As hyped up Americans breathed a collective sign of relief that the devastating impact of a government shut down was averted the debate as to who won continues. For the Republicans who control the House of Representatives, in particular Speaker John Boehner, the huge cuts was the most important development.
For the Tea Party Republicans the cuts did not go far enough and for Democrats the event was a compromise between both sides. For me it was an utterly partisan event based on Republicans stoking the politics of fear to control the national debate while Democrats mounted a timid, measured response. And it was simply a classic study in pathetic national politics that was dragged on way too long.
But more than that. If a few billion dollars could create such a partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats the billion dollar question is: how will they ever come together to tackle the trillion-dollar budget deficit and muster the courage to do the kinds of deep cuts that this will require? How will they compromise that is the way of politics?
2012 will be a renewed season of political extremism. Already the battle lines have been drawn and there will be no quarter given. The bloodletting is set to assume monumental levels and proportions.
If this past budget skirmish is anything to go by there are Republicans that will use future debates on the budget and deficit reduction to push for the dismantling and eradication of many social programs that benefit poor women, minorities and people of color. I am sure that we have not heard the last of the attacks on Planned Parenthood Association, NPR and the EPA.
Anti-Abortion Republicans that want to kill the PPA unfairly and scurrilously labeled it an abortion organization that "kills little children." So that the budget wrangling was less about fiscal responsibility and discipline but more about a right-wing neo-conservative agenda and its pandering to the Bible Belt population and the Christian Right.
Today, there are plenty of extremists in the United States Congress and the denizens of the Tea Party Movement uncompromisingly want their pound of flesh. They have already served notice to both Republicans and Democrats that they will be going on the offensive and that the budget results were "disappointing."
For these fringe lunatics the only solution is to cut our way out of the deficit. It is this bankruptcy of policy and clearly myopic approach to solution-based action that results in the loud noises coming from Tea Party Republicans. They have very little to offer in terms of constructive debate or solutions so they hide and cover up their shortcomings with strident sloganeering, name-calling and bullying.
Indeed, the rise of the Right Wing in Congress has been accompanied by a corresponding rise in rigid ideological inflexibility. This is a kind of all or nothing approach to politics that is based on an arrogant sense of self-aggrandizement and a blinkers-on sense of political rightness and entitlement. But the minions of the Republican Tea Movement could care less about their blind adherence to their agenda.
Still, this extremism is further aggravated and made much more dangerous by the fact that it has spawned a new kind of irresponsibility in politics. We have seen it in action when elements in the Republican Congress publicly advocated a shut down of government demonstrating an alarming insensitivity to the dire consequences while at the same time stoking the flames of fear and anxiety. It is evident in the calls for the scrapping of the Department of Education and an outright rejection of the science of climate change.
Such induced mutually assured destruction is what Americans must reject and rebuke those who advocated and will advocate such moves in coming budget and deficit reduction arguments. Moreover, the greenness and inexperience of this freshman Tea Party Congress was on full display as individuals jockeyed for the position of who could be the most extreme. In the end they came over as woefully unprepared for the big leagues, foolish, flaccid and garish.
The $38 billion in cuts is the largest one-time dollar-for-dollar cut in American history. And as President Obama noted "there will be pain." But Democrats must muster the courage to fight back. One would have thought that by now they would have recovered from the pummeling that they took last November. It's time to fight back and stand up for the principles that they espouse.
The presidential race of three years ago was the first in many years in which Democrats showed themselves superior at all the disciplines that make up modern campaigning, from fundraising to messaging. But sadly that extraordinary campaign didn't change at least one fundamental fact: Republican Conservatives know how to go on offense. And when, after victories at the state and local levels in 2010, they got their chance to strike back, they took it. With a vengeance.
Today, Republicans (mainstream Republicans and Tea Party Republicans) are prosecuting a sustained, organized and radical attack on the Democratic Party aimed at the very roots of Democratic power and influence. Republicans are engaged in a re-alignment and re-shaping of American society right under our very noses. This battle of epic proportions is occurring in Washington and around the country, and even if the right doesn't succeed completely, the fight will almost certainly leave Democrats weakened and defensive. All we need is to look at the fight over the recent threat of the shut down of government to see where Republicans are headed.
Look at the targets conservatives have taken aim at in the last couple of years: access to the ballot box, unions, organizations like ACORN that represent the poor, organizations protecting reproductive rights, women's rights and more. The assault is not just on ideas or policies but also on the institutions that undergird the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. During the Bush Years Democrats fought hard to retake power and pushed big policy goals: healthcare reform, climate change issues, and a progressive overhaul of Medicaid and Medicare among others. Thus were they successful in 2008.
They blew a golden opportunity to keep Republicans out of power in the Congress with a number of strategic snafus. But the biggest weakness of the Democratic Party -- that it still have not corrected -- was that it failed to understand and respond to the Republican Party's strategy. They also set goals -- one of which was how to crush the Democratic Party and institutions that historically support Democrats and thus make it very difficult for more Democratic political victories. Welcome to 2012.
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