The Broader Political Context

The Democrats in Power: Part 3

The parameters of the American political system, as evidenced by the positions put forward by the two ruling parties, have shifted significantly to the right during the last decades.

The Republican Party, which during these decades eliminated its own center-right wing and is now situated on the right/far-right, accuses the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama of having moved to the far-left and to socialism.

This is reactionary nonsense, an indication of how far to the right the GOP has degenerated. The fact is that both parties have marched further to the right, with the Democrats gravitating to the center/center-right after marginalizing their own center-left wing.

In his March 5 column in the New York Times, liberal Paul Krugman noted that Congressional “Republicans have moved hard to the right, furiously rejecting ideas they used to support. Indeed, the Obama health care plan strongly resembles past GOP plans.” That’s an important point. In the past, both parties were to the left of where they are today on some key issues.

In 1948, Democratic President Harry S. Truman proposed a form of universal single-payer (similar to the plan in Canada today), but it was defeated in Congress by a combination of Republicans — who loudly condemned it as “socialized medicine” and a communist plot — and Democratic conservatives, the racist “Dixiecrat” progenitors of today’s Blue Dogs.

Republican President Richard Nixon declared in his January 1974 State of the Union message that “The time is at hand this year to bring comprehensive, high quality healthcare within the reach of every American.” Liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy teamed up with the right wing Nixon to fight for such a measure, which was to the left of what President Obama is offering today, but the Watergate scandal brought Nixon down, and the project ended.

But when some liberal Democrats, including MoveOn, were critical last summer of the conservative Blue Dogs in Congress for diluting the healthcare bill — as conservative Democrats have done since 1948 in step with Republicans — Obama publicly admonished “left wing groups attacking fellow Democrats.” (We don’t think of MoveOn as being of the left, but from the center-right that’s how it looks.)

These are concrete examples of how far to the right both ruling parties have moved since the late 1940s but particularly since the mid-1970s. There are dozens of other examples relating to the present government’s center/center-right stance that curiously have elicited little public criticism from many of the administration’s progressive backers. They extend from the wars to civil liberties failures, to the Wall St./banking bailouts and so on, but we’ll just point to two recent instances from the New York Times pertaining to the Democrats.

• The $15 billion jobs bill that the Democrats pushed through Congress March 4 is primarily based not on creating jobs for our huge army of the unemployed but on providing massive tax cuts to businesses that hire workers out of jobs for two months or more.

The Times noted that “opinion is divided on whether the approach is effective or simply gives businesses a break on workers they would have hired anyway,” which in our view is largely the case. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a true progressive and therefore marginalized within her party, said of the measure: “We should stop calling it a jobs bill, and instead acknowledge this is about business tax cuts.” She voted against the bill.

• The second example from the Times was a brief AP report: “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama Administration would resume aid to Honduras that was suspended after a coup last year and urged Latin American nations to recognize the new Honduran government.”

To respond in such fashion to a violent right wing military coup against a democratically elected head of state — particularly as supporters of the deposed leader are still being harassed, beaten, and killed — is a political travesty. It all passed seemingly unnoticed by many progressives who would have howled had Condoleezza Rice made that statement on behalf of President Bush.

This brings us to the Democratic Party’s foreign/military policy. President Obama has continued many of the Bush Administration’s initiatives — primarily his predecessor’s “global war on terrorism,” but in many other international endeavors as well, often concealed in deceptive packaging, such as White House overtures last year to Latin America and the Muslim countries.

As we wrote in the Jan. 18 Activist Newsletter: “On one level, the Bush-Obama global war on terrorism, with its military moves in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere, are aimed at defeating al-Qaeda…. But on another far more important level the real objective of this endless series of wars is the attainment of geostrategic advantage against any country or bloc that potentially might undermine Washington’s dominion over world affairs.”

“Within this strategic context the Obama government is particularly interested in five objectives: (1) Winning the Afghan war, or at least conveying the impression that the U.S. has not lost; (2) Making sure Washington’s old Cold War rivals — now reconstituted as the economic powerhouse of China and resource-rich Russia — are “contained,” or at least are not weakening American power; (3) keeping the European Union in tow as a junior partner; (4) insuring that Latin America and the Caribbean remain firmly within the Yankee sphere of influence; and (5) certifying that the lion’s share of the world’s petroleum and natural gas resources continue to accrue to the world’s only military superpower.”

We are not suggesting by these similarities that equivalence exists between the two ruling parties. Obviously, it’s better to have the center/center-right Democrats control the White House and Congress than the ultra-reactionary Republicans, just like it’s better to live in a run-down apartment with leaky plumbing than to be homeless.

But shouldn’t we aspire to a lot more for the working people and poor of our society, and the world? Progressives have fought to reconstitute the Democratic Party’s left wing for many years and have gotten nowhere. Centrist Obama, who actually strongly opposes the party’s left wing, was their greatest hope to lead it, and now that’s fast fading.

Obama has many positive attributes that place him head and shoulders above his predecessor or his Republican opponent in the election. But a center/center-right White House backed by a politically compatible majority in Congress does not constitute the vehicle for advancing a progressive agenda domestically or in foreign policy. The Obama administration has been in power on its own long enough to be evaluated objectively, and not merely in comparison to the calamitous Bush Administration.

The United States remains the only industrialized capitalist state in the world with a mass party of the right and of the center, but not of the left. That’s a good part of the reason that our country faces enormous economic and social contradictions at home and constantly projects military might abroad.

A competitive mass progressive third party of the left would not be a panacea for all America’s problems by any means. That takes a far greater political effort. But there would be many fewer wars and a smaller “defense” budget, more restrictions on Wall St., the banking sector, and corporations, higher taxes on the rich, a big reduction in poverty, rough equality in living standards between whites, African Americans and Latinos, much less of a gap between low and high incomes in general, and far more social benefits for the working and middle classes.

Isn’t this close to what many liberals and progressives want for our society? Such a political party is possible in our country. There is no serious motion in this direction visible today, but that does not rule out the future.

We bring this up because most of our readers by far are liberals and progressives, and from many conversations and emails it seems a large number are disappointed about the performance of the Democratic Party in power. Our notation about the rightward shift and a third party at this point is mainly to clarify aspects of contemporary politics and to offer a political idea that may be worth thinking about.

Right now there’s a more immediate task: We know that many progressives are hesitant to take a public stand against the endless wars and some of President Obama’s too moderate domestic programs because he is under fire from the GOP politicians, Tea Party conservatives, and racists.

Our own view about either saying nothing or openly criticizing President Obama’s policies is as follows: 1. Aim the main blow at the right wing, its conservative ideology, and the Republican Party. 2. Openly support the positive aspects of the Obama Administration’s policies. 3. Openly oppose and demand change regarding the negative aspects of these policies. We believe this is an honest and effective standpoint.

It is essential for progressive Democratic voters to sharply increase their visible political pressure on the Obama Administration in order to counter the propensity of the present White House and Congress to cave in daily to the right wing in both their domestic agenda and in foreign/military affairs.

  • Read Part 1 and 2.
  • Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter and a former editor of the Guardian (US) radical newsweekly. He may be reached at: jacdon@earthlink.net. Read other articles by Jack.

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    1. observing said on March 23rd, 2010 at 10:50am #

      It is amusing in a black humour sort of way watching pundits and politicos endlessly debate the “left-right” spectrum in US Democrat/Republican politics. Look at the policies and social realities. There is no left or even center remaining in US politics. It’s all gun, bombs and drugs/chemicals for profit. Not much butter anymore… By any objective measure, the entire US political/social spectrum lies completely and well right of center, so the discussion is essentially how many right-wing angels can dance on the head of a corporate-militarist pin.

      Only when that is openly understood and manifests itself in the US voting public will any significant, socially sane changes take place. The Dems and GOP represent the same constituency, and it ain’t the voters. Just follow the money… THAT’S the political “spectrum”.

    2. Don Hawkins said on March 23rd, 2010 at 1:48pm #

      “We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out,” Limbaugh said. “We need to chase them out of town. But we need to do more than that. We need to elect conservatives. If there are Republican primaries, elect conservatives and then defeat the Democrats—every last one of them—and then we start the repeal process.”

      That’s it Rush when the illusion doesn’t work anymore go to the next step. Repeal process if they only knew.