“You can’t take a hostage you aren’t prepared to shoot.” – Wall Street Journal Editorial
The GOP is a hostage-taking organisation. That’s not just what I say, it’s what the Wall Street Journal says, on its own editorial page. And for decades now, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has been a leading propaganda organ of the Republican Party.
It’s the place where supply-side economics was first developed and presented for a mass audience in the 1970s. It’s the place that led the charge in trying to destroy the Clinton administration, starting with libelous attacks on early appointees such as Lani Guinier, attacks so vicious that they probably led to the suicide of Vince Foster (which, characteristically, Republican conspiracy theorists subsequently reinvented as a Clinton administration murder).
So when the Wall Street Journal itself refers to what Congressional Republicans are doing as “hostage taking”, as it does in the quote above, that’s essentially the Republican Party itself saying that’s what it’s doing. And, of course, a hostage-taking organisation is a terrorist organisation. The reason you take hostages is to terrorise others into doing what you what.
“Okay,” you may say. “But that’s only a metaphor. No one’s actually going to die.” But that’s clearly false. People die during recessions. People die when they suffer from long-term unemployment. There are studies clearly showing this (here, here and here, for example).
People die from gun violence that GOP, along with its NRA allies and its ALEC allies have both passively and actively helped spread. (A recent report shows that states passing “stand your ground” laws have higher gun homicide rates, for example.)
People die from lax worker safety regulations and lax enforcement, which the GOP and ALEC also support. People die from fossil fuels – both greenhouse gas and particulate pollution combine to cause millions of deaths a year worldwide.
And people die prematurely from the effects of the GOP’s economic policies, too – policies that it’s now enforcing as a minority party by threatening even more intense and immediate harm – the possibility of another world-wide recession, which would no doubt cause many more premature deaths, along with all the other sub-lethal suffering it would bring.
Inside Story US 2012 – What defines
Democrats are not blameless
It’s even gone so far that Washington Post‘s Plum Line blogger Greg Sargent has talked to a hostage negotiator – Scott Wagner, “a former NYPD homicide detective with extensive experience negotiating hostage crises” – about what Obama should do. I’m a great fan of true expertise – it really does help to know how stuff works, honest! But in this case, the advice was pretty much self-evident:
His advice: Obama must have a trump card in his back pocket that will resolve the situation without the GOP’s help, if necessary. One of the most important goals is getting the hostage taker to realize that ultimately, he’s not in control of the situation.
There are two straightforward ways to do this, Sargent notes:
One is the “platinum coin” option, in which the government mints a trillion-dollar coin and uses it to pay its debts, which is currently getting a lot of blogospheric love. (Josh Barro explains how this might work; Kevin Drum dissents.) There’s also the 14th Amendment option, which some legal observers believe empowers the President to ignore the debt ceiling.
But, of course, Sargent notes, “Obama appears cool to both ideas”. No one should be surprised by this anymore. Obama is, after all, the ultimate Reagan Democrat. That interview Obama gave to the Reno Gazette-Journal back in 2008 praising Reagan? That’s the real Obama, if you’re looking for a clear articulation that best explains the broad range of his policies and political manoeuvering.
And it’s not just Obama, either. The Democrats generally are not blameless in all this. After all, both US parties are primarily funded and run by America’s wealthy elites, whose internal differences are relatively minor compared to their priorities – after all, that’s why tens of millions of Americans out of work barely register as an issue, while long-term debt reduction – the driving obsession behind the fiscal cliff just passed and the debt ceiling showdown ahead – dominates the political agenda.
But additionally, the Democrats have a long history of buckling to Republican threats, taking on Republican political stances and making them their own, stances which have dire, bloody consequences, not least for the Democratic Party’s voter base – a base that repeatedly is beaten up on by Democratic Party elites. Consider a few telling highlights, which illustrate the pattern of how Democrats adopting GOP-like stands have moved their party ever farther to the right, usually with disastrous consequences.
First, consider Harry Truman. In March 1947, three years before Senator Joe McCarthy burst onto the national stage with his Wheeling speech denouncing Communist infiltration in government, Truman tried to pre-empt such attacks by instituting his own witch-hunting internal security program by presidential executive order.
Both Truman and McCarthy were following in the footsteps of the young master, Richard Nixon. Of course, Truman ended up encouraging McCarthyism, preparing the way for it, rather than pre-empting it – but at least he had the excuse that he didn’t have the failed example of Harry Truman to learn from.
As if this first rightward lurch didn’t turn out badly enough, Lyndon Johnson then repeated the exercise in even more bloody form. As I’ve written before (“George McGovern: The road not taken“), we now know from White House tapes that Johnson never actually believed in the Vietnam War. He fought it because he thought he’d be impeached if he didn’t fight it. This is the clearest possible admission that he was implementing GOP policies out of fear – out of terror.
‘Getting tough’ on Soviets
The next major rightward lurch came from the next Democratic President – Jimmy Carter. Like Johnson, Carter had some admirable accomplishments. But he’s much better remembered for his failures – particularly the Iranian hostage situation, which came about because Carter let himself be convinced that the US owed the deposed Shah something – a supposed debt that was initially incurred by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, when he okayed a CIA plot to topple Iran’s democratically-elected Mosaddegh regime, a plot that the CIA had previously brought to Harry Truman, but that Truman had wisely rejected.
Carter’s assumption of the GOP-established “debt” to the Shah wasn’t his only GOP-lite action he undertook with dire consequences. He also initiated the Afghan War, a “brilliant” attempt to give the Soviet Union their own Vietnam by drawing them into a dead-end guerilla war.
Of course, the Soviet Union was already in severe decline, and the hostile approach that Carter adopted and Reagan continued probably prolonged the Cold War by strengthening the hardliners grip on power – but even if it did not, Carter’s GOP-lite obsession with “getting tough” on the Soviets clearly planted the seeds that grew into today’s “war on terror”.
Frost Over the World – The ‘war on terror’
The next Democratic President, Bill Clinton, adopted a number of high-profile GOP positions. He was touted then, and is still given credit for reviving the Democrats political fortunes. Yet, the immediate result of his “success” was losing the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years in 1994 – along with equally unprecedented losses in state legislatures across the nation.
It took 12 long years for House Democrats to recover from Clinton’s “success”. A leading cause of this dynamic was Clinton’s support for NAFTA, the “free trade” agreement with Mexico, opposition to which was a driving issue behind the independent Ross Perot campaign, which gained an unprecedented 19 percent of the presidential vote in 1992.
Embracing GOP free-trade ideology and rebuffing Perot proved extremely costly, as Ronald Rapoport and Walter Stone conclusively demonstrated in Three’s a Crowd: The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence.
First, they show how Republicans – particularly incoming House leader Newt Gingrich and pollster Frank Luntz – both openly courted Perot and shaped their “Contract With America” specifically to attract Perot voters after Clinton had rebuffed Perot. Then, they show how support for Perot in 1992 is strongly correlated with subsequent Republican strength – particularly in making crucial gains in 1994.
Clinton also signed on to draconian right-wing welfare reform in August 1996, for fear it might cost him re-election, even though he was well ahead in the polls, and had popular support for vetoing the bill.
As I’ve written here before (“GOP blueprint: The failure of conservative welfare reform“), contrary to elite opinion, conservative welfare reform has been an abject failure – but it’s paved the way for today’s GOP to argue for similarly destructive “reforms” for Medicaid and Medicare as well.
Although Democratic presidents have been primary actors in this repeated tragic farce, they have not been the only ones. In 1990, still chastened by the experience of the Vietnam War, the majority of Democratic senators wisely refused to support Bush Sr’s war against Iraq. That war turned out much better for the US than anyone expected, precisely because Bush had never intended for it to be anything more than a very limited affair – paid for by others.
Of course, this only created further problems in the region – but when has that ever bothered US elites? The end result was that Democratic senators felt they’d been on the wrong side, politically, with the result that 12 years later a majority of them signed off on giving a blank check for Bush Jr to pursue the exact opposite of the limited war his father carried out.
Conservative GOP policies
The Senate Democrats’ support for Bush’s fraud-based, illegal Iraq War produced all manner of ill effects. It crippled their attempts to run against Bush in 2004, and so discredited the Democratic establishment that it cleared the way for Barack Obama – a politically unknown quantity – to seize the presidency, in part, simply because he was not tarred with having gone along with GOP folly in 2002.
The deep revulsion with Democrats supporting Bush helped prevent Democratic activists in 2008 from asking hard questions (much less making any demands) of the promising new kid whose hands were clean of that one particular form of GOP-lite folly.
Now, however, the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole are paying a very heavy price for that understandable, but short-sighted reaction, as President Obama repeatedly tries for a “grand bargain” that will cut trillions of dollars from Social Security and Medicare – two of the most sweeping accomplishments of the 20th century Democratic Party.
This is just brief, whirlwind overview of how the Democratic Party, driven by fear, has embraced all manner of conservative GOP policies, only to have them fail and backfire in various different ways. If today’s GOP is dedicated to hostage-taking in particular, and terrorising Democrats in general, a major reason why that is so is because Democrats have been encouraging them for decades by caving in to past threats.
As hostage negotiator Scott Wagner told Greg Sargent, the hostage taker must come to feel that “he is all alone in the world, and he needs the negotiator to help him get out of his problem”. But instead, because of this long history of GOP terrorism and Democratic cowardice and complicity, it’s the American people themselves who are all alone in the world.
Their government has abandoned them, as have both political parties, leaving them utterly alone, which, of course, is precisely the way the GOP wants it. This is how the world really is – and ought to be, according to GOP ideology. And Democrats, following a 60-plus year pattern of complicity and drift, seem all too eager to agree.
How’s that for hope and change?
Bin Laden is laughing hysterically in his watery grave. It looks increasingly as if he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, in ways he could not have imagined.
Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.