Finally an unemployment extension bill has passed – no thanks to Senate Republicans. With the exception of the two senators from Maine who broke with their party, the rest stood firm in their opposition to a bill that is good for both the unemployed and the economy.
Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican organizing principle has been to obstruct every political initiative of the president. In doing so, they hope to divide and frustrate the loose coalition that elected the president, turn off the average voter to electoral politics, rally their right-wing constituency with anti-government and racist rhetoric – and thus put themselves on a fast track back to political power. Don’t let anyone tell you that elections don’t matter!
As outrageous as this is, it isn’t out of character. The GOP was always an amalgam of the most conservative sections of corporate capital and other like-minded elements in the body politic. Its modern variant, however, is dominated by the most reactionary and racist sections of that amalgam. And as we know only too well from experience, this grouping commands the loyalty of an organized grassroots constituency, controls a far-flung media apparatus that manufactures its worldview and mobilizes millions, and prefers authoritarian rule when in power.
In the unemployment extension standoff, this right-wing juggernaut went into action, evoking the specter of rising federal deficits, attacking the “tax and spend” Democrats, appealing to racist susceptibilities of white people, insisting on spending cuts, urging its constituents to raise hell, and employing the filibuster to trump majority rule.
No doubt we will witness more of this in the months ahead. For a party that tells lies as fast as McDonald’s makes burgers, there are no moral restraints, only the overarching desire for power.
Now, it is true that rising government debt and budget deficits could become a problem in the long term, but only if the economy remains stagnant as it is now. Marxist and mainstream economists that I respect say that the immediate danger isn’t rising deficits, but insufficient demand for goods and services and a potential deflationary trap – a general fall in prices that once started can easily snowball into a deep-going crisis, as spending and borrowing freeze up.
Moreover, they add, the crisis and the exploding increase in debt is largely (though not solely) the handiwork of the Republicans and their reckless policies over the last decade.
But listening to Republican leaders, you would never know that the origins and size of the debt crisis are traceable to their policies, especially during the Bush-Cheney years. Nor would you hear that a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the rich would reduce the deficit by $680 billion.
In their self-serving and falsely constructed narrative, mounting federal debt began with Obama and continues because of his policies – the latest being the White House decision to insist on the extension of unemployment benefits.
Like Paul Revere and Tom Paine, we must sound the alarm and appeal to the American people’s common sense. The barbarians – aka the Republicans – are at the gates and we must rebuff them at the polls and in the streets.
Yes, many Democrats are a problem too, but not the main problem. To say that they are is to leave the world of concrete realities and dwell in the home of broad generalizations – the two parties are parties of capitalism. That’s true, but to leave matters there is of little help (strategically and tactically) as to what is to be done on the level of concrete reality to move the chain of struggle forward.