Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why is the left so angry?

Say what one will about Congress. For at least the last two years they have not sat on their backside doing nothing while collecting a fat check. Most Americans have a long history of resenting what they see as overpaid do-nothing politicians. (I am something of an exception, preferring do nothing politicians.) And over the last two years there has been mounting fury with Congress from both the far left and the far right.

The far right, at least from their perspective, has some pretty fair grounds for complaint which I will enumerate shortly. What I find difficult to grasp is the rage of the left. By any reasonable standard (I opine as a historian) the 111th Congress has been the most active and liberal (or "progressive" if you prefer that term) in at least a generation. Consider just a few of the more notable accomplishments of this Congress.
  • Cap & Trade. (Corrected as per comment from gdelassu.)
  • End of ban on embryonic stem cell research.
  • End of ban on US Foreign Aid being used to promote abortion
  • Sweeping new environmental regulations.
  • Sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial services industry and broad new consumer protection laws.
  • Massive overhaul of the nation's health insurance industry and a mandate for universal, though privately run, health insurance by 2014.
  • Massive expenditures on schools and infrastructure as part of hundreds of billions in so called "stimulus."
  • Government bailouts of GM, Chrysler and other bankrupt mega-corps. And rigging the bankruptcy proceedings to insure that the UAW would receive the same "stakeholder" status in the courts as bondholders. (Translation: HUGE win for labor unions while bond holders got ripped off.)
  • Extension of unemployment benefits to the point where they are now almost perpetual.
  • Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell which is being hailed in some quarters as the most important piece of civil rights legislation since the 1960's.
  • Extension of the Bush Era tax cuts (probably the only item that had broad Republican support).
  • And the probable ratification of a broad new arms limitation and reduction agreement with Russia.
And yet the far left remains convinced that they have been betrayed. Millions stayed home on election day in protest of what they saw as the failure of the large Democratic majorities in Congress to push through a progressive agenda (no doubt greatly aiding the GOP's big election win). But from an historical perspective I am hard pressed to think of any Congress that, for good or ill, has done so much since at least the 1960's. Indeed a compelling argument could be made that this has been the most revolutionary Congress since the early years of FDR's New Deal.

What exactly is the political left complaining about?


Jon Marc said...

I don't follow politics very closely, but I know a lot of my friends who vote for the Democrats were upset that marriage equality wasn't addressed despite President Obama's commitment to do so and that DADT didn't get repealed until now despite the balance of power in the legislature.

The mangled, tangled mess that his health care program turned out to be was also a disappointment - it fails to either provide affordable health care to all or control the ridiculous costs associated with health care in the USA.

Michael said...

Walter Russell Mead has some interetsting perspectives in his two latest posts:



Mead thinks all current political philosophies are outmoded, and that this is why voters are angry, no matter who is in office. I think he has a point.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Guantanamo isn't really closed.

We aren't really out of Iraq.

Health care has not really been reformed (and can't be unless you are willing to end price gouging by doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies).

Afghanistan is going badly and what are we still doing there anyway?

Mr. Obama caved on extending the Bush tax cuts to millionaires. (In fairness to him, he may have had no choice, but he'd have done well to put up at least the appearance of championing the Democrat position.)

There's no sign that under Obama, The United States will stop being the bully on the block or stop trying to build and consolidate an empire.

Israel is still the tail wagging the dog and nobody here is doing anything but caving in to that nation's every demand.

In fact, foreign policy-wise, Obama is doing absolutely nothing different from what Bush was talking about doing when he left office.

The tone in Washington has not become any more civil or any less partisan and the usual ways of doing business have continued unabated. Not that that's the President's fault, necessarily, but still.

Well, that's a start. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

That's why I'm disappointed. I'm by no means far left; in fact, I deplore most of the "achievements" you've listed here.

They only add to my disappointment.

rabidgandhi said...

Good points by Michael and Anastasia. John makes his argument by showing how Democratic talking points haven't fared so poorly, but this assumes that the Democratic Party speaks for the Left. The last few weeks have put an exclamation point on the fact that the Dems only speak for the same business interests as the Republicans. True leftist ideas like stopping the wars, not supplying arms to repressive regimes and destroying the corporate stranglehold on health care are completely off the table in the US.

gdelassu said...

I agree with the broad substance of this post (I am a political lefty who is frequently distressed by the anger my fellow leftists profess towards the Congress and the President), but I would make a few nitpicking critiques:

1) The 111th Congress did not pass Cap & Trade. I have seen this meme appear on other right-leaning blogs as well, which makes me wonder whence it is coming. In any case, this claim is false. You can, as they say, look it up. The House passed HR 2454 (the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009), but the bill went nowhere in the Senate, and I do not think that the House can, all by itself, qualify as "the 111th Congress," especially given that this bill would certainly have required at least one round in conference committee before it could ever reach the President's desk anyway (that is to say, the text of HR 2454 was never going to become law).

2) The "sweeping" nature of the new environmental regulations was very much in the eye of the beholder. One could, just as objectively, style these regulatory changes as "slight."

3) The "massive overhaul" of the nation's health insurance system was done entirely according to right-wing models. The plan that was enacted was essentially the same as the plan that the Senate Republicans offered as an alternative to Pres. Clinton's proposed reforms in 1993 and the plan that (Republican) Gov. Romney enacted in Massachusetts. Is it really surprising that the political left should be disappointed with a right-wing reform?

Meanwhile, I certainly agree with Anastasia Theodoridis' complaints about Guantanamo, Iraq & Afghanistan, but I do wonder whether these complaints are really germane to a discussion of the 111th Congress. It seems to me that these three failures belong more squarely on the President's record than on the Congress'. In the final analysis, it is the President who controls the armed forces, not the Congress, so it is the President more than the Congress who must be blamed for their misuse.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes, it is the President in whom I am disappointed.

Nothing Congress can do can disappoint me any more.

Anonymous said...

Healthcare will never be reformed; the trial lawyers can't sue the gov't in such a system, so the Dems will never truly want reform, and the insurance companies don't want it, so the Republicans don't really want reform.