Capitalism Is Commiting Suicide

David Leonhardt writes about Peter Georgescu, a “chairman emeritus” of Young & Rubicam.

Peter Georgescu — a refugee-turned-C.E.O. who recently celebrated his 80th birthday — feels deeply grateful to his adopted country. He also feels afraid for its future. He is afraid, he says, because the American economy no longer functions well for most citizens. “For the past four decades,” Georgescu has written, “capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

This is hardly news; a lot of people have noticed that capitalism as currently practiced is not sustainable. I certainly don’t think capitalism in its current form is sustainable. My only question is whether it will take the rest of us and the planet with it when it goes. See, for example, “Capitalism Is Devouring Itself” and “Destroying Capitalism to Save It” from The Mahablog archives. This is in the New York Times because a big-shot capitalist admits it’s true.

Georgescu’s life story is about how a Romanian boy who grew up with Nazi and then Soviet occupation escaped from behind the Iron Curtain and made good in America. He succeeded because he got a lot of help from people who were inspired by his story and opened doors for him.

“The hero of my story,” Georgescu said to me “is America.” Over and over, he said, people who didn’t have any obvious reason to care about him helped him: the congresswoman who didn’t represent his parents’ district; the headmaster who’d never met him; the ad executives who mentored him.

All of them, he believes, were influenced by a post-World War II culture that (while deeply flawed in some ways) fostered a sense of community over individuality. Corporate executives didn’t pay themselves outlandish salaries. Workers enjoyed consistently risingwages.

Things began to change after the 1970s. Stakeholder capitalism — which, Georgescu says, optimized the well-being of customers, employees, shareholders and the nation — gave way to short-term shareholder-only capitalism. Profits have soared at the expense of worker pay. The wealth of the median family today is lower than two decades ago. Life expectancy has actually fallen in the last few years. Not since 2004 has a majority of Americans said they were satisfied with the country’s direction.

Peter Georgescu also is the author of a few books, including Capitalists, Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation. In 2015 he wrote an op ed for the NY Times titled Capitalists Arise: We Need to Deal With Income Inequality. So, up to a point, he gets it. Leonhardt continues,

He talks about the signs of frustration, in both the United States and Europe. He has seen societies fall apart, and he thinks many people are underestimating the risks it could happen again. “We’re not that far off,” he told me.

I agree; I think if current trends are not reversed pretty damn soon we face a national implosion, potentially followed by a planetary implosion. But Georgescu thinks that business leaders can fix this problem; I think he is hopelessly naive.

Georgescu may believe that the capitalism of the post World War II period was some kind of norm, but it wasn’t. Capitalism wasn’t a major factor in the U.S. economy until the mid-19th century, but from that time and until the Great Depression it was marked by its careless exploitation of workers and resources. It didn’t change into the generous and kindly capitallism Georgescu remembers until taken into hand by FDR’s New Deal. Paul Krugman wrote on his old New York Times blog,

The Long Gilded Age: Historians generally say that the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era around 1900. In many important ways, though, the Gilded Age continued right through to the New Deal. As far as we can tell, income remained about as unequally distributed as it had been the late 19th century – or as it is today. Public policy did little to limit extremes of wealth and poverty, mainly because the political dominance of the elite remained intact; the politics of the era, in which working Americans were divided by racial, religious, and cultural issues, have recognizable parallels with modern politics.

The Great Compression: The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t evolve gradually or automatically. It was created, in a remarkably short period of time, by FDR and the New Deal. As the chart shows, income inequality declined drastically from the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, with the rich losing ground while working Americans saw unprecedented gains. Economic historians call what happened the Great Compression, and it’s a seminal episode in American history.

Middle class America: That’s the country I grew up in. It was a society without extremes of wealth or poverty, a society of broadly shared prosperity, partly because strong unions, a high minimum wage, and a progressive tax system helped limit inequality. It was also a society in which political bipartisanship meant something: in spite of all the turmoil of Vietnam and the civil rights movement, in spite of the sinister machinations of Nixon and his henchmen, it was an era in which Democrats and Republicans agreed on basic values and could cooperate across party lines.

The great divergence: Since the late 1970s the America I knew has unraveled. We’re no longer a middle-class society, in which the benefits of economic growth are widely shared: between 1979 and 2005 the real income of the median household rose only 13 percent, but the income of the richest 0.1% of Americans rose 296 percent.

And, of course, the late 1970s were all about the rise of “movement conservatism” and Reaganomics. And, in a lot of ways, we’re back to the Gilded Age. And it has to be acknowledged that this is what capitalism is without a whole lot of government interention to keep it honest.

Matt Taibbi wrote in 2009,

The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class. But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron – a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

Yep. And that’s pretty much what happened.

The young folks think “capitalism” is a dirty word, and I don’t blame them. I hope that the future can be saved for them.

Business leaders cannot be trusted to fix the mess they are making, even though a few of them see that it’s a mess and that it cannot continue indefinitely. Business never has fixed it in the past, and even now too many of them are happy to leave a dead planet to their grandchildren as long as they can make more money now. This cannot go on. If Republicans aren’t pried out of government in 2020 I despair that we will run out of time to prevent disaster.

St. Louis, History, and Confederate Monuments

Adding to New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s spot-on speech on Confederate Monuments — There’s a big Confederate monument in St. Louis that the new mayor, a Democrat, wants to take down. And naturally people of St. Louis are arguing about it. I wrote a letter to the editor expressing my, um, anti-Confederate views that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a couple of days ago. But the Post-Dispatch word count limit didn’t let me say everything I had to say.

First, regarding St. Louis — Missouri was a state that allowed slavery, and in the 1860 elections “Breckinridge Democrats” won a majority of seats in the statehouse. However, the state as a whole was not that keen for secession. Claiborne Fox Jackson, elected governor in 1860, ran as an anti-secession candidate and won by a comfortable margin.  But Gov. Jackson was not, in fact, anti-secession.

After he took office in January 1861, Jackson arranged for a state convention to settle the matter of whether the state would secede or remain in the Union; the convention voted for the Union, by a vote of 98-1. Jackson then declared the state would be neutral in any upcoming armed conflict, and after Ft. Sumter he refused to send state militia to Washington, as Lincoln requested.

At some point, Jackson got in touch with Jefferson Davis to plan a military secessionist coup. The first stage of this plan was to use state militia to seize the federal arsenal in St. Louis. Munitions taken by Confederates from a federal arsenal in Baton Rouge — two howitzers, two siege guns, 500 muskets, and ammunition —  were shipped by steamboat to St. Louis for this purpose, sometime about May 1, 1861.

However, the officer in charge of the St. Louis arsenal, Captain Nathaniel Lyon, had been tipped off about the movement of Confederate weapons. Lyon secretly moved most of the rifles and muskets in the arsenal across the river to Alton, Illinois. Then on May 10 he and troops under his command surrounded the militia that had been assembled just outside St. Louis in preparation for the coup. The militia surrendered. So far, so good.

St. Louis was one of the few parts of Missouri that had voted for Lincoln in 1860, and this was largely because the city had been just about taken over by German immigrants. (These included Adolphus Busch, currently being featured in Budweiser ads, who arrived in 1857; Eberhard Anheuser had arrived in 1842.) The Germans were anti-slavery and pro-Union to the hilt. What we might call the native-born population of St. Louis were of mixed opinions on secession and slavery. But in St. Louis, a lot of pro-secession sentiment was mixed together with anti-German nativism, and there were hard feelings going both ways.

It so happens that Lyon’s troops were mostly German immigrants. As the federal troops marched state militia through St. Louis, secessionists lined the streets, jeering the “Dutch” and throwing rocks and dirt. At some point, somebody fired a gun. And then more people, including the federal troops, fired guns. Several people, mostly civilians, were killed. And several days of violent riots followed. But St. Louis remained a Union stronghold ever after.

On May 11, Gov. Jackson appointed Sterling Price to be Major General of the Missouri State Guard. Officially, Jackson was still posing as “neutral” — neither pro nor anti Union — but he sent dispatches to the Confederacy saying that if Confederates invaded, the Missouri State Guard would help them “liberate” St. Louis. Missouri Lt. Governor Thomas C. Reynolds actually traveled to Richmond to request an invasion.

By June, Captain Lyon had been promoted to Brigadier General. Lyon marched troops to Jefferson City, the state capitol, arriving June 13. Jackson and most of the “Breckinridge Democrats” fled to Boonville, Missouri, to continue to try to flip the state to the Confederacy. At one point Jackson actually led state militia against Union troops.

In July, the convention that had voted against secession met again and declared that the governor’s office had been voided. A new governor was appointed. And, in fact, the state government was such a mess that much of the state was under martial law for much of the war, which didn’t turn out well, either. But that’s another story.

Jackson and the renegade state officials met in Neosho, Missouri, in August, and voted an ordinance of secession; shortly after that the Confederacy recognized Missouri as its 12tth state. However, as the enormous majority of the state was under Union control, that gesture was meaningless.

In 1864, Sterling Price led Confederate troops toward St. Louis with the intention to invade it, but he didn’t get very close. The Confederates were stopped near Ironton by troops commanded by Gen. Thomas Ewing, who was General Sherman’s brother in law, and by locals who were what was left of the Ironton militia unit. The latter included some of my kinfolk, according to family lore.

Base of the Confederate Memorial in St. Louis after recent, um, renovation. Reuters photo.

Anyway, all this history rather begs the question of what a Confederate monument is doing in St. Louis.

The monument itself, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914, was designed deliberately to be innocuous. It bears no Confederate battle flags or likenesses of famous generals. Instead, under an angel representing “the spirit of the Confederacy” are generic (but heroic!) figures that are supposed to be sending a youth off to war. Whether there were any St. Louis Confederate regiments I do not know, and the monument doesn’t tell us.

(The Missouri Daughters of the Confederacy were big on planting innocuous monuments around the state. There used to be a big, granite rock on the University of Missouri–Columbia campus when I was a student there. The rock bore a plaque dedicating the rock to the Confederacy, courtesy of the Daughters. It was a huge object of contention, and the thing was removed to parts unknown about 1974, a year after I graduated. I doubt that anyone misses it now.)

As far as St. Louis is concerned, a more appropriate monument to the spirit of the Confederacy would have featured a snake hiding in grass, or maybe a weasel. The Missouri Confederates were not a heroic crew, in particular the psychopathic “bushwhackers” such as William Quantrille and “Bloody Bill” Anderson. I notice there are no heroic monuments to those guys.

In 1860, about 114,000 persons were enslaved in Missouri, mostly on farms. I don’t know of any monuments to them, either.

The truth is, the enormous majority of Confederate monuments in the United States have little to do with history. They do not mark a place where any particular thing happened. They don’t teach us anything about the history of The Late Unpleasantness. They are totems of white supremacy, period.

Even when a monument has some legitimate reason for being, if you look into the monument’s history, white supremacy tends to be lurking there. For example, there’s a statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on the Bull Run/Manassas battlefield, now a national park. The statue occupies the spot where Jackson’s regiment was said to be holding against a Union assault, and some other general is said to have rallied his troops by saying “There stands Jackson like a stone wall.” It’s a bit of actual Americana, in other words, so arguably the monument has some justification for being there. But when the statue was dedicated in 1940, the governor of Virginia actually said that the statue of Jackson honors “one of the greatest soldiers of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Argh.

Some of the people defending the monument in St. Louis argue that it has artistic value. They like looking at it, they say. Fine; they are free to raise money and buy the damn thing, and then they can move it to private property and look at it all they like. I say the same thing about the other Confederate monuments as well, since (again) few of them mark a place where any historical thing happened. There must be a really rich pro-Confederate guy some place who will buy them up and move them to his estate. Maybe he can open a theme park. Just get them off public property.

Nixon’s Treachery

There is more documentation to show that Richard Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative.

A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench the initiative. …

…Nixon had entered the fall campaign with a lead over Humphrey, but the gap was closing that October. Henry A. Kissinger, then an outside Republican adviser, had called, alerting Nixon that a deal was in the works: If Johnson would halt all bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviets pledged to have Hanoi engage in constructive talks to end a war that had already claimed 30,000 American lives.

But Nixon needed the war to continue so that he could run against it.

Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.

Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.

“! Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon’s orders. “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”

Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.

Nixon also sought help from Chiang Kai-shek, the president of Taiwan. And he ordered Haldeman to have his vice-presidential candidate, Spiro T. Agnew, threaten the C.I.A. director, Richard Helms. Helms’s hopes of keeping his job under Nixon depended on his pliancy, Agnew was to say. “Tell him we want the truth — or he hasn’t got the job,” Nixon said.

Lyndon Johnson knew at least some of this was going on but decided to not go public with the knowledge, because he lacked absolute proof of Nixon’s direct involvement.

In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”

“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.

What might have been. More than 21,000 American troops died in Vietnam while Nixon was president.

Trump: On His Own

By now I’ve gone through most of my thoughts about why this election was lost, and it’s time to segue into being an anti-Trump activist. I just hope I live long enough to see the day when progressives win elections. First we’ll have to see the day when progressives are allowed to run in elections without being sandbagged by centrists. But let’s go on …

It’s pretty clear the Trump crew still doesn’t know what it’s gotten into, but for now he’s happily putting together the Cabinet From Hell. The Democrats sure as hell had better fight these appointments. But Chuck Schumer will be Senate minority leader, and there’s no way to know what Chuck might do. Let’s just say he has a rare talent for taking wrong turns.

But if there’s any indicator how clueless Trump is about what he’s in for, here it is

With Vice President-elect Mike Pence attending the show, the cast [of the Broadway hit Hamilton] used the opportunity to make a statement emphasizing the need for the new administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, a Republican, to work on behalf of all Americans.

It was a deeply felt and altogether rare appeal from the stage of a Broadway show — and it drew a surprisingly sharp rebuke from Mr. Trump on Saturday morning. The president-elect tweeted that the “Hamilton” cast had “harassed” Mr. Pence by making the statement and had been “very rude.”

Oh, my goodness, someone was rude to Mike Pence! Well, here is the statement that was read —

As the play ended, the actor who played Aaron Burr, Brandon Victor Dixon, acknowledged that Mr. Pence was in the audience, thanked him for attending and added, “We hope you will hear us out.”

“We, sir — we — are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” he said. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

The audience broke out in enthusiastic applause and cheers.

If there was ever a purer example of American citizens using their First Amendment rights to address their elected officials, that was it. It’s what the founding of the nation was about, right?

Of course, Mr. Trump has free speech, too, which he exercises through Twitter:

Bleepity bleepity bleep.

Pence had been booed by audience members, not by the cast, when he showed up at the theater. I say Pence is a guy who should be booed whenever he shows his face in public. I would have booed him, too.  But I also understand the cast of Hamilton discouraged booing and simply read the statement above.

I’ve since heard that there’s a right-wing call to boycott Hamilton. If only that would make tickets easier to get; I suspect it will not work, though. In New York City,  Hamilton is a lot more popular than Donald Trump.

But aren’t the right-wingers the same people eternally going on about how they value their freedoms? Seriously, I don’t think they know what the word freedom means.

It’s going to be a long four years, folks.

In Hamilton, after the surrender at Yorktown, King George sings:

Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise
Empires fall
It’s much harder when it’s all your call
All alone
Across the sea
When your people say they hate you
Don’t come crawling back to me

I understand the audience gave that a standing ovation last night. Heh.

The Winds of Change Are, Unfortunately, Blowing Over a Garbage Dump

Matt Taibbi:

The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne. After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings. Which brings us to this year’s Republican field.

There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.

There’s a lot of talk about whether the Republicans can survive. Clearly, it’s not on its deathbed yet. But reading more of Taibbi, I do wonder what it will survive as. Here he’s describing the Paul Ryan-led rally in Wisconsin from which Trump was dis-invited:

The party schism burst open in the middle of a speech by Wisconsin’s speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos. Vos is the Billy Mays of state budget hawks. He’s a mean-spirited little ball of energy who leaped onto the stage reminding the crowd that he wanted to eliminate the office of the treasurer to SAVE YOU MONEY!

Vos went on to brag about having wiped out tenure for University of Wisconsin professors, before dismounting with yet another superawkward Trumpless call for Republicans to turn out to vote.

“I have no doubt that with all of you standing behind us,” he shouted, “and with the fantastic record of achievement that we have, we’re going to go on to an even bigger and better victory than before!”

There was scattered applause, then someone from the crowd called out:

“You uninvited Donald Trump!”

Boos and catcalls, both for and against Vos and the Republicans. Most in the crowd were Trump supporters, but others were angry with Trump for perhaps saddling them with four years of Hillary Clinton. These camps now battled it out across the field. A competing chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” started on the opposite end of the stands, only to be met by chants from the pro-Trumpers.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Ryan, the last speaker, tried to cut the tension with a leaden joke about the “elephant in the room.” But he still refused to speak Trump’s name, or do more than refer the crowd to a written statement. He just smiled like it was all OK, and talked about what a beautiful day it was.

The threat of a Trump insurgency to the GOP might be mitigated if the GOP had even one strong, respected figurehead for the party to rally around. Alas, all they’ve got is Paul Ryan and John McCain.

My guess is that the Trump faithful might very well split off and form their own party, which in the U.S. is usually the first step toward political irrelevance. But if the worst of the whackjobs follow Trump into eventual oblivion, taking the red-meat-only base with them, it could allow the remaining Republican mainstream to move back toward the center again. Which would be a good thing, in the long run. Maybe they’ll even taken an interest in the governing thing.

But then you’ve got the Democratic Party, which also is being run by out-of-touch aristocrats. The Wikileaks emails show us that even Clinton’s campaign staff worried their candidate had no compelling reason to run.

The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters.

A month before Clinton launched her campaign, her aides worked to corral her well-known love for granular policy details into a message that would both capture her agenda and present a forward-looking, aspirational vision for her presidency.

Nearly a year later, a similar struggle cropped up as they attempted to revise her core campaign message.

“Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson. . . .

. . . .Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.

“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”

The electorate is roiling with a desire for change, and the Democratic nominee had no clue.

In our alarm and loathing of Donald Trump, we must not lose sight of how Hillary Clinton came to be the Democratic nominee.

The answer: we live in a moribund democracy, not a thriving one.  A conjunction of corporate political power and immense wealth is forcibly installing a president.  We haven’t confronted this before, either.  We will cast our ritual ballots in November, but not in a free election: the Democratic nominee was imposed upon us by the corporate and the wealthy.

That’s a strong charge, but as I’ve written in the past, that’s pretty much what happened. The Democratic Party itself made sure there was  no real contest. The Clinton nomination was a done deal long before the primaries even began. But why was it so important to her to run, given that she has no real central message or agenda other than “I am competent”? That’s the part that remains baffling to me. Personal ambition is the only answer I can think of, and that’s not a good answer. It wouldn’t be a good answer for a male candidate, either.

Anyway, in short, the Democratic Party itself doesn’t trust its voters to choose the “right” nominee. The GOP has the opposite problem; it lost all control of the nomination process. Neither development is healthy.

IMO the Dems are roughly in the same place the GOP came to be in the 1990s and 2000, when the party was able to dictate who the nominee would be, and got away with knocking down the competition without too much grumbling. The Powers That Be in the GOP obviously had settled on George W. Bush as the standard bearer shortly after Bob Dole’s defeat in 1996, and they spent the next four years skillfully puffing Dubya up. And during the primaries, you could practically see the RNC’s thumb on the scale to be sure Dubya was the one left standing. (And how did Bob Dole get to be the nominee? I can’t believe that was a popular choice.) Well, now it’s the DNC forcing the pre-ordained candidate on the rest of us.

Eventually, people do notice when they’re being used. I heard a talking head on MSNBC this morning say that about 40 percent of Americans don’t think the presidential election process is legitimate, and this sentiment is spread across the political spectrum. Distrusting the legitimacy of elections has been a problem for a while, though. Republicans tried their best to delegitimize Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, in part by blaming Ross Perot. They tried to delegitimize Barack Obama by claiming he only won because he was black — he was the cute novelty candidate, apparently.

Of course, in 2000 when George W. Bush was selected rather than elected, Democrats went along for the sake of tradition, or to keep Democracy alive, or something. That was a mistake.

Once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, the old myths and buzzwords lose their force. As much as I look forward to seeing the Great Orange Sleazebag have his ass handed to him on election night, I’m not kidding myself that Hillary Clinton will be the president we need right now. She might surprise me, but I don’t think she’s got it in her to surprise me. The best we can hope for is that she’ll not completely renege on trying to pass the Democratic platform.

Going back to the Republicans — I believe the party will survive, but the Trump insurgency will force it to change. The mob of Faux Nooz viewers and Rushbo dittoheads they have counted on to believe their bullshit and vote R will likely desert them for a long time, or at least a couple of election cycles. This might well force them to have to broaden their base, which means they will have to offer something besides hate. They might even have to start making sense. Radical, I know, but stranger things have happened.

But if Republicans change, Democrats will have to change also. They might have to stop being The Party That Isn’t as Awful as That Other Party and actually stand for something. Imagine.

Correct Remembrance

Well, it’s that anniversary again. Somehow I woke up today with the phrase “correct remembrance” in my head. This is taken from Buddhism. The Sanskrit term is samyak-smriti (in Pali, samma-sati), and it is often translated “right mindfulness.” But it could just as accurately be “correct remembrance.”

Mindfulness, of course, is trendy now. Popular mindfulness is all about being here now; staying in the present moment without getting lost in daydreams, worries or plans. And it is that.

But the Buddha also spoke of remembrance. Part of this is correctly remembering that none of us will escape sickness, old age, death and loss. It’s also the case that if you are mindfully attending to current events, you will remember them correctly. Otherwise, you won’t.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Memory is not like re-playing a video recording. Memories change over time. Sometimes what you think is your memory is something planted in your head that you heard from someone else. It really isn’t that uncommon for people to remember things that didn’t happen, or that didn’t happen the way they remember it.  (See Scientific American on this point.)

Today all kinds of people are “remembering” 9/11. Most were watching on television. The “truthers,” of course, remember all kinds of things that differ from what I saw with my own eyes. By now they’ve grown a whole mythology about 9/11 that has completely replaced any resemblance of verifiable fact, and they can’t be dissuaded from it.

But there’s also the blanket blaming of “religion.” I see memes on social media showing the twin towers with the words “imagine no religion.” But this is incorrect remembrance from people who never bothered to understand the roots of Middle East terrorism.

The 9/11 terrorists were hardly devout Muslims; it was recorded that several of them drank and liked to go nightclubbing. They were fanatics, yes, but not religious ones. Their core grievances had more to do with politics, with history, with western hegemony threatening their cultures, and probably with personal issues also. Religion was just the box they put their grievances in.

And, in a similar way, religion has become the  simplistic, one-size-fits-all scapegoat for violence in the world today. I’m not saying there is no connection at all, but if you study each situation in detail you find that the core issues, the real fanatical grievances that drive violent mass movements these days, are not religious issues. Religion is used to erect a facade of righteousness around the real sources of fanatical rage. It also can be used to absolve perpetrators (in their minds) of blame for what are really acts of depravity and hate.

The truth is, if religion disappeared tomorrow, people would just find other boxes. If the 20th century should have taught us anything, it’s that violent and fanatical mass movements can be formed around politics, nationalism, and ethnic identity. Religion isn’t necessary. Of course, it is regrettable that religion doesn’t seem to help, either, except on an individual level.

By now we’re way past correct remembrance of 9/11. As soon as it happened, people were putting the events through their own conceptual filters, which is way not mindful. By now hardly anybody remembers 9/11. What we recall are our ideas about 9/11. Not the same thing.

Abraham Lincoln Was Not a Third Party Candidate

I keep seeing a really stupid meme showing Abraham Lincoln’s face with the words, “In 1860 I was third party. Was your vote wasted?” Obviously, this is meant to encourage people to vote for fringe candidates Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. It’s also the kind of derp that comes from people not being taught history.

In the 1860 elections, the Republicans not only took the White House; they also won a majority of seats in both the Senate and the House. That’s a third party?

Yes, the Republican Party was relatively new, but it was never really a “third” party. Here’s the history:

Let’s go back to 1850. We aleady were locked into a two-party system, and the two major parties were the Democrats and the Whigs.

The Whig party imploded in 1854 over the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery Whigs mostly joined the Democrats. Anti-slavery Whigs and some other factions met later that year to form the beginning of the Republican Party.

In the 1856 elections the Republicans won 90 out of 237 seats in the U.S. House, and they held 15 seats in the Senate, so the Republican Party very quickly took the place of the defunct Whigs to become one of the two major parties. It was never really a “third” party.

In 1860, the Republicans nominated Lincoln and the Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas. But Democrats in slave states were pissed off at Douglas for supporting the statehood of Kansas as a non-slave state, so the southern Democrats met separately to nominate John Breckinridge. The Democratic Party split in half, in other words. And finally there was a party of “third way” types who were anti-secession but didn’t take a position on slavery; this was the Constitutional Union party, which nominated John Bell. There were some other parties in the running but they didn’t win any electoral votes.

Historians today consider Breckinridge and Bell to be the “third party” candidates in that election, and Lincoln and Douglas were the major party candidates. Any freshman-level American history textbook would tell you this.

With the votes split four ways, Lincoln won 39.8 percent of the popular vote and 180 out of 303 electoral college votes, which at the time was enough to give him the victory without it going to the House. Douglas came in second in the popular vote but fourth in the electoral college.

Once again, in 1860 the Republicans also won the majority of seats in both the House and Senate, which is one of the things that triggered the secession crisis. In 1860, the GOP wasn’t just one of the two major parties; it was the dominant party.

On the other hand, a party that’s been around for many years but has never elected anyone to Congress and is (currently) running at about 4 percent in national presidential polls — yeah, I’m talking about the Greens — really is a third party and in no way, shape or form is in the same position as the Republicans in 1860. I hope that’s clear.

Yes, this record shows us a new party becoming very successful, but note that the Whig Party had to die first. As long as the two major parties we have now are both intact, third parties are not likely to achieve the same success.

Update: For some of you not catching on — We’re locked into a two-party system because of the way we hold elections. Our political system supports only two major parties at a time, period, especially at the national level. This article explains why that is pretty well, and also explains why it would probably require amending the Constitution before third parties can become viable. People have been trying to establish successful third parties since the 1830s, and not one has lasted very long. See also a blog post I wrote about this awhile back.

So you started off with the Whigs and Democrats; the Whigs fell apart, and a portion of the Whigs re-formed into the Republicans, while most of the rest of the Whigs joined the Democrats. The Republican Party was basically an update of the Whig Party. Because of those circumstances, the Republicans were able to step into the niche formerly occupied by the Whigs and become one of the two major parties fairly quickly. Most of the guys elected in 1860, including Lincoln himself, were well known to the public as former Whigs.

History Challenge: Who Was the Most Qualified Presidential Candidate EVER?

I’m not asking who was the best POTUS, mind you. Just which candidate for the office had the most impressive resume. He wouldn’t have had to be elected, even.

I ask because of this exchange on Facebook, which I repeat here word for word.

Some Guy: Have you been listening to the media know-nothing pundits and Hillary Clinton detractors critical of her foreign policy speech, denouncing her lecture as more of an attack on Con man Trump’s total lack of any qualifications to be President.

Well, Any sane person would know she is correct, Trump is not even fit to visit the White House much less live there.

Hillary was outstanding and proved without any doubt that she is indeed the best qualified person to ever seek the Presidency.

Me://the best qualified person to ever seek the Presidency.// EVER seek the Presidency? (No sir, no cult of personality here, sir.) Seriously, her qualifications beat Trump’s by several miles, although you could say the same thing about an order of french fries. But best qualified person EVER? Don’t you think that claim is a tad overboard?

Another Person: No – her education and experience make her the best qualified candidate in history. That’s resume – not personal, partisan opinion.

Some Guy: Barbara, Who would you say was better qualified than Hillary and why????

Me: Just as an example, there was another POTUS who was a U.S. senator from New York and who was re-elected, but then resigned before the second term ended to become governor of New York. He also served as Secretary of State, and achieved some notable diplomatic successes. He also served a term as Vice President of the United States before being elected President. I’d say that guy was qualified up the wazoo. And that guy was Martin van Buren, one of our more mediocre presidents.

Some Guy: Okay, So what was his record for service to the community before he went into public office, anything close to Hillary’s involvement.

Me: Having beat the socks off you in the resume department already — he was an attorney with an active law practice in his early career, and then worked his way up in local and state politics before running for the U.S. senate. He was a “surrogate” or probate court attorney, then New York State attorney general, then a New York state senator. Clinton’s resume can’t hold a candle to this guy’s. But they didn’t do “community service” in the early 19th century.

Another Person: how does a mediocre president beat a candidate was on the editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action?

Worked on Senator Walter Mondale’s subcommittee researching migrant labor?

Was a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law?

Is a former civil litigation attorney?

Served as the director of the Legal Aid Clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law?

Was the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation which helps ensure everyone has equal access to justice under the law, despite inability afford it?

And first female partner at Rose Law Firm.

Co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families?

Was named twice as one of the hundred most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal?

(Btw – such an honor is rarely bestowed upon criminals or incompetents. Just sayin.)

That her entire career has been spent as a strong advocate for families and solid track record includes leading a task force that reformed Arkansas’s education system as First Lady of Arkansas?

That – as FLOTUS – she was instrumental in the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and the Foster Care Independence Act?

Or who – with her husband – has spent the years since she was FLOTUS – establishing the Clinton Foundation – a non profit whose mission is to help the poor and disadvantaged around the world realize their potential and build better lives.

They also work to improve global health, reduce preventable diseases, create economic opportunity and growth, help communities deal with the impact of climate change – and to increase opportunity for women and girls.

The Clinton Foundation is recognized and highly respected around the world and here in the US – even – grudgingly – by the GOTP -as a tireless and powerful advocate for the vulnerable.

It receives donations from


Bill and Melinda Gates

The Rockefeller Foundation

The Coca Cola Company

The Elton John Aids Foundation

Anheuser Busch

Hewlett Packard

The Kingdom of Norway

The Commonwealth of Australia

The Government of The Netherlands

The Government of Sweden

To name just a few…

Or who – as Secretary of State – has a solid track record in international relations and policy?

Played a key role in finding and taking down Bin Laden – and authored the agreement that brought the Iranians to the negotiating table for the deal that the entire P5+1 endorsed, along with most of the rest of the world?

Or who is respected and admired around the world – as this illustrates:

Don’t like her policies? Fine.

But anyone running around snarking about not trusting her, claiming she’s a RHINO – after 20+ years of being the target of relentless, hateful Republican bs – is either not paying attention or too dumb to vote.

Name ANYONE else – in EITHER party – with a resume even close to hers.

Just ONE.

Take all the time you need.

Me: Pad it all you like — and most of that is padding, especially the stuff about the Clinton Foundation — but Martin Van Buren’s resume at the time he became POTUS was a hell of a lot more impressive than Clinton’s. And his record as Secretary of State is a lot better, I’d say. No coup in Honduras, no stupid intervention in Libya. He did some good stuff that helped folks gain peace and prosperity. I assume you can google and find that for yourself. However, the Yale Law Review didn’t exist until after he died, and like most attorneys of his time he became an attorney through self-study and apprenticeship. It was a different world.

And my point, of course, is that while Van Buren’s resume was outstanding, he was a very middle-of-the-road POTUS who served only one term. And that was just one guy I picked at random.

Some Guy: Barbara, You just cited his professional record, good, but was he opposed to slavery, did he reach out to women, children, the middle-class and the poor or was he just another white male President who ignored the great sin of slavery and just went along to get along. Now, to me, any one who turned his/her back on human slavery can do no good, but you have a right to your heroes.

Me: I already said he was a mediocre POTUS. And he’s no hero of mine. I am just pointing out that, on paper, his resume at the time he became POTUS was simply outstanding. Successful lawyer, state senator, state attorney general, state governor, U.S. senator, U.S. secretary of state (and a pretty good one), vice president of the United States. Those are just the high points; there are some other jobs/appointments he had here and there as well. His political views, some of which which I consider fairly awful, are beside the point. We’re just talking qualifications — as (Another Person) said, “That’s resume – not personal, partisan opinion.”

The fact is, if you take the time to go back and look a the details of his many offices held and what he did in them, van Buren really did have an astonishing record of accomplishments before becoming one of the most average presidents in U.S. history.  (See his Wikipedia page)

Now, if you’re talking about a guy with a sterling background in doing charitable acitivism stuff, Herbert Hoover is your man. He was internationally known for his humanitarian relief efforts.  A great many other presidents have had amazing records of accomplishment before they became POTUS, which is sorta kinda how you become POTUS.  I’d have a hard time finding someone who was a total deadbeat and became POTUS, actually.

As I’ve said  before, this is cult of personality stuff. It’s not “normal.”

Update: Thinking about it, Abraham Lincoln’s resume wasn’t that great. He’d been a lawyer and U.S. Representative. He’d been a militia captain in the Black Hawk Wars and said later most of the action he saw involved swatting mosquitoes. He got noticed because of his debates and speeches more than anything else. The guy was a slacker.

The “Neos”: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism

As long as we’re defining terms — see Liberal, Neoliberal and Progressive: What Words Mean — here’s a really interesting article by Corey Robin called “When Neoliberalism Was Young: A Lookback on Clintonism before Clinton.”

Now, neoliberalism, of course, can mean a great many things, many of them associated with the right. But one of its meanings—arguably, in the United States, the most historically accurate—is the name that a small group of journalists, intellectuals, and politicians on the left gave to themselves in the late 1970s in order to register their distance from the traditional liberalism of the New Deal and the Great Society. The original neoliberals included, among others, Michael Kinsley, Charles Peters, James Fallows, Nicholas Lemann, Bill Bradley, Bruce Babbitt, Gary Hart, and Paul Tsongas. Sometimes called “Atari Democrats,” these were the men—and they were almost all men—who helped to remake American liberalism into neoliberalism, culminating in the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.

I confess I don’t remember hearing the term “neoliberal” before the Clinton era. This is from “A Neoliberal’s Manifesto” by Charles Peters, published in Washington Monthly, May 1983:

We still believe in liberty and justice for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative.

Third Way, anyone? I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that Peters and his Manifesto are called out in Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal. And not in a good way.

Robin continues,

In the hands of neoliberalism, it became fashionable to pit the interests of the poor not against the power of the wealthy but against the working class that had been made into a middle class by America’s unions. (We still see that kind of talk among today’s Democrats, particularly in debates around free trade, where it is always the unionized worker—never the well paid journalist or economist or corporate CEO—who is expected to make sacrifices on behalf of the global poor. Or among Hillary Clinton supporters, who leverage the interests of African American voters against the interests of white working-class voters, but never against the interests of capital.)

What comes through clearly in Robin’s piece, and also in this 2006 interview of Charles Peters by Ezra Klein (reading between the lines, anyway) is that the main thrust of neoliberalism was and is to throw the working class under the bus in favor of investors and entrepreneurs. The original neoliberals were, above all, anti-union, especially public sector unions. Weirdly, they seemed to think that union members had become too advantaged and were somehow hurting people on the lower rungs of the ladder. But then they also turned around and wanted Social Security to be means tested.

It’s difficult to make sense of what truly drives this contradiction, whereby one liberalism is criticized for supporting only one segment of the population while another liberalism is criticized for supporting all segments, including the poor.

It could be as simple as the belief that government should work on behalf of only the truly disadvantaged, leaving everyone else to the hands of the market. That that turned out to be a disaster for the truly disadvantaged—with no one besides themselves to speak up on behalf of anti-poverty programs, those programs proved all too easy to eliminate, not by a Republican but by a Democrat—seems not to have much troubled the sleep of neoliberalism. Indeed, in the current election, it is Hillary Clinton’s support for the 1994 crime bill rather than the 1996 welfare reform bill that has gotten the most attention, even though she proudly stated in her memoir that she not only supported the 1996 bill but rounded up votes for it.

The neoliberals were and are devoted to an ideal of pragmatism:

Note the disavowal of all conventional ideologies and beliefs, the affirmation of an open-minded pragmatism guided solely by a bracing commitment to what works. It’s a leitmotif of the entire manifesto: Everyone else is blinded by their emotional attachments to the ideas of the past. We, the heroic few, are willing to look upon reality as it is, to take up solutions from any side of the political spectrum, to disavow anything that smacks of ideological rigidity or partisan tribalism.

That Peters wound up embracing solutions in the piece that put him comfortably within the camp of GOP conservatism (he even makes a sop to school prayer) never seemed to disturb his serenity as a self-identified iconoclast. That was part of the neoliberal esprit de corps: a self-styled philosophical promiscuity married to a fairly conventional ideological fidelity.

Robin also discusses another self-identified neoliberal, Marty Peretz, who for many years was owner of The New Republic, another allegedly liberal publication. Robin points out that Peretz’s positions often seemed to be plucked from the Republican Party platform, including his adamant Zionism. Which allows us a nice segue into the other neos, the neoconservatives.

A little appreciated fact about neoconservatives is that the founders of the movement were mostly liberals and Democrats. Yes, liberals and Democrats. New Deal, Cold War Democrats. I understand a few of them were even ex-Trotskyites.

Neoconservatism began in the 1960s and 1970s in part as a reaction to the New Left, particularly the Marxist and antiwar factions of the New Left and the candidacy of George McGovern in 1972. They also opposed Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs even though they were supportive of the older New Deal programs.

Make of that what you will.

The core membership of the original neoconservatives were a group of Jewish intellectuals who worried the U.S. would grow weak on defense, particularly against the threat of Communism. This was not atypical of Cold War liberals. One not-Jewish founding neocon was Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, something of a prototype of the Cold War Democrat. He was a good New Dealer and supporter of unions, civil rights and social welfare programs. He was also pro-military buildup and was a big promoter of military action against Communism, such as the Vietnam War. A number of neocons have cited Scoop Jackson as an influence. These include two of  his former Senate aides, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. (See also Andrew O’Hehir’s comparison of Scoop Jackson and Hillary Clinton.)

By the 1980s, most neocons had become Republicans, inspired by the tall-in-the-saddle rhetoric of Ronald Reagan.  And as the threat of Global Communist Domination faded away, the neocons came to be obsessed with the threat of Global Islamic Domination, or something.

How do we define “neoconservative” now? I like this discussion by Jack Hunter in The American Conservative.

The “neocons” believe American greatness is measured by our willingness to be a great power—through vast and virtually unlimited global military involvement. Other nations’ problems invariably become our own because history and fate have designated America the world’s top authority.

Critics say the US cannot afford to be the world’s policeman. Neoconservatives not only say that we can but we must—and that we will cease to be America if we don’t. Writes Boston Globe neoconservative columnist Jeff Jacoby: “Our world needs a policeman. And whether most Americans like it or not, only their indispensable nation is fit for the job.” Neocon intellectual Max Boot says explicitly that the US should be the world’s policeman because we are the best policeman.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) heartily champions the neoconservative view. While virtually every other recognizably Tea Party congressman or senator opposes the Libyan intervention, Rubio believes the world’s top cop should be flashing its Sherriff’s badge more forcefully in Libya—and everywhere else. …

… Rubio’s flowery rhetoric is worth noting because neoconservatism has always been sold through the narrative of America’s “greatness” or “exceptionalism.” This is essentially the Republican Party’s version of the old liberal notion promoted by President Woodrow Wilson that it is America’s mission to “make the world safe for democracy.”

If you think about it, this really is an extension of older, pre-Vietnam liberal ideas about foreign policy. It goes back to the great Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted to make the U.S. a great global power and increase its influence and prestige in the world. It goes back to Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership in World War II. You could argue it has ties to the Truman Doctrine and John F. Kennedy’s attempts to push back Communism.

You could also argue that in neoconservatism the American exceptionalism thing has morphed, or maybe metastasized, into a caricature of itself. Instead of coming from a place of noble intentions, in the neocons it comes from a place of bigotry and fear. I’ve argued in the past that neoconservatism is pro-active isolationism, attempting to use force to spread American hegemony so the world won’t be so scary and foreign. This is nothing like the Roosevelts, or Truman, or JFK. But you could see how those earlier liberal presidents might have inspired it.

If, in the end, it sometimes seems the neolibs and the neocons are as much alike as different, it’s because they are both weeds that grew out of the same pot. so to speak. They both originated on the Left or Center-Left. Both movements were reacting to events in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Both movements moved right and either adapted Republican ideas while remaining in the Democratic Party (the neolibs) or else they just flat-out became Republicans (the neocons).

Somewhere in his seminal work The Vital Center, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr argued that political ideologies shouldn’t be thought of as just lying along one axle, from left to right. It’s more like a circle. Taken to extremes, extreme Left and extreme Right meet each other and end up in totalitarianism.  Similarly, I say that neoconservatism and neoliberalism are not at all polar opposites, but rather like two sides of the same coin. They aren’t identical, but neither are they all that different, and it’s not at all impossible for the same politician to be some of both.