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Which Vision of America Do We Want?


America the Beautiful CountryAt long last someone has made explicit the truth about the entire debt ceiling debate. As one might expect, it was a Republican who inadvertantly framed it. After once again walking out on negotiations with President Obama on Friday, Speaker Boehner wrote a letter to his Republican colleagues, quoted in Saturday’s New York Times:

“A deal was never reached, and was never really close….In the end, we couldn’t connect. Not because of different personalities, but because of different visions for our country.”

There it is: because of different visions for our country. Since the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, indeed, since the candidacy of Barry Goldwater, the Republican view of what America ought to be has been developing along a far different track from that of the Democrats, and the degrees of divergence have grown over time to such a wide angle they can, as the Speaker says, no longer connect. They have no points in common.  

Each has been convinced that only their vision reflects the true tradition of the American Revolution—- but only the Republicans have codified their developing vision, promoted and propagandized it, understanding exactly what they were doing. The Democrats appear to have wandered along in an inarticulate fog, assuming that the Grand Old Party shared with them the same traditions from the Age of Reason about the rights of man and self-government, wherein political parties might be a little to the right (more “conservative” and business-oriented) or a little to the left (more “populist” and labor-oriented) but willing to alternate as a result of free elections in the roles of leadership and of loyal opposition. They never noticed the gradual pulling away of the counter-party, and, beyond babbling occasionally about “Democratic values,” they never promoted a clear vision, their alternative view of the world. They even avoided challenging the Republicans’ relentless propaganda, supposing that this political courtesy would make it easier to get the opposite party to co-operate in governing.  

The Democrats by and large even accepted the Republican-approved Free Market economic theories of Milton Friedman as both an explanation of the success of capitalism versus the socialist planned economy of our Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union—- after all, it was the economic might of the capitalist United States which defeated the autarky economies and authoritarian political organizations of the Axis Powers in World War II, and then held off Soviet Russia and Communist China until the Soviets collapsed and the Chinese turned themselves into a profit-oriented system of state capitalism—- but also as a policy guide for the future. That is how Clinton came to espouse so-called globalization, blindly equating free market capitalism with freedom, even though they are unrelated, possibly antithetical concepts (one economic, the other political), and the World Bank, an arm of America’s global corporations indistinguishable from the American government, ruthlessly forced free market policies upon one country after another around the globe. (See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for extensive examples).

The Democratic “message,” if you will, was muddied and confused as the party let the Republicans define issue after issue, frame it, and then run Right over them  So now we have come to the pretty pass of arguing about raising the debt ceiling, a matter previously of little consequence. Why has it suddenly become a donnybrook?  Well, look at what is going on in every state where, in the 2010 elections, Republicans managed to gain control of the legislature and the governorship. After over 40 years’ developing, promoting, and polishing their vision, you could say the Republican Party came to believe its own propaganda, and, backed by a stunningly effective agitprop media machine and almost unlimited funding from mega-corporations, began implementing that vision on the state level.

Nationally, the 2010 elections put a frighteningly disciplined Republican Party in control of just one house of Congress, but it was enough to throw a monkey wrench into the workings of government, something they had practiced and improved upon under the previous Democratic President, Clinton, and, even more so during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. The Democrats in both cases acted naively in good faith, assuming that, having won an election, they would be able to implement promised policies, and govern. The Republicans refused to co-operate, since anything Democrats might want to do was not part of the Republican vision; they resisted, forming a monolithic bloc of obstructionism—- even when it might be something previously proposed by Republicans, Republicans refused to permit it. Raising the debt ceiling has been seized upon by the Republicans as a golden opportunity, one not to be wasted, to wrench the country out of its long-standing rut and onto the path of the Republican vision, negating the 2008 election, and ending the Obama presidency and any chance ever of re-instating a Democratic vision of America. The Republicans do not and will not accept that a Democrat or the Democratic Party—- nor any outfit or person not Republican—- can rule. Did the voters disagree in 2008? Doesn’t matter. Did the voters go their way in 2010? That matters.

In the Republican playbook, there are no rules of engagement save one: do whatever it takes, whatever it takes, to get their way. They are so convinced of their own righteousness, and the imperative of imposing their purist view of how America should be that, if it is necessary to break the country in order to save it (and put it in Republican control), well, no pain, no gain… this modus operandi worked in Chile, in Peru, and in countless other countries under the thumb of the World Bank over the decades; now it is the turn of the United States. In a way, the Republican Party is the visible political goon squad for the global corporate interests; it, and significant Republican leaders and personalities, are being well rewarded for their efforts. It is an impressive operation.

Does President Obama, much less the Democratic Party as a whole, realize that the battle now joined is an existential one for them, and for the Democratic vision of America? They seem to be going into battle un-armed and unaware that it truly is now or never. This time it really is different. Lose, and it will be the end of the Democratic Party as a significant part of the political scenery for years to come, maybe forever.

The two visions of America are utterly incompatible. One or the other will prevail, and if it is the Republican, corporotist vision, be warned: there is in it neither compromise nor compassion, there will be total eradication of the opposing view, which has been de-legitimized and stigmatized (incorrectly) as “socialist” and “nanny state” and “big government.” Once corporate feudalism is entrenched, it will not go away. The trappings and shell of democracy may survive, as a convenience for the real ruling elite, but its soul will be gone.  

  • Teddy Goodson

    is a masterpiece of presenting the well-publicized Republican view, stating as fact that “taxes kill jobs” and that Obama refuses to stop his “spending binge” (where were these folks when George W. Bush embarked on 2 unfunded wars, instituted a huge unfunded prescription benefit without cost controls, decided to change the space program to sending a man to Mars, imposed big-government No Child Left Behind, etc.?) See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

    Here is where Democrats have fallen down on the job, afraid to offer an alternative view— except perhaps in fragments, like proving factually that cutting taxes does not in fact create jobs, that raising taxes does in fact spur the economy and create jobs, but this is never made part of an over-arching economic theory embedded in an articulate Democratic vision. We have cravenly let this Republican framing prevail—- even though it is demonstrably wrong.

    I hope it is not too late to present an alternative view, and fight for it in the public arena (and not try to compromise it politely away on some middle ground, because there is no middle ground here).

  • jack hughes

    Thanks for putting it together.

  • Say What

    … made here by Teddy. The key point being that the current Republican Party after years of success via the divisive politics of Karl Rove and the Propaganda Machine of vile Talk Radio & Fox News .. DOES NOT ACCEPT THIS PRESIDENT NOR LIBERALS or DEMOCRATS as worthy AMERICANs …. acceptable in positions of governance.

    Their current intransigence is the logical extension of their fear mongering and hate filled politics. They are arrogant in their superiority (think Eric Cantor) and willfully ignorant of facts. They in fact are “SOCIALIST” …where their conservative social agenda is supreme and let’s face it …with “righteousness” handed down to them by “their” God. Curiously as a life long Christian … He’s not my God…. because I’m a wayward liberal who is motivated by catchy phrases like “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”.

    The Republican Party is dominated now by people who most resemble the “KNOW NOTHINGS” of the mid-1800s. For me there are striking parallels between the TeaPublicans of today and that pre-civil war political movement / faction. Beyond that historical reference the Ditto-heads & Tea Partiers behave much like Christo FACISTs … the American Taliban.

    When Governors (VA, NM, SC, TN, MD) got word that the political game these Young Guns are playing (Debt Ceiling Roulette) are effecting Bond Ratings & the ability to borrow money … one would think the Cantor’s of this world would learn to compromise. NOT!!

    Consequently it will take next year’s election to clean house and reinstate SANITY (Democrats).  I think the President now fully realizes this and his 2012 campaign will be one about his American Vision. These current events are making it crystal clear to Obama and anyone else paying attention (the entire financial world) … these Repugs are in for a pounding. They can only thank themselves.

  • Jim B

    I hope you are right, but the know nothings repugs have a loyal following of know nothings throughout the country. An AARP TV ad supporting SS says there are 50 million members, but I seldom see any letters to their news letter calling out those that want to destroy SS. The latest even has an article by John “Boner”.

  • Watching today’s Republican party makes me wonder if Democracy has become a failed experiment.

  • Say What

    He is on the side of REASON.

    He is a thoughtful reasonable man and as he conveyed on Friday … his heart is in the right place.

    The Republicans do not have that story line. They are stubborn obstructionist.

    The MAJORITY of Americans see it clearly …. as he has taken his case to the people. The majority … a solid and extensive majority see the President in a favorable light as they should.

    Let me tell you …. Wall Street … heck check in with your 401K financial adviser … they are FAST becoming Obama supporters (if they weren’t before). If you’re an investor of any type (small or large, simple or complex, booyah or not) you’re KEENLY aware of what these KNOW NOTHINGS are doing. Their alternative vision of fiscal priorities was soundly REJECTED in Northern New York (special congressional race) …. just as it’s being REJECTED right now (Cut Cap & Balance).

    When a David Brooks blasts the Teapublicans as being UNFIT to govern … there is something very wrong with that crowd.

    Unfortunately and unnecessarily we’ll go down to the last minute of the last hour on this one …. and if Congress fails to act to pass legislation to extend the debit limit  ….the President will act unilaterally per the Constitution (14th Amendment). There has to be a crisis in governance to do that but he will if forced to do so.


    So for all those Tea-Baggers that can read …. and like reading the Constitution out loud … they’ll see the leader of the free world (and the world’s largest economy) avert an ENORMOUS disaster given that Congress fails to ACT… by reading straight from the Constitution that they so love to call their own.

    Booyah Obama … Booyah!!!

  • KathyinBlacksburg

    the lies, the bullying of the nation by Boehner/Can’t-or and the TeaPublicans, and the extortion committed by GOP and targeting the president, Congressional Democrats,and the people.

    The propaganda, which downright lies about what  caused the deficit (the financial crisis and the Bush tax cuts), needs serious refutation…in a timely manner.

  • Teddy Goodson

    The impression he has given us so far is that of a pragmatist who compromises, concedes, and placates to solve whatever is the immediate problem, going therefore from crisis/problem to crisis/problem.  That is all very well when you are dealing with a non-ideologically driven counter-party that recognizes the same basic view of the purpose of government as you do, and works within the system, instead of, say, gaming it our of other motives.

    What we have so far not got from this president is an over-arching vision of where he wants to take us, as he negotiates and compromises on issue after issue… the only pattern the average voter could discern was one of rudderless making-do on a case-by-case basis; this vacuumn was handily filled by Republicans, who defined Obama when he did not define himself. This still surprises me, given what an inspirational campaign he ran. But now it is crunch time, and he is, IMO absolutely going to have to promulgate an alternative, Democratic view of what kind of society we want to live in, what are the uses and purposes of any kind of government—- and how he proposes we get there from here.  

  • kindler

    My takeaway is that Dems have simply not evolved quickly enough to a major change in their environment — namely that the days of dealing with a Howard Baker or Bob Dole or Gerald Ford or Bob Michael are over.  We do not seem to have Repubs anymore who will accept an agreement that involves any less than complete capitulation by the other side.  Kind of like Neville Chamberlain fondly hoping he can still make a deal and appeal to the warmth and kindness of you-know-who.

    What may be less clear is how to deal with this enormous dilemma.  I think Obama’s approach has allowed him to maintain a fair amount of trust and goodwill among most voters.  A state of total partisan warfare may undermine those good feelings among Independents.  

    But you’re right, the top priority must be for the Dems to articulate a much clearer and more compelling vision to compete with that of the Teapublicans.  I think we make some humble contributions to that at some of the saner parts of the blogosphere, like this one, and I hope we more public officials will listen to us and hold dialogues with us to help bring together that new progressive vision.  

  • kindler

    …is that there are basically three factions in American politics today: off the deep end extremist Repubs; Dems (composed of restless progressives and clueless pols); and a continually growing eclectic group of independents in the middle, who are not too crazy about either of the two parties and keep shifting their votes from one to the other in confusion and frustration.  

    The problem is how to re-build and hold a coalition between the Dem base and enough Independents to give us a stable, governing majority. You are correct that the answer is not to stand for nothing and compromise on everything.  The middle is in fact not as mushy as it looks.  They want solid vision, ideas and solutions.

    What both Obama and Clinton understood is that Independents want genuine problem solvers rather than just partisan warriors.  The key is how to do what Reagan achieved — pursuing a strong philosophical preference while coming across in a way that appeals to people across the board.  You need a Zen master jiu-jitsu contortionist for that, and I don’t know that we have one.  

  • commentator1

    I think what the Republicans are doing will turn out to be the existential end of their Party. Just my opinion, of course, but maybe it will offer a ray of hope.