Are we seeing the beginning of the downfall of the Democratic Party today?
Democrats could not have regained control over Congress without the support of progressive activists, but the automotive bailout legislation that’s got the support of Democrats is not at all progressive. It’s corporate welfare – the kind of thing that progressives used to complain about.
Two hours ago, 216 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted against 5 Democrats and 164 Republicans in favor of a resolution that suspends the normal rules of the House of Representatives in order to rush an automaker bailout deal through before anyone has time to meaningfully debate the details of the legislation. That’s the kind of thing we’ve been complaining about the Republicans doing, and it’s no better when the Democrats do it.
Granting billions of dollars of loans to a failing industry that has yet to share any serious plans for how to turn itself around is not the sort of thing that should be hurried. If the Detroit corporations really can’t survive a few more weeks while the details are openly debated with opportunity for public involvement, then the corporations ought not to survive. Let them fail, and let the stock price fall, until the government can come in and buy the corporations outright, and install new management, while making the auto workers into federal employees and giving them the benefits they’re entitled to as such.
If there’s a lesson America ought to have learned from this year’s energy crisis, it’s that the time for a transportation system based upon individually owned automobiles is over. Right wingers have been mocking the idea of a national system of public mass transportation for decades, but the fact is that we wouldn’t have had much of an energy crisis at all this year if we had started building a mass transit system back in the 1980s.
There’s no use in bailing out the car corporations of Detroit, because the problem isn’t that they don’t make the right cars. It’s that they make cars at all. Our economy suffers from the waste of car culture. Democrats in Congress ought not to be in the lead in perpetuating that waste. They ought to allow that waste to die.
It’s time for big thinking and meaningful reform of our way of life. The car manufacturers are going out of business. The gasoline that cars burn has proven to be an unreliable source of energy. The suburban real estate sprawl dependent upon family cars for transportation have gone bust. The big box suburban businesses that depend upon customers in cars to drive in from far away are going bankrupt.
America’s economic problems are systemic and need systemic solutions. The essential core of the systematic economic reform we need is the elimination of the family car. Keep the cars, and we keep all the problems that have come with them. We have the technological know-how to do better. We have the historical moment to do better. Yet, the Democrats in Congress are looking to preserve the past instead of working to build a better future.
The disappointing weakness of the 2008 Democrats in dealing with the disintegration of automotive America is shown at its most pathetic in the failure of the Democrats to stand firm on Detroit’s lawsuit campaign against reform. Even as the Democrats are preparing to hand Detroit corporations billions of dollars, they have decided not to require the corporations to stop their lawsuits against state mileage standards. The Democratic Congress is actually allowing Ford, Chrysler and GM to continue suing for the right to produce old-fashioned, inefficient vehicles at the same time that the 3 automakers are pledging to use government money to become more efficient.
As misguided as the Democrats are in supporting the Detroit car corporations, the Republicans opposing the Democrats’ bailout out are making much sense. Republicans are supporting their own big bailouts, only with provisions forcing the automakers to bust labor unions. Labor unions, however, aren’t what’s busted the Detroit car makers. What’s busted the Detroit car makers is a history of corruption in management that’s been opposed to innovation. It’s the management of the automotive corporations, not the unions, that needs to be busted.
A little bit after 6:00 PM, just about the time that I started writing this article, the House of Representatives passed the big car bailout, 225 to 179. Only 9 Democrats voted no.
If this is the kind of economic legislation we’re going to get out of the Democratic Congress over the next two years, we shouldn’t expect the recession to end any time soon. They just helped to dig the hole deeper.