By Cyryl Ryzak
Obama’s proposed new budget that increases government spending, thereby ending the sequester cuts, is the first move, following his State of the Union address, in what perhaps will be the climax of his administration. His plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, close tax loopholes, make community college free, and boost infrastructure investment, will put the White House in an antagonistic position vis a vis the Republican controlled Hill. How this conflict will play out cannot be easily predicted, but one can reasonably assume Obama is hoping that if not spoils, it will bring him glory and maybe seal an image of him as a real progressive and not the “wimp who threw it all away."
As noted before, Obama’s agenda leaves much to be desired, mainly a comprehensive employment policy and a move towards a more progressively funded, universal and inclusionary welfare state. The progressive Independent and not-so-closeted socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, released a report where he proposed a $1.6 trillion investment in infrastructure as the basis of a reconstruction of the American economy. While completely unrealistic as a measure to be passed by Congress, these kinds of proposals could be taken up by a popular mobilization outside of the Washington circus.
More than discouraging, though, is the increase in military spending that will “dollar-for-dollar” match the increase in domestic spending. This, more than his moderation, represents my real disappointment with this incarnation of the President. The rhetoric of the current budget proposal explicitly ties the President’s hopes for “prosperity” with an expansion of the national security state. So behind this veneer of “common sense” and “middle-class economics” lurks a perennial irrationality: militarism, a cancer of our polity. Obama might be matching military and domestic spending dollar for dollar, but ultimately every cent that goes to buy bombs is a cent that could have been used for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. Internationally, it creates a precedent for all major powers, a situation harmful for world peace, pointing towards a serious escalation of military competition between states.
In order to begin halting the ravages of capitalism and militarism, the Left must first present a less compromised set of reforms based on an expanded public sector, universal social welfare, and drastic cuts in military spending. The looming conflict between Obama and Congress should not distract from the need to build a broad progressive political coalition with a large socialist wing. The example of Syriza acts as an inspiration in this case, even if their particular national conditions are so different from ours. The presence on the international scene of a committed Left party in power, which overcame legacies of dictatorship and isolation to smash both the right and center, can act as a symbol for the revitalization of the Left as a serious force in American politics.