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Michele Swenson Headshot

"Bipartisanship" Too Often Means Democratic Capitulation to Republican Disaster Capitalists

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Obama either does not understand the game of corporate billionaires versus the working class that Republicans have played for decades, or he willingly capitulates to it.

The president revealed in early November on 60 Minutes the extent to which he will bend to seek "bipartisanship" -- not achievable under Republicans' winners-take-all, losers-be-damned ethic. Said Obama: "Partly because I couldn't get the kind of cooperation from Republicans that I had hoped for... we thought that if we shaped a bill that wasn't that different from bills that had previously been introduced by Republicans -- including a Republican governor in Massachusetts who's now running for President -- that, you know, we would be able to find some common ground there." He was referring to the fact that the individual health insurance mandate originated with Republicans, and to his decision to fashion health care reform after the Massachusetts RomneyCare model. Which makes doubly ironic former state senator John Andrews' recent assurance that Tea Party candidates will help defeat "European-style socialism."

The president put all of his chips on a Republican reform model drafted by a Wellpoint executive and centered on cost-draining for-profit health insurances in order to gain Republican cooperation, which has remained unattainable. He was left holding the bag for very expensive Republican "free-market" insurance reform model, when he could have made the best case for reform that would contribute to economic recovery -- a single risk pool insurance with full choice of providers.

As Dr. Don McCanne notes, it was only after it became evident that the health care reform effort could be used to discredit the Democrats that Senators Grassley and Enzi, after initially working with Democrats, yielded to the Republican leadership to oppose the effort -- the cost Democrats paid for placing politics before policy, says McCanne.

Economics professor James Crotty has described the likes of right-wing billionaire Koch brothers,acting as Tea Party Puppetmasters in their war against the working class -- and by extension, President Obama. They practice the same disaster capitalism that has been the mainstay of the political right for decades -- any crisis becomes the means to weaken the social safety net, defeat social democracy while rolling back workers' post-WWII gains, with return to 19th century norms. Unwarranted wars are also a useful diversion of taxpayer funds away from social spending.

Rallying cries of "deficit reduction" and austerity are further excuses to weaken government and labor, to privatize Social Security and Medicare in order to leave the working class destitute, while lowering corporate taxes and extending Bush tax cuts for the financial gain of the same corporate financiers who were bailed out by the working class. Simultaneously, the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction hawks hand the rich another bonanza, with the recommended corporate tax rate cut from 35% to 26%, while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest individuals also. Professor Jacob Hacker, author ofWinner-Take-All Politics, cites declining tax rates for the wealthy from 40% in the 1960s to 16% in 2007.

Continually operating under a model of disaster capitalism, the Republican right for decades has moved to "defund the left" and to transfer evermore tax dollars to corporate and right-wing evangelical groups. The 104th Congress' transparent attempts to terminate both welfare and church-state -separation led to diversion of money away from the less well-off (so-called "liberal" programs) in the name of deficit reduction and "social re-engineering," with concerted efforts to reroute it to Republican constituencies: Christian evangelicals and big business. Pat Robertson's group alone was the recipient of $500,000 in taxpayer money in 2002 -- totaling $1.5 million by 2005.

Antecedents of Tea Party mouthpieces, political rightists like Howard Phillips' (founder of the U.S. Taxpayers Party -- turned American Constitution Party) named "tax-payers" enslaved to "tax-users," and demanded elimination of federal "socialism" and taxes that implement "anti-biblical policies." Phillips declared, "the message of Christian charity is fundamentally at odds with the concept of welfare rights." He claimed a moral mis-allocation of tax funds -- toward historically marginalized groups, away from Christian right, corporate interests. Support of tax-funded vouchers for religious schools is justified because, "It's wrong to pay taxes for schools to teach agnosticism," maintain Robertson et al.

Proponents of survival-of-the-fittest economics have maintained a hands-off approach to corporate welfare (dubbed Aid for Dependent Corporations, AFDC, by Ralph Nader). At the time of welfare reform, Project Censored's study of unreported stories revealed that major U.S. corporations were the largest beneficiaries of taxpayer largesse. The Center for Responsive Law reported that Republican budget-balancers left untouched an estimated $167 billion in corporate subsidies and tax breaks in 1995 alone, more than twice as much as the $67 billion combination of all social welfare programs. Whereas, the average taxpayer paid $415 annually for all social anti-poverty programs, each paid $1,388 toward subsidies, grants, tax breaks and free government services for corporations, according to the nonprofit watchdog group Essential Information.

Not solely occupied with refurbishing her husband's honor, Justice Clarence Thomas' wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas was paid $118,000 annually in the '90s to compile lists of liberal nonprofit groups to target for "defund-the-left" budget cuts. In 2000 she was employed by Heritage Foundation to gather resumes for potential appointments to the Bush administration. Heritage president Edward Fuelner has long taken aim at Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, denouncing all innovative programs and policies of the 1960s Great Society and the 1930s New Deal as "assaults on founding principles articulated in the 18th century,"and vowing to privatize them all.

On December 2, at least 15-20 people visited each of 6 metro Denver area congressional offices - those of Reps. Mike Coffman, Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. Visits were organized by MoveOn.org, with the message that the Millionaire Tax Bailout has never created more jobs, has only blown a hole in the budget, and should end. Constituents left messages of thanks to legislators who support ending these tax breaks for the very wealthy, and advised the others that trickle-down economics has never worked since the time of Reagan. To encourage legislators, especially in the recalcitrant senate (call them toll-free at 1-866-220-0044). Democrats who support Republican policy of widening disparity of wealth and inequity should just declare themselves Republicans.

A chapter in my book Democracy Under Assault is titled "Survival-of-the-Fittest Capitalism: The Privileged vs. the 'Undeserving Underclass'" -- a term favored by the right. Lacking a strong Democratic voice to counter the political right, U.S. democracy has been subverted by a coalition of extreme greed-centered authoritarian plutocrats and theocrats. Contrary to common wisdom on the right, we are not a center-right nation and the recent election was not a mandate for Republican policy, just a cry for change. The demagogues and disaster capitalists are out-shouting everybody else, to the detriment of all.