Just Say No to the Budget Cutters in Both Parties
President Obama has done a major disservice to the American people by accepting the right-wing premise that cutting budgets in order to lower the deficit should take priority over creating jobs and by agreeing with Republicans that tax cuts are an unequivocally good thing for the United States (whose tax rate is lower than those of most of the advanced industrial countries).
Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman has convincingly demonstrated that the most effective way to cut the deficit is to create full employment and massive government spending. Without that, it now seems likely that we will be facing a rise in unemployment in the next two years and increased suffering by poor people and by those whose unemployment benefits will run out. Just as the deficit was dramatically reduced in the Clinton years when the economy picked up, so too the most effective way to eliminate the deficit in the coming decade is to create a full-employment economy, in large part by having our government massively invest in alternative sources of green energy, efficient mass transportation, education, scientific research, and in a Domestic and Global Marshall Plan to eliminate once and for all, both in the United States and around the world, all poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, and inadequate health care.
How a Democrat Can Empower Right-Wing Assumptions
Instead, the Obama administration embraced the notion that reduction of the deficit should be our number one priority. It empowered the assumptions of the Republican Right. So even when Obama criticized the Republican budget plan developed by Paul Ryan, he shared its assumptions about the need for massive cuts in spending. As a result, we will soon see the now-classic Obama dance: accepting the assumptions of the Right, then pleading for a more kind and gentle version of their ideas. In his budget deal with the Republicans in late 2010 when he agreed to extend the tax cuts for the rich in his State of the Union address, and in his submitted budget to Congress, Obama kept on paying obeisance to faulty Republican economic logic.
The result is inevitable: massive reductions in social programs and further erosion of employment as Obama shows how “reasonable” he is by going part of the way with the Republicans rather than presenting a fundamentally different vision (e.g. one rooted in the New Deal and Great Society legislation).
What Would a Moral Budget Look Like?
The start of any budget proposal should be this: the budget is a moral document reflecting our societal priorities, and our priorities ought to be to create a Caring Society—caring for each other, caring for the earth. The budget should be justified primarily in terms of how any expenditure contributes to fostering that caring in our citizens, rewarding rather than punishing the great generosity and humanity of the American people.
A first step in this direction (and one which would cut the deficit dramatically) should be “Medicare for Everyone”—a national health plan along the lines advocated by the Physicians for a National Health Plan. Such a plan would reduce spending on health care and reduce the deficit.
A second step would be to eliminate all of the tax breaks of the Bush years and instead to raise taxes on the wealthy and the largest corporations, particularly those connected with oil and gas, military spending, and banks and financial and investment firms.
A third step would be to end all foreign wars and bring our military home, close all foreign bases, and have our troops work on environmentally sustainable construction projects as part of the new “Marshall Plan” in the United States and abroad. For details, go to www.spiritualprogressives.org/GMP.
These ideas should have been what Obama proposed. Instead, he continues to behave like a good moderate Republican, and therefore continues to lose support among his own base which he may not be able to recover in 2012.
Obama’s foolish advisors keep on telling him that they are on the right track. They’ve fulminated against those progressives who’ve tried to warn Obama that he was losing support because of his failure to articulate a liberal/progressive politics and fight for them. Instead, these progressives are treated as “the enemy.”
The Good News We Need
The one piece of good news this week was the uproar against the Ryan budget cuts that took place in Florida when constituents of a Florida Republican essentially disrupted his local public meeting by challenging his support for the cuts in Medicare required by the Ryan budget proposals. It was this kind of activity that gave life to the Tea Party reactionaries, and it is this kind of grassroots rebellion that is the only thing Americans can do in order to stop the Obama/Boehner train from undermining essential human services and further weakening our economy and destroying the ethical bonds that sustain America.
Nothing liberals or progressives can do will be sufficient to protect Obama in 2012 from the angry backlash already taking hold among his political base because of his compromises with the Right. What liberals and progressives can do is channel that energy into primary campaigns against Obama-style Democrats and general election campaigns against pro-corporate lapdogs in the Republican Party. Only a genuine liberal/progressive electoral takeover of the Congress is going to make any difference in 2013-2014. But for that to happen, liberals and progressives will have to get mobilized now!