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George Will’s hope for American Democracy’s end

By George Waring (Courtesy of the Butte Weekly) 1-22-14

 

                A couple of weeks ago, George Will, the old speech writer for Senator Jesse Helms,  supporter of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax movement, and advocate for privatizing our Social Security, gave me cause for optimism. He actually stopped attacking “liberals,” and began aiming at “progressives.” In fact, he attempted to smear “progressives” by carelessly equating them with the Democratic Party in Washington, DC. I should have protested at this draining meaningful content from the label “progressive” However, I filed away that significant change of target by Will. It was important that such a loyal Rupert Murdoch employee had felt compelled to acknowledge the growth of the Progressive Movement within the Democratic Party. Maybe he harbored a fear about a coming political blowback caused by the plutocratic excesses on Wall Street.

                Last week, George Will’s latest column in the local corporate newspaper, strengthened my optimism. His column publicized a book by Cato Institute scholar, Ilya Somin. As Will explained the book’s argument, he found much to agree with. Public opinion polling reveals that average voters don’t know much about foreign policy or global geography. Therefore, such ignorant voters cannot be trusted with choosing the leaders of our federal government. After all, presidents and congress folk must be loyal to our natural national elite, our giants of industry and finance in charge of ensuring that the United States remains the commanding global international crony capitalist power. In sum, according to Will, American democracy has reached its limits. The federal government must be shrunk back to its 19th-century harmless scope. That is, a size allowing mobilization of military might, but powerless when it comes to interference with wealth and income disparities. Our federal government will flourish in the interests of our largest corporations and great financial institutions, undisturbed by the local concerns of an ignorant democratic rabble.

                In fact, Will really made the case for terminating all the economic and social measures undertaken by government at the national and state levels during the twentieth century. These were pro-democracy reforms supported by progressive grassroots movements dating all the way back to the Age of Teddy Roosevelt. These reforms actually transformed the United States into a pale version of a democratic society.

                Without naming them, the libertarian author cited by George Will, had in mind the constitutional amendments, Supreme Court decisions, and federal laws that curtailed the power of our natural plutocracy whose period of unlimited power came in the post-Civil War period. That sordid chapter of our national history, stretching from Ulysses S. Grant through William McKinley, is called “The Age of the Robber Barons.” The plutocratic excesses of the industrial and financial tycoons motivated their labor and farmer victims at the state level to demand an end to political corruption. Among the progressive reforms we inherit from those early 20th-century reformers were the initiative, the referendum and recall. In Montana, a populist-progressive coalition angered by the Anaconda Company’s tyranny managed to outlaw corporate spending in our state and local elections. That hundred-year-old blow against corporate rule was not terminated by the wealthy until the Bush-Reagan Supreme Court made its “United Citizens” decision a short time ago.

                Among the federal progressive measures which George Will recognizes as leading to national decline and tragedy are many things we take for granted, such as the expansion of the voting franchise to women in the 1920's, to Blacks in the south in the 1960's, and to 18- year-olds during the Vietnam War. Also, such important milestones as the right to join a union and bargain collectively with employers, the right to a clean and healthy environment, and the right to know what government is secretly doing through measures such as the Freedom of Information Act.

                If you belong to the ACLU or any one of hundreds of groups concerned with the rights of individuals, conservation of natural resources, protection of the public’s health and environment, etc., you can name dozens of other “rights” that Americans actually enjoy as a result of the triumph of progressive policies in the last century.

                George Will concluded his Op-Ed with his hope that the failed 20th century progressive experiment in creating an open and responsive democracy could now be quietly buried. Now that the misguided American experiment in democracy has run its course, according to Will, this society’s natural rulers should be free to enjoy the benefits of Social Darwinism. Will’s desire is to live long enough to see our misguided democratic experiment replaced by a new generation of libertarian-minded Americans who rely on decision-making by “markets and civil society.”

                “Reliance on markets,” that is the guiding mantra from within George Will’s elite circle of libertarian thinkers. It is as though the 73 year-old has achieved second childhood. He seems to wish us back to the halcyon days of his hero, Ronald Reagan. Back to that “Morning in America” administration whose blueprint for “reform” was the infamous Lewis Powell Memorandum to the US Chamber of Commerce in 1971.  Back to the business deregulation days of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan. Back to that religious faith in the infamous “Laffer Curve,” the economist’s napkin doodling that proved how getting rid of taxes for corporations and the ultra-wealthy would mean a huge increase in government revenues, an end to the federal debt, and the end of poverty in America.

                But didn’t George W. Bush’s Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan have to admit before Congress that his libertarian views on markets regulating themselves was a big bust? And didn’t he have to make that confession as recently as 2009? Didn’t Wall Street’s gambling in highly leveraged derivatives show us all what reliance on unregulated markets can accomplish? In fact, that stealing of $7-$8 trillion in housing wealth by Wall Street’s largest financial institutions still goes on.

                Didn’t we witness the absolute panic generated within the banking industry in 2008? And didn’t we all see the fear in the eyes of President George W. Bush in the fall of 2008 when he told us that capitalism would collapse into rubble before our eyes if the banksters were not saved immediately? And the immediate stampede of Congress led by Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke into a give-away program that ended up guaranteeing the quaking banker/grifters some $20 trillion worth of public debt. Even unto 2014, each year since 2009, the Federal Reserve has seen fit to pump some $65-$80 billion into those New York City bastions of libertarian thought. Those wondrous apostles of the “free market.”

                My optimism is that George Will’s libertarian nostalgia for the Age of McKinley is the final testament from a journalist who began his long career working for multi-millionaires and is ending it in the pay of multi-billionaires. What a murky ending to that last Op Ed: “reliance on civil society and markets.”

                The local corporate newspaper should have signaled to its editorial page readers that George Will now has a comfortable stall in the Fox News stable, and has become a publicist for academic associates of the Cato Institute. That luxurious mansion is the Charles Koch-funded libertarian “think tank” that passes as a “charitable” tax-exempt educational benefit to the nation. In fact, the Cato Institute is nothing more than a billionaire’s factory churning out reasons why rich people and corporations should not be taxed.

                My optimism is that George Will and his libertarian Tea Partiers now know fear. Back in 1980, George Will was more than happy to sing the merits of democracy, back when Ronald Reagan was elected. However, today’s polls show that Progressive policies are becoming more popular. Two-thirds of Americans now see wealth and income inequality as targets for immediate federal government action. Even the President has awakened to the political possibilities of contrasting the spreading poverty in our society with the towering wealth of this country’s 460 billionaires.

                Today, Progressives are calling for a return to a progressive tax system that will cure this sick society of George Will favored policies-that produced our diseases of wealth and income inequality. This means restoring a progressive federal tax system in effect during the Eisenhower years. It means closing all the tax exemptions that our largest corporations have written into our tax codes. It means ending the careers of politicians who enacted give-aways to General Electric, Apple, Microsoft, Abbot Laboratories, etc. that paid their freight charges for shipping equipment, plant and jobs to China. It might even mean putting an end to crony capitalism’s imperialist adventures.

Compromise needed to break Washington gridlock




1-22-14 By Pat Williams (Courtesy of the Butte Weekly)
 
 
The recent political rage to criticize the U.S. Congress for lack of accomplishment and 
 
unwillingness to compromise is deserved. In both the House and Senate, the negative actions of more 
 
than a few members have brought public derision upon all of them and the institution as well.
 
 America has many problems: unemployment, education, environment, poverty, war; but 
 
watching the Congress’s lack of accomplishment, civility, and compromise one might have the thought 
 
that all is well across this land. In these difficult and dangerous times, we should not abide our broken 
 
legislative mainspring, rather we ought to be looking very closely to determine what has gone wrong 
 
and fix it.
 
 In our relatively well-designed legislative system, the entire difficulty can’t lie only with those who 
 
represent us. We need to examine not only Capitol Hill but also ourselves. Are we, as citizens, attentive 
 
to our governmental system? Perhaps not, when seventy percent of Americans don’t even vote on 
 
Election Day. It is doubtful we are knowledgeable about our elected representatives when most people 
 
can’t name even their own members of Congress.
 
 A recent example of how some Americans are actually responsible for gridlock became public 
 
in a newspaper article. It cited the removal of the long-time national columnist Dick Metcalf from his 
 
position with Guns and Ammo magazine. Mr. Metcalf, a long-time gun enthusiast and hunter, has 
 
written for dozens of gun magazines. According to the news article, Mr. Metcalf was dismissed by 
 
the magazine because he said that too many gun owners believed that the constitution prohibits any 
 
regulation of firearms. He noted that all rights are regulated, such as freedom of speech. “You cannot 
 
falsely and deliberately shout fire in a crowded theater.”
 
 When the readers and advertisers in Guns and Ammo read Mr. Metcalf’s words, they were 
 
outraged; apparently they believe that even with the horrible gun tragedies of 2013, the slightest 
 
smidgeon of suggestion for compromise in gun regulations is beyond the pale. Think what message 
 
such intransigence to compromise says to our representatives in Congress.
 
 During the eighteen years I represented Montanans in the U.S. Congress, I had a strong anti-
gun control voting record. But I also understood that many of my constituents, including some close 
 
friends, were unreasonably adamant in their opposition to any consideration of compromise about gun 
 
regulations while at the same time complaining about the lack of compromise and productivity in the 
 
Congress. When the citizenry rejects compromise, the Congress will not be far behind.
 
 
 
Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his
 
retirement, he returned to Montana and taught at The University of Montana.

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