"We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." [Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice 1918-39; 1913: The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes, copyright 1960, 1967.]
Portrait of Louis Brandeis. by Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
"Labor cannot on any terms surrender the right to strike." [Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice 1918-39; 1913: The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes, copyright 1960, 1967.]
Sometimes you discover that you need to cover old ground, because new information and/or new circumstances have made it imperative to do so. When I picked up Hedrick Smith's 2012 book Who Stole the American Dream? at the library, I read the first thirty pages and said to myself, Man, this is what I have been trying to tell all of my readers at OpEdNews over the last seven years and 120-plus articles.
If you haven't read Smith's book yet, do so. Mr. Smith is less cynical than I am. He seems to give far more "benefit of the doubt" than I do to the plutocrats of the halcyon days of America's economy between 1949 and 1975. That may be due, however, to his not having been burned as badly as I was when America switched from what he calls the "virtuous circle" economy of those 25 years to what he defines as the "wedge" economy we have today. A cynic is an optimist who has been burned one too many times, and today I feel as if a flamethrower had hit me with the "rules" of the "wedge" economy.
In view of that reaction, and given too the approach of the traditional May 1st Labor Day for the rest of the world and the fact that I am feeling increasingly betrayed by the man I voted for twice to be our President, I think it is time to look into the mirror of the past to see the vision of a possible future.
Undoing the Great Prosperity
In the last four decades, the country's plutocrats--members of what I call the "ownership class," which represents large-scale accumulated capital--have made a concerted effort to regain the ascendant position they enjoyed 125 years ago, at the time of the first May Day and the Haymarket Massacre. They have actively moved to return the nation's workers--by whom I mean not only traditional labor, but also lower-level management and small businesses--to the desperate, subservient position to which they were condemned in the so-called "Gilded Age."
Coming out of the twenty catastrophic years of the Great Depression and the Second World War (1929-49), the Western Democracies (Western Europe, Canada, Japan, and the United States) enjoyed a 25-year period of prosperity that was unrivaled in human history. It was a time of stronger unions, a rising middle class, unparalleled scientific progress, and technical creativity. The governments of the Western Democracies were more responsive to the needs and desires of their people than at any previous time in history. Those actions made possible the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., as well as the widespread and very effective anti-war, anti-nuclear, and environmental movements that swept across the Western World. It was during this period that the previously described ownership class found its power and influence at a nadir.
The Vietnam War and the Rising Political Power of the Middle Class
The Vietnam War was looked upon by the ownership class and its military-industrial complex as a long-term cornucopia: it would pump billions of dollars into defense contractors' pockets, make the reputations of military officers, and allow politicians to claim that they were fighting the evils of Communism without risking a direct confrontation with either the Soviet Bear or the Chinese Dragon. The ambitions of the plutocrats were to be sorely disappointed, however.
The anti-war movement that rose up in the United States was unique in American history. It was driven principally by three forces: a coalition of middle-class college students trying to avoid the draft and being sent to Vietnam; members of the Civil Rights Movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who took notice that a disproportionate percentage of troops going to Vietnam were minorities; and survivors of Joe McCarthy's witch-hunts of the 1950s. These groups joined together to change the hearts and minds of their fellow Americans.
In the summer of 1967, the anti-war movement gained strength with the rise of the peace-loving, dope-smoking "hippies" of Haight-Ashbury and the music of The Beatles, The Doors, the Beach Boys and Donovan, among others, which expressed strong anti-war sentiments. The January, 1968 Tet Offensive and Walter Cronkite's subsequent expose, in March of that year, of the real situation in Vietnam was enough for President Lyndon Johnson to decide that he could not successfully seek re-election as President in 1968.
The issue of withdrawal from Vietnam became the focal point of the next two Presidential elections. As college campuses raged out of control, culminating in the deaths of four students at Kent State and five at Jackson State in May, 1971, middle-class Americans increasingly told the public opinion polls: "We've had enough of this war." With the loss of public support, direct involvement in Vietnam finally ended, more or less, in 1973.
In the previous year, during the 1972 election, members of President Nixon's re-election campaign had engaged in a burglary at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington D.C. Nixon was later forced to resign, when it was revealed to the general public that he had authorized the payment of "hush money" to some of the burglars in an effort to cover up the crime. With his resignation in 1974, the political power of the American middle class reached its peak.
Lewis Powell and the Plutocrat Resurgence