Warning: Washington Is Not On Our Side

The shameful debt ceiling flap that has embroiled Washington in recent weeks has left the American people wondering if they can trust any of their current political leaders to do the right thing. The immediate cause of this manufactured crisis lies with the Republicans holding the American economy hostage to a threatened default if their anti-government demands were not met.  President Obama is fully justified in rejecting those proposals which would do enormous harm to essential functions of government. 

But President Obama has repeatedly failed to stake out a principled counter position – that would force a truly “ balanced” compromise. Instead he has shown his basic agreement with the key Republican positions from the outset.  The heated rhetoric and insults that are flying about in Washington today are merely camouflage for the fact that the two dominant parties are occupying a very narrow part of the political spectrum. The bitter arguments are all about who can best accomplish the common goals of protecting the wealthy and well-connected while scaling back programs that ordinary people depend on.
In 2008, Americans elected Barack Obama in the belief that he would reverse the policies of George W. Bush.  But he has betrayed the hopes of constituency after constituency.  Now Obama’s “balanced” plan elevates deficit reduction to the highest priority, so important that it justifies massive cuts in badly needed domestic programs. He has falsely declared Social Security and Medicare to be too expensive to maintain and proposed a destructive ‘trimming’ – including cuts of up to 9% in Social Security income and a two-year delay in Medicare coverage.  Obama’s plan allows the bloated Pentagon budget to trundle along with only minor cuts achieved through “efficiency.”  Despite his attempt to label his plan as “balanced” -  Obama cuts $3 for every $1 in proposed revenue enhancement.  He’s declared tax increases off the table before 2013, and even then advocates only small steps to correct the worst abuses.
Through all this, the President has skillfully deflected attention from the fact that all $4 trillion targeted for debt reduction could be recouped through long overdue measures to restore fairness to a drastically unfair tax system - namely reining in offshore tax dodging, modestly taxing Wall Street speculation, raising income taxes on households earning over $1 million annually, and progressively taxing estates worth over $5 million.
It’s no accident that in his nationwide speech President Obama cited former President Ronald Reagan in support of his position, and emphasized that the Republicans have nothing to object to in his plan because it is pursuing their longstanding goals. The apparent Democratic strategy is to brag about their opposition to the more extreme proposals of the Republicans. And the Republicans are happy to ask for more than they really think they can get, and watch the Democrats move ever further to the right.

Lost in the shuffle are the real concerns of everyday Americans – whose real wages are declining, whose jobs are disappearing, who can’t afford the rising costs of health care and education for their children, who are still losing their homes in record numbers, and who cannot afford lobbyists to plead their case.
The convergence of the two major parties in America has robbed voters of a way to fix a government that is failing them.  When you have just two choices on the ballot, neither of which are on your side, your vote loses most of its value.  The “hope for change” that drove Obama’s election in 2008 is clearly dead.  But the thirst for real change still runs deep in the electorate.   This makes us more grateful than ever to be part of an independent third party that consistently stands up for the public interest, and doesn’t need a spin machine to manufacture excuses for selling out.  Life becomes much simpler when you just decide to do the right thing.
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John Andrews and Jill Stein are co-chairs of the Green-Rainbow Party, the Massachusetts affiliate of the Green Party of the United States.
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