I know you want to read this op ed by Robert Kuttner in today’s Boston Globe:
THREE TIMES in my political adulthood, we have seen the exhaustion of a conservative ideology and presidency. Under Presidents Nixon and Bush II, the ingredients were corruption, corporate excess, and overreach of presidential power. During the 12 years of Reagan and Bush I, the hallmark was the failure of conservative economics.
And twice, the electorate ousted Republicans only to get centrist Democrats, who ran more competent administrations but did little to redress the structure of financial inequality in America.
Now, the third era of conservative Republican rule is collapsing — with the most spectacular mÃ©lange of overreach, incompetence, economic distress, and sheer corruption of all. But who, and what, will succeed Bush? The forces of privilege and inequality are now so deeply entrenched in America that it will take a Democratic successor at least as bold as FDR or LBJ to change course.
As much as the wingnuts like to denigrate presidents Clinton and Carter for their alleged liberalism, the fact is they were the two most conservative Democratic presidents of the 20th century. And that by a pretty wide margin. Kuttner calls Carter “the most conservative Democrat since Grover Cleveland.” As president, his policies favored deregulation (of, for example, air traffic and trucking), and he made no attempt to stand in the way of business’s all-out assault on labor. President Clinton accelerated financial deregulation and gave us trade policies like NAFTA. Economic inequality and insecurity widened under both presidents, although not nearly as much as during Republican administrations.
Now, the third era of conservative Republican rule is collapsing — with the most spectacular melange of overreach, incompetence, economic distress, and sheer corruption of all. But who, and what, will succeed Bush? The forces of privilege and inequality are now so deeply entrenched in America that it will take a Democratic successor at least as bold as FDR or LBJ to change course.
I don’t advocate a wholesale return to the policies of either FDR or LBJ, and I don’t believe Kuttner does, either. The point is that we need someone who’s got the cojones to steer the ship of state in an entirely new direction, and bleep the special interests, corporations, and the Right Wing echo chamber.
To change course, America would need to change the terms of global trade and to re-regulate Wall Street, so that deals would no longer be done mainly to enrich financial insiders and squeeze ordinary workers. We would restore taxation based on ability to pay and use the proceeds to create a more secure America of broad opportunity. Labor law would be reformed so that the more than 50 percent of American workers who’d like to join unions could do so without fear of being fired.
Amen to that.
Of the Democratic presidential front runners, Kuttner says that Sen. Hillary Clinton would run a competent administration, but she would put budget balancing ahead of social spending (Kuttner explains in more detail why he thinks that’s bad), and she is “raising distressingly large sums from Wall Street.” In other words, she is likely to pursue fairly conservative policies; the big difference between her and just about any Republican is that she would govern with greater competence. As president she’d give us much of the same ol’ thing, but with improved “metrics.”
Sen. Barack Obama shows enormous promise, but I agree with Kuttner that he’s developed a touch of “front-runner disease — being distressingly vague about what he’d actually do.” John Edwards is most likely of the three to govern as a true economic progressive, Kuttner says. I worry that his lack of foreign policy credentials could hurt him.
But, Kuttner closes, “How many times does conservatism have to fail before we get a successor who reclaims American liberalism?”
That’s a good question. The last time conservatism failed utterly and spectacularly was at the end of the 1920s. Franklin Roosevelt won four presidential elections not only because conservative domestic policy enabled the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, but because right wingers of the 1920s and 1930s for the most part were isolationists who thought Hitler and Mussolini were reasonable guys we could do business with. The Great Depression and World War II provided overwhelming empirical evidence to the American people that the Right had been wrong.
Although moderate Republicans (e.g., Dwight Eisenhower) emerged from the FDR years with some appreciation for what he had accomplished, the more extreme Right nursed a seething, resentful rage against all things New Dealish. The Cold War gave them a means to rehabilitate themselves. By a campaign of “hysterical charges and bald-faced lies” the Right persuaded much of the country that Democrats were soft on communism and lax on national security. And in the 1960s through the 1980s the Dems’ association with civil rights, equal opportunity, and antipoverty programs caused a flood of white middle class Americans to switch their votes from Democratic to Republican.
In part through skillful manipulation of mass media the Right has been able to dominate our national political discourse since the late 1970s. In spite of the Right’s incessant whining about “liberal media,” Americans have had the right-wing perspective of just about everything pounded into their heads lo these many years, whereas real liberals and progressives (as opposed to moderate-to-conservative political hacks who play “liberals” on television) were all but banished from public view. Were this not the case, I think liberalism would have been reclaimed years ago. And if Republicans had enjoyed the same advantage in 1936, FDR might have been a one-term president.
However, there are other differences between today and earlier times. Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, the two presidents who preceded FDR, certainly ran flawed administrations. Hoover in particular was blamed for many bad things, not all of which were actually his fault. But IMO neither president was as spectacularly ridiculous at the job as is the current Creature in the Oval Office. And unlike the hapless Hoover, who inherited a disastrous economic situation, Bush was handed a nation in pretty good shape, economically and otherwise, and thoroughly trashed it. Although I don’t think Bush was the mastermind behind 9/11 any more than he was the mastermind behind Hurricane Katrina — face it, truthers, Bush isn’t competent enough to have pulled it off — after Katrina the American people saw for themselves that Bush has no clue what he’s doing. And I think by now most of ’em have realized his allegedly great leadership after 9/11 was mostly hype.
Further, most of today’s self-described conservatives are really pseudo-conservatives. Conservatives used to be mostly temperate and cautious people who were not utterly opposed to progress as long as it didn’t happen too fast. Today’s “conservatives” are radical absolutists who are aggressive and uncompromising. They can neither govern nor work with anyone else to facilitate governing. They have utterly bleeped up the nation, and the nation will remain bleeped up as long as they are in charge. And I think many Americans are, finally, catching on to this.
The True Believers on the Right will never, ever admit to their mistakes, nor do I expect their media infrastructure to be dismantled anytime soon. But I have one hope — that most of the American people are getting heartily sick of these clowns.
And if the next President is truly great, maybe the creatures will be driven so far underground they won’t make a comeback in my lifetime, anyway.