Coming This November: Steel Cage Grudge Match

It's very likely that both the laissez-faire ideas of Republicans and the New Deal ideas of Democrats are obsolete remnants of the Industrial Age and headed for the scrap heap.

Whether those so-called "brands" are doomed as well remains to be seen; they've endured 150 years, and no push for a third party has succeeded in this country. More likely, both parties will re-tool after they exhaust themselves in a final showdown, which is what's shaping up now.

If we're lucky, our political system will emerge from the coming brawl reinvigorated, and both sides will able to work together to steer the nation through what promises to be one of the greatest challenges we've ever faced -- the morphing of world economic and political power from the Eurocentric model we've known, into the global, multi-cultural system emerging before our eyes.

That's what's really causing the current crisis; the sort of universal transformation that comes along once a century. Anybody who tells you it's because of any one event -- bad investment bankers, say, or bad government -- is either trying to sell you something, trying to change the subject, or, more likely, just doesn't know what he's talking about.

The ability of American politicians to work together to solve common problems, based on commonly agreed-on facts and ideas, is something most people under 50 probably can't imagine; it's just not in their experience. But it's something the Baby Boomers can remember. 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

I was talking about this recently with my mechanic, a conservative Republican if there ever was one, and we agreed that the great strength of this country when we'd been kids was that there was very little difference between the parties -- in Mike's words, "It was one country."

We haven't seen anything like that since the right wing captured the Republican Party, elected Ronald Reagan, and began demolishing the New Deal stick by stick while Democrats stood by, stupefied.

It's taken Democrats the better part of 30 years to get their arms around what was going on under their noses -- in my opinion, an enormous fraud designed to create a hereditary money aristocracy.

That's the effect of supply-side economics and total repeal of the estate tax, after all -- enriching a small minority that already owned pretty much everything, and making it easier to pass the assets, unimpaired, to the next generation.

That's against everything we say we stand for -- a country where anyone can make good. We've always been against it; the fight to rid America of aristocrats, after all, is what defeated the Federalists in 1800. And that's why it was sold as something else -- a fight to save the real America.

But let's give the right wing credit. By grabbing the defensive reaction of the white working class to the the Civil Rights movement -- and what followed it -- and by making that anger serve its purposes, it had a great, pliable tool. It was genius.

I'm not talking so much about the Civil Rights movement itself -- though it made plenty of people angry -- as what it gave rise to; the clutch of special interest groups that emerged from resisting the Vietnam War, armed with powerful tools they used to create the single-issue politics we know and loathe today.

Don't get me wrong; the causes those groups fought for -- feminism, gay rights, the environmental movement, even vegetarianism -- made America a better place. But because they clearly grew out of what many traditional Americans considered disloyalty -- which is what resisting the war looked like to a generation that fought the Axis -- it was pretty easy to paint those groups as un-American to people who felt, instinctively, that the earth was shifting beneath their feet.

From there, it was a small step to urge them to defend America, and slip in a few boring ideas about economics, foreign policy, taxation and the proper role of government. And since even those ideas hid the real agenda, nobody was the wiser for maybe 25 years -- until George W. Bush won the White House.

Then Osama bin Laden gave them a terrific smokescreen to work with, and by the time America woke up to what the right wing had been after all along, the pieces were pretty much in place.

So here we are, broke and looking for the way out, while the people who got us here try to protect what their masters have built these 30 years -- a nation with a a tiny class of plutocrats, a shrinking middle class, and a giant military. And, if they get their way, a government that will eventually off-load most of its functions to corporations -- owned by said plutocrats -- so they can make even more enormous profits selling them back to us.

It's no wonder what Republicans call the Left is furious and spoiling for a brawl. Especially since it used to be the center before Barry Goldwater ran for President.

Both sides know in their bones that this election, and the next Presidential election, is for the soul of America. And like I said earlier, that's what we've got this year -- a steel cage grudge match fought with chain saws and razor wire, and a rematch in two years.

It's a fight the Democrats had better win, because if the Republicans do take control of either House or Senate, we can look forward to two years of even worse shenanigans than we've seen so far. And we really can't be fighting for the steering wheel when the country is headed for a cliff.

That's going to mean that ordinary Democrats are going to have to give up their idea that their only duty is to vote in November, and start acting like Republicans -- and by that, I mean put their hands in their pockets, work the phones, and walk door-to-door for their candidates. Brie-and-Chablis fundraisers are out -- blood, sweat, and tears are in. This is for real.

Thing is, our Industrial Age political parties don't have -- or at least haven't come to grips with -- the ideas we'll need to deal with America's future; a country with permanent, structural unemployment for many more years, and a large, impoverished generation of retirees. The relentless march of science and medicine -- and, I'll add, computerization, globalization, and overpopulation -- are creating something the Founders could never have imagined.

It's a world that challenges our idea of America and the very structure of our government -- challenges well described in Halstead and Lind's book, The Radical Center (Anchor Books).

Whether the solutions they recommend come to pass is another matter. It'll all emerge from negotiations in any event; any set of recommendations can never be more than points of discussion. But their book is very much worth looking at.

But meanwhile, Democrats need to win as many Congressional elections as possible this fall. If they let their opportunity slip away by not going to the barricades and taking the fight to the Republicans, they'll have only themselves to blame for what comes next.

Republicans are giving them everything they need to win, if they're willing to fight. But fight they must.