Well, that's what Obama and the Democrats want you to think, anyway. But how much of it should we actually take seriously?
Now, don't get me wrong. I do think that Paul Ryan is awful. I have nothing but scorn for everything he stands for—more on that in a minute. But why does that admission mean that I should give the Democrats a free-pass, drink the Kool-Aid and engage in a long list of delusions—that Obama and the Democrats will fight the Right, that they'll pass progressive reforms, etc.?
If liberals are right to strongly oppose what Ryan stands for, they'd do well to oppose those same stands when—which is often—Obama and the Democrats take them. Let's do a little compare and contrast.
Here's a paraphrase of what Moveon.org has to say about Ryan in a Facebook meme that you may have seen:
- His economic plan would cost Americans 1 million jobs in the first year alone.
- He'd slash and burn Medicare and Social Security.
- He'd cut taxes for the 1% and raise them for working-class and poor people. And meanwhile he'd give subsidies to big corporations.
- He's an anti-choice extremist.
- He takes lots of money from the 1%.
- He opposes LGBT equality.
But the bait-and-switch here is to insinuate—as Moveon.org surely intends to do—that Obama and the Democrats stand for the opposite of every one of these measures. If only it were true.
First of all, the Democrats and the Obama Whitehouse are highly tolerant of soaring unemployment for the 99%. The fact is that the Democrats are hypocrites on outsourcing and unemployment. Since 2008, Obama and the Democrats have presided over an economy enduring extremely high unemployment—especially high in communities of color—and they took no bold measures to do anything about it except a weak-sauce stimulus package which, besides being weighted heavily in the direction of corporate tax breaks, had already run out of steam by mid 2010. It was like getting a band-aid for a broken limb.
Or take Social Security and Medicare. According to Obama himself, "Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security". Or consider that Obama's failed "grand bargain" in 2009 included a willingness to simply take Medicare away from 65 and 66 year old Americans. Or consider that Obamacare includes a series of cuts to Medicare totalling nearly $500 billion over the course of several years. Or consider that Obama himself—and other high-ranking Democrats—have on more than one occasion broached the idea of privatizing Social Security. A staunch defender of Medicare and Social Security Obama is not. Both Obama and Ryan are of one mind about austerity—their only disagreement is about how deep to cut the social safety net.
Or take the issue of tax breaks for the rich. As everyone knows, Obama campaigned in 2008 promising to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich. But as President he and the congressional Democrats warmly embraced those tax breaks and extended them--making them the Obama Tax Cuts for the rich. Of course, liberals haven't bothered to rename them. It is well-known that raising the marginal tax rate on the 1% would be both highly popular and an easy way of saving public sector jobs and staving off the push for austerity. But the Democrats and Obama have no intention of doing any such thing.
Why not? One reason is that the Democrats—like Ryan and Romney—take loads of money from the 1%, if they're not outright members of the 1% themselves. Recall that in 2008, the Democrats pulled in the lion's share of corporate campaign donations—they were, as the LA Times put it, "Wall Street's Darlings". As is well-known, the 1% hedges its bets and always gives enormous sums to both parties. There's a lot of alarmist nonsense floating around in liberal circles these days about how Super-PAC's are funnelling lots of money to Republicans—as if the Democrats are some kind of grassroots underdog that operates on online donations or something. The fact is that the ruling class spends enormous sums on the campaigns of both parties, and the politics of both parties reflects that fact. It takes considerable chutzpah to uncritically support the Democratic Party, on the one hand, and complain hysterically about the corporate money accepted by Republicans on the other.
Now, it is true that Obama and some Democrats are not the out-in-the-open anti-choice, homophobic extremists that the Republicans are. But that doesn't mean that they are allies in the fight for women's rights and LGBT equality. At best, they slowly erode gains on those fronts and compromise with the Right. At worst, they propose many of the same policies as the Right—think of the Stupak amendment, for example. But we can't afford to passively support an entity which barely holds the line, at best, and pushes things backwards at worst. The only time that the Democrats move at all on women's rights or LGBT equality is when movements pressure them to act. We should devote all of our time, money, resources and political energies to those movements—not the Democrats—if we want to carry those struggles forward.
And think of all the things that MoveOn.org meme didn't mention. They might have said that Ryan also supports war and imperialism abroad. But, of course, so does Obama. They might have also said that he supports the destruction of the environment, offshore drilling, and the appointment of high-ranking corporate polluters to regulatory positions in government. But, then, so does Obama. To this we could add other abominations such as the "War on Drugs", the New Jim Crow, the mass deportation of Latin@s, corporatized education policy, keeping Gitmo open for business, and all the rest. And, of course, Obama supports all those things as well. It doesn't do any good to pretend that this isn't so.
So, where does this leave us? We need to build the social movements, participate in the struggles of the 99% and be part of constructing a new Left that can actually fight for our interests. This isn't a new idea. It's how every single major progressive gain was won. Again and again we've seen that the Democrats are a political black hole. They suffocate struggles rather than carry them forward. They take and take and give nothing back in return. The time to cut them loose is now.