Sunday, March 27, 2011

Democrats Push Austerity in New York

Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo has "struck a tentative deal" in New York that includes big tax breaks for the rich and deep cuts to health care and education:
The deal would end a temporary income tax surcharge on high-income New Yorkers, which some have called the "millionaire's tax" even though it affects incomes starting at $200,000 annually.

Mr. Cuomo’s aggressive and strategic approach to negotiations appeared to have yielded significant victories, including a year-to-year cut of more than $2 billion in spending on health care and education, the two largest drivers of New York’s ever-growing budget.
Predictably, the NYTimes paints this as a prudent move and speaks of "bloated" health care programs. This is treasonous as far as I'm concerned- to say that our already inadequate public health care and education institutions are bloated is horrifically misguided. If anything is bloated- it is the massive, record-breaking profits raked in last quarter on Wall Street amidst widespread social misery, unemployment, and, as above, steep drops in working class living standards. Chopping from the top is a perfectly fair and efficient approach to balancing budgets that were sunk by those at the top. There's nothing risky about it- it's rather simple actually. Thus we must ask: why is it that Democrats staunchly refuse to pursue such a course of action? Why are they dead set on forcing the majority of the population -who had no hand in the causation of the economic crisis- to clean up the mess caused by Wall Street? Any honest answer would have to include the fact that the Democrats are not a progressive political force. When push comes to shove, they side with their own- the ruling class. So while Democrats are busy breaking their arms patting themselves on the back for not being as extreme as Scott Walker, the rest of the country would do well to recognize that they are still pursuing a program of austerity for working people. They don't bite the hand that feeds them- when it comes down to it they'll pass the tax breaks for the rich before they preserve the schools of the poor.

As I keep pointing out, the proper way to assess the Democrats is to ask where we'd like to go and whether the Democrats are a good means of getting there. Crudely put, what the majority of us want is simple: to end the wars, to tax the rich, and to fully fund health care and education. Are the Democrats a plausible vehicle for attaining such goals? Well, they passed a health care "reform" bill written by insurance industry lobbyists when they had supermajorities in the Senate, so that's a clear "no" on the health care front. And, as we know, Obama gladly inherited two wars, sharply escalated in Afghanistan, and has now intervened militarily in Libya. Moreover, the Democrats pushed through a continuation of the Bush tax cuts and have been steadily chipping away at education and health care at the same time. Obama's "race to the top" education policy is a more aggressively conservative program than "No Child Left Behind". At the very least, liberals have to concede that the Democrats are a rather poor vehicle indeed. I would say that instead of an actual vehicle the Democrats are more like a virtual reality ride at a carnival (you know, the ones with screens inside that make you feel like you're flying but in fact take you nowhere at all). The sooner that progressives dump the aptly-described "graveyard of social movements" that is the Democratic Party, the better. What we need are independent left-wing organizations, with political clarity, that are rooted in workplaces, campuses and neighborhoods, which are organized and ready to fight for social justice.

Instead of buying into the "de-escalate and let us handle everything" message of the Democrats, what we need is precisely the opposite. We need to reject the idea that the Democrats are the legitimate leaders of Left movements and we need to embolden the burgeoning progressive fight-back that is growing out of this crisis. Wisconsin was inspiring because of the explosion of ambitious political energy that grew out of the big protests and demonstrations. It has ceased to be as inspiring of late because the Democrats opportunistically jumped on board, extinguished it, and transformed it into an electoral gain for them the next election cycle. This is instructive for the Left. If I were in an organization that dogmatically latches itself to the Democrats no matter what (e.g. like Democratic Socialists of America, Progressive Democrats of America, and others) I would be doing some serious soul-searching right now.

No comments: