Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Budget woes and the spine of the Democratic Party

In recent months, when you compare the battle for workers' rights in many states to the budget impasse in Washington, it shows a stark difference between Democratic politicians at the state level as compared to the federal level. Grassroots support has encouraged state Democrats to stand firmly with workers whose rights are under assault in many states, but the same kind of backbone does not seem to have reached Washington Democrats, who have been notorious for often allowing Republicans to always have their way and to keep shifting the country rightward politically ever since the 1980s.

The latest episode of capitulating has been occurring with the current budget standoff that threatens a government shutdown. In the midst of an economic recovery House Republicans have been insisting on draconian cuts and have continued moving the goal posts in order to please the Tea Party, and the cuts Democrats are currently agreeing to are greater than what the Republicans initially proposed. If Washington Democrats had more backbone, they would never have agreed to more cuts than were in the initial proposal, and would be more firmly defending programs that are crucial to the most vulnerable and insisting on shared sacrifice. Personally I believe that any cuts should mostly made to those who can afford it, particularly the wealthy and the military, but Republicans say they won't compromise and Democrats often don't fight hard enough. This has been very similar to the December battle over extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which then-minority Republicans refused to allow to expire and Democrats capitulated to ensure the extension of unemployment benefits. Now Republicans are trying to force cuts on the backs of those most hurt by the economic recession, pushed by a Tea Party that is, in pursuit of ideological purity, rooting for a government shutdown, while Democrats are trying to prevent that. A shutdown would be highly irresponsible during a fragile recovery (and the whole SSU community would be affected if it lead to the shutdown of education funding), but Republicans for a long time have shown willingness to play political games if it hurts Democrats, and Democrats should do a better job of calling Republicans' bluffs.

This all highlights a key difference between the two parties today and how they interact with their base. Democrats tend to take their base for granted, while Republicans tend to fear theirs. Since the 1980s, Democrats have often failed to really fight for their supporters and take advantage of opportunities, and have too often made appeals for bipartisanship that have gone nowhere. They keep chasing the center as the Republicans keep moving it to please their base. This is currently culminating in some of the most radical budget proposals seen in many decades all while we are still recovering from the recession. With Republicans becoming ever more radical, it's time for Washington Democrats to learn something from state Democrats and to stop disappointing the people who vote for them.

1 comment:

  1. A compelling exploration of contemporary politics.