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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

D-Day in the Class War

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After a decade of stagnant or declining real wages, "bipartisan" schemes are proliferating to shift the burden of Washington policymakers' own catastrophic mismanagement of the nation's fiscal policies right onto the shoulders of working people. The press commentary has been abysmal. All "serious" thinkers out there on television or in print are in full agreement that "entitlements" must take a big hit, along with education and health care.

President Obama's "bipartisan" deficit commission, co-chaired by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, (sometimes referred to as the "Cat Food Commission" because of the likely dietary changes some senior citizens will have to make if its prescriptions are implemented), wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations. Another high-profile group, headed by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin, (which might be called the "Kibble Commission"), wants to strip $650 billion out of the Social Security trust fund with a payroll tax holiday (to be paid back later!) that they believe will create economic growth. So the Cat Food Commission views Social Security in crisis and bordering on insolvency, while the Kibble Commission believes that Social Security can absorb a $650 billion hit. And these are the best and the brightest.

Both "bipartisan" bodies claim that "tough decisions" must be made. Yet their policies are only really tough if you happen to belong to America's struggling working middle class. They want to inflict the "pain" on the government programs that have traditionally given working people a slight leg up. In these "bipartisan" schemes the financial services crooks who wrecked the economy come away smelling like roses.

Are we forgetting that it was working- and middle-class taxpayers who bailed out Wall Street's biggest investment banks in what could be the greatest gesture of working-class benevolence toward the super-rich in American history? Working-class taxpayers also paid for the unemployment insurance and infrastructure projects that were needed following the pillaging of America's housing sector. Working-class taxpayers continue to foot the bill for the bloated military budget and two wars. (They've also sent their sons and daughters off to fight.) And about eight million of them who had jobs in 2005 didn't have them anymore by the middle of 2009.

And how are working taxpayers repaid for the assistance they've given to their fellow citizens of the investing class? They get "commissions" and "foundations" and elite "study groups" that are orchestrating the next giant rip-off of America's middle class.

Few in the press seem to want to educate the public about how we got into this fiscal crisis in the first place or why projected budget surpluses at the beginning of the Bush years were so needlessly squandered. And remember, those surpluses were turned into deficits through "bipartisan" agreements, such as the Bush tax cuts, the wars, and the bailouts. There's also precious little mention of the grotesque inequality in American society these days, which is worse than even during the Gilded Age. The establishment press seems determined to avoid the obvious conclusion: The rich, the super-rich, and the super-duper rich (as well as the conglomerates) must pay more in taxes to get the United States through the crisis. Ending the two debilitating wars and rolling back what Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex" should be next. And the billions of dollars wasted in corporate welfare each year must be diverted to human needs.

These steps should be the top priorities before any "deficit-reduction plan" is seriously considered -- "bipartisan" or otherwise. At this moment in American history, after large swathes of the middle class have been wiped out, the last thing we need is another elite-driven assault on the living standards of working people.

Even though it was Wall Street that fostered the conditions that produced our current economic state, we're told from pundits across the political spectrum that we mustn't tax the rich because it will stymie job-creating investments. But I'm sure Lloyd Blankfein, Hank Paulson, Angelo Mozilo, and their ilk can afford to kick in a little more in taxes to save the country they claim (when under oath at least) to love so much.

In the 2010 midterm elections, the super-rich and their business associations threw around hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign cash like it was so much chump change. And they're gearing up to set new spending records in 2012. They appear to be very civic-minded plutocrats. Yet where is their "pain" and "sacrifice" when it comes to reducing the federal deficit? What "tough decisions" that affect their bottom lines are they being asked to make? And what happened to the quaint notion that those who have so greatly benefited from the opportunities American society has bestowed upon them having a special obligation to pay a little more when their country is in crisis? We're all in this together, right?

President Obama and the Tea Party Congress will most likely end up culling the absolute worst elements from the deficit reduction plans put forth so far, tie them together into a "package," slap a "bipartisan" label on it (which inside the Beltway is close to godliness), and then ram it down our throats by triangulating against what remains of the progressives in Congress.

Politicians, pundits, commentators, and citizens must choose a side now. You're either on the oligarchy's side or on the people's side. It's D-Day in the class war.

We've been told lately, again from "bipartisan" sources, that American soldiers will be fighting and dying in Afghanistan well past Obama's July 2011 "deadline," and the war will continue until at least the end of 2014, (at which time they'll just move the bar to 2018 or 2020 or 2030). Newly-minted "deficit hawks" should ask the question: Is it worth it to drop another $350 billion into Afghanistan? Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute, and others like him, think so, but they aren't making an argument for staying in Afghanistan -- they're manufacturing consent. Now the Peter Petersons and the rest of them are manufacturing consent on the deficit too.

The Republicans have already successfully painted the Democratic president as being outside the mainstream. They've vilified his every move and have suggested that there's a huge conspiracy behind his agenda aimed at extinguishing everything that is great and wholesome about America. With control of the House of Representatives they'll go on fishing expeditions to dredge up anything that can be construed as "corrupt." They'll dirty him up while they block any progress that might improve the lives of ordinary Americans. The people will continue to be perpetually angry and disappointed.

It's not surprising that in 2010 Democratic base voters couldn't match the Republicans vote for vote. We're told that the progressives must organize and mobilize to fight back in the coming years against the right-wing onslaught, which is true. Workers in France and Greece and college students in London are engaging in the kind of protests against austerity that should be happening here.

I guess we're going to find out if a career legislator (in the Illinois State House and the U.S. Senate) can make the adjustment from being one voice among many to take command as president. On the campaign trail it seemed self-evident that Obama would make an extremely effective chief executive. But two years later, it appears he has the temperament of a legislator. He was a great campaigner, but in power he has been a very weak leader.

For the better part of two years, while the Tea Partiers and Republican base voters were breathing fire, the Obama administration was beating up teachers' unions, following Larry Summers' advice on the economy, and allowing hacks like Ben Nelson and Olympia Snowe to dictate what was in the realm of politically possibility. Obama accepted far too many a priori limits on moving his legislative agenda forward.

It's time for President Obama to tap into his inner community organizer.