Irreconcilable differences: why the two-party system must end

In a vein similar to that of a bumper sticker, which says, “If you aren’t mad as hell, you just aren’t paying attention,” I am coming to believe that depression is a rational response to a horrendously oppressive political, social, and economic environment in which we are being catapulted to ecological disaster.

Obama, elected with progressive energy and bankers’ money, is a conservative. Even those who saw through him early, who understood that he was betraying progressive principles, who preferred another candidate must feel betrayed.

We are told we should support an abysmal health care plan because if we don’t, the tea party fascists will win. That’s like when George W. Bush told us to go shopping, or more precisely, praised those who carried on with their normal consumerist lives following the 9/11 attacks, because otherwise the “terrorists” would have won.

There’s a false dichotomy at work here. The Axis powers didn’t win World War II because people in the U.S. resumed their normal lives following the Pearl Harbor attack. The Axis lost because many men went to war and many women manned the arms factories. Nor does it follow that progressives should support this health care plan because the alternative is a victory for tea party fascists.

I think there’s something wrong because out of 47 million uninsured, this health care plan only covers 31 million. Republicans have an explanation for about 20 million of an earlier closer to 46 million uninsured figure. But the combination of subsidies and premiums can still take a severe bite out of a modest income earner’s budget and there’s also a searing loophole in the plan. As Jon Walker writes, “Anyone who can’t find insurance that costs less than 8% of their income can get a hardship exemption from the individual mandate.”

Walker argues that the presence of the hardship exemption in the Senate bill is an acknowledgement that
it fails to “guarant[ee] everyone access to quality, affordable health insurance.” Who will qualify for this exemption? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing it will be those who are most expensive to insure, which to me suggests it will be the people who most need coverage.

I also think the parts of the bill affecting abortion coverage will operate to reduce access and is therefore a back door attack on a woman’s right to choose. So in order to prevent the tea party fascists from winning, progressives should support a bill that is anti-choice, that throws the most vulnerable under a bus, and which hurts not exactly the poor, but those with modest incomes. In other words, progressives should be regressive to prevent regressives from winning.

This is the kind of absurdity that two-party politics leaves us with. We’ve seen it on the right in the past, with three kinds of conservatives: fiscal, evangelical Protestant, and talk radio hate show types. But Sarah Palin seems to unite the holier than thou and the haters. It’s possible to argue that conservatives need to fragment into three parties, but probably not before 2013.

Progressives have a more urgent problem. Michael Lind gets it partly right and partly wrong. Unfortunately, the part he gets wrong is offensive:

New Dealers need to distinguish themselves from pessimistic, technophobic and antinatalist Green Malthusians. You can’t be a New Deal liberal and view poverty in either the American South or the global South as a problem of too many dark-skinned people instead of too little social justice and too little economic development. You can’t celebrate FDR’s Tennessee Valley Authority as a symbol of economic and social progress and condemn it as a monstrous assault on the purity of an idealized natural world in which humans, unlike other animals, are intruders. And because one of the achievements of the New Deal was to use federal investment to promote electrification, the auto mobile and industrialized agriculture, you can’t be a New Deal liberal and weep for a vanished early-industrial world of steam railroads, trolleys, tenements and locally grown food. (For opponents of coal, Greens seem to share a surprising nostalgia for the densely populated, transit-based cities of the ephemeral steam engine era.)

No Green I know of would make arguments which Lind attributes to us. We never say there are too many dark-skinned people. We do say the earth is overpopulated (and getting more so), but we also emphasize that the most exploitive countries are the (mostly white-skinned) developed countries. And flatly, no Green would advocate “a vanished early-industrial world.” But Lind equates hydroelectric (and eventually coal and nuclear) power with electrification; all public transportation with “steam railroads” and trolleys; and walkable urban spaces with tenements. I have no idea what his problem is with locally grown food, but he seems to prefer “industrialized agriculture” even when it is unsustainable and likely to increase our vulnerability to food shortages–meaning it will likely lead to famine.

I think most Greens would argue that a life more in harmony with the earth not only would improve our prospects for long term survival but improve our lives–all of our lives. There is nothing anti-poor about that, but despite the association between industrialization, poverty, and the gap between rich and poor, Lind bizarrely reads an anti-poor message into Green positions.

The rest of Lind’s article makes more sense, as he contrasts New Democrats of the corporatist mold with New Dealers. And it is indeed difficult to reconcile Obama’s economic and health care policy priorities with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Economic Bill of Rights:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

It’s not that FDR was anti-corporation. But Obama has rushed to aid “too big to fail” banks, pharmaceutical companies, and the health insurance oligopoly while doing precious little to help people earn decent livings, to stay in their homes, or–with the Senate bill–even to be able to afford health care. Obama prefers corporations at the expense of everyone else on a rationalization that corporations can be used to advance putatively progressive ends.

And that’s a contradiction that progressives need to take note of. Because one cannot reconcile the aspiration for a more just society with policies that protect the rich and make them richer. One cannot reconcile climate change policies that protect the powerful with concern even for the availability of drinking water. One cannot reconcile a search for peace with an escalation in Afghanistan that repeats the mistakes of previous invaders in a policy that looks increasingly like that of the Vietnam War. And that’s why we need to support a third party and make it a real force.

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