Capitalists Learning From Socialists

Even The Wall Street Journal Is Asking Questions About How Ownership Should Work in a Democracy
by Gar Alperovitz

The piece begins with the simple imperative: “If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure.“

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in The Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

[…] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

[…] the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism’s most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: The system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it’s getting close.

Confession of Faith
Theodore Roosevelt
August 06, 1912

I am well aware that every upholder of privilege, every hired agent or beneficiary of the special interests, including many well-meaning parlor reformers, will denounce all this as “Socialism” or “anarchy”–the same terms they used in the past in denouncing the movements to control the rail-ways and to control public utilities. As a matter of fact, the propositions I make constitute neither anarchy nor Socialism, but on the contrary, a corrective to Socialism and an antidote to anarchy.

“Socialism, II — Where We Can Work with Socialists”
Outlook 27 March 1909
by Theodore Roosevelt

It is true that the doctrines of communistic Socialism, if consistently followed, mean the ultimate annihilation of civilization. Yet the converse is also true. Ruin faces us if we decline steadily to try to reshape our whole civilization in accordance with the law of service, and if we permit ourselves to be misled by any empirical or academic consideration into refusing to exert the common power of the community where only collective action can do what individualism has left undone, or can remedy the wrongs done by an unrestricted and ill-regulated individualism. There is any amount of evil in our social and industrial conditions of today, and unless we recognize this fact and try resolutely to do what we can to remedy the evil, we run great risk of seeing men in their misery turn to the false teachers whose doctrines would indeed lead them to greater misery, but who do at least recognize the fact that they are now miserable. At the present time there are scores of laws in the interest of labor — laws putting a stop to child labor, decreasing the hours of labor where they are excessive, putting a stop to unsanitary crowding and living, securing employers’ liability, doing away with unhealthy conditions in various trades, and the like — which should be passed by the National and the various State Legislatures; and those who wish to do effective work against Socialism would do well to turn their energies into securing the enactment of these laws.

Moreover, we should always remember that Socialism is both a wide and a loose term, and that the self-styled Socialists are of many and utterly different types. If we should study only the professed apostles of radical Socialism, of what these men themselves like to call “scientific Socialism,” or if we should study only what active leaders of Socialism in this country have usually done, or read only the papers in which they have usually expressed themselves, we would gain an utterly wrong impression of very many men who call themselves Socialists. There are many peculiarly high-minded men and women who like to speak of themselves as Socialists, whose attitude, conscious or unconscious, is really merely an indignant recognition of the evil of present conditions and an ardent wish to remedy it, and whose Socialism is really only an advanced form of liberalism. Many of these men and women in actual fact take a large part in the advancement of moral ideas […] The Socialists of this moral type may in practice be very good citizens indeed, with whom we can at many points co-operate.

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography
by Theodore Roosevelt

many of the men who call themselves Socialists to-day are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens well afford to follow.

Teddy Roosevelt’s “Socialist” Party Platform
by Timothy Ashby

THE PROGRESSIVE ROOSEVELT.
by Amygdala

Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Bid Represents a Long Tradition of American Socialism
Long deployed by the right as an epithet, this form of left-wing populism is as American as apple pie.
by Peter Dreier

How Obama’s Embrace Turned Teddy Roosevelt Into a Socialist
After Obama cited Roosevelt in his Kansas speech, Fox News has decided that TR peddled “socialistic nationalism.”
by John Nichols

Sanders’s ‘socialist’ policies sound a lot like Teddy Roosevelt’s and Reagan’s
by H.A. Goodman

Re: How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)

Sam Harris has an awesome post in response to the anti-tax anti-statists (who often seem to be anti-humanists, especially the Randian types). There was a particular part that caught my attention (emphasis is mine):

image“And lurking at the bottom of this morass one finds flagrantly irrational ideas about the human condition. Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made. They seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts, for their freedom from injury and disease, and for the fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—and we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—and they did not deserve it. And yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born with club feet, or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral and economic wisdom in some circles. And it is pernicious. Followers of Rand, in particular, believe that only a blind reliance on market forces and the narrowest conception of self interest can steer us collectively toward the best civilization possible and that any attempt to impose wisdom or compassion from the top—no matter who is at the top and no matter what the need—is necessarily corrupting of the whole enterprise. This conviction is, at the very least, unproven. And there are many reasons to believe that it is dangerously wrong.”
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That is what socialism has to offer us. Socialism reminds us that humans are inherently social animals. Humans literally can’t survive without others. Many infants die if they aren’t touched, despite how well they are fed.
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It was odd that Sam Harris had to or even wanted to explain that he wasn’t a socialist. He clarified his position by pointing out that he is a libertarian in many ways:
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And I say this as someone who considers himself, in large part, a “libertarian”—and who has, therefore, embraced more or less everything that was serviceable in Rand’s politics. The problem with pure libertarianism, however, has long been obvious: We are not ready for it.Judging from my recent correspondence, I feel this more strongly than ever. There is simply no question that an obsession with limited government produces impressive failures of wisdom and compassion in otherwise intelligent people.
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And…
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It was disconcerting how many people felt the need to lecture me about the failure of Socialism. To worry about the current level of wealth inequality is not to endorse Socialism, or to claim that the equal distribution of goods should be an economic goal.
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His reponse just goes to show you how little socialism is understood. Chomsky is both a socialist and a libertarian. Chomsky explains that libertarianism arose out of the the socialist workers movement.
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To put it simply, socialism promotes an egalitarian society that is fair and just. Socialism, however, doesn’t necessitate the equal distribution of goods. It only requires the equal distribution of opportunities and equal public benefits for public investments. Socialism is the opposite of our present plutocratic socialism. Instead of redistribution to the few, the benefits of our shared society go to benefit to all who are a part of that society. It’s the simple understanding that no person is self-made. Even Sam Harris understands this despite apparently, in his defensiveness, not realizing that socialism isn’t such a crazy idea.

Obama: Secret Commie Seeking to Destroy America

What Happened to Obama? Absolutely Nothing.
He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president.
By Norman Podhoretz 

“Of course, unlike Mr. Westen, we villainous conservatives do not see Mr. Obama as conciliatory or as “a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election.” On the contrary, we see him as a president who knows all too well what he believes. Furthermore, what Mr. Westen regards as an opportunistic appeal to the center we interpret as a tactic calculated to obfuscate his unshakable strategic objective, which is to turn this country into a European-style social democracy while diminishing the leading role it has played in the world since the end of World War II. The Democrats have persistently denied that these are Mr. Obama’s goals, but they have only been able to do so by ignoring or dismissing what Mr. Obama himself, in a rare moment of candor, promised at the tail end of his run for the presidency: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”” 

[insert evil laugh]
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A Republican doesn’t like a Democratic president… oh my. A right-winger projects his conspiracy-minded paranoia onto a perceived conspiratorial left-wing… you don’t say.  There is nothing unexpected from this opinion piece. I’ve heard it all before, and I have no doubt I’ll hear it many more times.
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From my perspective, Obama is just another professional politician, probably no better or worse than Bush. I don’t know Obama’s real opinions any more than this writer knows. He is merely expressing the fears of the right, but his interpretation is based on massive amounts of speculation.
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I really don’t care about Obama. He doesn’t represent me or people like me. I have never changed my opinion about him. I didn’t support him when he was running and I don’t support him now. Obama is far to the right of actual left-wingers such as Nader and Chomsky, how far to the right I don’t know. Between left-wingers and right-wingers, Obama is somehwere in the middle, well within the mainstream of Washington. He is just a corporatist politician beholden to big money, just like most other politicians. All two party politics is a sham.

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about socialism and communism.

“Like their communist ancestors of the 1930s, the leftist radicals of the ’60s were convinced that the United States was so rotten that only a revolution could save it.”

There has been wide differing opinions among left-wingers. The socialists who did gain power (such as the sewer socialists) believed in democratic reform from within the system rather than revolution to overthrow the system.
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The “S” Word
By John Nichols

pp. 108-109
While Lenin was dismissive of municipal socialism, he was not arguing for inaction. His was a tactical objection based at least in part on the distinct experiences of different countries, and the American Socialists tended to see it as such. Unperturbed, they read their Marx with an eye toward the sections that recognized the role of incremental progress while tending to reject suggestions that “the rigidity of the class structure prevented the achievement of meaningful reforms for the worker until the demise of capitalism.” Many of the most radical Americans, especially those associated with the Industrial Workers of the World’s “One Big Union,” objected to the whole idea of waiting for a right revolutionary moment, which they ridiculed as a “pie-in-the-sky” promise that had about as much meaning for hard-pressed working families as the preachers’ assurance that they would get their just deserts in the next life.
[ . . . ]
The “sewer socialists” were not averse to heavenly rewards, but felt that serving up some deserts in the here and now might be necessary to advance the cause. This incrementalism put them at odds with more radical players, including old allies in the IWW at home and leading Communists abroad, over the question of whether it was ever appropriate to employ violence. To this end, many of the “sewer socialists” took counsel from the pragmatic German socialist Eduard Bernstein, who asserted that, while theory, plotting and preparation for the glorious revolution had appeal, a practical plan for putting food on the table might inspire the masses to mobilize. Among those who most highly regarded Bernstein’s view that it was possible to “[dispense] with the need for violence” was Victor Berger, the great proponent of american socialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Berger, the man who drew Debs to the cause, declared that “we do not care a [wit] whether our socialism is Marxian or otherwise, as long as we change the present system and emancipate the people.”
Berger understood and respected America as a democracy, even if it was imperfect in his time and might remain so. “[It] is foolish,” he explained, “to expect results from riots and dynamite, from murderous attacks and conspiracies, in a country where we have the ballot, as long as the ballot has been given a full and fair trial.” Tthe point was to achieve “the revolutionizing of the mind” — something Berger sought to do as a newspaper editor, magazine writer and author of four decades’ worth of campaign pamphlets. “In the world’s history there are no sudden leaps, he preached [ . . . ]
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They often stated their pride in being Americans. If it weren’t for socialists fighting for the right of free speech during the WWI, people like Podhoretz wouldn’t have the right and freedom to criticize the president. Many socialists made sacrifices in order to defend the rights we now accept as being normal. Some of those socialists spent time in prison for criticizng the president and the government during war time.
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p. 60:
And when their popular leader was prosecuted for exercising his freedom of speech during a time of war — and condemned for identifying himself as an internationalist when nationalism was all the rage — Eugene Victor Debs rejected the notion that he was at odds with America.
Yes, Debs acknowledged, without apology or the caution of a man facing a long prison term; he was a critic of the military and economic policies that a ruling class had imposed upon America. Yes, he proposed to change these policies in order to transform America. Yes, he believed that he had much in common with radicals in other lands. But these were not imported ideas, not a “foreign disease” contracted from afar, as Glenn Beck might imagine. These were, Debs explained to his prosecutors, American ideals expressed long ago by the pamphleteer whose words George Washington ordered read at Valley Forge to the soldiers of a revolutionary army. Further,
“It is because I happen to be in this minority that I stand in your presence today, charged with crime. It is because I believe, as the revolutionary fathers believed in their day, that a change was due in the interests of the people, that the time had come for a better form of government, an improved system, a higher social order, a nobler humanity and a grander civilization.
[ . . . ]
My friend, the assistant prosecutor, doesn’t like what I had to say in my speech about internationalism. What is there objectionable to internationalism? If we had internationalism there would be no war. I believe in patriotism. I have never uttered a word against the flag. I love the flag as a symbol of freedom. I object only when the flag is prostituted to base purposes, to sordid ends, by those who, in the name of patriotism, would keep the people in subjection.
I believe, however, in a wider patriotism. Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world. To do good is my religion.”
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We are at war now and yet Podhoretz has the privilege of not going to prison for his speaking so freely.
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“But whereas the communists had in their delusional vision of the Soviet Union a model of the kind of society that would replace the one they were bent on destroying, the new leftists only knew what they were against: America, or Amerika as they spelled it to suggest its kinship to Nazi Germany.”
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Talk about hyperbole. Actually, many socialists and communists didn’t hold any allegiance to the Soviet Union (Do Republicans hold allegiance to China simply because China is a republic?). They considered themselves American and they didn’t see socialism as a contradiction to the American tradition. They based their views on great American thinkers of the past such as Thomas Paine. And there were many socialist-friendly social gospel Christians like MLK who modeled their radicalism on the radicalism of Jesus. If you ask many leftists, they’ll go into great detail explaining what they are for. Did you realize the Republican Party was started by radical left-wingers (socialists, abolitionists, agrarian reformers, suffragists, labor activists, etc)? Most American left-wingers see their values as inherently American.

Mr. Podhoretz is against the president of the United States. Does that mean Mr. Podhorettz is unAmerican? Does it mean that Mr. Podhoretz has a delusional vision of Nazi Germany? No, of course that would be a silly thing to say… but it’s what he is saying about the left. People like him can and do call people like me unAmerican commies. And, in return, people like me could call people like him unAmerican fascists. However, I don’t think that is helpful or beneficial on any level: political, moral, or societal.

While socialists were being imprisoned for defending free speech, some businessmen of the time were associating with fascist leaders from around the world. Did these privileged businessmen go to prison for supporting fascism? Nope. Which was the greater threat: the socialists without free speech or the fascist businessmen who had immense power?

“Thanks, however, to the unmasking of the Soviet Union as a totalitarian nightmare, they did not know what they were for.”

What about the unmasking of fascist Germany or Italy as a totalitarian nightmare? Trying to associate all socialists with the Soviet Union is like trying to associate all capitalists with Nazi Germany. It’s a silly and childish game to play.

“Yet once they had pulled off the incredible feat of taking over the Democratic Party behind the presidential candidacy of George McGovern in 1972, they dropped the vain hope of a revolution, and in the social-democratic system most fully developed in Sweden they found an alternative to American capitalism that had a realistic possibility of being achieved through gradual political reform.”

Sure, left-wingers did gain some influence over the Democratic Party, just as right-wingers took over the Republican Party. So what? The parties have shifted. But no one could honestly claim that the Democratic Party is a left-wing love-fest. The only socialist in Washington, Bernie Sanders, is an Independent. Socialists know that they have little representation within the Democratic Party. Left-wingers like me don’t even vote for the Democratic Party.

The vain hope of revolution? It’s right-wingers who are always going on about starting a new Civil War or a new American Revolution, about secession, and about watering the tree of liberty. Good Lord! Many socialists hate violence and are often outright pacifists. It’s the socialists who went to prison for speaking out against war. Most American socialists don’t want revolution. Most just want to not be oppressed. In this world of big money politics and corporate media, socialists don’t have much of a voice. Did you know that newspapers earlier last century often had labor sections as a balance to their business sections? Not anymore. MSM with a left-leaning bias? I wish.

Anyway, what is wrong about democratically seeking gradual political reform? That is what has been happening since the country began. When socialists and other left-wingers started the Republican Party as a new third party, they were doing so to challenge the two party system of their day. They didn’t try to start a revolution. They simply tried to start a political movement under the banner of a new party. Why is that such a horrible thing to someone like Mr. Podhoretz?

“Thus, not one of the six Democratic presidential candidates who followed Mr. McGovern came out of the party’s left wing, and when Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (the only two of the six who won) tried each in his own way to govern in its spirit, their policies were rejected by the American immune system.”

He admits that the left-wingers have never had much influence over the Democratic Party. Jimmy Carter was no great left-winger. Volcker’s policies under Reagan actually began under Carter.

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncarebu21.html

The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democratic party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of “human rights” abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad.

And Clinton was the model for the modern centrist/corporatist Democratic Party. Left-wingers had little power in the 1990s. That was the era of right-wing culture wars, right-wing militants, and the rise of right-wing media. Clinton repealed Glass-Steagall which was one of the major acts of deregulation in recent history.
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http://www.laprogressive.com/economic-equality/progressives-predicted-clinton-welfare-reform-law-fails-families/
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Now, a new report shows that the Clinton welfare law is performing exactly as opponents feared, as the nation’s deep recession allows states to force families off aid and into destitution. It is an American tragedy, largely ignored because the victims are primarily low-income women and their children.
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Welfare reform was one of Clinton’s proudest achievements. Leftist? I think not.
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“It was only with the advent of Barack Obama that the leftists at long last succeeded in nominating one of their own.”

You can speculate that Obama’s policies might eventually lead to left-wing policies, but that is a whole lot of speculation. The most major acts that Obama has taken have been the continuation of Bush policies: wars, Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, bank bailouts, etc. Obama refuses to talk about increasing tax rates and instead, with no Republican asking him to do so, throws Social Security and other programs on the chopping block. Obama hasn’t even supported gay marriage because it’s against his Christian beliefs. None of these acts make left-wingers happy. To be honest, many things Obama has supported/promoted has been to the right of the American public. With health care insurance reform, Obama put forth the Republican idea of a mandate which forces people to buy insurance which grows the customer base of insurance companies (while ignoring the majority supported single payer and public option). Even to the degree Obama may be moderately left-leaning, he is so far away from socialism as to make that comparison ridiculous.

At first, Mr. Podhoretz claimed leftists were wanting revolution; and then he argues that leftists should feel like they won by getting a corporatist politician elected. Huh? If there was a violent communist revolution, politicians like Obama would either be killed or put in prison. It’s a good thing that American socialists are so supportive of the democratic process. In fact, American leftists tend to believe in American democracy more than American right-wingers. If there is going to be a violent (i.e., anti-democratic) revolution, it probably won’t come from the left. The last time there was a serious internal threat against American democracy was the Business Plot which was an attempt at a fascist takeover that involved some major American business leaders.
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“To be sure, no white candidate who had close associations with an outspoken hater of America like Jeremiah Wright and an unrepentant terrorist like Bill Ayers would have lasted a single day.”

This is what is called a double standard, an issue Frank Schaeffer has noted.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/obamas-minister-committed_b_91774.html

When Senator Obama’s preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

If you look at Obama’s voting record prior to becoming president, it is all mainstream Democratic positions. In his career, Obama has never been one to go out on a limb to push for radical reform. He is a professional politician just like George W. Bush. America won’t look much different after Obama than it looked after Bush. The same type of policies continue and the same problems continue as well.

As for socialists, too bad we don’t have a country run by socialists who would, like earlier socialists, defend our constitutional rights. The socialist-run cities were considered some of the most well run cities in the entire nation’s history.

The “S” Word
By John Nichols

pp. 110-11:
The immediate mission of the Socialists in Milwaukee—as it was in many of the other cities where they won control of local government, from Butte to Bridgeport—was to prove that government could operate honorably and as an extension of the people, rather than as a burden to them.
Berger, the great philosopher and tactician of the “sewer socialist” movement, understood that socialists could only make the case for government ownership of power and gas plants, waterworks, transit systems and other services if they established a reputation for absolute honesty and “good burgher” management. While Democrats and Republicans held out the hope of honest governance as an end in itself, Berger said: “With us, this is the first and smallest requirement.” His acolyte Frank Zeidler would write that the “sewer socialists” were distinguished by “a passion for orderly government; and by a contempt for graft and boodling.”
It was that contempt that opened the way for the first great Socialist Party victories in the United States.
“Before the Socialists took charge, Milwaukee was just as corrupt as Chicago at its worst. Our mayor at the turn of the twentieth century was David Rose, a political prince of darkness who allowed prostitution, gambling dens, all-night saloons and influence-peddling to flourish on his watch. Grand juries returned 276 indictments against public officials of the Rose era. ‘All the Time Rosy’ escaped prosecution himself, but district attorney (and future governor) Francis McGovern called him ‘the self-elected, self-appointed attorney general of crime in this community,’ ” recalls Gurda. “In 1910, fed-up voters handed Socialists the keys to the city. Emil Seidel, a patternmaker by trade, won the mayor’s race in a landslide, and Socialists took a majority of seats on the Common Council.”

pp. 125-127:
Amusingly, the socialists were also recognized for practicing what might today be referred to as “fiscal conservatism.” Because they feared “bondage to the banks,” Hoan and his fellow “sewer socialists” operated on a pay-as-you-go basis that eventually made Milwaukee the only major city in the United States that was debt free.
Urban affairs writer Melvin Holli and a group of experts on local government would in 199 hail Hoan as one of the finest mayors in the nation’s history, with Holli observing: “Perhaps Hoan’s most important legacy was cleaning up the free-and-easy corruption that prevailed before he took office. Hoan’s quarter century in office made the change stick, and it seems to have elevated Milwaukee’s politics above that of other cities in honesty, efficiency and delivery of public services.”