Let’s talk about a political situation. A problem that occurs at the level of our politicians. Something that has been analyzed both cynically and hopefully, by means of problem identification and problem solving. It’s a problem at the root of a growing alienation and dissatisfaction among youth and liberals in general. It’s used as a battleground for the usual battle of party-line enforcer versus idealist reformer. And it may well be the problem that ends up destroying this nation. Certainly the problem that prevents any real solution to what is ailing the country from ever being considered much less enacted.
The problem has created vast gulfs between what is seen as politically possible and what is socially supported. Is the reason why most liberals work far more often on social reform than political solutions. Is the reason why the Democratic Party often finds its base disappointed and alienated. Is the reason why things have seemed to only get worse in the last 30 years with a crushing feeling of powerlessness seeping into the politically minded and motivated.
What is this problem?
This problem is a pattern.
What is this pattern?
This pattern is the one we’ve seen over and over again.
On half is Republicans sweep into power and its huge conservative reforms, important safety nets or human rights ripped up or targeted, legal processes ignored, lawmakers steamrolled and liberals in political power left to try and stem the worst of it, accepting any number of abuse to the system in its wake.
We see this now in Wisconsin, with the Republican victory there leading to an all-out assault on the collective bargaining rights (aka, the end of the right to unionize, a long time “free-market” conservative pipe dream). We see it again in the tea party congress victory in the House of Representatives leading to a stand-off against the most conservative representatives over the continued functioning of the government where the only deal was how Republican of a plan to accept (one which eliminated and privatized medicare and social security or one which merely gutted every single non-defense agency, already decimated by earlier cuts and attacks). We saw it in the Bush Administration where constitutional rights were wholesale ignored, plans to privatize social security, pass constitutional amendments banning gay rights were considered, and multiple wars, multiple torture camps and concentration camps were opened and so on. And certainly the iron march of tax cuts pairing with “spending cuts” and poison pill department heads targeting perceived liberal sectors such as the EPA, Department of Education, science funding, welfare, drug treatment, and so on. Not to mention the huge spade of retrograde laws being passed in Arizona since they got a wingnut governor.
This on its own is a relentless push. Dominated often by desperate scrambles to defend the basic rights of whatever minority is targeted this week, where things quickly get worse and one hopes merely to survive rather than reform.
But it gets paired with the other side of the problem.
And that side is that Democrats seem almost as ineffectual as Republicans are overpowering when they are in power. At the same time as WI, we here in CA have seen a large victory for Democratic leadership. The state has a large need for heavy reform. Our tax situation has been completely fubared by Prop 13 and intransigent minority power Republicans, our privatized public utilities have been nickel and diming the citizens, and a number of retrograde laws were passed since the time of Gov. Davis. Our new governor however will be looking to begin by passing a Republican compromise of heavy spending cuts to education and other public sectors, leaving alone Republican supported sectors such as prisons. In congress, our Democratic leaders in the Senate and the Presidency seem unable to gain any real positive change over the teabagging new House. Going back 2 years, Democrats had their heaviest gains in nearly their entire history, holding briefly 60 seats in the Senate, found themselves unable to pass anything but old Republican ideas deemed too liberal by today’s Republicans and various “half-and-half” compromises that resulted in things getting slightly better.
The saddest thing is that slightly better is something that was refreshing to many owing to its extreme novelty. Since the time of Reagan, Democratic gains have seemed to coincide only with things getting worse only slower, rather than any real improvement. Clinton presided over DADT, NAFTA, and any number of Republican-friendly compromises.
The pattern is thus, with regard to human rights, minority protection, social safety net strength, regulatory power, and the funding we give to our government infrastructure.
Things get dramatically worse under Republicans. Things only get slightly worse under Democrats.
The problem with this is that conservative views are toxic, wholly resistant to the notion of a real world, and often based more in tribal hatreds than any real desire to deal with reality as is or humanely interact with people.
So our system continues to suffer, often surviving only on personal rebellions, the remnant social improvements and safety nets installed in the 30s-70s, and shortchanged infrastructure in all fields being held together by the equivalent of baling wire and hope. Our education system limps on a shoe-string and disrespect, powered only by its last defenders willing to accept abuse and poverty wages to support something they believe in. Our bridges and electrical grid is literally falling apart. Our regulation system is unable to intervene to prevent ecological disasters like the BP oil spill, nor adequately address the various factors that lead to the global financial collapse.
In addition, we are seeing an ever-growing gap between what we socially support and what we view as politically possible. Ted Rall wrote a book during the administration called “Wake Up, You’re Liberal” which pointed out the various number of political issues that had majority liberal support when polled individually and how such support only went up when people were provided full information on what each side supported.
During the big health care debate, huge majorities supported systems far more liberal than were ever argued politically. Systems like single-payer or medicare for all. Nonetheless, politically, even with huge Democratic majorities, the debate seemed ever more slanted to ever more Republican compromises, ending with a few emergency pieces of duct tape trying to patch off recision, bad insurance policies, and setting up private insurance exchanges to kick in at 2012.
Unfortunately, those who have low-grade insurance at the moment have seen how ineffectual such changes were in making any real change to the broken system. Paying for “care” that never seemed to pay out is a system still well in practice.
This isn’t to bitch about Democratic weakness or to lay the blame wholly on our liberal leaders at the political level.
It’s pretty clear that campaigns of political nihilism on the part of conservatives have allowed them to make great gains where they are socially unpopular. Holding one group’s rights or humanity hostage for another group’s downfall, exploiting legal loopholes to bypass public scrutiny or delay legal rights by their opponents, and engaging in out right fraud.
The last especially has seen Presidents bribing foreign hostage takers to delay release of American prisoners so they look better when fully elected, illegal concentration camps, bribery scandals, quid pro quo deals with corporate financiers, and suicide bomb legislators who don’t care about ill will because they plan on entering corporate welfare after they do their damage.
This has led to victory, but has only fueled the gulf. Not only does this breed a growing feeling of powerlessness and civic disengagement by many with regards to political rights, but also this leads to a huge gulf between who we are socially and what our political system looks like.
Now, for our conservative counterparts, this may seem like a victory. Civic disengagement and depression among liberal activists and the victory of conservative desires above and beyond social support by any means necessary means continued support of an extended status quo, corporate power, and the continued punishment of “undeserving” minority groups for perceived sins.
But while this is frustrating and unhealthy in the short-term, it’s even worse for us all in the long-term.
The more we feel that the peaceful political option in addressing problems, grievances, and suffering is closed to us. And the more that feels to more people…
Well, that is the exact set of circumstances that tends to lead to things like the French Revolution. When the powerless see no peaceful means to protect themselves, bring benefits to their lives, protect themselves from exploitation. When the powerless see their lives get consistently worse and when more people see themselves as powerless, then alternate options end up being the only response.
For the political is important. It’s what affects our lives, provides the protections we take for granted, provides the society we rely on. When that finally breaks, when what we see socially fits in no way with the debates in the political arena, there is naught but conflict.
Hopefully we can fix this problem before it ruins us.