Thursday, November 19, 2015

New Whigs

In 1840 the Whig Party elected its first president, William Henry Harrison. There would be three Whig presidents in all. By 1856 the party was defunct. Will the Republican Party follow them into oblivion?
Harrison- First Whig President

Both the Whigs and the Republicans were formed in response to moral issues. The Whigs grew, at least in part, out of a revulsion with the brutal Indian suppression policies of the populist Democrat, Andrew Jackson. They also wanted to secure minority rights in the face of popular voting majorities. In 1852 the party split over objection to the extension of slavery into the western territories, failing to renominate its own president, Millard Fillmore. The Republican Party was born to take its place and emerged with the election of Abraham Lincoln, who went on to become the Great Emancipator, America's greatest president in the opinion of most historians.

Millard Fillmore- the last Whig
Whatever the parties were called in America's persistent two-party system, one usually worked to protect the interests of the well-off establishment while the other worked on behalf of the less-well-off. There were other pairings of opposed elements, such as north-south, central government vs. states' rights, agriculture vs manufacturing, liberal vs conservative. The tactics, causes and domains of the parties have shifted over time, as in the case of the Democratic solid south becoming the Republican solid south when LBJ enacted civil rights legislation.

The Great Emancipator
Whigs and Republicans have both represented professional and business interests but central to the Whigs' platform was a policy of tariffs to stimulate manufacturing. They also advocated free public schools to develop an educated and informed citizenry. After the Republicans replaced the Whigs as, in Bill Moyers' clever redefinition of GOP, the Guardians Of Privilege, they also gave the country its greatest trust-busting president ever in Teddy Roosevelt. GOP in those days was shorthand for Grand Old Party.
The Great Trust Buster

In recent years, the Republican Party has stood the policy of fostering industry, education and competition on its head. Today's GOP subsidizes the outsourcing of jobs, cuts funds for education while making giveawaysof public funds to billionaire professional sports team owners, and eliminates regulations against monopoly producing mergers.

At present, the GOP is facing a split, which may threaten its very existence, between its true constituency, the oligarchs that finance it, and its blue state voter base. Both parties have traditionally been made up of strange and seemingly incompatible groups but this time the coalition just may come apart, as in the Whigs' demise. While the party insiders are mostly denizens of the tonier precincts of NYC and Washington DC, the voting base is largely made up of white voters in the poorer states of the south and west. A recent study has shown that the white population with a high school education or less is undergoing a sudden drop in life expectancy. The mortality rate has taken a sharp upturn due largely to effects of alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide. These people have been persuaded for decades to vote against their own economic interests but if they keep dying off or becoming inert prematurely, no amount of gerrymandering may be enough to maintain GOP control. The ultra-right corporate takeover of the major media has been brilliant but the average viewer of the major propaganda outlet, Fox News, is in his sixties and so time is not on their side. No matter how much the NYT uncritically publishes handouts from the State Dept and the DOD, and the Washington Post publishes op-ed from discredited neocons promoting military solutions to everything, people are just not reading newspapers very much any more. In the past, immigrants climbing the social ladder into the middle class have often abandoned the Democrat party to vote Republican alongside their new suburban neighbors. With social mobility now virtually all downward, GOP leaders will have little left to work with except racial and ethnic animus. Divide and conquer! A new influx of refugees should help them there but how far can they work that theme?

Democrats have a deep divide of their own between corporatist and populist wings but only time will tell if they can be reconciled. Perhaps the corporate wings of the Republican and Democratic Parties could merge as a newly minted Democratic Republican Party. Some of us suspect that this happened a while back but simply hasn't been formally announced. Perhaps the announcement will follow the vote on the democracy-ending TPP. Hillary Clinton may be poised to become, like Lincoln, the first president of a newly formed party.

The Republican division has come out in the presidential debates over the issue of immigration reform, with half the candidates taking a harsh public stance against illegal immigrants, while the other half says it wants to find a way to accommodate them. While hypocrisy has always greased the gears of society, this split reflects a fundamental division in the ranks. The voting base doesn't want to compete with illegal immigrant labor. The funding base wants the cheap labor that only only illegal immigrants can furnish. It has nothing to do with nationality or ethnicity and everything to do with legal status. Illegal labor, foreign labor, third world labor, prison labor, slave labor; it's all good, that is, it's cheap! The GOP wants and needs the Hispanic vote so some, at least, are trying to seem concerned. After all, the Hispanic birth rate is the only thing that keeps the national birth rate from going below replacement level. At the same time, Hispanic voters have the biggest stake in avoiding competition with illegals.

America's two party polarity could better be described as the opposition of left and right but more often it is described as the divide between liberal and conservative. Since Reagan, the GOP has tried to turn “liberal” into an unflattering epithet. They've had some success, leading Democrats to shy away from “liberal” and to identify themselves with the more presumptuous term “progressive”. Republicans unanimously define themselves as “conservative”. What, if anything, does conservative mean? The word starts with conserve, suggesting a will to conserve something. Could be a lot of things; health, standard of living, sense of security, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, peace, the infrastructure, the air, the water, the environment, the planet, all are things that come to mind, although none of these things ever seems to rate mention at meetings of the GOP. Conservative also suggests a caution about change and a tendency to slow the pace of change. Change may be good or it may be bad but it is an inevitable element of life. A common distinction is made between social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. Social issues are almost all sex-related matters, sometimes interwoven with civil rights issues and interpretations of the Constitution, while fiscal concerns are largely about debt and taxation. At the moment the American population consists of four large groups of people who are either conservative on both social and fiscal issues, on one but not the other, or on neither.

In the midst of the over-long presidential campaign, where does the vast assemblage of GOP candidates for president stand with regard to the public on conservative issues? Social issues have shifted quickly in the United States. The sexual revolution of the 60's has left the country a very different place than it was half a century ago. The South was fully segregated by race in the 50's and that too has changed even if racism persists. The status and rights of women have evolved, perhaps more by changing conditions than by political effort. In 1993 the implementation of “don't ask, don't tell” in the military was seen as a huge progressive step for the rights of homosexuals. It is now considered a landmark of discrimination and the push for gay rights has led to widespread acceptance of same sex marriage, something unimaginable just two or three decades ago. Abortion was almost universally illegal in the US until the Supreme Court decided it was a constitutional right in 1973. Many of these changes have been rapid but most are accepted by the majority of the population. Still, not everyone is happy with all these changes so we can assume that there will continue to be be a political party representing people with such concerns. The battles over social issues are real, with significant numbers of people on each side. What about the current crop of Republican candidates?

Most of these conservative candidates are sufficiently resistant to social change to satisfy the voting base. Where there is deviation from conservatively correct dogma, it is seldom a product of creeping liberalism. Three candidates recently attended a meeting of the National Religious Liberties Conference whose leader, on the same weekend, made the case for rounding up and killing all homosexuals. Do such policies qualify as conservative? Many good people oppose abortion but does the tacit approval of the murder of people running abortion clinics qualify as conservative? Slowing the pace of social change may be conservative but what about the radical and violent return to an era that probably never existed? Conservative or radical reactionary?
"Bad science! Bad science!"
Is being anti-science conservative? In 1633 Galileo Galilei was tried and convicted by the Inquisition for promoting the Copernican theory of the universe, in which the earth revolves around the sun. Surely, the Inquisition could be considered conservative in its time. Does it make sense 382 years later to consider politicians holding views similar of those of the Inquisition to be conservative? Was the space exploration program cut back due to budget constraints or by concerns of heresy? Does Jim Inhofe count as a conservative? What about the majority of GOP candidates who follow his lead in bashing science? The English language seems to be failing us here.

Greatest friend of the 1% ever
Most establishment Republicans don't really give a damn about social issues, except as a tool to fire up the base. Deep down, it's all about economics, often camouflaged as fiscal conservatism. If fiscal conservatism is about balanced budgets and keeping spending in line with income, how many of the dozen or more GOP candidates could rationally be called fiscal conservatives? One! While he may be way out there in right field on many domestic issues, Rand Paul is the only GOP candidate who has any reasonable claim to being called a fiscal conservative. He has even called out his colleagues asking: Is it really conservative to advocate unlimited military spending without paying for it when our military budget is already larger than the rest of the world's together? Paul is also the only Republican candidate who has ever opposed a war that the US has initiated. Since Ronald Reagan, Republican Administrations have consistently run up record deficits. “Tax and spend” liberal Bill Clinton produced a surplus, which was quickly eliminated by “conservative” George W. Bush by starting wars financed by deficit spending. So much for fiscal conservatives. They have perpetrated a monster hoax for years. All these Republicans holler about deficits but they keep making them bigger through corporate welfare, tax breaks for their rich sponsors and blowing ever more money on the insatiable military industrial complex. All the candidates seem to have a “tax plan”. Rand Paul isn't immune from this. In every case, these plans would drive the country deeper in debt while trashing its public resources, accelerating the decline of the middle class and further reducing the prospects of the poorer classes, into which the former middle class is sliding.
New Leadership.  Conservative enough?

Some of the GOP base is angry and their anger lashes out in all directions, usually misplaced. Such people are referred to as the Tea Party. They may eventually morph into a separate party, something like the Know-Nothings at an earlier troubled time in our history, but they have little in common with the Wall Street insiders and the Karl Roves of the world, who have been using them badly.

The party insiders are getting worried that outsider candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson are still leading the polls, fearing that they may lead the party into an electoral debacle, or worse, that if elected they will drive the country to ruin faster than the insiders' plan called for. The total collapse isn't supposed to come before the sanctuaries of the oligarchy are fully stocked, armed and fortified. Rumors have even surfaced of a plan to draft Mitt Romney. The group of GOP candidates has been frequently compared to a clown car.
Having spent the early and late portions of my career working on zoos, I'm inclined to view the spectacle as something you'd see in a zoo. A large gorilla roaring and pounding his chest, surrounded by smaller, nastier, screeching monkeys and cold blooded, beady-eyed reptiles with darting tongues. There are also some sloths and aardvark types waiting to be prodded into action but alas, there are no lions or tigers or Teddies in this crowd. Will their prayers be answered with an ark to save them from the coming deluge?