One of the major problems with the Democratic party is that it has too many conservative members, too many Blue Dog Democrats that vote with Republicans on many issues and often support positions of the Tea Party–anti-healthcare and anti-climate change legislation to name just two issues. They are fiscal conservatives at a time when our government needs to respond very differently to our economic circumstances–they are Hooverites! While many conservative Democrats come from Southern states, others come from states like Pennsylvania and other regions of the Midwest. At a time when it should be obvious that our economy is badly in need of a second stimulus to address jobs, student loans and mortgage foreclosures, like their Republican counterparts, conservative Democrats are interested in solving the Great Recession by austerity, which can only make things worse. To endorse a strategy other than providing stimulation to the economy is dispiriting to the entire nation–not just the unemployed. In these times, those that have employment worry about losing their job and by hearing stories about the unemployed (which our mainstream media tries to hide from us), the gloom of helplessness cuts an ever wider swath through our culture. There’s a reason they call it a depression. Couple the issue of decent jobs to the ongoing mortgage crisis, which must also be solved before we can think about trimming the sails of our economy, and one can begin to see the depth of the problem and why governments are in a state of denial and paralysis. But these issues are not insoluble. We tackled similar problems during the Great Depression and the longer the current recession goes on, the more we are in danger of sliding backwards rather than moving forwards in our economy. Add to that the idea that we have to fix the planet and you realize we must bring back Rosy the Riveter, while adding Ronny the Riveter to the new mix. We need to make things again, and use the ingenious, creative character of an energized Middle Class to fan the flames of a new economy. It is too dangerous for us to have an economy dominated by the financial industry, which does not serve Main Street very effectively. The bankers know this as well as anyone. Paul Krugman has an editorial in the NY Times describing how leaders in Europe and the United States are finally beginning to admit that the austerity plans they have imposed on their economies are making things worse, even though they probably won’t do anything about it, at least not yet. British Prime Minister David Cameron is experiencing sinking popularity as he tries to explain why he didn’t follow the economic prescription described in the Economics 101 textbook–good old fashioned Keynesianism. Belt-tightening works for a person who is in debt and wants to cut spending to balance their own personal economic circumstance, but it does not work for a nation, because then everyone’s belt gets tightened whether they like it or not. Greek Economist Yanis Varifoukas explains this simple concept very effectively. Anyone comparing the impact of austerity on a person’s single budget, claiming the outcome would be the same for the economy at large, has flunked Economics 101, and he/she is in need of remedial course work.
One reason we still have a hard time doing something more effective about our chronic unemployment situation is that within the Democratic Party, we have too many conservatives and not enough liberal, more progressive-minded representatives: the Republicans are against anything that would work, hoping to have the bad economy stick around until the election this fall, thus leading perhaps to a victory by Romney over Obama and a trifecta for the party, giving them command of the Senate, House of Representatives and the Presidency. Then they can get busy and really screw things up. But conservative Democrats are also part of the problem.
You only have to look what’s happening in Europe to understand that they are going down the wrong path; by doubling down on austerity they are doubling down on misery. When recession hits, it’s the responsibility of government to temporarily create demand to soften the blow and in the United States we did that when Obama was first elected and it worked. But it wasn’t big enough or long enough, as the magnitude and depth of our recession wasn’t properly calibrated. But, with the huge Republican victory of 2010, the Democrats were forced out of control in the House and are in the process of rebuilding their party, so the interesting elections to watch are those taking place in the Democratic primaries–right now. Of course, we have the recall election of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin at the head of our watch list, but we already have results in a few test cases in the country. The NYT reported on the results of a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, where two conservative House Democrats, Representatives Jason Altmire and Tim Holden lost out to two more progressive opponents. In Altmire’s case, he lost to fellow incumbent Mark Critz in a district that had been redrawn because of census realignment: both representatives ran against each other for the same, newly created district. Tim Holden lost out to newcomer Matt Cartwright. In each case the opponents criticized their more conservative incumbents for their opposition to the healthcare bill and votes against global climate change issues. As the Times pointed out in their article “The ouster of the Democratic incumbents — and the tough primaries being waged against some House Republicans — suggest that redistricting ultimately is going to send more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans to the House.” If the Democrats gain control of the House, through primaries like those in Pennsylvania, it will mean that a more progressive Democratic Party will be in charge. What this might mean too, is instead of Obama leading the party in a more progressive direction, something his policy of triangulation has largely prevented, the newly elected Democrats in Congress, could mean that a more progressive party would be leading Obama in a direction more favorable for progressive causes. So instead of hope that arrived on the day Obama was elected in 2008, we might have hope through more effective legislation that deals with the real problems of this country and avoids the devastating budget cuts scheduled to go in place during the first of 2013. This year, the Democratic primaries are everything, though redistricting has probably created lots of safe seats for Republicans and Democrats. It has been estimated that the effects of redistricting means that only about 100 of the 435 seats are up for grabs–true contests. However, the Blue Dog Democrats, who peaked at 54 members in 2010, have dropped to 23 and could drop further in the future. If the Supreme Court rules against The Affordable Health Care Act, these new progressive Democratic candidates could be further energized with the message that a single payer plan is already waiting for us–it’s “Medicare for All”–a simple one page bill.