November 4, 2008 brought sweeping change to the American political landscape, some of it promised and planned, some simply serendipitous. In the latter category were the election results that were at odds with what most on the right and a good many on the left thought were in the bag. They were sure that John McCain would, for varying reasons, emerge victorious despite a campaign that could only be credible if run in its entirety on Saturday Night Live.
What the electorate actually wrought was another new start. Perhaps, at long last, there would be a break with a past that has had many progressives passing their lives without ever experiencing what could be termed as a "liberal"- government.
For thirty years, the political right has held sway, through administrations from both major parties. A backward looking philosophy and a conservative economic model have been held preeminent through masterful marketing. "This is a conservative, pious Christian country! Our forefathers intended it to be that way, and it's up to us to uphold these sacred American values! You don't want to throw away your patrimony by clinging to a bunch of New Deal liberal values, do you? Look at these billionaires! This is what you can do in an America that protects wealth! This could be you!"- These were statements about this Ponzi scheme that were partly true and could be completely so with the addition of the clause, "but it's only a little more likely than a person of color being elected President."-
At last, lightning struck, and no, we weren't all made billionaires. No, but a person of color was elected President by those many of us who hadn't made that billion, or million, or in too many cases could not even put aside a couple of bucks.
As it turns out, a person of color, in the form of Barack Obama, being elected President did nothing to support the marketing plan that never mentioned his possibility. This was disconcerting, at least, to those who had devoted whole careers to vending eyewash. Indeed for many of them, it came as a complete shock.
As the merchants of delusion continue to stare, slack jawed, at the wreckage of their construct; they grow more desperate for a rationale by which to explain it. Failing that, they have decided that there is no change in the delusion that they have been selling since Ronald Reagan was sworn in, so the United States electorate is really a conservative center right, bunch, steeped in religious piety and this November's election results are a fluke. They may have deluded themselves before, as they tried to delude others, but now they delude only themselves.
It falls to progressives to cure the delusion and lengthen the enlightenment by proclaiming the truth. The truth is that this electorate is not center right; it is well centered. The values that are held are not conservative values, but rather American values. Those American values are based on progressive ideas of how a society should be organized to bring its promise to the greatest number of its members, and not simply instructions on how to line up to get fleeced.
When this nation was but a colony, the conservative values commanded that one be loyal to their king above all else, since it was he who possessed ultimate authority in all matters affecting his Christian country. These were European values that were a poor fit in an America where so many were self-sufficient enough to hack their own life out of the wilderness.
The liberals of that time were not moved to action simply as way to limit excessive taxation. They were guided by the Enlightenment that shaped their thought, and they felt that there was a better way for a nation to be governed. The better way was for the citizens to govern themselves. This was, at the time, a radically liberal notion.
This bunch of radical liberal revolutionaries persuaded their countrymen to join them in embarking on this grand experiment in governance. It started modestly, as a collection of self-interested states with a weak and ineffective central government, but soon enough they created a Constitution for practical self-government that embodied the ideas that they had for a better way. By these liberal values they established the nation that has been handed down to us today.
The Tories among us have been pushing back ever since. Sometimes they have been more successful, sometimes less so, but always overreaching, trying to take this nation where it never wanted to go. Each time they push to the point where their failure invites repudiation by an electorate that is ready to move back the other way. That is the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Plutocracy Rears its Ugly Head
The last time plutocracy reigned, in the late nineteenth century; it came to find a stumbling block in a man named Theodore Roosevelt. His sense of justice caused him to push through legislation that would curb the worst excesses born of plutocratic greed and competition to be the last guy that owned anything. This slowed them down, but it did not stop them.
At the same time, a movement rekindled the original revolutionary zeal to take on the plutocrats in asserting that their rights as American citizens extended beyond protection from governmental excess to participation in the economy by leveraging the commodity that they were in sole possession of, their labor. This too was a radical notion for the time, and the plutocrats responded with all the intimidation that their wealth could muster. Imposition of lockouts, violence, pitched battles and slaughters failed to quell the desire of workers to benefit from what their labor brought forth.
Time passed, and with Roosevelt gone and a war behind them they pointed out how we could all be rich by borrowing every cent we could lay a hand on and putting it into the stock market that they were manipulating. Well, the suckers got fleeced, and so did a lot of the plutocrats who hadn't stopped to think about that deflationary crash at the end of the rainbow.
At about this time, Franklin Delano Roosevelt came along and his administration prescribed a liberal legislative program to create jobs to lift the nation out of the Great Depression that Republican policies had created and to emplace mechanisms and regulation that would prevent the recurrence of such a synthetic disaster. At the same time working men and women continued to struggle against the injustice of monarchical capitalism in their workplaces and their efforts started to pay off in favorable legislation as government and business both came to realize that iron fisted plutocracy was simply bad for everyone, participant and bystander alike.
Another war iced it for the labor movement, as capital and government came to the understanding that production losses due to bargaining failures could not be tolerated on a war footing. This comity between labor and management lasted well beyond the end of the war as America entered into a period of relative economic well being that persisted for the next twenty-five years. This post-war period engendered the great American middle class.
Plutocracy Re-rears its Ugly Head
In the 1970's, beginning with Richard M. Nixon, the GOP initiated its rightward lurch. The Republican center was marginalized and the party left Goldwater conservatism behind with its embrace of the racist division of the "Southern Strategy" of electoral politics along with the theory and practice of the unitary executive, which we have become so familiar with these days. As is traditional, the Nixon administration was caught up in the consequences of it's overreaching and ended in the certain expectation of impeachment and conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors.
A brief period of centrist government intervened through the Ford and Carter administrations, although toward the end of the Carter administration deregulation fever started to grip the economy with transportation embodied in the airlines and trucking springing the first leaks of the oncoming flood. The Mid-East became the all-consuming foreign policy concern with the 1970's oil embargoes, followed by the Iranian revolution and a proxy war in Afghanistan.
With Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, plutocracy embarked on a crescendo toward its fullest expression with Lee Atwater style politics initiating an assault on American values by characterizing them as liberal, and then, vilifying the word by pronouncing it with a contemptuous sneer. This sort of PR campaign appealed to the southern Republican base in particular and found quick acceptance among those who aspired to a sort of redneck chic. Rush Limbaugh found a readily marketable radio product in this disparagement of traditional Americanism and it was particularly appealing to him since there were no demands for balance or even minimum standards of truth to blunt his propaganda.
Reagan's administration set a new standard for the abuse of labor exemplified by his firing all of the striking workers of PATCO, the air traffic controllers' union, and enforcing the abuse through the policies set by the National Labor Relations Board and other policies that allowed corporations to profit from the refusal to fund pensions and premature distribution of their employees' pension funds. The eight years ended with Reagan escaping impeachment for the Iran/Contra scandal where he violated acts specifically passed by Congress to restrain his authoritarian foreign policy. His administration stands to this day as the most indicted in U.S. history, bar none.
George H.W. Bush muscled himself into the presidency on the strength of Atwater's "Willie Horton" racist strategy and defended himself against potential impeachment on charges stemming from the Iran/Contra scandal by naming the reliably dimwitted Dan Quayle as his vice-president, cynically confident that no authority would dare remove him from office if Quayle in the White House was a part of the result. The electorate disposed of Bush the Elder for the inevitable recession endemic to Reagan's economic policies as well as having the gall to preach against taxes and then raise them. This was something his patron, Reagan, was able to pull off, but he was not.
The following Clinton administration was no reinstatement of liberal American values, subscribing as they did to the principles of the Democratic Leadership Council which held that going along and getting along was best and was all too ready to agree to the propaganda feed of an American electorate that was sliding rightward. This administration along with a Republican Congress continued the deregulation of industries including those of the financial sector and broadcast communications while playing along with the Republicans at their own games. Those games included anti-labor "free trade" agreements like NAFTA, and establishment of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Bill Clinton's libidinous indiscretions and a Republican lust to avenge Nixon and even the score for Clinton's enacting everything that Republicans had promised to enact, but didn't, led to a scandal in his first term with an unsuccessful impeachment after his reelection.
The history of the George W. Bush administration needs no explanation from me. It has been the pinnacle of plutocratic overreaching in its combination of hubris, incompetence, criminality, and contempt for the American values embodied in our Constitution and callous insensitivity to everything except its own unrestrained lusts. It has resulted in an economy in free fall, a continuing drain on American wealth that threatens national bankruptcy, complete abuse of our armed forces and governmental institutions and a hog trough feeding frenzy by the plutocracy on everything that they do not yet own.
Where From Here?
Do we subscribe to conservative values? After thirty years of conservatism's most egregious abuses, could we have chosen that government based on our conservative values?
We have, or at least our representatives have, allowed much of the New Deal to be dismantled, but nearly all of that was the regulation that protected us from plutocratic excess. We now feel a need to restore it. Are those our conservative values at work? Phil Gramm says no. We are led to this demand by our progressive values.
When George W. Bush attempted to overreach in dismantling the Social Security System, exposing it to confiscation by the Wall Street plutocrats, he was not allowed to do so. Is that because we stood by conservative values? No, we stood by progressive values in opposing him.
In demanding that our government revoke tax breaks for companies that send our jobs offshore, are we, as a people standing by conservative values? Of course, we are not. We are inspired by our progressive values.
When that cheap foreign junk comes back to our shores, loaded with the toxins that are a hallmark of the lack of regulation, we demand that our government inspect these goods to protect our children from that toxic exposure. Is that our conservative values guiding us? It is not. We are guided by progressive values.
We have come to the place where the plutocrats have destroyed our economy by shipping our jobs offshore and enriching themselves at the expense of our posterity with unjust, illegal wars. They are throwing away more than a trillion of our children's dollars for their colleagues on Wall Street to waste and steal, while at the same time they withhold assistance from auto manufacturers. This is not because they don't want to help their fumblingly incompetent plutocratic brethren in the auto industry, but because they see in the automakers' failure an opportunity to destroy some of the last vestiges of unionism in the United States. It is all about tearing up contracts.
So here we are with almost nothing left but our skills, our determination, the fervent hope that our president-elect can emerge as the third Roosevelt and our progressive values. We cannot pass up this opportunity; we must pound a stake in the heart of the un-American power structure that brought us to this pass. We can take a step in that direction by reminding our compatriots of the real American values. These are the values that most of us were raised on. These are the values that ushered this nation into its greatest eras. These are progressive values.
The United States is and has always been a progressive country. Its citizens have historically held progressive values as their own most cherished values. If we can keep that in mind, we are less likely to be beguiled by propagandists selling us a false identity at the price of our souls.