Austerity debate remains unresolved after shutdown drama

President Obama-and the American people-won an epic, if primarily tactical, victory over what Washington Post columnist Colbert King has described as the billionaire-funded, neo-Confederate tea party attempt to defund Obamacare, and undermine its most important achievement: taking a major step forward in establishing health care as a universal human right.

Rachel Maddow’s elegant chart says it all with respect to the political demands of the ultra right, which was in control of the House Republican Party caucus at least until the very end, when their “let it all fall down” position collapsed.

Yet there was one victory the neo-Confederate Republicans can claim that even the old Confederacy could not: the ability to shutdown the federal government, a symbol of their supreme distaste for both union and democracy.

What is the overarching economic theme of almost all neo-Confederate policy and propaganda? I submit: rolling back and shutting down any and all public goods, institutions and services that transfer wealth from billionaires to the people.

The paymasters of the tea party movement know only too well that rising inequality, and declining living standards for most working people, are rich turf for “wedge” issues of race, abortion, gay rights, etc.

These types of issues serve now, as they have in the past, as useful tools for the billionaires to distract ordinary folks from noticing their pockets being picked of any remaining change.

Hail to Bernie Sanders call to take the message of tea party hypocrisy to its most vulnerable victims: working people in the Southern states, primarily.

Proposals to cut benefits and rights for working people are virtually all efforts to return public wealth to already wealthy private hands.

These forces – the Koch Brothers, for example – view every advance in public goods or services (e.g. health care, “entitlements”, etc.) as a sign of Bolshevik Revolution at sunrise.

They are panicking at the mere suggestion of losing proprietary prerogatives, and thus have embraced fascist wrecking tactics solely to preserve the terrible “two Americas” plutocracy that has been evolving rapidly in the wake of the recent depression.

There is a very strong, billionaire argument that the most important indicator for a healthy and growing mixed economy is the median income worker’s total compensation.

Is it growing at the same pace as the overall economy? If the answer is yes, that’s not necessarily a cure-all for social conflict nor a guarantee of long run stability.

BUT, the most successful era of real and expanding democracy in the history of the United States – from 1935 to 1981 coincides precisely with the decades when median income very closely tracked increases in GNP – due in large part to increased power of workers through both unions and political influence.

Since then, with the exception of a couple of years in the ’90s tech boom, median income has been flat or downward ever since Reagan began tearing up the New Deal.

Further, I submit there are only two known, general remedies for working people to redress the terrible inequalities that capitalism in America periodically inflicts upon them.

One is legalizing collective bargaining. Not just legalizing it, indeed, make it mandatory on a grand scale. That would result in the single biggest step the U.S. government could take to reverse inequality, without a single additional piece of legislation.

Unfortunately Reagan and his descendants have made serious progress in the opposite direction on workers bargaining rights and protection across the board.

The other remedy is substantially increased democratic with a small “d” meaning working and middle classes input on the taxation, regulation, empowerment, spending, investment, and industrial policies of government.

To the plutocrats, this is revolutionary democracy designed to reduce if not in some cases extinguish their economic and political power as a distinct social class, just as the restrictions on slave property were viewed by rebellious slave owners.

Perhaps it is true that the paths of democracy are inherently revolutionary, as ever more people and generations empowered by health, resources and education, must continually reinvent it, and society at large as well. So be it.

The deal to end the shutdown postpones the essential economic policy debate of growth vs. debt around the federal budget by 6 months. The weakened political position of the Republicans needs to be fully exploited to by all democratic forces to drive home the victory of a “jobs, growth, and infrastructure investment over reducing debt” policy line.

Until that line is victorious, how can progress on inequality be sustained? Lincoln fired General McClellan after Antietam because he did not pursue Lee’s retreating army and destroy it. It may be time now to abandon the “grand bargain” between “two incompatible Americas”, and go, again, with the union, the 99%, with a re-united America, seize the engine of democracy in the hands of working people, and shun by all peaceful means the neo-Confederacy as permanently, and as resolutely, as the last Confederacy.

Photo: AFGE Puerto Rico government workers protesting the shutdown.  AFGE Facebook page.




John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.