This nation has the propensity to stagger from crisis to crisis, never appearing able to compromise on anything substantive. I grew up in my native land of South Africa, well aware that the system under which I lived was oppressive and dysfunctional, where the few benefitted from the labor of the many.
When I came over the the United States, it was with the dream of, not just a better life, but a glorious political system. This was the land of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Medger Evers, James Meredith, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. This was the land that pioneered some of the best human rights legislation in history.
This was the nation that burst forth from the oppressive regimes of the European monarchs, in which one was free to worship as one pleased, or not. This was the nation that defeated the Nazis and the Japanese in the Pacific. This was the essential nation, the City on a Hill, the champion of the little people, the oppressed, the downtrodden.
The words on the Statue of Liberty still bring a tear to my eye when I read them, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. The stirring recording of Martin Luther King in his “I have a dream” speech also stirs the feeling of freedom that I carry with me.
This collection of states no longer conjures that feeling of awe, that belief that America can do anything, be anything, solve any problem, be the beacon in the night for those lost people’s that need guidance. The great granite edifice of this democracy is shuddering.
The judiciary, once the most admired body of legal scholars on the planet, has been overrun by conservatives intent on rolling back human and civil rights precedent going back a generation. The Supreme Court has become a conservative enclave, a bastion of gun advocates and originalists bent on deciding elections and creating a conservative nation, and not being the judicial bodyguard that they should be.
The legislative body that once was known as the greatest deliberative body on Earth, the Senate, has become mired in conservative intransigence and obstructionism. Every bill that comes before that once august body is subject to filibuster, and even downright refusal if just a single senator declares his intention to block the bill. The senator has to take no other action. Every bill now requires sixty votes, a super-majority to pass the chamber.
Despite the fact that Democrats won the Presidency and the Senate, as well as getting a majority in the House, Republicans in the House have decided that their job is to ram through a conservative agenda for which the country did not vote. They have made it their objective that they will stop all the Presidents agenda, regardless of the harm that may come to the country.
The current talks about the fiscal cliff were going well. The President campaigned on a pledge that he would not raise taxes on the Middle Class, or those that earn under $250k/year. This is what he put on the table before John Boehner, House Leader.
In order to gain acceptance from the Republican leader, the President adjusted his goal up to $400k, and threw in spending cuts that are most likely to hurt Middle Class and poorer Americans, including adjustments to the inflation index used to calculate Social Security increases for seniors.
The President continues to attempt to negotiate with Republicans, to compromise, as he has by altering his positions to favor Republicans. he has increased the offered spending cuts, raised the limit on the amount that will receive tax cuts. Every step of the way, the president has shown himself willing to negotiate, to compromise, to be firm but approachable.
The Republicans, under the leadership of John Boehner, have negotiated in bad faith. They put forward proposals that have no chance of passing, change their minds at the last-minute, walk out of talks, accuse the President of doing nothing, stonewalling at every opportunity.
They are so enamoured of the wealthy that they do everything they can to make sure that the deficit grows inordinately under the President. They are so proud of their military that they want military spending to careen ever upwards with no ceiling in sight, despite the fact that America spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined. To what end? Who are we at war with?
Everything they do is to increase the deficit, while telling people that they are trying to reduce the deficit. They continue to tell the American people that they can reduce the deficit by cutting taxes, that they will never raise taxes on anyone. They refuse to enunciate serious spending cuts other than on those programs for which the people have paid.
Conservatives continue to want cuts to Social Security, a program that has nothing to do with the deficit, and a program for which people pay, many their entire lives. They remind me of an insurance company that squeezes its customers for payments, then refuses to pay to replace damaged, lost or stolen items. Social Security is not an entitlement, it is an earned benefit, a program for which people pay their entire lives.
They do they same with Medicare, which, granted has some budget issues in coming years. There are ways to deal with those issues, but the Republicans are not prepared to consider those options. What they want to do is destroy the social safety net, both in terms of social pensions, and medical care.
Conservatives will not countenance a deal with the President that does not include significant cuts to programs that will have an enormous impact on the poorest Americans.
At the same time, Republicans want to increase the amount that the avaricious affluent take out of the system by extending their tax cuts, extending the estate tax relief, extending low taxes on capital gains and dividends. All of these things benefit the prosperous.
John Boehner put a bill before the House which contained a substantial number of the Republicans desires, including retaining the Bush Tax cuts for millionaires, while cutting programs like food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, meals-on-wheels the program for the elderly.
The House leadership knew well that this bill would not pass his own caucus, despite the gifts to the wealthy, but he did it anyway, to make the President look as though he was intransigent and incapable of offering anything to the Republicans. The bill did not pass his own caucus, despite giving them almost everything they want, and knowing that they president would veto the bill anyway.
There is only one reason that a governing body refuses to pass legislation to improve the economy, and give tax relief to the Middle Class and the poor. That reason is to make sure that the country is no longer governable in any meaningful sense of the word.
Conservatives are outraged that Obama won reelection, that the country voted against their agenda. They wanted power, and since they did not get it dishonestly by gerrymandering districts, suppressing the vote, intimidating voters, lying to their constituents, misleading those same constituents, they will obstruct anything the President puts forward in this term in office.
They are playing a very dangerous game. There are times in history when government has become impotent, and they have never ended well. When anarchists and their ideology becomes acceptable to a significant part of the population, their continual attacks against legitimate government eventually wear down the political process. Sometimes that is to the good, as in countries like Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, where dictators are overthrown.
All such events do not end well. In Germany in the aftermath of the First World War, the Weimar Republic was shredded by internal dissent, caused by political extremism on both left and right. Much of the problem was caused by anarchists, and by those that refused to accept the government as being legitimate.
Similar problems led to the shot that sparked the first world war. Princip, a Serb who shot the Archduke Ferdinand, was an anarchist who wanted a free Serbia.
In Spain, anarchists caused enormous problems for the king, along with other political extremists, eventually forcing the king to abdicate and leading to a bloody civil war, from which General Franco emerged as dictator.
In Germany, Italy, and a number of eastern bloc countries, dictators were installed as a result of political dissent, most often on the right-wing.
That is what is happening here, just as happened before the civil war. Conservatives, who in the days of the civil war were the Confederates, from those states that owned slaves, were the political extremists. It was their actions that ultimately led to the most vicious war in American history, a war that killed more people than any other in this nations history.
We are hurtling down that path again, towards a schism in this nation. It has been a long time in coming, but coming it is, unless conservatives can dial down their rhetoric and negotiate with a sensible agenda, and sensible compromises that can help and not hinder the economy, rather than extreme positions not supported by the majority of Americans.
This country does not need to continue to fight the Civil War within its Congress. There are no winners in this fight. It can only be a matter of time before this ends in bloodshed.
Conservatives must stop blackmailing this nation, stop imposing an extremist agenda on the people, stop destroying the ability of Congress to govern, and start supporting all the people, not just the obscenely wealthy.
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