Sunday, February 04, 2007

Returning . . .

by Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network, 2/4/07

“ . . . by returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength . . .” – The Book of Common Prayer

There are today four political parties. Maybe there will be five by this time next year. There are the Clinton Democrats, fueled by “Hillraisers” according to New York Times editorialists – hip billionaires who are expected to give at least a million dollars each to the Senator from the Empire State. And now there are the Southern Insurgent Populists, who consider the Hillraisers to be Robber Barons and Wall St. stooges, same as the Republicans. There are also Old South Republicans and New West Republicans, both of whom could well go their own way in ‘08. And then there is Mike Bloomberg of New York, who says if the mischief doesn’t stop, he is going to start his own party and will put a half billion dollars to that effort. My guess today is that he will.

Four of these five trains will crash in 2008. For at least one, probably two, the crash will be fatal. The train that doesn’t crash will mark the new century.

It looks like John Edwards has taken the initiative with the Southern Insurgents. That’s what Jonathan Chait, senior editor at The New Republic says (a magazine which, in another space/time moment did not support billionaires). And Chait talks straight enough: He wants to know why he has to go through the charade of voting for Hillary and can’t just vote for Bill again, because that’s really what it is all about.

There was an important event in Washington, D.C., on Friday and Saturday with both Hillarycrats and Southern Insurgents speaking together. Edwards seemed to break out of this pack of Democrats who want to be President in 2008.

I heard John and Elizabeth up here in New Hampshire the other day and found their new ideas about poverty to be oddly familiar. Then I realized John seemed to be talking about the same set of ideas which I had written about in 1975 in Philadelphia; naive ideas which created an almost permanent underclass and a culture of welfare in the U.S. They are ideas which almost ruined the Democratic Party and sent millions to Reagan a few years later. Simplistic ideas like interspersing poor people into wealthy neighborhoods to end poverty; ideas like everyone should go to college. And funding these ideas with deficit spending. These ideas vastly expanded the welfare state and were wholeheartedly rejected by the Democrats and by most Americans almost 30 years ago. It took decades for some very good universities to recover from them and some have never yet recovered.

I am guessing that Edwards got these new ideas at the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC - Chapel Hill where he was Director until recently. It is a departure from his point of view of four years ago, and it is a vast departure from any Democratic policy initiatives of the last 30 years. Having worked in colleges within the last 20 years I have found that as ideas get rejected by the outside world they frequently become tenurized and live quiet lives exiled in academia, like potted plants. But like the mysterious Corpse Flower that blossoms every 30 years or so at the Smithsonian’s Botanical Gardens, they pop up again as sure as Dave Dillinger (rest in peace) and Jane Fonda pop up at anti-war rallies 30 years after their hour in the sun has passed (“Max! Its time for my Close Up!”).

Edwards was only 23 when these strategies last failed across America. Perhaps he has been unfamiliar with them until now. He also said things like the U.S. is the only place in the world where poor people live separate from rich people. Do what now? He and Elizabeth presented these ideas as if he had heard them for the first time and was awakened by them and no one else knew about them yet.

This is quite different from the economic populism we’ve been hearing recently from Jim Webb, but Edwards now seems to be riding on the momentum which Webb hatched last Tuesday night in his rousing populist speech in opposition to the President’s State of the Union. What I have heard so far suggests that Webb and Edwards hold quite contrary views. Webb cuts through academic rubric and partisan bullshit to get to the core of things. I was particularly impressed in Webb’s debate with George Allen in the Virginia Senate race – before he was cut off – when he talked about the specific responsibility the state of Virginia has to black people as per the specific history of the region. Academia has long extended the cloak of victimization to nearly everyone on every social scale and pay grade and in doing so, has excused itself from the specific responsibilities to its own regional poor.

Indeed, these new ideas of Edwards, which appear to be primarily based in philosophy of the 1930s, are the ideas which sent people like Webb and millions of other plain folk in the rural South and urban America away from the Democratic Party in the first place.

Edwards’ new pitch is also vastly different from the talk we hear today from Wes Clark, who brings in a new vision of the Labor Union as a vehicle for the transformation of worker’s lives, not necessarily in opposition to management, but more as a church group does or like the “worker’s circle” in Japanese industry, enhancing cooperation between worker and management and equitably improving the lives of both.

Edwards was probably only playing to the undergraduate audience and what he said might only be viewed as the work of a skillful trial lawyer engaging a maleable jury. A task in which his skills are formidable.

But there is something else here; something else we are stuck between and maybe need to get unstuck from in order to go forward.

We have class issues: With the Clintons it is Common Folk wanting to be Big, and with the Gentry, they’re always trying to be Common. Bill is po’ white supreme, right from the Ozarks, striving and driven as if by demons to Oxford and the tallest building in Manhattan and the most expensive suits and haircuts . . . which might even seem gouche to those Born of the Blood and Old Money. And Hillary more so; direct from John Wesley’s church choir on the Great Plains – the naïve script for her rise to celebrity politics and the Big House in New York written by Willa Catha ages before James Carville and the Cajun Cartel ever got their hands on it - and it hides in plain sight in every photograph ever taken of her. But Gentry, like Kerry and Bush, strive endlessly to be Common Folk and likewise lack the genuine touch.

There will be none of that with John and Elizabeth. Get some money, buy a big house. That will be the extent of it.

Maybe it is a karma thing going on with John and Elizabeth; an unlikely change, like the appearance of a Sunday School teacher or a Hollywood movie star as our new President. Wesley Clark and Mark Warner are warrior types but maybe the warrior should work for and show fealty to Barbar and Celeste, the benign monarchs of Celesteville - that would be John and Elizabeth.

Anyway, it could be good - we have seen varied faces of the South since Watergate – Jimmy Carter, Planter and Peacemaker, Clinton, Bush [Jack-Legged, Yankee Interloper, striving to be a regular Texan], Wes Clark, the Southern General, and now John and Elizabeth - they embody the true values of the South - family, faith, community – and up here in New England people seem to like them. There is a common quality to them that defines us as we are and not what we want to be. Wanting to be something else has made us unhealthy and dangerous. Maybe is time for our country to return to itself and more than any of the other candidates, John and Elizabeth bring us homeward.