The Failure of Conservative Ideology is NOW (AGAIN)

This is an unusually large excerpt from C&L's Barbara O'Brien
A (Pretty) Short History of Wingnutism:
"By now you probably see where we’re going. “American Way” conservatism was the dominant political philosophy in the 1920s, and the nation was governed by its principles through the Harding and Coolidge administrations, from 1921 to 1929. Some historians call this decade “the Republican Era.” The vigorous progressivism of 1900-1916 was vanquished, and the labor union movement lost ground. In fact, the longer one looks at America in the 1920s, the more familiar it gets — corporate profits rising faster than worker earnings; a crackdown on immigration; culture wars led by an aggressive Christian fundamentalist movement; and tax cuts galore. If they’d had iPods back then, you’d hardly know the difference.

Of course, it would come to pass that the Republican who won the 1928 presidential election by a landslide, Herbert Hoover, was probably sorry he won. The stock market crashed in October 1929, which marked the beginning of the Great Depression. The Depression was caused by a number of interacting factors, and since it was a worldwide phenomenon you can’t blame the Republicans for all of it. But in the United States many of those factors were created, directly or indirectly, by “American Way” conservative policies. Among these factors were a wildly overheated stock market (security regulation was socialism, after all) and the maldistribution of wealth that resulted from laissez-faire business policies. Since President Herbert Hoover was a tried-and-true “American Way” conservative, he mostly was at a loss to solve the nation’s economic problems, even though he had almost all of his four-year term to do so. In 1932 the nation turned to a liberal Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, to make things right.

Righties are quick to point out that the New Deal had a limited impact on the Depression, and that the nation’s economy didn’t really pull out of the slump until the industrialization of World War II — over which FDR also presided. (This is just one of many examples of righties taunting lefties for not cleaning up rightie messes they couldn’t clean up themselves; Iraq is another.) But New Deal programs had a longer-term success in fostering economic stability. Federal deposit insurance, unemployment insurance, Social Security, increased government oversight of securities, and other New Deal innovations made Americans’ economic lives more secure and created a buffer against many of the factors that cause economic depressions.

And considering that rightie counter-arguments to the New Deal usually advocate returning to the same governing philosophy that allowed the Depression to happen, you’ll forgive me if I don’t take them seriously.

Anyway, after the FDR landslide in 1932 it was clear the right wing had fallen from grace. Righties spent the rest of the 1930s seething with resentment and planning a comeback. And just when they had a shot at re-taking the White House — bam, World War II happened. And this made the American Right look doubly stupid, because for the most part righties in the 1930s were isolationists who had not only pooh-poohed the threat of the Third Reich but had actually admired Mussolini.

After World War II righties rebounded with a fury. They did this in large part by taking the issue of national security away from the Democrats. It’s important to understand that the Right managed this not because of anything they actually accomplished, but through a “compilation of hysterical charges and bald-faced lies,” to quote Kevin Baker in this Harper’s article, “Stabbed in the Back,” which I vigorously urge you to read.

Much of the Red Scare and McCarthyist hysteria of the late 1940s and 1950s were as much about slapping down liberals and Democrats as it was about national security. See the Kevin Baker article for details. See also Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage/Random House, 1962), in particular pp. 41-42 (emphasis added):

The inquisitors were trying to give satisfaction against liberals, New Dealers, reformers, internationalists, intellectuals, and finally even against a Republican administration that failed to reserve liberal policies. What was involved, above all, was a set of political hostilities in which the New Deal was linked to the welfare state, the welfare state to socialism, and socialism to Communism. In this crusade Communism was not the target but the weapon, and it is for this reason that so many of the most ardent hunters of impotent domestic Communists were altogether indifferent to efforts to meet the power of International Communism where it really mattered — in the area of world politics."

Go read it. See if you can easily pick out the parallels to many of the problems of today, and maybe begin to realize that not only has "The Great Republican Experiment" failed miserably, but that now is not the first time it has failed miserably.

Never again.

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