Friday, September 07, 2012

The DNC Show (It Got Me)

First Lady Michelle Obama (© Tannen Maury/EPA)

I admit, I fell for it. Hard. The three-day Democratic National Convention proved quite an entrancing show, its effectively organized and run evenings showcasing many of the most appealing aspects of the Democratic Party, its politicians and supporters, and its standard bearers, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, to superb effect. The convention hall brimmed with so much diversity I had to remind myself it wasn't taking place in Queens or Jersey City, but in non-union Charlotte, North Carolina. Its speakers trumpeted many of the best policies the Democrats under Obama have promoted and passed, among them the much-maligned Affirmative Care Act, the auto industry bailout, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the drawdown in Iraq. In addition, the convention highlighted other crucial points in this particular cultural moment: the ongoing struggle for women's reproductive rights and autonomy; the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy and the plight undocumented Americans face; the economic vise in which millions of people from Maine to Hawai'i find themselves in; the changing faces of this country, its people, its families. First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage, in resplendence, and reminded the world once again of one of the reasons many people voted for her husband. There were bursts of barn-burning progressivism from Elizabeth Warren, Deval Patrick, Ted Strickland, and Jennifer Granholm, and there was Julián Castro, already one of the Democratic Party's young stars. What was not mentioned, however, were this administration's assaults on civil liberties and whistle-blowers, the record deportations, the disastrous coddling of banks and the failure to adequately address the housing crisis, the lack of any programs to end poverty, Guantánamo,  the drones, and the ongoing neocolonial excursions, in Afghanistan, Yemen, north Africa, and elsewhere, and on and on.

But who am I kidding? None of these issues, or many others, were going to come up at the convention. What did make an appearance, in the illuminating speech of former President Bill Clinton and the more workmanly and ultimately soaring peroration of President Obama, was the haggard specter of Simpson-Bowles, the current president's deficit commission that not only could not reach a consensus (in part because of commission members like Representative and GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI)) but whose chairmen, former US Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff and Wall Street executive Erskine Bowles issued a severely problematic series of recommendations of their own, which included cuts to Social Security (which has no effect on the federal deficit) and Medicare, and a flattened-out tax code that would lower rates for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, while removing many deductions that benefit middle-class Americans. Both Clinton and Obama seemed to be shilling for this awfulness, the general concepts behind it bankrolled by billionaires like Peter G. Peterson, which suggests that although it is a far less optimal option than the Progressive Caucus's budget or simply returning to the Clinton-era rates, it has the inside track should enough Republicans overcome their lockstep antagonism to Obama and decide to feather their friends'--and their own--beds. The very thought of this awful program, or the "Grand Bargain" in general, which the President seems determined to push through, gives me chillblains. The only thing worse is the utterly destructive plan the GOP candidates would likely pass, to the delight of their Congressional caucus colleagues, the Kochs, and gazillionaires all over this country and the globe.

I ended my viewing of the convention with the feeling that although Obama has not approached the heights I'd hoped he would, he does have many substantial accomplishments, some of the quite far-reaching (i.e., Obamacare) in their beneficial effects on and for the country, and, if his supporters can push him away from bad economic and political policies, like the deficit-focus and austerity, and Simpson-Bowles, towards approaches which will have a far greater impact on creating jobs, reducing the ever-widening wealth and income gap in this country, and turning off the tap for the military-industrial complex and redirecting the savings towards domestic reconstruction and infrastructure development, he just might end his second term as one of the better presidents we've had. He still has time, and he must listen to more than people from the mega-asset-holding class. But he can't and won't do anything unless we reelect him and then push him, and elect a Congress that will work with him, beholden as they may be to the billionaires and financiers and corporations. I still think a 70% top federal marginal tax rate would be a great way of changing the money=speech equation, but get there seems very unlikely in the current climate, so perhaps just allowing gridlock to take hold until Obama gets reelected, as it appears likely he will, then having the Clinton-era tax rates reset and the savage cuts the GOP imposed unfold will provide enough of a stun to get the GOP to cooperate with the President on strengthening the country. Obama also will be able, I never forget, to appoint judges and set the baseline for federal policies. As Bush's Supreme and Appellate Court appointees have made clear, we should never, ever underestimate the importance of this aspect of the President's power. The DNC's show underlined that in this regard, there's no question whatsoever that Obama is not just the better, but the only choice, for November.

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