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Why Party Politics Fails

Just today, President Obama repeated his call for Republicans’ Holy Grails: Obama wants cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The deal Obama is seeking with Republicans will allow the elimination of cuts in military spending, putting the entire burden of cuts on the middle class and poor. What’s more, Obama is making this offer even though Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit or the debt because it is not a part of the budget.

How did we get in this predicament where a Democratic President is offering Republicans what they have craved for more than sixty years?

We are learning the lesson of lesser evil politics.

If we look at each Presidency issue by issue rather than by party affiliation, we cannot deny that each successive government that we’ve had since Jimmy Carter has been farther to the right than the previous one, particularly when it comes to spending on vital but “discretionary” programs. Bill Clinton gave us “welfare reform” that has failed miserably during this financial crisis, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was Wall Street’s wet dream and (at least) a huge contributing factor to the financial collapse in 2008, and the Defense of Marriage Act, to name a few of his right-wing policies.

Barack Obama has overseen the dramatic growth of an authoritarian state, curtailing individuals’ rights under several amendments in the Bill of Rights even to the point of saying, in actual effect, that he can kill anyone anywhere at any time for reasons that he specifies without review by another branch of government. And there can be little doubt that corruption in government has gotten worse under his tenure, while he has done nothing to try to combat it except give a few speeches. Many officials in the executive branch have gone to work for corporations that they were formerly responsible for regulating. Such employment is widely and justly seen as a reward for those former public employees not doing their jobs while they were in public service.

In fact, there are no issues other than abortion and the Lilly Ledbetter act on which the actual results of government policy are not farther to the right than what George W. Bush gave us.

The problem is how we vote. We have become convinced that Republicans are so terrible that we are unwilling to hold accountable Democrats who are not actually very different from them. There are no primary fights because we’re afraid to weaken Democratic incumbents. The result is that we get what we don’t want anyway. The entire focus of Democrats becomes not policy but making sure that someone with a “D” behind their name holds office. The impediments to reaching our goals has become not Republicans but corruption and Democrats who support right-wing policies.

Of course, the excuse we always hear is that things would be worse under Republicans. This is, however, clearly a fallacy since we end up with the very policies that Republicans would work for anyway. (Tax hikes? Even Ronald Reagan eventually saw that he had to increase taxes, which a Republican-controlled Senate helped him to do.)

Our shift to being more concerned about personality than principle is what has gotten us in our current predicament. Only when we become more concerned with actual results than with who holds office will things begin to change for the better. But that’s a tide that will take a long time to shift. In the meantime, get ready for austerity (which everyone should know by now will only make things worse), for the loss of even more of our fundamental Constitutional rights, and for the further demise of human habitat at our children’s and grandchildren’s expense.

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