Monday, August 29, 2016

Stepping Out

Stepping Out
P. Schultz

            It is frustrating dealing with so many people, usually the “respectable,” who feel or think that it is not “respectable” or “prudent” to vote for those they consider marginal candidates, those like the nominees of the Green Party or the Libertarian Party, those who have no chance to win. So, it is concluded, better to vote for one of the candidates put forward by our two “major” parties, even though that means voting for someone who is “the lesser of two evils.”

            As “respectable” and “prudent” as this strategy appears to be, it overlooks a singular fact of political or communal life, viz., that change, significant change, only comes after people, especially people in groups or in large numbers, step out. Stepping out, that is, rejecting in one way or another the established order, even in what seems like and what are presently losing causes, is the key to fomenting significant political, social, or economic change. And without this stepping out, the status quo, no matter how unsatisfactory it might be, not only continues but is fortified. That lesser evil becomes a greater evil.

            Think about it. The conservatives in the Republican party stepped out in the 60’s, by nominating Barry Goldwater who was then defeated in a landslide by LBJ. Yet, in 1980, Ronald Reagan, who first came to the nation’s attention by means of his speech supporting Goldwater at the 1964 Republican convention, was elected president in 1980. Al Smith in 1928, a “wet” Catholic and a New Yorker to boot, after being nominated by the Democrats, went down to a landslide defeat to Herbert Hoover, only to help prepare the way for the election of FDR in 1932.

            Stepping out, African Americans in the 60’s lit a blaze that became the civil rights revolution of the 60’s, which included the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of the same year. Stepping out, women banned their bras, took the pill, and generally reclaimed their bodies, their selves at about the same time. Stepping out or “coming out,” gays and lesbians chanted, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’d like to hello!” And now gay and lesbian marriage is the law of the land and no longer can gays and lesbians be punished criminally for who they are or what they do.

            This is why the supporters of Bernie Sanders were right to feel betrayed or “burned” when Sanders, unlike them, refused to step out against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic establishment. No stepping out, no change; just more of the same kind of politics we have had to live with since at least the presidential election of 1992, a politics that has enriched the wealthiest Americans and impoverished the middle and lower classes, while keeping us involved in what have been endless wars. No stepping out, no change. It’s just a fact of political or communal life.

            Every vote not for Clinton or Trump represents a stepping out and, as such, each such vote undermines the status quo. So, show some smarts. Step out in November. As was once said, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

1928: Another Landslide "Victory"

1928: Another Landslide “Victory”
P. Schultz

            In 1928, Herbert Hoover overwhelmed Al Smith in that year’s presidential election. Hoover won 58.2% of the popular vote and Smith carried only 8 states in the Electoral College. Also, some traditionally strong Democratic areas, in the South and the Midwest, went for Hoover in impressive numbers. Superficially, it seemed as if the Democratic Party was weakening, perhaps even dying.

            But this was far from the case. What the numbers above obscure is the degree to which the political landscape was changing, and changing significantly. Smith and the Democrats appealed to blacks, ethnic, working class voters – showing up in significant numbers as new voters – in the nation’s largest urban areas, such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia. Coming to the fore, it now seems apparent, was a new political landscape, one that would lead to the election of FDR in 1932 and his New Deal. In that landscape, which the Great Depression helped to create, white Protestant nationalism, as represented by Prohibition, the Klan, and the Republican Party’s ascendency, would no longer control the nation’s politics. However limited the New Deal’s impact on the existing American apartheid, it nonetheless laid the groundwork for the end of white supremacy, at least as it had been practiced since the presidential election of 1872 and the end of what had been labeled “Reconstruction.”

                        Is there a lesson here for us today? Al Smith, a Catholic and anti-Prohibitionist, the epitome of “rum and romanism,” was treated with the same disdain as Donald Trump is being treated today – and by the same people, the “respectable classes.” However, Smith was a harbinger of a future political landscape few could see in 1928, a future then obscured by Hoover’s landslide victory. And that victory did not make it possible for Hoover and those “respectable classes” supporting him to maintain the rule of white, Protestant nationalists.

            The current bastions of the “respectable classes” today, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, the war on terror, “free trade,” are increasingly controversial, are increasingly under attack. And the disdain for Trump, like that for Smith in 1928, only serves to obscure without weakening these attacks. And even a landslide victory by Hillary, hailed as “revolutionary” because she is a “she,” will not significantly weaken these attacks on what are, clearly, the failed policies of a failing political order. Just like the results of Hoover’s landslide victory in 1928 failed to stop the demise of white supremacy as then practiced in the U.S.

            Once challenged, the “respectable,” both as policy and as persons, lose much of their luster, as was evident with Hoover then and Clinton now. It is not that Hoover was and Clinton is a mediocrity, although they both fit that bill. It’s that Hoover was and Clinton is irrelevant as forces gather[ed] to overpower the established order.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Presidential Landslides

Presidential Landslides
P. Schultz

            Because it seems likely that this November we might witness a landslide victory in the presidential election, it is worth asking what happens after such victories in these elections. At times, the answer might seem surprising.

            Consider, for example, the aftermath of LBJ’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964. The term that followed upon this victory was little more than a disaster, with LBJ being driven from office in the sense that he decided not to seek re-election in 1968 in large part because he had become so unpopular that he was, almost, a prisoner in the White House. Usually and understandably, this is attributed to Johnson’s Vietnam War policy, viz., his decision to send more than half a million American soldiers to Nam, while bombing both South and North Vietnam relentlessly, all of which proved to be futile in terms of winning that war.

            Why didn’t Johnson’s landslide victory protect him, insulate him from rejection and ostracism, as it were? That is, what does a landslide mean for the victor?

            The same questions arise when looking at the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s landslide victory over George McGovern in 1972 insofar as Nixon’s second term ended with his certain impeachment, which was avoided only because Nixon chose to resign the presidency. Again, whatever a landslide electoral victory might mean, it does not insulate the victor, protecting him or her from the vicissitudes of politics.

            This vulnerability of such victors could seem a bit strange at first glance. However, upon reflection, such a phenomenon is not all that strange if one notices that these landslides occurred in part because of the actions of the losing party, most importantly, the candidate they ran in the election. Both LBJ’s landslide victory and Nixon’s were victories over candidates that could not be considered “mainstream” candidates. Both Barry Goldwater and George McGovern were what may be labeled “fringe” candidates who were more representative of the outliers and insurgents in their parties than they were of mainstream Republicans and Democrats. It can also be assumed that these candidates were not given the wholehearted support of their parties. In other words, the actions – and the inactions – of the losing parties in these elections contributed to the landslide.

            Therefore, what looks like a smashing victory that leaves the losing party prostrate or barely alive, turns out to be something like a purge of that party, and a purge that cleanses that party, leaving it more unified and even stronger than it was before it lost the election by a landslide. In other words, despite appearances, landslide victories are not smashing nor do they create a political arena that is controlled by the victorious party. And insofar as the victorious candidate believes his or her victory to be devastatingly powerful, granting a “mandate” to govern that will brook little opposition, s/he will be surprised by and vulnerable to political opposition more formidable than s/he expected. As a result, the victor’s attempt to govern as if s/he had such a mandate, allowing her to govern unilaterally or while disregarding the opposition, is almost bound to fail.

            Does this mean that the losing party was collusive, that it helped to set up what is labeled a “landslide electoral victory?” Well, that would be a difficult thing to demonstrate or argue but what isn’t so hard to argue is that “landslide electoral victories” benefit at times the losers as well as the winners. And the winners would be prudent to keep this in mind.