Wednesday, March 2, 2016


While the Bernie folks are not giving up -- and they shouldn't -- it's looking more and more like the presidential contest will come down to Hillary on the one side and Trump on the other. Who ya gonna choose, huh?

How sane is the American electorate?

We might even see another Daisy Ad that is never aired but everyone knows and talks about.

I wasn't old enough to vote in 1964, but I was very aware of the presidential campaign that year. You couldn't very well miss it. The nation had been on an emotional and political roller coaster since the assassination of President Kennedy in November of 1963; that singular but by no means unprecedented event had changed everything. The assassination was such a shattering event that it was almost as if the earth's spin axis had been reversed.

The elevation of Lyndon Johnson to the presidency was widely met with contempt and derision -- he was considered a bumpkin at best, a corrupt and dangerous  good ol' boy, and he was considered a stone racist not much better than the big-bellied sheriffs keeping the Negroes down throughout the South.

We forget from this distance how disliked Johnson was in those days, a dislike that crossed political party lines.

Came then, however, the Republican nominee for president, an Arizona senator, one Barry Goldwater, a dyed in the wool conservative-reactionary. My god in heaven.

Goldwater was far more polished than the Arizona senator who ran for president recently -- "Gramps" McCain. He was erudite, calm, with a well developed ideology that had elements of appeal even to some of the more rigid progressives and liberals of the era. His book, "Conscience of a Conservative", had sold millions of copies and was something of a bible to true believers. Goldwater was a known quantity. His intransigence in the Senate on behalf of the conservative-reactionary cause was legendary.

Johnson, too, was a known quantity, and while he might have been widely disliked, Goldwater was feared. Saber-ratting was only the half of it. Goldwater wanted to end the progressive-liberal era in American politics once and for all and restore what he and his partisans saw as the "correct" and constitutional relationship between government and the people. Which meant, then and now, a government that served the interests of the wealthy and powerful and ignored the interests of the people most of the time.

Goldwater -- like many conservative-reactionaries today -- called that "freedom" and "liberty." For whom, though? And to do what?

I've written previously and fairly extensively on how progressivism originated as the Republican response to Democratic populism which was sweeping the country in the late 1800s. While Republicans originated progressivism as a means to stop the spread of populism, the ideas of the Progressive Movement were widely adopted by Democrats by the mid-teens of the twentieth century. Progressivism became the standard governmental operating system under FDR, and there was no looking back.

Well, that is, until Reagan. But we're not there yet. We're still in 1964, and that means that progressivism was still the standard governmental operating system. And Barry Goldwater wanted to dismantle it and substitute... what? What went before? Cronyism? Benign neglect? Wild-west shootouts? What? It was never entirely clear what Goldwater wanted to do, but whatever it was, it would mean harm to many millions of Americans, who -- according to conservative-reactionary thinking -- could just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps the way Goldwater's people had done in the long-before.

By contrast, Johnson was a progressive with a strong Southern populist aura. He may have been considered a bumpkin, but he was a bumpkin in the mold of FDR, and that was familiar and comfortable to many Americans. They may not have liked him, but that didn't matter so much as a kind of continuity that Johnson represented, continuity that was deeply important following the trauma of the assassination.

Those were different times, of course. The present era is not much like it, but many of the same political dynamics are at work.

The continuity candidate is Hillary. Bernie is not likely to win the nomination, but if he did, he would be seen as a wild card to be "stopped." Trump, however, against Hillary is the wild card, darned near a mad man. The likeliest outcome in that contest is a landslide victory for Hillary -- not because anybody likes her, though some do. Not because they think she's the best of the best or what have you. Not even because she's a woman -- though that matters.

It's because she's not crazy and she has shown no inclination to overturn the entire governing apparatus to suit her proclivities the way Trump has.

So is this going to be a replay of 1964? In some ways, I think so, yes. It's not an exact parallel because times and conditions are so much different. President Hillary will not be likely to have a Democratic majority in either house of Congress (yes, I predict the Rs keep the senate, though their margin will be cut). LBJ had an overwhelming Democratic majority -- and so he was able to do practically anything he wanted.

Yet he was undone in the end. Two factors contributed to his undoing: the unending war in Vietnam -- which he expanded exponentially at the behest of his generals -- and the Civil Rights Act which
essentially split the Democratic Party irreparably leading to the eventual triumph of the conservative-reactionaries who hold the reins of power to this day.

Hillary won't mess with that power relation much, anymore than Obama would. Thus continuity.

But what will come of continuity may not be what anyone anticipates.

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