Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Recession: A Battle Lost (revised)

It is high time for the Democratic party to face a very unpleasant fact: We have lost the battle for the second half of the twentieth Century. It is high time for the American people to realize the cost of that defeat.

In the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, Americans swept Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the Oval Office. FDR proceeded to remake American society. He and the Democratic party constructed a new type of society, in which Americans were offered social security in their old age, the right to collectively bargain with their employers, and the right to participate in a market place regulated and made safer by the Government’s presence as traffic cop.

In effect, FDR smoothed the wrinkles of the free market…eliminating the lowest of lows, but also restricting access to the highest of highs.

The right wing never forgave him for it. For, although most Americans were now comfortable, there were, the right felt, restraints on them which prohibited them from reaching for unlimited wealth and power.

Grover Norquist, the Republican strategist who, with Newt Gingrich, drafted the Contract with America, famously said: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Republicans of his sort set the goal of cutting the federal government in half by 2025.

How was this reduction in size to be accomplished?

Given the fact that the American People had come to expect help with higher education, health care, workers compensation for injury, social security and a host of other helpful programs, Republicans were faced with a problem. How were they going to convince the majority of Americans to vote for policies which were not in their best interest?

Their answer, their Ace in the Hole, was Tax Cuts. Anyone who has ever been dismayed at reading his pay stub and noting the difference between his gross and net income likes the sound of those words “Tax Cuts”…that was easy to get people to rally behind.

And, since the hated programs and regulators were funded by taxes, Republicans knew that in the end, their goal of a weakened, rickety federal government was also within sight.

Today, as we contemplate the ruin of American society…as we see the American dream sliding out of reach for most Americans, we are forced to conclude that this strategy of “Starve-the-Beast” has worked.

We, as Democrats, have lost this battle. The radicals on the Right have succeeded in diminishing the power of the Government to serve as an instrument to help us build a more just society, and to more fully "provide for the General Welfare".

We have not yet lost the war, however. We may still work to rebuild Government so that it may continue to serve the ordinary people of this nation. The task, however, will not be a pleasant one. And, for Democrats, it will be exceedingly difficult as we find ourselves having to postpone addressing the genuine needs of certain of our fellow citizens as we tend to the business of rebuilding that engine by which we can help them in the long run.

But this is what we must do. Our inability to act quickly, and to provide help immediately, is the price we will have to pay for loosing this battle.

If, however, we continue to fight this action, we will loose the war itself...and that means we will never be able to redress grievances again. We must fall back, dig new lines, and fight to stop the Right wing march of debt, only after we have stopped them, can we then begin to regain lost ground and continue the task of building the shining city on the hill.

It will take many years to replace the safety nets for ordinary Americans which were strung between 1933 and 1981. Before we even begin, we will need to spend our money to get our government out of debt. There are hard times for the American people ahead, and we will need to grit our teeth and get to work if we are to dig ourselves out of the hole the Republicans talked us into.

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