‘Fiscal Cliff’ fiasco: Déjà vu all over again
This all seems quite familiar by now. The new normal in American politics is a continual series of manufactured crises over what used to be fairly routine budget processes, like annual fiscal appropriations or raising the debt ceiling. These procedural choke points are held hostage to demands for a radical restructuring of the federal budget that cannot be passed through the regular order of Congressional business. This level of scorched earth brinksmanship and entrenched, hostile obstructionism is unprecedented since the Civil War and has led to a loss in confidence internationally in the stability of the U.S. political system. This is not the behavior of a mature democracy. Elections do matter. We did not vote for a preventable recession inflicted by a determined and implacable faction which is continuing to resort to dangerous and irresponsible tactics to keep its grip on power.
In this last election, we affirmed our belief in the concept of the commons, a domain held as a social trust that we are pledged to protect for the benefit of all citizens, not just for shareholders and corporate ‘persons’. As a nation, we demonstrated that we value retaining a decent social safety net and protecting our environmental commons more than we value tax cuts for high net worth individuals and subsidies for wealthy corporations. It is now a settled fact that the American people hold firmly to a core belief in the New Deal social contract to protect against the inevitable life setbacks that can challenge those of modest means.
No one should lose their home because of a medical emergency or have their children lose access to the basic security of health insurance because they lose their job. That’s too high a price to pay for a lobbyist-engineered tax system that enables billionaires to pay half the tax rate of their secretaries and enable huge multi-national corporations to evade paying their fair share of federal revenues through elaborate offshore tax shelter schemes, unwarranted corporate subsidies, and arcane tax loopholes.
We want government to perform the role of regulating the market so that working class and middle class people get a fair shot at sharing in the vast wealth being created by the creative force of the mighty American economic engine. We soundly rejected the dark vision of the Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan conservative Social Darwinists. We repudiated the Grover Norquist Club for Growth agenda, the “you’re on your own, pal”, dog-eat-dog, unchecked hyper-capitalism that seeks to dismantle the public sector and sell off every national asset accumulated through 240 years of public investment into the private hands of one of his cronies.
Despite this clear mandate we are still locked in political paralysis. How has it come to this point? One key element is the failure of the shallow and irresponsible mainstream media to recognize how they are being played constantly in every news cycle by the well-funded conservative media system. The Republican Party house organ, the Murdoch Fox News 24/7 media machine (known in journalistic circles as “The Mighty Wurlitzer”) has steadily driven the national news coverage toward right-wing frames. When the Wurlitzer’s minders crank up the volume all the way to ‘11’, they can make the ground shake from coast to coast, a power unmatched by the liberal/progressive media network to date.
Their core TV and talk radio audience are being egged on to the point of armed insurrection by the omnipresent and incessant multi-platform media barrage. The cynical Fox News chief, Roger Aisles, heads the Machiavellian brain trust running the vast and highly coordinated conservative media propaganda machine. They are in the business of manufacturing mass ideological consensus, running shameful and baseless smear campaigns against political opponents, and ginning up diversionary flare political ‘scandals’ (like the so-called ‘Benghazi’ incident). Post-election in 2012, this crew is spinning overtime to retool their mighty PR machine, which is now blowing gaskets and leaking oil.
The Fox News propaganda arm takes its marching orders from their patrons in the plutocratic shadow government of the corporate/defense/financial complex. The juice players in the contemporary Republican Party, as echoed by their hired guns in the Fox media sound chamber, have a depressingly constant bottom line come rain or shine, boom or bust: lower taxes on the investor class, freedom from regulatory compliance, and dismantling the New Deal social contract. The American oligarchy seeks to use its great wealth to purchase our political process for the purpose of maintaining hegemonic veto over any structural economic policy initiatives which would fundamentally challenge their proprietary deadlock on the Wall Street designed corporate money machine. That economic regime allocates 90 percent of all income gains based on worker productivity to the top one percent, keeps working class wages stagnant and the conditions of employment for most citizens increasingly contingent, temporary, and precarious.
The New Deal societal shock absorbers are increasingly the last refuge for hard-pressed working people, as their private sector employment becomes less and less secure, due to a deliberate policy to create a more “flexible” labor market. A major piece of the conservative agenda is to deep-six what’s left of the union movement, thereby depriving workers of the organizational capacity to push back on low wages and inadequate benefits through collective bargaining.
The next two years will see whether the Tea Party base of the Republican Party has a learning curve and moves away from destructive and polarizing political tactics and seeks to participate constructively in governing. So far the signs are not good.
The current brinksmanship over the ‘fiscal curb’ continues the dysfunctional pattern of non-stop government-by-crisis. They are already promising another ruinous hostage-taking shakedown over the debt ceiling in February, further jeopardizing the U.S. credit rating. This strategy reflects their deeply held attitude that only a conservative government can be considered legitimate. If they can’t govern, then they will make the country ungovernable, until they return to power.
If the conservative base does not change the tone, style and rigid policy fixations of their political message, we can predict that the 2014 election will finally break their thirty year hold on power, and usher in a Senate super-majority and a solid majority in the House for the Democrats. Then the task of the progressive movement will be to keep the Democratic Party honest. It may take a decisive and massive electoral defeat to sober up the conservative movement. That would be good for the country. We need a loyal opposition, not an inflamed faction of political saboteurs.