The Most Liberal President Is . . .

24 September 2011

Deciding who is liberal and who is conservative depends on how big of a historical view we take.   A politician we call a liberal in today’s climate  may have been placed in a whole different category two generations ago.  That is because the perception of where political center lies changes over time.  One must consider not only the policies of the political figure being judged, but also the time in which he lives.

 

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Think of a politician and his times using an instrument gauge, not too different from the fuel gauge on every overalls-wearer’s pickup.  The politics gauge has a needle that swings left if a politician is liberal, and right if a politician is conservative.  There is an L on the left for “liberal”, an M in the middle for “moderate” and a C on the right for conservative.  The gauge has one additional feature not found in our pickups that gives the historical perspective.  The whole metered range where the letters L, M and C are printed rotates to the left or to the right depending on whether the politician is operating in liberal or conservative times.

 

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Equipped with our fancy dual-meter gauge we can take the historical rather than the contemporary view in judging a politician’s real position in the liberal/conservative continuum.  Who was really the most liberal president of the post WWII era?  It is not Barak Obama,  Bill Clinton nor Jimmy Carter.  The surprising answer is… wait for it… wait for it …. Richard M. Nixon.  Nine people out of ten will say that Nixon was  conservative, and they will be correct in the contemporary perspective of Nixon’s era.  However, in the larger historical perspective Nixon was a liberal.  In the contemporary perspective of our times, Nixon was an extreme liberal.

 

 

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Nixon was a self-proclaimed Keynesian. Keynesian economics is a liberal theory that sees one person’s spending as another person’s income. When the other person spends his income, it becomes yet another person’s income.  It is a circle that keeps going on and on in a healthy economy.  When something like a recession or a depression breaks the spending/income circle, the government should “prime the pump” to get it all circulating again. Since poorer people spend more of their money  than richer people, the priming should favor the poorer people to have the greatest effect on the overall economy. Conservatives today renounce Keynesian theory as a radical redistribution of wealth.  Nixon put his Keynesian views into practise with his Full Employment budget, which was designed to reduce the jobless rate through deficit spending.  To curb inflation, his New Economic Policy of 1971 used the government’s power to freeze prices in a move that would strike many today as command economics straight out of Karl Marx.

Nixon had the distinctly liberal quality that he was  an environmentalist.  He created the EPA which to this day regulates the levels at which American industries can pollute the environment. He passed the nation’s first motor vehicle emissions laws in the Clean Air Act of 1970.  And if you want to talk about social engineering,  Nixon invented affirmative action with the 1969 Philadelphia Plan that required government contractors to desegregate their workplaces according to government goals and timetables.  Working with Senator Kennedy, Nixon tried to put into place a health care law that included a public option that would have provided free health insurance to low-income families.

And they call Barak Obama a liberal.  Nixon dreamed bigger liberal dreams and accomplished bigger liberal goals, all the while the spirit of his times labeling him a staunch conservative.  Using the historical perspective, we see Obama as a moderate centrist,  not the socialist liberal that he is called in the rhetoric of a Tea Party that would drag this nation so far to the right it would break our fancy new meter.

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Class Warfare – Really?

Frank Bedal

Guest Columnist

 

In response to President Obama’s proposal to pay for the American Jobs Act by ending the Bush-era tax loopholes on the very richest Americans,  Congressman Paul Ryan (R – WI) has raised  the fearsome specter of  class warfare.

Oh, really?

 

There you go again, Mr. Ryan. “Class warfare” is a curious charge coming from a leader of the party that has for 20 years done everything in its power to attack the interests of ordinary, overalls-wearing working folks and to give as much of the American pie as possible to the very wealthy.    And how ironic, to warn against a redistribution of wealth while representing the party that has engineered a radical and decades-long redistribution from the bottom to the top.  What interests, may I ask, reward your extravagant devotion to you own redirection of  American wealth?


On my own political journey, I have always borne in mind that most  leaders on the other side, even if they disagreed with me, were fine and decent folks of good moral standing who wanted nothing but to foster American greatness and to make this a better world.  At some point, however, the goal of maintaining power became more important than improving life for ordinary Americans.  Ideology has become a bludgeon used against the other side’s ideas.  Republicans have raised “taking up a contrary position” to a level that even John Cleese could hardly lampoon.

 


This is the real world.  “The American people” is not some abstract rhetorical devise, it is us; we who get up and go to work every day, sometimes frustrated, sometimes tired, sometimes worried, but always proud.  In pursue our our humble dreams and to fulfill our roles as providers, we take bus, subway and jalopie to our jobs.  Somehow, working with people we disagree with or may not even  like, we get work done. We accomplish productive and tangible things.  You, Mr. Ryan, go to work to  fundamentally alter the structure of government and society in a way that is far more profound and frightening than your rhetoric implies.
Class warfare, Mr. Ryan?  Perhaps.  But you guys started it.  So bring it on, rich boy.

 


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Oats for the Rich, Manure for the Working Class

18 September 2011

President Obama’s American Jobs Act has put his opponents in tight spot. In broad outline, the president’s bill gives payroll tax breaks to families and to businesses that hire the unemployed.  In addition, it increases investment in repairing an aged American infrastructure that is among the worst in the industrialized world. The bill calls for no additional debt spending that would increase the deficit.  Obama’s opponents are finding it is a delicate matter to oppose the bill because they have long  championed tax cuts as the best way to create jobs.  Moreover, it is practically impossible to argue that our crumbling roads and bridges don’t need to be fixed.

 

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Where the Republicans are looking for traction in opposing Obama’s plan is in how he wants to pay for it.  Obama would end tax loopholes for the extremely wealthy. Asking the rich to contribute would harm the economy, Republicans say, because the rich would have less incentive to invest.   As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, ” I hope that the president is not suggesting that we pay for his proposals with a massive tax increase at the end of 2012 on job creators.”  Economist J.K. Galbraith summed up their thinking this way:  “The poor do not work because they have too much income; the rich do not work because they do not have enough income. You expand and revitalize the economy by giving the poor less, the rich more.”  It is the central idea behind a theory called supply side economics, trickle down economics, or Reaganomics.

 

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Supply side economics is nothing new.  Back in the late 19th century it was called the “horse-and-sparrow theory”.  It was a colorful metaphor that represented regular folks as sparrows and rich folks as horses.  If you really want the be kind to the sparrows, you shouldn’t feed them.  Rather, you should increase the horses’ rations.  The more oats you feed to the hoses, the more oats will pass through their intestines undigested for the sparrows to find in the road.

Is there hope that the President’s opponents will  pass Obama’s American Jobs Bill?  Perhaps.  They must be thinking how grim their 2012 election prospects would appear with bumper stickers reading  “let the poor and the middle class eat shit.”

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16 September 2011

Overalls Nation had planned to present an article by a guest author today featuring a gripping investigation of how  Supreme Court rulings in recent decades have effected  American overalls wearers specifically and American greatness in general.  However, due to a freak incident involving an angry colony of  ants,  an ice cream truck’s collision with a surface sewer line,  a cat with its tail ablaze and a overfilled water pipe left too close to the author’s keyboard, the precise causal relationship between all of which can only be understood in terms of quantum uncertainty, the article will be temporarily delayed.

 

While our gentle readers may (or may not) be shocked and dismayed, no article will appear today.  Instead, Overalls Nation wishes to thank you for what has been a fabulously successful inaugural month.  Over the past few days we have received an average of 312 visitors per day.  So let us relax our analytical powers this once, and simply reflect on the American greatness so well displayed in these pictures of girls wearing overalls.  Enjoy.

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Who Needs Government, Anyway?

14 September 2011

How often we hear statements like these in today’s political debate:  “Government can’t create jobs. It is not the role of government to decide how we spend our money. Churches, not government, should assist the needy. Government regulation is destroying America. Get the government out of our schools.”   If government seems as bad as all this, it would be good to be sure we understand what government is at its most basic level. What exactly is government?

 

Government is how people are organized on the largest scale to get things done. The exact way in which people are organized and for what purpose they are organized determines the type of government they have. In an authoritarian government, rulers command the people as they see fit to pursue goals that they choose. In contrast, a democratic government performs collective action by consent of the people to forward a common purpose. In both types, the essential principle is the same: government is the largest social structure that works to get things done.

This definition of government holds true in whatever kind of society or in whatever era of history you happen to live. If you find yourself in a great modern nation like America with all of its bureaucratic agencies, that is the government. If you live in a neolithic tribe ruled by a council of elders, that is the government. If you live in an old stone-age family group of hunter-gatherers that is commanded by a patriarch, that is the government. Understanding government in this light, you see that if you opposed government per se you would be against all forms of human organization. For if you abolish the largest social organizing principle, the next one down in the hierarchy becomes the government. Tear down each successively smaller organizing principle until all social organization is gone, and you will have reached a true state of anarchy – no government and no collective achievements. It’s every man for himself.

 

As radical as such an absolutist, anti-government position seems under analysis, it has become  popular in recent decades to condemn government as a monster on our backs. Grover Norquist, the political strategist who demands signed pledges from every right-leaning politician, says that he wants to reduce government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Ronald Reagan, capitalizing on the anti-establishment zeitgeist of the 60s and 70s, said “government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” Notice that he did not say the government is the problem, as if there were something about a specific government that might be fixed. Rather, it was a general condemnation of the very fact of government as the source of our social ills. Whether this was sloppy rhetoric, careless hyperbole or his honest belief, President Reagan ushered in a populist era in which it is beleved that there is nothing government can do well, and that there is no role that shouldn’t be taken away from government.

 

 

The implicit anarchy of Norquist and Reagan does not survive five minutes of rational thought. Without government we cease to have a society and we return to the nasty, brutish and short lives of our earliest primate ancestors. No veneer of civilization stops you and me from killing each other over who gets the banana. Certainly there would be no overalls, because nothing would prevent a competitor from bombing our overalls factory. But even if you adopt a softer anti-government position that says there shouldn’t be a federal government, you still get a very grim result. There could be no large scale commerce because there is no Interstate Highway system for distributing products. We would never have landed on the moon or taken glorious pictures of the cosmos with the Hubble space telescope. There would be no Hoover Dam preventing the periodic and disastrous flooding of the Colorado River. There would be no Civil Rights laws that prevent enslavement or other crimes against the natural freedoms of men.

In our present economic catastrophe, reasonable and well-intended people are today suggesting government measures that will organize our national efforts to employ the idle and fix what’s broken. That’s what government is for. Those against such measures easily slip into anti-government purism, repeating the same old tired, unthinking bromides unworthy of utterance by overalls-wearing Americans who understand that greatness requires cooperation and teamwork. The government is not necessarily a monster on your back, it can be a friend on your side.





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Social Darwinism: The Unspoken Ethos

12 September 2011

J.P. Morgan once said that a person has two reasons for what he believes: the good reason and the real reason. That seems especially true of those who want to defeat the administration’s jobs plan. They have a good reason for thinking it’s a bad idea to put millions to work and to fund it by ending the Bush era tax cuts for those whose income exceeds a quarter million a year. If we tax the rich, they say, the riches won’t flow down to the rest of us. Only by favoring the wealthy with subsidies and tax policies will we all enjoy the benefits of a thriving economy. That’s called supply side economics, and we know it’s the good reason, not the real reason, because it has never worked as advertised.

 

 

 

The real reason that some want the government to favor wealth and power with special privileges is social Darwinism. This secretive doctrine went underground in the early to mid 20th century, and very few political figures openly espouse it today. The idea is this: Evolution works by natural selection. The weak and poorly adapted die off and leave fewer offspring. The strong and well adapted survive and breed to the betterment of the species. And while Mr. Darwin himself thought this was an idea best limited to biology, some 19th century thinkers thought it made a great social model as well.

 

 

 

 

The philosopher Herbert Spencer laid down the basic tenets of social Darwinism. Life is an existential struggle in which there are winners and losers. It is morally incorrect, says Spencer, to assist the losers. Why drain resources away from the strong to support the weak? To have compassion on a person weaker than yourself promotes the survival of someone who is fundamentally unfit. No, better for the long term health of society to give to the strong and to allow the weak and the unfit to fail and die.

 

 

 

Social Darwinists have much in common with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who taught that Christianity, with it’s ethics of compassion and pity, is essentially a morality to appease slaves. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” is a dangerous idea, says Nietzsche, because it threatens the ultimate emergence of true social greatness as embodied by the new Superman whose might will define right. An admirer of Nietzsche named Adolf Hitler put these guiding principles to the ultimate test in the 1930s. It didn’t work out too well for the Germans, and after that hardly anyone openly embraced social Darwinism.

One current Presidential candidate, Rick Perry, wrote just last year that Social Security does violence to American morals. It is a sentiment shared by many on his side of the political continuum, an ethic that finds it wrong for the government to collect taxes to take care of the elderly or the sick or to create jobs. When such an ethic is encountered in political debate, it would be well to ask whether it comes of a desire to help the disadvantaged to live or to help the disadvantaged to die. Anyone worthy of their overalls knows that compassion, pity and kindness are virtues essential to American greatness.

 

 

 

 

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Wedgies

8 September 2011

On Labor Day, President Obama told cheering union workers that now is the time to put the nation’s idle hands to work repairing American highways. Obama receiving applause from labor is an image his opponents can’t stand. It’s just one more example, they say, of how this Socialist-leaning president panders to his union cronies. Cronies – there’s a word that conjures up a fraternity of sinister bedfellows hatching nefarious plots to cheat and abuse the innocent. And maybe Obama’s opponents really do believe their own mythology. But the truth of the matter is, that’s really not what’s bothering them.

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The impulse that drives these labor opponents comes from way, way in the back of their minds. They’ll hardly acknowledge the thought to themselves and they’ll never say it out loud, but they don’t like working people. Union members who drive trucks, repair airliners, fit pipes, wire circuits, clean office buildings and pick broccoli just aren’t the kind of folks these labor opponents prefer. Maybe it’s because they suffered too many wedgies in junior high at the hands of the shop jocks. For whatever reason, they’re much more comfortable in the company of hedge fund managers, bank CEOs, investment house executives and market speculators – people who never, ever wear overalls on the golf course or at a power lunch, and who probably didn’t excel in shop, either.

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Opponents of labor aren’t satisfied to just avoid the working stiffs they don’t like – they express their aversion to labor in the policies they advance. They believe that truck drivers, iron workers, pipe fitters, electricians and janitors make too much money, have too many benefits and generally have things too easy. They spend their political careers making things tougher on working Americans while they enrich their own kind of folks, the folks who really matter, the playboys of high finance.

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Labor, with the dirty overalls she wears, is the wellspring from which American greatness arises. Those who proudly weld, rivet, repair and haul this nation are denigrated as “cronies” by people who love American greatness less than they love opulent portfolios. If American greatness is a drag on their opulent portfolios, then too bad for American greatness.

 

 

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