Monday, October 29, 2012

Election 2012: From Celebration to Racial Bitterness

Wednesday November 7, 2008 and again on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009 a broad spectrum of Americans celebrated the nation’s first election of an African American to the Presidency.  Jesse Jackson and other Black Americans cried tears of joy, but many who voted for Republican John McCain were also proud that America had finally made progress on this unfulfilled promise of racial equality which Alexis de Tocqueville had pointed out in “Democracy in America” (1835-40).  Nearly all Americans want to think of themselves as treating all people equally regardless of race or ethnicity, and the narrative of an African American who had grown up in difficult circumstances ascending to the highest office in the land was highly appealing and cause for celebration. That of course was largely a myth, for many Americans continued to harbor fundamentally racist attitudes and beliefs, but at least for that one day they could make believe they were supporters of equality.  

Any pretence of national solidarity ended with a secret dinner on January 20, 2009 at the end of the Inauguration Day when House Republicans and some Senators met to plan a campaign of obstruction against newly installed president Barack Obama. During a lengthy discussion, the senior GOP members worked out a plan to repeatedly block Obama over the coming four years, making it appear he accomplished nothing. Attending the dinner were House members Eric Cantor, Jeb Hensarling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Pete Sessions. From the Senate were Tom Coburn, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint, John Ensign and Jon Kyl.  Others present were former House Speaker and future presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and the Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who organized the dinner.  A detailed account of who was present at the dinner on that January 20 night and the plan they worked out to bring down Obama is provided by Robert Draper in 'Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives.’

Barrack Obama surpassed any reasonable expectations of what a president could possibly do to address the disastrous state of the economy that he encountered on the first day in office, the Republicans succeeded in blocking nearly every presidential effort to improve the economy.  There were more filibusters of Administration legislation than at any time in history.  But despite those efforts to undermine the nation’s economic welfare, Obama was able to achieve economic improvement, with less unemployment and more new housing starts than any time over the past four years.  His foreign policy achievements, including eliminating Bin Laden, have been stunning. 

When Romney was selected as the Republican opponent, the die appeared to be cast that the official deciding factor in the upcoming election would be the economy.   Romney’s only claim to legitimacy appeared to be his experience as a business executive.  But when it turned out his business experience had almost completely involving consolidating and eliminating businesses, firing workers, and shipping American jobs to Mexico, China, the Philippines and India, it appeared that advantage had disappeared. Concealing his vast wealth from American taxation did not help Romney’s case.  But despite Romney’s appalling business record, many Americans continued to believe he would be able to improve the economy for ordinary people, which was simply false. The people who believed that were the elusive “swing” voters who are really uncommitted Republicans looking for an excuse to vote for their party. 

In this, the last month of the campaign, Romney’s supporters have explicitly turned to racism to defeat Obama, unleashing John Sununu and other representatives such as Newt Gingrich, to explicitly attack the president on racial grounds which tapped into the implicit racism of people who are mislabled “Independents,” whom most studies show to be largely Republicans who are concealing their affiliation.   Only 1 in 3 or 4 Independents are truly independent

The joy and justifiable national pride of electing the first African American to the presidency has been replaced by deep-seated racial bitterness, which is at its root will be the deciding factor in this campaign. If the election were decided on the candidates’ merits, Obama clearly would win. Most people realize that.  But it is no accident that Romney will win the southern states and mountain states that have traditionally had strongly racist constituencies, and Obama will win the west and east coast and upper Midwest states which have traditionally supported policies of social equality.  If Romney wins enough electoral votes to win the election, it will confirm for America and the World, that the country is deeply racist in its most fundamental way, revealing that all of the talk of equality is pure window dressing.  When Americans thrust their finger in the air and scream “We’re Number One,” they are referring to being the number one racist. All of the people of color throughout the world will realize this country’s rhetoric about equality is meaningless.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Snips & Snails and Puppy Dog Tails in France and the US

During a recent visit to Paris, I participated in an animated discussion among a group of French and American expatriates at lunch about politics in the US and France.  While there are poorly informed members of the public on both sides of the Atlantic, the French have the impression much of the American electorate has a superficial understanding of the issues, especially foreign affairs.  The impression seems to be that we Americans are making decisions about candidates based mainly on slogans rather than a grasp of the implications of one versus another choice.  They acknowledged that isn’t very different among a segment of the French as well.  

I had the impression that most in the group had a generally favorable impression of Barrack Obama and thought Romney has a simplistic and somewhat dangerous world view.  They seemed very puzzled about why Americans equate socialism with communism, which are entirely different, and fear them equally.   Though there were divided views on the Hollande socialist government, I heard many of the same feelings of disappointment among those on the left that I have heard over the past four years about Obama by the progressive wing of the Democratic party in the US. 

Though there is unemployment in France (about 8%) as in the US, our French friends don’t seem to be as overwhelmingly concerned as we are in the US.  I didn’t speak with anyone who expressed the view that it was a serious problem there, though acknowledging it had been a problem five years ago.  I suspect the reaction would be different among minority groups in France, such as recent immigrants.  The far right parties (there are 12 main parties in France) are capitalizing on hostility toward immigrants taking jobs from long time French citizens as among some blue collar white voters in the US.   The economy is in a deficit in France pressuring the Hollande government to cut government expenses and promote business growth, though there are strong differences of opinion about how to do that in France, especially among those on the Left.  While Republicans are attempting to eliminate labor unions in the US, in France national laws prohibit firing workers except with severance pay, and workers there have many benefits Americans would envy. So though pay is lower in France, the net result is most French people are well off because so many basic services are free in France.   Facism exists more openly in France than the US and there are fears among many about resurgence of a Vichy-style movement as had occurred during WW2 headed by Marshall Phillipe Petain, which collaborated with the Nazis.  There are similarities between the Tea Party and the National Front and Marine Le Pen’s party.  But unlike the irrational acceptance of many Tea Party views by Republicans, most conservatives in Sarkozy’s party in France reject the Far Right movements and find it puzzling that so many Americans are drawn to such atavistic views.

In France as in the US, there is an undercurrent of discourse about the functions of government, though the starting point for those conversations is very far to the Left in France compared with the US, in which our point of departure for discussion in the US is from a very conservative Republican perspective.  For far to long the Democratic Party has rolled over and played dead in the US and moderate Republicans have been like puppies running scared with their tails between their legs as the “Big Dogs” among the radicals bark their dangerous commands.  Though the Big Dogs account for a very small proportion of the electorate in the US, they are the tail that wags the dog because of their vast wealth. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Republican Feudalism and Functions of State

The political stability of the United States of America is the most precarious it has been since the Great Depression, and perhaps the Civil War. The very fabric of what his meant by the United States is in question.  The 2013 elections reflect the depth of this conflict.  

The functions of our country as a state have come under relentless coordinated attack from a well organized and very generously funded political-economic insurgency, which has created a political crisis in this country.  Since 1980 with Ronald Reagan's election, and most notably over the past four years, an unrelenting public relations campaign has been underway to convince American citizens the US is a loose confederation of companies, banks and money lenders and investment companies that control the lives of all the people who work for them directly and indirectly,  i.e. you and me and all of the other citizens. That is the heart of the Republican Party's vision of Ayn Rand's philosophy which they are attempting to impose on the country.  The effort has involved establishment of a national television network (FOX "News") providing around the clock propaganda, various well funded organizations to serve as sources of propaganda information (mistakenly called "think tanks," such as the Cato Institute), extremely influential lobbing companies designed to raise money for support the election of state legislators and governors, and organizing campaigns to changing laws to permit unlimited spending to support election of candidates to local, state and federal offices, and the appointment of federal judges to interpret laws to favor those who are paying for them. These groups have no commitment to the modern meaning of the word "state"and more importantly, the functions of a state. Their goal is to create a plutocratic state rendering democracy meaningless. 

A state is a legal/political entity that is comprised of a permanent population, a defined territory; a government ; and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.  According to Woodrow Wilson's classic book,  "The State: The Functions Of Government,"  government has two groups of functions, I.  The Constituent Functions and II. The Ministrant functions. Wilson wrote,  "Under the Constituent I would place that usual category of governmental function, the protection of life, liberty, and property, together with all other functions that are necessary to the civic organization of society, - functions which are not optional with governments, even in the eyes of strictest laissez faire, - which are indeed the very bonds of society.  Under the Ministrant (functions) I would range those other functions (such as education, posts and telegraphs, and the care, say, of forests, which are undertaken, not by way of governing, but by way of advancing the general interests of society....". The Republican Party has proposed that only the Constituent Functions should be recognized and nearly all of the Ministrant Functions abolished. 

Among the Ministrant functions of the US government Wilson enumerated were ten which the Koch Republicans are seeking to eliminate or be emasculated: (1) The regulation of trade and industry, (2) The regulation of labor,  (3) The maintenance of thoroughfares, - including state management of railways and that great group of undertakings which we embrace within the comprehensive term 'Internal Improvements,  (4) The maintenance of postal and telegraph systems, which is very similar in principle to (3) The manufacture and distribution of gas, the maintenance of water-works, etc.(6) Sanitation, including the regulation of trades for sanitary purposes, (7) Education, (8) Care of the poor and incapable,  (9) Care and cultivation of forests and like matters, such as the  stocking of rivers with fish, and (10) Sumptuary laws, such as 'prohibition' laws, for example."

The Republicans are attempting to replicate the disintegration of the state that occurred in the Middle Ages, which is the essence of the strategy of the Koch Brothers' Tea Part, and was the goal of their father Frederick C. Koch's John Birch Society.  Wilson's analysis reminds us that during the Middle Ages, government was replaced by a... "Feudal System as the constituent elements of government fell away from each other. Conceptions of government narrowed themselves to small territorial connections, [much as the Republicans press for states rights or local rights and elimination of most federal rights].  Men became sovereigns in their own right by virtue of owning land in their own right. There was no longer any conception of nations or societies as wholes. Union there was none, but only interdependence.  Allegiance was not to law, but to ownership.  The functions of government under such a system were simply the functions of proprietorship, of command and obedience.....The public function of the baron was to keep peace among his liegemen, to see that their properties were enjoyed according to the custom of the manor....  The baronial conscience, bred in cruel, hardening times, was the only standard of justice; the baronial power the only conclusive test of prerogative."
That is what at stake.  The Koch Brothers Republican Party is in the process of entirely dismantling half of the functions of a modern US state.  That is what all of the rancor is about, a referendum on completion the conversion of America into a feudal state.  Exaggeration?  Regrettably, very little.