Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Ongoing Conspiracy to Roll Back the New Deal

In his commentary The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party last week on Jane Mayer’s important New Yorker article on how the Koch brothers and their monstrous business enterprises have financed the conservative movement and libertarianism in the United States, Frank Rich, mentioned a new book by Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal.

I have not yet obtained a copy of the book, let alone read it, but there are some readers’ reviews on that are extraordinarily useful and informative in and of themselves.

Reviewer Nelson A. Smith:
While liberals of my generation have been fretting over gay marriage, deconstruction, and identity politics, the state has been completely retaken from the New Deal compromise in decisive class warfare waged from above. . . . By concerted effort and planning, as this book details, a relatively small cadre of blueblood patroons, capitalist absolutists, Hayek disciples, and Chamber of Commerce hacks have succeeded in reversing the New Deal, which they regarded as criminal collectivism, and returning us right back where we started, back in the Great Depression, briefly interrupted.
Reviewer William R. Neil:
No deep appreciation of the dynamics of the American political economy in 2009-2010 is possible without understanding the importance of economists Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, as well as religious fundamentalists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Throw in some fascinating background on George Gilder, the politics of the past two years begin to make much more sense, and we have Kim Phillips-Fein to thank for that. And for pointing out what American Progressives probably don't want to hear, but need to: that "the most striking and lasting victories of the right have come in the realm of political economy rather than that of culture."
The first is Hayek's admission, in his famous Road To Serfdom, that "at times modern man would feel subordinated to the market and would chafe against economic forces that he could not control. But he argued that submission to the marketplace was infinitely preferable to deference to a ruler. `Unless this complex society is to be destroyed, the only alternative to submission to the impersonal and seemingly irrational forces of the market is submission to an equally uncontrollable and therefore arbitrary power of other men.'"(Page 37.) Now that's what I call "market fundamentalism," with not much room left for the politics of democracy (freedom in his view, comes from The Market), much less Social Democracy with its mixed economy and deep and open involvement in a fully recognized "political economy."
Building the Conservative Coalition
As Kim Phillips-Fein lays out for us in Invisible Hands, political conservatives, especially business conservatives, were lamenting their lack of a grass-roots movement to counteract the power of labor which grew out of the organizing successes of the 1930's and the legal sanction bestowed by the New Deal. Protestant churches were the logical place to turn, but the climate in their pulpits, in the wake of the New Deal, and indeed, ever since the rise of the Social Gospel in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Progressive Era, was not very receptive. "The basic argument was that Christianity had too long been associated with altruism, selflessness, and a devotion to helping the poor - principles that might lead good Christians to advocate government intervention in the economy. To counter this idea, Spiritual Mobilization insisted that Christianity was rightly associated with shrinking the welfare state." (Page 74). Spiritual Mobilization was, among other things, an attempted collaboration between J.Howard Pew's Sun Oil-generated money and the religious organizing genius of James Fifield, a dynamic Congregational minister with a huge parish in Los Angles, who had originally founded Mobilization in the 1930's. And one of the first outreach efforts is to mail out free copies of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in an attempt to gauge the mood amongst the ministers. Although it faltered in the 1950's, Spiritual Mobilization foreshadowed the framework for the conservative alliance in the 1980's.

Reviewer Giordano Bruno:
. . . a very disturbing tale is documented in this book: of deception and hypocricy; of corruption of the electoral, judicial, and legislative processes; of the ruthless use of power and money; of indifference to the welfare of ordinary people; of ideological fanaticism; of the exploitation of dangerous social divisions for political advantage; of skillfully camouflaged Class Warfare against the `lower' classes and their champions; of plutocracy in the saddle.

William Baroody? Lemuel Boulware? Ralph Cordiner, Pierre du Pont, Clarence Manion, Leonard Read, Richard Viguerie, F. Clinton White? How many of these names are familiar to most of us, and yet they were all movers and shakers of American politics without ever holding office or confronting an election.

ACU? American Conservative Union! AEA, later AEI? American Enterprise Institute! American Liberty League, Business Roundtable, Cato Institute, Committee for Economic Development, Foundation for Economic Education, Hoover Institution, J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, Manion Forum of Opinion, Mont Pelerin Society, NAIB, NAM, NCAC, NICB, NRWC, Olin Foundation, Ripon Society, and oh yeah, the John Birch Society, let's not forget! These and many others, of transient or permanent influence, were the frontline agencies of the capitalists' crusade against New Deal liberalism.
The failure of President Obama’s view of political economy was fully foreshadowed by his failure as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago to realize the futility of trying to stop the national and international policies implemented as part of this anti-New Deal conspiracy by trying to organize locally against the symptoms created by those policies. If you’re going to organize locally—and indeed you must—you need to organize against the national and international policies openly, directly, and by name. (Of course, if you do this organizing effectively, expect the elites to come after you with every dirty trick imaginable.) Obama, and almost all other community organizers failed miserably to stop the economic destruction wrought by deregulation, financialization, globalization, and free trade. This defeat of the left in the 1970s and 1980s was so thorough and so crushing, that today labor unions deflect their attacks on free trade with pure bullshit about “fair trade.”

The attack on the New Deal is still in full swing. What Jane Mayer reported is but one aspect. In a recent post on his blog, conservative David Frum hypothesized that recent departures from the Koch-created and Koch-funded Cato Institute (The Purge at Cato) were retribution for lack of enthusiastic support for
a new book by American Enterprise Institute president, Arthur Brooks. Brooks had provided an intellectual manifesto for the Tea Party, arguing that the United States now faced a culture-dividing battle over the continued existence of the free enterprise system.

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