Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said “all politics is local.” In the locally oriented upcoming mid-term Senate and Congressional district elections, the Democratic Party is in danger of losing their majority in the Senate and continuing to be the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives, after losing their majority in 2010.
Republican Party candidates, to survive Tea Party-inspired primary challenges, in many states and districts, are moving further to the right. And, overall our national politics has become broken and dysfunctional.
The political blame for much of this situation can be laid at the doorstep of Timothy Geithner, treasury secretary during President Obama’s first term in office, and others in the Obama administration, like Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council.
Geithner was the most important advocate for a bailout of Wall Street and the financial service industry and not Main Street and American families. He maintained his position despite many citizens facing mortgage debt they could no longer carry, the prospect of home foreclosure and bankruptcy — this resulting from job loss or having work hours or wages reduced.
From the exclusive rescue of Wall Street and the failure to address the distress of Main Street emerged a popular dissent in and contributed to the rise the Tea Party and created an antipathy to central government. It is puzzling and difficult to understand how a supposed liberal Democratic Party and president could so ignore the plight of middle and working classes American families.
Geithner, in a recent book, Stress Test, has argued that helping home owners would not have changed the course of the recession. He maintains in self-justification, and incorrectly, that a more substantial program focused directly on those in distress in the housing sector would not have had a significant impact on the overall economy.
A number of economists have convincingly argued that the Great Recession would not have been so great had the federal government acted assertively to assist homeowners in reducing their mortgage debt. They are especially critical of Geithner and others in the Obama administration who seriously misunderstood the depth of the recession and who had a focus on saving the financial system without dealing with the pervasive problem of family debt.
The unfortunate result of this focus is an economic recovery that has been and continues to be weak and slow. This is evidenced by the large numbers of Americans who are still unemployed, underemployed, employed part-time, struggling in a low-wage economy and having dropped out of the labor market.
Geithner and many in the Obama administration reflected a post-material Democratic Party. This party is liberal from a social and cultural perspective and more comfortable with the well educated and affluent who populate Wall Street and the hedge fund industry. They were willing to bail them out (even though Wall Street excesses precipitated the recession crisis).
The neglect of Main Street has had negative consequences for the economy and both political parties. This is illustrated by the recent loss of Republican House of Representatives Majority leader Eric Cantor, in a primary contest, to a Tea Party- oriented candidate. One major criticism against Cantor was his close attachment and support for Wall Street and corporate interests. Further, the mainstream Republican Party candidates, to stay afloat, have become more conservative to reflect Tea party opposition on issues such as immigration reform and government spending.
Nations that cannot adequately respond to economic and political crisis face the emergence of radical political movements. The Tea Party, mildly radical by historical standards, emerged just as Geithner and others in the Obama administration ignored Main Street mortgage distress, debt, and unemployment difficulties.
The economic recovery will remain weak and the disruptive Tea Party strong unless we address, from the bottom up and not the top down, issues that impact many average citizens — still troublesome mortgage and foreclosure situations, family debt, inequality, a low-wage job market, dropouts from the work force, and job displacement through technology and globalization.
Joshua H. Sandman, PhD, is a professor of political science at the University of New Haven
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