Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Republicans need to admit they got it wrong before being considered credible

The Republicans were in complete charge of the federal government from 2001 until 2006 and got the whole thing seriously wrong. An incomplete list of their failures includes:
  • Running one of the most corrupt political administrations seen in America. this has been true both for the Executive and for the Congressional branches.
  • Failed to deal adequately with the problem of anti-American terrorism,
  • Embroiled America in two wars, at least one of them totally unnecessary and neither of which was well prosecuted.
  • Failed to adequately deal with the well-anticipated problems that occurred when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and New Orleans (then did not live up to the promises to rebuild New Orleans),
  • Illegally wiretapped American citizens more for political purposes than for American security purposes while shredding the Constitutional due process requirements of the Rule of Law (a truly bedrock requirement for a Constitutional democratic Republic),
  • Broke the law by authorizing the useless and counterproductive process of state sanctioned torture.
  • And created economic conditions that put America and the entire world into financial conditions worse than any since the Great Depression of the 1930's. Had Barack Obama not directed unprecedented and desperate financial actions that have place the American taxpayers in the position of saving the Wall Street bankers whose unregulated risk-taking was the major contributor to the financial instability that effectively destroyed the world financial system, America and the world would now be deep into the greatest financial depression the world has ever seen.
Mind you, this is only a partial list of everything the conservative Republicans have gotten wrong. A much larger list will be available as historians dig out the criminality and idiocies that have been buried behind government secrecy laws.

The American voting public has caught on to the failure of the conservative Republicans and has repudiated them at the polls in 2006 and 2008. But the media acts as though the conservatives remain the more credible of the two significant American political parties, and the Republicans themselves have refused to recognize that anything they have done contributed to the major problems their governance have left for America to dig out of.

Steve Benen has been discussing this situation with Bruce Bartlett, a well-known and capable conservative analyst who worked in both the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations. This is what Bartlett wrote to Steve about the Republican Party:
I believe that political parties should do penance for their mistakes and just losing power is not enough. Part of that involves understanding why those mistakes were made and how to prevent them from happening again. Republicans, however, have done no penance. They just pretend that they did nothing wrong. But until they do penance they don't deserve any credibility and should be ignored until they do. That's what my attacks on Bush are all about. I want Republicans to admit they were wrong about him, accept blame for his mistakes, and take some meaningful action to keep them from happening again. Bush should be treated as a pariah, as Richard Nixon was for many years until he rebuilt his credibility by more or less coming clean about Watergate with David Frost and writing a number of thoughtful books.

One reason this isn't happening is because the media don't treat Republicans as if they are discredited. On the contrary, they often seem to be treated as if they have more credibility than the administration. Just look at the silly issue of death panels. The media should have laughed it out the window, ridiculed it or at least ignored it once it was determined that there was no basis to the charge. Instead, those making the most outlandish charges are treated with deference and respect, while those that actually have credibility on the subject are treated as equals at best and often with deep skepticism, as if they are the ones with an ax to grind.

I am truly baffled by this situation, as I'm sure you are.
The American Constitution is very much the basis for the liberal American political system, but it was written by a group of the wealthiest men in Revolutionary America as a protest to the arbitrary tyranny of the King of England and an English Parliament that had no consideration for the rights of Englishmen who were overseas colonists. For all it's virtues, the Constitution set into place a government of limited and carefully separated powers that allows a small minority of wealthy and powerful Americans to relatively easily frustrate the will of the American people.

That's no surprise. The founding fathers represented the American oligarchy which dominated the primarily agricultural set of colonies that were later to grow into America. For all the advantages that the Constitution has given America as it grew into a massive urban industrialize nation spread across the North American continent, it failed to adequately deal with the corrosive problems of slavery which resulted instead in the Civil War followed by the American apartheid of segregation and it did not provide for a true democracy in which the government adequately deals with the economic problems created by exploitative and ignorant business people and especially Wall Street Bankers.

A preplanned and structured government to deal with those issues would have locked the nation into too many errors unforeseen at the time they were adopted. The ability to innovate and create better ways to do things created a much better overall system. But now we have a two-century old philosophy of government that locks the status quo and the existing power oligarchy into control at a time when the needs of the American people are opposed by that oligarchy. One of their weapons to maintain the status quo (by which they benefit at the cost of millions of Americans)is the philosophy of an agriculturally-based system of small government with low taxes and a set of tax and power preferences for the existing oligarchs. Worse, this is unquestioned by the mass media which those same oligarch control. Those oligarchs are in the catbird seat. Is it any wonder that they do not want to change a system they control and one in which they gain great advantage?

The American oligarchs are in a similar social and economic position today as were the French aristocrats in France against which the French people rebelled in 1792. They do not want to give up the advantages they have, and they do not want to permit the government to tax them further individually to support America. This is nothing new. The same economic and power class in America pushed through massive tax cuts for the wealthy in the 1920's just as they have again in the 1980's, 90's and the first decade of the 21st century. The economic and social result has been the same. The great and growing financial inequality has led to massive economic instability.

But since the same class of oligarchs control the American mass media, there has been little discussion of their power and of the dangers of the extremes of economic inequality that the oligarchs revel in. They prefer the secrecy that they enforce by propaganda and by control of the major media centers. The discussion has not escaped their control until the economic and political disasters they have fostered have festered and grown to an obvious wound in American society.

Bruce Bartlett professes to be "...truly baffled by this situation." He shouldn't be. The problem is that the small group of people who get the greatest advantage from the current system also have sufficient power to control the terms of debate through control of much of the media and through propaganda techniques that pushes a traditional conservative ideology rather than a fact-based modern scientific discussion. The oligarchs are conservative, since their power is based on tradition. The facts no longer support their ideology. They recognize this and fear what the actual facts will suggest should be enacted.

I am not arguing that modernism and the currently known facts should trump tradition and conservatism all the time, but when there are massive problems spread across society they can only be ignored so long before they endanger what America is and can be. Tradition is an important part of what makes any people great. But a tradition based on secrecy and secretly enacted power held by a small oligarchy who is gaining more power and wealth because of the problems in society is an illness in America. The strengths of the American Constitution all grow out of the collection, analysis and exposure of facts. The Constitution is a great document because it both grew out of traditional English law and political experience and yet was the result of a group of men who sat down together, collected the known facts of the situation and developed a new governmental structure to replace two that had failed - a distant traditional Monarchy and the Articles of Confederation.

The attempt of the then new Constitutional government to incorporate the economic system based on slavery failed because slavery cannot coexist with a democratic form of government, and the Constitution could not create an organic way to deal with slavery. The Civil War partially resolved that problem, although it festered on in segregation until the Civil Rights Movement finally placed American society on the path to correcting that clearly unAmerican problem.

Now, with modern America having grown into an urban industrial power, once again the conservative structures within society are failing to meet the needs of American society. Health care cannot be provided efficiently to everyone in America by the private and unregulated health insurance system, and the economy cannot be allowed to go under the control of oligopolistic and monopolistic economic power structures. The 18th century philosophy of Adam Smith does not work in a modern industrial society the way Smith described it in an economy dominated by craftsmen and small farmers.

It is time now to remove the blinders of tradition and ideology, collect reliable facts, and create new structures within the American tradition of government controlled by the people and conducted in public with minimal secrecy.

When that occurs, Bruce Bartlett will find that he is no longer baffled by the situation because he has stopped ignoring the power discrepancies that have created it.One very important step in that direction will include credible self-analysis of the Republican failures by Republicans themselves, aided by sharp and insightful analysis from the media. We Democrats are going to have to help them get there.

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