Monday, October 12, 2009

The Slide Of The Democratic Party From Distinguished To Downright Despicable

Longtime readers of Kiko's House (all three of you, my crazy Uncle Leo and the cats) know that I am left leaning but carry a nonpartisan stick, which is to say I whack 'em as I see 'em. That will never be more obvious than in this post.

Times change and so do political parties, but the metamorphosis of the Democratic Party from what it was and what it stood for when I was growing up in the Fifties and Sixties and what it has become and stands for today is beyond disgraceful.

What deepens this disgrace is that many of us (although not Yours Truly) were
naïvely led to believe that things would be different after years of Republican hegemony when the Democrats took back Congress and the White House in 2008. But while I never would compare Barack Obama with George Bush, up on Capitol Hill there seems to be less to distinguish the two parties with every passing year.

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As a lifelong bleeding heart left leaner, the calculus that I have long used to determine how serious the Democrats and Republicans are about making America a better place for all Americans, as well as aspiring new arrivals, is how and whether they address income inequality.

The inequality between the rich and everyone else, notably the middle class, is the engine that drives many of America's most intractable problems, including but not limited to health care, jobs advancement, housing and education.

Beginning with FDR's New Deal and then in the post-World War II decades, the Democratic Party banged the income inequality drum pretty hard. When it was in power that income gap tended to close, although never entirely, of course. This was through a variety of legislative initiatives, notably Great Society legislation enacted out of the ashes of JFK's New Frontier during the LBJ years that addressed a host of problems.

Medicare, Medicaid and federal aid to education were the capstones of the Great Society, and in its own way the Clinton-led reform of welfare three decades later also has had a salutatory effect.

What has separated the Democrats from the Republicans is the GOP's generic opposition to Washington investing in making people healthier, longer lived and better educated. As well as opposing tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans. Which makes its latter-day embrace of Medicare in trying to frighten the bejeezus out of elderly Americans in opposing health-care reform so deeply hypocritical.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the new millennium. While Democrats still talk the talk, they've lost a few steps and then some in walking the walk as the
income gap began growing again in the 1970s and accelerated during the Dubya Era. That gap, of course, has been exacerbated by the Bush recession that has spiked unemployment to near 10 percent and left the middle class deeply in debt at a time when the rich are, of course, getting richer still.

Why, you may ask, have the Democrats lost a few steps? Because they have become as addicted to the lobbyist's crack pipe as their brethren across the aisle.

That begins to explain why Obama's health-care reform initiative is in trouble although passage in more or less the form the president has laid out would be a ginormous economic stimulus, deficit reducer and, in an indirect but very real way, an income gap closer.

The initiative is being held hostage not by naysaying Republicans but by Democrats personified by Senator Max Baucus, who represents one of the most sparsely populated states but in the last two years has received $453,000 from 109 health-related lobbyists who represent a Who's Who of opposition to reform, including Amgen, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Aetna, Astra Zeneca and the American Hospital Association.

The bill voted out of Baucus's Finance Committee is a payback to those special interests: It would allow costs to continue escalating (can you say profits?) and still leave at least 17 million of the current 45 million people uninsured under the most optimistic projections. This is reform?

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We live in an era of excess, and nowhere is that better personified than in those twin towers of power and entitlement -- Wall Street and Capitol Hill. I am not suggesting that Baucus ride to work in a horse and buggy nor that he and his family forgo the platinum-standard health care plan that congressfolk enjoy at a time so many Americans are screwed if they get sick.

But Democratic con men like Baucus and outright crooks like Congressman Charles Rangel are willfully blind to their disgraceful under-oath behavior, and just because their bodily secretions usually are not quite as odoriferous as the denizens in the right-wing Republican fever swamp does not grant them any greater legitimacy to speak and act for you, myself and Uncle Leo.

While there have been efforts within the Democratic caucus to get Baucus to make kissy face with Obama and to censure the shameless Rangel, they will get nowhere. These men are too powerful, while going after the African-American Rangel would piss off the Congressional Black Caucus and an important party constituency.

It was about this time last year that Obama the candidate was hitting pretty hard on reining in legislators in thrall to the back-scratching culture of special interests. Naïve or not, a whole lot of Democrats and Independents and some disenfranchised Republicans, as well, said okey-dokey. Barry's our man.

Obama the president shares some of the blame because he has fallen off the wagon and into the arms of the back scratchers in some key respects.

But it is notable that Obama's approval ratings remain fairly robust (roughly double that of Bush's in his final year) while that of the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World are in the toilet. It stands at a pathetic 21 percent, according to Gallup, down from 31 percent in September and a recent high of 39 percent in March, and undoubtedly is heading further sewerward, perhaps challenging the historic 14 percent low when the Republicans were in charge of making a shambles of things.

And so the party that was a big part of the solution has morphed into being a big part of the problem. Deeply disgraceful indeed.
Top photograph by Bloomberg News

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