Wednesday, May 06, 2009



By Jack Random

I’ve got news for the talking heads: Nobody cares about the party identification of Arlen Specter. Nobody cares about the resignation of Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Nobody cares about the revival of civil war in Iraq or the expansion of the Afghan war to Pakistan. Nobody cares about the lost identity of the Republican Party – as if the Democrats have found one.

What do we care about? We are beginning to worry about the Swine Flu (which we blame of course on Mexican immigrants) but we really don’t care much about anything else but our jobs, our homes, our diminishing wages and vanishing benefits. To bend the phrase of political operative James Carville: It’s the stupid economy.

It is as solid a truism as any in politics: We care most about those things that affect us most directly. It is as unfortunate as it is true for those things we do not care about can affect us more profoundly than those we do. Two years ago nobody cared about bankruptcy laws when our brilliant legislators tailored those laws to the interests of banks. Nobody cared about regulating Wall Street until the housing crisis cut our financial legs out from under us. Nobody cared about trade policy when Bill Clinton made it a bipartisan mandate and began in earnest the process of exporting American jobs and deflating American wages.

There are issues that we should care about, issues that do not make headlines or dominate the commentaries of talking heads, and issues that are profoundly important to the future well being of the nation.

In and of itself, the defection of Arlen Specter from the Republican Party is not such an issue. It is about as important as the child rearing habits of Britney Spears or the foibles of a runaway bride. Anyone who believes that the balance of power has shifted because the letter following Senator Specter is a D rather than an R is living in a fantasy world of wishful thinking. Specter’s voting habits will remain the same. He will oppose the Employee Free Choice Act. He will support free trade. He will push for unlimited military spending. He will oppose a progressive, pro-labor nominee to the Supreme Court. In fact, if Specter prevails as a Democrat in Pennsylvania and if he is rewarded for his defection by assuming a chairmanship of the subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education then we may consider this defection a defeat for working people and a net loss for progressives.

In contrast, the resignation of Justice David Souter has profound implications for the future well being of the nation. The appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, despite early hopes for judicial balance, have created the greatest corporate bias in Supreme Court history. From the Lilly Ledbetter decision to the ruling that allowed public interest laws to be used for corporate development, the Roberts court has laid down no precedent stronger than corporate supremacy. If this trend is allowed to continue we will be faced with the greatest obstacle to restoring the rights of labor in modern times.

Of course, David Souter was a friend to the common man. There was no greater disappointment in his career than the infamous and disgraceful decision to short circuit democracy in Bush V. Gore 2000. His replacement will only restore the imbalance that currently exists on a predominantly anti-labor court. One can only hope that Reagan appointee Antonin Scalia, clearly the most radical conservative influence on the court today, at age 73 will retire before the second term of Obama but it appears that next in line are the moderates John Paul Stevens at age 89 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 76.

It is notable that what passes for moderation on the Supreme Court would easily pass for conservatism in almost any other context. The court like the United States Senate has become a conservative institution because senatorial Democrats only insist on judicial qualifications and temperament while Republicans demand ideological loyalty.

If the defection of Arlen Specter is to have any positive impact whatsoever it is this: He will refuse to join his former colleagues in blocking a well-qualified Supreme Court nominee on the basis of ideology alone. If Specter and his ilk in the Senate use their standing to push Obama’s nominee to the middle ground, then we have lost a battle that will play out for decades to come. If Specter is to be welcomed into the Democratic fold, this is the price he should pay. If not, the party should support a true pro-labor Pennsylvania progressive in the 2010 election.

Unfortunately, that is not the kind of hardball the Democrats are accustomed to playing. Truth be told, the Democrats (particularly in the Senate) are very comfortable with a corporate bias on the Supreme Court. After all, it is the corporate interest they truly represent. By and large, the millionaire club of that regal body is the corporate interest.

That is the reason we cannot expect too much of our government. Much has been said of the lost identity of the Republican Party but we are about to learn that the Democrats, with dominant control of both houses of Congress and the White House, is equally lost when it comes to philosophical grounding. The Republicans are supposed to be the party of corporate interests. If we are politically aware at all, we expect them to represent the wealthy first. But the Democrats are supposed to be the party of labor, the party of the common people, and the party of social responsibility.

What we are about to witness is a party stymied by its own divisions and a government snarled in toothless compromise. Politicos argue that the Republicans have closed their doors to mainstream Americans and there is much to support that point of view but the Democrats, in opening their doors so wide that the Arlen Specters are welcomed without condition or expectation, have lost touch with their modern roots. They are no longer the party of Franklin Roosevelt. They are the party of the consummate compromiser Bill Clinton.

I expect very little of the new Democratic government. Until now they have had an excuse: the protocol of the Senate, the 60-vote requirement to force cloture. But they have not fought too hard to get Al Franken (the Senator-elect from Minnesota) seated, have they? They have not opposed the procedures that allow forty Senators to obstruct the business of government as distinctly anti-democratic – in fact, many have defended it.

Soon Franken will be seated nevertheless and with Arlen Specter the Democrats will have the prized 60-seat majority in the Senate. If they fail to act, fail to enact comprehensive and universal health care, fail to push through a bold green initiative, fail to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, fail to roll back the Free Trade mandate, fail to resolve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fail to restore our civil liberties, then they will stand exposed as the feckless corporate loyalists they truly are.

To paraphrase comic Lewis Black: The Republicans are the party of bad ideas and the Democrats are the party of no ideas.

The time must and surely will come when independent voters will look to independent candidates for a chance at real change. Until then we will continue to wander in endless circles, playing the blame game and dodging responsibility, while the nation declines and the planet cleanses itself of its human pestilence.



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