31 July 2011

US political crisis: the case for an "anti-tea party"

As I write this it's still not clear whether there has been agreement between Barack Obama and both houses of Congress to raise the debt ceiling to enable the US Government to go on paying its bills after 2nd August.

But if an agreement is hammered out, it seems quite clear that in the course of reaching it, Obama will have given so much ground to the Republicans - and indeed the hard-right Tea Party faction - on the spending cuts vs tax increases mix, that it is unclear how his presidency in any way still reflects the priorities of the Democratic party.

The US budget deficit is caused by three policies in particular, two of which are the fault of the previous administration led by the election thief and war criminal George W Bush, and one of which is a bi-partisan failure over several decades. The bi-partisan failure is the decision by successive presidents and congresses to cultivate an unstable and unsustainable economy built on "junk" finance, which imploded twice in the 2000s: first in the "dot com" crash of 2000-01 and then (much more seriously) in the financial near-collapse of 2008. As Richard Wolff notes on CiF, no part of the US economy (save corporate profits) has recovered to any meaningful extent since 2009. The best that can be said for Obama's inadequate stimulus package of 2009 is that it stopped things getting any worse; but that is winding down now, and consequently the US economy is sinking deeper into a hole.

The fiscal crisis is exacerbated by two policies which were the mainstay of the Bush presidency: (1) huge tax cuts for the wealthiest few percent of the population, and (2) a vast increase in military spending to pursue the "war on terror".

As a clear election winner in 2008 (unlike Bush in his two election "victories"), Obama had a golden opportunity to reverse policy on all three of these fronts. Sadly, he has failed completely on all three. His only domestic policy success was on healthcare reform - admittedly an area where all his predecessors had failed - but even there, the reform which emerged fell well short of what is needed.

What he has managed to do, instead, is to preside over the birth of a movement, the "Tea Party", extreme even by the standards of the US right which takes some doing, which is systematically trying to destroy American democracy by creating the conditions for a coup by big business interests. This was last attempted during the Roosevelt administration of the 1930s by a number of industrialists sympathetic to fascism who believed the US could be reconstructed along the lines of Nazi Germany. It failed then, but it might succeed now; it is increasingly likely that China will be the model for a 21st century "Tea Party-esque" US, with elections suspended (probably on the grounds of saving money) and the Republican party installed as the de facto equivalent of the Chinese Communist Party. (In passing, I note that it is ironic that Van Patten claims that the 'left' in US politics - Bill Clinton, etc - are the "Chinese agents" when in fact what the Tea Party want to do is far closer to current Chinese political practice than anything you will find among the Democrats).

Barack Obama's reponse to the Tea Party threat - and the Republican challenge generally - has been to compromise so far with it that he has managed to completely alienate his own supporters. I would imagine that not since the dog days of the Carter administration in 1979/80 has the Democratic base been so demoralised and let down. And there is a severe danger for Obama that the result of the 2012 Presidential election will be very similar to the 1980 election. I still maintain, whatever the bullshit the right will try to feed you, that Ronald Reagan was a relatively weak Republican candidate who would have lost to any Democratic incumbent with a basic level of nous and competence; the tragedy for Jimmy Carter - probably the most thoroughly decent man to hold the Presidency since 1945 - was that, in 1980, he appeared to possess neither nous nor competence.

Barack Obama also appears to lack competence and nous, but in a different way from Carter. Obama seems to want to be the bipartisan statesman in an era where bipartisanship is impossible; there is pretty much no common ground between the Tea Party and your average liberal Democrat. By failing to stand up for a deficit reduction package which includes at least (say) a 50/50 mix between tax increases and spending cuts, Obama is making it more likely that the GOP will demand more and more crazy right-wing policy concessions - because he lacks the backbone to turn round and tell them to take a hike. If you're a hard right Republican congressperson, what is the downside to taking an extreme right wing policy stance? None, because the President will meet you half-way (or in fact 90% of the way) whatever you say. As of now, I expect a deal to be done on the debt ceiling at the 11th hour - and it will be disastrous for the Democrats.

Even so, it is quite possible that Barack Obama could still win re-election in 2012 - but only against an out-and-out wacko candidate, most obviously Bachmann. I think if the Republicans nominate Perry or Romney, Obama is toast. I'd love to be proved wrong on that, but - allowing for the temporary bounce from the announcement that bin Laden had been killed - Obama's poll ratings have been in freefall for 2 years now. And there is simply no sign of the economic bounce that might help him recover.

Bizarrely enough though, all is not lost for the Democrats at Congressional level if they can fight fire with fire - essentially by becoming the "anti-Tea Party". There is clear evidence from opinion polling that huge numbers of US citizens think that the Us political system has now broken down, and the country is now being run in the interests of a few wealthy bankers and industrialists. The Tea Party channelled anger at the banking bailout - which was viewed (to a large extent rightly) as a huge transfer of resources away from ordinary working people to a gang of exploitative and reckless overlords) - into a right-wing populism. The antidote to that - and the way to expose the Tea Party as a shameless "astroturf" operation funded by oligarchs like the Koch brothers - must be a left-wing populism.

The best way forward for the Democratic party would be if the 2012 Congressional elections threw up the biggest bunch of hard-left socialist Democratic candidates seen in America in modern times - pro-union, anti-Wall Street and anti big business. They would be extremely well-placed to ride a wave of anti-establishment - and indeed anti-Obama - feeling as the spending cuts bite and the economy continues to flatline.

If Obama does manage to get re-elected, an "anti-Tea Party" Democratic bloc in Congress could be a very useful mechanism for pushing him leftwards - particularly if the Democrats can recapture the House of Representatives. Conversely, if a Republican wins the presidency, it will be vital for the Democrats to provide a counterweight to the Tea Party which will undoubtedly be pushing even harder for extremist policies. Either way, the last thing the US needs is a "centrist" (read: hard-right) Democratic party following their President as he sleepwalks into whatever the next disaster is.


Hal Berstram said...

Just to follow up: a notable omission from this post, and something I want to follow up on, is whether disaffected Democrats should try to find a candidate to mount a serious primary challenge to Obama next year. I haven't included this in the post because I haven't decided what I think on that yet. But I will follow up on this issue, hopefully later in the week.

Steve Pugh said...

The anti-tea party? that would be the beer party: http://officialbeerparty.com/

Van Patten said...

There's enough outright lunacy and paranoia in this post for me to consider jumping on a plane to see if you need psychiatric treatment, but let's confine myself to a few observations, and leave the actual observations of your increasingly unhinged self to professionals.

1/ Though the 2000 victory was controversial I reject the claims of various fellow travellers and genuine Chinese agents (do you think the PR China really trawls the British hard right or 'Tea Party' for agents? - I agree it would be an intriguing cover, but doubt there are enough people who can speak Mandarin and segue well into such surroundings - it's an intriguing hypothesis, though, and might merit a post) that 2004 was in any way stolen, although I agree Obama's victory over Mccain was more convinving than Bush Jr's over Kerry.

2/ It's a nonsense to suggest that the Hard Left in the US is in any sense democratic or a believer in democracy. Freedom of speech (although protected to a degree by the constitution) is under continual assault by Hard left activists and has been for the better part of three decades - would refer to the books: 'The Professors' and 'Hating Whitey' by David Horowitz for evidence of these people's strong actual links with states such as Vietnam and Cuba. Clinton and his wife secured strong funding from the PR China (read Laslett and Trip 'Year of the rat' for more detail) in exchange for ICBM technology.

3/ Though the 'Tea Party' are somewhat curious, they echo the British Hard Right in the sense that their base tends to be overwhelmingly White, Male,older or elderly (and in the US Christian). They are very unlikely to vote for the Left and as such are utterly disregarded in any policy consideration by it - hence their setting up of the 'Tea Party', a relatively fissiparous grouping. Many of them dislike the Republicans as well, for the links with 'big business' which you outline!

4/ I am convinced that many people within the Compass fraternity personally despise Reagan for the financial losses his destruction of the USSR caused them to incur, but to say he was a 'lucky' winner with 44 states carried (although looking at it the margin of victory is excessive) suggest you believe he was fortunate to win 48 states in 1984 as well?

5/ I'd say the strategy of moving Mr.Ed to the Left in the UK is faught with peril, wishing for a Left wing Tea Party (Steve, given my wife's dislike of Tea, I was thinking Coffee , or indeed 'Too much Coffee' Party) in the US is pie in the sky. there just isn't the base for me, at least not based on my admittedly brief immersion in the US scene.

Hal Berstram said...

Steve - that's a great link! Thanks!

VP - given that polling shows that what Obama ended up with on spending cuts vs tax rises was a long way to the right of what the median REPUBLICAN voter, let alone Democrats or independents, wanted, I would say there's PLENTY of room for a coffee party/beer party/whatever.

I would imagine that there is probably a lot more Chinese infiltration of the Tea Party than anything in the Democratic party or the US hard left, yes. Because the end result of Tea Party government will be the death of American democracy and the establishment of a corporate dictatorship much closer to the Chinese model (or maybe Singapore) than anything else.

2004 was subject to vote-rigging, certainly - whether enough to flip the result to Bush... well, that's anyone's guess.

Sure, Reagan won a landslide in 1984, but given the economic recovery, *any* incumbent would probably have won.

Van Patten said...

Erm... re Point two - the Hard Left. all governments controlled by it have almost no democratic element whatsoever - the EU, Pr china, Korea DPR, Zimbabwe (do you need me to list more?) Are these 'democratic' left wingers akin to the 'moderate Islamic terrorists' that are less dangerous to the fabric of society than Hard right extremists?

Hal Berstram said...

Er... around 24 of the 27 EU states have centre-right or right-wing governments, so how the EU is controlled by the "hard left" is beyond me. If it is, all I can say is that the "soft right" are very incompetent. Any explanation for this?

As I say, the current political system in China is a lot closer to the final objective of the Tea Party - who want to destroy democracy in case it results in dangerous things like raising taxes(!) - than anything the left is interested in.

For sure, the Marxist/Leninist left tends to be against the idea of elections - but that's a tiny proportion of the left. I would imagine you could fit all the Marxist/Leninists in the UK into a reasonably sized pub and still have room left over for a covers band.

Van Patten said...

I've often wondered why neither 'Mr.Ed' nor Compass seem to have put anything on record about the EU, even though 80% of our laws come from it! This comment would seem to suggest why - the provenance of the governments in the member states is irrelevant, or of no more import than the complexion of Britain's county councils. The Commissioners, are almost to a person, men (or women) of the Hard Left or believers in the death of the nation state and a European superstate. This display of misunderstanding damages your credibility to the extent its difficult to give credence to anything else you say....

Lest we forget both North Korea and its forebear, the USSR, carry and carried out elections - there just is and was only one party you could vote for...Besides which the 'moderate' Leftist view on democracy which I discern from the period 1997 to 2010 is that it's probably acceptable within certain limits. Witness both the refusal to hold a referendum on Lisbon, say or the refusal to countenance the reintroduction of the death penalty or impose a limit on immigration, both of which would have a clear majority in a plebiscitary democracy....