Recovery for the rich

Last weekend I visited a Reno used bookstore that I often frequent. The owner told me that this is like no recession he has experienced. In previous recessions, he said, people have avoided buying new books so he benefited. Sales rose in hard times. Not this time.

Afterward I stopped at my neighborhood sandwich shop. It’s been around for a long time, but it’s still taking a beating in this recession.

I often wonder what such merchants think when they hear federal officials say that the recession is over. They probably react the same way workers do.

This recession started in 2007, and probably earlier in Nevada. That year was during the presidency of George W. Bush. So were the Wall Street meltdown and the bailouts. But all those things were bipartisan.

In D.C., Republicans and Democrats like to point fingers at each other on economic issues, but there is plenty of blame to go around. And after all, the recession began six years ago. Whatever ownership of it by George W. Bush and the Republicans existed has long since passed to Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Democrats provided the votes to loosen regulation on financial institutions. Bill Clinton first endorsed and then signed repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the repeal that Democrats now blame for the economic meltdown. The Democrats said the bailouts were needed because some of those financial institutions were “too big to fail.” But once the crisis passed, the Democrats did not do one thing to break up those gargantuan entities under anti-trust law. Indeed, they approved settlements of various institutional collapses that allowed the “too big to fail” entities to get bigger, putting the nation at greater risk than before. Senate Democrats repeatedly refused to change the post-1975 “silent filibuster” system that prevented them from enacting their full economic program after Obama became president. All of these things are related to the relatively new corporate ownership of the Democratic Party.

In the 1980s, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was headed by U.S. House member Tony Coelho, who argued that the Democrats could line up to get “campaign contributions” from the nation’s rich and powerful just as productively as the Republicans. He was right, and soon corporate money was pouring into the party’s treasuries.

Any Democrat who thought the party could be corporate-funded without becoming a corporate puppet was quickly proven wrong. When push came to shove, the party forgot the working poor and listened more intently to its new moneyed allies, and it showed up repeatedly in policy, as when a health care plan dependent on insurance companies was enacted.

Worse, the party’s rank and file has stood by and watched it happen. In the GOP, the party’s activists pull hard on the reins when Republican leaders start behaving too much like Democrats. But in the Democratic Party, the tradition is to adore the party’s presidents and congressional leaders. Here’s a great example:

In the 1970s, the Nixon administration and business leaders argued that 5 percent joblessness was “an acceptable level of unemployment.” Democrats high and low tore into the notion.

Four decades later, Reuters reports, “Chicago Fed President Charles Evans … said inflation pressures look low now, and the Fed’s easy policies have helped slowly move the unemployment rate down toward 5.5 percent, which he called a sustainable level.” No one in the Obama administration or the Democratic Party spoke up to disagree.

During those 40 years, Democratic leaders have grown loathe to offend business leaders. And Democrats at the grass roots are unwilling to call Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and others to account on increasingly conservative economic policies and a recovery that benefits only the affluent.

An anemic recovery is not what voters expected when they elected Obama. Where is the vigorous economy that Democrats promised? And why aren’t the soft money-funded party organizations in Nevada and around the nation challenging their own leaders on behalf of the working poor?

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.

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