By MARK T. HARRIS
If mainstream politics is a petrified forest, there are signs of life at the grassroots.
The way American politics works now, presidential election campaigns run on a perpetual cycle, beginning again almost as soon as they end. Yet despite the drawn-out nature of political campaigns, they increasingly resemble rote public relations exercises in which pro-business candidates of both parties express conventional platitudes along a narrow spectrum of allowable thought. Circumscribed “debates” then take place among candidates who all agree that “free market” capitalism is the best system the world has ever known. Rooted in deep pockets, it all seems to last forever, and go nowhere.
Before the next presidential campaign is in full swing, we get the books analyzing the last campaign in excruciating detail. These are written by “serious” journalists with an “in” to the election industry’s most powerful players.
One such journalist is Mark Halperin, co-author with John Heilemann of “Double Down,” a nearly 500-page insider’s account of the Big Drama of the 2012 presidential election. Late last year (Nov. 8), syndicated right-wing radio host Michael Medved interviewed Halperin on his show. It was a mostly forgettable interview, but there was one memorable moment. What, asked Medved, was Halperin’s best early prediction for the 2016 presidential race?
Obviously, any prediction at this early juncture would be highly qualified, declared Halperin, but his best prediction at this time would be a Clinton-Bush faceoff. I had to laugh hearing that. Halperin was referring to Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, of course. Irony was screaming at us in the face, but neither Halperin nor Medved apparently saw any in this prediction.
So this is how it is. In a nation with over 300 million people, many of whom have ideas and college degrees and all sorts of positive contributions to make, how is that the names Clinton and Bush keep coming up? But the more important question is why do the corporate politics represented by these names persist?
The Bush beat
It’s perhaps testament to the dismal state of Republican politics that some pundits now bandy the former Florida governor’s name as a possible party savior for 2016. Apparently, by the bold act of merely standing still, a mainstream Republican right-winger like Bush has now morphed into some sort of moderate, grand old statesmen-type of the conservative old guard.
Of course, Bush is moderate only by comparison to that orbiting death star of accelerating negativity known as the Tea Party. This is a man who was gung-ho for his brother’s war in Iraq, singed into law “Choose Life” license plates promoted by anti-abortion groups, and who never met a shady anti-Castro Cuban extremist he didn’t like.
As The Guardian and other investigative publications have long reported, Bush’s history includes associations with Camilo Padreda, a former intelligence officer with the Batista dictatorship in Cuba. There’s also his lobbying for Cuban exile Miguel Recarey, a businessman eventually charged with massive Medicare fraud whose earlier activities include participating in CIA efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Nor does the pragmatic Bush hesitate to court the Tea Party crowd. He’s raised funds in recent months for Maine Governor Paul LePage, for example. Up for re-election in 2014, LePage likes to says things like “Obama hates white people” and “47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” Of course, the chasm between a mainstream Republican like Bush and the Tea Party extreme has never been more than a short puddle hop. Consider that Bush told Esquire magazine in 2009 he considered the newly elected Obama a “collectivist,” meaning someone who believes “through government, you can solve more problems.”
You have to wonder why someone who objects to government’s “solving problems” would seek public office in the first place. If Bush was not in government to solve problems, why bother running for office? We think we know the answer to that question: Because it’s what the Bush family with its Wall Street connections has done for generations. It’s all about the mix of money and power and power and money and living the privileged life. It’s now also all about getting government out of the way of business, which for the former Florida governor translates into Stalinist-like fidelity to the “reduce spending-cut taxes” mantra.
The loyal “opposition”
As for Hillary Clinton, here is a politician who went right along with George W. Bush’s “weapons of mass destruction” lies in the drive to war in Iraq in 2003. As an elected official, she’s never opposed the massive war budget that now equals half of all world military expenditures. Nor, as Ralph Nader observes in a recent commentary, can other Democrats even get Clinton to support raising the federal minimum wage to a modest $10.50 an hour.
Of course, Clinton is adept at giving nice speeches about women’s rights and workers’ rights. But like Barack Obama, who relies on Wall Street advisors to craft economic policy, her chief campaign advisor for years has been Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, a consulting firm with a track record of corporate union busting.
How tiring the same old, same old has become. After eight years of George W. Bush, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 felt for many like a gale force of change was about to sweep across the political landscape. But the winds of change petered out surprisingly quickly. Watching now the unfolding debacle surrounding the launch of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is another reminder how deadening to the prospects of real change two-party politics is, due to its inveterate rotten compromises with corporate power.
The right-wing rises in mock indignation at the specter of insurance companies cancelling the health plans of millions because the plans don’t meet minimum coverage requirements under the ACA, and they blame the president for lying to Americans about their right to keep their existing plans. Left out of most news reports is the fact that the plans being cancelled are those sold after passage of the ACA, but before its implementation. Ironically, Obama gave the insurance industry everything they could possibly ask for, yet as the industry is showing once again, his concessions to them at the expense of a true non-profit, national health care system, is proving the proverbial deal with the devil.
Even Forbes magazine admits the real unemployment rate, counting long-term unemployed no longer officially on the books, remains over 14 percent, double the official unemployment figures. With unions in decline, millions more Americans continue to work in low-pay service jobs, often working just below the hours required to earn benefits and with few prospects of something better coming along. But corporate profits? They’re doing great and getting greater.
When we needed public works jobs programs, Obama gave us “free market” politics. When we needed genuine health care reform—single-payer—we instead got a complex, burdensome system designed to keep the health insurance industry in the profit loop. Contrary to the liberal refrain, the political system in Washington isn’t really broken; it’s just serving the wrong people.
Grassroots Inspiration in Seattle
How much more inspiring to see the recent grassroots electoral initiative in Seattle that has led to the election of socialist Kshama Sawant to city council, the first socialist elected in that city in 100 years. Buoyed by her campaign, plans are now already underway to accelerate the popular initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Sawant and local groups plan to organize a “Rally of 10,000” and other grassroots efforts to make Seattle the first American city to accomplish this goal.
Such independent grassroots campaigns are what need to be duplicated in cities across the country. It’s the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement now finding expression at the ballot box. It’s also the way to begin to turn back the steady drift toward deepening inequality.