We been hearing for months about how the voters are furious about the
economy, and the supposed socialist takeover via health care by Obama (a
phrase that instantly signifies the speaker is full of shit) and
unemployment. Voters are confused and angry and ready to rebel against
The voters are confused, and angry, and disappointed, but I don't think
it's quite the way the pundits like to think it is. Sure, nobody's happy
with the economy, but it isn't true that a continuing sour economy means
a huge anti-incumbent wave. If it did, there wouldn't have been a
half-dozen Democrats in the House when it convened in 1935. The first
two years of FDR's presidency were spent avoiding total economic
collapse, and while there was still a United States two years after he
was elected, it was still in pretty bad shape. The Republicans tried
blaming him for not having completely fixed the train wreck back then, too.
One interesting parallel is that in 1935, as now, one of the strongest
voices of sanity in the country was a funnyman who devoted much of his
time to mocking both parties and the general mess in Washington. Then,
it was Will Rogers. Now, it's Jon Stewart. Both showed that under the
anger and unease was a basic sanity. Stewart is a snappier dresser, but
he can't do shit with a lasso.
The anger back then focused, not on party, but just on the general state
of things, and a widespread belief that the government was corrupt, and
in the back pocket of the plutocrats who had just smashed the seemingly
indestructible American economic engine.
Oh, hey, us too! Boy, that is so much like us! It's uncanny!
The economic conditions were worse back then—twice as much unemployment,
and no safety net at all. People were literally starving to death,
something that hasn't happened yet—this time. But people were more
confident back then that the government could be reformed and actually
fight the depression. To a large extent that was true; plutocrats had
the recent memory of the Soviet revolution to stop them from being
cocky, and were uncomfortably aware of the fact that yes, the working
class might just revolt against them, hunt them down and kill them, and
steal their property. This tended to stop them from being cocky. In
fact, they were frightened enough to let the New Deal go through.
Roosevelt was able to get through a lot of reforms through before
businessmen finally realized their house of cards hadn't totally
collapsed, and they pulled together to oppose him in any way they could.
Obama didn't get that grace period. The economic sector (the present day
name for “the aristocracy” or “the plutocrats” or “the banksters”), not
sensing any threat from the people, began digging their heels in and
opposing all reform the instant it became clear that the TARP program
had successfully prevented a complete economic collapse.
Not only did the plutocrats not fear the people, they decided they could
make use of them, and so they created the Tea Party. This was something
they didn't dare try in 1934, and in fact, they claimed that housewives
caused the depression back then by being intransigent and refusing to
buy food and clothing for their children just because their husbands
were out of work. Even then, they failed to grasp that a consumer is
what an employee is when he's off duty. But they don't fear the people,
who have been quite docile since the late 70s and have stood for abuses
that would have brought about revolutions in other parts of the world.
They're justified in that assumption. After all, in just the past week,
we've read of banks cheating hundreds of thousands of people out of
their homes, often in mortgage foreclosures where, in fact, the bank
didn't hold the mortgage. In some cases, there was no mortgage, it
having been retired years earlier. As part of the drive to privatize,
banks no longer sent the county sheriff around to evict the people (some
sheriffs were beginning to rebel) but could hire their own thugs to do
it for them.
And a second round of Wikileaks came out–380,000 files. They show an
utterly disgraceful deliberate policy of the US military in aiding and
abetting torture in Iraq. Men, women, children, shocked, burned,
whipped, bludgeoned, exposed to extreme heat and extreme cold. Mind you,
this is in a non-aggressor nation that the US occupied without cause. It
isn’t even clear what the motive is behind such atrocities. They weren’t
trying to find spies of the Saddam regime, because they were using
Saddam’s people to do most of the torturing. They weren’t seriously
worried about al Qaida, since it never had more than a couple of
thousand people in Iraq, and perhaps a few dozen in the past year. Iran?
Most of the people being tortured were Iraqis, and probably didn’t
harbor warm feelings toward Iran. In the meantime, it has ALSO come to
light that the corrupt Karzai regime in Afghanistan was getting “bags of
money” from Iran–and Karzai claims that Bush knew it at the time.
So who, exactly, is America fighting in Central Asia? And what is the
determination and resolve that leads to atrocities like strapping
battery cables to children and pregnant women? What sort of moral
justification lies behind that?
Republicans like to howl about how Wikileaks betrays the military, but
they do a pretty good job of that on their own. A recent survey by a
Veterans' group graded Congress on issues dealing with Veterans'
benefits and welfare, and a majority of Democrats got As and Bs, but a
large majority of Republicans got Ds and Fs. The group, Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America, have the full report on their website
I noted ironically that right wingers wouldn’t have much of anything to
say about this survey, and one actually did speak up. He cherry picked
what he considered an unearned privilege that veterans thought, for some
reason, they deserved: funding for child care. A single mother who put
in six years in Afghanistan and may be disabled shouldn’t get government
help in getting care for a child so she can seek and secure a job.
Another right winger chimed in, claiming that employers would have to
bear the burden, and oh, boo hoo, isn’t that awful.
It’s the sort of heartless viciousness that has come to characterize the
American right. Including a large portion of the Republicans in Congress.
I sometimes wonder what a Republican from 1968 would think of his party
today? Not just the combination of nastiness and goofiness that make up
the Teabaggers–that is a phenomenon often seen in American political
history. But what would they say of a party that actively supported the
“right” of banks to cheat homeowners, cheat veterans, and torture women
and children in a country not even at war with the US?
In more normal times, the Republicans wouldn’t get more than 10% of the
vote. Americans usually are better than what we’re seeing now. As one
friend of mine online wrote, “Let's see. The Democrats are offering to
cut back on pollution, begin to repair infrastructure and create jobs,
end corporate tax loopholes that encourage shipping jobs overseas,
develop alternative energy sources and create jobs, extend unemployment
insurance, reducing the deficit by ending tax cuts for wealthy, and to
wind up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republicans are offering
cuts to Medicare and Social Security to help balance budget, elimination
of Education Department, War in Afghanistan until 'victory' is achieved,
bans against gay marriage, end to the minimum wage and unemployment
insurance, and automatic weapons for everybody. Who to vote for? Such a
dilemma! Why does it have to be so tough?”
It seems preposterous that anyone other than the very rich or the very
stupid would vote for the GOP, and yet polls show the GOP with a narrow
lead in the generic Congressional ballot. It was a big lead just a few
weeks ago, but the more voters focus on the elections, the worse the GOP
We have people furious with Obama over taxes (he lowered them, and wants
to lower them some more) and convinced that he caused the huge deficits
(his first deficit is actually less than the one left him by Bush). And
of course, there are a lot of people who think that Obama is Kenyan, or
hates whites, or both.
And yet the GOP might gain ground.
For years, my standard response to people who say, “Oh, I don’t pay
attention to politics” is to note that while paying attention to
politics is often boring and frequently depressing, not paying attention
to them was fatal.
Democracies that don’t pay close attention to politics are doomed to
die. People who run around howling about the terrible tyranny of Obama
have no idea what a government run by corporations and churches has in
store for them.
But they can get a good idea just from watching what the religiously
hag-ridden military and the soulless corporate mercenaries have done to
the people of Iraq.