Right or Left: Where do we stand?


If you pay attention to the “mainstream” nonsense that is on television, radio and in print you would think that after this past midterm election that America had moved to the right.

You would be wrong.

The general public is still to the left of the Democrats and certainly the Republicans.

Speaking on party politics the public is still more supportive towards the Democrats than the Republicans by 10 percentage points, with a majority disapproving of the latter. [1] But with only 41% approving the Democrats and 47% disapproving, there isn’t much reason for liberals to celebrate. Americans simply don’t feel the government, which includes both parties, has their best interests at stake. In a poll conducted in February, 56% said “the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens” with only 44% saying it doesn’t. In the same poll 87% said it is “heavily influenced by special intersts,” 86% said federal officials are “mainly concerned about getting re-elected,” 81% said they are “out of touch with the average person” and only 22% had the audacity to say they are “honest.” [2]

The right thinks they have a new mandate to cut spending, though they also have said they plan to “thwart efforts to curb the growth of Pentagon spending.” [3] What this says is they want to cut social spending while keeping sure the wasteful military spending continues to rise. This is important to note because already we spend each year what the rest of the world combined spends. And while Americans aged 32-64 are seeing a $6 trillion shortfall [4] in retirement we have spent $3 trillion on our illegal War on Iraq—which has done nothing to improve our safety or security (we might want to recall a few years back where 22 retired generals said it was doing the opposite, or a CIA report that said the war was creating a new generation of trained terrorists)—and $3 trillion on the Wall Street bailouts. This excludes the War on Afghanistan and other military costs of maintaining nearly one thousand foreign bases and a bloated air force and navy. What the Republicans are saying, and the reason most Americans don’t favor them, is that they oppose spending for the needy but favor spending for the needless. Social Security? Cut it. Military spending? Let it keep growing. Unemployment benefits? Cut it. Tax cuts for the rich? Give them more. And the right thinks America is with them on this.

But the right is wrong.

The most pressing concern Americans have is passing a new stimulus package. [5] It would seem more Americans understand that the past stimulus packages were too small. And they were. [6] In 2009 the Democrats in the Senate put up no fight to block the gutting of hundreds of billions of dollars meant for state and municipal governments, costing over half-a-million jobs. [7] Americans are more Keynesian than the Republicans would like to admit. By and large most Americans realize the economy comes before cutting spending and to revitalize the economy requires . . . spending. [8]

If the Republicans are really concerned about a “deficit” it should be the trading deficit, which is growing and is largely in response to our outsourcing of our productive and skilled jobs. We are hollowing out our manufacturing base and our economy is the worst for it. Or if they must make a spectacle about our spending deficit then perhaps they should focus on military spending [9], how corporations avoid paying taxes [10], or how the tax code is regressive [11]—the latter being that the tax rate for the rich is on par with what it was right before the Great Depression (it’s currently at 35% but was just under 30% in the late 1920′s), and what it was during the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism” was about 60% higher at 91%.

As far as healthcare reform goes, here too the right thinks they have a mandate to repeal it. While the mandate was a horrible idea (the healthcare crisis is the private system so mandating that we buy from the private system was an insane idea), support for repealing is actually low. As of late October it was 24%. [5]

But that doesn’t mean the reform is popular. In fact, a majority think it will not change their coverage or the quality, but a sizeable majority does realize it will increase costs [12], which it already is doing [13]. Another poll in March showed only 15% approved as is, 25% opposed all of it but 58% approved some but not all. [14] Another showed 60% saying changes are required with a majority saying things will get worse if more changes aren’t made, and in this same poll the partisan perspective shows a much more favorable view of the Democrats than the Republicans. [15] For decades Americans have been for a single-payer program. One recent poll as of February 2009 showed that while 59% “say the government should provide national health insurance, including 49% who say such insurance should cover all medical problems” only 32% show support for private enterprise. [16] Adding further to the fact that most Americans oppose the healthcare reform from the left, not the right.

While the Republicans did increase their voting base as compared to the last midterm election in 2006, the Democrats saw theirs shrink by a larger margin than what the Republicans gained. Moral of the story: deliver the goods or say bye-bye. The election was not the results of a conservative earthquake. It was barely a tremor. The real shake was in the Democratic base where progressives felt betrayed and therefore abandoned the party to their fate (hopefully the lesson they learn is to put less of their eggs in the electoral basket and more in the movement building basket which has a batter track record of realizing “change”). And while some loyal cheerleaders for the Democratic Party have tried to respond back with propaganda defending Obama and the party with pathetic websites like “What the fuck has Obama done so far?” [17] that make such blatantly absurd comments like Obama issuing an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay as if he really intends to close it and end the practices—its been almost two years and the place remains open and the practices continue there and elsewhere—progressives have responded with “What in the fuck has Obama done so far?” [18] and “Barack Obama Fact Sheet. Is Obama a Peace Candidate?”  which blasts Obama from the left on factual and moral terms the right only wishes they could blast him on (theirs consist of calling him a socialist, Marxist, not being born here, etc). [19]

Let’s look at Social Security for a final issue. In a few weeks the Obama administration is going to release their report on the deficit reduction commission. We already know that the three main suggestions floating around are cutting benefits, raising the retirement age and investing in markets. Removing the cap is not even on the table. But 36% strongly support this to be considered with another 42% wanting it considered and only 18% thinking it should be taken off the table. On the other hand only 17% strongly think benefits should be reduced, with 35% considering it and 47% wanting it taken off the table. [20] The media has done an awful job of covering this issue, like most other important issues, but despite that most Americans understand that when Goldman Sachs CEO can see less than a quarter of a percent of his annual income taxed for Social Security while a single-mom working double-shifts at IHOP sees 100% of hers taxes that something is wrong with the tax system, not the program. Republicans  and the “Wall Street TARP Gang” [21] want to cut spending and it’s looking like the Democrats are with them or not far behind, but . . .

. . . The American people, like on a slew of other issues, are to the left of both parties of our government.

So, what do we do? Hardly anyone likes to read opinion pieces that challenge dominant ideas without offering alternatives. If we distrust both parties and think they don’t represent us and are out of touch with what we need then how do we get them to listen? If voting isn’t working then what do we do? These are good and fair questions and the answer is simple: build popular social movements to challenge power. From abolishing slavery to women’s rights to labor rights to civil rights, change was not voted for. We struggled. Nothing has changed in this respect. We still must struggle. We have to organize, agitate, disrupt and pressure them (and not only our government but our business leaders) to stop their shenanigans and look out for us, the people, the working class majority who are falling victim to their political and economic policies while they cater to the Lords of Capital, the so-called “special interests” who fund their campaigns and lobby them for preferential treatment.

I am reminded of something Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos said in in 1996:

Brothers and Sisters: Humanity lives in the chest of us all and, like the heart, it prefers to be on the left side. We must find it, we must find ourselves. It is not necessary to conquer the world. It is sufficient with making it new. Us. Today. Democracy! Liberty! Justice!

Sources:

[1] Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Oct. 20-21, 2010
[2] CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Feb. 12-15, 2010
[3] AP, GOP gains set stage for national security battle, November 5, 2010
[4] CNBC, Retirement on Hold: American Workers $6 Trillion Short, September 15, 2010
[5] USA Today/Gallup Poll. Oct. 28-31, 2010
[6] Wall Street Journal, Stimulus Too Small, January 20, 2010
[7] Talking Points Memo Café, Republicans Cut 500,000 Jobs Out of Stimulus Package, February 7, 2009
[8] CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. Oct. 27-30, 2010
[9] Global Issues, World Military Spending: http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending 
[10] Reuters, Study says most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes, August 12, 2008
[11] Citizens for Tax Justice: http://www.ctj.org/ 
[12] USA Today/Gallup Poll. March 26-28, 2010
[13] Prosperity Agenda, Health Insurers Begin Blaming Health Law For Premiums Increases, August 24, 2010
[14] CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. March 25-28, 2010
[15] Washington Post Poll. March 23-26, 2010
[16] CBS NEWS/New York Times poll, February 1, 2009
[17] http://www.whatthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/
[18] http://whatinthefuckhasobamadonesofar.com/ 
[19] http://stpeteforpeace.org/obama.html 
[20] Bloomberg Poll conducted by Selzer & Co. March 19-22, 2010
[21] Talking Points Memo Café, The Wall Street TARP Gang Wants to Take Away Your Social Security, November 9, 2010