Monday, March 12, 2012

Nothing Changed

Is the US a One-Party State?

In U.S. politics, I get an impression that most people--at least the kinds of people that leave comments all over the internet--actually believe there is a large difference between Democrats and Republicans, between Obama and Bush and whoever will run against Obama this year.

And certainly when it comes to speeches, Obama created a persona for himself that sounded a lot different from any Republican, and even different from the ordinary borderline-corrupt Democrats. That's why so many people voted for him. I gave $100 to his campaign based on his inspiring speeches and his inspiring book, but then I saw his actual bahavior, and it was quite worrying, so I pledged not to donate anything more. Of course, I hoped that it was somehow a blip, that he'd somehow just made a mistake or two. I could not have been more wrong!

Democrats and Republicans make a lot of noise about their differences, and their opposition to each other is indeed fierce, but that's a game they play. It's almost like two sports teams. They are opposed to each other, they have different players, but they use similar strategies and have the same goals, because they play within the same system. When you look at policy, the differences are only skin deep. I recently came across a website of somebody who agrees with me:

Actually, I think this guy believes what I'm saying even more strongly than I do. I mean, yes the two parties behave very similarly, but there are still differences that matter. For example, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was a small, but significant, policy change that the Republicans probably would not have made. And there is a fair chance that the Republicans would have done nothing about health care.

However, because the health care problem is so serious, there is also a fair chance that they would have done something in order to improve their chances for re-election. Moreover, I expect a Republican health "care" bill would probably amount to a wholesale handout to insurance companies, just like Obamacare is. You know why I'm saying it's a wholesale handout to insurance companies? Partly it's just rumors I've heard. I haven't studied it scientifically, so I could be wrong. But one simple fact made me extremely suspicious of Obamacare: the insurance companies made no serious effort to oppose it. Health care in the U.S. costs roughly double the average for developed nations, and those who profit from this fact surely want to make sure it remains true. The fact that endless millions of corporate advertising dollars were not mobilized against Obamacare tells me all I need to know. Obamacare must be good for business. And I don't mean good for business in general, but specifically good for businesses that profit the most from the expensive mess we already had. And if Republicans made a health care bill, you can bet it would protect those fat profits equally well. I still suspect Obamacare is better than nothing (for the people). But like the 15% tax rate enjoyed by the mega-rich, the country probably can't afford it.

As for Wall Street "reform", the people would demand that either party "do something" about those crooks on Wall Street. Obama's "reform" bill is literally the least he could do. Everything I've read says that the bill had no teeth and made no major improvements to anything. That's exactly what I would expect from a Republican version of the bill. The unwavering backroom support of white-collar corruption is one of the most disturbing things that the two parties have in common. It's one thing to bail out a corporation because it's "too big to fail". It's quite another thing to bail out the crooks who caused the meltdown by letting them keep their jobs and their inflated bonuses with only one criminal indictment in a sea of fraud.

"But wait," you say, "Republicans completely opposed every major policy change by Obama! They voiced their opposition at every opportunity! Surely they would not have made similar changes themselves!"

Right, they always opposed everything Obama proposed, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't support exactly the same legislation if it had been their party's president proposing it. True, Republicans bills would probably be slightly different, and the rhetoric about the bills would be very different. And maybe they would have done nothing on the health care issue. But it would be no great surprise to me, in a parallel universe where John McCain is president, if a health insurance bill were passed there too.

Besides, there are plenty of things that the two parties (and the last two presidents) have in common that they don't much talk about.
  • The Democrats renewed Bush's tax cut for the super-rich.
  • Neither party is proposing to raise the 15% tax rate on personal income from capital gains. Many of the ultra-wealthy make most of their income not directly from working, but from investment income, which is taxed at this rate.
  • For the above two reasons and others, neither party is willing or able to eliminate the deficit. The size of the national debt is truly a crisis, not only because it's enormous, and not only because the economy is too weak to even stop borrowing more, but because the two parties are two corrupt to make the changes needed to make it possible to pay down the debt.
  • Both parties are very friendly to, and submit bills written by, big business.
  • Obama did not reduce troop deployments (not for a very long while, anyway), he just moved some troops around.
  • Neither party is willing to consider citizen-friendly changes to copyright law.
  • Both parties want to guarantee that no other parties can compete with them. Not only does neither party discuss electoral reform (which would allow more than two parties and a wider range of policy ideas), but they actually pass laws that make it harder for independents and third party candidates to run for office. (Sorry, I can't find any of the articles I've read on this subject. By the way, once in awhile someone will talk about tweaking or eliminating the electoral college, but this will not solve the problem and is not actually necessary. Want to hear a better idea? Read about Direct Representation or at least Proportional Representation.)
  • The secret domestic warrantless wiretapping program that started under Bush was vigorously supported by Obama's DOJ.
  • Obama did not close Bush's Guantanamo. Instead he chose to sign the National Defense Authorization Act, which (I hear) allows the president to jail Americans without trial, evidence, due process or habeas corpus. (Yeah, he said he'd never use those powers, which is irrelevant for whoever replaces him.)
  • Both parties support the war on drugs in its current form.
  • It's hard to be sure that there is any significant difference in foreign policy between the two parties, although at least Obama would consider talking to opposing governments.
  • Both parties believe in big government and big spending, but the Republicans prefer to cut taxes regardless of how much they spend (thus, the debt nearly doubled from $5.7 trillion in January 2001 to $10.7 trillion by December 2008, even though the economy was prosperous for most of that time.)
  • Obama continues Bush's policy of expanding executive power through the ever-increasing use of executive orders and by simply ignoring the law and the constitution (see below).
I expected that Obama, being a former constitutional law professor and having opposed bills in the past on constitutional grounds, would respect the constitution and the law. But the man has no respect for the constitution.

A clear-cut example of this is the military assault on Libya. I actually tentatively supported the military intervention itself; I don't have a problem with toppling dictators per se, and I don't have any specific reasons to object other than the general fact that "war is bad". But it looked like a civil war was going to happen with or without international intervention, and the U.S. intervention offered the possibility to end the war more quickly, with fewer lives lost.

But candidate Obama said: "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation". Yet that's exactly what Obama did in this case. Legally he had to seek the support of congress, but he never did. And while some congresspeople complained, nothing was done and Obama ultimately suffered no consequences for his unprincipled behavior.

But I digress. On the whole, my point is this:

I think people need to seriously consider whether the U.S. has, effectively, become a one-party system. Some U.S. politicians have different opinions than each other, and they may claim to be in different parties, yet for the vast majority of issues, most U.S. politicians either agree, or else they disagree with their mouths but, when it comes to the kinds of bills and amendments they support (and just as important, the kinds of bills they wouldn't propose in the first place), they are very similar. Out of 535 people in congress, I am personally aware of only two (Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul) who hold themselves to high standards and consistently maintain views quite different from most of their party. And Dennis Kucinich is about to lose his seat due to redistricting.

I wouldn't be surprised if the differences between Chinese politicians in their one-party state are as great as the differences between American politicians in their two-party state. Of course, the differences between Chinese and American politicians are vast. All I'm saying is, Americans really do not have meaningful choices in politics.

Still, we do have our free speech. If everyone complained as much as I do, things would change in a hurry.