Blogs > Cliopatria > Historical Nonsense Makes Political Madness

Oct 18, 2010 4:46 am


Historical Nonsense Makes Political Madness



Joseph Palermo, an associate professor in the History Department at CSU Sacramento, writing in the Huffington Post this week:
Yet the American people seldom return to power the party of a president who just two years earlier had collapsed the economy. In 1934, they didn't pull the lever for the party of Herbert Hoover. And they should have the good sense not to do so in 2010. Then again, FDR fought unapologetically for progressive change. (You heard no complaints about"the professional Left" coming from his administration.)

But of course you heard complaints of that very sort from FDR's White House, where Huey Long's"Share the Wealth" plan was regarded as terrifying madness and Francis Townsend's call for generous and immediate old age pensions was answered with the far more modest implementation of Social Security.

Roosevelt was challenged and pushed hard from his left, over questions that would be entirely familiar to the crowd at a Tea Party rally in 2010. Like Barack Obama, he responded with a complex mixture of contempt and conciliation. (The third chapter of Alan Brinkley's Voices of Protest offers a sharp, concise description of Huey Long's furious attack on the opening years of the Roosevelt administration.)

Having tossed off a false history of the early Roosevelt administration, Palermo turns to a false narrative of our own political moment (emphasis added):

Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers, Bruce Rastetter and his American Future Fund, the Chamber of Commerce et cetera owe a debt of gratitude to Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas for skewing the political calculus so far in their favor.

And what about the Tea Baggers? How insanely stupid is it when a group of anti-tax antiquarians liken themselves to those who threw the East India Company's tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, and claim they want to protect the Constitution from the evil grip of liberals, yet are being backstopped by some of the most powerful corporate interests in the world?

...No one can really predict what's going to happen on November 2. All we know is that the historical trends are lining up for the Democrats to lose seats in both houses of Congress, and that Citizens United has definitively tipped the scales in favor of the oligarchy.

So, yes: the right-wingers on the Supreme Court opened the doors for big business to pour money into the support of the party of the corporations, the Republicans, to the disadvantage of the party of the people, the Democrats. Obama tells the same story, apparently without feeling a rush of deep personal shame.

Take thirty seconds out of your life to look at the Top 100 contributors to the 2010 campaign of my Representative, the crusading liberal Henry Waxman. His biggest source of funding? Employees and PACs of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Sadly, hilariously, I am not making that up. Number two is a Louisiana corporation that provides home health care services, a natural supporter of a West Los Angeles congressman.

The rest of the list includes a fair number of unions, but they're outnumbered by corporations. Among them are Wal-Mart, AT+T, Qwest, Comcast, Time Warner, Medco, General Electric, Honeywell, Blue Cross, AFLAC, Humana, Sony, UPS, Disney, and Sprint Nextel.

Note also the prominent presence of organizations representing health care providers on a list of top contributors to a ranking member of Congress in the middle of an urgent debate over the future of health care: American College of Cardiology, American Dental Association, American Health Care Association, Federation of American Hospitals, Homecare & Hospice PAC, American Podiatric Medical Association, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, American College of Radiology, and the list goes on past my patience for cutting and pasting. Of course, these medical associations and service provider PACs are contributing money to a politician because of their disinterested concern for the wellbeing of the common folk, so never mind.

Waxman doesn't campaign, by the way. He's been comfortably ensconced in the House since the Ford administration, in a district gerrymandered to within an inch of its life, and doesn't really face anything you could honestly describe as an"election," anymore. Call it his re-anointing, if you'd like. In any case, Waxman makes few to no campaign appearances in the district, has no campaign website, sends no mailers that have reached my house (where we have both a registered Democrat and a"decline to state"), and generally acts like he knows his re-election isn't in doubt.

So what does he do with his campaign millions? Take another thirty seconds to look: he funnels them around the party. In the last reporting cycle, Waxman gave $350,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and doled out money to candidates across the country: Betsy Markey For Congress, Fort Collins, CO; Betty Sutton For Congress, Akron, OH; Bill Owens For Congress, Plattsburgh, NY; and on and on and on. Waxman's role is perfectly clear: he's a conduit through which corporate cash flows, nationwide, to Democrats. But you have to vote for them, or else corporate interests will be represented in Congress.

Citizens United, psssh. The oligarchy wins either way. Why on earth would anyone fail to notice at this late date that the Democratic Party just offers another flavor of corporatism?

But note the narrative consistency in Palermo's story, a kind of steady fable in which FDR fought straight on for the principles of the unified left and the Democrats of today charge forward against the corporations. This isn't an argument. This is a faith.


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More Comments:


Chris Bray - 10/19/2010

Good to hear from you, and an interesting argument from Kevin Baker. Still, I'm with Gabriel Kolko: more state intervention in the economy often means more benefits for entrenched corporate interests. If Obama were to discover his willingness to intervene more boldly and stimulate the economy, the bulk of the checks would just end up at Goldman Sachs.

In other news, I just have to add that Henry Waxman's opponent is arguing now that Waxman committed treason against Our Troops by writing a letter in support of Code Pink. So I'm pretty much SOL for voting, this year. I may write in my raging ulcer: "Chris Bray's raging ulcer, CA-30." Feel free to add my ulcer to the ballot in your own congressional races.


Louis Nelson Proyect - 10/18/2010

Well, I appreciate the reminder of how inadequate FDR was but the real comparison is not between Obama and FDR but Obama and Herbert Hoover as this Harper's article pointed out:

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/07/0082562