Between the Lines: Forecast: More hard times for liberals

With the limited exception of those of us lucky enough to live in Vermont, this is a lousy time to be a liberal. And it’s not going to get any better.
After years of battling Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, Democrats and Progressives in the Legislature have the luxury of working with new Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin. While Shumlin has put the kibosh on increasing taxes for the super-rich — he knows that would be political poison in his first term — he has otherwise set a remarkably progressive tone.
In addition to his persistent opposition to renewing the license for Vermont Yankee and his support of marriage equality, Shumlin is making all the right liberal noises about diversifying agriculture beyond the overemphasis on dairy farms. He’s pushing ahead on the long campaign for single-payer health care and greater broadband Internet access.
Outside the cozy confines of the Green Mountains, however, the picture is a much darker one.
President Obama’s one liberal accomplishment may prove to be the expansion of affordable health care for millions of Americans. Beyond that, his record is on hot-button liberal issues, such as “card check” legislation making it easier for unions to organize, is disappointingly thin. The record includes some outright reversals, such as the chickenhearted decision to deny fair and constitutionally mandated trials to many terrorism suspects.
When it comes to foreign policy, the best that can be said about Obama is that he looks like Bush Lite. He seems to feel it’s OK to spend $1 billion on a bombing campaign to support a rebel Libyan force that is largely unknown to the U.S. And his weary supporters seem willing to go along, even as Obama further expands executive power at the expense of the constitutional mandate that reserves to Congress the right to make war.
Worse yet, last week’s collapse in the face of Republican demands for recovery-crippling cuts in federal spending is probably just another step in a long retreat led by Obama.
While Gov. Shumlin is proving nearly as liberal as he appeared during the campaign, it’s obvious by now that Obama never really was a liberal. He is a charismatic and canny politician, and one of his great political strengths is that he can be many things to many different kinds of people.
That’s not lying, by the way. It’s called electability in a center-right country.
With conservatives chipping away at health care reform, it will be a generation or more before any president is brave or stupid enough to take on health care once again. That means the long-held liberal dream of single-payer health care is essentially dead for Baby Boomers.
The Republican assault on government and the Great Society now includes a frontal attack not just on Social Security, but also on Medicare and Medicaid. If it succeeds, the elderly of tomorrow will have to pay for much more of their own health care. And let’s not even talk about the fate of the poor who have to rely on Medicaid, where minimal health care services are diminishing and even disappearing.
The middle class will also take it on the chin. Do you appreciate knowing your commercial plane won’t crash in flight? The Federal Aviation Administration is facing millions in cutbacks that will affect its ability to help ensure flight safety.
Got a kid who might need financial aid to get through college? Pell grants for education are on the chopping block, too.
The persistent cry from conservatives is that we can’t afford these kinds of services anymore. Yet emerging unscathed from all of the budget-cutting discussions is the “defense” budget.
With Obama’s recent decision to bomb Libya, the U.S. is now involved in three wars. As satirist Andy Borowitz noted, even if the government were to shut down in a budget dispute, the U.S. would continue to provide government services to Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Neither party seems willing to ask if the bloated military budget, which grew by more than 7 percent last year, could be cut as we try to bring down federal spending. Yet U.S. military spending has nearly doubled in the last decade and is six times greater than that of China, which ranks second. (source: the respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute).
Even most Democrats have given up on questioning the continuing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Now the old social issues are back on the table, too.
One of the debates that nearly shut down the government last weekend was the GOP’s push to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood. That was allegedly done to curb Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide abortions. But the organization receives no federal funding for abortions and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, taxpayer-financed support for family planning prevented nearly 2 million unwanted pregnancies in 2006. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood would only increase the number of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies.
The Republican majority, heavily financed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other conservative special interests, has bought into the myth that global warming isn’t real. The GOP threatened to shut down the government in part over the party’s insistence that the Environmental Protection Agency stop regulating the carbon emissions that are a primary cause of climate change.
I wish I could find a silver lining in all these dark clouds. The reality, though, is that liberalism and activist government continue their long sunset in America.
If that’s ever to change, we’ll have to endure the failure of drastic budget cuts and the human and environmental toll that will follow. Maybe it will take a couple more environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina. A Supreme Court majority that decides to outlaw abortion would wake up a lot of women to what’s been going on.
In the meantime, I’m holing up in the Green Mountains.
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived at http://MiddleburyVT.blogspot.com. E-mail him at [email protected].

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