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The Republican Betrayal of America
The achievements are compromised but significant: thirty-two million more Americans, including people with chronic diseases, finally to have health insurance; two sensible women added to the Supreme Court; the American auto industry rescued from self-destruction; Bush’s grotesque folly of a war in Iraq being wound down; Israelis and Palestinians negotiating; green technology research receiving millions of dollars in stimulus funds...
But never mind, never mind: Judging from most polls, the U.S. electorate is about to cut off its nose to spite its face by restoring a significant amount of political clout to the Republicans.
It’s true that these accomplishments deservedly fetch loud “yeah buts” from progressive critics. The Democrats have failed to spare working people from the pain of the recession by effectively preserving homes, jobs, or retirement accounts — and have even failed to convey a message that makes “stimulus” and “government intervention” look friendly to anyone but Goldman Sachs. They have been unwilling to challenge the system of profit-based medicine by proclaiming health care to be a right, to pass climate-change legislation that would assign financial responsibility for pollution to the corporations that produce it, or to curb the rapacity of the banking and finance industries. In short, Congressional Democrats have shown themselves to be captive to the same system of legalized corporate bribery that the Republican Party serves. Americans owe them no loyalty, not when the betrayal of working people, going back to the Reagan years, has been so thoroughly bipartisan.
Nevertheless, it is the Republicans who have played the most hypocritical and dangerous game by refusing all collaboration with the Obama Administration, no matter how dire our country’s need for legislative interventions. It is the Republicans who have applauded and cultivated the rabid politics of the Tea Party while fashioning an unholy alliance with hate-mongers of the media. It is the Republicans who have been attacking religious freedom, federalism, the system of checks and balances, the 14th Amendment, minority protection, and other pillars of our constitutional democracy, while cultivating the kind of passionate intolerance that results in threats of Koran-burning and a nationwide 30 percent increase in gun sales since Obama took office.
All of this, just to preserve tax cuts for millionaires? To defend the oil industry against a few lousy environmental regulations? To shield hedge funds from oversight? Are the Republican kingmakers really confident that a Sarah Palin-Glenn Beck ticket in 2012 would kow-tow to their corporatist agenda — or that the gun-toting far right will tolerate yet another round of betrayal of their agenda once their votes have been safely recorded?
Ever since 9-11, Republican leadership has de-graded our nation in ways that Osama bin Laden could not have anticipated. This is seen once again in the fierce campaign being mounted against Park51, the Islamic community center slated to be built two blocks away from where the World Trade Center used to stand. Although George Washington (“to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”) is turning over in his grave, it hasn’t required a Ph.D in semiotics for the demagogues of the right to recognize the situation as a gold mine. After nine years of being conditioned to accept war, torture, rendition, and suspensions of liberty in the name of national security — and after nine years of exposure to suicide bombings, beheadings, and other atrocities committed in the name of “jihad” — it is actually remarkable that a majority of Americans still defend our Constitution’s ideal of religious freedom as it applies to Islam.
Numerous individuals and groups have taken a firm stand to shore up that defense (see, for example, the Shalom Center’s paid two-page statement on pages 74-75 of the Fall 2010 issue). We add our voice to theirs, and we applaud their patriotism and resolve. In fact, our president would be well-advised to emulate them as he prepares to govern for the next two years without a veto-proof majority, possibly without a majority at all. With his legislative agenda stymied, Obama’s most important role for the remainder of his term may well be as defender-in-chief of the Constitution — and as champion of the key liberal concept of government as regulator of the powerful and guardian of the minority. It’s about time for him give the Republicans and their far-right cronies a sip of their own tea by responding to their insults and challenging their ideology in plain words!
There’s a lot more to presidential power than the bully pulpit, however. Working independently of Congress — through executive orders, regulatory enforcement, contracting requirements or government purchasing, recess appointments, and other means at his disposal — President Obama can still demonstrate the usefulness of government by helping working people recover some economic security, some union representation, some fair share in the national wealth. It’s therefore time for him to stop ignoring the progressive base that worked like the dickens to get him elected: He’s going to need the back-up.