Political pundits seem to agree that the past couple of weeks haven’t been kind to the Obama administration. First, the controversy around the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi resurfaced. Then the story broke that the IRS has allegedly been targeting tea party organizations applying for special tax exempt status. And finally an uproar greeted the Justice Department’s sweeping subpoena of Associated Press journalists’ phone records.
No matter what you think about the merits of these stories, they will evidently dominate the national conversation and business of Washington for a while.
And no one is happier than the right wing in Congress, in the media, and across the country.
Last fall, the right had hoped that a combination of a faltering economy, the tragic deaths of diplomatic personal in Libya at the hands of terrorists, and its bottomless pockets for funding negative attack ads would diminish Obama’s standing enough to catapult Mitt Romney into the White House and secure Republican control of Congress. But that didn’t happen, leaving the Republican Party leadership divided, its grassroots base dispirited, and its political posture much the same as it had been since 2008 – blocking Obama’s initiatives for another four years.
But now, with the breaking stories over the past weeks, its leadership is speaking with a single voice; its grassroots base is energized and itching for a battle; and its political ambitions go well beyond just obstructing the president.
In the weeks to come, expect to hear ad nauseam that an administration that came into Washington touting transparency and good governance is out of control, guilty of overreach, disdainful of constitutional rights and freedoms, and disposed to manipulating and managing the news.
Count on tendentious comparisons of the Obama White House to the Nixon White House by the likes of Bob Woodward, Peggy Noonan, Bill Keller, and other big-name journalists.
Expect congressional subpoenas and calls for impeachment, special prosecutors, and mass resignations.
Expect stiffer opposition to the president’s appointments to key Cabinet positions and the Supreme Court if a vacancy opens up.
Plan on hostile opposition to the president’s use of executive power to address issues such as climate change.
Anticipate intensified efforts to de-legitimize and overturn Obamacare. The House will repeal it once again and more states will take steps to nullify its provisions.
Prepare for new pressures to roll back taxes on the rich and earned income benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the name of getting an intrusive and oversized government out of the economy and off people’s backs.
Expect initiatives to control gun violence, mitigate global warming, and rebuild the national infrastructure to be ridiculed as more evidence of an overreaching White House.
The endgame of this unfolding demagogic campaign goes beyond fatally crippling the Obama presidency in its second term. Its overarching aim is to ride an election wave of popular discontent with the Obama administration to regain control of Congress in 2014, win the presidency in 2016, and extend the right-wing Republican grip on state governments and the U.S. Supreme Court.
This would constitute a formidable concentration of anti-democratic authoritarian power.
Keep in mind this power bloc has the support of a deeply reactionary and racist populist constituency that disciplines wavering Republicans and mobilizes mass support for political extremism. While millions welcomed the election of the first African American president, to this constituency it represented a threatening fundamental reordering of society and social relations, and thus recast subsequent political struggles as a life and death battle over “a way of life” that in reality is rooted in racial subordination.
What this concentration of right-wing extremist political power might do if it gains dominance over the institutions of government is no longer a matter of conjecture. Glimpses of this “brave new world” are offered by the governing record of states where Republicans are in control. It isn’t pretty if you believe in democracy, equality, fairness, transparency, and broadly shared prosperity.
Union rights have been gutted. Progressive income taxes have been eliminated, while taxes on low-income people have increased. Roe v. Wade has been effectively hollowed out. Emergency managers with dictatorial powers have been appointed to impose a regime of stark austerity on crisis-ridden cities, many of which have an African American majority. Public services have been drastically de-funded and privatized. Voter rights have been restricted. Punitive laws on immigrants have been enacted. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has been resisted, even though the costs will be borne by the federal government. A “regulation-free” environment for corporations has been created. Opposition to marriage equality has been fanned. And on and on!
Thus it is fair to say that right-wing extremism would employ its control over the main levers of power at the national level to recast the structures and role of government, economy, culture, and society in an anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, anti-working-class, authoritarian direction.
Now I’m not implying that the Obama administration should be given a pass on issues that are currently roiling Washington. (Although, from what I can see – except for the subpoenaing of journalist phone calls, which is not only a problem in itself, but also part of a broader pattern of the executive branch assuming wide-ranging and unprecedented powers in the name of national security – much of the culpability of the Obama administration in these controversies is a right-wing invention.) Nor should it be given a pass on issues, like jobs, immigration, inequality, gun violence, climate change, military spending and foreign policy, constitutional, and democratic liberties, climate change, etc., that are agitating millions of Americans.
But what I am saying is that the broader movement, in its zeal to address the administration’s missteps, mistaken positions, and tendency to compromise before the battle is joined, can’t lose sight of the larger danger to democracy and democratic institutions presented by a resurgent right at this moment.
Photo: Flickr (CC)