Three Card Monte and the One-Party State (March 16, 2005)

How lion-like the Democrats sound as they circle around Social Security, bellowing their defiance! After years of servility some of them even presume to shake their fists at Alan Greenspan and hurl insults at the man. 

When the chairman of the Federal Reserve put in a decorous word for Social Security “reform” last month, House minority leader Harry Reid of Nevada called Greenspan a “hack.” Paul Krugman, who primly chastised Ralph Nader back in 2000 for disrespecting Greenspan, now pelts the chairman with rotten cabbages on an almost weekly basis in his New York Times column. 

Presumably enough Democrats realize that if they can’t put up a fight on Social Security, then the last supposed major reason for anyone to support their party will have disappeared. (To anyone claiming choice is as powerful a reason, I will offer the obvious, which is that the Republicans will never formally move to rescind the legality of abortions. They will merely continue in the enterprise, in which countless Democrats have colluded, of making it harder and harder for poor women to get one.) 

The etiquette of substantive one-party rule in America requires us to overlook the fact that under Bill Clinton Social Security reform was so far advanced that the secret team under the supervision of Lawrence Summers were discussing how to number the individual retirement accounts. Fortunately Monica Lewinsky caught Clinton’s eye and before long he had impeachment rather than social security at the front of his mind.

So the Democrats get to boast in the midterm elections next year that they fought Bush to a standstill on the key plank in the president’s domestic agenda. Meanwhile the Republicans, many of whom have no desire to have Social Security reform hung round their necks, roll two long cherished bills through Congress, both with crucial Democratic support. 

Near the end of February many Democrats in the House okayed a Republican bill to transfer large class action suits from state to federal courts. It’s the state courts with real juries that have awarded the big settlements against the tobacco and asbestos companies. Federal judges have consistently cut back the big awards. Transfer of the suits will be a huge victory for the business lobby. Earlier in February the Senate passed the same bill 72 to 26. Among Democrats voting for a bill written by the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers were such supposed bright hopes as Obama of Illinois, Salazar of Colorado, Bayh of Indiana, along with possible aspirants for the 2008 nomination as Dodd of Connecticut. 

Then in early March no less than 18 Democratic senators joined the Republicans in voting through a bill the banks and credit card companies have been touting for years, a rewrite of the bankruptcy laws to mandate lifetime debt peonage for ordinary Americans. The House will soon follow suit. 

The bill just passed by the Senate will require many people filing for bankruptcy court protection to repay a portion of their debt under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code rather than allowing them to wipe most of it out under Chapter 7. I’ve seen estimates that this change could force 30,000 to 100,000 additional filers a year into Chapter 13. 

Maybe we should multiply those numbers. Many Americans have virtually no leeway on their monthly budgets. A co-pay on some relatively minor health emergency sends them scrambling to the payday loanshops. If interest rates start to move upwards many households on flexible mortgage rates will default, and plummet into bankruptcy and debt peonage for the rest of their lives. 

If the current trend among countries such as China, Japan and India to reduce their dollar holdings continues, the dollar’s status will plummet, and eventually its role as the world’s reserve currency will come to an end. No longer will the Asian nations subsidize America’s debt, and in consequence the cost of living for ordinary Americans will start to soar, pushing even more over the edge. 

And as the dollar tumbles, so does one of the keystones of what in the 1950s used to be termed reverently, the American Way of Life, meaning in coarse material terms a civilization that guaranteed its middle class the decent jobs consequent upon higher education. 

But one-party America voted for those jobs to leave. All through the 1990s enough Democrats and Republicans voted for the free trade pacts and agreements that saw blue collar jobs and now white collar jobs flow south and east. The US Department of Labor reported in March that 373,000 discouraged college graduates dropped out of the labor force in February, a far higher number than the number of new jobs created. 

“So far in the 21st century,” Reagan’s former assistant Treasury Secretary (and fierce Bush critic) Paul Craig Roberts writes, “there is scant sign of the American ‘new economy.’ The promised knowledge-based jobs have not appeared. To the contrary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a net loss of 221,000 jobs in six major engineering job classifications.” 

So it’s fair to say this revamp of the bankruptcy laws is as sinister and menacing a portent of the shape of things to come as would be the physical construction of a new debtors’ prison in every American town. 

What a dismal pass we have reached in one-party America. These days there are more auto manufacturing jobs in Ontario, Canada, than in Michigan, USA. Why? Canada has a national health plan. Both GM and Ford favor one here in the US, since employee health care is the biggest item on their budgets. Both US senators from Michigan oppose a national health plan. Both are Democrats. 

That’s the reality of one-party America. As Republican Senate whip Mitch McConnell remarked the other day, Bush’s Social Security reform is like Three Card Monte. While the Democrats circle the old New Deal program, the Republicans drive through the corporate agenda on tort reform and bankruptcy. 

Next will come the environment. Enough Democrats will be with them on that too. 

And then in 2009 a Democrat can “fix” Social Security. That's One-Party America for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.