Some Thoughts on the Present Political Debate

July 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Like you, I have been watching, with growing apprehension,  the public skirmishes between the President and Congressional Republicans concerning the debt ceiling.  So far, it seems to me that the President began the argument by agreeing to most of the demands originally made by the Republicans and they, not surprisingly, treated that as a statement of the Democrats’ position, declared it to be unacceptable and upped their demands.

When the President became involved in the argument, the Republicans were hopelessly committed to the politically poisonous proposals of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.  His solution for the rising cost of health care available through Medicare was to abolish the program.  Instead he proposed to give coupons to the elderly with which they could obtain health insurance at a discount on the open market.  When the House Republicans and prominent Republican Senators endorsed that idea, their political doom was apparently sealed.  All the Democrats had to do was await in respectful silence the funeral.

Instead, to my amazement, the President announced that he would join them in cutting funding for Medicare, although his cuts would affect fees paid to providers, hospitals and insurers, not elderly health care recipients.  Now it appears that his counter-proposal is regarded as an opening offer, subject to further negotiation.

The Republicans are drawing lines in the sand.  The President is promising to make “painful compromises” and proudly asserting his willingness to anger his “base” by being “reasonable.”

This is not what I expected from a politician reared in Chicago who claims to have learned his organizing skills from the heirs of Saul Alinsky.

I cannot escape revulsion at political compromises that leave in place “fetters for the crew and spices for the few”; taxpayer generosity for the rich and powerful accompanied by responses to weak, old, vulnerable sick people reminiscent of Scrooge before his Christmas Eve visitations.  I don’t like these moral issues relegated to discussions of “the base”, as if “the base” was inhabited by moral equivalents to the ignorant dupes in the Koch brothers-financed Tea Party.  In most situations moral relativism is appealing to me, but that does not mean that my olfactory organ is inoperative.  Bull shit still smells like bull shit.

I hope I am mistaken about all this and that our President has some magic rabbit which he will pop out at a crucial moment.  I am discouraged, however, because of his performance concerning the Bush tax cuts.  I can’t forget that, if he had refused to budge on tax cuts for the rich, much of this debt ceiling argument would have vanished.  Yes, I know he got an extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for caving, but that bargain does not look as good now as it did then, and it didn’t look good then.

I have a persistent haunting feeling that we are witnessing the results of the legalized bribery of our elected officials known as “campaign finance”.   The corporations are in charge and public policy has become part of their business models.  I think it is entirely possible that the debate now going on in Washington is not a debate between Democrats and Republicans, between liberals and conservatives.  I suspect it is between Wall Street and corporate giants like those controlled by the Koch Brothers, Exxon-Mobile, Conoco Phillips and others.  Wall Street’s wealth is bound up in banking and finance.  Other corporate giants, while they are affected by the bond market and the financial markets, are more interested in weak government and powerless workers.  Their wealth is based on physical assets more than paper manipulation.   They simply want to return to the America of 1900.  They aspire to be the new Robber Barons.  If the rest of the world, including America, goes to hell, it merely makes them more powerful.  They have the ability to survive a cataclysm in the financial markets.   The payoff for them is docile and subservient government, available to protect them but impotent to control them.

If I am right, then our salvation may depend on the bargaining power of Wall Street versus the power of the part of the business community involved in commodities like oil, gas, and coal.   These are the most irresponsible, heartless, reckless businesses in the world.  The question is:  What are the Congressional Republicans more afraid of, the commodity companies or the Wall Street bankers?   I suspect that the Obama administration is trying to leverage Wall Street and the Tea Party financiers are leveraging Exxon Mobile, Conoco Phillips et al..  We can only hope that Wall Street wins.

All of which reminds me of my favorite joke, told to me long ago by Jim Ward, a Steelworker staff member and my valued mentor:

There once was a community of rats.  Once a year, they met and elected a new leader.  They always elected a cat.  Every year, the discussion was the same:  The black cat we elected last year spent the entire year eating us and generally abusing us.  So, no more black cats.  This year we’ll elect a brindle cat.  But the next year, the speeches were the same.  No more brindle cats.  They tried calico cats.  They tried yellow cats.  They tried Siamese cats.  Nothing changed.  Finally, at one of their annual meetings, a little scrawny rat stood up in the back of the hall and yelled, “Why don’t we elect a rat!”

All of the rats jumped from their chairs, turned around and yelled, “Throw that bolshevik outta here!”

Jim described it as “an old Commie joke”.

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