Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stop me if you've heard this one...

A republican administration is in the White House as well as in control of both houses of Congress. The administration is almost solely focused on economic development. It has instituted changes in tax policies which overwhelmingly favor the top sliver of society. It is actively encouraging business corporations to become bigger and more powerful. All of this has resulted in an explosively growing gap between the rich and the rest of the country. The newest economic developments are exploited mercilessly in a wildly speculative real estate bubble. Appointments to federal government leadership posts are based on party loyalty rather than competence and experience resulting in agencies headed up by glad-handing hacks. Anyone who opposes any of these policies is castigated as but a step from treason and this was all done through communication media owned and controlled by the party in power. Finally they institute aggressive changes in voting legislation and political boundaries to ensure the continuation of their power. These policies and operations resulted in an economic depression that began to develop as the succeeding administration which Democrat took office.

This sounds like the eight years of the G. W. Bush administration but, in fact, is a description of the four year administration of Republican Benjamin Harrison from 1888-1892. The Republican party of that period was in close partnership with business especially the trusts that controlled vast areas of the american economy through concerted price fixing and market division. The economic policy that the Cleveland administration was so dedicated to as a solution to all economic problems was not a continuing reduction of taxes, especially those on the rich, as was the Bush administration but rather a comprehensive system of high tariffs that allowed the trusts to operate without any effective competition. This resulted in prices for all consumer goods being higher than would have been the case with competition and in huge profits for those who owned or controlled the trusts. This meant that the income and wealth gap accelerated. The Republicans ignored all demands for tariff reform since they were convinced that increasing wealth at the top would "trickle down" (a term they didn't use but which would emerge in another Republican administration in the 1980's) to everyone else, or at least to those who were motivated to work. This, of course didn't work even for those who were able to work but it especially was a disastrous policy for African Americans in the South, Native Americans in the West, and for most of the newly arriving immigrants who seemed so not very American to the white males in power.

Wounded Knee by Richardson, Heather Cox, 9780465009213Even though Heather Cox Richardson does not draw these parallels in her recent book, Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre, any reader cannot help but notice that the picture she paints is a recurring one for American politics. "The Harrison administration has wrongly been buried in obscurity, for its effect were far-reaching. Its aggressive use of rhetoric, disseminated by its own media, had frightening repercussions for voting rights. Its rosy promises for the West--and the subsequent need to make those promises come true--spelled disaster for the western landscape. Its focus on economic development doomed the Sioux to poverty, and its manipulation of the electoral map changed the dynamics of politics."

This is a fascinating study of the way in which national politics impacted the lives and caused the deaths of the Sioux people of what is now South Dakota. As one reads of the incompetence and bald political decisions of the Indian agents appointed by the Harrison administration, one can only think of those famous words: "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie."

If you interested, here is a link to the Amazon listing for the book; I highly recommend it.