President Obama and his team keep sending me e-mails urging me to get fired up about voting in the midterms, and I keep reading these trying to understand their argument. So far, it escapes me.
As I see our situation, the country is in desperate economic condition, faced with profoundly moral choices with frightening consequences for the country and the planet if we choose badly. Yet instead of addressing those issues, we’re sliding backwards into what could become an even darker period than the decade from which we hoped we were escaping. Since that’s my assessment, I’m logically drawn to anyone that has a clue how to get out of this mess, but where are they?
Oh, I find plenty of commentary with good proposals, but none of these commentators speaks for either of the two major parties. Instead, even fairly influential folks like Krugman et al seem to be screaming about the need to wake up and address the problems, but no one in charge is listening. Worse, this White House, apparently seeking to deflect blame for voters’ lack of enthusiasm, has chosen to criticize and insult those sounding the alarms and offering solutions.
The nation’s economy appears to be stuck in a failed recovery with no plausible mechanism underway to pull us out. There are no mechanisms underway that will substantially reduce unemployment and the attendant human suffering or even strengthen the safety nets we’ll need until we do recover. And I think the nation’s voters fully understand that there’s little relief on the horizon.
So with an election coming up, you’d think that the two major parties would be offering competing visions about how to address these issues and confront voter’s concerns, but that’s not the case.
The Republican Party has become so nutty, so callous, extreme and radicalized that we can’t even have a rational conversation with them about possible solutions. If you doubt that, watch Rachel Maddow’s interview of that kook in Oregon (you don’t need to do that again, Rachel). Aside from successfully deflecting blame from themselves for causing a near depression and sponsoring the bailouts, and then blaming the wrong people for the worst of reasons, they don’t even have a plausible economic or social theory about how to end the recession and to put 8-15 million people back to work.
Instead, their budgetary theory and governing philosophy — to cut taxes no matter what and even if it enlarges the deficits they claim to fear — have already made matters worse via large state/local budget cuts. Employment reports released Friday show that over 100,000 people were recently layed off by governments, because all Republicans and the most irresponsible faux Democrats would not allow Congress to prevent those layoffs from happening. Among them were tens of thousands of teachers, firemen, police. Another 250,000 low-income people will likely soon lose their jobs, because the same Republicans and faux Democrats refused to continue stimulus funding for highly successful and popular jobs-subsidies programs.
So the Republican-ConservaDem Party’s unofficial position is that we should increase unemployment while voting to obstruct any federal efforts to ameliorate the suffering. Then to satisfy their most rabid, hate-filled supporters, they demonize the victims as unworthy "others" who can only be helped by violating the Constitution and robbing Tea Party patriots. The strategy is not just cynical and willfully ignorant; it’s evil.
Faced with the Republican’s cruel, indefensible positions, the Democrats should be offering the opposite. That means not merely supporting the modest relief/recovery measures proposed so far, but giving top priority to substantially greater funding for jobs programs, state budget support, infrastructure stimulus and increases in safety net spending.
You’d expect Democrats facing election challenges to be presenting a bold platform to the voters fashioned on providing hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of WPA-type jobs, rebuilding American infrastructure, temporarily augmenting Social Security payments, extending food stamps and unemployment/health benefits, and so on. There’s a large movement of talented and committed folks who would enthusiastically cheer such efforts and proudly defend them against the nihilists. Want to cure our lack of enthusiasm? Give us something worth fighting for!
But for reasons that defy common sense and basic humanity, the Democratic Party is mostly silent. We don’t know what, if anything it would do if left in charge. How can they explain their silence?
When I read Mr. Obama’s e-mails, there’s hardly a word about what else he thinks needs to be done. It’s all about how great the health and financial bills were, or more likely, how crazy the Republicans have become, and how we can’t go back to them. But I/we knew that long before he acknowledged it, and we said so while he and his loyalists were criticizing us for calling out the faux Democrats for echoing and enabling the Republican craziness. He’s a little late to that party.
But you can search in vain for anything in OFA/Obama/Harry Reid e-mails for a Democratic agenda for ending the real recession and putting millions of people back to work. They can’t even promise they’ll work to end tax cuts for the richest people and use that money to create jobs to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. How hard is that?
Of course, all their political consultants are feeding them carefully poll-tested slogans to use and not use. But so far, they’re all empty slogans; none of this advice seems to include telling voters how they’re going to solve the problems voters care about.
If the Democrats or the White House have a plan, it’s a secret. But frankly, I don’t think they’ve got a plan, because the geniuses who advise this President, the people he’s appointed from Bernanke to Geithner to Summers, and the President himself, seem to believe that they’ve done everything they needed to do, and moreover, they think everything they’ve done is just fine. Excuse me, guys, but no one with an ounce of sense agrees with that, because it’s just not true.
No one can explain, as Jane Hamsher noted recently, why they’ve got Tim Geithner out there telling us what a great thing TARP was, and hailing that as a Bush and Obama Administration success. That may sell on about four square blocks of Manhattan, but probably not elsewhere.
Or we find the soon-to-leave Larry Summers telling us that this is a really good time for us to be making large infrastructure investments because the costs of labor, materials and money/borrowing are cheaper now than ever, and there’s so much we need to be doing. Great idea, Larry, but that’s what we told you over a year and a half ago. But when you had the chance to push hundreds of billions into that in the ARRA stimulus bill, you blinked. And I don’t hear the Democrats telling voters, "if you reelect us, we’ll go after that $2.5 trillion backlog of infrastructure investments as though the country’s economic life depended on it, because it does." Please, just leave.
The point is that Democrats generally are not running on what they plan to do to confront the nation’s massive problems. They don’t seem to have a recovery plan, a jobs plan, a plan to address the harmful degree of income/wealth inequality. And you can go down the list. They’re not running on a platform of finally addressing global climate change; they’re not proposing major reforms in Senate rules to make it less dysfunctional and more democratic; they’re not running on any meaningful fix for the dangerous degree of corporate influence over government and our elections; they’ve got no plan to solve the housing/foreclosure disaster; there’s no plan to get us out of our indeterminate wars of occupation or end our unlawful detention programs; and they’re not running to fix immigration. And on an on.
The Republican Party is proposing to make every one on these problems much worse, either knowingly in support of greed and a mean-spirited philosophy, or ignorantly by denying there is a problem, or dishonestly by denying the science/studies/facts that tell us there’s a problem. These people are psychotic and dangerous, and there’s no excuse for voting for any of them.
But the Democratic Party, while not in total denial, is not running on a platform to address any of these problems. They’re silent. And without knowing what, if anything, they plan to do about the monstrous issues facing the country, and trying to enlist the voters’ support in tackling those issues, they’ve given the voters no reason to vote for them.
More: For another view, see Digby, who argues persuasively, I think, that what people are voting for is not simply alternative proposals but rather a candidate’s expected moral/intellectual response to any given problem. After providing numerous links to stories of politicians on both sides reacting to the emerging foreclosure scandals, she notes:
The Dems are far from blameless and it’s true that the owners exert outsized influence over both the parties. But in situations like this you can see a clear distinction between the moral and ethical impulses that make a politician — and a voter — choose one party over another.
Okay, so why aren’t these impulses directly translated into an electoral agenda?