Two Party System Blues
After spending too much of my precious spare time reading and researching the current federal government debt ceiling deal drama playing out in Washington, DC, I could not help but look back upon November 4, 2008, the day I cast my vote for Ralph Nader for President of the United States. As a true progressive and one deeply concerned for the loss of the American ideal born out of the trails of selfless workers and activists who sacrificed so much for all of us from 1900 to 1970, it was a way to express opposition and challenge the anti-middle-class orthodoxy of the corporate state, corporate media and the corporate political parties. The fact is, despite being a lifelong registered Democrat (mainly for third party disenfranchisement issues in primary elections), I have voted for Ralph Nader in three of the last four Presidential elections.
In choosing not to vote for Republicans (for obvious reasons) or Democrats (the fear- based lesser of two evils argument is not very relevant these days--John Kasich being an exception here in Ohio) on a national and sometimes state level, it has been a recognition that there is no way in this country to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America or JPMorgan Chase by choosing the candidates of the two political parties that serve their interests.
Corporations have come to defy the law, corrupt the officials charged with enforcing it, and inflict harm on the public and environment with impunity. The consequences are visible in the wreckage left by BP, Massey Energy, Enron, Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Lehman Brothers, Blackwater, Halliburton and Exxon Mobil, to name a recent few wrongdoers. Profits rule and anything goes. Both political parties wallow in the aftermath.
The current debt-ceiling delusions may result in a broader understanding that the two-party system, the corporate duopoly, no longer functions to further the rights and interests of citizens, and that the longer we are fooled by this belief that reform can come through these formal structures of power, the less empowered we are going to become.
The debt crisis has now entered into the realm where madness reigns. What should have been an uneventful moment in which lawmakers make good on the nation’s contractual obligations has instead been seized upon by Republican hypocrites as a moment to settle ideological scores that have nothing to do with the debt.
Hypocrites, because their radical free-market ideology, and the resulting total deregulation of the financial markets in which Democrats all too willingly played along, is what caused the debt to spiral out of control the past ten years. That and the wars President Bush launched but didn't have the integrity to responsibly finance. The consequence was a banking bubble and crash leading to a 50 percent run-up of the debt that has nothing to do with Social Security and Medicare that conservatives have always wanted to destroy.
President Barack Obama has, from the beginning of his presidency, put cuts in those programs into play, now warning ominously that a failure to lift the debt ceiling could cause the government to stop sending out Social Security checks. Why, when the Social Security trust fund is fully funded until 2038 and is owed money by the U.S. Treasury rather than the other way around? Why would we pay foreign creditors before American seniors?
If we don’t hold fast and firm to our moral principles, nobody’s going to. I am aware that social and economic justice will never see the light of day in today’s Republican Party--who are in fact the very corporations themselves. What we are left with is this--we don’t have to have a majority, but once 15-20 million Americans start voting left, we will scare the wits out of the Democratic Party and they will have to respond. But they’re not going to respond to us and stand up to corporations until that happens.
The question is how do you stop the power elite from doing as much damage to you as possible? That only comes through true corrective movements. It is not our job to take power, as we have to accept and acknowledge the facts of history that any meaningful and lasting corrections to our American Democracy came through these movements that never achieved formal political power and yet frightened the political establishment enough to respond.
The last liberal president we had was Richard Nixon. He signed the Clean Air Act, the Mine Health and Safety Act, the Endangered Species Act and by executive order placed nearly 12 million acres of land in the ultimate federal protection classification as wilderness area designation. He also agreed to create the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Richard Nixon did all this not because he was a liberal but because we still had the remnants of movements that scared him enough to do so.
If Richard Nixon was our last liberal president, does that make Barack Obama our most conservative President of the past 60 years? As the lines of separation between Democrats and Republicans have largely been blurred, think about that two-party duopoly dynamic for a moment.
As the so-called partisan fight over the debt ceiling approaches its deadline, President Obama has presented to Republicans with what, at any other time in history, would be seen as a conservative’s dream: 4 trillion in spending cuts over ten years and an offer to restructure and dismantle core pieces of the Democratic legacy, including Social Security and Medicare.
This most recent Obama capitulation cuts to the very core of the American middle class and destroys the last remnants left of the unifying principles for the Democratic party being the steadfast defenders of basic entitlement programs for the middle class, poor and elderly--Social Security and Medicare--from the wealthy, corporate factions that have long targeted them for cuts, privatization or outright termination.
In many crucial areas, not just the debt ceiling capitulation, President Obama has done more to subvert and weaken the progressive political agenda than a Republican president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all corporate- driven policies their party's leader endorses--even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.
But in 2009, clear signs emerged that President Obama was eager to achieve what his Republican predecessor could not: cut Social Security. Before he was even inaugurated, Obama echoed the manipulative rhetorical tactic: that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis and producing red ink as far as the eye can see. President-elect Obama thus vowed that these crown jewels of his party since the New Deal would be part of his efforts to reduce the deficit.
Many progressives, ebullient over the election of a Democratic president, chose to ignore these preliminary signs, unwilling to believe that their own party's leader was as devoted as he claimed to attacking the social safety net. As one who never drank the Obama Kool-Aid, I never bought into the charade of politics that makes voters think the personal narrative of a candidate affects the operation of the corporate state. Candidate Obama, as both a United States senator and state senator never carried out a progressive agenda as he voted for one corporate giveaway after another. There was not a bill he supported that wasn't an embrace of corporatism. I got the voting record, examined it and made my decision to vote for Ralph Nader and not the other two Republican Party corporatist candidates on the ballot--Barack Obama and John McCain.
Fast forward to summer 2011: it is now beyond dispute that President Obama not only favors, but is the leading force pushing for serious benefit cuts to both Social Security and Medicare.
The same Democratic president who supported the Bush administration’s transfer of $700 billion to bail out Wall Street banks, who earlier this year signed an extension of Bush's budget-busting massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and who has escalated America's bankruptcy-inducing posture of Endless War, is now trying to reduce the debt by cutting benefits for America's most vulnerable--at the exact time that economic insecurity and income inequality are at all-time highs.
And now he is devoting all of his presidential power to cutting the entitlement programs that have been the defining hallmark of the Democratic Party since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The silence from Democratic partisans is deafening--and depressing, though sadly predictable.
The nature of American politics is that once a policy is removed from the partisan wars and adopted by the leadership of both parties, it is removed from mainstream debate and fortified as bipartisan consensus. That is why false claims in the run-up to the Iraq war, endorsed by both parties, received so little mainstream journalistic scrutiny. And it's why the former Bush lawyer and right-wing ideologue Jack Goldsmith, back in May 2009, wrote about the fact that Obama was doing more to strengthen Bush/Cheney terrorism policies than his former bosses could have ever achieved. By embracing the very terrorism approach he once denounced, Obama was converting it from right-wing radicalism into the official dogma of both parties, and forcing his supporters to defend what were, until 2009, the symbols of right-wing blunders.
President Obama is now injecting what until recently was the politically toxic and unattainable dream of Wall Street and American conservatives--attacks on the nation's social safety net--into the heart and soul of the Democratic Party's platform. Those false progressives who are guided more by party loyalty than actual belief will seamlessly transform from virulent opponents of such cuts into their primary defenders.
And thus Obama will succeed again in gutting not only core Democratic policies, but also the identity and power of the left.
For those of us on the left, it is time to turn our backs on the Democrats and begin to regain a new kind of democratic militancy. If we don’t do that, if we remain fearful, then we will be further stripped of power as we barrel towards this neo-feudalistic state where there is a nation of masters and servants, a kind of permanent underclass. That’s what is happening as rapacious corporate business interests have shattered all kinds of regulations and controls. They have carried out a coup d’état in slow motion and it’s over--they have won.
I am not saying we are going to win back everything that has been taken from us the past four decades. I am saying that rebellion becomes a way to protect your own dignity. Corporations, in the hands of a two-party duopoly, are institutions of death. They commodify everything--the natural world, human beings--that they will exploit until exhaustion or collapse. They know no limits and there are no impediments now to corporations. They want us to become passive and they want us to become complicit in our own demise.
We are the most delusional society on Earth. It is better to swallow the bitter pill of what we are up against and recognize how dark the rule of the two-party system future is and also recognize the absolute imperative of resistance to it in every form possible.
Will the last chapter of our book on Democracy be titled “America’s Slide Into Totalitarian Corporatism” or do we rise up to alter that last chapter of our story?
My Family and I relocated to the City of Lakewood in 2008 to be near my Wife’s extended Family. We have two young children that attend Lincoln Elementary School.
I have over 25 years experience as a community organizer, political campaign manager, director of a non-profit, environmental and social/economic justice writer, lobbyist, demonstrator, non-profit board member and lifelong community activist and volunteer. I am passionate about economic and social justice, environmental causes and identifying and addressing the root cause of social, economic and ecological ailments that undermine our long-term prosperity and sustainability.
In my spare time I enjoy time with my wife and kids hiking, kayaking, gardening, traveling, enjoying all four seasons and exploring all that Lakewood and Northeast Ohio have to offer. I’m also an avid runner and have a passion/addiction for running marathons and 100-mile ultra-marathons.