Is the era of right-wing ascendancy over? I would argue that it is a bit premature to reach that conclusion.
Now don’t get me wrong. Right-wing extremism isn’t the same animal that it was a decade or two ago. Its “glory days” are behind it. The outcome of the elections last year – not to mention the divisions in the Republican Party that are cropping up now around the fiscal cliff and the president’s nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary – reflect a political movement that is no longer in a commanding position politically and ideologically.
That said, it continues to be the main, though not the only, obstacle to social progress.
As the people’s movement readies itself for new struggles – on debt, immigration, gun control, jobs and infrastructure, equality, and so forth – in the coming year, count on the well-funded far-right at the national and state level to push the most reactionary measures, while obstructing anything remotely progressive and democratic, especially in Washington.
Of immediate concern is the attempt to use the lifting of the debt ceiling to force the president and Congress to accept massive cuts in, if not elimination of, earned income benefit programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
On this issue, right-wing Republicans have the enthusiastic support of the main sections of the capitalist class (both on Wall Street and on Main Street), whose hooks extend into both parties, Democratic and Republican alike.
Much like the capitalist classes in the advanced capitalist countries of Europe, the U.S. capitalist class believes that capitalism can no longer afford the “welfare state.” In its view, programs for the social good should be scaled back drastically if not eliminated altogether.
To complicate matters further, there seems to be some softness among Democrats in Congress and the White House when it comes to protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is evidenced by their much reported willingness to modify the formula for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments in a way that reduces benefits that are already insufficient, especially with the widespread implosion of job-related pension plans. This is the so-called “chained Consumer Price Index” modification.
In these circumstances, it is imperative to re-energize the diverse multiracial working-class-based coalition that reelected President Obama last fall. While sections of this coalition were active in the year-end “fiscal cliff” fight, a mobilization of greater scope, unity, and militancy will be needed in the coming battle to prevent any weakening of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Just as it took broad-based, mass action of a diverse people’s coalition to win these programs in the last century, it will take a similar but even broader, deeper, and more militant coalition to retain (and strengthen) them in the 21st century.
Are we there yet? I don’t think so. But in the people’s coalition that made the difference in the recent elections we have the makings of a political force that has the potential to stymie and roll back the power of the corporate class and its political supporters.
No small task, but accomplishing it is a worthy resolution for all of us for the coming year!
Image: The Republican House leadership. Left to right: Eric Cantor, majority leader; John Boehner, speaker of the House; Kevin McCarthy, majority whip. DonkeyHotey CC 2.0