Posts Tagged With: Roosevelt

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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POISONING THE WELL

Franklin Roosevelt was, and will always be, the only president elected to that office more than twice. He won an unprecedented four terms of office, although he died early in his fourth term, thus turning the presidency over to Harry Truman. To prevent anyone else from having Roosevelt’s seemingly iron grip on the oval office, an amendment was passed in 1947 limiting all future presidents to two terms. But the most interesting race of the four was in 1940 when Roosevelt would make history if elected a third time. His opponent that year was a mostly unknown candidate named Wendell Willkie who represented a small but internationalist and liberal wing of the Republican party (now as extinct as the Dodo bird.) My father, a life-long Democrat,  once told me the only time he was tempted to vote Republican, was for Wendell Willkie in 1940. As highly as he rated Roosevelt, he thought Wilkie was even better. In the end, though, he did vote Democratic.

To set the picture of what life was like in the world 72 years ago, one has to recognize how different, but also similar the times were in comparison to 2012. Storm clouds of war were descending in both Europe and the Pacific, but a strong streak of isolationism still existed in the U.S. Most Republicans, and indeed most Americans felt if we could somehow avoid  becoming entangled in the looming wars with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, we could avoid the costs and loss of life that such wars would undoubtably result in. But Willkie, being an internationalist as was Roosevelt, knew that America’s participation in the coming wars was unavoidable. In 1940 we were also just beginning to pull ourselves out of the worst and most destructive Depression in U.S. history. When FDR took office in 1933, the unemployment rate was about 25%. But his New Deal policies helped cut that in half, and he won a landslide re-election in 1936. By 1937, his administration started to cut back on the money the Government was pumping into the economy, causing unemployment to start creeping up again. Thus Willkie ran on a platform of declaring that the New Deal had not solved America’s economic crises, and new leadership was required. Sound familiar to this year’s campaign rhetoric? As with Obama today, there were the Roosevelt haters and bashers, such as famous journalist Westbrook Pegler. Only radio and TV weren’t available to do their bashing and hating, so they had to rely almost solely on newspapers and magazines. In the end, however, they were no match for Roosevelt’s rhetorical and speech-making skills.

Although the economy was still in poor shape in 1940, Willkie”s problem in trying to unseat Roosevelt was a lack of support within his own party. As I stated, most Republicans were isolationist and conservative and couldn’t warm to Willkie’s international and liberal leanings. Despite the poor economy, Roosevelt won the election easily. Even had he been elected, Willkie would not have served out his term, as he died at the young age of 52 in 1944. World War II came crashing down on the U.S. like a ton of bricks when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Of course the war took care of any lingering unemployment problems, as eventually 10 million people were recruited into the military, and the rest were sopped up in in armaments factories. Women who normally stayed home as housewives and mothers, had to go to work in tank and ship factories just to keep up with the war’s demands. With the unemployment problems gone, and with successful prosecution of the war effort, Roosevelt coasted to another victory in 1944, despite cries that he was becoming a dictator.

This year’s election, as in Roosevelt’s time, is marked by a poor economy and runaway Government costs and deficits. But it it also denoted by the venomous behavior of the Obama haters and bashers. However, unlike in FDR’s time, the vilest hate mongering  can use radio and TV as its platform. Thus Rush Limbaugh, 3 weeks before Obama was sworn into office, screamed out the famous line: “I want him to fail.” (So do Al-Qiada and all other terrorist groups around the world.) From then on, Limbaugh’s program of 3 hours per day, 5 days a-week, consists almost purely of venom and vitriol directed against Obama and the Democrats. He claims to have a listenership of 20 million, so his hate-mongering has made him a billionaire or close to it. I don’t blame him as much as the millions of pathetic souls out there, who can’t get through their day without listening to 3 hours of hate radio directed against their president. Of course, there’s about a thousand Rush wannabes in cities across the country spewing out the same type of vitriol. And leave us not forget Fox News on TV that does basically the same. Since the American electorate has been dumbed down by all this propaganda, the well of politics has been thoroughly poisoned, to the extent that nothing can be achieved in Congress or the Office of the President that would in anyway be beneficial to the American public. For example, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, stated very early on, that the Republican’s primary and overriding objective was to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Not do what’s right for the American people, perish the thought.

Obama’s rival in this year’s election, Mitt Romney, seems like a decent enough guy even if he has all the core values of wallpaper. He has done a total reversal on every major issue since he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, or became Governor in 2002. But even if he wins the presidency as is likely, and the the GOP wins both houses of Congress, this country will still be be in for a very rough slog. Because if the Republicans don’t elect 60 Senators, and it’s unlikely they will, the Democrats will use the filibuster in the Senate to attempt to thwart a President Romney at every turn, as the GOP did to President Obama.

Yes, we have some very serious problems such as a poor economy, high unemployment, huge deficit spending, etc. But the most serious problem of all, is that the well of the body politic has been so poisoned by hate radio and television, that cooperation within the government to attempt to resolve these problems seems a near impossibility. Congratulations to all hate-mongers out there. Your efforts are apparently paying off.

 

 

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