jesus into a right-winger. Talk about vivid imaginations! But I’m telling you, at this point all of that religious hypocrisy and Gordon Gecko-like greed in the Republican Party are going to roll off my back. Frankly, the Republicans are just being Republicans. They’re the party of unbridled capitalism, jingoism, environmental apathy and social intolerance, and they’ve been that way for a long time. In fact, they reflect a side of the American spirit that has probably always been with us, and accordingly, it only makes sense that their attitude would have its champions in Government. Just as I long ago stopped getting mad at the lawyers who fight me in court, I’m not going to get mad at Republicans either – in both cases, they’re just doing their jobs. What does make me mad is that right now, the Democrats are also doing the GOP’s job. That, my friends, is the real problem.
Somehow, some way, the Democratic leadership has become unwilling to put up a fight in return. Even on issues on which most Americans support them, all the Republicans have to do is show some opposition, and the Democrats will wilt, as if on cue. More specifically, when the Republicans prepare for a game of brinksmanship, the Democrats respond by leaking that they’re ultimately going to cave, and by putting up merely token resistance (or none at all). We've seen this pattern over and over again. But this past week, it reached a crescendo. As a result, the Democratic leadership has finally been exposed to even a casual observer as virtually irrelevant.
Consider how the week began. On the issue of the federal pay freeze, the Democrats didn’t even put up their customary token resistance; they proposed a freeze upfront. If, as expected, the Republicans prevail on the debate over tax cuts for the rich, that means that the only folks who will essentially get their taxes increased (for that is what the federal pay freeze amounts to -- a tax increase) will be our civil servants. None of these individuals make even close to the $250,000 per year that the Dems originally said would be the point at which tax increases kick in. Indeed, as I have pointed out in a previous blog post, many of these individuals make but a small fraction of what their private sector analogues earn, and work comparably hard.
For me, the last straw was when my own congressman, Chris Van Hollen, went on the radio to talk about the federal pay freeze. Van Hollen is not only one of the leaders of the Democrats in the House, but he represents a district just north of Washington, D.C. with a huge percentage of federal employees. If anyone is entrusted with the job of fighting for the civil servants, it would be Chris Van Hollen, right? Apparently not. The truth is that he could hardly muster any indignation at the idea that his constituents’ pay was being frozen. He spoke in a monotone, in measured words, and his message was largely incoherent. To the extent he had any message at all, it was that federal workers have no problem getting their pay frozen as long as it is part of a package in which others sacrifice as well. He must have thought that comment played well in Peoria, but he also knew that it wasn't true. Federal employees expect their tiny pay raises every year whether the economy is going great guns or is in turmoil. That's the way the system works and has worked for decades. But being a member of the Democratic leadership, Van Hollen just didn't have it in him to put up a real fight. He and the rest of the Democratic leadership resemble boxers who’ve been punched in the head so many times that they can hardly fight back any more. It’s called punch drunk. That’s the state of one of our two major Parties -- a Party that only two years ago was given the White House and overwhelming majorities in the House and the Senate (at least on paper).
As for the White House, the comments I've been hearing about President Obama lately suggest a President whose image is in free fall. Just in the past week, my friends have described him as “The Capitulater in Chief,” “A Man Who Brings Flowers to a Gun Fight,” and “Jimmy Carter without the Crazy Brother.” And that was coming from liberals. From a conservative, I’ve heard him described as “Jimmy Carter without the Integrity.” Truly, I have no idea what the President is thinking when it comes to the big issue of the moment: taxes. Supposedly, he wants to increase the taxes on the rich but is being forced by the big, bad Republicans to relent and, being a Democrat/donkey -- or should I say, a chicken -- he will be forced to do just that. Perhaps, however, Joe Scarborough is correct that there is a much deeper issue here than Obama’s courage. According to Scarborough, our President secretly wants low taxes on the rich because it would help the economy in the short run to throw money at our society and let the deficits be damned. That theory certainly would seem to be supported by the fact that his Deficit Commission – the same one that originally proposed freezing federal workers’ pay – wanted to go even further than George W. Bush in cutting taxes on the rich.
Frankly, who is to say any more what our President is thinking and why. You’d assume that if he deeply cared about the core progressive issue of tax fairness, he would have brought this topic to a vote months ago before the election when the Republicans actually had something to lose and the nation’s unemployed weren’t being held hostage. Polls indicate that most Americans want to see the taxes increased on the rich. They want it now, and they wanted it before the election. So why wasn’t this made into an election issue by the Democrats? Why are they only addressing the issue now, when everyone says that the Republican victory is a foregone conclusion? Is the answer that today’s Democrats don’t believe in fighting, at least not if it involves any risks? Or could it be that the Democratic leadership couldn’t care less about tax fairness any more than they care about federal employees? (After all, this is the Party of John Edwards, the philandering self-proclaimed anti-poverty activist who built himself a 30,000-square-foot home.)
Those are the questions that progressives need to be asking these days, rather than worrying about the Republicans. The Democratic leaders in the White House and the Congress are supposed to be OUR representatives, right? Those are the men and women we’ve been campaigning for and voting for and pinning our hopes on. Could it be that maybe, just maybe, they’ve taken us for granted? Could it be that maybe they’ve decided that, at the end of the day, we’ll be so scared of the GOP that we’ll be forced to support them, no matter how little they care to fight on the issues that matter to us?
To me, the Democratic leadership have issued a challenge to each and every person who holds core Democratic values: are we prepared to abandon our leaders in support of a new kind of politician or political party, one that is unabashedly progressive, willing to take risks, willing to unify and stand up to unified Republican opposition, willing to sacrifice some short-term pain for some longer-term progress, and willing to be candid about what we stand for? To me, the answer had better be yes. Otherwise, we can plainly see the consequences: we will have even more decades of primarily Republican rule, interrupted by the occasional ineffectual Democratic administration.
Is that the pattern that we think will take care of our middle and working classes and ensure a safe and stable environment? If not, isn’t it time to do what our leaders aren’t willing to do and take some risks? Isn’t it time to take a page from the conservatives’ books and create a lean, mean movement that actually stands for something more than “vote for us, because we’re not as bad as the other guys”?
So, my fellow Progressives, whether you want to work within the Democratic Party or help to start a new Progressive (or Green) Party, let’s agree on this much: it’s time to stop obsessing about the Republicans. The enemy isn’t them, it’s ourselves. We’ve been feckless. We’ve been unfocused. We’ve been lazy. And when it comes to our own leaders, we’ve been Pollyannaish. Before we can worry about defeating our opponents, we need to right our own ship first.
Sometimes, as painful as it can be, nothing beats looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for what you see. Everything else is a distraction.