Pick your poison: America’s Banana Republic politics

I was at a party at my brother’s house last weekend when I got into a conversation with a woman who I knew to be a moderate Republican.

“A lot of my friends in the Midwest are firmly convinced Obama is a socialist,” she told me earnestly.

“Really,” I replied. “I’ve always found him rather moderate. Can you give me an example of why they feel that way?”

“Well, no,” she replied. “But my friends have lots and lots of evidence.”

So goes the disconnect called politics in the United States today. It’s impossible to argue with a phantom, to provide contrary evidence to “proof” that’s no more than a proclamation.

I’ve occasionally engaged in “discourse” with birthers online whose “prroof” that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen is that they have never seen his birth certificate.  Forget that the state of Hawaii has posted verification of his birth in that state online. I’m guessing they want to see a paper copy, distributed by hand to 300 million Americans (at which point they’d cry forgery).

Americans say they hate the stimulus, too. But scratch the surface and you realize they don’t know what it is. They really hate TARP, the bailout of the banks, which was passed on George W. Bush’s watch. Americans hate what the Republicans call Obamacare and want to repeal it. But ask them if they believe people should be able to get health insurance even with a pre-exising illness, and they will resoundingly answer, “yes.”  Of course, such protection of people with “pre-existing” conditions is one of the key elements of Obama’s health care plan.

We are a distracted and thus often ignorant people, the perfect population for a Republican Party that preys on fear and wields propaganda like a surgeon’s scalpel.

But perhaps I give the Republicans too much credit. Their foil, of course, is the Democratic Party, whose frequent mantra is “turn and run like hell.”  Maybe we could buy its leaders skeletons with backbones for Halloween.

The latest example is the Bush tax cuts. Barack Obama wants to extend them for all Americans earning less than $250,000 a year.  Republicans want to make them permanent for everyone, which would (a) increase the deficit by $700 billion and (b) reward the rich in a country in which the top 1 percent of earners already take in roughly a quarter of the payroll each year.

Just how skewed wealth in this country has become can be measured in several other ways.

1. Take Social Security. American pay a Social Security tax on the first $106,800 of their income. That means if you earn $106,800 a year you will pay an identical Social Security tax to that CEO earning $10 million.  His $9.9 million of protected income is one reason the system is going broke.

2. Take tax breaks for homes. Truly middle class and lower-middle-class Americans who can’t afford homes get a pittance of a renter’s tax break. But homeowners?  They can write off the interest on their mortgages — and the wealthier the individual, the bigger their mortgage writeoffs and the bigger their tax break.

3. Take income taxes. Congress lowered them again under George W. Bush, pushing up the deficit, and capping the top tax bracket to 35 percent.  Today, when Republicans scream that Democrats want to raise taxes, what they really mean is the president would allow the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans — those earning more than $250,000 — return to the same 39 percent rate they paid in the 1990s (this is still a modest percentage of the top rates in the 1970s).

If you still feel this the rich’s pain, keep in mind that this is the same group getting a big break on Social Security taxes. The same ones getting the biggest mortgage writeoffs. The same ones earning one quarter of American salaries.  The same one that’s lobbied for lower inheritance taxes and capital gains taxes. The same ones complaining about welfare “handouts” to the poor.

Democrats should be having a field day with the disparity of wealth in American, not swallowing a goldfish and hiding in the bathroom.

I’m no economist. But I understand the precepts of fairness. And I believe the American people do, too. Polls have consistently showed a majority behind President Obama’s call to end the Bush-era tax cuts for wealthiest Americans.

So what have Democrats in Congress done? They’ve cancelled a vote on tax cuts until after the election. Yes, it’s pathetic.

The alternative, of course, would have been to face a Republican filibuster. But who cares?  The Democrats could have turned that filibuster — and the threatened filibuster on “don’t ask, don’t tell” — against Republicans. They could have proven to all those Americans who are feeling lackluster and who may well leave this election to the wing nuts of the far right, that they stand for something — make that, something other than getting re-elected. They could have shredded Republican arguments that the wealthy will create fewer jobs if they have to pay more taxes. (“Oh really. And where were all those jobs created when Republicans had the tax cuts under George Bush?)

But no.  When Republicans said, “boo,” the Democrats ran away.

Come election day, I will still hold my nose and vote Democratic.  Like the hobgoblins of Halloween, what hangs in the balance is too scary — a Republican Party dedicated to making the rich richer, the rest of us more frightened and hateful of Muslims and immigrants and really anyone who isn’t white, and a government more paralyzed and increasingly in debt. But if large numbers of Americans sit this election out for spite, the Democrats will have earned their drubbing.

Being less mean and a bit less beholding to the fat-cat lobbyists is not a policy initiative.

About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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4 Responses to Pick your poison: America’s Banana Republic politics

  1. MariusP says:

    This is a great article, clearly making the case that the effete Democrats lack the backbone to stand up to the power structure for the most basic principles of economic justice.

    It’s too bad, Mr. Lanson, that you show the same lack of conviction and will vote for them anyway, ignoring your own sound advice.

    Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. How many times will we pin our hopes on a party that repeatedly shows it is not willing to represent us? We must begin the long, hard work of building a legitimate progressive party.

    • jerrylanson says:

      Hi MariusP.
      Thanks so much for stopping by. I agree with you that this country needs a legitimate progressive party. But I’m not willing to elect a reactionary government on the way. Where we may disagree is that I see a significant difference between this country’s Democratic and Republican parties. And there’s a real danger that the Republicans, who to a large degree want to dismantle government, will win.

      • MariusP says:

        Hi Mr. Lanson,

        Thanks very much for your reply. I am curious to know what you see as substantive differences between the two parties. I’ve spent a great deal of time debating my “liberal” friends (who all want, as I gather you do, the same general end results as me) who continue to support the Democrats. My personal opinion is that we do not actually have two parties, but a one-party, two-headed system. The Dems have had control of the White for almost two years, and Congress for four. And what has it gotten us? More war, more obfuscation, more expansion of executive privilege, more rendition, the list goes on.

        When you look at what Barack Obama has done, I don’t see how one can conclude that the difference between the parties is more than cosmetic. Just to state the obvious –

        -After promising to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which a majority of Americans want repealed) his justice department is now fighting a court ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

        -The health care “reform” is a joke. It seems that he never had any intention of demanding a strong public option (knowing that it would eventually put insurance companies out of business) and got next to nothing in return for a massive giveaway to insurance – and pharmaceutical – companies. AND, that bill eviscerates reproductive rights (who needs Republicans to overturn Roe if you can effectively restrict access to abortion to all but the wealthy?)

        -And, most glaringly, while Obama talked endlessly about bringing sanity to Wall Street, he’s done nothing to change the casino style approach Wall Street used to decimate our economy. But, why would anyone have expected him to bring any change? If you look at who his economic advisors are – Larry Summers, Bob Rubin, Tim Geitner (the architects of the financial deregulation of the 1990’s which led to the economic meltdown) you’d know he was in Wall Street’s pocket from day one.

        And then, of course, there’s your point about the simplest of messages regarding the inordinate amount of wealth concentrated at the very top, and the massive injustice that the working and (increasingly smaller) middle class, faces – which the Democrats could not even make.

        I believe the direction we’re moving in IS IN FACT dangerously reactionary, but I just don’t see the evidence that the Democrats have the will – or even the desire – to change that.

        One last thing, I hear the argument (over and over) that the Republicans are using the filibuster to block most of the wonderful legislation that the Democrats would love to pass. So I ask this question: why is it that the Dems have been unable to accomplish much of anything for 2 years, while Bush – with no supermajority in the Senate – got basically everything he wanted?

        Thank you very much for taking the time to reply – I realize this is a rather long message.


      • jerrylanson says:

        My two minute answer ()class). Thanks for the thoughtful, smart analysis. That said:
        1. I have no answer on the militarization of America. It’s bad. Both parties.
        2. Better to have some health care than none. The ban on excluding people with pre-existing conditions is big.
        It can grow from here.
        3. Democrats don’t want to ROLL BACK Social Security, Medicare and Social Programs.
        4. Democrats don’t practice the xenophobia that seems widespread in the Republican Party.
        5. Starting a Consumer Protection Agency could prove a big accomplishment.
        I’d rather make small advances than to allow the election of those who will take away decades of advances.

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