Sunday, November 02, 2014

Republicans Are People Too-- Or So They Once Claimed On The TV


This week Rand Paul took a lot of heat for saying aloud something that everyone already knows: the GOP Brand sucks. Speaking in Detroit, Paul said, "Remember Domino's Pizza? They admitted, 'Hey, our pizza crust sucks.' The Republican Party brand sucks and so people don't want to be a Republican and for 80 years, African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans."

OK, he has a point, but is it really the Republican Party that African-Americans are so wary of? Or is it the toxic conservative ideology that the party embraces? And that conservative ideology isn't owned solely by Republicans. And it isn't mistrusted solely by African-Americans. Just over a week ago the Beijing-appointed leader of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, said it was unacceptable to allow his successors to be chosen in open elections, in part because doing so would risk giving poorer residents a dominant voice in politics. His blunt remarks reflect a widely held view among the Hong Kong elite that the general public cannot be trusted to govern the city well. Do you think its any different from the view American conservatives hold?

Thursday another running dog of the conservative capitalist elite in Hong Kong, Laura Cha Shih May-lung, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Development Council, told poor people to be patient. "American slaves were liberated in 1861 but did not get voting rights until 107 years later, so why can't Hong Kong wait for a while?"

The anti-democratic nature of conservatism transcends national boundaries and transcends partisan politics. The essential nature of conservatism is simple: maintaining the economic and social status quo so that those with the most wealth and power remain the ones with the most wealth and power (and get to pass that along to their offspring). Yes, that simple-- and everywhere on earth and across historical eras. Historian Rick Perlstein touched on it-- and the beginning to the Republican Party descent into madness-- when he surveyed the post-Nixon resignation Ford Administration in the 1970s in his new book, The Invisible Bridge. During a meeting of Big Business lobbyists from the Conference Board to discuss how the very idea of "social responsibility" was slowing down profits, one executive mused aloud, "One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II." One of his colleagues couldn't agree more-- and sounded very much like today's Hong Kong elites: "The have-nots are gaining steadily more political power to distribute the wealth downward." The Conference Board types were determined to do something about it-- and they have... in a major way.

Before explaining the infamous headline above, Perlstein mentioned a journalist tried-- to no avail-- to persuade random Americans to sign the Declaration of Independence around July 4th. "Commie junk," one called it. Another threatened to call the cops on him. A third said, "Be careful who you show that kind of anti-government stuff to, buddy." And: "The boss will have to read this before I can let you put it in the shop window. But, politically, I can tell you he don't lean that way. He's a Republican."
The roots of the Great New York City Fiscal Crisis lay in recession: the economic downturn of 1974-75 hit the Northeast with a speed and force all out of proportion to the rest of the country. New York had always supported a program of middle class entitlement unlike anywhere else, a sort of socialism in one city: subsidized housing and day-care centers, free college at the world-class City University of New York, free museum admission, nineteen municipal hospitals, many of them world-class, free directory assistance-- amenities that seemed only natural for a metropolis transforming itself, in the boom years after World Wat II, into the greatest city in the world. "I do not propose," Mayor Robert F. Wagner pronounced in his 1965 budget message, "to permit our fiscal problems to set the klimits of our commitments to meet the essential needs of the cities." Neither, indeed did the city's investment banks who all but begged the city to keep borrowing money, because municipal bonds paid high interest rates, were exempt from federal, state and municipal taxes-- and seemed to entail negligible risk. It took two to tangle a city in unsustainable debt.

...In December 1974 Mayor Beame made a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to meet with Treasury Secretary William Simon. Beame explained the actions he had already taken to correct the city's fiscal imbalances, including freezing most city hiring and merit pay increases; he them argued that, given that America's greatest international city had to pay higher interest rates than any municipality in the country, it would be in the national interest for the Treasury Department to loan New York the money it needed by buying municipal paper directly.

The Treasury secretary flipped.

"Mayor," he said, "if we did that the taxpayers would end up financing the campaign promises of every profligate local politician in the country."

There was something disingenuous in the reaction. Bill Simon had formerly been senior partner in charge of government and municipal bonds at Salomon Brothers, and a member of the investment bank's seven-man executive committee-- that is, one of the very people responsible for lending so much money New York in the first place... [T]here was plenty of blame to go around. But other motives, other assumptions, lay beyond Bill Simon's recalcitrance as well. They were ideological. [He wrote] "nothing has destroyed New York's finances but the liberal political formula... Liberal politics, endlessly glorifying its own 'humanism," has in fact been annihilating the very conditions for human survival."

He spoke for his class. As a staffer wrote in a memo proposing language for First National City Bank's president to use in discussion with the mayor, this crisis was an opportunity: "many things"-- he cited higher subway fares, cutbackks in the city workforce, and budget cuts generally-- "can be done even if they are not technically possible." Technically possible, he meant, if interest groups like the municipal unions, the board of education, or municipal hospital administrators were afforded their traditional political deference. Well, they had been deferred to long enough. "The time," the staffer insisted, "is now.:" Now it was the capitalists' time to be deferred to.

...On May 29, Beame complied, announcing an austerity budget calling for the immediate elimination of 38,000 jobs-- more than 12 percent of all city employment, a four-day municipal workweek, reductions to CUNY admissions, and library and health center closures... [Simon:] "We're going to sell New York to the Shah of Iran"... Simon spoke of "parasitical" municipal workers, conceptually separate from the "productive population." They drew, he said "appalling" pensions though for what it was worth the pension of the average retiring New York City policeman-- $9,000-- was $3,000 less than in Chicago, $8,000 less than Detroit, and less than half that in Los Angeles and San Francisco. City teachers and firemen also earned less in salary than in all of those cities, with a considerably higher cost of living.

... Republican councils were obsessed with the poll showing that only 18 percent of the public identified with the Grand Old Party. Informally, there had been talks about whether to change its tainted name. Another public relations idea was a joke book, Republican Humor. Every Republican congressman would be asked to contribute. "Probably some of them won't have anything funny to offer," a staffer observed. What the Grand Old Party settled on instead was three half-hour fundraising TV specials featuring everyday Republicans who want to tell why they have stuck with the GOP." The series, coordinated with accompanying lapel buttons for the party faithful to wear to work the next day, was titled Republicans Are People Too! The second installment ran on July 1, up against M*A*S*H on CBS and a Tuesday Movie of the Week on ABC about a talk radio host who specialized in insulting his audience, laughing off a caller who said she was about to commit suicide-- and then she did. The GOP show's them, more cheerful, was "Republicans are people who care." It cost $124,000 to produce. It brought in $5,515. The announced third episode never ran.

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