The American Left Awakens: As The Middle Class Goes, So Goes The Political Middle
It could be said that a democracy’s chosen economic model lives and dies by the prosperity of the majority. A thriving middle class has been the key stabilizing factor in American politics for generations. As such, systematic change in the United States has traditionally come slowly and incrementally.
But after a decade of zero job growth, while millions more Americans have continued to enter the labor market, they have witnessed unemployment rates rise and become fixed at levels rarely seen before. They have watched their wages drop, their cost of living rise (due in large part to high energy prices, high education costs, and runaway health care costs), and correspondingly, their quality of life erode.
The middle class is gradually disappearing from the U.S. landscape, and the ‘American dream’ is transforming into a fiction in the minds of millions.
This dream is based on an implicit agreement between the establishment and the masses, and is crucial for America’s brand of hyper-Capitalism to remain a viable economic model. It goes something like this:
If Americans work hard, and invest in a decent education, at worst they should expect a comfortable middle class existence, with prospects for future upward mobility based on merit and perseverance.
As long as this dream is deemed achievable in the minds of the majority, the political status-quo remains all-but a certainty. But the moment people stop believing it, the calls for serious systematic change begin to bubble up to the surface. And this is when the political middle dissipates.
Many economists hold that the dream actually vanished many years ago, but the establishment extended exorbitant lines of credit to Americans, which allowed them to enjoy a mirage of prosperity. In other words, a once prosperous nation on the decline became transformed into a debtor nation. But in doing so, the ‘American dream’ lived on in the minds of millions.
All it took was the massive financial meltdown of 2008, brought on by years of deregulation in the financial and mortgage industries, to pull the curtain wide open on the American dream. The collapse of the U.S. banking industry — which exposed a band of corrupted, highly-leveraged casinos masquerading as banks — rudely awakened Americans to their true state of affairs.
Twelve trillion dollars in ‘perceived’ wealth, mostly in home values, vanished into thin air. Many of those lucky enough to remain employed, found themselves under water with their mortgages. No longer able to sustain their middle class lifestyles with easy credit, consumer spending continued to dry up, and the economy spiraled even further into the doldrums.
The rationale George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson used to sell the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to the American public was that if taxpayers bailed out these banks, they would in turn ‘loosen’ the credit markets by lending again to businesses and consumers, which would help to stimulate investment and demand.
Instead, the banks did just about everything, BUT resume lending. Having received amazing terms from the government, they invested in no-risk, interest-bearing Treasuries — to profit off the spreads and transaction fees. They paid themselves billions of dollars in the form of bonuses. In addition, these ‘Too Big to Fail’ banks used taxpayer money to buy-out struggling competitor banks, thereby growing even bigger.
Neither TARP, nor the $16 trillion in secret Fed loans to banks (both here and abroad), loosened the credit markets. Nor did they help millions of struggling Americans to stay in their bank-foreclosed homes. What the bail-outs accomplished was to send a powerful message to Wall Street: as long as these institutions remained ‘Too Big To Fail’ they could continue to take obscene risks, because the government could be counted on to cover their losses.
The effort was branded by most to be a colossal failure — a massive transfer of wealth from the ninety-nine percent to the one percent.
As the status-quo became untenable, many Americans began to abandon the political middle — once a seemingly ‘mainstream’ place to be — and split towards each end of the political spectrum.
Exiled from government, Republicans recast themselves as Tea Partiers — an ‘AstroTurfed movement’ that blamed ‘government’ for all the country’s woes. In particular, they blamed the new Democratic-controlled government, who’d been elected to clean up their mess. These right-wingers embraced pure unadulterated corporatocracy as the solution to problems created, ironically enough, by deregulated banks and corporations.
Democratic constituents felt relieved, having ushered Barack Obama into the White House on a populist progressive ‘CHANGE’ platform, along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. The Left continued to place its faith in democracy — i.e. the ‘ballot box’ — as the appropriate venue for delivering change.
But once sworn in, Obama’s call for ‘Change’ insidiously shifted to a new call for ‘Bipartisanship’. He proceeded to prioritize ‘harmony’ between two diametrically-opposed parties over championing the progressive promises that got him elected.
Of course, this new ‘priority’ was merely a cover for appeasing the entrenched corporate interests. His largely-symbolic legislative victories were so watered down and corporate-friendly that they were routinely castigated by the Left. His advisers would complain bitterly how no one outside the White House would give Obama his due-credit for his ‘achievements’.
He governed like a pre-Tea Party Republican as he broke promise after promise. He proposed cuts to social security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He pushed the Bush-signed, NAFTA-like (job-exporting) trade deals which Congressional Democrats had defeated years before, and he even pressured Congressional Democrats to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%. In doing so, he grossly underestimated the populist angst that had swept him into office.
Obama’s duplicity led many of his once-energized supporters to conclude that America’s entire political process was something of a sham — that they’d once again been had.
And so they gave up waiting around for the Democratic Party to walk their talk, and took to the streets themselves in masses. On September 17, Occupy Wall Street began peacefully protesting in downtown Manhattan, and it has since spread like a forest fire into a nation-wide movement.
This huge, non-partisan, populist ground-swell blasts the Washington establishment for systematically exploiting and subjugating ninety-nine percent of Americans to appease the wealthy and powerful one-percent. The protesters demand an end to the corrupt and insidious relationship between government and corporations which perverts the very fabric of democracy.
“My biggest fear was that the Obama presidency was going to lead this generation of young people into political cynicism and political apathy,” Klein says. “But instead, they are going to where the power is. They are realizing the change is not coming in Washington because politicians are so controlled by corporate interest, and that that is the fundamental crisis in this country.”
It would appear the power-elite’s greed, corruption, and hubris has finally awakened a sleeping populist giant in the American people. And the longer the Democratic Party continues to promote policies right of center, the more those left-of-center will continue to detach from the party and the entire democratic process.
A new Washington Post/Bloomberg News Poll reveals that 44% of Democrats don’t believe the economy would get any worse should President Obama lose in 2012 to a Republican. Blue Texan from Firedoglake sums up this startling revelation:
“Let that sink in for a minute. The economy will be the number one issue in 2012 — and nearly half of the President’s own party doesn’t think it matters if he’s re-elected.”
Clearly, today’s definition of the political middle — which is where Obama loyalists contend he governs — has come to represent the painful and untenable status-quo to traditional Democratic supporters.
The Strategic Rationale Behind The Left’s Criticism Of President Obama: FEAR
There are essentially two major camps left-of-center in American politics, and the divisions between the two are often as deep and wide as the rifts between the two major parties.
One camp is composed of Democratic partisans — a group that goes to great ends to stifle any and all criticism of President Obama and other Democratic politicians.
Commonly referred to as ‘Democratic loyalists’, ‘Obamabots’, ‘Obama Loyalists’ ‘Obama apologists’, ‘sheeple’ … they are fueled by a deep conviction that the Democratic Party — no matter what they do and how far to the right they swing — must have our full unflinching support to ensure their eventual reelection.
Anytime the Left criticizes Obama’s initiatives or policies, or calls for primaries or third party options, Partisans immediately condemn them as “helping to elect Republicans”.
Partisans have succumbed, fully and completely, to the ‘lesser of two evils’ rationale.
To fully appreciate how insignificant policies are to the partisan mind, consider that most of them absolutely loathed Ronald Reagan in the 80s, yet now ironically adore President Obama. Never mind that his actual policy record sits to the right of Reagan’s along the left-right political spectrum.
The second camp is composed of progressives — a group whose loyalties lie ONLY with progressive policies. These individuals relentlessly pursue the truth irregardless of which party suffers from their findings. Unlike partisans, they refuse to cherry-pick, or engage in historic revisionism, or even to pull punches as a way of sparing Democratic politicians embarrassment.
Commonly referred to as ‘the Left’, ‘the populist Left’, ‘truth-tellers’, ‘the professional Left’, ‘non-partisan Left’, ‘ideological purists’, … they tend to vote Democratic, but will at times — depending on the options available to them — consider voting for Greens and independents.
The Left has been especially critical of President Obama over the last three years. He won a decisive victory in 2008 having campaigned on the following progressive platform: a public option as the vital component to any health care reform legislation; allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs; ending Bush tax cuts; scrapping the Patriot Act, which he deemed ‘shoddy and dangerous’; ending the warring policies of the neocons; closing GITMO; ending ‘Too Big to Fail’ on Wall Street (so as to avoid future TARPS); rewriting job-killing NAFTA-like trade policies, etc. etc. Once elected, he instantly turned his back on all these campaign promises, instead cutting back-room deals with the wealthy entrenched interest groups who profit from the very deep structural problems he vowed to reform.
All this begs the following question: Whose Strategy (Partisan or Progressive) Is Most Likely To Yield Meaningful Progressive Change?
Again, Partisans preach that within the confines of a two-party system, you MUST ALWAYS support and defend the ‘lesser of two evil’ parties. And so as an extension of this belief, they view the Left — always shining a light on Obama’s betrayals and pro-corporate, non-progressive policies — as merely sabotaging his 2012 reelection prospects, thereby ensuring we get stuck with a Tea Partier President.
But this partisan assessment is both simplistic and naive.
To fully appreciate the strategy of Progressives, one must focus entirely on what motivates politicians to legislate the policies they do: FEAR. If politicians don’t fear you, they are free to ignore you.
Like all Americans, politicians fear losing their jobs. The two major competing groups that directly impact their reelection prospects are the powerful entrenched entities who fill either their or their opponents’ political coffers with millions of dollars, and the constituents who will actually cast the votes.
Why Politicians Fear Entrenched Corporate Entities Far More Than Voters
Deep pocketed special interest groups have only one objective: to ensure that all legislation passed and signed into law continues to enrich them and advance their own narrow self-interests (often to the detriment of the American public).
Of great significance, is their mercenary approach to influencing the legislative process. Their loyalty lies with whatever party legislates their agenda. One wrong vote and they will reroute tens of thousands of dollars slotted for one politician directly into his opponent’s war chest. Similar to Progressives, their loyalties lie with the policies being legislated.
Voting constituents, conversely, are largely too timid to provoke this same level of fear in their politicians, and this is a direct result of our deeply-flawed two-party political system. By punishing or even criticizing Democrats, partisans fear they risk empowering Republicans.
So naturally Democratic politicians factor their supporters’ reluctance to punish them into their decision-making process anytime their campaign promises meet resistance from the powerful entrenched-interest groups. It is precisely this ‘lesser of two-evils’ mindset that all but ensures Democratic politicians put entrenched corporate interests above their own supporters’ interests.
The Media’s Role in Ensuring America Remains Partisan
The main-stream-media (owned by these same entrenched corporate interests) helps to do its part to solidify a public partisan mindset by largely replacing serious news coverage and thoughtful policy discussions with a focus on partisan gamesmanship and the most extreme elements of the ‘other’ party. This blatant distraction — a refocusing of the public attention away from the issues that matter — lulls each side’s voters into complacency. It grants a non-principled President even more leeway to betray the interests of his own supporters. He can quietly serve the entrenched interests, in exchange for millions in campaign contributions, and yet still remain confident his constituents — shocked by the nightly broadcasting of extreme Tea Party and Rush Limbaugh rhetoric — will continue to support him.
Is it a mere coincidence that Fox News Chairman Roger Aisles — who serves as the Republican Party’s propagandist-in-chief — decided to cancel Glenn Beck just before the 2012 Election cycle? Aisles understood better than anyone that Beck provokes fear and disgust in Centrists and Leftists alike. And that fear has a way of overshadowing the deep-seated feelings of betrayal shared by MANY who campaigned for Obama in 2008. Aisles knew that MSNBC and CNN would continue to devote an exorbitant amount of time each night focused on Beck’s crazy conspiratorial rants, and that this could only frighten and energize a largely disenchanted electorate to vote Democratic.
Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et al actually steal the spotlight away from Obama’s right-of-center policies. Obama’s Milton Friedmanesque initiatives have failed to spark outrage amongst many Democrats, because they are completely captivated by the circus clowns on the far-Right. When liberal pundits roll clip after clip after clip of antics from the fringe-right, they divert their viewers’ attention from things such as the NAFTA-like ‘free trade’ deals Obama is quietly pushing through — gifts to multi-national corporations which will result in the exportation of hundreds of thousands more American jobs, and during one of the biggest unemployment crises since the Great Depression. They neglect to remind their viewer that Obama routinely slammed these very NAFTA-like trade deals during his campaign, promising his supporters he’d rewrite NAFTA if they elected him.
Why The Progressive Strategy Is Our Only Hope For Change
Progressives are of the mindset that the only way to transform this country into a more progressive one, is to heighten politicians’ FEAR of their own constituents in a way that rivals the fear instilled by deep-pocketed interest groups. Progressives know that politicians strategically move towards their ideological base, whenever confronted with political insecurity.
When the Left calls Obama out in a way that penetrates the inner-beltway bubble — and becomes quantifiable by corresponding poll numbers — the President’s political advisers interpret this as voter repudiation. They realize his policy pendulum has swung too far Right in favor of entrenched interests and to the detriment of his own political stability. And it’s at this moment he begins to fear his supporters — the ones who elected him, and who will actually cast the votes in 2012. This leaves him with little choice, but to pivot towards his base and attempt to diffuse rising populist dissent.
Therein lies the key crucial difference between the two camps:
Progressives understand that when a President’s poll numbers drop he is more likely to push progressive priorities to appease his supporters. As such, the Left doesn’t believe its criticism of Obama in any way threatens the ends it hopes to achieve: progressive policies. If Obama stubbornly refuses to pivot to the Left then he has only himself to blame for a disenchanted, unenergized base come election time.
Partisans are always in campaign mode — viewing actual governing as little more than the muddy tracks of a perpetual horse race — and thus equate lowering poll numbers as a precursor to defeat. Therefore, as a group, they are incapable of ever pressuring their politicians to champion progressive causes or to promote meaningful change.
The message partisans continue to send to their Democratic representatives is this: “Just ignore me and everything I want, because I intend to campaign for you and vote for you regardless of what you do. I’ll even lie for you and cover up how you’ve screwed me every which way til Sunday — anything to ensure those scary Republicans don’t win.”
The Left hopes to send them the exact opposite message.
The US founding fathers, like today’s Progressives, understood that the one vital ingredient for maintaining a robust democracy is nothing less than FEAR itself:
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Well, today, we find ourselves living in a state of corporate tyranny, where change has become nothing more than a campaign slogan. Partisans have no one but themselves to blame for this sorry state of affairs.