Monday, September 06, 2010

Our Long National Nightmare Is Just Beginning

David Michael Green writes at Counterpunch (click the title of this post):

The Republican Party was once a moderately conservative, pro-business outfit, until it was highjacked by the oligarchy and turned into a full-on predatory machine, hiding behind the facade of hate mobilizing issues like bogus overseas threats abroad and uppity brown people and demanding women at home. Basically, any way that middle class white males could be distracted from their sinking economic status – through the diversion of a sense of superiority over others, or the supposed threat to that superior status – was employed to cover for a party whose true agenda was to quietly produce the greatest transfer of wealth in all of human history.

Having succeeded dramatically, they are back at it again. It is now transparent, for anyone who cares to look, that the ugly tea party movement in America is an invention of the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, Dick Armey and their sick ilk, once again mobilizing a boatload of fools who are angry, but too stupid to know quite why. This explains their endless rhetoric about the evils of the federal government, and their simultaneous desire to keep their Social Security and Medicare benies. It also explains their unmatched idiocy in serving as tools for their own destruction. If they succeed, they fail. If they get their champions elected, they lose their government-provided (Shhhh!) goodies. Brilliant.

In any case, the takeover of the GOP by Serious Money is now well into its second stage. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it is. Seriously, what is the next step after this one fails to provide any long-term solutions to what ails America, as most assuredly will be the case? For a decade or three now, regressives in America have been showing that they are capable of anything. Which more or less answers that question, doesn’t it? If you’re willing to savage military icons like John McCain, Max Cleland and John Kerry in order to win elections – and especially after you get away with it every time – you’re willing to do anything. If you’re willing to mock the 9/11 widows as scheming opportunists, you’re willing to do anything. If you’re willing to don a tuxedo and joke about missing WMD at a press banquet in Washington, just as you’re telling the American military’s adversaries in Iraq to “bring it on”, you’re willing to do anything.

Looking at the rhetoric the right throws in the direction of our president these days, questioning his very nationality (oh, did I mention that he’s black?), it’s easy to see that they‘ve gone completely over the line. But what’s really out of control is what lies underneath this insanity generated for the consumption of an ignorant hoi polloi. And what that is – what you see when you move the slime-infested rock away – is an unfathomably monstrous greed. Watching these folks in action, you could easily get the impression that they had been impoverished their whole lives. That they had been denied everything, right down to food and water. That they had been deprived through poverty especially of their dignity. You know, like the real poor people of this world, the forty or fifty percent of the Earth’s population that survives on less than two dollars per day. Those folks.

Instead, we are talking about people who are already fantastically rich. And who, despite this, are absolutely hell-bent on getting richer, even if that means depriving hundreds of millions of people in the American middle class of their middle classness, and in many cases, ultimately of their lives. How do we explain people like this? Are they not essentially sociopathic? Are they not made of essentially the same stuff as those who can kill without guilt or remorse? Especially when you consider that even the greediest among us reach a limit beyond which one can effectively make use of the next dollar and the one beyond that, so that pushing others into poverty is no longer even for purposes of your own benefit, but instead for some kind of sick sport? Aren’t these the characters whose essential sickness preachers and philosophers and shrinks have been trying to sort out for millennia?

Whatever the explanation for such illness, the effects of their efforts are certainly plain to see. We’re talking here about a class of Americans who have been essentially offended by the diminishment of inequality produced in America during the middle part of the twentieth century, due to the national policies ranging from the New Deal to the Great Society, Republican administrations included. America’s socio-economic structure changed dramatically during that time, and almost entirely for the better. A huge middle class that had never existed before came into being. Anti-poverty programs took the worst sting out of living conditions for the poor. And America became the greatest economic dynamo since the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, by the way, the rich remained very, very rich.

But that was not enough. So they have made a concerted effort over the last generation or so to revert the country back to the bad old days of Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge. Think about that for a second. What sort of elevated sickness, what sort parental deprivation in childhood, what sort of total absence of conscience and consciousness is required to produce a group of people with that mentality?

I wish I knew. But I do know that their plan worked. As Robert Kuttner notes in The American Prospect: “For more than three decades, the wages of American workers have been close to flat while economic insecurity has risen massively. Although the productivity of the U.S. economy has doubled in a generation, most of those gains have not been captured by workers. And in the decade that began in 2001, inflation-adjusted wages have fallen for all but the most affluent 3 percent of the population.

“This pattern of deepening inequality was well entrenched before the financial collapse – which only made things worse. In 2006, economists at Goldman Sachs, sounding almost Marxian, reported that ‘the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.’ By 2006, wages as a percentage of gross domestic product were already at their lowest share – 45 percent – since government began keeping statistics in 1947. In the past three years, the decline in worker earnings has only intensified, as worker bargaining power has been undermined by very high unemployment. As the economy has stumbled toward a feeble recovery, corporate profits and executive bonuses have rebounded smartly, but salaries and wages have not.

“In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, wages and productivity moved upward in lockstep. Beginning in the 1970s, as government regulation of labor conditions faltered, trade with nations that exploited their own workers increased, and corporations declared open war on unions, the lines diverged. Productivity kept increasing, while median wages were nearly flat.”

This is the successful agenda of the right in America, though it has been cleverly masked by the politics of resentment. This has been the real ‘class warfare’ in the United States these last decades – not, as pouncing regressives instantly scream out in an effort to silence truth, the very occasional and even more feeble attempts by the odd Democratic politician who slips up and mentions what has actually happened. And, as Warren Buffett is honest enough to point out, the war is over and his side won. As Robert Reich noted in a recent New York Times op-ed, the richest one percent of Americans have gone from taking in nine percent of the total national income right before the Reagan era began, to nearly one-fourth of it today. As Reich also reminds us, the last time this happened was in 1928. I would rush to say, “Hey, remember how that one turned out?”, but it’s pretty unnecessary to crack the history books for that reference, since we’re now living it. As just about the stupidest society that ever was, we’ve decided to get together to explore the fun and exciting question, “What would happen if America had a devastating economic downturn once again, boys and girls?!?!”

There is one big difference between today and the 1930s, however. Once there was a political party in America – the one that did the New Deal and the Great Society – that stood up a bit for the middle class and the poor. But Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have led the Democrats down a different path. Now the party stands for a slightly weaker version of the GOP’s plutocracy protection service. And, seemingly, for getting its face bitch-slapped bright red at every possible juncture. Both aspects of the New Democrats are a puzzle, but particularly the latter. What sort of psychology of the self-loathing explains how a Clinton or an Obama can be so passive, even when getting handed their heads by the most scurrilous of creeps on the political landscape, pieces of (allegedly) human garbage who could be destroyed with the slightest show of self-defense, let alone a wee assertion of political courage? ...