Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/29/10-Special Announcement

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Beginning tomorrow, I will be embarking first on a cross-country road trip, then on to three years at law school. As a result, I will no longer be able to write for this blog daily. I will come back periodically to write bigger picture entries (not to be confused with The Big Picture, who hopefully will also continue to contribute sporadically) and I will continually update my race rankings for this year's elections. So make sure you keep the blog as a bookmark, because you'll never know when we'll pop up again.

I originally started this blog as a way to catalog what I anticipated would be major accomplishments for the Obama administration. The first official entry to the blog was on January 29, 2009, just over a week after Obama's euphoric inauguration. I wasn't just hopeful about President Obama's legislative agenda. I thought we had entered into a new political paradigm. The economic theories of the Reagan/Bush years had been thoroughly discredited by a massive financial crisis. The politics of division and distraction had seemingly been overcome with an extraordinary candidate, one of the most inspiring American stories. The country was feeling extremely hopeful, which was remarkable given the economic conditions. People traveled miles and stood out in the bitter cold to witness a special moment in history, and the spirit of the day moved me deeply. People of all races and backgrounds gathered by the millions because we felt an immense amount of pride in our country and faith in our new President. I mean, what other event with 1.8 million people would lead to zero arrests??

After that euphoria, it's very hard to understand how we got to where we are today. Today, the unemployment rate is hovering just below 10%, but we can't even get a tiny jobs bill through Congress. The President of the United States, today, had to beg the Senate to approve a small business lending bill, and the bill was still filibustered by the full Republican conference. A bill that essentially is the main plank of the Republican platform, was blocked by the Republicans for basically no reason at all. Today, energy form is pretty much dead. Immigration reform is dead. Many of the old battles we thought we'd transcended, like race and social issues, are everyday items in an often embarrassing national conversation. We're three months before an election that will most likely produce heavy Democratic losses, which will kill any reasonable chance of creating the lasting change we were promised and so desperately needed.

So how did we get from there to here? That's what I've tried to explain daily in this blog, and it hasn't been pretty. Don't get me wrong, this has been the most productive Congress and the most progressive President in generations, and we have a lot to be thankful for. The list of accomplishments is quite impressive (you can view it on the right sidebar of your screen). But several obstacles got in the way of broader, sweeping change. Here are a list of reasons we are where we are:

1. The current Republican party is the craziest, most nihilistic, psycho political party imaginable. They are purposely obstructing progress for their own political gain. Their policy preferences are to massively redistribute money from the middle class to the wealthy. To today's Republicans, our nation's problems are the fault of the most vulnerable, while the only virtuous ones are those who make a lot of money for themselves while doing nothing to improve society. Why aren't the unemployed working hard enough to get jobs? Why are illegal immigrants ruining this country? Why is there so much black-on-white racism? It's hard to negotiate in good-faith with these people.

2. It's one thing to have a nihilistic minority party, but it's another thing to have that party contain major institutional power. Republicans, with a tiny minority in both the House and the Senate, have the institutional ability to basically put a stop to government. The root of the problem, of course, is the filibuster. The 60 vote threshold is fundamentally undemocratic, that we've mentioned a million times. I promise I'll think the same thing when the Republicans are in the majority again. Perhaps more bothersome, are the endless delays caused by the filibusters. Even if they don't have the votes to stop legislation, Republicans still have the ability to delay legislation and appointments, and thus run out the clock on the Democratic agenda. The small business bill is a great example. Republicans will not grant "unanimous consent" to any Democratic request to hold votes, so Democrats are constantly forced to invoke cloture, a process that can take up to 3 days. It also doesn't help that Majority Leader Reid refuses to keep the Senate in session when Republicans engage in these delay tactics.

3. Two groups have absolutley undue influence in our political system. The first is the corporate world and their army of lobbyists. A good swath of the Democratic party will vote against good bills or amendments just because the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, hedge fund managers etc., told them to. It happens all the time. And the Democrats are supposed to be the good party! Some people try to minimize the influece money has on politics. They tell us money doesn't really change how citizens or legislators vote. I'll just point you to a poll out of Florida today that shows two billionaires, one of whom is a criminal, are leading the Republicans nomination for Governor and Democratic nomination for Senate respectively.

The other group with undue influence are small states. It doesn't seem right to me that one Senator from Nebraska can kill an entire unemployment benefits bill because his tiny state is lucky enough to have an unemployment rate. Even before we talk about the filibuster, the Senate is an undemocratic institution!

4. The last major problem is that the Democrats, and specifically President Obama, are not trying hard enough to sell a progressive agenda, despite the massive political capital they were given in the 2008 election. Obama and the Democrats had the opportunity to change the terms of debate on every major issue. Obama could have consistently, in every speech, argue that Bush's economic policies put us in this enormous ditch, and that we have to invest money now to get the economy moving again. He could have explained that the short-term deficit wasn't as important as job creation and that the long-term deficit was the product of reckless Republican tax cuts, endless wars, and unsustainable health care costs. Instead, the President and Congressional Democrats missed messages. They fed into Republican talking points about the deficit, to the point that they forced themsleves to scuttle important items on the agenda. They didn't fight hard consistently for more stimulus, which was desperately needed to counter the massive loss of demand in the economy. In fact, some Democrats in Congress decided that it would be easier to just act like Republicans! The Blue Dogs harped constantly about the deficit and intrusive government, but then would vote for major war spending bills without a whimper.

The public never got a coherent narrative of what the Democratic party was about, what it stands for, and what it will do to help their lives. As a result, they began to distrust Democratic policies and politicians.

I write about these difficulties not because I've lost hope. Barack Obama's election will always be proof that anything is possible in American politics. I write more to underscore how far we have to go before we make the change we need. It's not just politicians who have to change. All of us do. We have to stand up for our values, and we have to organize and inform our peers to put pressure on our representatives. That probably means I should get off the computer and start actually doing something with my life, right?

I want to thank everybody who helped with the blog, wrote comments, and read our entries. Please keep following my Twitter feed if you want my stream of consciousness thoughts on politics, and make sure you follow what Congress is doing as much as you can! Congress Matters is a great resource, as well as the websites for the House and the Senate.

Thanks again, and we'll see you again in the future!

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