Friday, February 26, 2010

Unemployment: Why Republicans Don't Give A Damn


Starting Monday, the jobless will no longer be able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.

These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Because the Senate did not act, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

That could be devastating to the unemployed who were counting on that income. In total, more than one million people could stop getting checks next month, with nearly 5 million running out of benefits by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.

Why did the Senate fail to act?

Lawmakers repeatedly tried to approve a 30-day extension this week, but each time, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., prevented the $10 billion measure from passing...

First of all...


If the developments over the past year on health care reform and the stimulus package prove anything, it is that GOP congressional leadership is masterful in getting its members to follow orders.

Some other important statistics, culled from the same source:
- About 11.5 million people currently depend on jobless benefits.
- Nearly one in 10 Americans are out of work and a record 41.2% have been unemployed for at least six months.
- The average unemployment period lasts a record 30.2 weeks.
- The unemployment rate, which now stand at 9.7%, is expected to rise in February as snowstorms in many states disrupted the economy and stalled hiring.

There are two obvious questions to be asked right now:

1) Why are the Republicans playing political games with unemployment benefit extensions, an issue that both parties acknowledge has an immediate and profound affect on the lives of countless Americans?

2) Why are the Democrats, who technically possess overwhelming control over both houses of Congress, permitting individual Republicans to interfere with the well-being of the American people?

The answers to each question are, tragically, quite simple:

1) The Republican Party needs the economic situation to worsen so that they can take power away from the Democrats. While some would argue that such a tactic is bound to backfire - that by exacerbating the hardships caused by our economic predicament in order to win votes, the Republicans run the risk of being the recipients of public resentment instead of the Democrats - history has shown that this isn't likely to happen. Most Americans don't follow politics closely enough to be aware of the complicated machinations and maneuverings that go on behind the scenes, and thus how to properly allocate blame; instead they follow a simple formula, one in which the incumbent party is blamed if the country is faring poorly and rewarded if it is believed to be doing well. As such, all the Republicans have to do is allow our economy to continue its deterioration - even intentionally harm the situation from time to time, such as Senator Bunnings has done - and wait for the Democrats to be punished by the general public. In a two-party system, the Democrats' punishment becomes, by default, the Republicans' gift.

There is another reason why Republicans are obstructing the Democratic Party agenda, one that does not receive nearly enough attention. On a fundamental level, the liberal philosophy (which controls part, though not nearly all, of the Democratic Party machinery) embraces the idea that a democratic government, representing and controlled by the people it serves, should use its power to fight economic injustice, just as the government currently uses its power to fight other forms of injustice (such as crime, attacks from foreign nations, and so on). Since the policies that would achieve this objective will, naturally, be opposed by the main perpetrators of economic injustice - businesses that underpay and/or mistreat their workers, companies that sell unsafe or malfunctioning products, banks that engage in reckless practices with people's savings and threaten the entire economic infrastructure, corporations that control vital goods and services and wish to use their power to price gouge the public (health insurance companies, private university boards, credit card companies), wealthy individuals who don't want to pay their fair share of taxes or simply hold the non-rich in contempt, and so on - these people need a political organization that will oppose the encroachment of liberal ideas. The vessel they use today is the Republican Party.

It wasn't always that way. In the early 19th century, their organization of choice was the Federalist Party, a political coalition that openly declared its belief that the "rich and well-born" were superior to all other classes of Americans and deserved a government that catered primarily to their interests (they even went so far as to advocate granting more votes to those who possessed large amounts of property and denying suffrage to people whose incomes weren't large enough). Given the inevitable unpopularity of any group that preached this ideology in an egalitarian society like this one, Federalists found openness to be a losing strategy; after losing five consecutive presidential elections to the liberal Democratic-Republican Party, the Federalists dissolved, and from that day to this, the parties that have succeeded them (first the National Republicans, then the Whigs, and finally the Republicans) have made a point of justifying policies that help the economically powerful at the expense of the weak in terms more consistent with the humanitarian ideals upon which America (inconveniently for their purposes) was founded. Sometimes the cover they use is that of "lower taxes" and "smaller government"; sometimes they try to discredit liberalism through erroneous ad hominem arguments, claiming that left-wingers are "socialists" or "communists"; sometimes they try to discredit liberalism by building straw men for people to attack instead of the wealthy and powerful, such as by focusing on such ultimately frivolous issues as gay rights, school prayer, flag burning, or putting the Ten Commandments in courthouses. Yet regardless of the ornamentation used to conceal their real agenda, of the interests of these conservatives - as made manifest today in their primary political vehicle, the Republican Party - has always been focused on helping the economically powerful, even when doing so is often at the expense of those 95% of all Americans who are part of the working class. This fact goes a long way in explaining the GOP's current indifference to the economic sufferings being felt by the American non-wealthy in 2010.

2) Of course, none of the Republican Party's efforts wouldn't work if the Democrats used the full measure of their political power to thwart it. Yet unlike the Republican Party - which during and after the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s effectively purged all ideological dissent from its ranks, leaving in its wake a remarkably unified instrument through which to very effectively implement its will - the Democratic Party remains divided into two factions: Those who wish to boldly avow and fight for liberal principles, and those who feel that the Democratic Party's liberalism must be watered down for public consumption, a belief based on the (incorrect) notion that America is a right-wing nation, and as such will turn against any politician which tries to press an openly liberal agenda upon them. The ongoing war between these two factions prevents Democrats from having enough political strength to effect their will on all but a handful of small issues; as such, they are rendered powerless when they are confronted by their united and well-coordinated Republican adversaries.

So how can the Democratic Party end this dynamic? Simply put, it has to do what the Republicans have done since 1980 - under the leadership of strong-willed politicians, it must force its members to work together toward common partisan goals or face political exile. The dominance of the modern Republican Party - during the period called the Age of Reagan - took place as a direct result of the actions of men who knew how to do this, including not only Ronald Reagan, but individuals like Newt Gingrich, George W. Bush, Lee Atwater, and Karl Rove. When the Democratic Party has been dominant in by-gone eras, it has likewise been because it had strong men to lead it - Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, James Polk, Amos Kendall, and Roger Taney during the Age of Jackson, or Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, and Hubert Humphrey during the Age of FDR.

Right now, due to the absence of such strong leadership, the Democratic Party is being easily victimized by their Republicans. The tragedy is that the steepest price for their weakness will be paid not by themselves, but by the American unemployed.