Follow The Money…

A recent diatribe posted to the progressive site Daily Kos made me think. It began with a recitation of the many indisputably negative elements of our current social and political environment.

Violence toward women and minorities has exploded. Armed militias tried to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House in an attempted coup directed by the Republican President of the United States. They tried to kidnap and murder the Democratic governor of Michigan. They’re blowing up power substations from Oregon to the Carolinas. They’ve embedded themselves in DHS, police departments, and our military. They’re coordinating with fascists overseas.

“They” are the MAGA extremists, Neo-Nazis and Christian Nationalists who perpetrate most acts if domestic terrorism, and those who facilitate and/or excuse them.

The writer blamed all of this on “Reaganism” and the GOP, an accusation that vastly over-simplified the complexities of social outcomes. (That said, I agree that the rise of populism and the takeover of the Republican Party by radically Rightwing extremists Is hugely implicated.)

What caught my attention was the post’s reminder of a 1971 memorandum written to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell prior to his elevation to the Court. Historians and political scientists have noted the influence of that memorandum on businesses seeking to influence government policies in ways that would benefit their bottom lines.

Powell asserted that “leftists” — whom he defined as “middle class socialists and communist sympathizers” — had taken over the “government, universities, the Supreme Court, and our media.”

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the ‘environment….

Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

On the Court, Powell was part of the majority opinion in Buckley v Valeo–the decision equating money with speech and striking down legislation intended to limit the influence of money in political campaigns. The author of the post correctly noted that Buckley struck down “nearly a century of campaign finance legislation going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Tillman Act.”

It’s hard to argue with the post’s assertion that the Court “tripled down” on the equation of money and speech in Citizens United or with his assertion that between 1933 and 1981, pretty much everything that went right for middle-class Americans was the result of progressive policies: the right to unionize, unemployment insurance and workplace safety rules, Social Security and Medicare…

A top personal income tax rate between 74% and 91% throughout that period kept wages strong for working people and prevented the corrosive wealth inequality we see today. We didn’t get our first billionaire until after the Reagan revolution.

It’s easier to argue with the characterization of that period  as one of ” uninterrupted political and economic progress”–a description that conveniently  ignores much of the inequality and turmoil of those years–but the description of America after Buckley and Reagan is accurate:

Republican-leaning businesses bought up radio stations from coast-to-coast and put “conservative” talk radio into every town and city in America. Wealthy people began running for political office or supporting those politicians who’d do their bidding.

Conservative donors demanded rightwing economics and political science professors in universities across America. Rightwing think tanks and publishers were funded to support them. Billionaires founded a movement to pack our courts, including the Supreme Court.

The rise of neoliberalism has decimated the middle class and further enriched the wealthy. While I would quibble with details of the writer’s lengthy diatribe, I do echo his conclusion: we need to turn back to

the lessons of the New Deal and Great Society, embraced by presidents and politicians of both parties for a half-century, and rebuild our middle class and our democracy, along with our trust in each other.

The question, as always, is “how do we accomplish that?”

Thanks to the availability of huge amounts of money, a distinct minority of Americans  currently control many state governments, and is vastly over-represented in Congress. The money that has poured into the political system in the wake of Buckley has funded  sophisticated gerrymandering, misleading lobbying, and  overwhelming political influence via campaign contributions. It has supported the messaging that has drawn a variety of culture warriors, racists and their ilk to the GOP.

Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination, but unless the current iteration of the GOP suffers a crushing  electoral defeat–and soon–I don’t know how we begin to fix this.


Balancing the Books

When most of us talk about “balancing the books,” we have a mental image of a bookkeeping ledger (for those of you too young to recall keeping financial records on paper, those ledgers were books filled with graph-like paper, on which one recorded assets and liabilities). The point was to balance revenues with expenditures.

Somehow, our discussions of the federal budget has operated on a different premise. Even David Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, has noticed the change, and I think it is fair to say he isn’t especially impressed with the House Republican budget plan, which deals with only the “debit” side of the ledger.

“It doesn’t address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit,” Stockman told Brian Beutler. “I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

I’m old enough to remember when David Stockman was considered impossibly conservative. But I am also old enough to remember that the real Ronald Reagan–whether you agreed with all his positions or not–looked very little like the icon that contemporary Republicans worship.