Saturday, July 23, 2011


by Keith Cooper

From Broader View Weekly, July 21
, 2011.

As the nation watched the grueling battle last week over the deficit and the debt ceiling, I became convinced of a troubling transformation. I believe we have witnessed, over the last few years, the slow demise of the democratic process in our federal government.

The structure and balance of the United States’ governing mechanism is based on compromise that facilitates the representation of its citizens. We have watched as this productive compromise has given way to power brokering and political posturing.

We have come to mistrust Washington and expect that partisan politics will trump policies that benefit real people. Accepting this fact is depressing enough. However, my fear is that the problem isn’t Washington’s culture. I fear that radio personality Rush Limbaugh is right when he insists that the American people (or at least those who voted for Tea Party Republican candidates in 2010) don’t want to see compromise among our political leaders.

Has every day’s congressional session become like the Super Bowl? Are we all just picking our side to win at any cost? When we watch a sporting event, none of us is rooting for a tie. In fact we have organized our athletic contests in such a way that a tie or draw is impossible, or at least implausible. We want to see a clean-cut victory.

But governing is not a team sport. Yes, we have a two-party system that has become a perpetual election cycle. The Republicans and the Democrats in office are constantly seeking political cover and appealing to the public for approval. Yes, like fans of the Dallas Cowboys or the New England Patriots, the average person identifies with their chosen political party. Indeed, many people proudly wear their affiliation as part of their identity, declaring “I’m a Democrat” (or Republican) as naturally as announcing “I’m a Christian” (or Muslim, or Jew). The problem is that unlike team sports, governing is vital to our existence as a republic. Cuts to safety net programs will have real consequences to real people. Defaulting on our financial obligations will have real consequences — not just for Americans but on a global scale. Failing to address 9.2 percent unemployment will slow the recovery of our economy and prolong the pain felt by the majority of the working class and poor.

Still the game continues in Washington.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made his position clear long ago when he stated his top priority was making Barack Obama a one-term president. Any doubt that politics still outweighs policy for this man was put to rest this week as he scrambled to lay down cover for the Republicans. He even proposed allowing Obama to raise the debt ceiling independent of congressional approval in order to placate the Tea Party base while avoiding a default that could be devastating to the economy. Apparently, McConnell realizes that as the fallout of inaction impacts every American it will be obvious that stonewalling by Republicans puts them squarely to blame.

McConnell warned Republicans that default would make the GOP co-owners of a bad economy and would help Obama win reelection in 2012. Of course, this political cover only works if the American people ignore the fact that a Republican administration ushered in the bad economy the U.S. is currently struggling with. We also have to ignore that although Republican House Speaker John Boehner came to power calling for job creation, the Republicans have not introduced a single bill that would create domestic jobs. Who can blame them? It’s hard to run on economic recovery in 2012 if the unemployment rate starts falling and people begin to see that they are, in fact, better off than they were four years ago.

It is also clear to me that the White House and Congress are unlikely to reach a deal that would accomplish anything meaningful. The president has put programs like Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block (against the will of his Democratic base) to secure a deal that includes revenue increases. Unfortunately, Republicans bound to a Grover Norquist pledge to avoid tax increases refuse to consider rolling back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy (from 36 percent to the Clinton-era level of 39 percent). They also turned down the repeal of a tax break for owners of private jets on the same principals. To be fair, Mr. Norquist doesn’t deserve all the credit. The greed of wealth and Corporate America still traps both parties in a stranglehold that leaves them impotent to enact policy that benefits any but their benefactors.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that President Obama is right when he insists that the majority of the American people (Republicans included) want to see a balanced approach to our economic woes. I hope that the average citizen cares more about the consequences of partisan politics than about seeing their team win a battle of power. I hope that democratic representation returns to our republic’s governing bodies. I hope that “We the People” start to again matter to our representatives as more than mere votes in the next election.

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