Being in opposition once meant spirited debate, fighting like cats and dogs and ultimately both sides calling the question to a vote. Not anymore. In the US and the UK, politics have become blood sports. The US Republican (aka GOP) Tea Party and the UK Tories have decided that craven self-interest above all, which was almost always disguised in gentlemanly debate, is now the only way. Gone forever is any pretence of decorum. It’s our way or the highway and it’s produced a UK triple-dip recession and the US is heading toward a similar fate.
If a party is in the minority (as is the case in the US Senate with the Republicans) they use procedural filibusters to stop every item on the President’s agenda, judicial and Cabinet appointments. If they are in Government, as is the case with the Tories in the UK House of Commons and Republican controlled US House, they will do whatever they wish, extorting and beating others into submission to their way of thinking.
Do not be lulled into thinking Washington or Westminster are becoming less dysfunctional because of grudging agreement something must be done on guns and immigration in the USA or stealth cuts by Tories to the NHS and other benefit programmes. Both sides have craven agendas that are not dissimilar… gut the public safety net and rig the system so the rich pay less taxes. To do that parties privatise everything that can be used to benefit corporate donors with fat contracts (prisons in the US, entire police forces in the UK) and make certain that when a member leaves government they land cushy influence peddling jobs as a lobbyists, lawyers or public affairs, sitting on multiple corporate boards.
As for doing their representative job meeting the needs of the constituents? They pretend to care about them during the time votes are needed to keep the job, otherwise most ignore them and serve their corporate masters above all.
It was not always this way. It also never was the utopian way of Jimmy Stewart in the film ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’ leading a filibuster until he dropped (spoiler alert). There have always been bad apples in both countries, yet the vast majority of lawmakers in the 70s and 80s were motivated by a desire to serve others. This crowd only serve themselves.
Even though President Ronald Reagan (R) and House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D) fought like cats and dogs over their work, they remained civil to each other and could celebrate a job well done. If they both hated the outcome, they knew it was right for the country. Too, they could disagree without becoming personally disagreeable.
Anyone watching the Republicans savage one of their own party members last week, Chuck Hagel seeking appointment to be US Defence Secretary could be excused for asking why these Senators were being so rude and dismissive to a fellow former Republican senator? There was for decades a sense of duty in the House of Commons and members were nowhere near as rude and boisterous 15 years ago as they are today. Now even those who follow a sense of duty to serve their country and are chosen to be a member of the Cabinet are savaged and pilloried by their own party? Why?
Because today there is no middle ground. Moderate Republicans are thrown out of the party and the Tories have no hope of winning a majority in Westminster without rigging voting constituency district lines. The Tories lost their vote last week because their coalition partners would not go along with the scheme.
But the US House GOP so gerrymandered districts that a majority is almost guaranteed until the next census in 2020. Despite more people voting for change in the House in 2012, the GOP maintained a slender lead as the Democrats picked up 8 seats overall and should have taken control based on popular vote totals.
Republicans also force their members to take ideological purity tests and pledge to never raise taxes. If they drift towards the centre or show signs of compromise, they face the prospects of a primary challenger before their next election. That makes them a lame duck because so few voters (except the rabid opposition) even bother to vote in these preliminary election contests and tilts the party even further to the rabid right.
Here in the UK the Tories seem headed for defeat in 2015 but the Labour team is not exactly setting the world ablaze. The Tory government partners The Liberal Democrats, the strangest of all bedfellows, seem headed for further punishment at the polls for joining in with them in the first place. But then politicians regularly sell their soul to the highest bidder and in 2010 LibDem leader Nick Clegg did just that, aligning the party with the VERY conservative Tories.
It’s time though for all politicians to stop the monkey business and for voters to send them angry messages. Labour unions have been all but gutted legislatively in the US and UK and that means a march towards a Chinese-like market mentality. Pay them peanuts and demand that workers be grateful they even have a job. When I lived and worked in the USA in the 1990s there were things such as sick leave and vacations. Now if someone dares complain, they can and will be replaced.”
So the oligarchs and plutocrats control all. Their wealth and power grows while the rest hang on by a thread. It was revealed in a study this weekend by Think Progress that 50% of US households are one disaster away from devastation. Sadly, the same is true in the UK/EU, even with a better safety net.
US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1941: We can have a democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Sadly, he remains right to this day.