THE FIRST THING IN POLITICS

November 5, 2016. Kelley Kidd

All my own favorite media are on the same page today. It is about the disunity in the Democratic Party. Book and newspaper and Facebook centerpieces are focused of aspects of the same dilemma: the Democrats are engaged in a civil war among themselves. It ain’t pretty.

The previews of Donna Brazile’s new book “Hacks” tell us that this former Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee is “throwing Hillary Clinton under the bus.” And the New York Times Sunday magazine’s front page story today is about the Democratic house divided against itself, and is entitled “Why Can’t Democrats Turn the Page?” A brilliant life-long Democrat from Baltimore posts on Facebook that the Dems have formed a circular firing squad, and that “Jon Snow is nowhere to be found while the white walkers have crashed through the walls”—references which those who follow T.V. dramas much better than I will recognize as a metaphor for current catastrophes brought on by external enemies who can’t be effectively opposed because of the infighting within.

So what is the conflict all about? And what Mr. Kidd have you to say about the way out? I feel transported to the turn of the 20th century where methinks I hear the voice of the greatest party organizer of his day. Mark Hanna was the chairman of the national committee of the Republican Party back at the turn of the century. He led the fund raising effort that got McKinley elected President, and the Vice-President on that ticket was Teddy Roosevelt. But those accomplishments are not what he is famous for today. Rather he uttered two famous lines that are still with our politics and business thinking today. And both those utterances are good leads for thinking about the present and future of American politics.

The business advice was really directed at labor organizers. He admonished them to organize only if doing so benefitted both the employer and the employee. Mark Hanna was a rich mine owner. McKinley was a union smasher and an imperialist who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Pacific Islanders while subjecting them to McKinley’s idea of the rule of Christ. Hanna and the men he led believed in small government in all things which benefitted anyone who was not within the circle of crony capitalists they were.

I mention that business advice to help the reader begin to evaluate Hanna’s other and much more famous thought, which I believe may hold a key to most of the history of recent American politics, including those portions of that history which may fairly be called the vicissitudes of the Democratic Party. “There are two important things in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember the second.” So said Mark Hanna.

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter, has been arguing for several years that the corrupting influence of the super rich is behind much of what we usually perceive to be the divergent politics of Democrats and Republicans. Both parties are firmly in the clutches of the oligarchy (i.e., the super rich). He echoes Hanna and, by doing so he darkly predicts that the two parties are about to become irrelevancies. Instead we are going to be divided between the establishment, the flack catchers and spear carriers for the super rich, and the populists, those opposed to the power of the super rich. While he also divides the populists into two further camps, the largest theme is that of us poor against them rich.

The Republican candidate in 2016 was a billionaire who railed against the crony rich backing and alleged control of his rival, Hillary Clinton. Clinton was the nominee of the reputed party of the little man; he the candidate of the party of the fat cats. He won. And he spent about half the money she did. At times the party insiders of the Republican Party, who I assume could not be more establishment, worked against Trump while establishment insiders in the Democratic Party worked against Sanders. Sanders is now the most popular politician in these United States, but he ran without super pack aid or the support of the rich.

Hanna is usually right in these United States. Obama raised more fat cat money than either of his opponents. So did Bill Clinton. Both delivered an action menu that helped the super rich at the expense of the working class. Both won the support of liberals and working people by offering unfulfilled hopes. Hillary paid the price for the Podesta files and the truths they showed about Hillary’s allegiance to the oligarchs. She also suffered for the sins of her husband and the shortcomings of her predecessor. A lot of chickens came home to roost in November at places like Michigan and Wisconsin and the dying cities and towns of the American heartland. Neither party offered real solutions. Trump offered false hope, but Hillary offered only the dream of a woman breaking a glass ceiling. Not a bad thing at all, but understandably paltry to millions of working families whose prospects have not gotten brighter in several generations now.

Hanna knew his quips usually applied to both Dems and Republicans. But the Trump win and the Sanders popularity now reflect the possibility that the second important thing in politics may sometimes trump the first. Pun intended.

That brings me to the article that is front page in today’s New York Times, the one about the Democratic Party’s need to “turn the page” after the departure of Obama and the rise of authoritarian populism with Trump. This traditional banner carrier for the “liberal” media spent that article and its prominent spot in Democratic conversation on what I must suppose are those personalities and issues which the now traditional Neo-liberal Clinton-Obama-Pelosi-Schumer wing of the party believe to be important. Today’s N.Y.Times center foldout picture of Democratic politics does not contain two words which define the only real hopes of the party today. I don’t mean Chomsky or Hedges. Not even Frank or Reich. The words are Warren and Sanders! Evidently the Times is committed to the proposition that Mark Hanna got it right in 1900.


 

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