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What’s Coming: After the US Government Shutdown

What’s Coming: After the US Government Shutdown

By Dennis Loo (10/18/13)

The New York Times editorializes today regarding the end to the government shutdown and the prospects going forward:

Confrontational tactics failed the Republicans when Mr. Obama stood up to their demands, but rational negotiations — on ways to promote the public interest, not the agenda of interest groups — can still succeed.

No one is under any illusion that the vast differences between the parties have suddenly been bridged, [Obama] said, but the defeat of blackmail clears the way for a return to the traditional processes of democracy.

Before discussing the nature of both what the NYT editorial states and Obama, let’s first look at the left wing of the Democratic Party’s comments.

Matt Lockshin, writing for Credo Action, a progressive group with Credo Mobile phones, stated yesterday:

The longer term budget fight that will now commence will revolve around the across-the-board spending cuts known as the "sequester" that came into place after the Democrats caved during the last debt ceiling crisis. The sequester has led to indiscriminate cuts to everything -- from vital social programs that should be better funded to the bloated Pentagon budget that should be the target of even further cutbacks.

If you remember, in 2011 -- despite opposition from CREDO members and other progressives -- Democrats agreed to a process that led first to the dangerous farce that was called "the Super Committee." Then, when the Super Committee failed because Republicans refused to take Democrats up on their offer to cut programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in exchange for modest increases in revenue, an across-the-board sequester was imposed. This sequester has been slashing government spending at a time when the government needed to be spending more money to bring us out of our economic downturn and get people back to work.

The Democratic victory in this most recent fight merely maintained the status quo including those brutal cuts from 2011. The fact that the deal struck consists of a temporary funding bill that adopts the Republicans sequester budget cuts shows how far the goalposts have been moved and how much more work we as progressives have to do if we want to see our priorities reflected in how the government spends money.

Although it received scant notice at the time, the discussions around re-opening the government and extending the debt ceiling explicitly included talk about cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

While the president and Senate Democrats refused to negotiate under the duress of these must-pass bills that were crucial to the economy, Democrats were quite clear that they were more than willing to agree to benefit cuts. And part of the framework agreed to yesterday includes an explicit timeline for those negotiations, which are scheduled to conclude by December 13.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third most powerful Democrat in the Senate, let the cat out of the bag when he said the following on CBS's Face the Nation last Sunday:

The dispute has been how to undo sequester. Republicans want to do it with entitlement cuts -- in other words, take entitlement cuts and then put that money into undoing at least part of sequester. Democrats want to do it with a mix of mandatory cuts, some entitlement [cuts], and revenues. And so how do you overcome that dilemma? We're not going to overcome it in the next day or two. But if we were to open up the government for a period of time that concluded before the sequester took place, which is January 15th, we could have a whole bunch of discussions. And I am more optimistic than most we could come to an agreement. That was one place where the House Republicans and the president were not, you know, at total loggerheads.

[…]

So the plan would be open up the government immediately for a period of time before the sequester hits and then have serious discussions where we might be able to undo the sequester. I'm optimistic that could work.

Sen. Schumer's optimism should be of concern to all of us who want to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

We already have seen the president propose benefit cuts for these vital social insurance programs in previous budgets.

While the Republicans have previously rejected the president's offers due to their zealous opposition to new taxes on the wealthy or large corporations and the president's insistence on new sources of revenue in any grand bargain, we can't count on the Republicans to continue refusing to take yes for an answer. So if we allow the Democrats to continue proposing the same bad deals they have offered in the past, we could end up seeing the Democrats win this battle only to lose the larger war.

If you don’t really understand what just happened and why – why the U.S. government was shutdown and lost over $22 billion, along with many incalculable costs to scientific activity and people’s lives – then going forward towards and into the next confrontation will not make a lot of sense either.

In this respect the NYT editorial, Obama’s comments, and the liberal/progressive perspective as represented by Credo are off the mark. To understand what just happened and what is coming requires a firm grasp of theory, specifically revolutionary theory, that lays bare the essential elements of this superpower’s workings and the nature of the crisis that capitalism is in the throes of. The surface appearances of things - matters on the level of phenomena - will not give you what you need.

The phrase “common ground” - between the Democrats and Republicans - is being bandied about and the NYT hopes that reason and the public interest will prevail.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: from the perspective of both the GOP zealots who blackmailed us into this shutdown and the Democratic Party leadership, there is no public interest. The governing philosophy for both the Republicans and the Democrats is neoliberalism, aka free market fundamentalism. Neoliberals embrace the notion that market forces (privatization) are the solution for all matters public and private. Neoliberal doctrine is based on the view that there is no such thing as the public interest. There are only private interests.

The Democratic Party’s rhetoric includes nods to the public interest, primarily couched in terms of the “national interest.” But they only differ from the Republican version of neoliberalism in these tips of the hat to the “common interest” because a) their social base believes in the public interest, b) telling that social base that we are going to strip away public programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and privatize what’s left will ruin the Democrats’ ability to rein in these groups, and c) those who lead the Democrats believe that the best way to hold together the centripetal forces that they and the Republicans are trying to control is to patch together some kind of neoliberal state with a smiling face. That is, while carrying out the Bush Doctrine and deporting more immigrants than any of his predecessors, Obama continues to talk about the rule of law and “this is not who we are” while torturing Gitmo prisoners and drone assassinating people. In other words, Obama’s policies are not better; indeed they are worse than Bush, but the descriptors for those policies are meant to be more inclusive and progressive sounding. You can hardly hold onto the allegiance of black people, for example, if you explicitly wave around a Confederate flag and call George Zimmerman a hero. Instead, you have to deliver speeches like Clinton used to of “I feel your pain,” indicating how much you empathy you have. So Obama talks about how difficult it is to be black in America, even as he endorses the court’s outrageous innocence verdict of Zimmerman.

Encouraging the Democrats to “grow a spine” and celebrating their not conceding any more to the GOP this time than they previously already conceded with the sequester thus does not match the actual situation of what the Democrats are really about and what the Empire is about.

It seems hardly necessary to point out that the GOP regards the notion of a public interest as absurd. Their very identity as a party is now inextricably tied up with a solid core that explicitly embraces xenophobia, white supremacy, nativism, sexism, and religious intolerance. This latest episode of forcing the government shutdown is only the beginning for them. They actually think that if they don’t “stand up” for white men’s privileges that the demographic changes in America are their certain doom. And they are right. Those values and that status are doomed. But saying that does not mean and should not be understood to mean that the fascist forces cannot prevail. They could. They are exceedingly dangerous. But they are not different in kind, only in manner, than their fellows in the other imperialist party, the Democrats. The GOP's Evangelical/Tea Party base would rather pull down the pillars around them that hold this polity together than see their certain demise as the race supreme. While the damage from this is being rightly blamed on them, they are not apologetic. Some of the Republican Party voters, the moderate Republicans, are appalled and some at least of them are going to go elsewhere, but the GOP's core followers and their leaders are unapologetic and determined. Political power does not rest upon popularity, electoral or otherwise.

What the Democrats will probably work out with the Republicans is some kind of deal that further slashes “entitlements” even while Obama will call it the common good.

What’s coming is a possible legitimacy crisis, if those of us who can see that neither party nor a third party are the solution but that it is this system itself that is illegitimate, outmoded, bankrupt both materially and morally, and that its continued existence is disastrous.

Last night at the UCLA event one of my friends before the program said that those who want change might need to wait for a hundred years to win and she thanked me for waging the “good fight.” My response was: I don’t want to wage the good fight. I want to win. We don’t have a hundred years. The climate emergency alone demands sooner action.

P.S. The UCLA event went very well.

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