What Happens When We Don't See the Tipping Points
By Bernard Weiner
Co-Editor, The Crisis Papers
April 6, 2010
Often in our busy daily lives, we miss the significance of a
piece of news. Sometimes it's not until years later that we realize how very
important that news event was in shifting the paradigm.
For example: In 1981, President Reagan fired all 11,000 striking air-traffic
controllers, and the liberal left didn't really organize itself to respond
forcefully. That breaking of a labor union was the linchpin for much more
anti-liberal mischief at the hands of the Reaganite conservatives for the
next eight years -- and beyond. And the liberal left, as personified by the
Democratic Party, remained confused and toothless in its opposition.
But that was then, when the rightwing was in flower. Now we supposedly have
a liberal in the White House and the Democrats control both houses of
Congress. So surely there aren't such tipping-point events happening now.
Not so fast. Let's take a look at a few candidates and see the possible
ramifications for the body politic.
THE DESTRUCTION OF ACORN
Highly analogous to the Reagan-era attack on the air-traffic controllers was
what happened to one of this country's most effective community-aiding
organizations, ACORN. For more than four decades, ACORN had been highly
effective in helping low-income citizens register to vote. Those poor and
minorities tended to vote Democratic. As a result, Karl Rove and his
acolytes made ACORN their number one target. Indeed, the firing of all those
U.S. attorneys around the country derived from the unwillingness of a number
of U.S. attorneys to go after ACORN right before an election on phony
accusations of voting fraud.
There may have been a few bad apples in ACORN's large organization, but most
of the work done by ACORN employees and volunteer was positive and
thoroughly in tune with the small-d democratic impulse in American politics.
When the Republican noise- and spin-machines went into warpdrive over one
tiny incident last Fall -- a staged "gotcha!" event supposedly involving a
prostitute and her pimp -- the Democrats, worried that they might get tarred
as "ACORN supporters," joined forces with the Republicans to pass a bill
denying federal funding to the organization.
The eventual result was that ACORN a few weeks ago was forced to close up
shop, after its private donor base was scared off by all the controversy. A
mighty force for good was silenced and destroyed. It doesn't matter that
twice in recent months, federal judges ruled that the law passed by Congress
was an unconstitutional bill of attainder: i.e., designed to punish just one
person or group. Those decisions came too late: ACORN is no more.
The left didn't react with indignation and organized dissent when Reagan
busted the air-traffic controllers' union, and they paid the long-term price
for their political cowardice. And the left abandoned the politically toxic
ACORN (and even jumped on board to help pass the destructive de-funding
bill), and thus gave the extreme right more license to go even crazier
against more liberal and progressive legislation and groups. Once again, the
Dems will be paying for this one for many years to come.
OBAMA'S PUBLIC OPTION SELL-OUT
President Obama, who campaigned on the principle of offering public
competition to the health-care insurance carriers,
sold out early on this issue to the insurance companies and for-profit
hospitals. Behind closed doors early on, Obama promised in
exchange for their support and muted criticisms of his health-care plan that
he would never OK a "public option" that would harm their bottom-line.
(Also, in exchange for their support on the health-care bill, Obama sold out
to the giant pharmaceutical corporations, guaranteeing them there would be
no Medicare negotiations for cheaper drug prices and no importation of
less-expensive drugs from Canada.)
For nearly a year after he made those secret vows to the health-care giants,
Obama continued to pretend that he favored the public option, saying so in
appearances and speeches often, but behind the scenes he made sure to kill
any attempts to move that option into the health care bill.
The result is that the insurance companies will face no competition and thus
the public has no leverage to get them to reduce their rates. As a matter of
fact, those companies will be raising them again and again and again as the
years go by, even as they rake in humongous profits, since Obama's
health-care plan includes a mandatory requirement that everyone will have to
buy health insurance. (Those who need some financial assistance will get
such from the federal government, but most of us will wind up paying about
what we pay now, or more. And those rates can, and will, rise over the
Obama and his chief advisors were quite aware that the progressive base
would feel betrayed and angry at this sell-out to the forces of rapacious
American capitalism, but felt the left eventually would support their awful
bill because they had little choice. At least, after 100 years of trying,
the principle of health-care-as-a-right finally would be inside the tent of
political respectability. More reforms would be possible later. So, yes,
progressives (led by Dennis Kucinich) wound up voting for the bill, rather
than joining with the regressive Republicans to kill the first decent chance
of getting at least an incremental foot-in-the-door on health care.
Even though Obama, at the urging of the heath-care mega-corporations,
postponed implementing key sections of the act until after the 2012
election, he may well have pissed off enough voters on the left and middle
(the right was already a lost cause) to guarantee that he will be a one-term
Short-term gain for long-term pain. The usual political calculation: I'll
take the goodies now, and hope I can finagle something later to fool the
sheople into supporting me then. Obama & Co. may have grossly miscalculated
the rising level of anger and frustration coming not just from the extreme
far-right teapartiers but from his own outraged base.
OBAMA AND THE COVER-UP
Obama is quite aware that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and their
underlings, committed serious crimes: breaking both federal laws against
torture and warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, and international
laws against starting aggressive wars and carrying out torture. But the
Obama Administration refuses to prosecute CheneyBush and has come to their
defense in court. In so doing, Obama could be seen as being guilty of
furthering a cover-up, which is itself a felony.
Why would the President behave in such a fashion? Several possibilities
1. That some kind of deal was struck with the outgoing leaders by the
incoming leader. Some kind of quid pro quo, although about what precisely is
2. That Obama does not want to have a court case create a precedent that
could tie his hands when it comes to surveillance, warfare, torture. Indeed,
Obama seems to be comfortable continuing many of the most egregious,
despicable policies of the CheneyBush Administration when it comes to
"national security," such as keeping open the possibility of rendering
terror suspects to other countries notorious for their brutal interrogation
methods. His Administration defends the concept of "state secrets," the
indefinite confinement of terror suspects charged with no crimes, and with
maintaining the government's power to violate civil liberties at will when
it comes to eavesdropping and the right of privacy.
3. That Obama is having a hard enough time getting anything through
Congress, especially facing a thoroughy hostile Republican opposition, and
thus wants to not stir up old animosities and issues. He says he wants the
country to "move forward," not spend time and energy "looking backward."
4. Supposedly, the impeachment of Bill Clinton was partial payback for
driving Nixon out of office. Obama might well believe that pattern of
tit-for-tat destruction of a president has to be broken. In short, no
examination of the crimes of Bush and Cheney.
To my mind, scenario #2 seems most operative here. Once a president is
given, or (as in the case with the previous administration) grabs, more and
more power into his own hands, at the expense of upsetting the traditional
"balance of power" between the Executive and Legislative branches, those
larger parameters rarely shrink. If you build it, they will come and want to
operate on the same expansive playing field.
Obama may be thinking long-range here: If you permit the country to try and
perhaps to convict a former president, the precedent is established that
presidents from now on are fair game at the least, for impeachment for their
alleged crimes. Ergo, Obama will not permit delving into whatever crimes may
have been committed by Bush and Cheney.
POSITIVE TIPPING POINTS?
These are just three possible negative tipping-point events (and their
ramifications) that are not receiving the attention they deserve.
But there are also positive events worth taking a look at. It's possible
nothing much will come of them, that they're really not tipping points, but
since positive events for liberals have been few and far between, they are
worth at least noting, to see what possible meaning we can take from them.
FIGHTING BACK, AT LAST
Obama and his Democratic leaders in Congress have permitted themselves to be
rolled often and easily by the determined Republican minority. Just the
threat of a filibuster in the Senate was enough to make the Democrats quake
in fear and pull in their horns.
When the Democrats took the daring step of confronting the Republicans
frontally by slip-sliding away from the filibuster boogeyman and passing the
health-care bill by majority vote, the Dems seemed to finally realize they
had power and could use it.
This led to Obama telling the Republicans in the Senate that their days of
total obstructionism were coming to an end. They had locked up nearly 80
nominees for important posts and refused those nominees up-or-down
confirmation votes in the Senate, many of them for six months or more. So,
during the recent Congressional break, Obama simply gave 15 of those nominee
"recess appointments" for the life of the current Congress, which is to say
until 2112. (Bush made 170 recess appointments during his two terms.)
In addition, the Democrats are feeling their oats a bit more, and might even
go for majority "reconciliation" votes on upcoming major bills, including
the Dodd bill calling for more oversight of financial institutions. This
bill, by the way, is woefully deficient, and leaves all sorts of loopholes
for the giant banks. What I'm talking about here is the Dems' willingness to
confront the Republicans openly.
SURPRISING TRUTH FROM AFGHANISTAN
The U.S. plays down, or outright denies, the huge number of
"collateral-damage" deaths of civilians in Afghanistan. "Shit happens" seems
to be the operative mode when raining down missiles aimed at Taliban forces,
though on occasion the Americans have felt forced to apologize for the most
embarrassing of such massacres of innocents.
So hearing the recent admission by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S.
and NATO commander, about those all-too-frequent mass-deaths at coalition
hands could be a sign of a rift between the military on the ground and the
civilian leadership giving the orders.
Here's what McChrystal said about a week ago: "We have shot an amazing
number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat."
In other words, the U.S. is slaughtering innocent civilians on a regular
basis, for no good reason.
His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from
troops on the ground about civilian casualties. Such deaths were supposed to
be much reduced in number under new rules ordered by McChrystal. (If you
need visual evidence about how the U.S. routinely targets civilians,
check out the Wikileaks
videotape from Iraq.
One can read this startling admission as a pushback from the U.S. military
in Afghanistan to civilian/CIA orders to continue aggressive actions against
suspected Taliban hideouts, regardless of the civilian "collateral damage."
Continuing such deadly policies do little but anger the locals (many of whom
see these killings as "mass murder") and provide a major recruiting tool for
the Taliban. No wonder President Karzai is so outspoken against the
continuing campaign of the Americans/NATO.
One can hope that Obama and his military advisors will see that the American
campaign in Afghanistan is a no-win situation, and get the hell out of there
at relatively little cost rather than risk getting America sucked further
into the quagmire for another decade or two. Especially fighting for a
corrupt government in Kabul and in many of the provinces that really doesn't
want the U.S. there.
Copyright 2010 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught
at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as
co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).