Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mr. Mitchell Goes to Augusta

Go back to bed, America. George Mitchell and the power elite are in control.

Perhaps the greatest lie of American politics in the 21st century is the myth of congressional gridlock.

This myth, which is constantly perpetuated by corporate news outlets from MSNBC to Fox News, to NPR, claims the Democratic and Republican parties hold "irreconcilable ideologies," which prevent them from working together to achieve "common ground." These ideological differences, we are told, have never been vaster than they are today. According to this myth, the two parties' stands on issues like immigration, health care, the minimum wage and the overall role of government are simply "worlds apart."

Consider this opening lead from U.S. News & World Report's coverage of last December's congressional budget deal ("Forget the Budget Deal, Congressional Gridlock Still the Norm on Capitol Hill," 12/19/2013):

The polar(-ized) ice caps of Congress may seem like they're melting with the passage of a budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but political observers point out there's still much they disagree on--beyond even the science behind the melt.

Yet the Murray-Ryan budget is a perfect example of why this myth of congressional gridlock--of the Democrats' and Republicans' supposedly irreconcilable worldviews--is complete nonsense. While pundits lauded last December's budget deal as a rare and encouraging instance of "bipartisanship" and "compromise" (that and the fact the budget deal averted another government shutdown), the actual contents of the budget package suggest both parties got exactly what they wanted: Tax-cuts for the rich and austerity for the rest of us.

When it comes to the fundamental, pertinent issues of our time--war and peace, civil liberties, the surveillance state, the primacy of the "free-market," and the subordination of the environment to capitalism--the Republicans and Democrats march in unyielding lockstep.

True, the two parties maintain legitimately conflicting views on abortion, immigration, gay marriage, gun ownership and which party is more welcoming to women and minorities. But these "Culture Wars"-inspired controversies are little more than wedge issues, faithfully trotted out every four years to motivate voters. In the case of left-leaning voters, that means convincing them to vote for the "lesser of two evils."

As the Socialist Worker observed in an Oct. 1, 2013 editorial, media coverage of the corporate parties "obscures how far to the right both [parties] have traveled together over the years."

The editors write:

They agree on imposing sweeping cuts in most government programs, though not the Pentagon; they differ on how deep the cuts should be. They agree on a health care system where the medical-pharmaceutical-insurance complex calls the shots; they differ about parts of a law designed to preserve the industry's profits and power. They agree on a system where Corporate America piles up record profits by driving down the living standards of working-class people; they disagree only on the details of how that system should operate.
Contrary to popular belief, Washington is not broken. Congress and the federal government work just fine. The problem is they are not working for "We the People." They are working for Wall Street, the economic one percent, and the military-industrial-complex.

Yet, it was this "Gridlock-Still-the-Norm" script George Mitchell read from when he addressed the Maine Legislature's Hall of Flags, last week.

The celebrated former U.S. Senator and Senate Majority Leader (D-ME) spoke at the unveiling of his portrait. Like Maine's equally overrated, supposed champion of political "centrism," former Sen. Olympia Snowe, Mitchell claims Washington's problem is lawmakers' refusal to "listen to one another." His bland, anecdotal speech recalled his time as Senate Majority Leader, when he and his Democratic colleagues "actually listened to one another." Mitchell holds this bygone era up in contrast to today's "mean-spirited" political culture as a sort of Golden Age of bipartisanship.

For an idea of just how "moderate" and "bipartisan" Mitchell is, consider the former U.S. Middle East Special Envoy's refusal to label Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank as "apartheid," even though that term seems to accurately describe the situation.

"Our country remains the most free, most just, most open society in all of human history," the Bowdoin graduate and former Falmouth resident proclaimed to the audience.

Uh-huh. Just don't ask Pfc. Chelsea Manning how "just" she thinks her country is. I have a feeling she might disagree with Mitchell, just a little. Last summer, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks--the longest sentence ever issued for a whistleblower.

Or, ask Edward Snowden about America's brand of "justice." Or, Thomas Drake. Or Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, Abdulrahman. Both U.S. citizens were killed by unmanned predator drones at President Obama's personal discretion.

"I believe in the American Dream," Mitchell later said, "because I've lived it." Well...It must be nice to be George Mitchell.

Not only did Mitchell praise an America that increasingly bears little resemblance to the current country we live in, but his cut-and-paste lecture felt more like a celebratory college graduation address. In a follow-up interview with the Bangor Daily News (01/28/2014), Mitchell predicted the U.S. is "on the precipice of one of the most prosperous eras in American history."

While I certainly hope Sen. Mitchell is correct, most of what I read paints a considerably bleaker future for the country and the planet. Go back to bed, America. George Mitchell and the power elite are in control. Everything will be alright. The Golden Age is upon us. Just keep working, shopping and whatever you do, do not ask any questions.

What is most striking about Mitchell's speech is that it could just as easily have been delivered by a Republican. This is, indeed, further evidence of the corporate parties' interchangeability. The lie of congressional gridlock and the illusion of choice in our elections keeps progressive voters--including women, the poor and what remains of the middle class--tied at the hip to a Democratic Party that does not care one iota about them. Corporate Democrats like Barack Obama need the liberal class to win election (twice in his case), yet cannot turn around and throw its members--the Democrats' base of supporters--under the bus fast enough.

Yet liberals refuse to abandon the Democrats. Half of left-leaning voters claim to have no idea what the Green Party is, while the other half remains convinced that actually casting a vote in support of a Green amounts to a "wasted" vote. They are, effectively, Albert Einstein's definition of insanity, as "doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result."

Journalist Chris Hedges calls this a "form of collective domestic abuse."

"And as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer," he wrote in a 2008 piece for Truthdig.com ("The Hedonists of Power," 06/23/2008), "we keep coming back for more."

The Portland Green Independent Committee will hold its biennial caucus Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 at City Hall in Portland (389 Congress Street, in the "State of Maine Room."). Caucus starts at 1:00 p.m. All registered Greens are encouraged to attend. A city official will be present a half-hour beforehand for non-Greens & new voters to register with the party.

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