Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Is Economic Justice The Ticket For Democrats-- Or Should They Compete With The GOP For The Economic Inequality Vote?


The Republican civil war is pretty front and center and getting quite a lot of media attention. There is also something of a Democratic civil war brewing, a more ideological/less careerist based one. You may have seen sparks of it last week when the Wall Street owned ConservaDem group, Third Way, went on the attack against Elizabeth Warren and the progressive populism she espouses. Third Way, the Blue Dogs and the New Dems are the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. A virtual whore house of corruption and opportunism, it's the ugly side of the Democratic Party that has nothing to do with serving the interests of working families. It's smaller but immensely better-funded than the real Democratic Party but it has captured much of the party apparatus-- from the DNC, DCCC and DSCC to post-Pelosi House leadership, which includes all corrupt careerists more comfortable with a conservative vision than with a progressive vision (Hoyer, Wasserman-Schultz, Crowley, Israel…).

President Obama's speech Dec. 4th about economic mobility and inequality (above) is not what conservative/careerist Democrats-- who call themselves "centrists"-- think is the way Democrats should be going. Their vision-- the Republican-lite approach which brought on the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010-- is a proven failure, but it's a vision that has worked for them financially and career-wise, if not for the party and the American people. They don't take inequality seriously at least in part because it's so far from their own experience. All those multimillionaires Rahm Emanuel and Steve Israel have recruited should not have dominant leadership positions in the Democratic Party. They're turning it away from middle class working families. Congressmembers like Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), Jim Himes (CT), Scott Peters (CA), Colleen Hanabusa (HI), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), Patrick Murphy (FL), Cheri Bustos (IL), John Delaney (MD), Suzan DelBene (WA), Brad Schneider (IL), Bill Foster (IL), Denny Heck (WA) serve the interests of Wall Street, the wealthy and corporate America, not the interests of working families. This year, Israel is again recruiting anti-progressives to run for Congress while dooming the Democrats to two more years of Republican domination of the House. These leaders are out of step with what the Democratic Party is all about. It isn't about them and their sleazy, greasy careers. It's about the people they purport to represent. Third Way ran to their pals at the Wall Street Journal, a Republican propaganda tool, to declare that progressive policies and economic populism are "a dead end for Democrats," the day after Obama made that speech up top.

Stagnant wages, economic inequality, a dwindling middle class, widening income and wealth gaps between the top 1% and the rest of us and an inability for middle class families to maintain their standards of living are just theoretical to them. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkely, Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Mike Honda, Keith Ellison, and a small handful of progressives in Congress are addressing economic hardship in a way that the Republican wing of the Democratic Party just can't even comprehend. It's so far from their world that they claim it's just "idealism." When these populist leaders reject the failed European Austerity measures being relentlessly pushed by Paul Ryan and other right-wing corporately-owned hacks, Third Way Democrats are more comfortable with the Ryan vision than what they denigrate as “fantasy-based blue-state populism." Sunday, Paul Krugman explained why the Third Way sell-outs have it so very wrong.
The best argument for putting inequality on the back burner is the depressed state of the economy. Isn’t it more important to restore economic growth than to worry about how the gains from growth are distributed?

Well, no. First of all, even if you look only at the direct impact of rising inequality on middle-class Americans, it is indeed a very big deal. Beyond that, inequality probably played an important role in creating our economic mess, and has played a crucial role in our failure to clean it up.

Start with the numbers. On average, Americans remain a lot poorer today than they were before the economic crisis. For the bottom 90 percent of families, this impoverishment reflects both a shrinking economic pie and a declining share of that pie. Which mattered more? The answer, amazingly, is that they’re more or less comparable-- that is, inequality is rising so fast that over the past six years it has been as big a drag on ordinary American incomes as poor economic performance, even though those years include the worst economic slump since the 1930s.

And if you take a longer perspective, rising inequality becomes by far the most important single factor behind lagging middle-class incomes.

Beyond that, when you try to understand both the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery that followed, the economic and above all political impacts of inequality loom large.

It’s now widely accepted that rising household debt helped set the stage for our economic crisis; this debt surge coincided with rising inequality, and the two are probably related (although the case isn’t ironclad). After the crisis struck, the continuing shift of income away from the middle class toward a small elite was a drag on consumer demand, so that inequality is linked to both the economic crisis and the weakness of the recovery that followed.

In my view, however, the really crucial role of inequality in economic calamity has been political.

In the years before the crisis, there was a remarkable bipartisan consensus in Washington in favor of financial deregulation-- a consensus justified by neither theory nor history. When crisis struck, there was a rush to rescue the banks. But as soon as that was done, a new consensus emerged, one that involved turning away from job creation and focusing on the alleged threat from budget deficits.

What do the pre- and postcrisis consensuses have in common? Both were economically destructive: Deregulation helped make the crisis possible, and the premature turn to fiscal austerity has done more than anything else to hobble recovery. Both consensuses, however, corresponded to the interests and prejudices of an economic elite whose political influence had surged along with its wealth.

This is especially clear if we try to understand why Washington, in the midst of a continuing jobs crisis, somehow became obsessed with the supposed need for cuts in Social Security and Medicare. This obsession never made economic sense: In a depressed economy with record low interest rates, the government should be spending more, not less, and an era of mass unemployment is no time to be focusing on potential fiscal problems decades in the future. Nor did the attack on these programs reflect public demands.

Surveys of the very wealthy have, however, shown that they-- unlike the general public-- consider budget deficits a crucial issue and favor big cuts in safety-net programs. And sure enough, those elite priorities took over our policy discourse.

Which brings me to my final point. Underlying some of the backlash against inequality talk, I believe, is the desire of some pundits to depoliticize our economic discourse, to make it technocratic and nonpartisan. But that’s a pipe dream. Even on what may look like purely technocratic issues, class and inequality end up shaping-- and distorting-- the debate.

So the president was right. Inequality is, indeed, the defining challenge of our time. Will we do anything to meet that challenge?
So far there is just one primary in the House and one primary in the Senate pitting economic populists against Republican-lite candidates. In the Senate race, progressive incumbent Brian Schatz is fighting off a challenge from corrupt conservative New Dem Colleen Hanabusa, an anti-family careerist who is notorious for her cozy corporate relationships and lack of ethics. You can help Schatz balance out the immense amount of money she's getting from shady corporations and EMILY's List here on the Blue America Senate page.

And speaking of the Senate, the lame corporate conservative who runs the DSCC, Michael Bennet, would rather see the Republicans win the South Dakota seat of retiring Democratic Senator Tim Johnson than back progressive, Rick Weiland. Letters like this, which Weiland sent to his supporters yesterday, must drive Beltway hacks like Bennet crazy. He's refusing to back Weiland, although Democratic senators who have include Al Franken, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Brian Schatz, Ron Wyden, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jack Reed, Patrick Leahy, Mazie Hirono, Sherrod Brown, Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, Tom Harkin. Even Establishment figures and conservatives like Max Baucus, Chuck Schumer, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Mary Landrieu, Bob Menendez, Dick Durban and Joe Donnelly have ignored Bennet and endorsed Weiland. In all, 31 sitting Democratic senators have endorsed him but Bennet doesn't have the power to overrule Guy Cecil, the sleazy operative who pulls Bennet's strings on behalf of consultant-world.
There is no better example of why I am running for Senate than this graph:

If you think this is the result of a properly functioning free enterprise system then you should not be supporting me.

If you think this is the result of a rigged enterprise system, a system so stacked in favor of the super wealthy it literally threatens our nation, then please join our fight.

We can unrig the system! They have the dollars. But we have the votes.

A vote for me is a vote for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections. A vote for me is a vote to make the super wealthy pay their taxes for a change. It is a vote to end offshore tax shelters.

It is time to put ordinary folks back in charge and restore the free enterprise system that rewards hard work instead of big political contributions-- because ordinary folks and hard work are what we have here in South Dakota.
On the House side, the essential primary between a Steve Israel corporate hack and a forthright progressive is being waged in San Bernardino, Califiornia is a D+5 district Israel lost last year to a rich extremist, Gary Miller, by backing colossally unpopular empty suit, Pete Aguilar. Israel, incapable of learning, is backing him again, although progressives and ordinary working families have a real choice this time in Eloise Reyes. Aguilar, who Democrats in CA-31 didn't even know was a Democrat until he decided to run for Congress, came out publicly for cutting Social Security benefits when he told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin last year that he would vote for Simpson-Bowles which bases it's "balanced" budget on cutting earned benefits to working families. Chained CPI, for example, is one of their many horrible approaches. Eloise Reyes is part of the community and she stands as strongly for economic justice as any working family in the Inland Empire. When asked about expanding Social Security-- the policy goal that flipped out the Third Way hacks to begin with-- she told us that "Social Security was never meant to be a static program. It was designed to span across generations, with the expectation that the circumstances impacting the financial needs and economic security of Americans would undoubtedly vary from one decade to the next. Right now, middle class families are reeling from the impact of the recession. They have seen the value of their homes, their savings and their retirement accounts plummet, and they are depending on Social Security, more than ever, to avoid the impending retirement crisis that so many Americans see on the horizon beyond their working years. Our Social Security program must constantly evolve to adapt to these changing realities. That’s why HR 1374 is such a critical piece of legislation. Not only does it account for the fact that more and more people are using Social Security benefits later into life, but it more fairly values the work of low-wage workers and childrearers who are currently at a disadvantage when it comes to accruing retirement benefits. Even as it expands Social Security benefits, HR 1374 extends the life of the program by at least 35 more years by eliminating the cap on payroll contributions. These are all fair and commonsense reforms that reflect the essential purpose of Social Security and its very critical role in the lives of millions of Americans. Our Social Security program reflects our values, our duties and our commitment to ensuring that our elders, the disabled and those struggling through difficult times do not fall through the cracks. And HR 1374 makes it possible for us to continue keeping that promise to one another."

You'll never hear something like that from Pete Aguilar-- or any of the corporate shills Steve Israel has recruited to run for Congress. You can support Eloise's campaign-- and the campaign of other economic populists running for House seats-- right here.

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