vanden Heuvel To Democrats: Become More Obnoxious

Yesterday in the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel – whose publication The Nation was the first to publish the Cloward-Piven strategy back in 1965 and consistently advocates the expansion of disastrous socialist policies upon our heads – penned a piece outlining the horror of a Republican House of Representatives and offering advice to the Democrat survivors of the electoral holocaust they suffered two weeks ago.

vanden Heuvel’s stuff is generally crap, but this offering is instructive in illustrating (1) the depth of the misunderstanding and contempt the Hard Left has for the American people and (2) the consensus within the Hard Left we increasingly see for ignoring the 2010 elections and pressing forward with unpopular policies by whatever means possible.

The reader can tell very early on in this column what he is in for…

For the past four years Barney Frank has been chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. In that role he helped usher one of the most expansive financial regulation reforms in history to the president’s desk, and in doing so, paved the way for the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that Elizabeth Warren now heads.

For the next two years, the Financial Services Committee will be run not by Frank, but by Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who has taken tens of thousands of dollars from big banks and who, not surprisingly, voted to oppose the Dodd-Frank reform bill. He has already promised to water down that legislation and has supported doing so by way of government shutdown. “We are going to have to be brave this time,” he said on the Fox Business Network.

There is fundamental dishonesty in vanden Heuvel’s attacking Bachus as a recipient of big-bank largesse and not mentioning that Frank’s campaigns have been even more lavishly funded by the financial institutions he’s been regulating. In fact, in Frank’s recently-completed re-election campaign alone he raised some $252,000 from securities firms, $103,000 from “Misc finance,” $71,000 from commercial banks and $24,000 from finance and credit companies. That’s $450,000 from the industry Frank regulates as the chairman of his committee in one cycle alone. In the 2008 cycle, he took $516,000 from the financial services industry. In 2006, Frank’s take was $426,000.

Bachus? This year he raised $296,000 from the financial services industry. In 2008, the take was $579,000, which certainly was impressive. And in 2006, he raised $467,000.

In other words, there is no change at all between Frank and Bachus in terms of who’s buying the chairman of the committee. The idea that the big banks Frank supposedly beat up while regulating the finance industry since taking over as the chairman haven’t been well-served is ludicrous. Maybe Bachus is a different flavor of crook, but if you’re an honest Democrat it’s a pretty tough sell to say Frank’s performance is worthy of continuation.

After having opened with what looks like deception, the column continues…

For the past two years Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has been chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He used that power to pass a health-care reform bill (with a robust public option) as well as the only serious piece of climate legislation ever contemplated – and voted on – by the entire House chamber.

But for the next two years, he will be the ranking Democratic member of his committee, likely to be replaced as chairman by Joe Barton (R-Tex.). That’s the same Joe Barton who gained notoriety earlier this year for apologizing to BP after the United States thoughtlessly spilled ocean all over the company’s oil. Barton, it turns out, has taken more money from the oil industry than any other sitting member of Congress, including $22,800 from BP itself.

First of all, Barton isn’t guaranteed to retake the E&C chairmanship; we’ll find out today whether that will happen. It might be Fred Upton, who vanden Heuvel ought to love based on his record of appeasing Democrats on stupid policy like banning incandescent light bulbs. But even if it is, and even stipulating that Barton’s apology to BP was a pretty dumb thing to say, does vanden Heuvel want to ask the American people whether we’d rather have a guy who made a dumb statement at a committee hearing one time or another who tried to ram Cap and Trade and Obamacare through the House? Barton doesn’t have to be Abe Lincoln or even George W. Bush to get that nod; Waxman is a colossal albatross around the Democrats’ necks whether they realize it or not.

And if BP has given lots of money to Barton, let’s not pretend where most of their swag goes. Barack Obama alone got $70,000 from them in 2008.

It was Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) of the House Ways and Means Committee who helped pass legislation closing tax loopholes for multinational corporations. It will now be Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) – who has taken hundreds of thousands from those same multinationals – who will work to reopen them.

What happened on Election Day won’t just result in the corporate-sponsored speakership of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). It will also create a new class of right-wing committee chairmen in the House – Republican members who will wield and use substantial power.

Elections have consequences, Katrina. “I won,” remember? You’ve got to give her credit for the repetitive use of the “Republicans are corporate tools” meme, though – few actually believe that line anymore, and when the Obama administration trotted out the calumny along these lines against the Chamber of Commerce in this year’s cycle it flopped famously. Democrats take money from corporations just as often as Republicans do, and they’ll reel in even more corporate cash when it appears their fortunes are ascendant.

But as we’ve noted before, Democrats don’t tend to be very introspective upon losing elections. vanden Heuvel is no different.

Still, even in that unsettling context, there are some progressives who see this new political landscape and feel a measure of relief. We may no longer control the House, but we still control the Senate and the White House, and with them, the filibuster and veto. A Republican resurgence in the House, the argument might go, will probably result in little more than symbolic action on the part of the GOP leadership.

That view, I’m afraid, is wrong. Deeply wrong. It ignores the influence of the House, the power of its chairmen and the broader willingness of the GOP to buck the mainstream in exchange for Tea Party approval – and the destruction of the Obama presidency. The House may not be able to act entirely on its own, but it can still act in ways that will put President Obama in a difficult negotiating position.

You probably have to be an East Coast elite lefty not to realize that the Tea Party IS the mainstream. Whether they think Tea Partiers are a bunch of rednecks and wingnuts or not, the things Tea Partiers are asking for – fiscal restraint, repeal of Obamacare, decentralization of power from the federal government, stopping the redistribution of wealth – get support from a wide majority of the American people. And while the Left may be able to use the filibuster and veto to keep conservative policies from being enacted, she doesn’t seem to recognize that the Republicans are back in power in the House precisely because her party disregarded the will of the majority the last two years.

The budget process, for example, starts in the House. The budget fight, as a result, usually ends there, too. When spending bills don’t pass, the government shuts down.

We haven’t experienced a government shutdown since 1995, and Democrats emerged from that battle victorious. But the Republicans of that era, though reactionary, were of a different breed than the ones of today. That shutdown was a means to an end, an attempt by Newt Gingrich to extract concessions from President Clinton. In this new Congress, the dynamic is different. The shutdown isn’t a means to an end. It’s the end itself.

And so when the White House goes to battle over funding the government for the next fiscal year, fighting to fund health-care reform’s implementation, foreign aid, defense and education, House Republicans will have little incentive and, indeed, little inclination to compromise.

Sounds good to us. What’s more, Boehner has hinted that he’d like to alter the budget process so that it’s done in pieces – and instead of risking a total government shutdown those parts of the government – the Department of Energy, for example, or Education – which are more replete with waste and abuse can wither on the vine while the more core functions can be maintained through continuing resolutions in the event of a standoff with the White House.

But it’s pretty rich to decry the Republicans’ willingness to play around with the budget process when Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid didn’t even bother to pass one this year.

That’s the landscape the Democratic caucus is up against. One in which Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the presumptive chairman of the Armed Services Committee, can block the funding for Guantanamo’s closure. One in which Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the presumptive chair of the House Appropriations Committee, can defund unemployment insurance while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

There will be some issues on which the White House will refuse to compromise. But with an administration that too often presents the compromise option as the opening gambit of any negotiation, it should trouble progressives that it’s hard-core conservatives, not Blue Dog Democrats, with whom White House deals are about to be cut.

The consequences could be catastrophic for millions of Americans. At the end of the next two years, Democrats may rightfully be more disillusioned than now, having watched the progressive agenda for which they fought – and lost – steadily erode.

And using funding to force policy is something new? From 2006 to 2008, Democrats played every political game they could with Iraq funding; vanden Heuvel has little room to complain if the GOP decides to use the power of the purse to impose its will on Obama. As for the idea that Obama opens with compromise, it’s an out-and-out lie; the American people saw how Obamacare was rammed down our collective throat and we know better. And if the Democrats are disillusioned, that’s a good thing. vanden Heuvel and the rest of her ideological fellow travelers have been given a strong rebuke at the polls, and the country would be much better off if they recognized that European socialism is a ticket to disaster in 2012.

But there isn’t much reason to suggest that realization is coming.

Preventing that future will require a newly emboldened and more united Democratic caucus. In a political climate with very few silver linings, this may be one of them: The Congressional Progressive Caucus lost just three members in the midterm elections, while the Blue Dogs lost 30. The caucus is smaller, but it is also more unified.

In the minority, Democrats might be unable to pass legislation, but they can still reinforce movement protests outside the Beltway, sharply define choices for the American people and expose conservatives who will use their newfound power to further corporate interests. United, and perhaps most important, the Democratic caucus can push President Obama to join them in these critical fights, even as he may be angling for compromise.

The survival of the Hard Left’s candidates in safe districts and safe states two weeks ago being a justification for a radical-left future of the Democrat Party is something we hear consistently. But it suffers from public-school math. Hard Left politics might work on the east and west coast and in inner-city enclaves, but outside of the 2006 and 2008 election cycles when the American people showed their disdain for unprincipled and squishy Republican governance it’s been a consistent loser nationally. In 2012, this “newly emboldened and more unified” Left could be in for another shellacking which wipes out its ability to govern at all.

And what, exactly, does vanden Heuvel mean when she advocates the Democrats “sharply define choices for the American people?” If she’s attempting to advocate that the 2012 cycle becomes a bright-line referendum on George Soros leftism vs. the Tea Party, that’s fine – it’s going to make for the funeral of the Democrat Party. But if by saying “define” she’s trying to advocate policies which limit American choices in our everyday lives, that funeral will be well-attended indeed.



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