Sunday, April 20, 2008

Past is Never Past

Blogism is rooted in journalism, and, for all that it touts itself as something exceptional and scorns its source, blogism is prone to the same blind spots as journalism.

Including a "New Yorker"-cover perspective on history, where the last 20 or 40 years (depending on the age of the blogger/journalist) make up the bulk of history and the definition of "normal."

Here's a quote in a recent New York Times story on the economy:

“The most important model that rolled off the Detroit assembly lines in the 20th century,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California at Berkeley, “was the middle class for blue-collar workers.”

Right. The notion that a working man could have company-subsidized health care, unemployment benefits, a retirement savings plan, and a wage that would buy him a modest house, a new car every few years, a vacation once in a while, and a college education for his kids -- that is a comparatively recent thing in American history.

It was not always so. It was not considered essential to the health of the republic by Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, or Lincoln.

It happened for many reasons: capitalism's rising tide; capitalism's fear of communism; Roosevelt's big government; Roosevelt's big war; the closing of the frontier; the restrictions on immigration. You can't claim only one source, unless you're a polemicist, not a person with a sense of history.

Knowing these sorts of things doesn't buttress anyone's present position. It only makes the picture more complicated.

And what's the use of that, eh?

* * *

Good line:

The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they've got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don't care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I'll fly the plane myself.

Too bad it's Thomas Frank, the "What's the Matter with Kansas?," "One Market Under God," "Commodify Your Dissent" guy.

Just because it wasn't true in Lincoln's day doesn't mean a relative equality, a populous and middle class enjoying a healthy life that everyone has equal opportunity to achieve, aren't the pulse of modern America. The right does itself and its country no good when it dismisses the left's concerns about that.

* * *

Which leads to this:

Hough notes the unravelling of the New Deal and the rightward movement of both parties in economic policy, but leaves out the social, economic and ideological transformations of which these are symptoms, and the dramatic alteration in the balance of forces in favour of capital that has accompanied them. Against this backdrop, Hough’s hope that the parties will henceforth ‘represent the economic interests’ of the median mass of voters seems like whistling in the wind. Certainly, neither of the Democratic contenders in 2008 has plans to do so.

From "New Left Review." I didn't even realize they were still in business. The review is a short history of American national political parties and presidential elections from a leftist perspective. It is not a complete picture or a balanced one, but it is one worth bearing in mind when building your own complete picture:

Hough’s account draws on intensive archival work to detail the processes by which the two parties contrived to limit electoral participation, gerrymander constituencies and divide up the electoral spoils within the ferociously competitive landscape of modern industrial America — greatly aided, although he does not spell this out, by the first-past-the-post system. At stake, for both parties, has been the problem of mobilizing maximum electoral support for policies that are not primarily conceived in the interests of the median voter.

Of course, the grass-roots from-the-bottom-up alternative for political action in a democracy is unlikely to yield results congenial to the New Left's hopes and dreams. As the article itself indicates, without seeming to be aware of it:

When the Whigs, magnates and manufacturers failed to offer a refuge to Protestant workers alienated by the Irish-run lower ranks of the Democratic machine in the 1850s, they were swept away by the anti-Papist, anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party in a revolt from below.

One of the nastier episodes in American history, and a faction of extremists that make Michelle Malkin look like Dorothy Day.

The author of the book being reviewed has made his specialty in studying the political structure of the Soviet Union, and both he and the reviewer seem content to find it essentially similar to the modern American political landscape. Which shows how a layperson with a dollop of common sense can be confident of his own conclusions even if all the historians and commentators and pundits in the world treat him with contempt.

It seems the situation Robert Conquest described from 40 years ago has left its mental dust bunnies in some unswept corners of the Left's house:

In the late Sixties when my book The Great Terror came out, it was still true that, as the great historian François Furet noted, after the war and the demise of fascism, “all the major debates on postwar ideas revolved round a single question: the nature of the Soviet regime.” He adds the paradox that communism had two main embodiments — as a backward despotism and as a constituency in the West that had to be kept unaware of the other’s reality. And, up to the last, this was often accompanied by a view of the Cold War as an even exchange — with the imputation that any denigration of the Soviet regime was due to peace-hating prejudice.

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