Sunday, March 5, 2017


      Along with most of my friends (it’s that “birds of a feather” thing again), I tend to view government as an arena in which various entities compete for whatever goodies become available. You know, like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton asserted in The Federalist. Nevertheless, I make the somewhat absurd claim that there rose, once upon a time, a political coalition so powerful that politicians finally considered the good of the common man (and to a lesser extent the common woman) instead of the rich and powerful. That coalition, which continued to exert a powerful influence for the next fifty years, is all-but-lost now. It grows more distant every day.

     Franklyn Roosevelt’s New Deal was not, like George H. W. Bush’s Points of Light, mere political rhetoric. This much I intend to establish in the current posting. The product of a coalition that included white southerners, white workers in the north, African-Americans and progressives of all stripes, including feminists, it produced human-friendly results, both legislatively and in the courts.

      Now comes the boring-but-necessary part. To prove this point, I’m going to list (God, how I hate that word) the major accomplishments of the New Deal coalition. I’ll deal with them President by President, Democrat and Republican.

Franklin Roosevelt:
     The Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity to most of Tennessee, along with parts of Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia. The Rural Electrification Program brought electricity to the deep south and the western plains.
      The National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) created, for the first time, a right to freely organize, to bargain collectively and to strike.
      The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, created in 1933, provided insurance for the bank deposits of all Americans.
      The Agricultural Adjustment Act provided subsidies to farms during hard times, a program designed to stabilize crops prices.
      Social Security, including unemployment insurance.
      The Fair Labor Standards Act established the forty-hour work week, time-and-a-half for overtime, a federal minimum wage and the end of child labor under most circumstances.
      The Fair Employment Practice Committee forbade racial or religious discrimination in the defense industry.
       The Homeowners Refinancing Act refinanced the mortgages of millions of depression-era homeowners who faced imminent foreclosure.
      The Securities Exchange Act established the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee the various markets.
      The National Housing Act created the U.S. Housing Authority.

Harry Truman:
      Desegregated a federal workforce initially segregated by Woodrow Wilson, a true son of the South.
      Desegregated the military for the first time since the end of the Revolutionary War.
      Expanded Social Security to include another 10,000,000 Americans.

Dwight Eisenhower:
      The Civil Rights Act of 1957. Though essentially gutted by southern Democrats, this act, the first Civil Rights Bill passed in more than eighty years, attempted to guarantee voting rights to African-Americans. A second bill passed in 1960.
      Sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the desegregation of the city’s high schools. This was the first test of a Supreme Court decision (Brown vs. Board of Education) ordering the integration of public schools.
      Signed the Federal Aid Highway Act, at a cost of 425 billion dollars, which created the Interstate Highway System, the largest infrastructure project in American history.

John. F. Kennedy:
      Extended Social Security benefits to another 5,000,000 Americans in 1961. Lowered the retirement age to 62.
      Passed the most comprehensive housing bill in American history, a bill that included aid for mass transportation and urban renewal.
      Doubled spending on water pollution.
      Created the National Seashore Parks system.
      Raised the federal minimum wage.
      Revised the food and drug laws for the first time since 1938.
      Signed a bill forbidding discrimination in federal housing.
      Dispatched the National Guard to counter George Wallace’s attempt to prevent the desegregation of the University of Alabama.

Lyndon B. Johnson:
       The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
      The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
      Created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities.
      The Public Broadcasting Act.
      The Department of Housing and Urban Development.
      Massively increased funding for primary and secondary education. Increased funding for programs that affect the poor from 6 billion to 24 billion dollars.

Richard Nixon:
      Ended the draft.
      Founded the Environmental Protection Agency.
      The Clean Air Act.
      The Clean Water Act.
      Signed Title IX legislation outlawing discrimination in women’s college sports.
      Gave Native Americans the right to self-determination.

The Earl Warren Supreme Court:
      Brown vs. Board of Education in Topeka: outlawed segregation in the public schools.
      Griffin vs. County School Board of Prince Georges County: ruled that closing public schools and giving students vouchers to attend segregated private schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
      Loving vs. Virginia: declared laws forbidding interracial marriages to be unconstitutional.
      Baker vs. Carr and other cases: outlawed gerrymandering that gave disproportionate power to lightly- populated districts. The so-called, and today offensive, one man/one vote rule.
      Brady vs. Maryland: forced the state to reveal exculpatory evidence to defendants in criminal cases.
      Mapp vs. Ohio: excluded the introduction of illegally seized evidence at time of trial.
      Miranda vs. Arizona: forced law enforcement to read suspects their rights before questioning.
      Gideon vs. Wainwright: gave defendants the right to a lawyer in non-capitol cases.

      Okay, so I left out the part about the McCarthy witch hunts, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the covert interventions in Iran and Chile, and the murders of African-American Civil Rights activists, and dozens of other affronts to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. But I also left out many further examples of positive legislation and Supreme Court decisions.

      That’s not really the important part anyway. The important part is that never in American history had a federal government, or any state government, extended these benefits to ordinary Americans. Make no mistake, with marginal tax rates at 90%, the New Deal was a new deal, a deal that over its fifty years of dominance transferred vast amounts of wealth down the ladder. And it didn’t trickle down, either. It was yanked down with both hands. This was a disemboweling.

      Ask yourself this question: of what value is a million-dollar bonus when the feds take nine hundred thousand off the top? Gosh, it’s enough to make a CEO think long-term.

      Ask yourself another question: the Supreme Court, under Rhenquist and Roberts, has gutted the Voting Rights Act, allowed unlimited spending on campaigns, created a Second Amendment right to own guns never intended by James Madison, and betrayed their oath to support the Constitution when they put George W. Bush in the White House. All with a 5-4 majority.

      So, what will the Roberts court for if conservatives gain a 6-3 majority? Or if Anthony Kennedy, the so-called swing vote, is replaced by another Samuel Alito?

       Both the Heritage society, on the political side, and the Federalist Society, on the judicial side, view the Gilded Age as the golden age, an age when laissez faire ruled the day. My grandmother grew up in lower Manhattan at the end of the 19th Century. She spoke of wagons dispatched on the coldest mornings to gather up the frozen bodies. And there was no help coming from government, city, state or federal, even during the worst of the 19th Century’s many depressions. Families who couldn’t pay the rent found their possessions – and themselves – at the curb. Goodbye and good luck.

       The most honorable among the rich and their lackeys called it what it was, social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest, let’s sterilize the inferiors among us. The dishonorable sold trickle-down theories. Make me richer and I’ll give you more jobs. Either way, it’s clear that we’ve come to a tipping point. Today’s Republican Party bears little resemblance to the Republican Party of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Call the new breed economic fundamentalists. For them the world stopped twice, first after they read Ayn Rand at fifteen, and then after they read The Wealth of Nations in college. They worship at the feet of Calvin Coolidge. They will bring the rest of us to that altar and force us to bow. If they can.

      Again, I apologize for the lists. But I needed to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, if not to a moral certainty, that the New Deal was more than a slogan. Which raises another question. If the New Deal really was a blessing to the common man, why and when did the coalition that elected all those New Deal politicians break apart? How did we get from Franklyn Roosevelt to Donald Trump? And more importantly, how do we get back? I’ll deal with this question in a coming-soon post.

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