Wednesday, September 07, 2011

One Problem Diagnosed

Rarely if ever does anything as insightful about national politics appear as "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult," was written by (presumably) a Republican.

Author Mike Lofgren according to, " retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer. He served 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees."

Lofgren keeps it all in perspective. Neither national party, appealing to corporate special interests to finance their campaigns, will bring about political utopia. Still, there is a qualitative difference between a party which makes too many concessions to wealthy interests and one which is totally devoted to establishing the domination of those powers. He realizes

Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

As these conservative and neo-liberal politicians have pandered to the upper crust, the economic and cultural anxiety of the middle, and especially lower-middle, class has increased. Writing recently in The Atlantic, Don Peck explained

both trade and technology have increased the number of low-cost substitutes for American workers with only moderate cognitive or manual skills—people who perform routine tasks such as product assembly, process monitoring, record keeping, basic information brokering, simple software coding, and so on. As machines and low-paid foreign workers have taken on these functions, the skills associated with them have become less valuable, and workers lacking higher education have suffered.

Similarly, Lofgren recognizes

Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class - without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.

We all have heard, as Peck, notes "Since 1993, more than half of the nation’s income growth has been captured by the top 1 percent of earners, and the gains have grown larger over time: from 2002 to 2007, out of every three dollars of national income growth, the top 1 percent of earners captured two." Republicans offer nothing to the middle class except bread and circuses- or merely circuses. Lofgren notes

the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines.

Lofgren cannot, and should not, let the less pernicious party off the hook, however. He asks, rhetorically

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style "centrist" Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.

The "professional left" continually points out that the primary problem with today's economy is not insufficient incentive for the private sector to hire workers or the need to train unemployed workers. In fact, the always-productive American is becoming even more productive- and for every job available, there are several unemployed individuals. (Your number may vary- but before unemployment hit 9%, and there were somewhat fewer working-age civilians, the ratio was 4.7:1.)

From 1997 to 2008, U.S. multinationals increased foreign employment by 2.4 million while shrinking their domestic workforce by 1.9 million. "Free trade," as the left emphasizes, too often has been very expensive for American workers. This contributed to the drop in median income- not real income, but absolute income- from 1999 to 2009. And as accomodation to globalization has contributed to the anxiety of the middle class, so has the accommodative rhetoric toward immigration within the Democratic Party. Too often the left has failed to distinguish between legal immigration- which contributes to the American mosaic- and illegalimmigration and distrust among the American people, as well as downward pressure on wages, has ensued.

Lofgren penned his piece to explain his departure from Capitol Hill, not to draw the DNC a roadmap to electoral success. But neither identity politics nor reluctance to challenge corporate power must stand in the way of the effort of the left or the Democratic Party to maintain and rebuild the American middle class. Lofgren notes "the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe." Democrats have ceded the field, he argues. They cannot continue to do so- or the race to the bottom will be ever swifter and more destructive.

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