Arkansa's Blue Dog Mike Ross
George W. Bush coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” during his infamous 2002 State of the Union speech in referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea. It should be obvious to Americans by now that what really undermines our security as a people is an Axis of Greed compromised of Wall Street, fossil fuel’s Energy Industrial Complex and the Medical Industrial Complex. These are the people that confiscate assets from communities to enrich the mega rich, undermine the environment and promote wars in foreign lands for oil and make it damn hard for millions of people to get affordable healthcare for any illness more serious than a common cold.
This Axis of Greed represents an entrenched juggernaut of corporate power and moneyed interests with tentacles inside the media as well as the corridors of power in Washington and every state capital. Electing Democrats by itself was never going to be enough as the fight over health-care reform illustrates. With Republicans out of power, money that previously went to Republicans is now funneled to conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Hence, my posts earlier this year describing Senators Evan Bayh and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus as “Corporatist Class Warriors.”
First, let us review the good news. Yes, believe it or not, there is good news to speak of in this righteous struggle against the Axis of Greed. What has been achieved is that the battle is finally joined after four decades of predatory conservatism. Barack Obama in ‘08 and congressional majorities in ’06 and ’08 were elected with a mandate of reform and change. Many Democrats, including the president himself were supported with small donations from regular folks. Hence, there is an actual fight taking place and liberals finally have allies in the White House and congress with teeth and progressive sensibilities.
Predatory conservatism is discredited and despite a recent rough patch for President Obama, the Axis of Greed has been forced to negotiate on political terrain less favorable to them than ever before. Also, President Obama has proven an effective counter-puncher whenever his back is up against the wall and I suspect that lesson will be relearned by his adversaries during the congressional recess in August.
Remember, initially opponents of the economic stimulus package defined the terms of debate but once Obama counter-punched the Economic Recovery Act Passed – albeit at far less than liberals like me had hoped. That will likely be the end results with respect to health care reform, cap and trade legislation and attempts to reform Wall Street with a consumer protection agency – Obama’s counter-punching will salvage enough political space to advance the ball even as liberals like me are disappointed.
Unfortunately, in America, merely winning elections with large majorities is not enough when taking on the Axis of Greed and the playing field is still tilted in their favor. Enough Democrats in southern and rural districts remain obstacles to change. This poses a strategic dilemma for Democrats and liberals. Democrats need the Blue Dogs to caucus with them in order to maintain a majority.
Yet these very same Blue Dogs are opposed to core Democratic Party values such as health-care that benefits people instead of HMOs. Indeed, the Blue Dogs are more concerned with the well being of the Medical Industrial Complex and fear that a strong public option will force insurance companies to charge more reasonable prices for medication. They feel more beholden to financial contributors at Goldman Sachs, Exxon and Aetna than the hard working farmers, wage earners and small business entrepreneurs who voted for them.
The upshot is that for all the terrific organizing done the previous two election cycles and the incredible way the Internet has transformed campaign financing, the Axis of Greed still has the dollars and institutional strength to shift the end product of legislation in their favor. Through the power of advertising and their allies in the corporate media, the Axis of Greed can scare the public with myths and disinformation to undermine needed investments in infrastructure, education or making health-care affordable for the single Mom working three jobs. Blue Dog congressional Democrats who rely on the support of constituents earning less than $40,000 a year will not support tax increases on millionaires to help pay for health-care for everyone because they fear the Axis of Greed more than that those constituents they allegedly represent.
So does that mean we give up and throw in the towel? Hell no! It means we have more work to do and our struggle is just beginning. In recent years we have successfully harnessed our natural constituencies in cities and minority demographics to achieve a majority. And thanks to previous Democratic National Committee Chairman, Howard Dean, the Democratic Party is a presence in states and communities it previously wasn’t.
But there is still an organizing lag for liberals in too many rural communities. Unions are especially weak in these districts and people like Arkansas House Democrat Mike Ross for example who triumphantly boast that they “slowed down” health-care reform, need to be convinced that favoring the Axis of Greed over the people will cause him real political pain. As opensecrets.org reveals, two of Congressman Ross’s top five industry contributors in the 2009-2010 campaign cycle are health-care professionals and Pharmaceutical/Healthcare Products. Ross is merely one example of a stark reality: until he fears his constituents more than the Axis of Greed, nothing will ever change and not even the rhetorical gifts of President Obama will be enough.
Meaningful change is going to take a long time. We’re only in the first inning of an extra inning game requiring resolve, endurance, patience and resilience. President Obama will sign watered down health-care legislation and call it reform this year. He will have no choice. In a few years we will hopefully be able to revisit the issue with greater political strength.
Obama will also have no choice but to sign watered down cap and trade legislation. Given the current pace of global warming it also won’t be good enough and will have to be revisited when the political terrain is more favorable - and hopefully won't be too late too save the planet. Finally, the Wall Street economy will have some more reforms but the huge imbalances in the system will not be addressed any time soon if plutocrats such as Treasury Timothy Geithner have anything to say about it.
This is a long, tough, righteous and worthy fight. I’m in all the way for as long as it takes. We all need to be.