What does the Republican filibuster of Obama’s jobs bill say about the GOP?
Last night, the Republicans in the Senate did something that everybody already knew they would do: they filibustered President Obama’s jobs bill. Now, first off, we need to be clear on this. At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, millions more are underemployed, and our economy is stuck in an unemployment driven recession, the Republicans in the Senate didn’t just vote against a bill that would have created 2 million new jobs without adding a dollar to the deficit: they refused to even allow the bill to be discussed. When you put it like that, which is really the only way you can put it, it sounds bad enough. But what makes it worse is that, like I said at the beginning, this move has taken absolutely no one by surprise. So, the real question is, what does this say about the Republican Party?
The Republican Party strategy on this is simple. They are betting that voters are going to blame President Obama and the Democrats for the state of the economy in 2012. Given this, they think their best chance of winning back the White House, and maybe even the Senate, is making sure that the economy doesn’t recover. In other words, they are actively trying to make things as bad as they possibly can for working Americans, all in the hope that this will give them an electoral advantage. Not only that, but they aren’t embarrassed to admit it. Mitch McConnell has said on numerous occasions that his number one priority is making sure that Barrack Obama is a one term President. Not fixing the economy, not making the country better, not dealing with the issues that his constituents care about, but making sure that anything our President tries to do gets defeated.
So how do Republicans get away with it? How can politicians this cynical, who obviously don’t care about 99% of their constituents, and aren’t even trying to hide it, possibly get reelected? Part of it is the media. The media keeps telling the public that the problem with politics in this country is that both the left and right are completed entrenched in their positions and unwilling to give an inch. Unfortunately, this is completely untrue. I wish that the left were as entrenched as the media seems to think but, as we saw in the debt ceiling debate, Democrats have been willing to compromise on about 90% of their convictions and the Republicans have been unwilling to move an inch. Even this jobs plan, which Republicans are attacking as some crazy form of socialism, consists primarily of measures that were initially proposed by Republicans. Part of it is that the left’s political message is a lot more complicated. This is starting to change, and the recent mobilizations targeting Wall Street have done a great job of focusing anger on a single and recognizable target. But still, Republicans are a lot better at this kind of messaging (although it’s a lot easier to be good on messaging when you aren’t overly concerned with the truth of what you’re saying). Part of it is that there are just a lot of people who aren’t happy that we have a black president, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get him voted out of office. Most importantly, though, I think that it’s because, at least up until now, the Democrats have let them get away with it. The left hasn’t been doing enough to call the Republicans on this, to construct an alternative framing of the issue, and to talk to everyday Americans about what the Republicans are doing. Even without this the general public is starting to get it. Congress has a record low approval rating (it’s down to something like 18%), and most of the public blames the Republicans for the debt ceiling fiasco. But, if the Democrats want to take back the House and keep the Presidency, not to mention actually get some legislation passed, they really need to start going on the offensive.
So, really, it’s up to the left right now to make what ought to be a pretty easy case. We need to see politicians out there every day talking about how the Republicans are intentionally destroying the economy, and devastating people’s lives, simply to get reelected and give tax breaks to the rich. We need the media to hold the Republicans accountable, and ask them what they are seriously proposing if they aren’t willing to even talk about Obama’s jobs bill. And we need more and more people to get involved with growing social movements, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, that are finally focusing public anger where it needs to be: on big banks, big corporations, and the Republican politicians who have been allowing them to take advantage of the other 99% of our society. If the framing in 2012 is banks v. the 99% then the left wins. If half the country still thinks the problem is public sector workers and immigrants, then I’m not so sure.