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The rest of the Democratic agenda is small change tossed to the faithful. Stem cell funding? A nice way to expend your energy as the new majority party—pushing a new spending idea that already had bipartisan congressional support in the old regime in order to provide Bush some more of his extremely rare veto-bait to win some more GOP faithful love.
The minimum wage hike? A classic bit of economic ignorance, will cost lots of poorer, less trained, and less educated people their first rung on the professional ladder--but it has the added benefit of being something the GOP will probably largely fold on, further proving that neither party has much economic sense or political guts. And rules on amendments to bills? No one cares, and for good reason. It’s just more procedural folderol that evades the real problem—a government so huge in its reach and incomprehensible in its grasp that neither our “representatives” nor their staffs can possibly have a detailed, educated, sober understanding of what the hell they are voting for anyway, even with some sort of mandated 24 hours for minority party members to see a bill before it gets voted on in subcommittees or on the floor.
The further dregs of the front-loaded Democratic agenda is in those areas Democratic policy mastermind Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) thinks of as the real center of Democratic power and appeal: more middle-class entitlements, or sops to middle-class liberal sensibilities (yes, we shouldn’t be subsidizing Big Oil or manipulating markets through tax policy, and we also shouldn't be subsidizing “alternative energy”). We've got slashing interest rates on college loans (more cheap cash flowing into the college market? That should cut skyrocketing higher education costs!) and trying to gin up cheaper prescription drugs through government manipulations (and potentially dry up springs of future useful drugs).
But what seems to be missing in this world-historic agenda? Could it be the war in Iraq, the issue that tout le punditry assured us was key in winning both houses of Congress for the Democrats? The issue that 45 percent of Americans in a CBS poll this week say should be top priority for the new Congress (more than six times the number who picked the next-most-popular choice, jobs/economy)? The issue where 71 percent expect the Democrats to ensure a reduction or removal in troops in Iraq
Are the Dems prepared to follow the Chris Matthews imperative, and cut funding for any surge? Cindy Sheehan may have been able to cut short a new Democratic majority press conference this week, but radical antiwar forces seem impotent to do much more to really drive the new Congress’s priorities. Rep. Jane Harmon (D-Calif.) is predicting that the next emergency supplemental spending bill for Bush in Iraq will be the last. While I would love to be wrong, this seems nothing but wishful thinking. Sure, Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the trouble during this busy 100-hours launch to write a sincere letter to Bush telling him they “strongly encourage you to reject any plans that call for our getting our troops any deeper into Iraq.”
But Pelosi is also on record as saying “We will have oversight. We will not cut off funding.” And with Bush prepared by all accounts to surge, they’ve already surrendered the only weapon that could turn their encouragement into true opposition. Pants-fouling fear of seeming to be “against the troops” is leading many Democrats to insist that it’s somehow their job as our elected representatives to help Bush do whatever he wants in Iraq, then tut-tut about it (or run against it in 2008)?
What we’ve gotten, then, is a lot of self-glorifying pomp at public expense, some attempts to ensure certain people can’t get jobs at wages other people are willing to pay them, new spending programs on items of supposed great commercial promise, no real action to effectively and permanently hobble the enormous welfare and warfare states that promise to suck all our wealth, and no sign of dedicated action on the political issue most important to Americans, the war—the issue that makes most vivid our own ultimate impotence regarding how the power of the state is used to propel our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor around the globe, no matter how many elections we suffer through.
While Pete Townshend’s cynical/wise declaration “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” has become a painfully predictable epigram to summon, it’s unfortunately a perfectly apt reaction to the painful predictability of political reality. Pelosi is the first woman to be speaker of the House—but ultimately, 100 hours of work from now or 1,000, just another speaker of the House.