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The difference between the sheer energy levels of far Right and the progressive Left in Congress is stunning. There is no comparison. The extreme Right know who they are: bulls. Their pathway to public recognition comes by defying the Republican Party leadership, thereby securing major media attention. This helps these extremists advance their minority-supported goals of privileges for the few at the expense of the many.
Progressive Left activists, on the other hand, make good speeches and statements but generally defer to their Party leaders who are largely out of gas, except when it comes to raising money from commercial interests.
Let’s go to the specifics and proper names. Whatever your opinions may be, it is hard to argue that Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mike Lee, Representative Justin Amash and about 35 other Tea Party fighters aren’t getting the daily attention of the mass media and setting the agenda for their Congressional leaders.
Republican Representative Amash even managed to get both House Republicans and Democrats within a whisker of properly stopping some of the NSA’s blanket snooping on Americans in July.
The high-energy extreme Right-wing in Congress can nullify the effects of overwhelming public sentiment on many matters that benefit the American people. Where is the pushback by the fifty single-payer (full Medicare for everyone) supporters in Congress as represented by H.R.676 and supported by a majority of the American people, physicians and nurses? Nowhere. The Congressional drums are being beaten against Obamacare. Both Right and Left believe, for different reasons, that Obamacare is seriously flawed. But the progressives have left this best alternative on the shelf.
Where is the progressive Left’s political energy in Congress behind raising the federal minimum wage? Thirty million workers are making less today than workers made in 1968, adjusted for inflation. Had the minimum wage kept pace with inflation over these forty-five years, it would be $10.56 per hour instead of the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. A few members of Congress have put their modest bills in the hopper, but not on the Table. Meanwhile, the far Right opponents can focus their energies on their agenda, unworried that the progressive-Left activists are even going to seriously bestir themselves on what should be a signature issue for them.
After much exhortation by worker-allied groups, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over three years. Remember over 70 percent of the American people support such an increase. Even Republican Rick Santorum, the 2012 presidential candidate, supports raising the minimum wage.
Speaking with the Democrats’ leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, earlier this year at a social gathering, I raised the need to “catch up with 1968” for thirty million American workers. “That’s a good thing,” she said smiling and moving to the next series of handshakes.
Apparently, not enough of a “good thing” for the comfortable veteran Democrats, with their secure Congressional seats, to aggressively champion the cause of thousands of workers picketing fast food chains, Walmart and federal contractors who pay low wages, while many of their CEOs make millions of dollars a year. Dozens of non-profit advocacy groups and social service associations for the poor, whose members lean heavily Democratic, want an increase in the minimum wage to meet the necessities of life. Even that support, with majority poll-backing, is not enough to get progressive members of Congress to go ‘hell-bent for leather’ like the Tea Partiers.
The self-styled progressive Democrats actually outnumber the self-described Tea Partiers in the Congress. But the latter vastly outhustle their opponents and pressure their own leadership either to go along or be neutral.
Great majoritarian issues such as cracking down on corporate crime, ending tax havens for corporations and the rich, creating public works programs with good paying jobs, pulling back on the Empire abroad, and rejecting corporate welfare and bailouts cannot seem to arouse what is left of the Left in Congress. Sure, here and there these lawmakers are on the record. But they’re not on the ramparts. The mocking Tea Partiers, along with the corporate opponents, know the difference.
Even the best of the Left, legislators such as Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, seem unable to vigorously network their like-minded colleagues and allied citizen groups and rev up the horsepower behind their beliefs. At best, with few exceptions, they are Lone Rangers.
Long-time Congressman, now Senator, Edward Markey has taken many a leading stand warning about climate change and the Greenhouse effect on the planet. Yet when Republican Senator James Inhofe, who has called climate change a “hoax,” agreed to debate the then-Congressman Markey, Mr. Markey said he too was willing to debate but then found every scheduling excuse he could to avoid the debate over a period of 18 months! The willing sponsor, Politico, was kept waiting to no avail.
Legislators like Senator Markey are losing the public opinion battle over taking hold of the climate change issue, notwithstanding the issuance of more reports that more extensively confirm the science and point to the already damaging effects on the polar ice caps and the acidification of the Oceans.
Citizen groups are frustrated that their allies on Capitol Hill are continually defeatist and unwilling to shake the place up as the Tea Partiers have been doing even as their financiers in the big business community have become appalled by the Tea Party’s leveraged partial government shutdown and its curled lip against the upcoming debt ceiling crisis.
Progressive words must never mask the absence of progressive action in Congress. The people deserve better than progressive sinecurists in Congress who are so smug that they increasingly do not return calls from civic leaders who press them to move out of their comfort zones and from words to deeds. Many can learn from the very few determined, energetic exceptions within their ranks like the wave-making Congressman Alan Grayson from Florida.
Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.