Nel's New Day

March 11, 2014

Wise Words from Robert Reich

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:25 PM
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Robert Reich, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC BerkeleyThanks to Reader Supported News for publishing this essay from author, political commentator, and economist who served for Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton.

 

Do you recall a time in America when the income of a single school teacher or baker or salesman or mechanic was enough to buy a home, have two cars, and raise a family?

I remember. My father (who just celebrated his 100th birthday) earned enough for the rest of us to live comfortably. We weren’t rich but never felt poor, and our standard of living rose steadily through the 1950s and 1960s.

That used to be the norm. For three decades after World War II, America created the largest middle class the world had ever seen. During those years the earnings of the typical American worker doubled, just as the size of the American economy doubled. (Over the last thirty years, by contrast, the size of the economy doubled again but the earnings of the typical American went nowhere.)

In that earlier period, more than a third of all workers belonged to a trade union – giving average workers the bargaining power necessary to get a large and growing share of the large and growing economic pie. (Now, fewer than 7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized.)

Then, CEO pay then averaged about 20 times the pay of their typical worker (now it’s over 200 times).

In those years, the richest 1 percent took home 9 to 10 percent of total income (today the top 1 percent gets more than 20 percent).

Then, the tax rate on highest-income Americans never fell below 70 percent; under Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, it was 91 percent. (Today the top tax rate is 39.6 percent.)

In those decades, tax revenues from the wealthy and the growing middle class were used to build the largest infrastructure project in our history, the Interstate Highway system. And to build the world’s largest and best system of free public education, and dramatically expand public higher education. (Since then, our infrastructure has been collapsing from deferred maintenance, our public schools have deteriorated, and higher education has become unaffordable to many.)

We didn’t stop there. We enacted the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act to extend prosperity and participation to African-Americans; Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to the poor and reduce poverty among America’s seniors; and the Environmental Protection Act to help save our planet.

And we made sure banking was boring.

It was a virtuous cycle. As the economy grew, we prospered together. And that broad-based prosperity enabled us to invest in our future, creating more and better jobs and a higher standard of living.

Then came the great U-turn, and for the last thirty years we’ve been heading in the opposite direction.

Why?

Some blame globalization and the loss of America’s manufacturing core. Others point to new technologies that replaced routine jobs with automated machinery, software, and robotics.

But if these were the culprits, they only raise a deeper question: Why didn’t we share the gains from globalization and technological advances more broadly? Why didn’t we invest them in superb schools, higher skills, a world-class infrastructure?

Others blame Ronald Reagan’s worship of the so-called “free market,” supply-side economics, and deregulation. But if these were responsible, why did we cling to these ideas for so long? Why are so many people still clinging to them?

Some others believe Americans became greedier and more selfish. But if that’s the explanation, why did our national character change so dramatically?

Perhaps the real problem is we forgot what we once achieved together. The collective erasure of the memory of that prior system of broad-based prosperity is due partly to the failure of my generation to retain and pass on the values on which that system was based. It can also be understood as the greatest propaganda victory radical conservatism ever won.

We must restore our recollection. In seeking to repair what is broken, we don’t have to emulate another nation. We have only to emulate what we once had.

That we once achieved broad-based prosperity means we can achieve it again – not exactly the same way, of course, but in a new way fit for the twenty-first century and for future generations of Americans.

America’s great U-turn can be reversed. It is worth the fight.

 

December 12, 2013

How George W. Bush Failed the GOP – Rachel Maddow

Meet the Press - Season 65Rachel Maddow is expanding her job responsibilities: she now has a monthly column in the Washington Post with a six-month contract.  I don’t read the Post regularly and wondered if I would come across her first column. No problem! Reprints popped up today in two of my favorite online news services, Truthout and Reader Supported News (RSN).

The mission of Truthout, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, reads: “Truthout works to spark action by revealing systemic injustice and providing a platform for transformative ideas, through in-depth investigative reporting and critical analysis. With a powerful, independent voice, we will spur the revolution in consciousness and inspire the direct action that is necessary to save the planet and humanity.”

Both sites provide writings from the greatest progressive thinkers of our time, and both come from Marc Ash. Truthout donations are tax-deductible; contributions to RSN are not. Ash wrote, “This is a new experiment: can an organization serve the community and still pay its taxes? The answer should be yes.” In neither case, however, do corporations control the content.

Ash started Truthout in 2001 after George W. Bush stole the presidency; RSN came along in 2009. Scott Galindez joined Ash at RSN the next year. Like many of us, he is “angry, and believe[s] that one way to take our government back is to inform the public of the truth.” What he asks from the readers is “to spread the news we provide.”

Sister site of RSN is Writing for Godot where readers can post their own essays. In Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Godot never comes, but many others do. Galindez writes that the “God” for which people wait can “be equated with social justice and order, tolerance and compassion.” These have not come for Galindez for the past nine years, but perhaps tomorrow …. And that’s why we follow progressive websites—reading about social justice and order, tolerance and compassion.

Since Jeff Bezos, the $33 billionaire founder/CEO of amazon.com, purchased The Washington Post, he has kept a low profile. Hiring Rachel Maddow to write a column speaks well of his intentions. In no way would I presume to paraphrase Rachel Maddow. Here is her column, verbatim, about how George W. Bush failed the GOP. You can go to the original to find links to more information about her subject. Thank you, RSN.

 

After a presidency, what comes next? Not just for the president but also for the members of the administration, the president’s allies in Congress, his or her political party?

In the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, no hearty saplings were ever able to take root in the shade of that big tree. No one expected Vice President Dick Cheney to ever be a contender for the presidency – part of his effectiveness was his willingness to say and do very unpopular things. When he snapped at ABC’s Martha Raddatz, “So?” as she questioned him about public disapproval of the Iraq war, he wrote the perfect epitaph for his vice presidency.

But by the time the Bush era was winding down, the whole administration, including the president, was stewed in terrible, Cheney-level disapproval ratings. And now, almost no one who played a significant role in that administration is anywhere to be found in electoral politics, beyond the tertiary orbits of Punch-and-Judy cable news and the remains of what used to be the conservative “think tank” circuit.

That’s true even for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who had no formal role in his brother’s administration but will probably always find the familial association an insurmountable obstacle to his own presidential hopes.

Unlike the Reagan administration, the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, the George W. Bush presidency elevated precisely no one to the ranks of national leadership who wasn’t there before. The 2008 Republican presidential primaries were like some odd eight-year cicada hatch in which the candidates went underground in 2000 and then birthed themselves after Bush and Cheney were gone, as if the intervening years had never happened.

The 2000 second-place finisher, Sen. John McCain? You’re next in line for 2008! And four years later: second-place Mitt Romney? You’re next in line for 2012!

The unpopular presidency of George W. Bush has proved to be a blackball on the résumés of a generation of Republican leaders. Maybe Cheney’s daughter Liz will break the pattern next year with a successful Senate bid in Wyoming, but if you made it through that sentence without spitting coffee out your nose, you’re in rare company.

The fascinating turmoil in the Republican Party since 2008 is not just a personnel problem – it’s also ideological. If you were putting together a legacy to inspire the next generation of conservatives, you wouldn’t pick the Bush administration’s trailing ends of land wars, budget deficits, torture, a crusade against gay rights and a financial collapse to rival the Great Depression. The isolationism and libertarian iconography of the Ron Paul wing of the party really does appeal to young people more than Bush-Cheney Republicanism. Social conservatives really do feel backed into a corner and ready to fight against a country that is turning against them faster than most pollsters can keep up. There really is something ripe for renewal in Republicans’ self-conception as fiscal conservatives, when the clear pattern is that budget deficits grow under Republicans and shrink under Democrats. The Republican Party is a churning swirl of conflicting ideological currents, and that’s going to take some time to work out.

But part of the reason it may be taking so long already is those lost years: the period from 2000 to 2008 that effectively obviated the authority and the leadership potential of all of Washington’s Republican elites. The George W. Bush administration didn’t just cast too much shade on the next generation of leadership – it also apparently poisoned the ground.

The Obama administration’s ability to nurture and support the next round of national leadership in the Democratic Party is going to be a big part of its long-term legacy. Unless Vice President Biden’s presidential hinting suddenly takes a turn for the serious, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton is the obvious inheritor of the party’s mantle. But, as in 2008, the Beltway may be overstating her inevitability. The grass roots aren’t all with her, frankly, and it’s yet to be seen if she’s interested in trying to win them over. Mainstream press may buy big-dollar donors (and more mainstream press), but it can’t buy the passionate volunteers and activists and excitement that are the oxygen for a winning campaign and sustained, effective leadership.

The collapse of national leadership prospects for the Republican Party is one of the greatest political failures and most important legacies of George W. Bush. Barack Obama looks less likely to repeat that fate, but it depends on a strong grove of nationally viable Democrats starting to grow now. The crescendo of attention to Elizabeth Warren is a healthy part of that process, as is the growing national interest in such diverse Democrats as Sherrod Brown, Claire McCaskill, Cory Booker, Wendy Davis, Martin O’Malley, Deval Patrick, Andrew Cuomo and Amy Klobuchar.

Inside the White House, the task of growing one’s own successors must seem like one of the less pressing items on the president’s long daily to-do list. But the previous administration’s trail of scorched earth and exiles has curtailed the prospects for the Republican Party and governing conservatism more profoundly than almost anything that administration pursued in terms of policy. It is a cautionary tale that Democrats and the Obama White House should heed sooner rather than later. Grow your successors, nurture your legacy.

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