UPDATED BELOW, 1:35 MDT
Via Shakesville, Corrente, and pretty much every other political blogger today–go read Elizabeth Drew’s “What Were They Thinking?” which gives an overview of recent political history as well as her prediction that history will not smile on the political leadership we’re stuck with today:
Someday people will look back and wonder, What were they thinking? Why, in the midst of a stalled recovery, with the economy fragile and job creation slowing to a trickle, did the nation’s leaders decide that the thing to do—in order to raise the debt limit, normally a routine matter—was to spend less money, making job creation all the more difficult? Many experts on the economy believe that the President has it backward: that focusing on growth and jobs is more urgent in the near term than cutting the deficit, even if such expenditures require borrowing. But that would go against Obama’s new self-portrait as a fiscally responsible centrist.
There’s lots of interesting gossip and inside baseball about the President’s re-election maneuverings, the different goals of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor; and the recent negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. I agree with her perspective for the most part, but the last sentence of the article strikes me as wrong:
This country’s economy is beset with a number of new difficulties, among them that recovery from the last recession remains more elusive than was generally expected, while the US is confronting a variety of international economic instabilities, especially the large debts and possible default of several countries in the eurozone, bringing on unpopular austerity measures. Recent experience with what should have been a simple matter of raising the debt ceiling, normally done with no difficulty, is reason for deep unease about our political system’s ability to deal with such challenges.
Saying that the “political system” isn’t up to the challenges of 2011 and beyond is pretty vague–what does she mean? The U.S. Constitution? The two-party system? It’s unclear, but as I’ve said here before: it’s a mistake to see President Obama’s failures or the failures of the Democratic Party as failures of the U.S. Constitution or the political system in general. (After all, it seems to be working out just fine for the Republicans!) I would place the blame for our unfortunate situation on the unwillingness of the Democratic Party to present a real alternative to the Republican party, which for years has been driven by crazed and just plain wrong ideas. There’s nothing new there–just the intensification of the crazzy on the Republican side over the past 15 years or so.
But friends, we in the United States been here before. The toadying and compromising of the Democratic Party remind me of nothing so much as the Whig Party ca. the 1840s. By the 1840s, it was clear that the Democratic Party stood for one thing: the protection and expansion of slavery. But the Whig Party never got up off its a$$ to respond to the challenge. It continued mistakenly to believe that it could be a “national party” without taking a stand on the great moral and political challenge of its day. Whigs were so desperate to pander to “centrists” and “independent voters” that they failed to notice that the center no longer existed in antebellum politics. Thus, it was left to an emergent third party, the Republican Party, to lead the way. The Republican Party had one issue–antislavery–and it was successful because it joined the Democratic Party its fight for the domination of the U.S.
I’ve given up on the Democratic Party. Happy days ain’t here again, and they’re never coming back unless people who believe in “we the people” against “we the multinational corporations and the oligarchs” unite with an answer to the great moral and political challenge of our times. We don’t need a new Constitution, or to ditch the two-party system. We need a new political party.
UPDATE: See Drew’s recommendation to Obama for an easy exit from the debt ceiling showdown, which would 1) extract him immediately from an embarassing “negotiation” that has made him look weaker and weaker, and 2) pin the tail on the Republicans. But of course, it will never happen, because he’d rather be the Most Reasonable Man in America, and in spite of all of the blathering we heard about his “rhetorical gifts,” he is the President in my lifetime (so far) who is the most reluctant to take his cause to the American people. Besides: taking a stand is just a little too. . . decisive, and decisive is just two letters away from divisive.