JAMES GALBRAITH The New Confederacy of the Rich Assembles THE HUNDRED DAYS of the 104th Congress are now history, and mercifully the parallel to 1933 proved bogus. Franklin Roosevelt’s Congress had by this stage passed the whole first New Deal, from agricultural adjustment to public works to the National Recovery Administration. Newt’s Republicans have merely passed their stuff on to the Senate, where prospects are grim but at least fate remains to be played out. The fight has not been all bad. Thanks to three Dakotans, Senators Daschle, Dorgan and Conrad, the balanced budget amendment was beaten. Food stamps and school lunches are proving tough to kill. Sam Gibbravely in a losing cause on welfare, while our Republican leaders compared hungry children to dolphins, alligators and wolves. Thanks partly to Democratic whip Dave Bonior, Newt’s ethics stayed visible and his polls plunged. Some House Republicans showed that Democratic thunder actually does exist by proposing to limit the flood of tax breaks to the rich. Thanks to the principled Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois, term limits failed. And Vice President Al Gore declared class war in his 100th-day speech to the National Press Club. Granted, the class he proposed to make war on, expatriate billionaire tax avoiders, numbers about two dozen people. Still the $1.4 billion he’d collect from them would pay for a lot of school lunches. The raw nature of the emerging class struggle is a sharp change from the last time the same issues surfaced, in 1981. Then, we were fed elaborate tales about supply-side economics and the incentives to work, save and invest, not to mention the Laffer Curve and its promise of tax cuts leading to budget balance. For many people this obscured the ugly grab for money that was the essential thing. Those protective fairy stories are nearly absent now, and even Representative Bill Archer, the chairman of Ways and Means, speaks candidly of the rich as a “locomotive” which must be “fueled.” No dependent wolves or alligators on corporate welfare. Equally defunct are last year’s new supply-side centrists. The dogma of deficit reduction, savings, investment and productivity growth just about vanished in the James K. Galbraith teaches economics at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the University of Texas at Austin. past 100 days. The reason is not far to seek: The rich, who pump this stuff out when the issue is cutting spending, shut up quick when the prospect is of a big tax cut for themselves. Pete Peterson, the investment banker who crusades against deficits and the burden of Social Security, hasn’t been heard from on the Contract’s tax bill. So much for depth of conviction. Training programs, education and public investment were the more liberal hallmarks of the new supply-side, and they are in big trouble. No doubt these programs do help the people they serve. But the numbers are always small, and in an economy that remains chronically short of good jobs and decent incomes, who believes that they will solve the problems of the middle and working class? Instead of 1933, the situation somewhat Newt’s ethics stayed visible and his polls plunged. resembles the secession crisis of 1860, when, after a period of extreme confusion, battle lines were finally drawn. The center is plainly dissolving. Like the Republicans of 1860, the Democrats have new leadership in both Houses of Congress. And while the Administration of James Buchanan, excuse me, William J. Clinton, remains in office, the President and his Cabinet are now drifting, a lost tribe of monied Democrats like those swept from Congress last year, politically rootless and supported neither by Democrats nor by money. As things are going, they will be remembered mainly for their peculiar brand of appeasement symbolism, from health care reform death penalty make those Northerners who defended up to the last the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Decision. The issues of 1995 and 1860 are also, on reflection, strikingly alike. Both conflicts pitted an economic oligarchy against the threatened interests of free labor. The racial element remains present: The Republican agenda now relies, like the Confederate cause, on fear and repression of blacks. Meanwhile the angry white welfare-cutter, the Perotista, is today’s version of the New York Irish, who a few years into the Civil War would riot against the draft. As the secession crisis deepened, the Union Army was depleted by defecting officers, a large majority from the South. The same is true today in financial terms, as the PACs who had sustained Democratic incumbents for decades now consolidate behind the new Republican order. Then, as now, the forces of the challenged regime were weak, demoralized, disorganized and desperately in need of competent, aggressive generals. OK, let’s not push it too far. More than likely, the new confederates will win this time. There is no clearcut modern version of the industrial counterweight to the plantation classes of 1860. Or conceivably Bill Clinton could pull it out in 1996, especially if the anti-Clinton vote splits into Republicans and a Perot Party once again. We could end up with six years of the present stalemate before the jam breaks in one way or the other. Who knows, maybe instead of the second term of President Gramm, the millenium will bring us the first of President Gingrich, or President Perot, or maybe even the Paul Wellstone-Barney Frank administration. It’s much too early to declare the Democrats revived or even worthy of revival. What the good guys need first, and don’t come close to having, is a program. With some economic indicators going soft, there is now a chance that the economy will be in recession next year. The time to lower interest rates is therefore right now, and the political voice that first makes this a big issue will have a big advantage later on. With profits way up and wages dead flat, a program to tax profits and cut taxes on wages \(a surtax on corporate income and a rebate on the payroll tax, for inrise in the minimum wage, especially now that overwhelming evidence shows that raising the minimum wage has no effect on employment. Abolition was the moral spur in the great polarization of 1860, the rock on which the compromising center ultimately foundered. What should we abolish today? Unemployment? Poverty? These causes of the ’30s and ’60s are not quite right for today’s conditions. Wage Slavery, on the other hand, is our permanent mass affliction, the condition of many millions who work night and day for simple but remote goalsa house, a pension, good schools and a little relief from fear. America’s wage slaves are the one-half of the eligible electorate who mostly don’t vote. But given something serious to vote for, they might. And then, ever so gradually as the man himself did, will one of our drab political figures turn into a Lincoln? 12 APRIL 21, 1995
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.