The Battle is Joined

The State of our Union is getting stronger, President Obama said Jan. 24. No it isn’t, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels replied.

In his third State of the Union address, Obama continued the populist lite themes he debuted in his Osawatamie, Kansas, speech in December. While Democrats in the House Chamber seemed to enjoy it, Republicans largely sat on their hands. They were indifferent to the 22 months of private employment gains totaling more than three million new jobs. Many of them couldn’t even bring themselves to applaud the revival of the American auto industry after Obama — over GOP opposition — lent General Motors and Chrysler the money to get their business back in order. Not only has GM regained its position as the world’s top carmaker, but GM, Ford and Chrysler have added nearly 160,000 jobs. Republicans couldn’t care less, because those new jobs will be United Auto Workers.

A more accurate assessment, as Charles P. Pierce wrote at Esquire.com before the speech, is “The State of the Union is Angry.” Before the speech, House Speaker John Boehner played down the prospects of bipartisan cooperation and said it would be “pathetic” if the president continued class warfare. “This is a president who said I’m not going to be a divider, I’m going to be a uniter, and running on the policies of division and envy is — to me it’s almost un-American,” Boehner said.

So we wouldn’t hold out much hope for quick House action on Obama’s proposal that every tax-dodging multinational corporation should have to pay a basic minimum tax. we also predict that the tax subsidies for oil companies will continue despite their record profits, and the money saved by no longer occupying Iraq will find other uses than nationbuilding at home, because infrastructure jobs might result in a drop in the unemployment rate, which would be inconvenient for Republicans who are depicting Obama as incapable of reviving the economy. And don’t look for that 30% minimum tax rate for millionaires to get out of the Republican House this year, either, but at least Obama has outlined a philosophical contrast with his partisan opposition — on the same day that vulture capitalist presidential wannabe Mitt Romney released tax returns that showed he paid only 13.9% on his unearned millions.

The president should have more luck in the immediate future moving forward with his executive authority to create a Trade Enforcement Unit that will investigate complaints of unfair trade practices overseas and the special Justice Department unit of federal prosecutors and state attorneys general to expand investigations into abusive lending and risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. And he gave a shout out to Richard Cordray, who will protect consumers from financial predators, despite Republican opposition to potentially burdensome regulations on payday lenders.

The Republican response was delivered by Mitch Daniels, who demonstrated his incompetence as George W. Bush’s budget director from January 2001 through June 2003. In 29 months Daniels turned the $236 billion surplus Bill Clinton handed Bush into a $400 billion deficit. Now, as Americans drift toward “a Niagara of debt,” Daniels proposes a lower, flatter tax, without noting that such a tax plan not only would be a boon for the wealthy; it also would require a tax increase for lower income groups who currently pay less than 20%, or else it will further reduce revenues. But Daniels never was much good at figures.

If Obama gets into a fight with Republicans over income equality and tax fairness, with the GOP maintaining its role as the chief protector of the affluent, that will suit the Dems just fine.

Some of our readers still undoubtedly have doubts about Obama and his Democratic allies’ good faith. We appreciate their skepticism, but we still think that recent Republican presidential debates have proven that progressive populists will have little choice but to support the Democratic ticket this year.

Many liberals, upset at what they felt was an excess of compromise in the Democratic Congress in 2009-10, chose to sit out the 2010 election. (For the record, we count as considerable accomplishments pulling the economy out of a tailspin, saving GM and Chrysler and passing the health reform bill that regulates health insurance at the federal level for the first time ever as well as the financial regulatory bill that, among other things, sets up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And for reforms that critics on the left denounce as toothless, the insurance companies and Wall Street are still fighting implementation of the Affordable Care Act as well as the Wall Street reforms and the consumer protection bureau.)

With the right-wing Tea Party in the vanguard, Republicans took over the US House, forcing the White House to negotiate with radicalized Republicans on nearly every piece of substantial legislation, but Republicans also got total control of a dozen states, where they rolled over Democratic minorities to implement long-standing conservative plans to cripple public employee unions and cut benefits, privatize state government functions, relax regulations, cut corporate taxes and make it more difficult for working people, especially minorities, and the elderly to vote.

And US Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, is still determined to save Medicare by turning it into a voucher program for private insurance companies and reportedly will insist that it be included in the House GOP budget.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, who is retiring at the end of this year after suffering plenty of fools during 31 years in Congress, proposed the Democrats adopt the slogan, “We’re not perfect, but they’re nuts.”

We keep hearing that we have lost our democracy, but what many in the middle class have lost is their faith in democracy. We still have elections (although you might have to show a state-issued ID to vote). When we elected Barack Obama with a promise of change in 2008, there were great expectations, but when the Senate in January 2009 approved the old rules that kept the filibuster, with 60 votes needed to get a bill to the floor, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said his top goal was to make Obama a one-term president, the 41 Republican senators (at least until Arlen Specter switched parties in April 2009) kept him as good as his word, with a few corporate Democrats and old Joe Lieberman willing to side with the Republicans against progressive initiatives, so we are inclined to cut the president and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid some slack.

What we learned was that change takes more than election to achieve and it has to overcome the entrenched opposition of organized money and the corporate media that takes its orders from Wall Street. Cynicism, fear and despair is what kills democracy — and the “mainstream” media — particularly right-wing talk radio and Fox News — excels at feeding cynicism, fear and despair.

Some of our readers are still hoping for a progressive challenger to Obama, but no national progressive figure has stepped forward for that quixotic task. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who made an heroic effort in 2008 before he withdrew from the presidential race to seek re-election to Congress, is forced to run against another progressive Democrat, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, whose Toledo-based district was paired with his Cleveland-based district by the Republican legislature. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), while critical of the compromises Obama and the Democrats have made, is running for re-election — and deserves it.

Republicans barely conceal their hostility toward Obama and they have nothing to offer the 10 million people who are looking for work and could benefit from the sort of jobs programs that Obama is proposing and the Repubs are blocking.

Of course, our readers are welcome to support alternative parties on the left or right. But in this coming election the choice will boil down to voting for Obama and the Dems or risking Republicans getting back into power in Washington and doing the sort of damage to working people on a national scale that Republicans have been doing at the state level. We don’t think progressive populists will want to take that chance. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2012


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