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Working In These Times

Thursday, Sep 6, 2012, 3:03 pm

Democrats Provide Pugilistic Rhetoric But Puny Plans for Struggling Economy

BY Roger Bybee

Former president Bill Clinton is symptomatic of a Democratic Party whose ideas about an "Economy Built To Last" are suitable only for an "Audience Eager to be Deceived."   (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Republican National Convention in Tampa was a non-stop parade of shameless lies (GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s blaming President Barack Obama for a GM plant closure in Ryan’s hometown that famously occurred a month before Obama assumed office), galling deceptions (Ryan’s sleazy concealment of his very own role in voting against the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission proposal), and false accusations aimed at legitimating only government aid directed to "job creators" in the top 1%.

The Republicans sought to foist the blame for an incomplete recovery entirely on Obama, despite their own disciplined strategy of zealous, unprecedented partisan obstructionism as former President Bill Clinton effectively laid out last night. But it has been difficult to watch the Democratic National Convention this week without turning off one’s critical faculties, even if one also feels some relief at the relative return to sanity.

 

In sharp contrast to the GOP, the Democrats displayed a belief in social responsibility and in government as the instrument expressing the collective democratic will of the people. They also voiced opposition to the Republicans’ primitive efforts to suppress voters and crudely insert Big Government into women’s reproductive health.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren pinpointed the essential differences in a speech that was heartfelt, moving and progressive:

The Republican vision is clear: 'I've got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ Republicans say they don't believe in government. Sure they do. They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends. After all, Mitt Romney's the guy who said corporations are people.

No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don't run this country for corporations. We run it for people.

For a moment, it was even heartening to hear Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick issue a stirring call for Democrats to “show some backbone.” Then I remembered Patrick’s panic-stricken defense of Bain Capital and his enthusiasm for the private-equity industry, rightly tagged by Rick Perry as exemplifying “vulture capitalism.” Patrick’s double-talk should remind us that many Democratic leaders already display far more spine for their contributors—major bank and corporations—than for their constituents.

To camouflage the discrepancy between their intense loyalty to their donors and their far-more limited willingness to fight for the other 99%, the Democrats have outlined a set of economic fairy tales that are supposed to carry the party through the November 6 elections. They expect enthusiastic support for an economic program exclusively built on “private-sector” job creation without giving any thought to the quality or security of those jobs. The Democratic platform section on “An Economy Built to Last” is so flimsily constructed that it will work only with “An Audience Eager to be Deceived."

The Democratic leadership continues to boast of the growth of 4.5  million new private-sector jobs, utterly ignoring that middle-class jobs are now falling far behind both productivity increases and rising inflation, as Jared Bernstein points out in his summary of a new Pew Research Center report on “the worst decade ever” experienced by the middle class. The crowing about private-sector growth overlooks the increasingly obvious problem that even enormously profitable corporations like GE and Caterpillar are fiercely determined to take advantage of the current economic insecurity and unions’ weakened legal protections to drive down wages as low as possible. This rise of “Caterpillar capitalism,” as some have called it, coincides with the seemingly endless misery that working people have endured in terms of falling wages.

At the same time, Democrats also ask us to embrace a continuing stream of NAFTA-style free trade agreements designed to accelerate the outflow of U.S. jobs to low-wage, authoritarian regimes. They tell us to find comfort in a powerful new “insourcing” trend that is bringing back large numbers of jobs from foreign plants to U.S. factories. But despite highly publicized events at Master Lock in Milwaukee, there is precious little evidence that any insourcing “trend” actually exists at all.

“Exports are up, but so are imports,” says economist Robert Scott of the progressive Economic Policy Institute. “It’s the trade deficit which displaces workers, with 5,000 to 10,000 jobs being lost for every $1 billion in the trade deficit.”

The job export outflow will grow even worse if Obama succeeds in ramming through the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership, the mother of all NAFTA-style job-exporting deals. The United States has already lost 4.9 million jobs due to “free trade", according to Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to say nothing of the incalculable wage cuts. But the Democratic platform contends an extra-large new helping of free trade is precisely what is needed.

As the primary driving force behind NAFTA in 1993, one could have hardly expected Bill Clinton to offer candid comments on Obama’s decision to continue the devastating legacy of “free trade” legislation. But while Clinton offered a centrist but sharp defense of many of Obama’s economic policies last night, his explanation of Obama’s political problems failed to address Obama’s wrong-headed economic policies that ignore wage-cutting and union-busting, and accelerate the export of jobs.

“Too many people aren’t feeling it [the recovery] yet,” Clinton admitted. And while few of those people are likely to embrace Romney and Ryan, many of the most deeply impacted victims of the economic crisis are in danger of staying home on November 6 unless Obama and his party can provide a more compelling vision of relief from low-wage economic misery and insecurity.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger's work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcommunications.org/zspace/rogerdbybee.

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