There’s going to have to be another one…
later, why we need it, but for now, how we got here in the first place:
It’s no secret to economists and anyone else with a brain that the much discussed stimulus plan passed earlier this year is little more than a band-aid. To the program’s designers, it was never meant to be more than a temporary fix to the country’s economic crisis. Granted, the original stimulus as proposed by the President is not exactly what we ended up with. I actually believe Mr. Obama’s original plan would have yielded quite effective results and much more quickly stimulated the overall economic well-being of the nation. But this is of course the government and the stimulus, just like every other proposal had been poisoned and distorted by political gain to the point of near ineffectiveness by the time of its passing. This massive piece of legislation and its accompanying spending bills left Congress not as a rescue, but instead as the largest, most expensive Christmas list ever dreamed up. But unlike the starry eyed child, our elected officials didn’t file simple requests like a new red fire truck (we could probably use more of the real ones). Neither did they behave as a sensible child would by asking for something they could use, but not more than they knew Santa could afford. No, instead they used the excuse of economic demise to allocate massive amounts of funding for the most inane of pet projects. Like the ultimate Toy R Us shopping spree, the boys and girls on Capitol Hill took advantage of public fears and the necessity for government intervention to get anything and everything they never wanted.
The perversion of the stimulus was so embedded in every step of the process that the cost of the program has now become the single largest dollar amount expenditure in our history. The unique thing about the abuses of the process really is the perpetrators. Everyone! That’s who did it. Well almost everyone. The one person, and the person detractors like to blame, who did not abuse this opportunity is the President. However, the whole mess is being termed “Obama’s Stimulus.” Granted this is of no real surprise seeing as within the first days of his presidency Republicans were calling the decimated marketplace “his mess”. The one thing about this mess is that it’s not Obama’s any more than it is yours or mine. But then again, it is our mess.
Our current economic crisis is not a single event, nor is it a sudden happening. The current state of the economy is the cumulative result of failure on the part of consumers (us) to hold companies accountable for their actions, it is the result of previously unimaginable greed at the highest of corporate levels, and it is the fault of elected officials whom for generations have taken billions of dollars from these business interests and changed the laws of our country to allow profiteering and marketplace abuse to become the norm. Can you blame a political party? Sure. You can blame them all. Is one group more to blame than the others? That depends. The Republican party can be said to favor business over consumers, and this has generally been their party’s historical stance. However, they have at different times also been the party of reform and of eliminating entrenched corruption. In the 1960’s and early 70’s it was the Democrats who were the kings of Good Ole Boy politics. Even into the late 70’s the Democrats were so established in their control of congressional purse strings that nepotism, favors, and pet projects were the name of the game; they simply passed just enough progressive social legislation to keep their voters happy.
It was the very public corruption of the party that led to the rise of the Republican party in the 1980’s. The government at the time really was wasteful and corrupt and had forsaken their responsibility to the people allowing the economy to lag and the quality of life for the average American to decline. And, the Republicans (who have always had a much better marketing machine than the democrats) used the exact same approach to usurp the competition that every radical movement in history has used. They found a frustrated populous, got them angry, and convinced them to get even. The right played on as many angers and fears as they could find to manifest a new Republican party. This party’s platform played off the fears of so many Americans. They told those who were not doing as economically well as they would have liked that it was not their fault. Instead it was the fault of everyone whom had benefited from the policies of the Democrats. The reason they had no jobs were because the government had given those jobs to the blacks. The reason their taxes were high was because the Democrats were sending all their tax dollars to foreign countries while their children suffered. And the clincher? Religion! Not only were the Democrats not patriotic, not only were they forsaking the folks at home to help their friends abroad, not only were they biased against minorities, they were against religion! Not all religion, they liked Jews and they liked Catholics, but not good God Fearin’ white protestants. If you ever want to get people angry, convince them their wallets, cultures, and religions are threatened. The Republicans did, and it worked.
Now what does this have to do with the Stimulus? Well this change in American politics is exactly what has led to the current status quo of our government and economic system.
The conservative movement of the late 70’s and early 80’s, with its increasingly evangelical tint, played tremendously on the classic ideological myth of “The Good Ole Days.” They preached the gospel of a new conservatism that promised party supporters a return to the prosperity of their childhoods. They wrapped this in the guise of morality and spirituality and promoted a vision of a simpler America that harkened back to the idyllic era of the 1950’s. A better description for this however, would have been the idealized era of the 1950’s for this period of American history was anything by idyllic. It was indeed a time of moderate prosperity for many Americans and saw the cementing of a solid middle class, but it was also a time of rampant poverty, social repression, government-sanctioned racism, and exclusion of women, from most aspects of government, business, and life. But, it was the time of the average 1980’s voters’ childhood and people generally idealize their childhoods. So with the promise of bringing back the Beaver Cleaver and Donna Reed lifestyle, the Republican Party was rushed into office.
For them, to be pro-Good Ole Days meant being anti present day (1980’s). Reality was at the time a scary and somewhat depressing place for some, with the lingering threat of the Cold War, the need to include previously excluded races and ethnicities, stark unemployment, and the beginning of globalization. Granted, it was the beginning of the vast opportunities of the present day, but at the time it was frightening to many. So for the Republicans to come into office as being pro-1950’s, it meant they needed to be anti-everything that had changed since then. And of course which party had been responsible for most of that change – the Democrats. So this is the turning point where rather than adopting a party stance that was pro- anything the Republicans became more than anything else anti-Democrat. With Reagan as their spokesman the new mood of the party adopted the mantra of the new Conservatism – a call to return to the ways of the past, undo changes, deny progress, and keep the status quo as status quo as possible. Well of course change is the impetus of society and regardless of desire history has shown that halting change is neither logical nor possible.
Now the interesting thing about this stance against anything Democrat is that the very idyllic era of the middle class man of the 1950’s the Republicans were using as their platform key was only possible in the 1950’s due to the benefits of programs instituted by the Democrats in the 1930’s and 40’s. The programs of the New Deal and the GI Bill were progressive policies of progressive government leadership that catapulted the country forward in a way that gave new opportunities to the average American – opportunities that actually made that prosperity possible, the programs that sent these newly recruited conservatives to college, that gave them a head start in business, an ability to save, their parents union wages to provide for them, a house to grow up in, etc, etc. So as illogical as it sounds for a party comprised of people who benefited from such programs arguing against such work, they did. And to go further, rather than take a stance against this type of change itself (which by this point had been given the moniker “entitlements” instead of the “opportunities” they were in the past), the Republicans simply adopted the stance of being anti-Democrat in every way; the other party was the enemy.
Ronald Reagan as figurehead of the party actually represented himself very much as the people’s President. That is not to say that he was a favourite of liberals and conservatives alike. Far from it in fact, but he did manage to lead the country while leading the party and his ideological stance was in general much more pro-American than it was pro-Republican. Now you would think that with Reagan coming in as the people’s President that the Republicans would come in as the People’s Party. But this did not happen. The Republican party in general remained a bit too far right of center for most Americans. This wasn’t so much an ideological or moral disparity so much as it was a siding with what was viewed as the wrong side – big business. The Democrats were the party of Labor – of the common working man. They had cemented themselves in this position through decades of close collaboration and support for the major labor unions.
There was a problem however with the labor unions. They were corrupt. The 1970’s and early 80’s played out like a prolonged filming of Casino or Goodfellas with mafia bosses being arrested, those arrests leading to the indictment of union leadership, and those corrupt union officials spilling the beans on their friends in Congress that made all the backroom deals possible – the Democrats. Absolute Power is said to corrupt absolutely and for the previous 40 years the Democrats had enjoyed near absolute power in Congress. This was also a time before term limits and campaign finance. So not only had the same party been in charge of the country’s purse strings for 4 decades, many of the exact same politicians had been in the exact same offices. This meant that by the early 1990’s the guise of government over corruption was fading. Long told stories of $400,000 gold toilet seats and bloated military budgets had given way to a massive Savings and Loan scandal, a check writing (bouncing) scandal, and enough nepotism to make even Earl K. Long shudder with shame.
Seizing on public disdain for entrenched corruption and misspending, the Republicans decimated the Democrats in the ’94 midterm elections. Labeling it their “Republican Revolution” conservative politicians for the most part fully displaced the long serving Democratic leadership. With the threat of Nuclear war with the Soviet Union now a part of history and the world moving toward a period of unparalleled peace and prosperity, the Republicans needed a new “fear” to rile their membership and keep the voters busy while they got to work on their actual goals. Thus, the birth of the Christian Coalition and their new New Conservativism. The Republican leadership’s 20 year attempt to combine religious fervor with social or economic discontent had culminated in a powerhouse party in which a majority of voters, usually middle-class suburban workers, who would actually be harmed by this Party’s policies, were convinced to vote for well-to-do businessmen, to fully support the party platform (often from the pulpit by their local religious leaders), and to correlate partisanship with patriotism. Under this guise, one could only be a good Christian and a good patriot if they were in fact a good Republican! (And conservatives wonder why some compare their rise to that of the Nazi’s in 1930’s Germany).
Now with such strong support and with the impetus of coming into power as an ouster of corrupt opposition, the Republicans had vast opportunities for reform, change, and progress in their “Revolution”. I would like to point out at this point that, at the time, I was a Republican and fully cheered the party on toward this promised era of change. The Democrats did wrong, they were out, and at the time, they deserved it. The Republicans were in and now it was time for them to put their money where their mouths were so to speak. Unfortunately what happened in the mid-90’s was not that the Republicans put their money where their mouths were. Instead it became very obvious very early on that the Republican party was putting their mouths where their money was. Particularly, the party of big business and big contributors took government inefficiency, nepotism, and misspending to levels that would have been previously unimaginable, even under the entrenched, corrupt Democrats.
Once elected, the actions of the Republican Party did little to support the common man on whose ire they had ridden into office. Instead they did more in 10 years to harm the average American than the previous 40 years had done to help. They raised taxes on the majority of Americans while lowering them for the wealthy, and virtually eliminating them entirely for big business. They cut social spending and increased the size of government contracts. They made it harder to earn a living but easier to lose your home. The greatly weakened worker rights while eliminating the majority of corporate regulations. They basically did everything they could to make sure that all of the programs and opportunities that led to the success and present lifestyles of their membership would never again be available to anyone else.
But where does this lead. Well to this: the Republicans did have a revolution, they revolted against the people who elected them and supported them and turned the keys to the castle over to the corporations, banks, insurance companies, and military contractors who had financed their ideological war in the first place. But the Republicans weren’t the first ones to do this. They were just the most recent. At different points since the development of our two party system, either party has been pro-business and anti-worker. Sometimes the pro-business team was the good guy, sometimes not. The Republicans have generally been the party that most attempted to force its religious views onto the country and the Democrats have generally been the party that most attempted to defend the rights of the people against such theocratic control. But neither group has consistently been the good guys, and generally any time in which enough of a single party or faction had a strong control of the government they would become corrupt and sell out to the highest dollar.
So while we can blame the Republicans for the current fiasco in which we find our government, economy, and place in the world, we must also recognize that at least in modern times, the Democrats started it. Certainly however, corruption and collusion between elected officials and business interests had never before reached the levels of the modern Republican movement and especially of those 6 years in which the Republicans held both houses of Congress and the Presidency under George W. Bush. Combine this with a loaded rubber stamp Supreme Court and the government became a tool of business interests at the expense of the people with widespread corruption and nepotism not seen since the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.
Like anything else of course even the most fervent of supporters will reach a breaking point. In this case that breaking point came when the impact of party politics on voters’ wallets outweighed any religious dogma they felt ordered their party loyalty. In 2006 the Revolution was ended with the midterm Democratic sweep of Congress. It took another two years for the full effects of the preceding decade of corruption to fully come to fruition with a tumultuous economy, ineffective government, and lack of opportunity finally becoming too much for the majority of the voting populous.
So here we are today, a new revolution, a new party resurrected from the ashes of the old infidels, and a new leader promising “Change we can all believe in.” But the question now is, will we all get that change, and will the change we need be the change we get, or will a return to power and a mandate from the people lead to a new, yet unimagined form of corruption that will lead the Democrats back to the Dark Side and give the Republicans the chance they are thirsting for of becoming the next warriors at the gate to start the cycle all over again.
Thus far, the promise of a new beginning has been less than stellar. Granted this is not similar to what we saw under Bush and the Republicans. Currently we have a very straightforward, honest, and I beleve caring President trying to clean up a mess that is not his own. And, we have a majority in Congress that overall is moving toward the promise of a better tomorrow that ushered them into office. But we also have entrenched leaders on both sides of the aisle that are greedy, petty, and answer to someone’s pocketbook rather than to their voters. It’s these people who so effectively corrupted the first stimulus plan, and the question remains whether our progress forward will be with them, or against them.
It has taken over four decades of corruption and greed from both parties for the country to get into the mess it is in now. Democrats, Republicans, and consumers and voters who just weren’t quite angry enough to hold companies and elected officials to the promises of the day all contributed toward the current fiasco. Both Democrats, AND Republicans will have to work as leader and not partisans to rectify this situation. And, if for one minute we sense that they are serving any interest other than that of the American people, we should and MUST hold them responsible. We all have a lot of work to do in both Washington, Baton Rouge, and here in our own homes. Will we find change we can believe in? And if we find it, will we do what it takes to make it happen?