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The Congress, that polls show the American people would like to replace in its entirety, has “kicked the can down the road” again, putting off the government shutdown until January 15th and another debt ceiling showdown until February 7th.
The polls also show, convincingly, that people blame the stubborn Republicans more than the Democrats for the adverse effects of the impasse on workers, public health, safety, consumer spending, recreational parks and government corporate contracts.
There is another story about how all this gridlock came to be, fronted by the question: “Why didn’t the Democrats landslide the cruelest, most ignorant, big-business-indentured Republican Party in its history during the 2010 and 2012 Congressional elections? (See “The Do Nothing Congress: A Record of Extremism and Partisanship”)
There are a number of answers to this fundamental political question. First and most obvious is that the Democrats are dialing for the same commercial campaign dollars, which beyond the baggage of quid pro quo money, detours the Party away from concentrating on their constituents’ needs, in a contrasting manner with the GOP.
Democrats like Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Dem. Ohio) tell me that when the House Democrats get together in an election year, they go into the meetings talking about money and walk out talking about money, burdened with the quotas assigned by their so-called leadership.
Last year, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Dem. Calif.) was reported to have attended 400 fundraisers in DC and around the country for her campaigning Democrats. Helping Democratic candidates with fundraising is a major way she asserts her control over them. Over ninety percent of the Democrats in the House defer to her and do not press her on such matters as upping the federal minimum wage, controlling corporate crime, reducing corporate welfare giveaways, reasserting full Medicare for all, diminishing a militaristic foreign policy and other policies reputed to be favored by the Party’s Progressive Caucus, numbering 75 Representatives. Instead, the Progressive Caucus remains moribund, declining to press their policy demands on leader Pelosi, as the hardcore Tea Partiers do with their leaders.
So when election time comes around, voters do not know what the Democrats stand for other than to save Social Security and Medicare from the Republicans. Former Senator and Presidential candidate Gary Hart, now living in Denver, said last year that the local Democrats in Denver didn’t know what the national Democrats stood for.
The 2010 election was crucial for the winners in the state government races who gained the upper hand in redistricting decisions for a decade. That meant more gerrymandered one-party dominated districts. The Republicans won a majority of those gubernatorial and state legislative races and took over the U.S. House of Representatives with Speaker John Boehner (Rep. Ohio) and his curled-lip deputy, Eric Cantor (Rep. Va.).
And there is also President Obama’s political selfishness. Obama knew that he could not govern with a knee-jerk blocking Republican House of Representatives. Yet he did not provide serious campaign support and progressive policy leadership for Democratic candidates. Consequently he was overcome in 2011 by the Republican demands for sharp cuts in federal budgets serving people, while exempting corporate entitlements from similar cuts, and the spectre of government shutdowns and Republicans in Congress refusing to raise the government’s debt ceiling to pay current debts, during his first term Presidency.
So you’d think that in 2012 President Obama would run arm-in-arm with Congressional Democrats. No way. He not only signaled his “going it alone” approach by turning down a Democrat’s request for $30 million from his billion dollar campaign hoard, but he had little interest in campaigning with the local Congressional candidates as he travelled around the country. The House Democrats were dismayed, but kept quiet.
So he got the Boehner/Cantor duo for another two years after the 2012 election. That meant another shut-the-government-down don’t-lift-the-debt-ceiling imbroglio – a clash that crowded out all the necessities and the matters of justice that our government is supposed to champion. The greed and power of the Walmarts, the Exxons, the Aetnas, the Lockheed Martins and the rest of the global corporate power structure that has turned its back on taxpaying, American workers and their families remains unchecked by our government.
Fast forward to the elections of 2014. No House Democrat believed, until the recent Congressional impasse, that the Democrats would win back the House in 2014. Given that many House-passed Republican votes since 2011 sided with big business, on the wrong side of fair treatment of children, student borrowers, workers, women, consumers, small taxpayers and providing necessary public services, one would think the Democrats should win next year in a slam dunk. Not likely, unless the Republican echo chamber, with its “mad dog” extremists, hand control of the House to the Democrats.
From the Nineteen Forties to the Nineteen Nineties, the Republican Party did not behave as badly as today’s snarling version of the GOP. Yet the Democrats beat Republicans in most Congressional races. Imagine what Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson would have done with today’s crop of Republican corporatists and rabid ideologues.
Today’s Democrats with very few exceptions are dull, tired and defeatist. They regularly judge themselves by how bad the Republican Party is, instead of how affirmatively good they could be for our country and its politically alienated people. They cannot even muster themselves to battle for a higher minimum wage on behalf of 30 million American workers, just to the level of 1968, inflation adjusted, which is supported by over 70 percent of the people.
Neither Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, nor House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi are really taking this minimum wage fairness issue to the people and directly confronting the Republican Party. Yet they both profess to believe in “catching up with 1968.” They just don’t believe in themselves enough to generate the focused energy to make it happen.
(For those readers interested in letting their members of Congress have an earful, the switchboard is 202-224-3121.)
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.