Editorials

A Fool’s Day on the Hill and Progressive Stirrings

by Phillip M. Logan Jr.

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April 1 is notorious day of cruel pranks; but, the House budget released by the House Republican Party on that day, in all serious, is a fool’s bargain.

Congressman Ryan’s budget is laden with provisional cuts to social spending and tax windfalls. Government spending will be cut for Medicare, the arts and humanities. Lastly, the federal income tax code will be oligarchically reconfigured into a deficit-enlarging facade.

While the passage of such a budget in the U.S. Senate is highly unlikely, the release of this budget (not coincidentally) coincides with the “soft close” of the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act.

While “Obamacare” certainly brings satisfaction for 10 million Americans who are now able to receive healthcare, Republican fears over Obamacare’s victory may be hyperbolic. Despite the White House’s self-congratulatory stance, the Democratic party still is the party of austerity. Democrats most certainly are not pushing food stamps cuts, nor are they trying to replace the Medicare “donut-hole”—the gap in Medicare’s coverage of prescription drugs for the elderly.

Nevertheless, Democrats are still married to the message of self-sacrifice while the party-center continues to broker the demands of America’s capitalist elite with an increasingly distressed electorate reeling from a lack of economic relief. The grand-compromise that is the Affordable Care Act, a compromise that privileges private health insurers, illuminates the ongoing capitulation to private interest in public policy.

The million dollar question still looms in the background: what should be the basis of progressive action in this moment? Adolph Reed’s brutal essay in Harper’s highlights the depressive state that is the Democratic party and its left-liberal constituency. Yet, what can progressives do besides litter social media with “Elect Bernie” petitions and memes?

For starters, progressives should begin by bringing student activists, labor leaders, progressive clergy and social-justice-oriented organizations into the same room. While the Rainbow Coalition of the 1970s Black Panther Party and its somewhat-distant cousin in the Jesse Jackson campaign of the 80s is a distant memory in 2014, it is a historical example of the political alliances that have made their impact on the electoral process.  It is important to remember that in spite of the absence of progressives from national news media, the position has many unfinished goals that can serve as a basis for progressive revolt moving towards the upcoming 2016 election season.

The ongoing debate over women’s reproductive rights and the fight against sexual assault on college campuses highlight the unfinished business of establishing equal rights for women within the U.S constitution.

The flurry of racially-instigated killings of Trayvon Martin and the egregious punishment of Marissa Alexander both call attention to the ongoing struggle against racism in shadow of the first Black president.

The struggle for marriage equality and the increasing consciousness of transgender identity sheds light on the importance of inclusion in America’s increasingly diverse populace.

Last, but not least, America’s retreat to Gilded Age levels of socio-economic inequality on multiple fronts, in particular regards to rising student debt and crumbling campaign finance safeguards, demands the emersion of a revitalized left—one that is accepting of difference, yet politically coherent. While Occupy activists are still working the streets, its decline from our political consciousness beckons forth something much stronger and longstanding.

Today certainly was a Fool’s Day on Capitol Hill, but the progressive opposition to increasing inequality and old prejudices does not have to be a fool’s game. By constructing strong alliances, generating trust, and  welcoming honest appraisals of their political predicament, American progressives can do some “leaning in” of their own and start winning.

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