"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Public opinion matters a great deal in the American system of government, just as it does in any democracy. But it sure isn't the only thing that matters, as the following true story demonstrates. It's what I call A Tale of Two Constituencies.
Before I get deeper into my tale, though, my reader should know that in the land this tale comes from, the president had been elected and re-elected on not only a progressive platform, but arguably with the most populist rhetoric in 40 years. He had run his campaigns on fighting for the middle class, protecting the vulnerable from harm, taxing the wealthy, and taking on the wealthy special interests who were harming our economy. His re-election campaign had bragged about taking on Wall Street, and harshly criticized the vulture capitalist business practices of his opponent. And because of running these kinds of campaign, this president won two decisive victories in a row, becoming the first president of his center-left party to win a clear majority of the votes more than once since the 1930s.
So that gives you a sense of the kind of land this was, and the kind of president they had. Now for my tale. You see there two constituencies I wanted to compare and contrast in this democratic land governed by this center-left populist...
The first was extremely small in number, depending on how you count it only a few thousand people at the most. They represented the least popular institution in American society, even less popular in many polls than the Congress, which was saying something in a land where the Congressional leadership had been rated as less popular than head lice and root canal surgery. The group in question was widely blamed for an economic collapse more severe than any in 80 years, and was widely believed by journalists covering them, lawyers for many different clients who had dealt with them, and ex-prosecutors following their practices to have engaged in massive and wide-scale fraud on top of an estimated million counts of perjury in just one scam that they pulled off (something referred to by the media as robo-signing). They were reviled by every major bloc of American voters, including those of the conservative party as well as by all the key blocs of swing voters. And to top it all off, with their money and their rhetoric, they overwhelmingly supported the losing candidate in the presidential election.
The second group was one of this country's biggest voting blocs, almost 44 million members strong and at least 16 percent of the nation's electorate. It was a group that was legendary both in how high their turnout numbers were compared to other voting blocs and in how much of a swing group they were in most elections. This group was generally revered by the rest of the population, and the programs in this nation's government budget that helped this group were overwhelmingly popular. In fact, for the program that was most widely identified with this demographic, over 80 percent of the population strongly opposed cuts in that budget item.
Now anyone with an ounce of common sense, logic, and political awareness would tell you that the second group is the one that politicians would want to stand with, and that the first group would have been isolated and punished, not to mention completely toxic for any politician to be associated with. They would also tell you that first in line to deal justice to the first group and embrace the second group would be that center-left president who had run that populist campaign.
But in the bizarre and troubled land of black magic and twisted morality I describe, the scenario I described has not come to pass. The president, even while doing all kinds of other progressive things on issues like guns, immigration, LGBT rights, and in other aspects of his budget, has failed to take on the first group, and has cut benefits for the second group. Seriously. I know how completely messed up that sounds.
But of course, this is America in the present hour. That most widely reviled constituency, Wall Street executives, have not been prosecuted for their crimes, have not had their Too Big To Fail banks broken up, have had any regulations against them so watered down as to hardly impact on the way they do business, and have just as much access to the halls of government today as they did before the financial collapse. Meanwhile, that massive and beloved constituency, America's grandparents, are having their Social Security and Medicare benefits cut in that president's budget, the one who ran that populist progressive campaign.
It's like a very bad fantasy novel, with a plot twist no one would believe.
Progressives need to be clear -- crystal clear, as Jack Nicholson would say -- that this twisted logic and morality will be opposed with every ounce of their energy. The good news is that the politics are with us just as much as the morality of the matter -- no politician has to explain themselves or be defensive with voters as to why they are opposing Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts. The voters are on our side on this issue, even if Wall Street money and the president are not. And if Democrats in the House strongly oppose these cuts, they will fail, because enough House Republicans will oppose any grand bargain that it will take a lot of Democratic votes to pass anything.
Time to stand strong, Congressional Democrats, and reject the twisted logic of a bad fantasy novel.