The last two days' New York Times included five articles which, taken together, presented an excellent picture of the state of American national politics, the options before us, and, implicitly, where we are going to wind up. I will take the liberty of calling them all to readers' attention.
The theme yesterday was the enormous power, actual and potential, of moneyed special interests in our policy. (All three articles, which led the paper can conveniently be accessed here. One announced that dozens of lawsuits by religions institutions challenging the health care law requirement that their employees' coverage include contraception are on their way through the federal court system and will inevitably end in the Supreme Court. So successful has the propaganda campaign been regarding this issue that the Times reporter himself represents the plaintiffs as representatives of "religious freedom." They are not: their goal is to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, which is not, I feel certain, what the framers intended the First Amendment to provide. I can't help chuckling at the thought that the Supreme Court that will decide this case is composed entirely of Catholics and Jews, but that certainly isn't going to make their task any easier. This may be, however, just one of many reasons why employer-provided health care is doomed in the long run and will have to be replaced by single-payer.
The second is one of a series of stories the Times has been running about the gun industry and how it tries to defend and increase its market. This story specifically focused on attempts to recruit the younger generation by encouraging firearms training for kids, producing toy assault rifles, and using video games to get them interested in particular models. Like an earlier story that focused on the gun manufacturer-video game alliance, this one makes clear that assault rifles have assumed an increasingly important share of the gun market, and that the industry has promoted this process. The hypocrisy of the NRA leadership, which actually blames video games for mass shootings, is astonishing on this point.
Last but hardly least, the Times detailed how a network of conservative Republican donors have found a new cause: the defeat of Chuck Hagel's confirmation for Secretary of Defense. Taking advantage of Citizens' United and its secrecy provisions, they are running a multi-million dollar ad campaign against him targeting vulnerable Democratic Senators, in particular. The opposition to Hagel is a neoconservative project, and one of the leading figures in it is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino owner who kept Newt Gingrich's campaign alive for months, and who is focused on support for Israel and war on Iran. I don't think this campaign can be successful and I am glad Adelson is wasting more of his money on it, but this story, like the other two, testify to the enormous power of special interests in our society and how they stand in the way of any rational approach to various foreign and domestic problems.
My favorite of these five pieces is from today's paper, the "political memo" by John Harwood. The title--"Obama Focuses on Status Quo, Not Left, in Battle With G.O.P."--says it all, and boy, is he ever right. The President, like his political role model Bill Clinton, has taken his stand in front of Great Society-era programs--Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--which have become part of American life, while forsaking any genuine return to the New Deal, which would include much higher top marginal tax rates, vigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws, a real drive to increase workers' rights, and a return to the Glass-Steagall Act. The Republicans are relentlessly promoting the idea that Obama will not move to the center because that is exact where he has been all along. And this point is rammed home by today's Paul Krugman column, which notes that Republicans in at least two states, Louisiana and New Orleans, have taken class warfare to a new level. While cutting or eliminating their state income taxes, they are raising sales taxes instead, and, in Kansas at least, trying to eliminate credits that keep income taxes on poorer earners low. They apparently realize that they can't cut spending to pay for tax cuts on the rich any further, and thus, the poor must pay. This is a huge and neglected aspect of what's happening in the US today: the Republicans enjoy total control of the governments of a number of states and they are using them as a laboratory to implement their agenda, confident that it will move more business into them and create more economic power for themselves. Already they have used that control to gerrymander the House of Representatives effectively and some of them are talking about doing the same for the electoral college.