Monday, March 05, 2007

Remembering Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

In and out of government since the 1940s, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. died a few days ago at age 89; even within his last two years, he understood America, the world and the cycle of politics far better than most members of Congress, including those thirty to forty years younger. The American Prospect has republished one of Schlesinger's article from late 2005; here's an excerpt:
The Republican combination of hubris and incompetence creates great opportunity for the Democrats. ...

In the longer run, the problem is to deal with Ronald Reagan’s excommunication of affirmative government. "Government is not the solution to our problem," Reagan said in his first inaugural address. "Government is the problem." Reaganism rested on two propositions: that government was the root of evil and that, once government was “off the people’s backs,” the free market would solve our problems.

Now it is evident that the free market does not provide health care for millions of our people, does not ensure full employment, does not protect the natural environment, does not improve our schools, does not clean up our inner cities, and does not stop global warming. The very character of these problems calls for a larger measure of public action. ...

Schlesinger despised communism but he also despised the rigidity and authoritarianism of the far right. During his career, he fought for a healthy capitalism that worked together with the goverrnment; he felt the real key to America's strength was a strong middle class and opportunities for all Americans.

The one thing Democrats need to do for the next twenty years is hammer away at the mythologies Republicans have been inventing about Ronald Reagan. For example, two things helped Reagan enormously and he had nothing much to do with either issue. First, the price of oil collapsed during the early 1980s; there's no getting around the fact that low energy prices foster healthy economies (though we knew we had a long-term energy problem and refused to start thinking about the future). Second, the CIA in the late 1970s had predicted that internal inconsistencies within the Soviet Union could lead to a collapse within ten to twenty years; the Soviet Union was already in deep trouble before Reagan became president. Invading Afghanistan was a clumsy attempt by a fossilized leadership to address some growing problems in the Soviet Union. Like other presidents, Reagan facilitated the containment of the Soviet Union and maintained pressure on the regime but he did not singlehandedly 'win' the Cold War.

It also shouldn't be forgotten that Reagan, though not directly touched by scandal, had a number of high officials in his administration who went to jail or were indicted or were forced to resign; it was a very corrupt era and the most corrupt part of the era was the savings and loan scandals that came about as a direct result of actions by the Reagan Administration. We also had the Iran/Contra scandal. And we also had the fiasco in Lebanon that was a direct result of hubris and highly flawed diplomacy by Alexander Haig that claimed more agreement among the participants than existed before sending American troops into a dangerous situation without adequate protection and resources.

One of the unlearned lessons about the Reagan era was how dissatisfied some right wingers were that Reagan did not go far enough. Those right wingers are now in government and demonstrate how too much conservativism, or rather reactionary policies, can deeply damage our nation. Schlesinger sometimes talked about the cycles of history. This nation has had far too much of right wing conservatism in recent years. The problem we face now is the arrogance of the Republican leadership and a business community that too often lately has forgotten its contract with the American people. It's time to move in a new direction and renew our nation and our democratic values. I wish Schlesigner was still talking about these things. He'll be missed.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

That's a fine piece, and Schlesinger will indeed be missed.

As for Reagan not being touched personally by scandal, whoa. I refuse to believe he didn't know the fix was in with the Iranians, about releasing hostages on the very day and nearly the very hour he became president.

The facts are that a president-elect, at most, and/or his people cut a deal with a foreign power. A hostile foreign power, yet, and for domestic political advantage.

I've always thought of that as unconstitutional and grounds for a criminal investigation, at the least.

However, since St. Ronald was at the center of it, not a chance.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Effie said...

Great work.

3:09 AM  

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