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“The Parties Of No”: Then And Now, Dire Consequences For The Nation’s Poorest Citizens

In 1874, Republicans suffered one of the greatest electoral reversals in American history, losing 170 seats and their commanding House majority to the Democratic opposition. Although not apparent at first blush, the recent Republican victory has a great deal in common with this Democratic landslide 140 years earlier. And if history is any guide, the upcoming Congressional realignment will again have dire consequences for the nation’s poorest citizens.

Although the conservatives of the post-Civil War era went under the banner of the Democratic Party, their policies and strategies were similar to today’s Republicans. Both exploited ailing economies and unpopular administrations in the White House to advance their programs of obstruction and fiscal retrenchment.

Above all else, what unites 19th-century Democrats and 21st-century Republicans is their dogged opposition to federal spending, especially on social services for the nation’s neediest. Today’s Party of No has attempted to block the Obama administration on a number of these measures — from food stamps and welfare to unemployment benefits and health care — even at the risk of a national credit default.

Yet long before today’s Republicans made obstruction their raison d’etre, Gilded Age Democrats turned “No” into a political rallying cry, and, in the process, rolled back some of the era’s most important social reforms.

One of their first targets was the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency established in 1865 to aid the nation’s recently emancipated slaves. In providing rations, medical care, education and employment opportunities to freed African Americans, the Bureau was one of the great progressive institutions of the era, despite a chronic shortage in funding.

Democrats, however, protested vigorously with arguments that, to this day, remain central to the conservative critique of federal intervention on behalf of blacks. Nineteenth-century Democrats stressed that self-help, not dependence on the federal government, was the only path forward for African Americans, and that such so-called charity would injure the “character” and “prospects” of a newly emancipated class of citizens. They insisted that public spending on a single group was not only unfair, but financially unsustainable as well. One newspaper captured several of these concerns by dubbing the Bureau a “department of pauperism.” In 1872 Congress abruptly shut down the Bureau, and with that, millions of freed slaves lost one of their only allies in the struggle against violent racism in the South.

One hundred and forty years has done relatively little to shift the conservative position on taxation. Reducing the tax burden on the rich is a Republican mainstay, even as income inequality soars to Gilded Age-esque extremes. Meanwhile, Tea Party-affiliated politicians like Ted Cruz promote a flat tax, which would put disproportionately greater strain on lower earners.

Although they lacked the Reaganite vocabulary of trickle-down economics, 19th-century conservatives similarly pushed for lowering taxes on the rich. After the Civil War, Southern conservatives shifted the burden onto the poorest citizens, namely freed slaves. Whereas taxes on landed property were astonishingly low (.1 percent in Mississippi, for example), blacks often had to pay poll or “head” taxes that could amount to a substantial portion of their yearly income. The result was a system in which wealthy landholders could end up paying less overall in taxes than the hired hands who worked their land.

On the issue of voting rights, today’s Republicans have more in common with Gilded Age Democrats than any current political party should. As many have pointed out, the voter ID laws backed by Republican policymakers disproportionately affect poor people, minorities, and college students, key constituents in the Democratic base. Conservative efforts in this regard may not mark the return of Jim Crow, as some have suggested, but they certainly undermine key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Like today’s Republicans, yesterday’s Democrats recognized the electoral gains to be made in keeping certain voters from the polls. Thus they waged a national campaign against black male voting rights, which had been secured in 1870 by the 15th Amendment. In particular, they exploited the Amendment’s vagueness by introducing literacy, property and educational tests to severely limit black suffrage and thereby inaugurate the age of Jim Crow by the turn of the century.

To be clear, Republicans today differ from their conservative predecessors in certain crucial respects. No serious Republican leaders currently advocate the systematic disfranchisement of an entire race, nor would they condone the sort of racial violence that conservatives deployed in post-Civil War America.

Nonetheless, the parallels are disconcerting. Once again a bitter American electorate has empowered a party without an apparent political vision beyond repeals and rollbacks. And once again that party pursues the regressive goal of lowering taxes on the rich while dismantling federal programs for the poor.

When Americans gave up on the possibility of progressive reform in the 1870s, they ushered in an age of rapidly growing racial and economic inequality. We can only hope the repercussions won’t be so serious this time around.


By: Kevin Waite, PhD candidate in American History, University of Pennsylvania; The Huffington Post Blog, November 17, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | American History, Democrats, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Relentless Wal Street Crime Spree”: Fines Are Not Adequate Deterrents To Corporate Misbehavior

When future historians look back at our era, they will doubtless be puzzled about how we allowed it to come to pass that faceless corporations were granted all the freedoms and protections of real people, but faced none of the consequences that real people face for criminal behavior. This puzzle is related to the problem I wrote about earlier this morning, in which social problems for normal people are solved with fines and jail time, but social problems caused by corporate “citizens” are given market solutions and self-regulation instead.

The latest case in point comes as six major banks guilty of manipulating currency markets were given the laughably small fine of $4.3 billion, and not a single one of the actual perpetrators is coming close to facing jail time.

On Wednesday, six massive international banks agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle allegations from regulators in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland that their traders tried to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-currency exchange market. But Wall Street watchdogs say the banks got off with a slap on the wrist.

From 2008 through 2013, traders at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS colluded to coordinate the buying and selling of 10 major currencies to manipulate prices in their favor….

In the real world, the crime spree being perpetrated by global corporations, particularly those in the financial sector, will never abate until the criminals perpetrating them are actually thrown in jail.

But critics say the banks, which were not forced to admit wrongdoing, deserved a much harsher punishment. “The global too-big-to-fail banks are again allowed to evade responsibility and accountability by using shareholders’ money to pay big fines, which will generate headlines but do little if anything to stop the relentless Wall Street crime spree,” Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial reform advocacy shop, responded in a statement.

David Weidner, who covers Wall Street for MarketWatch, agrees. The settlements “appear to be just another cost-of-doing-business budget line for the banks,” he wrote. What’s more, financial reformers say, none of the employees involved in the rate-fixing will face criminal charges. “It’s corrupt, as usual,” says one House staffer. Regulators should “send crooks to jail.”

Fines are utterly inadequate to deter this sort of behavior. We understand this implicitly when it comes to check kiters and liquor store robbers. If you’re convicted of those things you go to jail. But if you collude to debase another country’s entire currency for your own profit, your company pays a small fine.

That’s going to look very weird and very corrupt in about 100 years. Or else it won’t–in which good luck to us all.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, November 15, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Big Banks, Corporations, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Will Now Taste Their Bitter Harvest”: The “Party Of No” Has No Agreement On What Is Yes

In the early 3rd century B.C., after King Pyrrhus of Epirus again took brutal casualties in defeating the Romans, he told one person who offered congratulations, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” In his more sober moments, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), about to achieve his lifelong ambition of becoming Senate majority leader, may wonder whether he, too, has achieved a pyrrhic victory.

Republicans are still crowing about the sweeping victories in 2014 that give them control of both houses of Congress. They will set the agenda, deciding what gets considered, investigated and voted on. Their ideas will drive the debate.

But Republicans have no mandate because they offered no agenda. Republicans reaped the rewards of McConnell’s scorched-earth strategy, obstructing President Obama relentlessly, helping to create the failure that voters would pin on the party in power. But the collateral damage is that the “party of ‘no’ ” has no agreement on what is yes. Instead of using the years in the wilderness to develop new ideas and a clear vision, Republicans have used them only to sharpen their tongues, grow their claws and practice their backhands.

Republicans paid no penalty for obstructing every measure that might have given the recovery more juice, blocking even the infrastructure spending that has been a bipartisan response in every downturn. They paid no penalty for shutting down the government and forcing mindless austerity that cost jobs. They paid no penalty for their perfervid hysteria on foreign policy issues – screeching about phantom terrors of pregnant immigrants helping Islamic State terrorists and Ebola victims slip in the country to kill us here at home. They never needed to fill in the magic asterisks in Rep. Paul Ryan’s risible budgets, enabling him to deny the damage to Medicare, education, food stamps and the most vulnerable that his plans would require.

The result is that McConnell leads into a power a party truly unfit and unready to govern. Indeed, the wingnuts at its base want it only to dismantle, not to govern. As Terrance Heath reported, the ever-apoplectic Rush Limbaugh announced that Republicans have a mandate to “stop Barack Obama” and “were not elected to govern.” Fox News host Megyn Kelly fantasized that Obama would “offend” Republicans into impeaching him; Phyllis Schlafly argued the first priority should be blocking all Obama’s judicial nominees. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) pledged once more to repeal Obamacare. The dyspeptic Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will use his chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee to demand more “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria, harsher sanctions to undermine negotiations with Iran and more macho posturing over Ukraine. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will use his likely chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Committee to deny the existence of catastrophic climate change even while allocating billions for cleanup in the wake of floods, droughts and storms to come.

McConnell portrays Republicans as ready to embrace a conservative Chamber of Commerce agenda, repaying the big money that helped bring them victory. This would include giving multinationals a massive tax break on money that they stashed abroad to avoid taxes, passing fast-track trade authority, pushing ahead the Keystone XL pipeline, weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and repealing the tax on medical devices, first of the salami-style effort to slice up Obamacare.

But the zealots in the House and Senate expect more fire and less compromise. They want Obamacare repealed. They want the scorched-earth obstruction to continue: Obama’s nominations blocked, scandals real and delusional investigated, Dodd-Frank financial regulation reversed and taxes and domestic spending slashed.

It isn’t at all apparent that McConnell and Boehner can corral Republican majorities for any measures that Obama might accept. But even if McConnell could put the Chamber of Commerce’s bills on the president’s desk, one thing is apparent: None of these will do anything to address the profound crises the country faces. There is no relief for the sinking middle class and impoverished low-wage workers, no strategy for addressing climate change, no response to the destructive excesses of banks too big to fail.

McConnell won his majority by brilliantly waging a partisan, dishonest, unrelenting policy of obstruction. But now, the absence of any ideas or of any clue will be exposed. And next time, when voters sensibly want to throw the bums out, they may have a far clearer view of just who the bums are.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Washington Post, November 11, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Midterm Elections, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voters Remorse”: The New GOP Congress Americans Do Not ‘Wish They Had’

The man who lost the last (presidential) election round and who goes around talk shows trying to pretend he did not, has some advice for the man who beat him in 2012.

Appearing on Sunday’s CBS Face the Nation, failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Bob Schieffer, when asked about the possibility of “Obama taking executive action to overhaul immigration policy,” “The president has got to learn that he lost this last election round.”

The man who lost the last (presidential) election round said so after lecturing his nemesis about how to fight ISIL (“what we should have done by now is have — is have American troops staying by in — in Iraq”) and after implying that perhaps the President should just curl up in a fetal position, contrary to David Axelrod’s and most Americans’ expectations. “The President ought to let the Republican Congress, the Republican House and the Republican Senate come together with legislation that they put on his desk which relates to immigration,” the man who lost the last (presidential) election round told Bob Schieffer.

This latest bit of GOP arrogance is very similar to Mitch McConnell’s recent hubris: “We’d like for the president to recognize the reality that he has the government that he has, not the one that he wishes he had, and work with us,” when a “very disturbed” incoming Senate Majority Leader lamented that the president was still the President and was still intending to use his executive powers.

Which, in turn, is very reminiscent of the effrontery of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whose callous response to a soldier asking for better protection for our troops in Iraq was: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Memo to Messrs. Romney and McConnell — and to the GOP:

Midterm elections are not intended to neuter a president. They are midcourse corrections intended to make government work better for the people who elect their representatives; to — in fact — transform the government we have into the government the people wish they have. On November 4, 2014, the American people gave Republicans another chance to stop the obstruction, stop the obfuscation, stop the gridlock, stop the arrogance, stop the raw partisanship and work with a man who is still President of the United States for the common good of all Americans, not just a few.

To do all this, congressional Republicans must disprove the disturbing allegation that they “have been sent to Washington with a mandate not so much to conduct business but rather to collect a bounty, to do what they promised and what their supporters expect: Stop Obama at any cost and at every turn, to erase his name or at least put an asterisk by it.”

Or will they?


By: Dorian de Wind, The Huffington Post Blog, November 17, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Midterm Elections, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Backwards Looking Losing Theme”: The GOP Already Has The Wrong Message For 2016

Let’s “restore” America.

This theme has been an undercurrent of Republican politics since the 2008 elections, when President Obama and the Democrats won control of two of the three branches of the U.S. government. It was also an explicit goal of the Tea Party. Now, it looks like Republicans are testing it out as a slogan for the 2016 elections, including the key presidential contest.

If Jeb Bush runs, and wins, the GOP might mean “restore” almost literally, in the dynastic sense. But mostly the message is that the Republican Party is volunteering to clean up the mess those Democrats made, bringing us back to some idyllic time in America (probably the 1980s).

At The Atlantic, Peter Beinart has an entire article dedicated to “the Republican obsession with ‘restoring’ America,” including its many iterations in today’s GOP politics. “Restore” appears in the literature — both press releases and upcoming or recent books — from 2016 GOP hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Mike Huckabee, for example. It is a word that has inherent appeal for those whose politics are conservative, but it also has vaguely sinister overtones for groups that didn’t exactly have it better in the good old days.

The Week‘s resident linguist, Arika Okrent, notes that along with Rubio’s upcoming campaign book American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, fellow presumptive 2016 presidential hopeful Paul Ryan is “Renewing the American Idea” in his book while Rick Santorum is “Recommitting to an America That Works.” All those “re-” words are “supposed to call up the idea of freshness and new blood,” she muses, “but something about the re- screams ‘do over!'”

The problem with the pledge of restoration is that it is inherently backward-looking. Americans may like the idea of America’s Golden Age — well, some Americans: “older, straight, Anglo, white, and male voters,” in Beinart’s analysis — but what they really want to hear is what a party will do to improve their future.

Democrats learned this lesson in 2004. After trying out a host of campaign themes, presidential nominee John Kerry settled on “Let America Be America Again” in late May. It’s from a 1938 Langston Hughes poem of the same name, and the message to the electorate was that President George W. Bush had broken America, or at least veered it off the right path, and Kerry would resurrect a more idyllic era (probably the 1990s).

Kerry used that line for the rest of the campaign, at times quoting extensively from the poem, and it didn’t work.

This wasn’t the only reason that Kerry lost, of course — he was leading Bush for much of the “Let America Be America Again” phase of the campaign, until “Swift Boat” August — but compare Kerry’s theme with Obama’s 2008 mantras of “Our Moment is Now” and “Hope and Change.” Big difference.

In any case, Republicans should already know that “restore America” is a losing theme. Mitt Romney’s 2012 super-PAC was the poetically nonsensical Restore Our Future. The first substantive section of the party’s 2012 platform was entitled “Restoring the American Dream.” And even the GOP’s “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan, couldn’t unseat fellow Republican Gerald Ford with his 1976 speech “To Restore America.”

Nostalgia is great for selling merchandise and rebooted TV and film franchises, but it’s not a very effective political cri de cœur for a national campaign. Republicans have been telling us what they’re against for the last six years — Obama — and if they want to be viable in 2016, they need to spend the next two telling us what they envision for the future.


By: Peter Weber, Senior Editor,, November 17, 2014

November 19, 2014 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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