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The May jobs report was nothing less than abysmal?in regards to both employment and progressive politics. A mere 54,000 new jobs were created last month (the fewest in eight months). This leaves 14 million Americans unemployed, while another 25 million remain marred in underemployment. Any lingering hope of a stable recovery has now vanished, as the economy barrels headlong towards an intractable double-dip recession. Although?as Paul Krugman has rightly noted?whether the economy officially backslides into a double-dip remains rather immaterial to those already wallowing in their own personal recessions.
In regards to presidential politics, the bleak jobs report will assuredly refocus attention on the economy. For Obama and the Democrats this can only spell trouble. Meager job numbers continuing into 2012 will no doubt embolden Republican attacks, forcing Democrats to undertake the unenviable task of arguing that the jobs picture would be far worse if Obama had not assumed the helms of power in 2008. Proving a negative to an electorate awash in unemployment and rampant underemployment will be impossible. Meanwhile, Republican attacks levied against Obama’s stewardship of the economy, whatever their particular integrity or merit, will assuredly resonate.
This political dynamic has firmly tied the Republican prospects to a faltering economy and thus given Republican legislators nationwide a direct incentive to undermine the economy as best they can. Hence, Republicans?driven as well by deep neoliberal orthodoxy?have happily and rapidly capitalized on soaring governmental dept to slash and burn spending at all levels. Although Democrats have also widely knelt at the altar of austerity, showing their innate affinity for neoliberal ideals. Of course, this austerity fetish has only exacerbated the employment problem. The May jobs report finds that city and county governments cut 30,000 jobs last month, including 18,000 educators (the much celebrated economic antidote of education becomes rather farcical if classrooms are left without teachers).
The political beauty of the Republican posture, though, is that it is nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophesy on a grand scale. The government?Republicans endlessly and instinctually argue?doesn’t create jobs. And now by starving government budgets and payrolls, aided by eager and daft Democrats, they are proven ‘right.’
The sheer gall of Republican led attacks regarding the economy and job creation is also something to be marveled. Capturing the general neoliberal inspired and Republican utilized rhetorical attack last week in an appearance on the PBS Newshour (a network conservatives deride, yet readily appear on), the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore declared that the Keynesian based policies of the Democrats (?) had been an utter disaster in terms of jobs and that it was “time to hold Keynesians to account for their failure.” Forget the neoliberal based policies that precipitated the current levels of mass unemployment?we are told?it’s the Keynesians’ fault! The crash of 2008 and its preceding origins have apparently been dropped down the right’s vast memory hole.
The absurdity of neoliberals blaming Keynesians for the stagnate labor market aside, the general sentiment does have merit. The economic policies of Obama and the Congressional Democrats have indeed failed. Further, whether Democratic policies may be considered Keynesian or not is rather moot, for the Keynesian model is not a credible alternative?unmasked as ineffective as far back as the 1970s. So, if neoliberalism caused the crisis and Keynesianism (or Keynesian-light) has failed to resolve it, what is to be done?
The Political Constructs of a Systemic Resolution
The financial crash of 2008 was not a structural crisis, but rather a systemic crisis?a crisis of capitalism. Given its systemic nature, the crisis can only be resolved via a complete break with the system from which it originated. This means that the current neoliberal capitalist model must be, and necessarily will be, replaced?much the same as the Keynesian model was unceremoniously abandoned in the 1970s.
The neoliberal successor may take one of two forms, and its final shape will undoubtedly be formed by the politics of the 2012 Presidential campaign. The first alternative is one of mere cosmetics. In short, it entails throwing structural fixes at a systemic problem and hoping that in doing so, consumer and financial confidence can be adequately restored. Although this may indeed prove sufficient to save capitalism in its present constructs from the immediate precipice, it can only prolong the time before the next inevitable and more fundamental crisis occurs. This, though, appears to be the Democrats’ 2012 plan: stabilize the sinking ship just long enough for Obama to secure a second term.
The second alternative lies in a complete break from capitalism, occurring via either a right or left alternative. The right alternative appears to be of a neo-fascist shade. This alternative has already coalesced into a disproportionally powerful movement and is currently in rather rapid ascendancy (see the corporate infused Tea Party). And now with the full cast of dimwitted Republican Presidential hopefuls eagerly bending to the whims of the Party’s Tea Party ultra-right, this alternative looks poised to gain further traction.
The left alternative, on the other hand, has failed to find as lucrative of a source for its own advancement as that of the right. Moreover, the corporate funded Democrats, seeking to avert any potential hiccup in the Obama reelection campaign, have aggressively tried to suppress any and all rumblings from the wider left (a.k.a. the ‘f-ing retards’). In fact, the Democratic establishment is so frightened of independent progressive power that it has even shied away from its own energizing base, seen in the indifference the Obama Administration offered in response to the uprising in Wisconsin.
Perhaps?and this remains solely a blind and unfounded hope?the continued malaise of Obama and the Democrats in regards to jobs will stir an alternative and genuine realignment of the left. Perhaps the jobs crisis will finally steer the left toward the development of a movement independent of the Democratic Party. Indeed, the labor struggle in Wisconsin and the broader Mid-West, along with the recent speech by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at the National Press Club on the need to develop labor’s political independence, are both hopeful signs. Yet, as the saga of Obama has already proven, hope is a rather fleeting emotion.
Ben Schreiner lives in Salem, Oregon.