We have forgotten what it was like in this country during the Reagan administration. A great reminder may be found in the words of E.L. Doctorow, writing in 1989, who summed up the legacy left to Bill Clinton by the conservative administrations of Ronald Reagan/Bush:
"The philosophical conservative is someone willing to pay the price of other people's suffering for his principles. And so we now have hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of our citizens lying around the streets of our cities, sleeping in doorways, begging with styrofoam cups. We didn't have a class of permanent beggars in this country, the United States of America, fifteen or twenty years ago. We didn't have kids selling crack in their grade schools, or businessmen magnifying their fortunes into mega-fortunes by stock manipulation and thievery. I don't remember such epidemics of major corporate fraud.Doctorow continues to describe the change in America during the Reagan/Bush years:
A decade ago you did not have college students scrawling racial epithets or anti-semitic graffiti on the room doors of their fellow students...So something poisonous has been set loose in the last several years as we have enjoyed life under the power and principles of political conservatism. ...part of this poisonous thing that I'm trying to describe is its characteristic way of dealing with criticism: it used to be enough brand a critic as a radical or a leftist to make people turn away. Now we need only to call him a liberal. Soon "moderate" will be the M word, "conservative" the C word, and only fascists will be in the mainstream. And that degradation of discourse, that, too, is part of this something that is really rotten in America right now."--E. L. Doctorow, Jack London, Hemingway and the Constitution
"...we have seen a national regression to the robber-baronial thinking of the nineteenth century. This amounts to nothing less than a deconstruction of America, the dismantling of enlightened social legislation that had begun to bring equity over half a century to the lives of working people, to rectify some of the terrible imbalance of racial injustice and give a fair shake to the outsiders, the underdogs, the newcomers. We have seen the ideals of environmental sanctity sacrificed to the demands of business thinking in which we have done only as much to protect our environment as industry has found convenient, as if only a few songbirds and some poor dumb animals were at stake, as if the bleeding hearts of woodsy environmentalists were the issue, and not our lungs and skins and genes, and the wholeness and health of our children and their children."--E. L. Doctorow, Jack London, Hemingway and the ConstitutionOne day, a new generation will awaken to the harm done this country during those halcyon years when Uncle Ronnie made the 'gopper-inclined' feel good about themselves as only goppers and the gopper-inclined can feel good about themselves while stepping over people made homeless by their policies. Was it under Reagan that we lost that last remaining ounce of empathy? The dishonest among us will deny reality, call us a 'name'', or pretend not to know or understand what we're talking about. The rest of us may agree --yes --it was during the Reagan years that our shaky moral footing slipped. Before Reagan, there was hope albeit inspired by dimming light. After Reagan, nothing mattered but wealth and power. Life held little promise. Thus was born of goppo-nomics a nilhistic world in which nothing mattered as all fame is fleeting and wealth is whatever someone else wants at the moment and, perhaps, worth nothing tomorrow when resources grow scarce and oil has run its course.
Corporate Special Interests Come of Age
This 'sea-change' in American attitudes and politics has been dated to the 70s by many 'progressive/liberal' writers and journalists primarily because it was during the 70s that America seemingly abandoned a ' firm commitment' to eliminating poverty, helping the poor, extending the benefits of education to all classes. These were the ideals of FDR's 'New Deal' and LBJ's 'Great Society' and, of course, the so-called 'radical 60s. The 'revolution' was lost, however, with a conservative counter-revolution: the rise of corporate person-hood which was itself the reductio ad absurdum of the corporate special interest system now flourishing openly in the offices of various lobbies on K-street.
How and Why Washington Dysfunctions!
The Power Game: How Washington Works by Hedrick Smith describes the process by which power in the House of Representatives was 'de-centralized'. The year was 1974. Certainly --there were no 'second coming' headlines announcing the sea-change that would result when 22 committees delegated much, perhaps most, of their authority to 172 sub-committees. While the process by which this occurred may be little understood, the results that followed are more obvious, primarily, the resulting mass of competing special interests operating --at first --secretly but now openly, blatantly in fancy offices on K-street! Once discrete, corporations now lobby openly, flagrantly, in an on-going auction of our government.
A second blow to Democracy came in the form of the SUN-PAC decision of 1975, a decision which 'legalized' corporate PACs --'Political Action Committees'. I can tell you from experience: this move energized, radicalized and mobilized the GOP as it most certainly had not been mobilized before. The effect then was not unlike the impact now of the recent ruling that 'corporations are people'. The GOP was equipped to go where no gopper had gone before'. In 1974, there were but 89 corporate PACs. In another ten years there were 1,682. I have no idea how many operate freely and openly today.
PAC victories came quickly and represented 'an enormous shift' in political power defined by the defeat of Ralph Nader's proposed Consumer Protection Agency. A galvanized, politicized 'corporate community' then celebrated the defeat of a proposed 'tax hike' which journalist Hedrick Smith said: "brought more bees after the honey." Those were heady days for those who now celebrate 'corporate personhood' as recently decreed by SCOTUS.
PAC donations and the resulting passage of laws favoring the right wing/GOP are easily correlated. By 1992, some 67 percent of all PACS were corporate. Their donations amounted to 79 percent of all contributions to political parties. Bluntly, the corporations had --at last --found a way to buy the government of the United States. The recent SCOTUS decision making these 'legal abstractions' persons is, of course, absurd, without precedent in law but even worse is the fact that while the right of individuals to petition Congress is guaranteed by the Constitution, mere real persons lacking donations, lacking funding, are, in fact, never granted access to their elected representatives. Artificial people --corporations --are given seemingly unlimited access.
The SCOTUS decision was and remains disingenuous, dishonest, blatantly contemptuous of the Constitution, disdainful of Democracy itself. I believe, therefore that the corporate special interest system is not merely unconstitutional on its face, it's affirmation by SCOTUS represents a coup d'etat which made official the fact that the U.S. is no longer a Democratic Republic but a fascist oligopoly whose raison d'etre is the waging of war. Worse --death and destruction are the only exports in which we lead the world.
In 1994 Republicans took over Congress, boasting that they would end 40 years of 'liberal' rule. In fact, the 80s were a profoundly conservative era and, tragically for the nation, Democratic politicians participated willingly. It was during the 80s, that corporate PACs hedged their bets by contributing 'liberally' to both parties, though Democrats got only 'sloppy seconds', almost always much less than amounts given GOP candidates.
Did Reagan's misrule constitute "high crimes and misdemeanors"? Many GOP-types will define "high crimes and misdemeanors" as simply "bad behavior". If that is the standard, then surely, Ronald Reagan should have been impeached, tried, convicted, removed! Bankrupting the nation is 'bad' behavior by any standard. Rewarding incompetence while incompetent is worse than driving while drunk! Blowing the world's last chance at nuclear disarmament is even worse, perhaps fatal, behavior. What about the bungling of George Bush Sr toward the end of the Persian Gulf war when he promised to protect the Kurds but allowed them to fall to a strong Iraqi military? Is that "bad behavior"? Certainly, it is! George Bush should have been impeached and so too Lyndon Johnson who staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident leading to wider U.S. involvement in Viet Nam.
The brutal murder of JFK --a cowardly act in which the Warren Commission may have conspired with the FBI to falsify and plant evidence -- was not sufficient to finish off the vestiges of our Republic. There was no single, defining incident in which the American 'republic' ceased to be. There was no dramatic sea-change comparable to the auction of the Roman Empire to nobleman Didius Julianus. There was no great or heroic battle waged and lost. There was no arrest of Essex. There was no play to 'catch the conscience of a King'. And now, there is no speech, no kiss before dying, no Shakespearean exit but a pathetic whimper before the lights are dimmed and a weary audience dismissed.