Jolting the Democratic Party from Its Stupor
By Ralph Nader
If the Democrats in Congress were all drinking water from the same faucet, there might be a clue to their chronic fear of the craven and cruel corporatist Republicans who dominate them.
But they don’t, so we have to ask why their fear, defeatism, and cowering behavior continues in the face of the outrageous GOP actions as the November election approaches.
The explanations go back some years. The Democrats have long receded from the Harry Truman days of “give ‘em hell, Harry”. But their political castration occurred in the late seventies when the Democrats were persuaded by one of their own, Congressman Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), to start aggressively bidding for corporate campaign cash.
Victory in politics often goes to those who have the most energy and decisiveness, however wrongheaded. The Republicans have won these races for years. To paraphrase author and lapsed Republican, Kevin Phillips, the Republicans go for the jugular, while the Democrats go for the capillaries.
The Democrats are tortured daily by Republican leaders, Speaker John Boehner and Eric Cantor but they do not go into these politicians’ backyards in Virginia and Ohio to expose the unpopular agendas pitched by these Wall Street puppets.
One would think that politicians who side with big corporations would be politically vulnerable for endangering both America and the American people. These corrupt politicians promote corporate tax loopholes and side with insurance and drug companies on costly health care proposals. They defend the corporate polluters on their unsafe workplaces, dirty air, water and contaminated food, push for more deficit spending in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, neglect Main Street based public works-repair-America-jobs programs, support high-interest student loans, cover for oil industry greed at the pump, and are hell-bent on taking the federal cops off the corporate crime beats.
Instead, Democrats let Boehner and Cantor peddle their unrebutted torrents of falsehoods to the voters in their districts. I’ll bet their constituents would not like their representatives regularly kowtowing to harmful fat cat lobbyists.
The Democrats should be landsliding the worst Republican Party in history. Talk about extremists. There are virtually no moderate or liberal Republicans left in Congress after being driven out by their own party hard-liners. So this Republican Party, united over their extremism, should be very easy to challenge.
It is not happening. Though rolling in promotional capability, the Democrats still have not come up with a clear list of the hundreds of Republican disastrous proposals – passed in the House or proposed. These wrongful Republican initiatives should be boiled down to their vicious essence for public diffusion. Instead, the blue dog Democrats are constantly, and with impunity, giving Republicans cover –recently 17 Democrats supported a rash political move by Representatives Boehner, Cantor and Issa in citing Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress.
It is also remarkable how the Democrats keep letting the Senate Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell intone, day after day, the “American people” want, do not want, demand, oppose this and that, to camouflage his plutocratic programs.
In December 2010, with 99 senators agreeing to unanimous consent to pass the auto safety legislation, the Democrats let one Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) sink it. President Obama, ready to sign this life-saving bill, declined to use his powers of persuasion on Coburn, his avowed close friend in the Senate.
It is the Democrats’ defeatism that is the most self-corrosive. Veteran Democratic legislators openly tell those who ask that they don’t think the party will regain control of the House in the November election though, they add, the Republicans have a terrible anti-people record.
Politics are about credibly answering the question “whose side are you on and whose side is your opponent on?” That means drawing a bright line between the two parties. Unfortunately, on military and foreign policy there isn’t much of a difference. So the bright line will have to be on domestic issues.
Here the president, the omnipresent political consulting firms looking for their 15 percent cut on insipid political television spots, and the frenzied focus on raising evermore money contingent on quid pro quo understandings with avaricious donors, combine to form a lethal mix of strategic stupor, message staleness (“to restore the middle class”) and time-wasting paralysis.
Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. and two dozen progressive co-sponsors are behind a bill called “Catching Up To 1968 Act of 2012” (H.R. 5901). This would raise the federal minimum wage, depleted by inflation over the years, from $7.25 to $10.00, thereby helping thirty million workers and boosting the recessionary economy. Neither the Democratic leadership nor President Obama have come out in support of such popular (70 percent in the polls) legislation that historically has been identified with the Democratic Party since the first minimum wage law in 1938.
Senior staffers in the House complain on behalf of their bosses that the President does not communicate with them. “Boehner will give us nothing,” was one staffer’s inadvertent summing up of the party’s defeatism. Imagine Gingrich talking in that supplicant manner when he was in the House minority. He toppled House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.) and took control of the House of Representatives in 1994.
Most of the elected Democrats seem interested in themselves and less so with their party’s victory and mission for America. Attendance at the regular meetings of the House Democratic Caucus is way down. President Obama operates as if he cares only about numero uno, even though not regaining the House and keeping the Senate will freeze a second term into acrimony and inaction.
There are plenty of bright-line issues for the Democrats. Get tough on Wall Street and corporate crime, protect pensions, end the wars, tax the corporate and wealthy tax-escapees, launch community-based public works programs, provide full Medicare for all, expand health and safety programs, to name a few.
Perhaps one story is most telling: President Obama has been more reticent in his nomination of federal judges than his predecessors. In meetings between outside support groups and White House-Justice Department staff, the nominees hailing from the ranks of labor and public interest lawyers, as well as law professors, are received coolly. The Obama staff want what they call “stealth candidates,” – that is corporate lawyers with some enlightened pro bono tendencies. Why directly take on the Republicans for the future of the federal judiciary when you can settle for the corporate status quo?
Who’s fooling whom? The coming days await a new and open jolting push by prominent outside Democrats who fervently want to wrench their party back from the abyss, from its own self-imposed sense of dread before a devastating, self-inflicted November defeat.