RETURNING TO THE DAYS OF SILENT CAL

With the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has come full-circle. In the 1990s, Romney, posing as a liberal, ran for the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy in Mass.,  but lost. In the early 2000s he ran as a moderate for the governorship of Mass., and this time he won. His reign as Governor was noted by the success he had in pushing for, and passing a universal health-care law that was the predecessor of Obama-care. To this day, Mass. is the only state in the union that has a rate of 99% health care coverage for its citizens. However, when he decided to run for President, Romney determined that the only way to secure the Republican nomination was to swing over to being a far-right wing conservative. It didn’t work in 2008, when he lost the nomination to John McCain, but it did work this year. Now in selecting Paul Ryan as his Veep, he has truly become what he described himself as-a “severe conservative.”

Paul Ryan is a very earnest, far-right GOP Congressman from a district in Wisconsin that has voted Democratic in presidential elections. This tea-party favorite has demonstrated his political chops by winning 6 straight elections in a normally Democratic district. He is a darling of the tea-party because he believes in sharply cutting government spending, especially on programs for the poor, sick and elderly. Most of his cuts would be in stuff like food-stamps, student-loans, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. You get the picture. Left intact would be tax-cuts for the rich, which the tea-party believes would further enhance “trickle-down” economic theories, whereby the rich, if sufficiently placated, will trickle down enough resources to satisfy the lower classes. What’s lesser known about Ryan is that he has a strong right-wing agenda on social issues as well. As an example, he co-sponsored a bill in Congress that would outlaw all abortions, including those in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life.

There is an excellent chance that the Romney/Ryan ticket will win in November, and that the Republicans will take control of Congress as well. This would be the tea-party’s dream come true, to roll back much, if not all, of the social welfare and fiscal regulatory legislation and progress of the last 80 years. So let’s see what that world would look-like, by going back into the not-too-distant past. The year is 1920, and after 8 year of Democratic rule under Woodrow Wilson, the Republican ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge wins the presidency. Harding is soon entangled in various corruption scandals, and dies in 1922 under mysterious circumstances. Coolidge, a taciturn New-Englander, becomes President and vows a program of Government fiscal austerity. Coolidge doesn’t possess the usual politician’s propensity for speechifying, and is thus referred to as Silent Cal, although he did have the distinction of being the first president to give a speech on that new-fangled, high-tech contraption known as radio. Coolidge also had the distinction of overseeing the only presidential administration that spent less money when it ended than when it began. At that time the federal government didn’t do much of anything. It had puny military resources, especially compared to today’s military, a few ambassadorships in some foreign countries, an Attorney-General (because there were always crooks in the government since George Washington’s time), and a Department of Agriculture to help out farmers in need, especially during droughts or floods. Outside of that the government did little of anything.

That period was also known as the roaring ’20s, because of a booming economy, that was fueled by rampant speculation on Wall Street. Stock speculators, fast-buck artists, and other scammers were running wild, since there was no Securities and Exchange Commission to reign in their activities. Kind of like the real-estate scammers in the early 2000s. The mantra was that stocks could only go one-way and that was up. It hardly mattered what stock one bought since the market was only going on an upward trajectory. Sound familiar, in regard to real estate in this century? Big money could be made in the stock market because everyone knew stocks could only go up. Until one day they didn’t. Instead they came crashing down. With a vengeance. It was October 1929, and almost overnight, millions of people saw their wealth and life savings melt away. Companies started going out-of-business, and millions suddenly became unemployed. The Great Depression had started. It was not a rarity to see people ending their lives by jumping out-of sky-scrappers as all the money they thought they owned went up in smoke.

Coolidge decided in 1928, when times were still good, not to run for re-election. He had served 6 years as President, and decided that another 4 years, for a total of 10 years, would indeed be cruel and unusual punishment supposedly banned by the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. In that, he certainly had a valid point. So in 1928 the presidency went to Coolidge’s VP, Herbert Hoover. When the Depression started to get a stranglehold on the economy in 1930, Hoover did attempt some New Deal type legislation, but it was too-little, too-late. Of course, as we all know, Hoover was swept out of office in a landslide defeat to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and the New Deal began in earnest. While the Depression was an economic catastrophe for millions, it also represented the dissolution of the American dream for a huge chunk of the populace. That dream was based on the assumption that if one went to college and learned a profession, or developed blue-collar construction skills and worked hard, one could lead a comfortable middle-class family life, often in their own private homes. Now all that was gone. Men sat on park benches, penniless, and gazed into space, wondering what had happened.

That is, until the New Deal started to take hold, and people began to finally believe that they had a Government that was on their side. We all know how the tale then unfolded. Roosevelt and the Democrats gave the nation Social Security, the Civilian Conservation Corps which put hundreds of thousands of people back to work, the right to form unions and strike if necessary, created the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many, many more pieces of progressive legislation. Succeeding administrations have built on that record, such as Democrat Lyndon Johnson getting both Medicare and Medicaid passed, and Republicans Richard Nixon who defined a role for the federal government in health, education and welfare, and even George W. Bush who created the Medicare drug benefit.

Now the Romney/Ryan ticket threatens to undo most, if not all, of those accomplishments if elected. If we let them as we likely will. After all, they’re severe conservatives, and the tea partiers, and the Rush Limbaugh types, are already salivating over the prospects of cutting government to the bone. Then we can go back to the days when Silent Cal was President and the government did virtually nothing. After all, we all saw how well that turned out.

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