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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Then and now

I have spent the last two weeks at the National Archives in Washington researching US preparation for, and entry into, the Second World War, and I have one more week to go. As with every project I have undertaken since my dissertation thirty years ago, I have been surprised at the amount of undiscovered material in the archives, even on the subjects that have been researched most thoroughly. (I don't have any serious plans to write about the American Civil War--even I couldn't hope to find much new there.) That war, of course, was the climax of the last crisis of our national life, and thus should have interesting implications for the present day. It does--but largely because of the differences between that time and this.

The Second World War came to the US because of developments in other parts of the world, but the United States eventually found itself in the winning coalition because it shared many characteristics with other contemporary societies. Returning to the international environment of the 1930s after about thirty years away from it has been a sobering experience. The kind of anarchy that we now see in the streets of Baghdad or the Afghan valleys ruled the world. In 1940, when my intensive research begins, Japan had been engaged in a huge and bloody war with China for three years. Germany had annexed Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia, brutally occupied Poland, and then, in moves that stunned the world, seized Norway (despite British command of the sea) and beat France. Germany by 1940 had several million men under arms. The Soviet Union had even more. It was an age of discipline and organization both on the European continent and in Asia. It was also an age of industrial competition. The pre-1914 globalization had never fully been restored even during the 1920s and the Depression had destroyed it completely. Japan and Germany had essentially given up on world markets as solutions to their economic problems and undertaken the conquest of autarkic empires. No advanced nation on earth has any such goals today, and that is a big reason why I do not expect to see a remotely comparable war. That, of course, is good news--but it is related to other differences between their age and ours.

Not only is there little to fight about among advanced nations today, but all of them seem to lack both the organizational capacity and the civic spirit necessary to mount a war on that scale. As a percentage of our population the US Army is only slightly larger than it was in 1940, when we were, comparatively speaking, almost completely disarmed--but this time we have no thought of increasing it. Other armies are even smaller as a percentage of population, including the Chinese and the Indians. The only heavily militarized states in the world by historical standards are relatively small countries in dangerous areas: the two Koreas, Israel and Syria, and Saudi Arabia and Iran (the last two with smaller armies than the first four, but larger than ours relative to their populations.) I do not think there is any nation left speaking an Indo-European language that has conscription--truly an astonishing statistic.

The superior organizational capacity of society then shows up in the story of the American mobilization for war. During 1940-1 relatively small committees of businessmen and civil servants planned, supervised, and brought to fruition an incredible expansion of American productive capacity. They had to identify and fulfill enormous new needs of strategic materials, machine tools, aluminum and steel, and much more, simply to make the necessary weapons production possible--and they had to do it while allowing the civilian economy to keep functioning. The Congress unhesitatingly passed a series of huge appropriations to make this possible, while the services struggled with the issue of how big the war would be. The decline of the American educational system is also evident in the hundreds of documents I have read--most of them are written with a direct clarity one would rarely find today. The American higher education system was about 2/3 of the way through its golden age when these events took place (I would estimate that that age lasted from about 1900 to 1968.) It showed.

The organization and discipline that made all this possible was not confined to the elite, either. The American labor movement was in the midst of its greatest-ever growth, and Roosevelt made sure that it would not lose its gains as a result of the war. Our organizational ability had made the achievements of New Deal agencies possible, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (which built much of our state park systems), the TVA, and the PWA and WPA, which did so much for our infrastructure. Those are the kinds of agencies we need--and do not have--today. New Dealers would have chartered publicly owned corporations to put up wind turbines around the country and perhaps even to build electric cars. The impulse to do so seems to have vanished now.

Some weeks ago I attended my local town budget meeting, a contentious, unorganized melee, dominated by a small Tea Party faction that wanted to undo much of the legally obligated budget. It lasted several hours and threatened at one point to last all night, although fortunately the faction yielded the field before presenting all their amendments. The contrast with the minutes of the Office of Production Management that I read last week was striking: its members made three or four important decisions a day, usually unanimously. Today's Congressional debates and committee hearings are also embarrassing when compared to those of those days, even though a significant Republican faction treated everything FDR proposed the same way the entire Republican delegation treats President Obama today. Intellectual ability was higher, as was the sense of civic obligation. That was lucky.

The discipline that had built up throughout western society over the previous few centuries had evil consequences as well as good ones. It enabled Fascist regimes to mobilize their fortunately smaller nations nearly as effectively, with horrifying effects, and also contributed to Communism in the Soviet Union. But it made it easier to translate intent into action. This is a problem for future historians of our civilization to ponder. Our mistakes today, like the war in Afghanistan, are very real--but they are inevitably smaller. So too are our victories. There are pluses and minuses to living, as we do not, in a truly heroic age.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The last Congressional battle of the year

[Note: this is the second post of the weekend. Don't miss the first, below.

The major newspapers today announce that a new legislative battle will take place this fall--quite possibly on the eve of the Congressional elections. The issue is the tax cuts put in place by George W. Bush in 2001, 2002, and 2003, all of which, if I am not mistaken, will end this year, restoring the rates that prevailed during the Clinton Administration, when they produced the first sustained surplus since the time before the Depression. As usual, we can look at this issue from a number of revealing angles.

In retrospect the cuts were both disastrous and clearly irresponsible. The surplus in the budget was a terrible threat to Republican plans to cripple the federal government--an invitation to government to do more. The cuts and the recession eliminated it and turned the surplus into a large deficit, one that ballooned again when the defense and intelligence budgets expanded tremendously after 9/11. But the decision to make the cuts temporary showed their irresponsibility. I am not sure why the Republicans took this step. It may have been because calculations showed these cuts would produce a permanent deficit, but it may also have been designed to create a new political issue eight or nine years down the road, when a Democrat might be back in power. If so, it succeeded.

The Administration, it seems to me, faces a rather interesting decision, and it seems that it is quite likely to blow it. For once, inaction would have the best outcome. It would raise income taxes on all Americans doing well enough to pay federal income taxes--at a time when the government desperately needs the money. The highest increases would of course fall on the highest brackets--including yours truly, some of whose income is taxed at the higher rate. But the Obama Administration wants to limit the reversion to individuals making $200,000 a year or families making $250,000. That would keep my own taxes where they are--and I think that would be a big mistake.

It's a dirty secret many of us would prefer to forget, but the recession isn't bad news for people with steady employment. Prices are down and labor is cheap. If one did not invest in an extravagant mortgage and holds a well-paying job, one's standard of living has not fallen. The country needs our help to reduce the deficit--and I'm willing to give mine. But in addition, the Administration's apparent plan to seek a new law this fall may well be politically or economically catastrophic.

The reason, of course, is that any new proposal will need 60 votes in the Senate, votes the Democrats will not have. The Republican Party is bound to insist that the Bush rates be retained for everyone--and several Democrats are already hinting that they may go along. That means the Republicans will surely filibuster any proposal to simply raise rates on the highest brackets and restore the estate tax (which already included a very generous exemption before it was temporarily eliminated by Bush.) That filibuster is very likely to be successful. Having kept many incumbent Democrats in Washington when they desperately need to be in their home districts campaigning, the Republicans will claim the credit for stopping another crippling Democratic tax increase designed to give hard-working Americans' money to the unworthy.

I would like to see the Administration simply let the laws lapse, but if they insist on trying to give middle-class earners (including some pretty well-to-ones) a break, they should simply let the cuts lapse this year and introduce new legislation to change middle-class rates next year. Then the Republicans will have to propose cutting the rates of higher earners as well, and the Republicans will have to filibuster explicitly against lower rates for the middle class. In fact, I would like to see the Administration go even further and combine a small rate cut for the middle class with an increase in the top rate to, let's say, 45% of income over $1 million a year. That is the kind of hike that could begin to make an impact on Wall Street compensation practices--and it would still be only half the top rate back in the 1950s.

For 18 months the Administration has been trying to split various differences with the Republicans. It hasn't worked, either for policy or politically. It is time for a real fight. The Administration should make it at a more favorable time, and do it on its own terms. And meanwhile, it can strike a blow for a truly responsible measure in the face of a deficit crisis.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Guest Contribution

Last week, Andrew Breitbart, one of the more contemptible acolytes of the right-wing blogosphere, edited a video of a Department of Agriculture worker named Shirley Sherrod to suggest that she had purposely refused to help white people on the job. Within 24 hours Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had forced her to resign. With another day or two, people had seen the whole video of her speech and realized the Breitbart (what a shock!) had taken an excerpt out of context, and President Obama had called her to offer her her job back.

This morning I became curious and decided to see if I could find the whole text of her speech, and I did, at a site called americanrhetoric.com. The text has appeared on some other blogs but the Atlantic is the only major outlet I saw that seems to have published it. And while the commentators have pointed out how shamelessly Breitbart and Fox News distorted her remarks about her contacts with a white farmer who was going to lose his farm, I haven't seen one that seemed to have read the whole speech. Reading the whole text is a habit of mine--it was no accident that one of the epigraphs for The Road to Dallas comes from Lewis Carroll:

"The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. 'Where should I begin, please Your Majesty?" he asked.

"'Begin at the beginning,' said the King gravely, 'and go on until you come to the end: then stop.'"

Well, Shirley Sherrod told the story of her own life, and it's quite a remarkable story. It surely resonated with me. I had heard stories of Georgia sheriffs like hers from Edward P. Morgan on the radio in the late 1950s, and her brother was born just one day before my eighteenth birthday, in that incredibly pivotal month of June 1965. But I'm not going to try to summarize it. I'll let you read it for yourself. This is the kind of speech you can get fired for making in the United States of America in 2010. Just think about that.

Take it away, Shirley.

A few more comments of my own follow at the end.

Good evening.

Olivia, I want to thank you for those kind words. You know, it's been a pleasure working with her over the last 10 years. I've missed the work. [I] had to move on to some other -- other work, and I'll talk to you more about that.

To the president of the NAACP, here, and the board of directors, and members, and all the others here, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be with you this evening. And I want to say to you, I am very proud to be working with the Obama Administration to help rural America's welfare. I want to do all I can to help rural communities such as yours to be a place where we can have a quality life and a comfortable life for our families and our friends.

But before I give you -- even before I -- I go into what I have here, I want to -- I want to second something that Olivia said. You know, I grew up on the farm and I didn't want to have anything to do with agriculture, but she was right. There are jobs at USDA, and many times there are no people of color to fill those jobs 'cause we shy away from agriculture. We hear the word "agriculture" and think only of working in the fields.

And you've heard of a lot of layoffs. Have you heard of anybody in the federal government losing their job? That's all that I need to say, okay? And I -- I might say a little bit more to the young people. It's good to have you all here.

I want to share something with you this evening, something that's always heavy on my heart each day, but especially at this time of the year.

It was 45 years ago today that my father's funeral was held. I was a young girl at the age of 17 when my father was murdered by a white man in Baker County. In Baker County, the murder of black people occurred periodically, and in every case the white men who murdered them were never punished. It was no different in my father's case. There were three witnesses to his murder, but the grand jury refused to indict the white man who murdered him.

I should tell you a little about Baker County. In case you don't know where it is, it's located less than 20 miles southwest of Albany. Now, there were two sheriffs from Baker County that -- whose names you probably never heard but I know in the case of one, the thing he did many, many years ago still affect us today. And that sheriff was Claude Screws. Claude Screws lynched a black man. And this was at the beginning of the 40s. And the strange thing back then was an all-white federal jury convicted him not of murder but of depriving Bobby Hall -- and I should say that Bobby Hall was a relative -- depriving him of his civil rights.

So, in the opinion, when the justice wrote his opinion and justifying overturning the conviction, he said you had to prove that as the sheriff was murdering Bobby Hall he was thinking of depriving him of his civil rights. That's where the whole issue of proving intent came from and you heard it a lot. It was used a lot during the Civil Rights Movement. What you also heard a lot when Rodney King was beaten out in California. Y'all might remember that. They kept saying you had to prove intent -- and that came from Screws vs. the U.S. Government.

I'm told that case is studied by every law student. And usually when we have people coming into Southwest Georgia, and wanting to take some tours of -- of things were some events happened during the Civil Rights Movement, I usually take them to the courthouse in Newton to show where Bobby's Hall's body was displayed.

During my years of growing up, the sheriff was L. Warren Johnson. He wanted to be called "The Gator," and that's how people referred to him 'cause he had a holler that would make you want to tremble. He also killed a lot of black people -- and Gator Johnson was the law in Baker County. And when I say that I mean no one, black or white, could ride through the County with an out-of-county tag. That means you could have a tag from anywhere else in Georgia -- you couldn't ride through Baker County without being stopped. And the Atlanta [Journal]-Constitution reported at one point that his take on the road was at least 150,000 dollars a year -- and that was during the 60s.

My father was a farmer. And growing up on the farm, my dream was to get as far away from the farm and Baker County as I could get. And picking cotton, picking cucumbers, shaking peanuts for a little while before they, you know... -- the older folk know what I'm talking about -- when you had to shake them and take them up to the pole [ph] and...put them around that, you know -- doing all that work on the farm, it will make you get an education more than anything else.

But I didn't want to just get an education. I wanted to leave the farm and Baker County. It was -- life was -- the older folk know what I'm talking about -- the segregation and the discrimination and the -- and the racist acts that we had to endure during those years made me just want to leave. And you know, we used to have people who'd leave and go north -- you all know how they come back talking and they come back looking. I learned later that some of those cars they drove home were rented.

But it made you want to go north, 'cause you thought they were free up there and you thought everybody was free in the North. So, my goal was not to even go to college in the South 'cause I, you know, I was always you find your husband at college. So, I didn't want to find one living in the South. I wanted to go to college in the North so I could get a husband from the North, never ever come back down here and live again.

But, you know, you can never say what you'll never do. And it was during March, my senior year in high school. I mean my father was just everything to us. I had four sisters -- I'm the oldest. My mother -- there are six of us, but my father wanted a son so bad. We were all girls. We all had boys' nickname[s]. I was "Bill." Now, he loved his girls but he wanted a son so bad. And when my sister was about -- my youngest sister was eight, he convinced my mother to try one more time for this boy.

So, to my surprise -- my senior year of high school -- I thought my mother was just sick. I didn't know what was wrong with her, you know, really worried. And one day my best friend at school said, "How's your mama doing?" I said, "She just doesn't seem to be getting any better." She said, "Girl, your daddy was up at the store yesterday giving out cigars. Your mama [is] going to have a baby." He told everyone that that baby was the son. And he was, in fact, having a new home built. He was the first person to get a loan on his own to build a house. He wanted to build a brick house so bad, but they told him a black man could not borrow money to build a brick house. They had to choose blocks, you know.

So -- and this new house that was being built -- there were five daughters -- there was this one room that was the boys' room -- his son's room. He told everybody it was a boy. And, in fact, it was painted blue. And he came -- he and my mother came to pick me up from school one day early to go to Albany with him to pick the furniture for this boys' room. He didn't live to see him. My brother was born two months after he died, in June of '65.

We started the Movement. But before I get there I need to tell you something I -- and I want to say this to the young people. You know, I told how I looked forward and I dreamt so much about moving north and from the farm, especially in the South, and I knew that after -- on the night of my father's death I felt I had to do something. I had to do something in answer to what had happened.

My father wasn't the first black person to be killed. He was a leader in the community. He wasn't the first to be killed by white men in the county. But I couldn't just let his death go without doing something in answer to what happened. I made the commitment on the night of my father's death, at the age of 17, that I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change. And I've been true to that commitment all of these 45 years.

You know, when you look at some of the things that I've done through the years and when you look at some of things that happened -- I went to school -- my -- my first two years at Fort Valley -- I know there are some Fort Valley graduates here too -- I did my first two years at Fort Valley but so much was happening back at home -- and then I met this man, I'll tell you a little about him -- that I transferred back to Albany State and did the last two years.

But two weeks after I went to school at Fort Valley, they called and told me that a bunch of white men had gathered outside of our home and burned the cross one night. Now, in the house was my mother, my four sisters, and my brother, who was born June 6 -- and this was September. That was all in that house that night. Well, my mother and one of my sisters went out on the porch. My mama had a gun. Another sister -- you know some of this stuff, it's like movies, some of the stuff that happened through the years -- I won't go into everything. I'll just tell you about this. One of my sisters got on the phone 'cause we had organized the movements starting June of '65, shortly -- not long after my father's death.

That's how I met my husband. He wasn't from the North....He's from up south in Virginia. But anyway my brother and my sisters got on the phone -- they called other black men in the county. And it wasn't long before they had surrounded these white men. And they had to keep one young man from actually using his gun on one of them. You probably would have read about it had that happened that night. But they actually allowed those men to leave. They -- They backed away and allowed them to get out of there.

But I won't go into some of the other stuff that happened that night, but do know that my mother and my sister were out on the porch with a gun, and my mother said, "I see you and I know who you are." She recognized some of them. She'll tell you that she became the first black elected official in Baker County just 11 years later, and she is still serving you all. She's chair of the board of education and she's been serving almost 34 years.

I didn't know how I would go about carrying out the commitment I made that night, but when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, [name of individual unclear 14:35] -- he was the one who came to Albany and started the movement there in 1961. And he stayed. You know, a lot of them went into the communities and they worked during the early part of the movement and they left. But he continued to stay in Southwest Georgia, and we've done a lot of stuff through the years....Some of the things that have happened to us, you probably be on the edge of your seat if I were to tell you about some of them. We've been in some very, very dangerous situations through the years, but we continue to work.

And, you know God is so good 'cause people like me don't get appointed to positions like State Director of Rural Development. They just don't get these kinds of positions 'cause I've been out there at everywhere grassroots level and I've paid some dues.

But when I...made the commitment years ago I didn't know how -- I didn't...I prayed about it that night and as our house filled with people I was back in one of the bedrooms praying and asking God to show me what I could do. I didn't have -- the path wasn't laid out that night. I just made the decision that I would stay and work. And -- And over the years things just happened.

And young people: I just want you to know that when you're true to what God wants you to do the path just opens up -- and things just come to you, you know. God is good -- I can tell you that.

When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people -- and to black people only. But, you know, God will show you things and He'll put things in your path so that -- that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people, you know.

The first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm, he -- he took a long time talking, but he was trying to show me he was superior to me. I know what he was doing. But he had come to me for help. What he didn't know -- while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me -- was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him.

I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So, I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough so that when he -- I -- I assumed the Department of Agriculture had sent him to me, either that or the -- or the Georgia Department of Agriculture. And he needed to go back and report that I did try to help him.

So I took him to a white lawyer that we had -- that had...attended some of the training that we had provided, 'cause Chapter 12 bankruptcy had just been enacted for the family farmer. So I figured if I take him to one of them that his own kind would take care of him.

That's when it was revealed to me that, y'all, it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white -- it is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it opened my eyes, 'cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hand, and felt okay, I've done my job. But, during that time we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture and -- so, they couldn't foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they've done to any other farmer, black or white. And what they did to him caused him to not be able to file Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

So, everything was going along fine -- I'm thinking he's being taken care of by the white lawyer and then they lifted the injunction against USDA in May of '87 for two weeks and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received a foreclosure notice. He called me. I said, "Well, go on and make an appointment at the lawyer. Let me know when it is and I'll meet you there."

So we met at the lawyer's office on -- on the day they had given him. And this lawyer sat there -- he had been paying this lawyer, y'all. That's what got me. He had been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, "Well, y'all are getting old. Why don't you just let the farm go?" I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer -- I told him, "I can't believe you said that." I said, "It's obvious to me if he cannot file a Chapter 12 bankruptcy to -- to stop this foreclosure, you have to file an 11. And the lawyer said to me, "I'll do whatever you say....whatever you think" -- that's the way he put it. But he's paying him. He wasn't paying me any money, you know. So he said -- the lawyer said -- he would work on it.

And then, about seven days before that land would have been sold at the courthouse steps, the farmer called me and said the lawyer wasn't doing anything. And that's when I spent time there in my office calling everybody I could think of to try to see -- help me find the lawyer who would handle this. And finally, I remembered that I had gone to see one just 40 miles away in Americus with the black farmers. So, I --

[audio/video interrupted at source, duration unknown]

Well, working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't, you know. And they could be black, and they could be white; they could be Hispanic. And it made me realize then that I needed to work to help poor people -- those who don't have access the way others have.

I want to just share something with you and...I think it helps to -- it -- you know, when I learned this, I'm like, "Oh, my goodness." You know, back in the late 17th and 18th century, black -- there were black indentured servants and white indentured servants, and they all would work for the seven years and -- and get their freedom. And they didn't see any difference in each other. Nobody worried about skin color. They married each other, you know. These were poor whites and poor blacks in the same boat, except they were slaves. But they were both slaves and both had their opportunity to work out on the slavery.

But then they started looking at the injustices that they faced and started then trying -- you know, the people with money -- you know, they started -- the...poor whites and poor blacks who were -- they -- you know, they married each other. They lived together. They were just like we would be. And they started looking at what was happening to them and decided we need to do something about it -- you know, about this. Well, the people with money, the elite, decided, "Hey, we need to do something here to divide them."

So that's when they made black people servants for life. That's when they put laws in place forbidding them to marry each other. That's when they created the racism that we know of today. They did it to keep us divided. And they -- it started working so well, they said, "Gosh, looks like we've come up on something here that can last generations." And here we are over 400 years later, and it's still working. What we have to do is get that out of our heads. There is no difference between us. The only difference is that the folks with money want to stay in power and, whether it's health care or whatever it is, they'll do what they need to do to keep that power, you know. It's always about money, y'all.

You know, I haven't seen such a mean-spirited people as I've seen lately over this issue of health care. Some of the racism we thought was buried. Didn't it surface? Now, we endured eight years of the Bush's and we didn't do the stuff these Republicans are doing because you have a black President.

I wanted to give you that little history, especially the young people. I want you to know they created it, you know, not just for us. But we got the brunt of it 'cause they needed to elevate what is just a little higher than us to make them think that we're so much better, and then we -- they would never work with us, you know, to try to change the situation that they were all in.

But where am I going with this? You know, I couldn't say 45 years ago -- I couldn't stand here and say what I'm saying -- what I will say to you tonight. Like I told you, God helped me to see that it's not just about black people -- it's about poor people. And I've come a long way. I knew that I couldn't live with hate, you know. As my mother has said to so many, "If we had tried to live with hate in our hearts, we'd probably be dead now."

But I've come to realize that we have to work together and -- you know, it's sad that we don't have a room full of white and blacks here tonight, 'cause we have to overcome the divisions that we have. We have to get to the point where, as Tony Morrison said, "Race exists but it doesn't matter." We have to work just as hard. I know it's -- you know, that division is still here, but our communities are not going to thrive -- you know, our children won't have the -- the communities that they need to be able to stay in and live in and -- and have a good life if we can't figure this out, you all. White people, black people, Hispanic people, we all have to do our part to make our communities a safe place, a healthy place, a good environment.

You know so that companies -- why would a company want to locate in some of these places? You know, I... -- it's so sad that, as I go around the State, people ask me, "Where are you from?" "Yeah, I'm living in Albany." "Oh, a lot of crime they're in." You know, nothing good you could say too much about Albany anymore, and...a lot of it is brought on by folks who live there, you know? People who live there. You read the paper -- If you read the paper and listen to the TV station there in Albany, you wouldn't want to go there and live. You know, people are still fighting each other -- worse, I believe, now. Least it was open during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a lick here and there -- and my husband got in the brunt of a lot of them. But now it's...really in such a way that it hurts 'cause it's going to keep the jobs away.

You know, you can go to a community and you can just about tell -- and I'm travelling all around where people work together, you know. You're not losing this many jobs. You're getting a few. You know, we have a beautiful country. We have a beautiful part of this State -- the southern part of this State -- but it's not thriving. And we need to figure out why. Well, we kind of know, but we need to work on why.

And -- And young folks, you know when I was growing up, you had to get home from school and go to the fields. But y'all don't have to do that no more. You should be excelling, you know.

Parents, you've got to set some goals for your children, you know. You cannot allow them not to try to become the best they could be, and not study....you know. Y'all must love working in the chicken house. (I know they closed for one year.)

But change has to start with us and...somehow we've got to make the other side of town work with us. We've got to make our communities what they need to be and our young people, I'm not picking on you, but you got to, but y'all got to...step up to the plate. You've got to step up to the plate. You are capable of being very, very smart people. You are capable of being those doctors and lawyers. You're capable of running your own business.

That's what -- one of things in the position I'm in...one of the things that really hurt -- one of the programs we had with some of the most money in it, you know, it's with business and industry. And I sit up their and I'm signing off on six million, three million, two million -- but who is it going to? Not one so far. And when I got a report on where we are with it, we're -- we're approaching 80 million dollars since October 1st. But not one dime to a black business -- not one, you know.

And I know as a young person you're thinking good times. But, hey, don't let life pass you by having a good time. You can enjoy it, but be serious, you know. And there are jobs in agriculture. There's...a program, the 1890 Scholars Program and they are -- they're connected with every 1890 Land-Grant institution, and -- and let me tell you what that is. That's the black Land-Grant institutions, and there are about 17 and Tuskegee.

They -- You can actually get a scholarship -- and Fort Valley State is the main grant in Georgia, the 1890; the 1862 is the white Land-Grant, that's the University of Georgia -- you can get a scholarship and every summer you work at one of those agencies while you are in school. And when you get out, it's a automatic job. Agencies like Natural Resource and Conservation Service (that's RCS), Farm Service Agency (that's the old Farmers Home Administration), Rural Development. Those are the major three. But there are others, so many other jobs, so many. Just in rural development nationwide, there are over 6000 employees. But you can go up there to Washington, to the Department of Agriculture -- it's on both sides of the street.

In Rural Development, there are 129 employees and guess how many of them are people of color? Anybody want to take a guess -- that's in Georgia? I got -- there are 129 in my agency. How many? It's more than two. Little more than 12. There are less than 20 of us. We have six area offices in the State and subarea offices and when I look at who's coming up the line in the agencies -- in the agency, there are not many of us, 'cause we think "agriculture" is a bad word. We think it's working in the fields. Some of the best paying jobs you ever want to have, okay?

I won't keep at you with that kind of stuff. But let -- just know that you can -- there's another point I want to make, though. You know, coming out of slavery black folks used to help each other. That's how they built the schools that we have. You know, that's how they bought the land that we have -- that we have about lost all of it. You know that our people had over 15 million acres, and, as black people, [we] have less than 2 million acres of farm land left. And we will sell it for nothing -- for nothing.

You know, I was helping a family here recently: 515 acres of land, never had a drop of debt on it since the grandfather bought it years ago and he -- he died in 1974. And two cousins up in the North, guess what they decided? They tried to force a sale of every acre of it. And they wanted that. One of their aunts spent all of her life on the land. She was 93 years old when she died. And she died after those "For Sale" signs went up out there on that farm -- auction sign went up on the farm. She was in the hospital. The next month she was dead. That was January -- she was dead by October.

But we kept working at it. And we found some honest lawyers -- they were white. I wish I could say that about all lawyers, especially black lawyers, but they will nickel and dime you to death. I don't have -- sorry -- I don't have two dozen pennies for most lawyers. But anyway that land has been saved, you know.

But they were trying to force a sale of all of it. They'll eventually get 62 acres of the 515. And guess what? They have a white man already lined up to buy it. And it's the man on [unclear 34:41], which is what he wanted.

But you can -- what I want to say to you: You can do good. And y'all going to be smart. You're going to go on and -- and get good jobs. Look, reach back and help somebody. That's what we were taught. That's what our folk did, you know. It looks like the more -- the better we do, the more free we are, the more divided we become, you know. It looks like we don't care about each other any more. You know, that's why kids can just, you know -- y'all know what happened in the day. He did something wrong, everybody in the community got you, you know. Well that does happen anymore. And we have to get back to that.

If we going to rebuild our communities, if we going to get with all of the problems we have in our communities, it will take all of us working together to solve them. We can't turn our backs. And you never know who you're helping. You could be helping the second black President of the United States.

Now, I need to tell you a little bit about Rural Development. There -- There are at least 40 programs at Rural Development, but I'll just talk to you briefly about a couple of them. The main one is the Housing Program. We have more money for single-family housing, direct loans -- and that's loans from the agency -- than we've ever had in the history of the program.

But we having trouble getting that money out the door and guess why: credit issues. They had to send me extra help from Washington to try to help because of the stimulus money. See, we have more money for direct loans for the low -- very low -- income and moderate income individuals. And guess what? Those loans -- it's a 100% loan. You can buy the land and build a house -- 100% loan. No private mortgage insurance, those loans are directly from USDA. And folks will let a little cell phone and other stuff you don't even need keeping you from being able to -- to acquire an asset that you really need -- which is a home. We've got to be more careful about our credit.

I was talking with a young lady that's actually a relative in a major position, and -- and she -- she was letting the hospital -- the hospital was getting ready to... garnish her check. She works for the city. And I said, "Do you understand that goes on your credit?" See, [unclear 37:46] in the hospital counted on, you know, she -- it was after she had her child. I said, "You could have told them 'I...can pay 25 dollars a month'" and they would have accepted that. But she didn't make that step. So now here they were getting ready to start taking it from her pay. And that goes on her credit. And I said, "You want a house one day -- you'll never be able to get a house." Now, she does some foolish stuff with her money. I won't go into some of the foolish stuff. But I -- I want to say that to -- to us.

And young people: You know, that's one of the things I remember from my father. He used to talk to us about business and credit. And what he said to us: "You need to always keep a good credit record. You may not have any money, but you can always get some." And we need to keep that in mind. We need to stop trying to get things we don't need, you know. Take the time to get the money -- you know, to save the money for what you want -- and you can do that. You can do that. You can do that. You don't have to have everything right now, okay?

We also have in addition to the direct loans from the agency, we are...the guaranteed loan program for housing. And...those loans are for people with a slightly higher income. That -- That program has been so successful that we are about to run out of money. And I'm talking about all over the country. I'm talking about billions. And in Georgia, you know in 2008, they made like 1265 guaranteed loans. Last year, we did almost 4500. And this year, if the money had not run out, if it doesn't run out -- I'm hoping they going to get some more -- we might do as many as 12,000, you know. If there was ever a time for people to become home owners, now is the time. And you can thank President Obama for that.

And I said something briefly to you about the -- the business and industry money. We've got to get our act together. We got to start thinking about becoming entrepreneurs, you know. And young people you need to think of that as you -- as you mature. You know, get some education. Learn how to do it right and then think of going into business. Until our communities look at how we can grow our own businesses, we'll be -- we'll forever be at the mercy of these companies that will come in, use up the tax credits, and leave.

Hey, didn't y'all lose the chicken in the street, here. They will [use] up your tax credit and move on to another community and use theirs too, and leave you high and dry. We can do some -- you know, you can think of creating your businesses and making those dollars flow over and over in your own community.

There's also the Repair Loan Program for -- for senior citizens 62 and over who are lower income. You can qualify for a grant of 7500 dollars. Or, if you have repayment ability -- and those payments can...some of them are very low, 25 dollars a month -- you get a one percent loan up to 25 -- 20,000 dollars. And the -- the $7500 is only for helping safety issues, you know, like something with your bathroom or something else in the house. But if you wanted to do some renovations up to $20,000, you can get a one percent loan to be able to do that.

I won't go into the other programs because a lot of them [are] different types programs for cities. And, you know, I had a visit from the mayor and your city manager and -- and I've thought about y'all a lot and I'm not -- my commitment is to the rural area. My commitment even more so is to south Georgia. That's were I'm from. I can't say that up in north Georgia. But they don't seem to have a problem getting the money.

Okay, I won't keep going on tonight, but just let me say there is a saying: "Life is a grindstone; but...whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us," you know.

Thank you.

So it turns out that Shirley Sherrod, like John Lewis, is one of the remaining links to the great period of the Civil Rights era that began back in the 1950s, if not earlier, and sadly came to an end in the second half of the 1960s. The struggle around Albany, Georgia in which her father took part was well-publicized and attracted the attention and participation of Dr. Martin Luther King (indeed, although I am far from certain of this, it may have had something to do with King's famous arrest in the fall of 1960, which had a huge impact on the Presidential election.) One might hope that this controversy will lead to the re-opening of her father's murder case. Her husband Charles Sherrod was, along with John Lewis, one of the black SNCC leaders who left the organization in the mid-1960s when it took a black nationalist turn. Shirley was too young to have participated actively in these events, but her father's death convinced her to reamin in the South and as her speech makes clear, her experiences brought her back to the roots of the civil rights movement. As I have noted here many times, one of the great tragedies of the last 45 years was the movement of many white southerners who had voted Democratic on economic grounds from 1936 through 1960 into the Republican camp--partly because the Republicans began appealing to racism and partly because the Democratic Party stopped doing any good. Shirley Sherrod, from my own generation, illustrates how that situation could conceivably change once again--but only if state and federal governments actually find ways to improve the lives of poorer whites and blacks, as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson hoped to do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More echoes from the past

This morning I will pursue my parallel between today's politics and those of the Gilded Age--and specifically, of the Grant Administration. Ulysses Grant entered office in 1869, after four years of extraordinarily bloody civil war and four more years of political civil war between the Congress on the one hand and Andrew Johnson on the other. That crisis had also thoroughly disrupted the American economy because of the issuance of huge sums of paper money, which by the end of the war was trading at a substantial discount, to finance the Union war effort. A flood of cheap money had created a fertile field for speculation--sound familiar? And this, in turn, had huge political consequences. My principal source of this post is Henry Adams, who at the start of the Grant Administration had begun a career as a journalist for the The North American Review, writing long articles summarizing the results of each Congressional session. The two specific ones upon which I am drawing are "The New York Gold Conspiracy" and "The Session, 1869-70," both of which appear in a book that can be downloaded on line here.

These essays make for a rather depressing read, because what seemed at that time to be an extraordinary abuse now seems to have become normal practice--indeed, the very engine, such as it is, of American economic growth. The proliferation of cheap money in those days had grown out of a huge, unprecedented war, and within another twenty years the problem had been solved. Now the provision of endless cheap money has become the unchanging policy of the Federal Reserve, which was founded nearly one hundred years ago, ironically, to check wild speculation and prevent panic. Jay Gould's 1869 attempt to corner the gold market and drive up the price--the subject of Adams's first essay--seems to have been repeated at least twice in the last decade or so, once by Enron, which managed to manipulate the electricity market in California so as to drive a Democratic governor out of office, and once in 2007-8 when some one--we don't know who--managed to double the price of oil. Writing about Gould and Jim Fisk's stewardship of the Erie Railroad, a huge corporation which they milked for credit by issuing new stock, Adams noted that shares were being traded purely for speculation, not for profit--which seems to be about as accurate a description of our current economy as one could wish for. The use--indeed, the purchase--of entire corporations principally to use as security to borrow more money has become a very common strategy.

What distinguishes that age from this is the almost total absence of bureaucracy. There was no Fed, no SEC, and no network of Washington lobbyists--even though the influence of the Treasury Department, which had the resources to make or break any large-scale financial scheme, remained critical. That, presumably, was why no Administration has been so riddled with high-level personal corruption as Grant's. Thus, in preparing his attack on the gold market, Fisk used Axel Corbin, a wheeler-dealer who had married Grant's sister, to reach the President personally and arrange an introduction, and even to get him to write his Secretary of the Treasury, George Boutwell, to recommend against any fall in the price of gold, which Fisk was hoping to increase from $135 to $145 (in paper money.) To make sure of Corbin Gould sold him $1.5 million worth of gold to insure his own interest in a rising price. For a while, that worked. But Fisk ran into a determined group of bears, who bought his gold and sold it short as quickly as he could accumulate it. Eventually Grant realized what was up, told his brother-in-law Corbin to stop speculating. Gould realized the game was up and sold out, but did not inform his partner Fisk, who lost enormous sums. Widespread panic was averted for four more years, but when it came in 1873 it was devastating.

Henry Adams had an almost unique perspective on American politics, one which I can appreciate myself. He had heard about the American revolution at his grandfather John Quincy Adams's knee, and he had spent the Civil War working as his father Charles Francis Adams's secretary in London, where his father was Minister to the Court of St. James. His brief but extraordinary career as a professional historian lay ahead of him, but he already had the knack of seeing the day's events in historical perspective. At the conclusion of the essay Adams noted that the Erie Railway had survived, and looked forward to the restoration of a sound currency and to necessary political reforms. Yet, he added, "the history of the Erie corporation offers one point in regard to which modern society everywhere is directly interested. For the first time since the creation of these enormous corporate bodies, one of them has shown its power for mischief, and has proved itself able to override and trample on law, custom, decency, and every restraint known to society, without scruple, and as yet without check. The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations far greater than the Erie--swaying power such as never in the world's history been trusted in the hands of private citizens. . . will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. . . .The national government, in order to deal with the corporations, must assume powers refused to it by its fundamental law,--and even then is exposed to the chance of forming an absolute central government which sooner or later is likely to fall into the hands it is struggling to escape, and thus destroy the limits of its power only in order to make corruption omnipotent. Nor is this danger confined to America alone. The corporation is in its nature a threat against the popular institutions spreading so rapidly over the whole world."

Without knowing it, Adams had sketched out some of the critical historical developments of the next 140 years. Corporate and financial power remained a concern for the rest of his life, until 1917, and by then a new war was raging, one which destroyed the foundations of currency in continental Europe and opened the way for further economic and political convulsions. Then in the 1930s the New Deal, with some success, took up the task of taming corporate power, and its work endured into the 1970s (by which time another war had administered a big shock to financial stability.) The last three decades have seen the fulfillment of another part of Adams's prophecy, as the national government has become the enabler, if not the servant, of the biggest financial institutions, whose leaders commonly occupy leading economic policy positions in Washington. And now we face the rather pathetic spectacle of our government trying to look as though it were once again assuming enough power to control these institutions, while an army of lobbyists makes sure that the results will be merely cosmetic. (My friend Jamie Galbraith has just sketched out what a real attack on financial power would look like in The New Republic.. I do not expect to see it come to pass. The Civil War, it turned out, had drained the crusading energy out of the country, leaving it without spiritual resources to deal with the corporate threat. In our own time, the culture wars and the arguments over our Middle Eastern empire may have done the same thing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Foreign Policy traditions

Yesterday's New York Times included a very interesting article about the forthcoming publication of Mark Twain's autobiography, which heretofore has been available only in very edited editions. Twain himself ordered that full publication be delayed for one hundred years, fearing that the frankness of his thoughts might hurt his iconic reputation and perhaps reduce the income to his estate. (I was reminded of the realism that Twain displayed in his conversation with the racy novelist Elinor Glyn, which I reproduced in full here on January 28th of this year.) What struck the author of the article, who probably attended college sometime after 1985, was the revelation that Twain was a violent anti-imperialist, strongly opposed to the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippines that followed, and given to acerbic remarks about the atrocities committed by the American soldiers who put down the subsequent uprising. "The uncensored autobiography," the article writes, "makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers." As I read that passage, a good deal of my own life flashed before my eyes.

I too grew up in an era when the United States' world role was nearly unquestioned. The United States, I learned, stood for good against evil, and thus had defeated the Germans and Japanese during the Second World War and stood firmly against Communism now. My junior high and AP high school history textbooks, I remember, treated our rise to world power admiringly. In 1960-1, in eighth grade, I was assigned the affirmative in the debate club on the question, "Red China should be admitted to the United Nations"--a position I did not want to defend and which, in debates before audiences, didn't have a chance. In 1961 my own father was appointed to help spread the American gospel in the emerging Third World. When the Vietnam War began, almost exactly at the moment of my high school graduation, I firmly supported it, and when I arrived in college that fall, I knew only one fellow student (a roommate, actually, who I believe is a regular reader here), who did not.

During the next few years my thinking slowly evolved and in 1968 I had a real conversion experience. Not only did I conclude--correctly, as I now know--that the Vietnam War was hopeless, but I also rethought all the assumptions upon which it was based. Not only was it impossible for the United States to defend any nation threatened with Communism, but it made no sense for us to do so. Some areas of the world remained vital, but many others could pass into or out of Communist control without doing the slightest damage to U.S. interests. Moreover, I discovered, particularly during my first term in graduate school in the fall of 1971, that the United States had an anti-imperialist tradition that was still in evidence even in the latter stages of the Second World War. Doing my first professional research paper, I read most of the Congressional Record from late 1944 until early 1947. I found two groups of legislators strongly opposed to various aspects of America's new role in the world: left-wingers (including one or two Congressmen who apparently had been Communists) who protested our actions against leftists in Greece and elsewhere, and extreme right wingers who thought we should be fighting Communism at home, within the New Deal, instead of abroad. The progressive isolationist tradition, I found, extended all the way back to 1898, and indeed, anti-Vietnam Senators from the Midwest and Far West like George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and Wayne Morse, had kept it alive. The era of my childhood had been the exception, not the rule.

Even Richard Nixon, of course, abandoned some Cold War shibboleths, declaring that no one could win a nuclear war, pursuing detente, and establishing relations with Beijing. But I was shocked, I remember, in 1975, when Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford eagerly (if semi-covertly) intervened in the civil war in Angola. This conflict, between two rival Marxist revolutionary movements, struck me as exactly the kind of struggle we had no need to get into--but Vietnam had not changed their minds about it. Indeed, a CIA analyst spending a year at Harvard at the time told me they had been positively eager to show that the US could pursue its interests as vigorously as ever. That was only the beginning, and under Ronald Reagan the United States also became involved in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Already, Jimmy Carter had decided to contest the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

For one brief decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that the United States might be on a new course. We fought the brief Gulf War in 1990-1 (about which I admit I had reservations before the fact) without becoming involved in the long run in the affairs of a Third World country. The first Bush Administration helped bring about the peaceful settlement of the civil war in El Salvador. I was not disturbed, on balance, by the west's failure to intervene in the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda in the early 1990s and I still doubt that such intervention would have done much good. (I am rather astonished that the failure of more than 100,000 American troops in Iraq to prevent the ethnic cleansing of four million Iraqis between 2003 and 2008 has not cured us of the illusion that such intervention can save thousands of lives.) But then came 9/11, and the lightning-fast implementation of a new foreign policy by the Bush Administration, based on the idea that lightning quick, high-tech American military interventions could cure the ills of Muslim nations and bring them into the twentieth century and the American sphere of influence. Having at least quieted the situation in Iraq--which has already split, in effect, into two countries, and could yet split into three--we now face a continually deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Yet in the whole of our public life it is hard to find a single voice taking the kind of line Mark Twain took after 1898, and arguing that we simply have no right to kill Afghans to try to make them conform to our way of life. Indeed, Times reporter Larry Richter seems surprised to find that any prominent American ever took such a line.

Like Athens in the fifth century B.C. or Napoleonic France, the United States seems trapped by its expansionist momentum. This past week Der Spiegel lamented that no one seems to be able to argue coherently why we should continue in Afghanistan, but that no one seems to be able to stop it anyway. Our interventions and the casualties they inflict are, of course, relatively small-scale compared to those of the past. They are fought by small professional armies and contractors, yet we take them very seriously, and they create incredible distortions in the lives of certain Americans. Today's Washington Post includes a story on a three-day soccer tournament held in Virginia to crown, in effect, the Afghan-American champions of the US. The tournament is largely financed by contractors looking for speakers of Dari and Pastho, the two main Afghan languages, who might be willing to go to Afghanistan to serve as interpreters at $200,000 a year. (US soldiers make perhaps 1/5 of that.) Think about that.

For more than forty years I have believed Mark Twain was right. That is why I was appalled by the enthusiasm which so many of my contemporaries managed to summon for the Iraq war in 2003. Exactly why he and some of his distinguished contemporaries rejected imperialism will be the subject of another post, since my main source on that question is sitting in my office. Paradoxically, as the United States has risen from being one of a half-dozen great powers in the first half of the century, to one of two in the second half, and thence to unquestioned pre-eminence, it has become harder and harder, apparently, to raise questions about the imperial enterprise. I do not think any good can come from its continued pursuit, but like Athens and Napoleonic France, we may need a disaster, albeit, probably on a smaller scale, to force us to reverse course.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Regeneracy may not be televised

William Strauss and Neil Howe, the authors of Generations and The Fourth Turning, grew up, as I did, in the shadow of the Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War. As they explained to a group of their acolytes in the late 1990s, they began early in that decade to write a book about American generations, focusing on what each of them had contributed to our national life. Both had been involved in government for about a decade, and both had lived through the cultural cataclsym of the 1960s and early 1970s. But their critical discovery, Bill explained, occurred when they were studying the first half of the nineteenth century, when control of national politics passed successively from the Republicans (Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Monroe) to the Compromisers (Jackson, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay), and hence to the Transcendentals (Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Sumner, John Brown, and the rest of the Southern fireasters) who brought about the Civil War. Suddenly they recognized the remarkable similarities between three pairs of generations: the Republicans and the GIs (the Presidents from Kennedy through Bush I), whose lives had been shaped by the previous crises; the Compromisers and the Silent Generation, who remembered those crises from their childhoods and sought to moderate emerging conflicts; and the Transcendentals and their own generation, the Boomers, all focused upon throwing out the old and bringing on the new. A new theory of history was born--and they began predicting a new crisis era, set to begin around 2010.

Crises of this type represent the death of the old order and the birth of a new one. The two most inspiring in American history were the late-eighteenth century crisis that gave us the Revolution and the Constitution, and the Depression and the New Deal, which culminated in the Second World War and the creation of the welfare state. The Civil War, as they recognized, had much less of a legacy, failing even to solve the racial problem that had brought it about. It is now clear that their prediction of a crisis was right on the money in both the economic and political spheres--but it seems increasingly likely, I am sorry to say, that we are not going to experience a rebirth or regeneracy comparable to that of the 1780s-90s or the 1930s-40s. The hopes that so many of us shared for a New Deal are retreating further every day, and while I am not yet entirely giving up, my head tells me that we are indeed headed for a new age of corporate supremacy parallel to the 1890s.

Today's New York Times gives a typical example of the reasons for my despair. Earmarks, we all know, are detested by all and sundry (except those who receive them), and the Congress has passed new regulations against them, specifically forbidding their award to private businesses. No sooner was this rule passed, however, than Congressmen and private companies found away around it. They are busily founding non-profits who will control the money and pass it on to the very same private firms that will do the work involved. Nothing, in short, is going to change. In the same way, the new financial reform bill, now nearing passage, will not substantially reduce trade in derivatives or force the big banks to stop trading on their own account. Even its consumer protection provisions contain loopholes. Reducing the influence of money on our politics seems as futile a task as civil service reform or railroad regulation in the 1870s--and that leads me to my next, even more controversial point.

Back in the 1990s Strauss and Howe made another prediction: a member of our own Boom generation would lead us in a new world, like the Transcendental Lincoln and the Missionary Franklin Roosevelt. When 9/11 occurred--only 72 years after the beginning the last crisis in 1929--we all held our breaths to see if it might indeed be the beginning of the crisis, or, as they called it, "Fourth Turning." When George W. Bush failed to unite the United States most of us concluded that it was not. But now, I am not so sure--because it seems that George Bush did far more to pout the United States on a different path, both at home and abroad, than Barack Obama will be able to do. Let us look, as Al Smith used to say, at the record.

Abroad, George W. Bush abandoned most of the principles that had governed our parents' foreign policies. He denounced a critical arms control treaty, the one that had banned ABMs, and began deploying missiles that still have not been proven to work. The Obama Administration has modified his plans, but it has not abandoned them. He invaded Afghanistan and Iraq on the grounds that we could not allow Al Queda to have safe havens, and we remain in Iraq while escalating our presence in Afghanistan, even though it is not clear that any of this has made us more secure. These wars have enormously raised the prestige of the military in American life for the first time since the early 1960s. In the Middle East Bush told Israel it could keep any territory it settled in a peace agreement, and the Obama Administration backed down from its first attempt to challenge that position. President Obama initially tried to recast our relations with the Muslim world but he has stuck, essentially, to the same policies, provoking individual Muslims (usually ones who had lived in the US and even become US citizens) to carry out terrorist attacks. Should one of those succeed on a fairly large scale we have no idea what the consequences might be.

At home, the reckless pursuit of deregulation by every Administration from Reagan through George W. Bush gave us the financial crisis of 2008--but before Bush left office, Henry Paulsen, it is now clear, had managed to make sure that all the banks' losses on derivatives would largely be made good through the huge bailout of AIG. Most importantly, the Bush tax cuts destroyed the surplus that Bush inherited and recreated the permanent deficit so dear to the heart of Ronald Reagan. That, combined with conservative fiscal orthodoxy which Obama seems reluctant to challenge, has crippled the government's response to the highest sustained unemployment since the 1930s. The Obama stimulus stopped the job loss but was not big enough to reverse it, and now it is coming to an end. The Republicans are fighting even modest moves like another extension of unemployment benefits--so far, at least, successfully. They seem certain to gain seats in both the House and Senate this fall, which will make any radical economic moves impossible.

Perhaps we were wrong; perhaps the crisis did begin with 9/11. Certainly George W. Bush took advantage of the shift in the national mood to move forward on a great many fronts, and his work has proven lasting. What is happening now is by no means all his fault. The Democratic Party effectively abandoned New Deal principles years ago--Bill Clinton, in fact, bragged about doing so. Now a Democratic Administration has very little to offer to the millions of new unemployed. They may not become enthusiastic Republicans, but they will not be enthusiastic Democrats, either--even though the younger voters among them are closer to the Democrats on social issues.

The politics of the Gilded Age were dominated by money. They were much more hotly contested than most people realize. U. S. Grant won two terms by huge majorities, but the next five elections--from 1876 through 1892--were all extremely close, all close enough to be decided by shifting a single state. The Democrats should have regained the White House in 1876 and did so in 1884 and 1892. Our politics may be similarly contested for the rest of my lifetime, since no government will be strong enough, it seems, to embark upon the kind of great crusade at home or abroad that will create a new consensus.

All this has enormous consequences for the Millennial generation (born 1982-2002?), whom Strauss and Howe expected to be the new GIs. Such, it seems, is not after all their destiny, since no Boomer leaderhip is going to enroll them either in massive public works programs or in a crusade abroad. Like the GIs in the 1930s, they will be preoccupied for a long time with finding work and setting up families. Their idealism and willingness to tackle problems may still do a lot of good, but mostly, it seems, at a local level and on a relatively small scale. In the same way that the GIs did so much to undo prejudice between religions and even between the races, the Millennials will finally break down prejudice based on sexual orientation, and they will probably begin a move away from strong religious belief. But for a variety of reasons, which I hope to explore in months and years to come, it seems that no one alive today is likely to see any kind of replay of New Deal America.