Talk about the New Center…Talk about broken politics…

Jim, thanks for sending this column by Katrina van den Heuvel. You know I like her, and I always forget she has a column in the Post. You suggested we use the column to talk about the new center and about broken politics.A few thoughts. I agree with pretty much everything she says, even if little or none of it is new. It’s what she and others (Michael Moore comes to mind) have been saying for a long time.
My problem with the idea of a grand bargain or whatever you want to call it is simple. I see the reality as that we are still a very rich country, and we are still the richest country in the world. Our problem is that the wealth has moved dramatically upwards (I mean, is it really sane that 400 people have as much wealth as the bottom 150 million of us? If you really think they deserve that money because they have just worked harder or whatever, you would also have to believe they really are a different, better species, and us and everyone we know are lesser, less deserving, lazy beings–otherwise, how could they work 10,000 times harder than an ordinary human?)
Because all that wealth has dramatically moved upwards to the top, we aren’t able to do a lot of the things we once did as a country; effectively educate our children, build our bridges, repair our roads, ensure the safety of our food supply, ensure there are enough jobs for everyone. Because those things cost money. It used to be we pooled our money and were able to pay for all of that, and the rich still had a lot more than most, and lived quite nicely.
So the great shift that has brought us to where we are has very largely been at the expense of the middle and working classes, as the very wealthy have exploded in ever more wealth over the past 30 years.
And now we are missing those things we once had; good roads, good schools, jobs, etc. And we are asked to engage in a grand bargain where the middle class, working class, and to a small extent the wealthy all sacrifice to help us get back to where we are. It’s as though someone stole my car and then said they’d be willing to sell it back to me at half its value, and that’s fair because they are only getting half the value and we are only spending half what it is worth–shared sacrifice. Except, of course, for the fact that they stole it from me. That’s what the grand bargain always seems to be.
Yes, I accept that the middle class will need to participate and make some sacrifices (I think all the Bush tax cuts, not just those for the wealthy, should expire. And of course I thought they never should have been enacted in the first place.) If I saw a grand bargain being proposed that truly asked for sacrifice in the proportion of 1) those who could afford it and 2) with appropriate penalty, sacrifice, call it what you will, from those who got us into this mess, then I’d be for it. I haven’t seen that from either side. Both the Democrats and the Republicans essentially give the wealthy a pass. (Sure, Obama scores a few political points with his Buffet Rule that he knows will never pass. And that’s kind of the point. Forty years ago the Buffet Rule would have seemed ridiculously conservative. A 30% rate for the richest. Huh. From the end of the Great Depression until the Reagan tax cuts, the highest rate was between 70 and 90%, and there were still plenty of rich people doing just fine. They still innovated. They still created jobs. I’m not saying we should go back to 90%, but 50% on income–whether from working or investments–after your first three million or so, which would be at a lower rate, certainly seems reasonable given our current situation and the fact that those wealthy folks have gamed the system and gotten all the gains in the last generation.) That’s why I think the grand bargain as presented in today’s politics is not a move towards any kind of center, but a continued push towards a radical right with even more radical class differences than we have now.
Katrina is right that there is danger ahead if nothing is done, with the automatic cuts coming as a result of last summer’s budget deal. And she is also right that going along with what passes for a “grand bargain” in today’s Washington would only make things worse. It will be interesting, and probably scary, to see what will happen. I don’t see much hope for anything reasonable being done, as our politics truly are broken. Or, I would say, bought. In short, if compromise means the Democrats get nothing, and give the Republicans everything, then it isn’t compromise, and it isn’t good, and shouldn’t be done. I wish true compromise could happen, and the Republicans have made it pretty clear that will never happen. They have simply decided they no longer have any interest in governing.
We’ve discussed before whether any bipartisanship is possible, given Obama tried so hard for it, at least in his first couple years. The only thing I can remember being mentioned as something that was bipartisan, was a compromise of any kind, was the health care bill. And of course that isn’t true. The Democrats bent over backwards, rewriting half the bill for Olympia Snowe so they could get one Republican vote and call it bipartisan. And in the end Snowe voted against it anyway as the vote went completely along party lines. The saddest thing to me is that way too many Americans, probably a majority, will go to the polls and vote in November without thinking about any of this.

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About JP

We're two guys who met in college, in 1980. We've stayed in touch, and like to talk politics, current events, music and religion. JP is nore liberal than Sid, but not in every way. We figure that dialogue stimulates ideas, moderates perspective, and is in general friendly. These are things we need badly in these dangerous times. The blog name is taken from a song by Bruce Cockburn.
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