Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Charlie Pierce on the Occupy movement and reviving popular democracy in the US: "Somebody has to care enough not to care"

Charlie Pierce is a good reporter and understands practical politics. He also understands what the last three decades of what most of the world calls neoliberal economic policies have done to American society and American democracy.

He came up with an excellent statement of why we need a progressive movement in the US that is both outside the Democratic Party and inside it (The 'End' of Occupy and the Corruption of Our Country Esquire Politics Blog 05/01/2012):

If the Occupy people want to march, I say let them march. If they resist conventional politics, that may be because conventional politics are worth resisting. What I do know is that, if i weren't for the people in the streets last autumn, the Obama people would be running a very different campaign and Willard Romney wouldn't look half as ridiculous as he does. Somebody has to care enough not to care. [my emphasis]
Pierce's point is the depth of the corruption of our political system and both our major political parties. I remember back in 1992, Jerry Brown made a theme of his Presidential campaign for the Democratic nomination the idea that our system of campaign financing was corrupt, legalized bribery.

I had long since learned that no matter how strange what Jerry says about such things may sound, he's probably seen some angle of it that most people have understood yet. It's the Jesuit influence on him, I think. But I still though he was going a little too far in describing it that way.

Now I wonder why I ever thought that. True, things have gotten much worse. But now the legal and extralegal corruption is so massive and so obvious, it's hard to imagine what reason made the think he was going too far in saying that.

But we can't roll back the clock and have a do-over on long-ago political choices. (For the record, I voted for Jerry in the California Democratic primary that year.) But the Republicans are clearly trying to roll back a lot about our political system and regulation of business to the 19th century, or at least to their imagined version of it. And the Democratic Party is crippled in terms of offering a serious progressive alternative. If the American political vocabulary was more sensible, we would be saying that President Obama and the current Democratic Party offer a mildly-compassionate conservative alternative to the Republicans on domestic policy, and a mildly less warmongering version of foreign policy.

The differences are substantial enough to be real. A Romney Administration would try to do nationally what new Republican Governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida. And that's aggressively roll back labor rights and government services that benefit anyone except the One Percent. And third parties are a really difficult undertaking because the American winner-take-all electoral districts create maximum pressure to have a two-party system. Arguably, the only third party in American history successful enough to push its way for a long period into one of the two two-party slots was the Republican Party, founded in 1854.

But both our political parties are now amazingly resistant to popular pressure, even in the face of the current depression and the amazing pageant of criminality and recklessness that preceded it. Pierce writes:

Just this morning, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature about how the Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into the activities of the lawyers who worked for the assorted shark tanks that ran the world economy into the ditch. The SEC isn't looking into lawyers who were complicit in the fraud. It is looking into lawyers who helped build the stonewalls that went up when the true breadth and depth of the scandal started to come to light. This is a huge and messy legal fight ... but what it does is illustrate, again, what an utterly corrupt nation the United States of America was in the first decade of the 21st century. The governing elites, all of them, were complicit in massive fraud against the rest of us. Either they participated in it, which would be the bankers and (it appears) their lawyers, or they condoned and celebrated it, which would be the financial press and the elite media, or they shirked their duty to protect the political commonwealth from being hijacked, which would be the members of both parties in the government, and us, for letting so much of the country run on automatic pilot for so long.

This was a banana republic. It was a failed state in everything except the fact that no tanks rolled in the streets. The terrorists were not hiding in Waziristan. They were having lunch at Cipriani's and sitting in luxury boxes at the Meadowlands. The government existed only to increase their profits and to provide a quasi-legal context for organized piracy. There was an extraordinary contempt for the law, for the institutions of government, and for the people the law and those institutions were supposed to serve. The country was cored out. It was a shell of a country and a shell corporation, and it has not recovered yet.
The failure of the two parties resulting from their all but total capture by what the old Jacksonians called the Money Power, their phrase for the One Percent, has produced the dynamic Digby describes in Hullabaloo 04/29/2012:

[E]ven as the Republicans have moved hard to the right, the Democrats protect the status quo. Which, with each passing year, has moved farther right. Basically, Republicans enact their agenda and it becomes the status quo. Then the Democrats come along and protect what they've done. That becomes the center. At which point the Republicans call the Democrats communists and move even farther right.
This has led us to the point where Democrats are willing to embrace the "Simpson-Bowles" proposals to begin the phaseout of Social Security and Medicare in exchange for cosmetic tax increases on the wealthy which could quickly be reversed:

Within the course of just a few months the Democratic minority leader [Nancy Pelosi] has moved from saying that Simpson-Bowles was beyond the pale to saying that she would have voted for it. It's now the new center.

I'm sure it makes the DC Democrats proud as punch to be the "grown-ups" in the room and be able to look down their noses at the rambunctious Tea Partiers. But the fact is that the Tea Partiers are all that's keeping the government from codifying a "consensus" that up until about five minutes ago existed only as Grover Norquist's wet dream. As far as I'm concerned they have done us a big favor.

I don't know about you, but I think the "status quo" sucks. I take no pride in being a member of a Party that is "reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures" when the entire premise is bullshit. There's enough money. The government simply insists upon allowing millionaires and corporations to escape their responsibilities and we are a global military empire which, as they always do, is sucking the lifeblood out of our polity.
It will take a continuing effort from organized labor and other popular groups taking action outside the Democratic Party to force the Democrats even to defend Social Security and Medicare now.

By contrast, during the Great Depression, Roosevelt and the Democrats started the Social Security program.

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