A romp through convention platforms past

An excerpt from the Democratic Party platform of 1972:

We hold that the federal tax structure should reflect the following principles:

The cost of government must be distributed more fairly among income classes. We reaffirm the long-established principle of progressive taxation —allocating the burden according to ability to pay —which is all but a dead letter in the present tax code.

The cost of government must be distributed fairly among citizens in similar economic circumstances:

Direct expenditures by the federal government which can be budgeted are better than tax preferences as the means for achieving public objectives. The lost income of those tax preferences which are deemed desirable should be stated in the annual budget.

When relief for hardship is provided through federal tax policy, as for blindness, old age or poverty, benefits should be provided equally by credit rather than deductions which favor recipients with more income, with special provisions for those whose credits would exceed the tax they owe.

Provisions which discriminate against working women and single people should be corrected in addition to greater fairness and efficiency, these principles would mean a major redistribution of personal tax burdens and permit considerable simplification of the tax code and tax forms.

Twenty years later, the party that nominated William Jefferson Clinton:

We reject both the do-nothing government of the last twelve years and the big government theory that says we can hamstring business and tax and spend our way to prosperity. Instead we offer a third way. Just as we have always viewed working men and women as the bedrock of our economy, we honor business as a noble endeavor, and vow to create a far better climate for firms and independent contractors of all sizes that empower their workers, revolutionize their workplaces, respect the environment, and serve their communities well.

In a story published in 2012, Marc Fisher noted the consistency with which the GOP has moved towards “ever more conservative stances” on the economy and social questions while the Democrats have followed a, well, “a more jagged series of experiments with activist and statist approaches,” he writes, in which riffs on family, God, and free enterprise ring as nervously and reassuringly as a power chord in a One Direction song.

The GOP’s gonna be doing some awful zagging this year to accommodate the nominee whom we all know even Ross Douthat will embrace by the Fourth of July. Whatever else has happened since the GOP fooled itself into thinking it had principles, the Dems will coalesce around a platform that will look, oh, about sixty percent different from the time Hillary Clinton’s husband decided that adopting conservative positions would get him reelected. For the first time since I became old enough to vote, I am reasonably comfortable with voting for a Democrat.

What Bernie Sanders means

Bill Bradley? Three syllables almost made me dismiss Jamelle Bouie’s formidable analysis of the reach of Bernie Sanders’ challenge to Clintonism. Challenges aren’t created equal. Challenging a sitting vice president, as Bradley did Gore in early 2000, might have been bold but Bradley’s neolib record in the Senate was as indistinguishable as Gore’s before his elevation to the second highest seat.

Running the nearest approximation to an “insurgent” strategy in my lifetime, Howard Dean earned some condescension from yours truly that I regret and for which I’m grateful no online trace exists. Reading a New Yorker profile about his becoming interested in foreign policy from reading a, well, foreign policy journal in airports evoked Ronald Reagan purloining copies of Human Events after his White House troika stole them from the mail room; we’d had too many ignoramuses letting the State and Defense departments run amuck because they insisted on retiring to the Executive Residence at precisely five o’clock. I don’t hold his support for Hillary Clinton against him, although I wonder how wide his mouth stretches to insert his fist when homo hater and Terri Schiavo fan Harold Ford, Jr. joins him in permanent residency at “Mika” Brzezinski and “Morning Joe” Scarborough’s breakfast nook.

But back to Bouie:

Working with other groups doesn’t guarantee you will achieve your goals, or even come close. Like its predecessors, the Sanders insurgency is an attempt to force the question, to declare “we deserve a louder say” to the moderate stalwarts, corporate interests, unions, and activist groups that constitute the Democratic Party. But they have a say, too, with backers and voters who support their positions. And they may not be swayed by arguments over policies and ideology. Groups and voters come to political parties with a variety of different interests that reflect their identities and livelihoods as much as their beliefs and values. Some of this is tribalism or “identity politics,” but those are real forces that have to be negotiated. It is possible. The one upset in the 2016 contest was in Michigan, where Sanders beat expectations by enlarging the electorate—bringing more young people into the process—and improving with black voters. And he did this by reaching out, early and often. Not just with talk of a “political revolution,” but by connecting to voters with a common message rooted in trade and labor, an effective move in a state with a long history of unionism. The broad point is that a “political revolution” can’t rest on a call for clean government and ideological rigor—the crux of Sanders’ general argument. The Democratic Party isn’t yet an ideological party, and many of its voters don’t put ideology or good-government reform at the top of their lists.

Again, while this is a smart analysis, I’m not sure what evidence he presents to support the claim that Dems aren’t an “ideological” party. If he means “voters vote against people and ideas, not for candidates,” amen and halleluiah, but in my experience Dem voters want Social Security, federal support for the right to privacy enunciated in Roe v. Wade, the strictest of scrutiny for foreign policy adventures, to name a few — functioning government, a robust functioning government, in other words. In 1975 this was an assumption. In 2016, it’s a ideological position.

But he’s right on this count: campaigns “are not the right place to change the overall dynamics of a political party.” To win over black voters, he writers, the Sanders camp “needed to spend time in black communities, becoming a part of their politics—a trusted partner.” The Clintons had their trust — their vote. Campaigns catalyze. They don’t do the work of local organizing — the lesson one Brent Bozell learned with direct mail campaigns on behalf of Ronald Reagan after the governor lost to Gerald Ford in 1976. If one development shows the Sanders campaign did not expect to get this far, it’s failing to secure support in black communities in 2015. Maybe he should be the DNC’s next chair.

PBS NewsHour debate: Kissinger lives!

Unable to watch last night’s Democratic debate live, I caught up with the stream, impressed by how well the thoughtful-to-a-fault PBS ethos worked in rerun. Some notes:

1. The thoughtful-to-a-fault PBS ethos crumbled to powder when Bernie Sanders said, with the air of making a campaign promise, “I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country…I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” The election isn’t about détente or a referendum on the malevolent, amoral careerism of a man whose stewardship of the State Department and National Security Council turned Southeast Asia and Chile into abattoirs. Quite likely few watchers understood Sanders’ disgust or even what Kissinger was supposed to have done. But few watchers could have missed the confidence with which Sanders dismissed an institution, an eminence even, on television. When did Barack Obama and John Edwards call Donald Rumsfeld one of the most destructive secretaries of defense in the modern history of this century? Clinton, expecting to hear the crowd excoriate Sanders but instead heard whistles, rocked on her heels. For a moment the shallowness of the format, the inability of these debates to serve as any kind of review – forget redress – of history was exposed.

2. Moderator Judy Woodruff asked Sanders, “Will there be a limit to the size of government?” as if a worry about size of government was a truism with which serious people agree.

3. Neither Sanders nor Clinton connected the dots between Flint, universal health care and the importance of a robust federal government. Clinton did not help: skepticism about government does not come from both “the left” and “the right”; there she goes again with phony, dangerous equivalence.

4. An internet friend: “It’s a tough choice on foreign policy, two competing strains of ignorance.”

Bernie Sanders: money in politics ‘narrows the range of possibility’

“This magazine rarely makes endorsements in the Democratic primary (we’ve done so only twice: for Jesse Jackson in 1988, and for Barack Obama in 2008),” the editors of The Nation write. “We do so now impelled by the awareness that our rigged system works for the few and not for the many. Americans are waking up to this reality, and they are demanding change.” And this is the platform of the candidate the magazine has endorsed:

 Voters can trust Sanders because he doesn’t owe his political career to the financial overlords of the status quo. Freed from these chains of special interest, he can take the bold measures that the country needs. Sanders alone proposes to break up the too-big-to-fail banks; to invest in public education, from universal pre-K to tuition-free public college; to break the power of the insurance and pharmaceutical cartels with Medicare for All reforms. He alone proposes to empower workers with a living wage. He alone stands ready to put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and to confront climate change by making the United States a leader in renewable energy. His audacious agenda proves that money in politics doesn’t widen debate; rather, it narrows the range of possibility. While Sanders understands this, we fear that his chief rival for the Democratic nomination does not.

Although Hillary Clinton would be preferable to any Republican nominee, the editors write, she has serious problems:

 Her talk of seeking common ground with Republicans and making deals to “get things done” in Washington will not bring the change that is so desperately needed. Clinton has not ruled out raising the Social Security retirement age, and her plan falls short of increasing benefits for all. She rejects single-payer healthcare and refuses to consider breaking up the big banks. We also fear that she might accept a budgetary “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would lock in austerity for decades to come.

I have cavils about “breaking up the big banks.” Which banks? How are we defining banks in 2016? Break them up into…? As for foreign policy ideas, well: “She now advocates a confrontation with Russia in Syria by calling for a no-fly zone.” I’m sure she’ll change her mind about it soon, as her aides are after looking at poll numbers:

Several Democratic leaders agreed, saying the Clinton campaign underestimated Mr. Sanders from the start. They argued that Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should have competed against him more aggressively, in debates and on the campaign trail, rather than appear so sharply negative with their recent attacks, which have given the campaign a jumbled feeling heading into the first voting states. Even Chelsea Clinton jabbed at Mr. Sanders, an unusual move given that relatives are traditionally used in campaigns to soften a politician’s image.

Oh for the love of Christ. Again? She lost a nomination that would’ve been hers in 2008 because she got complacent. She’s ready to do it again. I’m beginning to imagine any conceivable Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign as an elaborate shuck, a self-ratfucking exercise designed to scour any trace of good will about her political life.

Manipulating his rusted exhaust pipe of a voice to cover up a lack of specifics, Bernie Sanders has my uncertain support if not my vote, for in Florida independents, like the poor on Election Day, can’t vote. We’ll see.

Barack Obama: a legacy


The Barack Hussein Obama presidency has been more consequential than it looks, Michael Grunwald argues. Wading through the minutiae of the stimulus bill and Department of Energy regulations, Grunwald says the president’s domestic legacy will outlive him:

What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.

“The change is real,” says Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s White House chief of staff, and later as Obama’s Ebola czar. “It would be nice if more people understood the change.”

Grunwald avoids foreign policy, which isn’t his strength or interest, and notice even this excerpt how he hurries past the consequences of Race to the Top and the mushrooming of the charter school racket and the public career of Arne Duncan, but otherwise it’s a serious appraisal. But:

Healthier school lunches. A ban on “light” cigarettes. Streamlined financial aid forms that take college applicants 20 minutes to complete instead of an hour. Reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powdered cocaine. A popular new competitive grant program called TIGER for innovative transportation projects. Immigration enforcement that prioritizes dangerous felons rather than ordinary families. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act easing gender discrimination lawsuits. New rules requiring fast-food restaurants to post nutritional information. The percentage of student borrowers getting relief through through “income-based repayment” has tripled in just the past two years. George W. Bush’s tax cuts are gone for families earning more than $450,000 a year and permanent for everyone else; Bush’s limits on stem-cell research are gone, too. Medicare will now cover end-of-life planning discussions, a shift that could help ease the pain, as well as the cost, of many American deaths.

I’ve criticized the president a great deal; his foreign policy achieves coherence when he signs orders having a drone vaporize an American accused of sedition and his blameless son. But he has been the most consequential Democratic president of my lifetime. We’re going to get many retrospective pieces in the next twelve months. If anyone could write one, it’s the author of The New New Deal, the only book I’ve read that examines the legislative tumult of 2009 without my fumbling for garbage words like “policy wonk” even when the prose coarsens for the sake of the Chris Matthews claque.

‘I grew up in suburbia’

Ugh. The Democratic National Committee chair, ladies and gents:

Q: You’re one of a dwindling number of progressive politicians who oppose legalization of even the medical use of marijuana. Where does that come from?

A: I don’t oppose the use of medical marijuana. I just don’t think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.

Q: Heroin addiction often starts with prescribed painkillers. Pill mills were a problem in Florida, but the state didn’t make prescribing opiates illegal.

A: There is a difference between opiates and marijuana.

Q: Still, your opinion on this does seem like an outlier.

A: It’s perfectly O.K. to not be completely predictable. I am a person, and I have individual opinions that may not line up ideologically. They’re formed by my personal experience both as a mom and as someone who grew up really bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood — not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.

A cohort of Democrats — I use the term the same way one would say “a pitying of doves” — will agree with the congresswoman, arguing for the kinds of common sense legislation around which both parties can form a consensus: we agree drugs are a problem in the city, right? The problem is the assumption. “I grew up in suburbia”? I did too. The worst drug cases are in suburbia. Why? There ain’t shit to do. Parents have money. Middle class and rich kids in charter and private schools sell pot not because they need the money — it’s a kick, an act of rebellion. Encompassing the extreme northern end of Miami-Dade County and wide swaths of Broward County’s western and southwestern wastes whose dreariness could have inspired Rush’s “Subdivisions,” Florida’s Twenty-Third District is ground zero for recreational drug use. I know: I teach these students. They go to evangelical churches to play their tunes and get high in their parents’ garages. It also boasts an aging population beset by cancer, many of whom can use the “medical marijuana” about which she affects reluctance to support.

As for the comments…I didn’t cite the one about the “complacency” of young woman. It’s one thing to demand that young men and women fucking vote in local and state elections; it’s quite another to pontificate like Jeanne Dixon about what women aren’t doing.

Those Stalinist students!

The way in which we sentimentalize the most average experiences exemplifies what Marxists call false consciousness. Many complaints about Princetonians objecting to Woodrow Wilson tut-tut about what campus protest was really like, man. Corey Robin doesn’t believe it.

To listen to the critics of these Princeton students, you would think that until these students came along, there was a vital discussion happening on the college quad. On any given afternoon, undergraduates, in groups of four or five, would look up through the fall leaves and see Wilson’s name on one building, Nassau’s name on another, Firestone’s name (yes, that Firestone) on a third, and ask, wondrously, why is this building named after Wilson, Nassau, Firestone? Who were these men, what did they do, why should we be honoring them in this way? Then along come these students, with their nasty Stalinist ways, threatening to shut those vital little idylls down, with their simple zealous demand that Wilson’s name be cleansed from the campus.

I’ve been on college campuses since 1985, running the gamut from the most wealthy and elite to the most cash-starved and working class, and I have to say: that just isn’t my impression of how campuses actually work. I teach in William James Hall; the only person who ever asked me who William James was, was my seven-year-old daughter. Most students have other things to do.

If someone can post comments from the right wing commentariat regarding our purported ingratitude towards such a figure of American Progressive thought, I’d love to see them. Otherwise I’ll stick to Chris Hayes’ response:


It was ever thus.

The decline of labor unions

Rich Yeselson kicks off a four-part series commissioned by Talking Points Memo on the history of labor. The key paragraph, which should have been the introduction:

With the brief exception of the late 1930s followed by the anomalous period of the Second World War, labor has never had a juridical and statist presumption that it should institutionally survive, let alone flourish. For much of its history the courts, and to this very day, have sought to diminish labor’s power, if not crush it outright. With the exception of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (which opponents immediately sought to undermine), there has never been a statist framework in the US that explicitly sought to ensure labor’s institutional viability across the branches of the federal government and state governments. And without that statist presumption, unions had to confront what historian Nelson Lichtenstein has labeled a special form of “American exceptionalism”: “the hostility managers have shown toward both the regulatory state and virtually all forms of worker representation.” Lichtenstein goes onto note that the absence in the U.S. of “self regulation or cartelization” found in Europe and parts of Asia. Decentralized “competitive disorder” made non-rationalized wage and benefit increases imposed by firm-by-firm unionization (rather than the sectorial model of collective bargaining found in Europe in which the extra cost burdens of unionization was socialized across economic sectors) a great threat to companies and triggered a particularly vicious, sometimes violent, response. Thus when, via the decline in manufacturing and a corresponding loss of political influence, unions weakened in the 1970s, the business class seized that moment and, by the construction of politically and intellectually influential think tanks and a massive increase in their congressional lobbying, counter-mobilized to crush them.

I’d add that the sixties New Left, suspicious of machine politics, discredited the likes of Hubert Humphrey, et al. The rise of gay rights, feminism, opposition to the war in Vietnam contributed. A complicated story. I wish the series well.

Democratic myopia

Charles Pierce:

There are a couple of lessons that the Democratic Party can take from yet another ass-kicking, this in a freakish off off-year election. (The results in Virginia, where Democrats hoped to overturn the state senate, were particularly painful, and not much of a testimony to Governor Terry McAuliffe’s influence.) The first one is an old lesson, but one the party has yet to learn. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has to go, and she has to take her approach to building the party with her. How many times does Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy have to be vindicated before the Democratic Party admits that he was right, and that Rahm Emanuel (and DWS) were wrong? Pay attention. These elections are where your next Louie Gohmerts and Joni Ernsts come from. If you want to kill crackpot politics in the cradle, this is where you have to do it.

The second lesson is one more apropos to the set of circumstances surrounding this election. (And, yes, I also am suspicious of the fact that no poll showed Bevin leading prior to the election and yet he won going away. There seems to be one of these in every election now, and the Republican almost always wins it.) Please stop running retreads, what we here in the Commonwealth call “the Coakley Factor.” I’m sure Jack Conway is a swell fella, but, like Coakley in Massachusetts and Tom Barrett in Wisconsin, this is the second statewide race he’d lost in five years, and the last one he lost was to Rand Paul.

On Chris Hayes’ show (as soon as the clip goes live I’ll link to it) the retired chairpersons of their respective political parties compared notes. Howard Dean and Michael Steele, fellows of the hail fellow well met sort, emitted the bonhomie of men long past rivalries who might have drinks after hours like Tip ‘n’ Ronnie never did. Both agreed that their parties are at crossroads. Steele claims his own fifty-state strategy “maximized” turnout among miffed white people; by running mayoral, legislative, and gubernatorial candidates who appealed to their most malevolent fantasies about what a black Muslim president was doing to their blessed country while keeping their eye fixed on the results of the 2010 census, they’ve ensured a vise on local races for years to come. Dean’s fifty-state strategy of 2006, which sought to remain competitive in traditionally unfriendly states, did the same for senatorial candidates and Barack Obama; as a result of the inherent mechanics of a party’s apparatus, the election of a president meant the reelection of a president, thus the abandonment of the strategy. The theories sound pat, as is the wont of political theories, but it explains Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s awfulness as a party chair. Dean still speaks in the aggrieved tones of a spurned bride. And why not?

There’s a difference between the two parties’ strategies: the GOP finds pols sympathetic to goals, regardless of the sanity and EKG movement of these men and women; Democrats, it seems to me, look for who’s electable and put the candidate in front of a Teleprompter. I have no evidence for this theory except my eyes. I’m not sure Democratic activists understand the degree to which the GOP will sacrifice gay marriage, mandatory minimum sentences, tough crime bills, authorizing war, and decriminalizing pot if it means lowering tax rates, eroding the legitimacy of the federal government, and vaporizing Medicare and Social Security (emphasis mine). This is, as they say, the long game. That’s what the Koch brothers understand. That’s what Grover Norquist understands. When Charles Koch shrugs at the idea of two men exchanging wedding bands, a twenty-year-old University of Florida kid gives libertarianism a second look. Every time a Democrat concedes that Obamacare and Medicaid need reform, the Republicans win. Liberals have ideas but no strategy, let alone tactics. It’s gonna be a long winter.

GOP extremism: most fundamental campaign issue

I quote Charles Pierce so often because he’s one of the few columnists with a historical sense to match his prose. Often the historical sense is the saucer on which the tea cup of his prose cools (he steeps his sentences in Mencken and Thompson). I’d think, as he argues, that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz would be hanging this ignominious history round every candidate’s neck:

It is all one long, continuous plague of Republican extremism that began quietly when the party moved west and south in its orientation, and when Richard Nixon discovered that George Wallace was onto something that could be immensely useful to a shrewd and brilliant code-talker like Nixon himself. Things began to alarm people in the late 1970’s, when the vicious NCPAC campaigns cleared the Senate of the likes of Frank Church and George McGovern, and when Ronald Reagan was installed in the White House. But it did not break into truly virulent, systemic frenzy until Bill Clinton got elected in 1992. This led to the rise of Newt Gingrich, and the original pack of vandals he herded into the House in 1994, the guys who are now treated like wise old moderate heads, the guys who have dismally rated morning chat shows that are mistaken for being influential by desperate shut-ins and by lonely insomniac congressional aides. This led to fake investigation after fake investigation until, finally, the House went completely over the falls and impeached a sitting president for the second time in history. Remarkably, this singular event has so disappeared down the memory hole that, at the 2000 Republican National Convention, nobody even mentioned what had been touted as a triumph for the rule of law…

…Republican extremism should have been the most fundamental campaign issue for every Democratic candidate for every elected office since about 1991. Every silly thing said by Michele Bachmann, say, or Louie Gohmert should have been hung around the neck of Republican politicians until they choked themselves denying it. (I once spoke to a Democratic candidate who was running against Bachmann who said to me, “Well, I’m not going to call her crazy.” She lost badly.) The mockery and ridicule should have been loud and relentless. It was the only way to break both the grip of the prion disease, and break through the solid bubble of disinformation, anti-facts, and utter bullshit that has sustained the Republican base over the past 25 years. Instead, and it’s hard to fault them entirely for their sense of responsibility, the Democrats chose largely to ignore the dance of the madmen at center stage and fulfill some sense of obligation to the country.

Because Democrats are the straight men to the GOP comedians, he argues, they’re stuck defending policies, and this is hell on their boxing skills; no wonder Alan Grayson makes them nervous. Grayson should be on every network and cable green room acting as obnoxiously as possible, reminding its audience of sixteen that it’s one party who lets a minority of a minority decide on keeping the Speaker of the House’s chair empty; who wants to shut down the government over a constitutionally legal access to abortions; and whose pursuit of white voters, poor or plutocratic, is doomed because they’re dying and there won’t be a middle class from which to rise, respectively. But when the Democratic donor class looks a lot like the GOPs, the paralysis hits.

‘Our long term project must be the destruction of the state’

In a coda to a NYT Magazine essay about the corporatism of the American university, Fredrik deBoer writes:

The central quandary for today’s left is that we need to use the state for various essential functions, such as providing free public education and preventing racist housing discrimination, while recognizing that our long term project must be the destruction of the state. Revolutionary socialism does not mandate a future where the state owns everything. It mandates a future where the people own everything, where the productive apparatus of society is owned by all people and where that productive apparatus is directed towards the common good of all. The state serves the needs of the few by its very nature. That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t, in the short-term, bend the repressive power of the state to egalitarian needs when we have to. But it does mean that we should never abandon our fundamental skepticism and antagonism towards the state, and that when we fall into the trap of becoming the enthusiastic statists our enemies have made of us, we fundamentally lose sight of our mission. That resistance to the state does not make me a libertarian. Indeed, it’s a statement of absolutely banal, traditional left-wing intent. Today, we need to use the state, but never forget that it was the state that choked Eric Garner to death in the street.

Defining, roughly, corporatism as a system that exists to protect itself, deBoer calls for an activism that recognizes the danger of the institutions which the activists think need reforming. And his conclusions echo the shrewder critics of the American social compact. Ellen Willis was reminding her leftist readers in the late nineties that every right enjoyed by Americans since the nineteenth century came as a result of radical social movements: labor, the New Left, black and feminist liberation movements, gay pride. The role of the state since the heyday of the New Deal, Willis writes, was “to manage potentially destabilizing social conflict by offering carefully limited concessions to the troublemakers.” Hence the Nixon administration’s use of affirmative action to encourage social mobility instead of fixing the endemic racism. Which is not to dismiss the achievements wrought by this compact between the state and social movements; but Willis and deBoer remind us that investing too much energy in the institutions that once guaranteed these concessions results in skepticism if not hostility when the institutions err. Don’t look to the IRS for income tax parity in a post-Citizens United landscape, in other words, unless watching Lois Lerner fumble in congressional hearings is as engrossing as Sense8. The divide and conquer strategy created by Nixon and perfected by the Reagan administration depended on undermining the bureaucracies that systemized New Deal and Great Society advances.

The long decline of Jimmy Carter

To hear Jimmy Carter mentioned in exile Cuban-American circles is to partake of a loathing so visceral that it shocks the conscience. Welcoming thousands of their relatives and friends during the Mariel boat lift fades from the memory. Jimmy Carter was a worse president than Richard Nixon. When pressed, the aggrieved will stammer “the hostages” and — this line provokes deep smirks from people who take pleasure in never showing surprise about anything — “wearing a cardigan in the White House.” Ronald Reagan wore French cuffs and tailor made suits while signing a budget that cut school lunch programs. He dressed with impeccable taste when he ordered his NSC to keep the Contras together body and soul. His hair was a wonder when he almost succeeded in fooling the American public he thought was as credulous and malleable as he that he knew nothing about the sale of TOW missiles to Iran, a cake and Bible free of charge.

Jimmy Carter wasn’t a good president. A forerunner of the technocratic New South and neoliberal Democrat of whom we’d see much of in later years, he presaged the transformation of the Democratic Party into an irritable hydra of competing loyalties. Despite the estimable introduction of human rights into foreign policy and a renewed interest in alternative energy, he was the most conservative Democratic candidate for president since John W. Davis. Even Caspar Weinberger was impressed with the administration’s defense spending in 1981. And the party loathed him for turning his electors into what they already were. Walter Karp’s Indispensable Enemies traces how the GOP and the Democrats, the latter with congressional supermajorities, colluded in eroding support for the first insurgent candidate to win the presidency this century. Charles Pierce:

In the existential crisis of his presidency, Carter made two mistakes: first, he listened to that old vampire, Henry Kissinger, and allowed the deposed Shah of Iran into this country for medical treatment, and second, he launched the ill-fated rescue mission instead of pursuing the patient strategy of squeezing the Iranian economy until it screamed. Other than that, he embargoed their oil and he froze their American assets. Whether or not you believe that William Casey was engaged in monkey-mischief during the 1980 presidential campaign – and I do – there seems little doubt that the Iranians released the hostages when Reagan was sworn in not because they were terrified of the man who would: a) unfreeze their assets; b) leave 243 Marines unprotected and cause them to be slaughtered by Iranian-backed terrorists, and, c) ultimately sell the mullahs some missiles, but rather as a final flip-off to Carter, whom they genuinely hated. Who was the tough guy there? Reagan’s myth has been built on the reputation of a better man, who now fights for his life.

In his tenth decade, Carter will succumb to the same disease that killed his siblings and mother. The interview included in the last link shows a man whose concentration and crispness would be remarkable in any age, and I saw it in evidence a few weeks ago when he decried the oligarchy — his term — that rules the United States. His hectoring Christian side has its advantages. When he has something to say, he says it (he does not look much fun to be around, but Herbert Hoover, fellow engineer by training, wasn’t Chuckles either). Ronald Reagan didn’t depose Daniel Ortega: Carter did after monitoring an election in which Ortega decisively lost; Carter had no trouble telling him he had to go (losing an election’s not the end of the world, Carter reportedly told him). Presidents keep their distance as if he were himself a cancer (that he loathes both 41 and 43 is obvious). I still don’t cop to every allegiance and utterance he’s made; the media is as enamored with the Carter-as-beneficent-ex-president myth as it is with JFK and Reagan. But when he goes to meet the maker he knows exists, Jimmy Carter can claim he saved more people from hunger and homelessness than any Cold War president. All the best, Jimmy.