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The strange silence

Martin Wolf  of the Financial Times and Bill Moyers discussed the government shutdown /debt ceiling crisis last week.  Check out the whole interview here.  I was particularly struck by this part:

BILL MOYERS: Would you agree that despite what happened this week and the political victory that President Obama seems to have won, would you agree that the conservatives have really won the argument about government?

MARTIN WOLF: I think that is true. What has surprised me is how little pushback there has been from the Democrat side in arguing that the government really did have a very strong role in supporting the economy during the post crisis recession, almost depression, that the stimulus argument was completely lost though the economics of it were quite clearly right, they needed a bigger stimulus, not a smaller one.

It helped, but it didn’t help enough because it wasn’t big enough. And they’re not making the argument that government has essential functions which everybody needs in the short run. Well, we can see that with the national parks. But also in the long run the strength of America has been built, in my perspective, particularly in the post war period, since the Second World War on the way that actually the public and private sectors have worked together with the government providing enormous support for research and development.

It’s been the basic support of America’s unique position in scientific research. You look at the National Institutes of Health which are the most important medical research institutions in the world, these are all products of the willingness of the United States to invest in the long term interest. Then there’s the infrastructure, think of the highway program, which was the most important infrastructure project under the Republicans interestingly.

And those arguments seem to have been lost. So I am concerned that the government that I think Grover Norquist once said he wants to drown in the bath. If you drown your government in the bath in the modern world, we don’t live in the early 19th century, it’s a different world, that the long term health of the United States will be very badly affected.

It’s strange to me that a government which has obviously achieved very important things, think of the role of the Defense Department in the internet, has achieved such important things, that’s just one of many examples, it should be now regarded as nothing more than a complete nuisance. And the only thing you need to do is to cut it back to nothing.

And it does seem to me that the Democrats have, for reasons I don’t fully understand, basically given up on making this argument. And so in a way the conservatives, the extreme conservative position has won, because nobody is actually combating it. So it’s only a question of how much you cut and how you cut it rather than, “Well, what do we want government for? What are the good things about it? What are the bad things about it? How do we make it effective? And how do we ensure that it’s properly financed?”

I’ll touch on the effects of sequester on the future of science in this country in another post but right now, I want to talk about the strange silence from the Democrats and the dangers that wait for them if they don’t start speaking up, soon and loudly.  And part of this has something to do with Joan Walsh and Feministing and what Atrios said a couple days ago:

I don’t offer that as a defense (except for things that happened before his watch, of course), but while ultimately the man in charge is the man in charge, I think that often criticisms of things which happen during this administration are just heard as criticisms of Obama by people who are, understandably, fans and invested in his success.

I’m going to step right into this (because why stop now after five years?) and hypothesize that there are some “fans” on the left who would sell their children into neofeudal serfdom in a heartbeat before they would suffer the completely unfounded accusations of racism that other “fans” would heap upon them if they even dared to strenuously question the Obama administration.

It is pointless to tell these “fans” that there is nothing wrong with criticizing the president and his policies. It doesn’t make you the grand master of the local KKK or mean that you’ve failed Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, I might even go out on a limb to suggest that the reason Bill Clinton gets so much negative attention from these “fans”, in spite of the fact that his record is more liberal than Obama’s, is because these “fans” are projecting their pent up frustration on a legitimate white target as a proxy. They simply cannot overcome their fear of ostracism if they criticize the president in the strong terms they would like to use.  Just thinking about it makes them feel uncomfortable and oogy.

This is ridiculous but it appears to be useless to point out that if people on the left don’t get over this conditioned Pavlovian response (courtesy of Obama’s campaign strategists) they are condemning their side to complete and utter fecklessness and continued perceptions of ineptitude.  But I might suggest that this is exactly what the bad guys want.  If you don’t raise a fuss, no effective regulation gets implemented and ideas that benefit most of the people in America never see the light of day and are considered politically impractical by the savvy people.

Not only that but I would be remiss if I did not point out that the last time the Democrats had control of the White House, the Senate and the House, they passed a much less than adequate stimulus bill and gave us Obamacare.  Yep, it had control of the executive and legislative branches and still found it politically impossible to even introduce the concept of public option or single payer or even cost controls, for gawdssakes, into the debate over a national healthcare policy.  How does that happen??  I don’t mean how does it happen that these things never even got discussed in a legitimate way with our side in complete control of the dialog.  I mean how does it happen that our side stayed so quiet about the fact that the Obama administration had effectively emasculated it?  The sequester should have been the last straw but from the “fans”?  Hardly a peep.

Russell Brand has a point.  If the side that professes to be the one that stands up for the great masses of people who are being treated poorly doesn’t do anything when it’s in charge, then why vote?  Why not do something different?

This is a BIG problem for the Democrats because there is a slim possibility that they could gain control of the House again and have complete control of government policy for 2 years starting in 2014.  And if that happens, it will be because voters will have had enough and the Republicans will have finally hanged themselves.  And if THAT happens, there’d better be some changes made.

But I personally will not take the left seriously if I don’t hear some harsh criticisms of the way this administration has squandered its first two years in office leaving millions of people unemployed, underinsured and at the mercy of very determined social security and medicare cutters.

If your demoralized, older but wiser youth vote, or ladies’ vote, or “name your base here” vote doesn’t show up for the next big election in sufficient enough quantities and decides to seek its own path, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Lambert picked out my favorite line from the Brand interview:

My new rule for when I fancy doing a bit of the ol’ condemnation is: “Do the people I’m condemning have any actual power?”

Exactly.   There’s nothing worse than spinning your wheels and becoming nasty, mean spirited old bigots in the service of the powerful.  Fox News viewers take note.