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      Monday
      Apr212014

      Two, Three, Many Americas?

      Roughly 2,000 people attended the 10th week of Moral Monday in North Carolina. (Photo: Jenna Pope, 2013)

      Since the posting of "Becoming Two Countries in 2014", many readers have argued that we actually are becoming three or more Americas, while others cling to the dream of becoming One America again. The purpose of the original posting was not to propose breaking up the country, but to focus progressives on strategic questions of how to live and work through the political polarization paralyzing the country for the foreseeable future.

      The Tea Party and most Republicans are succeeding in defensive warfare, using gerrymandering, voter suppression, anti-abortion laws and the gaping loopholes of Citizens United to carve out an entire bloc of states where reactionary policies can be implemented despite majority opinion in America. This bloc is mislabeled as "red", formerly the color of the Left, when in fact it is the right-wing homeland of the Tea Party, Christian fundamentalists, and the sordid descendants of the Confederacy and the Wild West frontiersmen. It is a vast "laboratory of reaction" for those in Corporate America who wish to repeal the Thirties and the Sixties, and build a renewed market fundamentalism. 

      Twenty-four states delivered 206 Electoral College votes for Romney in 2012. Due to reapportionment, Republicans were able to gain a decisive majority in the House of Representatives despite losing a large majority of the overall votes cast for the House. In addition, the right-wing most likely has a lock on the US Supreme Court until the post-Obama era. 

      Given the recent Republican debacle over linking Obamacare to the debt ceiling, many hope the tide has turned against the Tea Party and Republicans in general. The new whiz kid of number crunchers, Dr. Sam Wang of Princeton, is promoting a computer model purporting to show that the Democrats will win back the House if their overall popular vote margin is 6.8 percent above the Republican showing in 2014. 

      But electoral math cannot win elections easily in the face of gerrymandering, voter suppression and unlimited right-wing funding of elections. Additionally, today's nadir of public support for the Republican Party, hovering around 20-25 percent, doesn't predict where the parties will be in November 2014. If there is a likely scenario, it is that the Democrats will keep the Senate, pick up seats in the House, and thus "send a message" of warning to Republicans to steer away from the Tea Party extreme. 

      In this scenario many progressives will feel themselves stranded or taken for granted with nowhere to go. That helplessness rests on a misperception of the importance of the progressive base in electoral outcomes. The fight to make "every vote count", for example, will make all the difference in several swing states. And whether or not the Dreamers' current right to vote is preserved by Obama's executive order means a critical edge in certain states, while a larger immigration-reform package remains in doubt. Candidates "behind enemy lines", like Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, will make the right's agenda more difficult to pursue. All of these efforts will not only hold off the right, but strengthen progressive Democrats against Wall Street ones. 

      The current battle lines are drawn most sharply over the fate of Obamacare, with defenders of the law losing ground due to the debacle of the rapid rollout. Evidence of strong success for the exchanges in California, Connecticut, New York, Kentucky and other states is an indicator, however, that Obamacare can move forward, if only more slowly. The intense battle over Medicaid, set in motion by the Roberts Court, is another example of the raging civil war, with 25 states -half the total - still refusing to sign on. Last week's agreement on Medicaid by Ohio's Republican governor John Kasich, following that of Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer, were critical steps forward in a strategy of one state at a time.

      The fight over Obamacare is an example of how the fact of a civil war is camouflaged under surface arguments over federalism and spending. Properly understood, Obamacare, including the expansion of Medicaid, is a major initiative against continuing discrimination and denial towards people of color, women, the poor, and the elderly, whose numbers will surpass thirty million new enrollees if the law is implemented.

      Many thousands of progressives are still hurting from the rejection of single-payer by the administration and Congress. Rather than join the defense of Obamacare, some of these progressives continue to objectively weaken support for the law from the Left, as if the collapse of Obamacare somehow would lead to a Canadian-style health care system. It is more likely that a defeat of Obamacare would cause another decade of delay before any revival of progressive political will. 

      Similar concerns arise in the immigrant rights debate, where the promise of a "path to citizenship" is projected to take longer than a decade, and deliver the right to vote for only a portion of the immigrant class, while an unprecedented military surge of troops and drones along the border is supposed to be "secure" long before any new voters enter a ballot box. 

      The same issues arise around the climate change controversy, where President Barack Obama has toughened emissions standards, increased investments in renewables, and held off on the XL pipeline while also opening the gates to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Half the Democratic Party's elected officials want to push for drilling and pipelines, and thus the slightest change in the Senate balance in 2014 would embolden them. 

      These dilemmas are sharply posed in foreign and military policies too, where the Obama administration so far refuses to make a total break from Afghanistan, or end its drone attacks as part of an Afghanistan peace settlement. Most progressives are alienated by Obama's policies on Guantanamo and whistleblowers. Few appreciate his opaque maneuvering to avoid wars in Syria or Iran. But there is no doubt that a Republican capture of the Senate or White House would lead to multiple wars at the urging of Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham.  

      The historic role of the Left is not to shore up the center of American politics, though that often occurs in the wake of once-radical reforms. But success on the Left inevitably leads to a partial influencing of that center; for example, the House Progressive Caucus membership fluctuates around seventy-five members. The role of the Left is to open the center to alternative visions and policies, and to build the institutional power to force serious debate and acceptance of those positions. In the present situation of near-civil war, the federal government is especially important in attempting to enforce voting rights and environmental regulations, to take only two examples. In such a situation, however, the offense often lies with the progressive states; for example, in the investments in green energy made during the past generation by many states led by California. The emergence of Medicare-For-All may also arise from state initiatives on health care and insurance as well. The right is not alone in its ability to build power at the state and local levels. Such a potential exists on the left too.  

      In a country so closely divided, the Left is never as marginal as many often feel. Where elections are frequently settled by one percent or by the margin of registration and turnout, every faction of the Left is potentially critical to winning or losing.  History is filled with countless examples of great causes - like the women's right to vote or the Equal Rights Amendment - being won or lost by the thinnest of margins, causing history to go forward, stall, or fall into reverse. Like it or not, we are fated to be living through such a time, in which small circles of people can make all the difference.

      In the present situation of near-civil war, the federal government is especially important in attempting to enforce voting rights and environmental regulations, to take only two examples. In such a situation, however, the offense often lies with the progressive states; for example, in the investments in green energy made during the past generation by many states led by California. The emergence of Medicare-For-All may also arise from state initiatives on health care and insurance as well. The right is not alone in its ability to build power at the state and local levels. Such a potential exists on the left, too.

      --

      This article was originally published on October 23, 2013. It was updated by the author on April 21, 2014.

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      Reader Comments (4)

      I've grappled with this issue for years...
      longing for ways to renew or rebirth this nation in more life-serving ways...
      for Americans, non-Americans, and planet...
      playing with over-the-top possibilities that transcend physical and idealogical boundaries...
      e.g. a United States of Being (where 'states' are non-physical... and may be global).

      Some such possibilities are in WeNeedaDream.org and DivineDimensions.org.
      More are available on request.

      Seems serendipitous that today is Global Oneness Day (GlobalOneness2013.org) and United Nations Day (un.org/en/events/unday).

      October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Landsness

      I have stumbled into this liberal website, or it has stumbled into me. I so wish I could address all politicians about the following matters. The entry above once again gets caught up in cutting up the American public.
      1. There is no current politician who does not state that his goal is to “save the middle class.” I wonder how many Americans see themselves as middle class. How many will say they are middle class for fear that to be less than middle class is somehow shameful? Who are the people who say that the survival of one group of Americans is more important than the survival of another or of all Americans?
      Emphasizing anyone’s class as all important divides the American people, and turns some Americans against other Americans, if only through the poison of envy or comparison whereas group unity would lead to cooperation.
      Why would any sane, well-balanced leader or party cause any in the 99% to be at war with others in the 99% because of some ranking, such as income, when the terribly crucial matter is that any are foolish and self-destructive who allow themselves to be entrapped by the notion of a class system. If not confused by notions of class, all are naturally united to rectify the imbalance created by a plutocracy, an oligarchy, the 1%. The simplicity of this truth is very liberating and leads to better mental health, and clarity in political decisions.
      For the only concern to be “saving the Middle Class” obscures the beautifully simple situation. It is the People versus the Plutocracy. Any politician who does not adhere to that “faith” is conning the people, and will slander that truth for selfish motives, usually greed.
      But listen to the next speech you hear from a politician. Do they show any sign of this basic intelligence? To what do they turn when they turn away from the People?
      2. Where are the great Political Geniuses we need? Who will create a system capable of healthy self-transformation when needed? From the beginning to the end of human time, any group of humans will divide into two or more groups of humans. It causes stalemate. It can even lead to murder. Let us recognize this permanent and perpetual trait as “the Cain/Abel proclivity,” and never forget about it.
      Each of us assigns a set of values or motives to each of those opposing figures in every society, and we have names for their current manifestations. Because the names and the opposing values are ever changing, it should always be identified foremost and basically as “the Cain/Abel proclivity” in order to keep in mind the danger of this human trait.
      For a long time the words that bring out the Abel or Cain in the United States are “Progressive (Socialist)” and “Conservative (Capitalist).” Although someone may want to amplify those terms, I think most of us recognize these in some general way as the most combative situation.
      Enter, the Political Geniuses who have not yet arrived who could create and keep functional a system that integrates or balances the presence of both socialist and capitalism in the system or whatever, later, becomes the opposing approaches.
      Where are the Political Geniuses who can create the detailed workings and functioning of a system that includes both of those political proclivities? It is bound to be complicated and require those geniuses who have not yet appeared.

      -- James McColley Eilers: jteilers@mac.com

      October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJames McColley Eilers

      ONLINE VOTING (as another voting option) can solve the problem of voter access, and can address voter fraud through more secure voter authentication. The "Left" need to help push this agenda (including you, TomHayden)

      October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Drobman

      It seems to me that most of the politicians on the federal level support the same things. They are all on the payroll of Wall Street and support using tax dollars to enrich the Wall Street leaders and the banks. They all support the ongoing U.S. military occupation of and wars against the middle east, now Africa, eventually Asia. They all support the basic concept of the Wall Street front groups which write the "free trade" treaties which have so destroyed the lives of working people in this country. So the nuanced differences are mostly cultural, and although they are of great significance (policies favoring or opposing racism, sexism, public education, social security, medicare), it seems that it's the other issues, the ones where Ds and Rs agree, that have destroyed the nation.

      So where to go? What's next? Propaganda is so sophisticated, the media so corrupt, that we actually have congressional hearings about a software program. No hearings on the 20 million unemployed Americans, but lots of time to discuss technical glitches.

      I keep thinking that if somebody came up with a platform, and told the politicians to get it done, that could get the majority support in this country. Such as:

      1. Raise taxes on the rich back to Eisenhower-levels to fund society, pay off the wars, pay down the debt.
      2. Pass a full employment law. All able-bodied people of working age who want to work will have a job and a living wage. If they get fired, they are either assigned a new job or sent to school or for re-training as appropriate. Pass laws to set clear goals for equal opportunity, pay, promotion, for all Americans regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin.
      3. Increase minimum wage to reflect inflation, and add an automatic CPI increase every year.
      4. End the wars. Pass a prohibition against any further wars of aggression. Require public vote on any wars except in defense of this nation, and require the government to assess special taxes and raise the anticipated costs of war from special taxes on the rich and on businesses before the first bullet is fired.
      5. Make it illegal for any politician or federal employee or staff to have any communications with anyone other than in public, recorded, at hearings in which all members of the public have an equal opportunity to speak (via internet). End the secret meetings, eliminate the entire lobbying industry.
      6. Make it illegal for any politician to accept anything or any promise of anything of value in the future (future jobs, book deals) from anyone, and have federal limited financing of campaigns. Same for their spouses.
      7. Rebuild America, invest here. All businesses must be partially owned by the workers who have the veto power to prohibit sending jobs to other countries. Invest in public education, and make sure all our children have good schools with computer labs, food education, exercise, music and art as well as the basics. Education through college should be free for all students who are academically qualified.
      8. Rescind all trade agreements and start over. Phase out all imports over a 5 year period, and then allow imports if the item cannot reasonably be made here. Build it, create it, sell it, use it, recycle it here, and put our own people back to work.
      9. On immigration reform, eliminate the h1b visa system entirely, since it is used by the tech industry (and explains both Gates and Zuckerberg's interest in the subject) to hire college grads from other countries instead of Americans, because they can pay them less and they tend to be very compliant workers. (If the h1b visa worker gets fired, they have a limited time to find a new job or be deported, so they tend to be very obedient workers so they can stay in the U.S.). Nothing against foreign labor, but we need to employ our own people. It is not liberal to give away your neighbors' jobs. After that, if we need more workers, open up the job search to foreign labor. For all unauthorized migrants, deal with them in a sane and rational manner.
      10. Increase social security to compensate for the fact that employers no longer offer pensions. Tax capital gains as ordinary income and subject it to social security taxes, no limits.
      11. End all NSA and corporate gathering of information on law-abiding Americans. Destroy the information they have and shut down the NSA, transfer their files on overseas criminals to the CIA.
      12. From now on, require congress to report to the public the daily costs of all hearings, so the public can see how much they waste our money on hearings about baseball steroids, sex scandals, and computer software glitches.
      13. Bust up Wall Street, the banks, all major corporations. Enforce the anti-trust laws.
      14. Pass an international tax law, and set aside money for "foreign aid," which will consist only of people-to-people assistance. No more military aid, no more propping up or arming dictators.

      I think the majority of Americans would support a basic platform which is pro-worker. It may be that there is a part of the democratic and republican parties that should merge (the parties of War and Wall Street), a part of both that should splinter off (teabaggers), but the majority from both parties probably agree on most fundamental issues about running our country. If not, at least we should try to articulate a platform, begin to promote it, and get supporters. Beyond elections, in other words, simply try to build a consensus. We are so distracted by the constant media chaos and circus, and few politicians want to talk about the real issues that affect our lives. They don't want to talk about it, which means we need to do so. Then tell politicians that either they commit to our platform, or we will run our own candidates. I've always thought we need a U.S. Labor Party, with a clear alliance only to working people. Maybe we're getting closer to the time when that will become a reality.

      October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNABNYC
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