Tag Archives: New Deal

The Original Construction and Intent

13 Nov

According to Webster,  conservative can be defined as: tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : traditional

I start with that definition because a few political colleagues have (gently) called me out for flipping back and forth between using the terms “conservative” and “right wing” to describe the faction of the right wing led by Republican, pro-corporate, anti-regulation, small government elites. They point to this faction’s participation in fomenting a backlash against civil rights laws and attacks on Roe v. Wade as indications that they’re radicals, not conservative; not “disposed to maintain[ing] existing views.”

I concede that point and will avoid helping the right build their own brand. But the way I came to “conservative” as a label, while a little esoteric to most folks in the public, is worth consideration.

Movements, both on the right and the left, serve as compass readings on culture and politics in America. When they form, movements may lean in one direction or another, but how we determine which way they are headed is based on our understanding of the truth North of American politics and society. That true North is rooted in history and, political speaking at least, begins with the original construction and intent of the founders when they created the Constitution. That’s what I mean when I use the term conservative.

If the phrase “original construction and intent of the founders” sounds familiar, it may well be you heard it during the GOP presidential primary debates. Perhaps more than any other candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (click here for capsule account of her belief system) used that phrase to signal her status as an unreconstructed conservative. To her evangelical base, the “original construction and intent” is to politics what the Ichthys motif (the fish sign) is to car bumpers. One look (or listen in this case) and you know, she’s one of them.

That original construction and intent lays out “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but as a privilege, not a right. To right wingers, that privilege is earned by exhibiting certain characteristics, whether it’s adherence to a bigoted moral code or the health of one’s finances. That makes them not unlike the founders (who used race, economic status, and gender to determine who got full rights of citizenship), at least in values and belief if not in the specific groups to be excluded.

So, if you think of the New Deal, Roe v. Wade, and the Voting Rights Act as the true North of American contemporary politics then, yes, these pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation (including regulation against discrimination) types are radicals. But, if you put the current political positions of the Republican elite in a broad historical context, they are, complete with their bigotry and small government ethos, true conservatives.

Follow The Money: Racism and the Fundraising Congress

30 Apr

I believe that where there is a political problem in America, you can usually trace that problem to racism. Wanna try me? How about the corrupting influence of money in politics? It means corporations control Congress, right? And because there’s so much money in politics, getting into Congress nowadays is often not much more than a job interview for a lucrative future gig as a lobbyist for big business. Representatives don’t even want to govern. They just want to win big for their potential future employers. And in 2008, when an unregulated, out of control financial sector crashed our economy, all that political money and greed played a huge role.

But what does this have to do with race?  Bear with me a minute and read on.

In Republic Lost, Harvard Law Prof Lawrence Lessig tells an interesting story.  From 1933 to 1995, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. In the early part of those years, Democrats gave us the New Deal. They also gave us Social Security, among a host of other programs, the legacies of which we mostly take for granted. Meanwhile, Republicans were the minority party of the rich. They played a powerful role, but mainly as a counter-weight to Democratic liberalism.

But then came President Johnson. He sacrificed himself politically to the project of getting the Democratic Party behind Civil Rights. This started a racist backlash among a key demographic in the Democratic base – white Southerners. To racially conservative white Southern Democrats, many of whose ancestors turned Democrat because Lincoln the “liberator” was a Republican, Civil Rights was a deal breaker.

Evidence that racism could get culturally conservative white Southerners to switch parties gave wealthy corporate interests hope that the GOP might once again become the majority party, even after screwing things up so royally leading up to the Great Crash of 1929. They began investing unprecedented millions into political campaigns aimed at turning economically liberal but racially conservative white Southern Democrats into Republicans.

By 1995, Republicans took the House. Along the way, millions more were invested in eliminating campaign finance restrictions and deregulating corporations. In order to be competitive, Democrats jumped into the money game as well. Once both sides were bought, important regulations on the financial sector like the Glass-Steagall Act, intended to never again allow something like the market crash of 1929 to recur, were repealed (under Bill Clinton, BTW).

To give you some sense of the scale of the change, in 1974, the total of all Congressional campaign expenditures was $77 million. By 2010, it was $1.8 billion.  Between 1995 and 2010, control of Congress changed as many times as it had in the previous 45 years.  During this period, what Lessig refers to as “the fundraising Congress,” was born, wherein leadership is determined by one’s ability to raise campaign cash.

Racism was the fissure in the Democratic coalition that led Republicans to hope that they could rule again, and racist messaging was the wedge Republicans used to turn that fissure into a divide so wide it would split the Democratic coalition that led the U.S. out of the Great Depression. This split caused elites to view conservative campaign contributions as potentially lucrative investments. The success of those investments is what positioned them to deregulate finance, and lack of regulation and oversight is what, in large part, led to the crisis we now find ourselves in – a crisis that has messed up the current financial status of those formerly Democratic, now Republican, poor white southerners for generations to come.

So, why care about race?  I lost a house and my savings to the crash of 2008. What’s your story?

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