I can’t understand why the GOP is always so angry at the President. After all, Obama has shown himself to be a committed conservative. What’s that? He is a Democrat you say? Well he had me fooled.
With 2012 just around the corner, the election season for the GOP primary candidates is in full swing as evidenced by the recent South Carolina debate. Candidate after candidate, with a few minor exceptions, recycled the same old slogans to rally the troops. In short it was the typical calls for “smaller government, deregulation, lower taxes, blah blah blah.” As I watched on, I couldn’t help but wonder: What exactly distinguishes the policies these GOP candidates want to enact from those of the Democrats?
While the GOP threatens to empower the IRS to audit rape victims, strip public workers of collective bargaining, and privatize medicare, it’s easy to forget that the Democratic party is just as culpable for the numerous crises facing America. GOP legislators around the country have been introducing absurd bills designed to enforce their ideology on the rest of us, which has galvanized liberals, progressives, and even some conservatives to unite and protest in their affected communities. From Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s “financial martial law” and Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s war on unions, to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize medicare, the GOP establishment has proven that it is nothing more than a heartless group of rich and privileged scoundrels. And as a result, Democrats are gaining momentum as they speak in the populist language of liberalism against Republican assaults.
A clear and familiar pattern has emerged with liberals. Destructive GOP policies energize the liberal base, just as happened during the Bush years, and then Democrats come along with populist rhetoric and swallow up the movement. President Bush’s eight year reign had liberals so outraged, that even credible and wise leftists like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn came out in support of candidate Obama’s “Change we can believe in” (with caution of course). Millions of progressives and liberals campaigned for Obama’s well marketed and emotionally appealing campaign, but once he was elected, they went home assuming the mission was accomplished.
Some three years later, what has changed? Well, other than the President’s skin tone, not much.
We’re still at war in Afghanistan, combat troops remain in Iraq, and Obama has declared war on Libya without a constitutionally required declaration from Congress. America, under the leadership of a Democrat, is brutally occupying two countries (three if you include the indirect occupation of Palestine) and bombing Libya, while unofficially waging war on Pakistan and Yemen, in addition to being the world’s number one arms dealer, in many cases arming some of the most brutal dictators and despots imaginable.
During the Bush years, liberals were rightly outraged with the Bush administration for flushing the Bill of Rights down the toilet while expanding executive power more than any other president in history. This included such reprehensible acts as warrantless wiretapping, a suspension of habeas corpus, the excessive use of state secrets, etc. President Obama’s answer to crimes of such magnitude has been to look forward not backwards–essentially giving immunity to the previous administration for breaking the law and causing unquantifiable suffering—while punishing whistleblowers brave enough to shed light on some of the worst crimes imaginable. Under President Obama, it’s safer to be a war criminal than expose a war criminal.
It’s no secret that President “constitutional law professor” Obama has created a formal system of indefinite detention for Guantanamo detainees, or that he punishes American citizens without trial. His administration has outlawed torture, but they still kidnap people from around the world, and ship them to other countries to be tortured (aka extraordinary rendition). Most dangerous of all, our “very liberal” President has reserved the right to assassinate American citizens abroad, far from any battlefield, based exclusively on unchecked accusations by the Executive Branch that they’re involved in Terrorism, a power that Bush and Cheney could only fantasize about.
On the surface, differences between Democrats and Republicans on budget cuts seem oceans apart. But in reality, Democrats are just as committed to austerity cuts as Republicans. It’s simply a matter of how much. The fierce budget-cut battles in congress mask the converging economic ideologies of two corporately-owned political parties. They agree on much more than they would like to admit. For this reason, we should not confuse the Democrats minor disagreements with Republicans, as them standing up for the little guy. Because standing up for the “people” would require a principled refusal to make draconian budget cuts to social programs during a recession with 9% unemployment
Let’s not forget that it was a Democrat-controlled congress and white house that renewed the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy last year, while allowing for deregulation and CEO bonuses to continue unabated. It is a Democratic President that led the charge for a 5-year government spending freeze, cuts to heating assistance for low-income families, and cuts to block grants for community development and aid for students. Both Republicans and Democrats are trying to balance the budget on the backs of poor and working people. Both refuse to increase taxes on the wealthy. Both refuse to close tax loopholes, tackle tax havens, or hold Wall Street accountable for sinking the economy.
The true difference lies in rhetoric. To justify budget cuts, Republicans argue condescendingly that welfare queens and the unemployed are lazy parasites draining the federal government’s coffers. Democrats, on the other hand, prefer to lecture the country about how, like a family in tough times, the government must tighten its belt, because that is what responsible households do. The Democrats’ rhetoric may be slightly less patronizing, but it is equally as appalling.
At a time when millions of Americans are being thrown out of their homes, and 1 in 4 children are dependent on food stamps, Obama made it very clear where his priorities lie when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prepared to unveil the administration’s plan to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 26%. Meanwhile corporations are making record profits, even as they layoff workers and pay next to nothing in Federal income taxes.
The assault on unions is not isolated to the right either. The Democratic-led Massachusetts House passed a bill that restricts the rights of all municipal employee unions to collectively bargain health benefits. The state’s Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick praised the House for their “important” vote. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has clashed with his state’s powerful teachers’ unions over deep budget cuts to education. And in Detroit, Democratic Mayor Dave Bing has threatened to request an emergency financial manager if the city’s 48 employee unions don’t make healthcare concessions.
It seems Democrats admire the Republican agenda so much, that they have decided to mirror right-wing campaign tactics as well. Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), head ofProgressives United and longtime opponent of corporately-funded elections, criticized Democrats for launching a new outside group to aid President Barack Obama’s re-election efforts in part by raising undisclosed funds. Democratic rhetoric has often emphasized fairness, accountability, and compassion, the language one expects from liberal politicians. But actions speak louder than words, and Democrats have proven time and again that they are willing to abandon their supposed principles for money and power.
And with the killing of Osama Bin Laden, liberals who were awakening to rampant Democratic duplicity, have now renewed their faith in Obama’s party and presidency. Which demonstrates that Obama is perhaps, more dangerous than his predecessor, because he has systematically adopted some of the worst Republican policies as his own, and in turn, they have become accepted among both liberals and conservatives, and are unlikely to be reversed.
My intention isn’t to bring about feelings of defeatism among progressives, but rather to highlight the many ways by which the Democratic party has proven itself beholden to the very same corporate interests as Republicans. While I sympathize with those on the left that feel they must vote for the lesser of two evils, voting is not a revolutionary act. For those who continue to vote Democrat, rather than chastise your decision, I dare you to go further. Organize, protest, call or write your representatives every day, hold them to their campaign promises, let them know that unless they stand up for the principles they claim to care about, they will lose your support.
To be an engaged citizen is so much more than showing up to pick a candidate every 2-4 years. It requires the type of civic engagement that we are witnessing in Wisconsin, Michigan, California, and all around the country. We can either continue to support a party that is complicit in our destruction, or we can participate in the one and only proven vehicle to enacting real change: people power!
In the meantime, remember that it’s easy to look like a progressive champion of the people when the guy next to you is making the case for cutting food aid to lazy infants and forcing women to submit to ultrasounds prior to receiving an abortion. An important lesson to take away from President Obama’s first term is this: have no illusions about the intentions of the Democratic establishment, for they are controlled by the same moneyed interests as their Republican rivals.