The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are engaged in quite the game of brinksmanship of late. Amid warnings from leadership on both sides that a default of the US Government is imminent in a little over a week unless the debt ceiling is raised, no one on either side seems willing to get a deal done, despite the fact that all the compromise deals that have been offered by both sides, and rogue elements within their parties, are similar to the point of being indistinguishable to anyone who sees little difference between two and three trillion dollars. (That’s where we’ve come to in our debt and deficit debates, where our leaders are quibbling over numbers so vast that they enter into the abstract. It’s not the number ‘trillion’ that catches the eye in this mess, it’s the numbers ‘two’ and ‘three,’ and even ‘3.2.’)
What is even a more striking commonality between all the proposals is how unforgivingly conservative they all are. All the plans call for trillions in spending cuts well into the next decade, and these savings are largely to be drawn from discretionary spending other than defense, and entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These three programs mark the high water mark of liberalism in the United States — part of New Deal and Fair Deal legislation that were no less than revolutions in the way the government treated the less well-off in this country. As such, they have for decades been the hated targets of hardline conservatives, victim over those decades of whittling legislation and efforts to starve the beast by depriving it of the life’s blood of entitlements — money.
Meanwhile, the only concession to liberalism the current debt plan puts forward are modest proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts on the rich, and to close tax loopholes that have allowed big businesses to squirrel away untold riches. At the same time they winnow the labor force.
It’s these taxes — not new, but newly enforced — that conservatives in the GOP cite as the deal breaker in all debt negotiations. Yet while President Obama has agreed at times to cuts ranging up to the three trillion bucks mentioned earlier, the revenue generating share of balancing the budget, has consistently been but a third of the amount of the spending cuts in the proposals, and often quite less. But the howls from the right when faced with the idea that the well-off need to share in the sacrifice to fix the debt mess has turned the debate into a farce, most evident in the new frame emanating from the GOP like a rhetorical fart. Instead of the rich, instead of greedy corporations holding onto huge profits while they cut labor and stagnate the wages of those they keep, we now have what the GOP calls ‘job creators.’ That’s right. Instead of trying to hide the largest income disparity between the rich and everyone else in the last 90 years, the GOP is embracing it by saying these people and these businesses need that cash because they will use it to hire new employees. Well, when? When is this new binge of hiring going to occur? More accurately, why would it ever occur when the Bigs and the people that run them have never felt the hardship of the Great Recession, and in fact have come out the other end with more efficient ways to make cash with less?
Of course, this is all smoke and mirrors. The GOP has clearly been in thrall to its paymasters for years. The brilliance of this latest debate is that the Democrats went into it with no chance of victory. Not with a GOP-controlled house and a Senate too chickenshit to force a real filibuster. The president saw no choice but to move not just to the right, like President Clinton used to do, but to move into outright conservatism. Even then, it hasn’t been enough, especially for the pledge-enthralled fanatics of the tea party caucus.
One of two things is happening. Either the Democratic Party has become the party of conservatism, while the GOP has become the party of right-wing extremism, or the GOP is playing the greatest game of rope-a-dope in political history, forcing the Dems to beg them to pass an ultraconservative debt reduction plan, and allowing them to call it compromise. Which do you think it is?
One reason it’s clear the deal is all but done, despite the predictions of doom in television, internet, and press, is that the two parties are now spending all their public time positioning themselves to receive credit for passage, and apportion blame on the other side for making the process so painful ‘for the American people.’ Okay, politicians, all of you can take it deep. The GOP for being so ruinously right-wing, playing games of brinksmanship in the hopes of tossing out Obama next year, and the Democrats, for still showing nothing but spinelessness as they slip effortlessly into the role of America’s conservative party. I don’t know what’s worse; the party that would destroy sacred government institutions to serve the rich, or the party that would so willfully dismantle a liberal legacy because standing on principal may hurt their chances in the election next fall.
I look at the Democratic Party and I see a party lacking in sincerity. I see a party moving to the right under the assurance that liberals and progressives are so fearful of Republican rule that they cannot possibly lose their votes next fall. While on the GOP side, I see a party that is very sincere behind closed doors with their paymasters, but in public, seeks to upset the power of the Democrats by twisting words and facts in Orwellian fashion to attain their goal of raw power, spoils for the spoiled, and damn the rest. When people began to notice, when the term ‘rich’ became a byword for scum, the ‘job creators’ were born. The only condition that I have is that the sincerity continues beyond the day the votes are tallied. Would that be a bad minimum standard for the conduct of out leaders?