Thursday, December 24, 2009

Partisan rancor

(I am healthcare-bill-ed out. We'll have to wait and see what happens to the House and Senate versions. I figure that the Senate will get its way on both no public option and the abortion language.)

It is getting tiring reading about the newly discovered "partisan rancor" in Congress. This rancor, in fact, makes a lot of sense. It actually started with the realignment of the parties under Nixon, with a large number of conservatives and Dixiecrats in the south moving from the Democrats to the G.O.P. This was a good thing, since it clarified the political options somewhat: the progressivism of FDR was not a good match for the racial politics of George Wallace (AL), Strom Thurmond (SC), Richard Russell (GA), James Eastland (MS) et. al. Richard Nixon's political advisor Kevin Phillips has long been associated with this "Southern Strategy" idea, though he certainly wasn't its creator. Conservatism, with its promise of weak federal enforcement of civil rights, was a natural setting for segregationists -- just as its advocacy of deregulation provides a natural setting for industrial polluters and producers of dangerous products.

The 1964 election, in which conservative Barry Goldwater lost to L.B.J. was the turning point. Afterwards began a systematic purge of the moderate "Rockefeller" Republicans. The process is nearly complete.

A second divisive element was red-baiting. This technique had been, of course, thoroughly bipartisan since even before Lenin. Together with racism, it was a standard anti-unionionization tool, since it was used to divide working people. (The Communist Party U.S.A. surely had a lot of faults, but it was, for many years, one of the few groups in the U.S. to take a consistent anti-racist position.) However, it was Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy who thoroughly embraced it and honed it as a political tool. It has since become a central weapon in the "conservative" arsenal. Even now the most centrist Democrats -- such as Obama, for example -- are loudly denounced by more than just fringes of the G.O.P. as Marxists. This is not just random "partisan rancor" but Republican endorsed -- indeed fostered -- political mudslinging.

Finally, and most absolutist, is the Republican embrace of religious fundamentalists. There is nothing so single-minded and self-righteous as a group of people who have, by their own claim, a direct conduit to the very word of God. These are the shock troops of a cultural war that was unilaterally declared by conservatives against Americans who don't share their religious values. The central controversy of course has been abortion. While many -- possibly most -- Americans are conflicted about this issue, the intransigence and absolutism of the so-called "Right to Lifers" goes far beyond mere rancor. They state, without qualification, that their opponents are either murderers or accessories to murder. For most of these people, abortion is the only issue that they vote on. There is, of course, no way of changing their minds. The point is, by embracing them the G.O.P. has made absolute rancor a central plank in their platform.

So where do the Democrats stand in all this rancor? They have never purged themselves. They represent a tiny group of "leftists" (maybe only Bernie Sanders), a large group of actual "centrists" (somewhere between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson), and a sprinkling of conservatives (somewhat to the right of the late Nelson Rockefeller). Like their Republican counterparts, most take a lot of money from lobbyists. However, they have some diversity, since they make a point of trying to include women and minority groups. Since they represent a relatively broad spectrum of political thought, they are not the instigators of this political rancor we hear so much about. If they were as united as their opponents there would never be any question about their ability to break filibusters. Al,so, they would have used reconciliation the way George Bush used it to pass his tax breaks for the rich.

The Party Of the Rich has as its strategy the elimination of every vestige of government activism except as it benefits the wealthy and well-connected. The central idea is to weaken government financially as much as possible, either by outright cuts in programs, or by inefficiences -- such as massive tax cuts for the wealthy -- that waste its money. Grover Norquist, founder of the right-wing "Club for Growth", put it concisely: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub” (so much for the Republicans' concern over Medicare and Social Security): "Starving the Beast" as they call it (for more documentation, Google the term).

In short, there is political rancor because the POR has instigated it through their single-minded minions: the "tea party"-ers, the anti-abortion Taliban, and the "every liberal is a commie" crowd. Rancor didn't just happen, it is a planned political technique employed aggressively by the POR to bring down the current President and his party.

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