Archive for February, 2016

Winners and Losers

One of the interesting books I have read recently is Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation, by Scott Farris. He deals with the men who were well known, were nominated, but lost to their opposing candidate. He begins with those following George Washington and works his way through to the present time.

One of the most prolific losers was William Jennings Bryan, a democrat who ran twice against William McKinley and later against William Howard Taft. Although a loser in presidential elections, he remained titular head of the democratic party. He was responsible for the progressive federal income tax, women’s suffrage, Prohibition, and the direct election of senators. In addition, he was influential in seeing the passage of pure food and drug laws, the eight hour work day, initiative (of raising issues to voting status) and referendum process, federal protection of workers right to organize and strike, subsidized crop prices, utility and financial regulation, bank deposit insurance, and old age insurance. This is not a complete list and some of them were all ready to go when Franklin Roosevelt became President. Bryan was the all time leader in losing, but wound up getting many of his ideas enacted into law.

FDR picked up where Bryan left off and got Congress to pass a long list of bills involving the Federal Government in the social and economic life of the country. While successive Republican presidents, Nixon, Reagan and Bush all ran against the New Deal, none bothered to repeal even parts of it when in office. In fact, Nixon is generally regarded as leading the Republican party to (tepid) acceptance of most of the new legislation while funding its elements a fiscally responsible manner. He believed that government could pass social legislation which would then be left to private enterprise to implement. This is another idea that rattles around in the Republican party.

A couple of quotes from the book on Dewey’s first run for Republican candidate for president in the 1940 election when Dewey was thirty seven years old:

‘The resident curmudgeon of the Roosevelt administration, Harold Ickes, mockingly announced, ‘Tom Dewey’s thrown his diaper in the ring.’

‘delegates decided to abandon the efficient but seemingly soulless Dewey for the raucous Wilkie campaign that one reporter likened to a ‘whorehouse on Saturday night.’

It is very interesting to think about the effects that some of the losers in presidential elections have had on winners. This book makes clear that losers in presidential elections often do not stop being effective in influencing national government policy.

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What Have We Come To?

I have avoided the political season as long as I can, but I feel like the news media is submerging me in it. I read both the N Y Times and the Washington post and watch the public radio news channel in the evening. What I know is that one party started out with one candidate and now has two. The first was extra careful about what she said and the second has a lot to learn even though he is fascinating the younger crowd. This is sort of typical politics.

It is the other party that bothers me. Two of the leading vote getters are both blathering about things neither can deliver; get rid of the entire national health plan, and build a wall along the entire Mexican border. Is there no memory that building a wall is what the East Germans did, with guard towers and machine guns? Ridiculous as these proposals sound, a lot of people seem to be attracted to them. Indeed, the most of the rest of the candidates favor getting rid of all programs that provide assistance directly to citizens.

It’s this latter party that bothers me. Destroying medicare and medicaid would limit health care for all except the rich. How can we vote for one of many candidates who would make life less better for the vast majority of Americans (which includes me)? How can we vote for a candidate who would gather up all Mexicans (maybe all Latin Americans) and ship them out of this country.

I know these wild assertions are unlikely to be implemented, but how did we get to the place where they would form a major part of the dialog in a presidential election? As one who grew to adulthood under Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower I find these ideas to be simply crazy, and the people who propose them to be irresponsible. Fortunately, I believe our democratic social arrangements will see that sensible ideas prevail.

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I have never lost a file before, but last evening was a first.  After consulting with one of my daughters about this weeks blog, my finger brushed some button and the blog disappeared.  Several hours of hunting has found nothing, so no words of wisdom/commentary/reminiscence will appear this week.

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This Is Not The End

Since the presidential election campaign began (a year ago?) I have been unable to escape paying attention to it. Newspaper opinion pieces began to ramp up this Fall and we were advised on lots of do’s and don’ts. The current crop of presidential aspirants are taking advantage of the public anger and desire for change, but don’t seem to understand what is needed to meet such different social and economic situations, not only in this country, but in the world.

I have already written two blogs on the topic of our social and political situation: End of the National State and Innovation, written primarily to try to understand what has happened to us as a country and a people. The theme that seems to explain where we are is that large scale manufacturing destroyed such ways of providing life’s necessities as using horses and mules to provide the power to cultivate land was replaced by machines; tractors and large cultivation machines. This, in turn, reduced the need for human labor, which was able to move on to other jobs in industry which, for most workers provided more money and a better life. Early in the last century, Congress passed a vocational education act that promoted work skills in agriculture, home economics and manual skills necessary for industrial production. There were a number of additions to the original law.

Unwilling to duplicate the mess that congress created with WWI’s veterans, WWII legislation was passed that gave every veteran education through college. In addition, many veterans went back to the high school vocational education programs. This federal support for the men and women who did the assembly line work made possible the management of the vast array of needs arising from mass production. Given the good pay workers and managers received, they could spend on houses, automobiles and all the other products being pumped out.

Now, the same thing that happened in farming has happened to production, except now it is people that are being disposed of, not horses and mules. At the present time, no one has any idea about where this situation will lead us.

This brings us back to politics. The losers are looking to their elected officials to provide us with some answers (and work). How can government promote jobs/abundance today? News media is full of stories of young men and women creating new “devices” for communication and managing sales in established operations such as Macy’s and Amazon. These devices cannot be operated by people who did defined jobs in such arenas as farming, steel mills, and auto manufacturing. There is still work to be done there, but not for masses with limited education. Daily, monthly and yearly, proposals are being published about how we should/will move into this next national life stage. So far, this intellectualism is following along individual innovators who are adjusting to pieces of change.

This brings us back to government and the men and women who form its various levels. Their job is to struggle through our new times and encourage and oversee the innovation that is being brought forth

Can we count on them this time around?

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