Tuesday, April 1, 2008

History lesson

Radical historian Howard Zinn in the Nation:
The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn't qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies. Still, in today's climate of endless war and uncontrolled greed, drawing upon the heritage of the 1930s would be a huge step forward.
Whether you agree with Zinn's prescription, I think his characterization of politics in general is spot on. The right-wing noise machine can't admit it, and the milquetoast Clintons and Obamas can't either, but on economic issues, today's much-vilified "liberals" would have been right-wingers in the 1930s and 1940s.


JB Powers said...

I was almost agreeing with Zinn there, till he returned to form imagining that since the Hoover/Roosevelt Leftism failed, we needed more Leftism.

Hillary and Obama remind me quite a bit of reactionary Leftists, scrambling to tear up trade deals (H&O), build hapless public housing (O), takeover the private housing market (H), or set up workers councils to determine gender based compensation (O).

I must disagree with you Harold, H&O are plain vanilla Leftists offering nothing much new in the world of Tax and Spend, except for the media spin that O has some new offerings-not yet revealed to the public.


Harold said...

I'm willing to bracket and hold off the question of what needs to be done now (where I think we might agree a good deal more than labels would indicate). What interests me here is the plain fact that "Leftists" is a changeable term, and it has changed greatly in 70 years. Harry Truman was far more interested in building public housing and enacting universal health care (and in more directly governmental ways) than anybody on the scene today, and his rhetoric was scorching and class-based and on the side of the lower classes. Disapprove of H&O's policy proposals as you will; they are milquetoast compared to HST. (So, again, we do agree: they don't add much.)

Paul Botts said...

Actually Truman's policies and ideas were "milktoast" compared to even the middle of the road today, never mind today's liberals, in ways arguably more momentous than the examples you list. That's because the road as a whole has shifted so far to the left over the intervening half-century.

So for example on race: Truman was pretty well out front on that subject for his day (wanted to integrate the military) but even he never would have imagined or supported the basic social consensus that we've arrived at today. Interracial marriage/dating is routine and unremarked (and the normative definition of what "dating" includes has changed a lot too), the percentage of all American children who are biracial is doubling every 10 to 15 years, legal barriers based on race have long since lost any social legitimacy, etc.

Or how about sexual orientation? Would Truman, or even outright leftists of 1948, have argued for or even accepted the concept of major employers extending partner benefits to gay partners? That hundreds of local school districts would allow openly-gay teachers in the classroom with our children? That openly-gay couples of both genders would be allowed to _adopt_ children?

How about environmental issues -- neither Harry Truman nor any detectable fraction of leftists would in 1948 have supported concepts which today are part of the bipartisan motherhood-and-apple-pie mainstream. (No one today having any chance of getting elected to anything seriously disputes that industrial plants should have limits on how much they discharge, rather we debate the nature and specifics of the limiting; ditto with the concept of reducing private property rights for the purpose of preventing extinctions; ditto with banning highly-useful but polluting substances such as lead in gasoline or PCBs in electrical equipment.)

Etc. A half-dozen more major examples easily come to mind but the overall point is the same.

JB Powers said...

Am reading and researching Adlai 2 right now. I recommend this book


Having met with a few of AE 2's contemporaries (yes, there are still a couple around), it is becoming apparent that:

1) Many "Liberals" such as AE2 were very in favor of Free Trade

2) Statist programs, such as the Housing Act of 1949 were meant to be experimental, and sunsetted if the results bad (they were bad, and the programs grew)

3) Stevenson was regarded as a Traitional Liberal, by many. His idea of Big Government was asking for reforms in the Post Office, not in expanding the Fair Deal.

I suppose it is wishful to think that a pleasant-sympathetic guy like AE2 would have noticed that the "experimental" big government programs generally failed, and would have slowed them down. But the size and scope of programs that Truman and Stevenson supported was minuscule compared to that even Reagan and Bush have given us.

I can send you a copy of the Stevenson book Harold, if you email me.


JB Powers said...

Trying that link again

Stevenson Essays book at The Seminary CoOp

Shift from Django to Google looses a few features.


So-Called Austin Mayor said...

"today's much-vilified "liberals" would have been right-wingers in the 1930s and 1940s."

And in much of the western world in the 21st century.

so-called "Austin Mayor"

Paul Botts said...

Oh nonsense. This is just that brainless and deeply-arrogant "What's The Matter With Kansas?" argument again. I hope to live long enough to see Progressivism rise from the intellectual gutter again.

What gives me hope is that the Americans I know who are younger than me (I was born in 1962) collectively seem far smarter and less childish about these subjects than we boomers.