We’re On Our Way

We seem to be fully past the point where the system might be reformed from within the system. The corruption and failure, as many have pointed out, is bipartisan and goes deeper than just the parties. This leads to frustration and cynicism for many, but it doesn’t have to.

Democracy isn’t only or even primarily about elections. At the most local level, there is still the possibility of democracy functioning. There are local issues that can be influenced and local problems that can be improved. Still, that won’t change the system itself. In anything you do, you will have to constantly fight against the tide of a failing social order.

Keep this in mind. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Change will come, but not easily. It will require outside forces and destabilizing conditions to force issues to the surface.

This isn’t an entirely new situation. Americans have faced this before. Similar conflicts and challenges emerged in the decades before the American Revolution, the US Civil War, and more recently the Civil Rights movement. All were preceded by major acts of violence, social unrest, and civil disobedience. This is what finally forced the hand of government to take action and, in one case, for it to be replaced with a new government.

We are in a period such as that, but we aren’t quite to the breaking point yet. Even when it finally arrives, it won’t be the end of the world, assuming WWIII doesn’t begin and/or climate change doesn’t kick into full gear. There is no point to fear-mongering and prophesying doom, not that we should downplay it either. It’s simply that change happens. We should acknowledge it and prepare for the worse while planning for what comes after.

We are in what some consider the Fourth Turning of a generational cycle. I find it a compelling frame with much explanatory power. I like to look for meaning in the chaos. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you get your info from the MSM that leaves so much in a state of disconnection, as if the world is a set of random events and isolated incidents to be reported on and then forgotten about, until the next thing comes long, just one damn thing after another.

This is information to keep in mind and a way of making sense of it all, as American society loses its bearings and suffers a bout of collective insanity. Finding a larger context to give perspective is important at times like these. Think of it as intellectual self-defense against reactionary politics, no matter which party it comes from.

Neither Trump nor Clinton are the end of the world. Neither is going to save us from the problems we face. And neither is going to stop the changes that long ago were set into motion. Society isn’t going to stay the same and isn’t going to go back to what it once was. The future beckons, as it always does. We’re on our way to somewhere.

Partisanship vs Democracy

Here is a major problem of parties in the US political system.

We have a winner take all system. It creates a mindset of win at any costs and dominate by any means. Other (better functioning, one might argue) democratic governments allow greater multiple party competition while simultaneously encouraging cooperation and alliance-forming among the parties. One would hope that this could lessen the tendency of American-style territorial partisanship with its Social Darwinism and groupthink, and so it might give democracy a fighting chance to achieve democratic results.

The US system has come to operate with parties winning by excluding rather than including the most voters. Republicans dismiss minorities and non-Christians. Democrats dismiss lower class whites and leftist reformers. Both parties, in a bipartisan stranglehold, dismiss independents, third partiers, discouraged non-voters, and the disenfranchised.

Neither party fights for the rights, values, and interests of most of the American population. Instead, the two parties defend their turf and seek only to represent their respective small band of loyal followers. But in the end, the parties take their own partisans for granted, as the opinions of partisans is irrelevant since they’ll vote party line no matter what. This leaves both parties to do the bidding of big money, as research shows they do.

There is no incentive for either of the two main parties to act more democratically, to promote democracy, and to democratically represent the American people. Because of this, elections become empty spectacles to create an illusion of democratic process and consent of the governed.

We should and need to do better than this. But in order for that to happen, we have to demand better and put the force of conviction behind it. Otherwise, the force of desperation might lead us in directions we’d rather not go. Reform is the only way to prevent revolution. And, once revolution begins, it can’t be controlled.

My thoughts here aren’t particularly radical. They go back the American founding generation. It’s part of the original intent of the Constitution. George Washington, in particular, warned against the dangers of political parties. Washington may have been too idealistic in his criticisms, as factionalism may be an inevitable part of any large diverse society. Even if that is the case, his warnings about political parties remain and have proven true.

Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate about alternatives. The world is full of countries with different systems that can be studied and compared. Not all factionalism leads to American-style dysfunction and corruption. There is no reason we should remain attached to our dysfunction and corruption simply because it is our own. Think of it as a cancer needing to be removed so that the rest of the body may live.

If we don’t like the results we are getting and obviously most Americans are dissatisfied to an extreme degree with the status quo, then why not try something different in seeking different results? We Americans owe no loyalty to the two-party establishment. Our primary loyalty belongs to our country and and our fellow citizens, which is to say “We the People.” Democracy doesn’t mean power of parties and politicians; rather, it literally is power of the people.

Partisanship Makes Americans Stupid

Democrats are really pissing me off right now. I hate partisan politics. Even my support for Sanders is tentative. And I’d rather vote third party. For damn sure, I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, if she gets the nomination.

Do these partisans have any common sense or principles?

On certain issues such as war, prisons and the police state, Hillary is far to the right of someone like Ron Paul or even his son Rand. I bet even both Pauls combined with their pro-capitalist libertarianism never accepted as many big money corporate bribes as has Clinton. She is a strident neoliberal, which in American parlance makes her an economic conservative. Also, the policies she has supported have been consistently bad for minorities. On most major issues, Clinton is to the right of the majority of Americans, often far to the right.

Why would any moral and sane person who took Sanders rhetoric seriously vote for Clinton? Why would any principled liberal consider Clinton to be much of a liberal, in the normal use of that word?

This same thing goes for Republican partisanship.

Those on the political right love to use libertarian rhetoric. Yet many third party candidates on the political left are way more libertarian. Even someone like Ron Paul isn’t all that extreme in his libertarianism. Green Party candidates are regularly more libertarian than Ron Paul and the candidates of the supposed Libertarian Party. Republicans love big government and deficit-spending, just focused on their favorite areas.

So, if one’s libertarianism is principled, why not vote for the most libertarian candidate? Well, the reason is that too many people use the word ‘libertarian’ when they really mean something entirely else: neoliberalism, corporatism, or whatever. But those crony capitalist Republicans will threaten the voters that they better vote for them or else the communists will take over.

This lesser evil crap is plain stupid. Lesser evil than what? Why is partisanship used as a way of excusing everything? Why do people vote against their own interests just to make sure that their team wins?

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Political Compass:

The US Presidential Election 2004
The US Presidential Election 2008
The US Presidential Election 2012
The US Primary Candidates 2016

Anti-Partisan Original Intent

I was reading the introduction to The Invention of Party Politics by Gerald Leonard. The beginning comments caught my attention (Kindle Locations 62-65):

“This is a book about political parties and the American Constitution between the founding of the United States and the Second Party System of the 1840s and 1850s. In those years, and especially between 1820 and 1840, the idea and fact of party organization gained a preeminent place in the American constitutional order, even though the Constitution itself had been designed as a “Constitution against parties.”*”

(* From Idea of a Party System by Richard Hofstadter)

I knew many of the Founders saw party politics as a danger. This went along with the perceived threats of political factionalism and regional/state sectionalism. Unity was the watchword of those early Americans. They were seeking to create a United States, a radical vision. Not a nation-state and not just what the Articles of Confederation proposed. Plural states, but united, tied together with common cause and purpose. A Union.

As George Washington famously explained in his farewell address,

“In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

His warning was that parties would lead to ruling elites who served their own interests rather than the country.

“All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.”

It wasn’t just a complaint about the practical running of government. Rather, it was a conflict of visions. The vision of Union was in direct contradiction to the vision of partisanship. For parties to form meant the revolutionary spirit to have been defeated, the entire reason and justification for the founding of the United States.

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.”

Washington goes into more detail, but you get the basic idea. The guy saw political parties as one of the greatest threats to a free country and to all who value liberty. Those are strong words for the first president who wasn’t known for stating anything strongly. He decided to make almost his entire farewell address about this single warning. We should take this as seriously as we take Dwight Eisenhower’s warning of the Military-Industrial Complex.

To return to The Invention of Party Politics, the author continues with some thoughts on the Constitution:

“In all the massive literature on American political history in that period, however, there was little indication of what I have since come to understand: that the early history of party is best understood within the history of the Constitution, just as the history of the Constitution is best understood within the history of party development.”

It is good to keep in mind that the Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation. The early Confederation was too weak and so the vision of Union took form, but the idea of a Union was a guiding vision from before the Constitutional Convention. There was disagreement about the exact relationship between the states and yet there was much agreement that the states needed a shared system of politics, of laws, of economics, and more importantly of values.

However, that vision of a fully united Union didn’t last. Understanding that change is what this book is about. Also, it is about understanding why the founders fought so hard for a new vision of a non-partisan society.

“In the nineteenth century, the mass political party dominated American politics and, in fact, came to be the defining institution of modern “democracy,” a status it still enjoys (perhaps in tandem with the market economy). Yet thousands of years of prior human history had yielded practically no efforts to justify party organization or institutionalized opposition. Virtually every political thinker before the nineteenth century condemned “formed opposition” as destructive of the public good and fatal to public peace. The freedom of individuals to express dissent might sometimes be celebrated, but the organization of a political club in continuing opposition to the policies of the government— perhaps even conceiving of itself as a potential replacement for those currently in power—smacked more of conspiracy and treason than of healthy political competition . In the early nineteenth century, however, all that changed. Americans embraced mass party organization, and politics and governance were altered forever. Eventually, this embrace of party became a commitment to a “party system”— an enduring competition between democratic parties within a basic constitutional consensus, expecting to exchange power and office in indefinitely long cycles 2 —as the sine qua non of democracy in America and much of the world.” (Kindle Locations 66-78).

The American Civil War is a clear example of what Washington had warned about. We shouldn’t get too comfortable about our party system. And we shouldn’t be so naive as to think another civil war will never happen.

I want to end on a different note, though. Those on the political right often speak of original intent, specifically in terms of the Constitution. I just want to point out that any person in a political party (including the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party) who makes any argument about originalism, any such person is being blatantly hypocritical.

Of course, hypocrisy is part of the US political tradition going back to the Founders. Still, I doubt conservatives and right-wingers are basing their originalist defense on the standard of hypocrisy. Or maybe they are.

I find myself going back to that early period of American and Western history. The groundwork of principles and values were laid for modern democracy. Yet we don’t take those principles and values as seriously as we should. They are hard to live by and live up to, as the Founders quickly discovered.

I feel a desire to make my own defense of original intent about the entire early modern revolutionary era and the entire Enlightenment Age. I wish to defend the radical visions that transformed the Western world. Many of those early radicals didn’t fall into hypocrisy. Those are the people upon which I wish to base my own originalism.

Maybe it is time for us to revisit those radical ideas and visions. Maybe we took the wrong path somewhere along the way. Let us retrace our steps and rediscover the forks in the road that could have taken our society in other directions. Maybe party politics is a dead end, after all.

The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties

I was listening to NPR, as usual, while at work. I think it was during Diane Rehm’s show that I was listening to some guests talk about federal debt and related issues. From what I was hearing, I became so frustrated that I turned it off and nearly vowed never to listen to NPR again.

So, what annoyed me so much?

I’ve become increasingly exasperated with all mainstream media/news (NPR being as mainstream as it gets) and mainstream politics. Everything in the mainstream has been pushed so far right that it’s almost entirely disconnected from the reality of average Americans. Listening to the mainstream media, you wouldn’t even be able to guess how liberally progressive most Americans are (especially relative to most mainstream reporters, pundits and politicians) on the very issues the mainstream media ‘reports’ on. So, where is the liberal bias in the media? Since newspapers have a business section, why don’t papers still have a labor section as they had a half century ago?

My frustration with NPR, in particular, has been growing. About a month ago, I wrote about an example of NPR’s status quo bias. That example was more about a general cultural bias, although one that favored the capitalist ‘management’ paradigm. Last night’s example was more egregious.

The guests seemed to be the average type of person one expects in the mainstream. I realize that means they are, therefore, to the right of the average American, but still I was shocked by how far right they were. They didn’t seem to be right-wingers and yet they were stating far right positions as if they were centrist.

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Let me give some examples.

Here is one that that I’ve noticed again and again. On NPR (and most of the mainstream media), you will rarely hear anyone admit that social security has never and will never contribute to federal debt, although interestingly I’m finally starting to hear it more in the mainstream (years after having heard it in the alternative media).

In fact, even most Washington Democrats like Obama have (for most of the recent years of debate) been unwilling to admit this either, despite it supporting the position they claim to advocate. Obama has the bully pulpit and could push the progressive agenda of protecting the social safety net. He did recently finally admit that social security has nothing to do with the debt, but then he followed that we still need to reform social security because now is the best time to do so. Why does he, after admitting the Republicans have been lying to and deceiving the public, then throw the Republicans a bone by telling them they have an open field to attack social security? He basically promises Republicans that he won’t defend the very cornerstone of progressivism.

The rhetoric that social security has anything to do with the debt is a right-wing talking point, but importantly it has been the talking point of all mainstream media and politics. I even heard Diane Rehm, in the past, talk about this as if it were an indisputable fact. I’ve heard it so many times that I can’t remember how often I’ve heard someone in the mainstream say that if we are going to get serious about balancing the budgets then we’re going to have to talk about social security.

This far right position is the centrist position of the mainstream, even though the vast majority of Americans disagree with this position. Of the mainstream media, only certain people on MSNBC will question this right-wing talking point and call out those who state it as a fact. But the most mainstream of the mainstream media (NPR, CNN, etc) will rarely if ever follow MSNBC’s example. What is odd is that MSNBC gets labeled as far left. Really? Left of what? Almost everything, including the American public, is left of the right-leaning mainstream.

New Poll Confirms Country is Clearly Progressive
Cenk Uygur

When asked what’s the first thing they would do to balance the budget, Americans had an unmistakably clear answer — raise taxes on the rich. It came in number one by a mile, with a whopping 61 percent.

If that wasn’t progressive enough, cutting defense spending came in number two, with 20 percent.

And if all of that wasn’t clear enough, when asked about cutting Medicare, only 4 percent were in favor of it. Only 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as a way to balance the budget.

Here is another right-wing talking point I heard last night. One guest said that the American public thinks the government is too big. Bullshit! That is fucking propaganda, corporate propaganda at that. Here is some data that shows actual views of the American public (from my post: US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):

America: A Center-Left Nation

It is one of the most fundamental ideological divides between the left and the right: Conservatives purport to believe that government should be as small as possible and favor market‐oriented solutions to social problems; progressives, on the other hand, see government playing a more vital role in meeting basic social needs, including infrastructure, economic security, education, and health care. As the most recent National Election Study (NES) data demonstrate, clear majorities of the public recognize the importance of a well‐run and well‐funded government to their lives and to the security and prosperity of the country, and, indeed, want it to do more.

On all three of the following measures, the public has moved in a more progressive direction. The number saying the government should be doing more things increased by 9 points from the 2004 study, the number saying government has gotten bigger because the problems have gotten bigger increased by 3 points, and the number saying we need a strong government to handle today’s economic problems increased by 5 points.

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Weakness of Conservative Opposition to Health Care Reform
By Ruy Teixeira

In recent polls, more of the public opposes than favors the health care reform bills in Congress. Conservatives would have you believe that the opposition plurality in these polls is a result of public distaste for a big government takeover of our health care system. Not so. In a December CNN poll, a total of 55 percent either favored the Senate health reform bill outright (42 percent) or opposed it at this point because its approach to health care isn’t liberal enough (13 percent). Just 39 percent said they opposed the bill because its approach to health care was too liberal.

Government is Good

If we are asked about this issue in the abstract, 45% of us say we want “a smaller government providing fewer services,” and 42% say that we want “a bigger government providing more services”– a pretty even split. But then when people are asked about specific policy areas, much larger numbers of people say they support expanded government services. For example, almost three quarters of Americans say they want to see more federal involvement in ensuring access to affordable health care, providing a decent standard of living for the elderly, and making sure that food and medicines are safe. And over 60% want more government involvement in reducing poverty, ensuring clean air and water, and setting minimum educational standards for school. These are hardly the answers of a people who want drastically smaller government.

Here is my third NPR example. On last night’s show, a caller asked: Does Obama genuinely believe in the far right positions he keeps giving into or is it that he has no room to negotiate further to the left? I can’t remember if one of the guests ever gave a direct answer, but the implied answer was that it was the latter. I do recall specifically that a guest described how Obama is playing on Republican’s turf which is what implies that it isn’t Obama’s turf.

I, of course, disagree. Obama is playing on mainstream Washington turf (i.e., right-wing and corporatist) because Obama is bought by the same corporate interests as Republicans. They are all serving the same master(s). It’s not that they are mere puppets. Rather, anyone who doesn’t dance with the one who brought them won’t dance for long. If you don’t play according to corporate rules, you won’t get corporate funding nor get a cushy corporate lobbyist job when you leave office. It’s just a sad fact of life that people are easily corrupted by money, power and fame. Also, we all tend to act according to the interests of those who are similar to us. Politicians tend to be wealthy and so it’s no surprise that they tend to share the interests of the wealthy.

Obama doesn’t fight strongly against Republicans because his own position is much closer to the Republican position than is his position to that of the American public. I don’t know to what degree he agrees with Republicans, but my point is even on those issues he doesn’t necessarily strongly disagree. For God’s sake, Obama is even against gay marriage, a staunch Republican position. Are most Americans against gay marriage? No.

Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority

poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.

This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.

As we noted last August, support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years. Below is an update to the graph from last year’s article, which charts the trend from all available public polls on same-sex marriage going back to 1988.

On a related note, another staunch Republican position is the Tough On Crime policy of which the War On Drugs is an extension. The American people think Marijuana should be legalized, something conservatives have always seen as dangerous to society.

Marijuana Legalization: Poll Suggests Public Support Growing

Data compiled by the Pew Research Center and drawn primarily from the General Social Survey has found a consistent trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but no poll so far has shown a majority in favor.

In a poll released Tuesday by CNN, 41 percent of American adults said they favored legalizing marijuana, while 56 percent opposed. Another poll, conducted early last month by the Pew Research Center, found 45 percent of adults supporting legalization and 50 percent against it.

[ . . . ] Demographic trends show that the movement to embrace legalization will likely continue: Both recent polls reveal younger respondents as the most likely supporters. In the Pew poll, the majority of 18-29 year olds (54 percent favor/42 percent oppose) and a slim plurality of 30-49 year olds (49 percent support/47 percent oppose) said marijuana use should be legal. In the new CNN poll, about as many respondents under 50 said they supported legalizing marijuana (49 percent) as opposed it (50 percent).

Who does Obama agree with, the American people or the Republicans? The Republicans, of course.

Other issues that Obama didn’t support the majority public opinion and instead ‘compromised’ with Republicans:

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There is nothing surprising about this. It’s just the type of positions that almost all politicians take these days.
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It wouldn’t be extremely different if it was a Republican as president. These positions are mainstream Washington positions, mainstream media positions, mainstream corporate positions. This ‘mainstream’, however, shouldn’t be mistaken as the average or majority position. If we had an actually functioning democracy, the mainstream would reflect the majority position and mainstream politicians would represent the majority of Americans. Instead, we have some type of plutocratic oligarchy, whether corporatocracy/soft-fascism or inverted totalitarianism.
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Obama’s positions on all these issues are the standard positions presented on NPR. But what about the views of the majority of Americans? As someone who has regularly listened to NPR for years, I can say that you will rarely hear reported any of the data I’m sharing here. It’s not a secret. The data I’m sharing even comes from mainstream sources such as Pew. There seems to be a disconnect between info known in the mainstream and the info reported in the mainstream. The most rational assumption to make is that most of the time it’s intentional when incorrect or partial information is reported or when information is entirely ignored. I’ve often wondered if all these mainstream media types are trapped in a media bubble, an echo chamber… but I don’t think that is giving them enough credit. These aren’t stupid and uneducated people.
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It does make me wonder, though. Diane Rehm seems well-intentioned. So why doesn’t she usually challenge her guests when they state misinformation? Why doesn’t she point out what the correct information is? Why does she most often just goes along with the talking points? Could it be that she genuinely is oblivious to all the type of info I’m sharing? Or does she think it’s not her job to help fairly and fully inform her listeners?
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Maybe it’s just the structure of mainstream media. NPR isn’t really all that different from corporate media. The ‘Public’ in NPR is very limited because much of their funding doesn’t come from the public, especially not the government that supposedly represents the national public.
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“As its federal funding came under threat,” U.S. National Public Radio increased its ad sales. “Public-radio stations now count 18% of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal government.” Corporate “underwriters” include Clear Channel CommunicationsStarbucks andWal-Mart Stores. “More on-air sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than lumped at the end of each show,” reports Sarah McBride. “And more minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible.” The trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but “weren’t bothered by” fundraising by direct mail or on-air underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener concerns “about corporate influence on programming as well as the number of messages” are increasing. [6]

Sponsors include:

In 2005 they received $3 million from the Ford Foundation.

Sarah McBride

As much of the media industry languishes in an advertising slump, public radio is on a tear, scooping up new sponsorship by mimicking the tactics of commercial broadcasters. On offer is public radio’s coveted, gold-plated audience.

But the increase in corporate messages is a delicate marketing strategy, since many of those prized listeners gravitated to public stations looking for the exact opposite: an escape from advertising’s constant hum.

These stories mention single payer. I can find no NPR news reports or other shows which actually focused on single payer or on the movement to achieve it.

Why is NPR refusing to report on what 60% of US citizens and the majority of health professionals want?

NPR’s web site provides lists of foundation and individual major donors but not of corporate sponsors. For that list you need to go to their annual reports. The latest report available on line is for 2005. Health and Long-term Care corporate sponsors in 2005 were:

  • $1 million+: Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Prudential Financial
  • $500,000 – $999,999: Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Allstate Insurance Company, Northwestern Mutual Foundation,
  • $250,000 – $499,999: AARP, The Hartford Financial Services Group, UnumProvident
  • $100,000 – $249,999: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
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I think part of the mess we find ourselves in can be explained by the party system.
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George Washington explained in detail what he saw as the danger of political parties:

They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

“However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Like Paine, a danger he saw was that a country could develop divided loyalties and the people would no longer see themselves united in a common cause. This would lead to a weakening of liberty because it would spread mistrust and antagonism. One division he foresaw was geographical where parties would prey upon people’s prejudices and xenophobia. Another division had to do with foreign influences.
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In Washington’s time, this made particular sense as a large part of the population had been born in another country or had close relatives still living in another country. A dangerous possibility was of a citizen who had loyalty divided between two nations. This still can be a danger today, but it’s an even bigger issue with globalization. Businesses (as well as business owners and investors) have less national allegiance once they become transnational corporations which are the very businesses that now have the most influence over our politics.
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The parties have become perfect vehicles for corporate interests. This is particularly problematic considering that mainstream media companies have been bought up by conglomerates that often are transnational. So the parties and the media, NPR included, that reports on them is increasingly influenced by the same global plutocracy.
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Anyway, my frustration is that this entire corrupt system gets blamed on liberals.
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NPR liberal? Obama progressive? In what alternative reality?

US Political History

This is my understanding of American politics.  I don’t know if it’s absolutely true in every detail, but as far as I know it’s true in the broad trends I’m pointing out.

To begin, early Republicans were libertarians who believed in separation of government and capitalism.  The Founding Fathers believed in an educated elite that controlled government and weren’t motivated by economic concerns.  They thought selfishness was a danger to democracy.  The early country was almost entirely agrarian.  The Federal government was weak as much for reasons of disagreement as for any libertarian idealism, but there were already those favoring a strong Federal government supported by a thriving economy.  Industrialism was already emerging and so along with an increasing tax base there was an ever-growing Federal government.  It wasn’t long before there was a standing army and it was all downhill from there.

The US had slavery longer than other major nations.  The US was slow on abolishing slavery.  The early economy of the US was largely dependent on slavery and even politicians who were ideologically against slavery were only against it very weakly.  The hope was that it would peacefully die out on its own, but this hope would prove to be unfounded.  A similar argument is made today in the belief that racism will end on its own if we just don’t talk about it.

Lincoln was more concerned with maintaining Federal power than he was in ending slavery.  He said he would have accepted slavery if the Southern states stopped trying to secede.  With Lincoln and the Civil War, the Republican party had become the party for the federal power and the Democratic party had become libertarian in defending state’s rights.  The Civil War was mostly about conservative Democrats from the Southern agrarian states (i.e. Dixiecrats) who opposed the liberally progressive Conservatives from the Northern industrial states.  Of course, Industrialism and Federalism won and along with it progressive liberalism.

In the early 20th century, politics in general along with both parties was slanted towards progressive liberalism. Socialist programs were popular and fascism (the combination of state and capitalism) was the national enemy.  At this time, Ayn Rand for the first time made popular a form of libertarianism that was pro-capitalism (i.e. big business to replace big government which if taken to an extreme would manifest as fascism).  I don’t know which ideas were originated by Rand, but certainly she popularized a new ideal of enlightened selfishness which in time became the ideal adopted by many politicians.

In the mid 20th century, the Democratic and Republican parties switched places.  Democrats turned towards civil rights and turned away from their support of state rights Dixiecrats.  Republicans attempted a balancing act of maintaining their growing support of Federal power all the while wooing the Southern states.  So, Democrats became the party of multiculturalism and minorities, and Republicans became the party of “white culture” and the religious right.  At this time, Communists replaced the Fascists as the new national enemy and Federal power grew in leaps and bounds.  Distracted by Communism, the ties between state and capitalism grew closer (i.e. military-industrial complex).

Several decades of the Cold War changed even further the definitions of the political parties.  The fear-mongering of patriotic rallying led both parties to be proponents of a strong central government.  The Republicans had a nifty trick that helped them to dominate politics for much of the last few decades.  They managed to hold on to the Southern states by opposing the civil rights movement, and they held on to the Northern states by their support of Federal Power (and their support of “white culture” as the nation was still majority white).

This would seem to have left Libertarians outside of influence, but Republicans and Libertarians made a deal.  The Rand devotees took over the Libertarian party and made it the party of big business and the Reaganite Neocons took over the Republican party and made it the party of the military-industrial complex.  Thus the Rand Institute became a major player as a think tank for the Neocons.  The odd thing is that the Neocons were disillusioned Democrats who stripped progressivism of any consideration of the idealism about human rights.  Under Reagan, the Cold War military-industrial complex had led to an economic boom.  The rich grew richer and the poor got trickle-down economics, but this also began the movement towards a massive cultural divide that would take a while to become disruptive to Republican power.

The Democratic party lost it’s inspiring vision with the death of Martin Luther King jr and the Kennedy brothers.  It became a time of materialism and selfishness.  There was simultaneously a cynicism about human nature and an idealism of the American spirit.  Social Darwinism was the model of politics and of society in general.  Even protesters against the war had turned violent as the police also turned violent.  The soldiers were returning home and the travesty of the Vietnam war could no longer be ignored.  These veterans weren’t welcomed home by anybody.  Some of them joined the protesters (adding to the violence of the protests) and others entirely dropped out of civic participation.  A generation of traumatized veterans became a major component of the growing homeless population.

This was also a time of an oppressive and invasive government.  Besides the many assassinations, the government was heavy in to COINTELPRO programs which had the specific purpose of destroying the civil rights movement.  Politics became dirty and Nixon became the symbol of how far the country had fallen in its depravity.  The Cold War in general was a time of constant conflict inside and outside of the country.  Besides Vietnam, the government was involved in covert wars, overthrowing of democratic governments, and illegal assassinations.  As such, we helped support and build the power for people such as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Politics and morality had almost been completely severed.  This was a time of Republican power but it was a Republican party that had become entirely opposite of the ideals of the earliest Republicans.  The Democratic party wasn’t much better as idealism in general was no longer strongly valued or rather the idealism had become nationalistic.  Even the Democrats had become fairly Neocon.  Neither party supported states rights.  Neither party protected the poor from the rich.

However, a new young generation of realistic-minded GenXers were beginning to have a subtle influence in the background.  It seems this new generation was not only more socially liberal but also more fiscally conservative which is closer to early American political values.  GenXers believed in doing things for themselves because the large Boomer generation wouldn’t allow them into the reigns of power.  GenX made the web into what we know it now and GenX embedded their liberal/libertarian values into how the internet functioned.  The internet was first developed by the military and intellectual elites, but GenX made it in to a platform for democratic empowerment for the common person.

Meanwhile,  Neoconservatism manifested in it’s most extreme form with Bush jr which finally made the American public realize the faults of this ideology that had dominated for a half century.  Also, recent policies had led to a decade or so of increased immigration.  A generation of kids were growing up in a multicultural America like no generation had seen before which in turn led to increasing socially liberal values.  This was GenY which was larger than the Boomers and turned out in great numbers for the election when the Republican party finally lost its grip on political power.  Obama was the first GenX president and he came to power by using the internet that GenX had developed.

After a dissatisfying 8 yrs of extreme Neoconservatism (along with a loss of American pride and an economic downturn), the ideal of the government taking the moral highground and of politics serving the people has became popular again.  Obama has brought a focus on social programs and in reaction conservatives have retreated to a populist stance which they hadn’t used since the last time true liberal progressivism had been in power earlier in the previous century.  However, this far right populism is grounded in both religious fundamentalism and “white culture”.  The problem is that the US demographics have changed.  The rural and Southern white Christian fundamentalists are now becoming less influential and will soon be the minority.  This “populism” of “white culture” no longer correlates to popular opinion in the real world.  Sadly, this the reason the white supremacists will become very vocal in the immediate future.  There is going to be a cultural war and “white culture” as it’s been defined in the past is going to lose, but white supremacists won’t give up their power easily and there will be violence.

In conclusion, my main point is that only a loose connection exists between Republican and conservatism and between Democrat and liberalism.  And Libertarianism has been particularly effective in redefining itself in order to create a niche.  No unchanging definition of these parties exists.

So, what will the parties become in the next few decades?

The Democratic party is remembering it’s liberal idealism but without entirely giving up on the Neocon vision, and the Republican party is being forced to reassess its role in society and at least temporarily paying populist lip service to Libertarianism.  The Libertarians were aligned with the Republicans in recent history, but now even many conservatives are critical of the Republicans.  Now that Democrats are ascending in power and liberalism in general is increasing, where will that leave Libertarians in the long-term?  The white supremacists are grasping for an alliance with the Libertarians, but if the Libertarians aren’t careful they will be pulled down.  Libertarians have no loyalty to the white-dominated religious right.  It’s more likely that Libertarians will eventually either seek commonality with Neoconservative Democrats and Blue Dogs or else lessen their advocacy of uncontrolled capitalism.  What would the two parties look like if Libertarians switched loyalties to the new ruling party?  I wouldn’t mind seeing a Libertarianism with a social conscience no matter which party it aligned itself with.

Blacks and hispanics will soon be the new majority.  Will these previous minorities turn their backs on the Republican party that turned it’s back on them?  Or will the new majority ethnicities take control of the Republican party?  Will the political fight of the future be over whether America will be defined by either “black culture” or “hispanic culture”?  Will white supremacists align themselves with hispanic caucasians in defense against the rising tide of blacks seeking compensation for centuries of oppression?  Or are these culture wars of ethnicity a thing of the past as interracial marriage becomes ever more common?