Most of the endless rehashing of the debt deal has correctly focused on the fact that corporate interests and Tea Party politics have prevailed again, at the expense of the middle class, children in poverty, students and the elderly. But in understanding the long-term impact of this drawn-out debate, too little attention has been paid to the blow it has dealt to the foundational principles of our democracy.
A CNN poll conducted after the deal shows that a whopping 77 percent of Americans believe that elected officials acted like “spoiled children.” The yawning gap between the mindset of decision-makers in Washington and the daily reality of most Americans is a grave threat to what organizers call “little-d democracy.” This is about neither the Democratic Party nor the procedural machinery by which our nominally democratic government operates. “Little-d democracy” is the basic idea that ordinary Americans, regardless of rank or stature, can have a voice in shaping our own destiny.
When all is said and done, the process that created the deal may end up being as destructive as the deal’s effects. While the country watched helplessly, each new turn and every talking head in the seemingly endless saga demonstrated that ordinary people had no real part to play. Unless we employ an army of lobbyists or have a key to the Congressional washroom, it seemed there was no reconciling the debate on the Hill with the needs and desires of those most affected by the final deal.
Some data points to consider:
§ For months, poll after poll has showed that rank-and-file Americans of all political persuasions believe that revenues (the nice way to say taxes) should be a part of any deal to resolve our debt crisis. Seventy-two percent of Americans polled between July 14 and July 17 said taxes should be raised on those making more than $250,000 per year, including 73 percent of independents and a stunning 54 percent of Republicans. Fifty-nine percent wanted taxes raised on oil and gas companies, including 60 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans. Yet Republicans refused to vote for a deal that included any revenues at all, and the Democratic leadership capitulated despite the fact that the position was exactly the opposite of what large majorities wanted.
§ In the week leading up to the vote, more than 600 rallies were held around the country supporting the passage of a clean debt-ceiling bill and protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from cuts. MoveOn.org alone made more than 125,000 calls to Congress to support a clean debt-ceiling raise. Coverage of all of these rallies was minimal at best. There was also one Tea Party rally, which, despite the impressive resources of their corporate backers, was sparsely attended. Yet the talk in Washington almost exclusively centered on what the Tea Party would accept.
§ Respected economists on both sides of the partisan divide agreed that cutting spending during a recession is all but certain to make things worse. This consensus was hardly mentioned in the debate and not at all reflected in the outcome.