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I am William S. U'ren and I am dead. I was once a big noise in Oregon politics, an activist back in the days when Republicans were called progressive and there was an actual Populist Party. The history books say I am largely responsible for things like the initiative, referendum and recall here, as well as the direct election of US Senators. I ran for governor, once, when William Howard Taft was the Republican president, and I lost. Then I retired from politics and, thirty years later, I died. And almost everything I accomplished has been turned on its head and against the very people it was meant to help. Enough is Enough in Oregon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Yes, class warfare.

When I heard that Karl Rove considers Mark Hanna to be his role model I almost came up out of this grave. When I realized, though, that it was the form of Senator Hanna, not the content, that Rove saw himself emulating I felt a little better--as much as "feeling better" can have meaning to me, anymore.

Mark Hanna was an Republican kingmaker in the 19th Century and he was no Progressive (he kept TR--a great exploiter of reform sentiment--off of the Republican ballot for President, at one point), let alone a Populist. He nonetheless understood something that Rove and your current Republican leadership never did and never will. Oh, they get the inter relation between business and government. Boy, do they get that. They just will never get that stable capitalism, not predatory capitalism is the key to making this thing work.

When George Pullman refused to arbitrate a dispute with his workers Mark Hanna sent his brother to persuade him to do so and, upon the refusal, upon the beginning of the nationwide strike that ensued, Good Senator Hanna said words to the effect that "Any boss who won't meet his men half way is a damned fool."

You, know, like Hanna knew, that class warfare has and will go on forever. You can no more stop it than you can credibly deny it. Nothing is more ridiculous, except perhaps for a self--aggrandizing perpetrator of domestic violence on a Friday night front porch in his sleeveless undershirt surrounded by cops yelling about how she had it coming or your big brother telling your mom that you hit him first, than pundits and US Senators crying about wealthy victims of "class warfare" as they stuff bags of lobby money into the dikes through which things like minimum wage and union organizing bills try to seep.

What we (Mark and I and you) know, despite our different times and places, is that people like Vanderbilt and Karl Rove don't understand the self delusion--they underestimate how much one has to feed the goose to keep her laying. (Of course, it could be my delusion that they think it's important to feed the goose. Sometimes it looks as though they believe that geese come and go and when one is starved to death another jumps onto the nest.)

Class warfare is so smooth, now, that the bosses have workers who don't see they are not met halfway and think they are well off and don't have to care if anyone else is, until the Vanderbilts and Roves have driven it all into the ground and realize their true situation. They start to ask where their cheese (or 401k "balances") have gone and all of sudden they are told that they are waging "class warfare" (tsk, tsk) against the rich.

Forget the lack of justice in all this just appreciate the danger to the stability of the country, of any country. If you want to see one of the most refined manifestation of this dynamic look at Mexico where 6,300 died in the drug wars last year. Although those running that show are not trying to redress the grievances of the poor in a country with a small middle class, a smaller upper class and a huge underclass, they are nonetheless one kind of outcome of a sustained, one sided class warfare.

The genius idea of the United States seemed to be, long about the time I died, what the red diaper babies of the Sixties would come to call the "em-bourgeois-ment" (the "middle-classing") of the working class. Giving the blue collar worker a stake in the system seemed to have provided a context of relative labor peace and an infrastructure out of which came a rising tide of prosperity for the whole country.

Mark Hanna was the Karl Rove, and the Charles Begala, of the Progressive (and Populist) era, at least in the sense that he was the strategic mastermind. His famous statement about meeting workers half way made them think they had a piece of the piece, a stake in the outcome. It made them middle class. It made the country prosperous and stable.

But with the Karl Roves (in both parties) in charge these last 30+ years that has changed. The middle class is shrinking--has been shrunk--by Republican Conservatives doing the bidding of those who aspired to and then attained the status of "too big to fail" and, therefore, too big to need to worry about how the rest of you were doing or what you would say about how well they were doing.

And that's where you are right now, as a Republican Party, as a country.

The American people may well be waking from their Stockholm Syndrome Nightmare/love affair with "conservatism" and Fox News (not to mention CNBC and all the rest of the media more worried about its access to "newsmakers" and corporate profits than in telling people what's going on) may not be able to lull them back to sleep.

To take the shell of the Republican Party back, and to regain political legitimacy (and integrity), Progressive Republicans have to return to Mark Hanna's vision. We have to stop destroying the midde class and start allowing people to re-promote themselves into it. It may mean a return to interest rates of 6-10% on investments, but it will also mean having the kind of stability upon which prosperity that doesn't shrink by 30% on a cycle is maintained.

You have to moderate and modulate class warfare.

A modest proposal: stop the war on unions. Meet the workers halfway. But don't do it like the Democrats want to to do it. They want to improve the strength of one side vis a vis the other. You want balance. You want stability.

Propose something truly progressive: compulsory arbitration of disputes over wages, benefits and working conditions. Put both sides on an even playing field.

Few who have ever been involved in a strike (other than those who fight for both sides--the union organizers and the lawyers who represent the bosses) have ever liked strikes--they are ugly for those involved and affected and often don't make any economic sense for one or both sides.

A complete system of dispute resolution through mediation and arbitration exists in the United States. Why not use it?

Class warfare is unavoidable in a capitalist system. But using government as a platform from which to fight it, which is how we got to where we are now, is self destructive. Government should be a countervailing, balancing mechanism.

No one knows when to quit when it comes to centralizing power in his own favor. And the Progressive approach is to make sure, as the republican Constitution of the United States tries to make sure, that no one has the ability to centralize so much power that the whole structure is brought down by their ability to overreach.

Today's Republican Party thinks there is no reason to do any balancing.

Libertarian fantasies about human nature, about rational people who will act in their own (and everyone else's) best interest are as obviously false as the socialist fantasies about human nature. They are actually, at bottom, the same fantasy--that humans are "perfectable."

But you know better. You know that everyone wants "socialism" for himself and "free enterprise" for everyone else. You know that we all need to both watch and watch out for one another.

So, if you are a Republican who has had enough of the dysfunctional relationship between the middle class and the concentrations of wealth that control the Party, and if there are other Republicans willing to talk to the American people about expanding the middle class, decentralizing economic/political power and controlling the ability of any group to wage economic and political warfare on any other group, the time is ripe to step forward. There's a future there. If you would be more inclined to vote for the Romney who ran for President thirty years ago than the one running right now now is the time.

As I said in the beginning, though, I don't think that you can do it. I think if you try those who control the party now will expell you as they have expelled anyone, over the years, who held onto views like this. I think you'll be forced to start another party to pursue this agenda--one between, in the middle of, the current Republican and Democratic Parties. But I also think that the experience of trying to regan control of your own party, and being rudely rebuffed for talking common sense, will be necessary to impart enough "off your ass" to you to get it going and get it done.

So good luck. I'll be watching. Got nothing else to do.

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