While we may be getting used to a world in more turmoil than we could have imagined, there is no excuse for panic.
I’ve been examining some “social” sites such as twitter and facebook. There is ample recognition of what’s going on “out there” but still most of the action is about iPhone and what’s happening in the music world.
For my more serious friends, I’m recommending a healthy dose of Charlie Rose in his evening Monday-Friday sessions. It’s heartening to experience the wisdom, experience and — for the most part — charm and good will around that round table.
Take the rest of the day off.
Aloha from the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
One of the most important bits of history in the matter of the strength of political parties in America before 1948 is to get a concept of how the parties worked.
We’ve already mentioned that the process of party work was rooted in the smallest political unit throughout our nation, the precinct. If nothing else, you can recognize that because it is the place where you vote. Precincts can vary enormously in geographic size but they generally share one trait, they serve a convenient number of citizens in a cohesive area. They are always the basic unit of larger political jurisdictions but only rarely have any government power or recognition except as they relate to the election process. Together, they form larger districts that would be the units of government at county and state levels. They would be a less significant factor in federal elections for the House of Representatives and the United States Senate and, in terms of presidential politics, fade to being the most local element in government.
Though seldom described in this way, the purpose of a political party is to win and maintain political power. That’s it. Why did you think they exist?
For that reason the precincts are very important. They are the touchstone for “getting out the vote” on election days. Certainly it is true that in today’s world that is difficult to see because with the loss of party strength their effectiveness to help citizens on local issues has faded. In the old days, however, before 1948, political leaders were very attentive to precincts, learning and paying attention to problems in these small areas whether the well-known potholes, need for better schools or more police.
When these matters were brought to party attention it was visible to the citizens at the precinct level when something was done. It was also the case that party leaders kept notes about this process, notes on who had raised the issue so that person or group could be contacted at election time and asked to vote to continue making it possible for the party to be of help in the future. As the strange growth of non-partisan election of county government officials spreads, that time-honored responsiveness fades.
When the time comes that you need “to know somebody” it’s difficult to figure out who to call. But that’s what parties were for and should be again.
Joining Together to Create Government
Even today, the parties have their platforms but — for the most part — they take a back seat to the new power of individual charisma and “name recognition.” At the end of the initial political work that shapes these platforms of today, it is too late to require candidates who seek power as a member of a given party to follow any platform.
Before 1948, however, the process of writing the platform was critically meant to bring the wishes of all the precincts to the table where the final platform took shape. Clearly, that did not mean the address in each precinct where a pothole could be found. “Pothole” politics gathered steam as the process went from council, legislative, state, congressional and federal needs. Pothole concern grew to better farm to market roads, public transportation, interstate highways and airline safety. If you stop and think about it, that may be all you need to understand why the platforms formerly had such power. Every elected official came to understand that he or she wasn’t going to be elected because of personal ambitions for power but, rather, because he had pledged to “do something” as required in the platform of his precinct, county, state and nation. Those planks fell into place with a lot of effort by small community leadership who were not inclined to forget what they wanted.
The wording of those planks on every subject that was properly before government was carefully derived as the level of party organization rose. Platform committees worked as hard as anyone in the structure of politics to make it clear that if the party were elected it would fight for those specific matters. Individuals were vital, of course, but they were joined when — as an example — the American Automobile Association got it’s licks in on the transportation plank and pledged to support the candidates of the party who would help with their issues.
If you can see how that worked, you will simultaneously understand why it was not necessary for massive multi-million-dollar campaigns to be elected to the House of Representatives. What the citizens at every political level were voting for was to get their wishes fulfilled and they knew the best way to do that was to back the candidates of the party with the platform best structured to get the job done.
If you can keep the G.I. Bill of Rights of 1944 in mind and compare the way our returning veterans are treated today you will see the difference and that is the point of this blog.
Consider Your Post Office
If there is one service of national government that is vital for everyone, it must be the United States Postal Service. Rather than using examples that may be very different in your area than in mine — highways, schools, etc. — let’s stay with sending each other mail and getting packages from companies and family at a reasonable cost in mind.
Why do we have FedEx and United Parcel Service when Benjamin Franklin created what was once the most efficient and trustworthy systems for that purpose in the world?
I don’t know. What I do know is that you can send a pretty large box by Priority USPS Mail Flat Rate and it will get there in three days even from Hawai`i to New York. That would be about ten dollars for a box 12″ x 12″ x 5.5″ and it can weigh whatever you need. If you order over the internet, however, you will have a very hard time finding any company that will send you something in one of those boxes or a smaller one that would only cost five dollars. And the Post Office will pick it up at the sender’s address.
Now why is that? The answer is simple. The American public took its eyes off the government services that really matter to you and me. So the Post Office was made a sort of private operation, no longer part and parcel of the government. The New Yorker magazine takes almost a month to get to you but, for some reason, NetFlix DVDs arrive the next day which tells you the Post Office can still do its job if IT wants to. My company requires heavy shipments of printing stock. If sent by Priority Mail insured it will get here for an average of $90 for my typical orders but UPS and FedEx charge twice that and the problems over damaged goods is about the same.
Most companies you reach by phone or internet won’t ship by Priority Mail. It is too difficult for them to deal with the Post Office and, frankly, they don’t care if it costs thee and me more. Because I’m in Hawai`i those shipping costs are significant so my policy is to require USPS shipping if they want my business. Most don’t but some do when they look into the cost and ease of doing so. Amazon.com is one of those.
The point is that government is not responsive to what was always seen as one of the most vital elements of transportation and commerce in the nation. I don’t know why but there seems to be similar problems in getting health care problems fixed. The worst element of government — and this may be because I have friends and family in military service — the federal government can’t do anything about the open thievery of funds in the process of military contracts. Think on that and wonder what it is they are devoting all energy to.
Most politicians will tell you their time goes to fund-raising. Year after year. What’s wrong with this picture?
Those Fifty Words
In 1948 Harry Truman was running for President. He had succeeded to the office at the death of Franklin Roosevelt. In earlier years he made his national reputation by prosecuting American companies who profiteered on World War II. He also fostered the G. I. Bill. He did enough good things that made it pretty clear he would be elected but Republicans wanted him out and put up New York Governor Tom Dewey who had lost to Roosevelt and Truman in 1944.
It was not likely to be an easy election for the incumbent Truman. It seemed clear that he would need all the help he could muster from his Democratic Party because, putting it mildly, the Republicans were all whipped up to win. Henry Wallace had been Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of commerce and had been fired by Truman. He was running against Truman as the Progressive Party candidate. It seemed essential for Truman to keep the southern states in his column for victory.
Hubert Humphrey, Mayor of Minneapolis, arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and championed a civil rights plank that some thought too weak and others as too strong. Both felt it would damage Truman’s chances for re-election. Truman did not support the plank. Humphrey gave a rousing speech and the plank passed causing 36 Southern delegates to walk out behind Strom Thurmond who then ran for President on the States Rights ticket.
Humphrey said this in his speech: “The time has arrived in America for theDemocratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”
This is, in its entirety, the 1948 Democratic National Convention Platform Plank on Civil Rights:
“We call upon Congress to support our President in guaranteeing these basic and fundamental rights: 1) the right of full and equal political participation; 2) the right to equal opportunity of employment; 3) the right of security of person; and 4) the right of equal treatment in the service and defense of our nation.”
The moral of this story is that Truman won that election and most Americans today wonder why there was such a fuss over those fifty words.
We wonder about that but the other result was that incumbent politicians of both parties opened a war on the principles of government of the people, by the people and for the people. The phrase for what they were doing was — and is — we don’t want them telling us what to do. “Them” in this case is you and me.
More to come and I hope you will join with comments and spreading the word.
Bill Eger was born in Ft. Worth, Texas, July 6, 1935. For reasons that might come up during his blog entries, he considers himself a cowboy. For now, the main reason is that cowboys can be taken at their word. People who pretend to be cowboys have no obligation on that score and should not be trusted.
Bill comes by his cowboy spirit honestly because his father was born in Blackwell, Texas, and was an old-fashioned cowboy. He was the son, nephew and cousin of more cowboys — and cowgirls! — than anyone could count. When he said something, it was what he believed to be the truth. That didn’t change until something happened to convince him that he had been wrong and, after that, you might hear him say that he once believed something to be true but now was a.) in doubt about it or 2.) convinced that he had been wrong. Cowboys are like that. Every day of their lives.
In today’s world there remain a lot of cowboys even if they never see a cow or ride a horse. But they do, as a matter of faith, realize that nobody knows everything, a lot of people know nothing and the wisest men understand that in our world it is best to say of their own perfection that they don’t know anything.
At least not for certain.
Bill Eger has been a writer all his life. He has written for newspaper, wire services, television and radio stations, advertising agencies and a book or two that never were published. This blog is being written in the belief that, at his advanced age, he may be able to help people understand some of the complexities of politics, government, and why religion and spirituality are not always the same thing. He is equally interested in learning from you and other readers.
Questions are welcome. Corrections are equally valuable if you spot anything in this blog that doesn’t agree with what you have learned in your life. That’s notmerely what you think. It is what you have learned and hold for now as a certainty, the kind of material you want your children to know before you die.
Join in and make friends as this blog grows. Comment on this blog and if you want to communicate directly with Bill try billeger@iDemocrat.org and then expect an answer. Keep in mind that he is in Hawai`i so there may be a slight delay because electrons move slowly out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Tempting as it is, an exhaustive history of political parties in America has little place in the discussion we need to have.
I’ll put the vital part of what America’s political parties formerly did in this short paragraph:
Neighborhood precincts from all over the nation ran the political system of national government before 1948. Precincts were far more interested in the matters of American life than the “great issues of the day.” The citizens in the precincts wanted potholes fixed, street lamps repaired, better schools, fair taxes, clean government and officials who did what they were told. That message, telling politicians what to do, came in the form of political platforms, the planks of which were first fashioned in precinct wishes and then refined and strengthened at county, state and national conventions where they became Party Law. The deal to politicians was this: “If you ran as a member of a political party you pledged to support the platform. If you failed at that the party kicked you out and you lost the next election.”
As with all simplifications, the power was in the details but all we want to establish now is there once was a system of government in America that was driven by the citizens of this nation. They formed the country that won World War II, brought reclamation to enemy lands through the generosity of the Marshall Plan and a patient oversight of Japan that enabled the world to fashion an economy that — in today’s sad terms — made greed worthwhile.
It needs to be noted early that a party system did not require huge donations from corporations or individuals who needed great favors from government to do business on the scale that was being imagined. It was not inviting to the rich to foster campaigns for candidates who — when elected — were going to give their attention to the needs of the people in those precincts, districts, counties and the nation who had agreed so publicly on what was wanted.
There had been a number of social problems brought to the fore by World War II. One was to find a way to help returning veterans build homes and careers that served their families and communities.
[For more: "The G.I. Bill (officially titled Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, P.L. 78-346, 58 Stat. 284m) was an omnibus bill that provided college or vocational education for returning World War II veterans (commonly referred to as GIs or G.I.s) as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It also provided many different types of loans for returning veterans to buy homes and start businesses. Since the original act, the term has come to include other veteran benefit programs created to assist veterans of subsequent wars as well as peacetime service." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GI_Bill ]
As you examine this history you may wonder — as all of us should — why the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan seem to lack this vital concern. Think on it.
The nation was totally involved in the aftermath of World War II in resuming American life as we knew it. Cost was not measured in what was required to rebuild our lives but, rather, in the more and unthinkable cost of not rebuilding, to have been defeated at home though we had won a war in the world. A nation with its heart and mind in life thinks that way, it solves problems as we should do today with health care, for example.
Those issues are only ignored when a government is elected by rich campaigns that promise nothing but personality and more of the same. To get to that point in American’s history we had to remove the connection that allowed the people of the nation to run government rather than sit wondering year after year why the great problems before us only grow worse. That’s what this blog will seek to answer.
In case you wonder, my wife and I have been active Democrats for a long time. We had just about run out of steam trying to keep the principles of the Party alive. We saw candidates being elected without any pledges to their party and short memories about anything they might have mumbled as a promise during campaigns.
Then along came Barack Obama. Mostly his campaign was run outside the new Party structure. In the old days they didn’t have primaries that were open to anyone who signed up to be president or any other officer of the land. They had party conventions where nominations were made by voting delegates based on the candidates who were most able to return what the people of the party wanted as already expressed in their platforms. Those platforms were from the grassroots of America. If you wanted to be nominated you had to both pledge to support that platform and demonstrate that you were capable of creating the nation it drew for us.
Today’s primaries are run before there are platforms. Did you ever notice that? The voters at primaries go down to halls in state after state and work for their candidate based on his or her perceived ambitions but without any memory on whether those candidates were saying different things in the state where the primary would move next week. This is important.
The Party was too far gone to do that service to the nation in 2008. Barack Obama saw that very early on. Without party precincts he chose to gather national momentum behind a consistent and and universally stated set of principles that remain alive today. Yes, the reality of the world today requires some priorities to drive the moneychangers from the temples and repair the horrors left in the White House laundry rooms by the departing administration. But overall he has remained consistent on matters such as health care, an energy policy for today’s technology, education that will allow our children to participate in building the world rather than wasting their lives in frustration and despair.
He has done this openly in a manner that might have escaped your attention. His campaign organization is no longer Obama for President. It is now “Organizing for America” and its headquarters are in the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington D.C. You can — in other words — participate.
Because the Party did not have the opportunity to elect only candidates pledged to support their popularly based platform, there is a new system to convince Congress to do what is necessary to solve our problems. And that’s where we will present your homework, an excellent article on how Obama is shaping policy in the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States.
Read this as your interest allows but keep the link because you may want to go back and examine some points later.
[Taking the Hill by Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine June7, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/magazine/07congress-t.html?emc=eta1 ]
And join us back here with your comments soon. Aloha from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Aloha from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Because the subject is as big as all life, there will be a fair amount of attention paid to politics. That’s domestic as well as international and it has been the major preoccupation of my life.
Don’t let that stop you because politics includes much of the genuine fun and enjoyment of life, as it should.
This is my first posting here but won’t be the last. I’m thinking about it, what I want to share. At 74 years of age, there are many suggestions in mind to help our new President as he seeks to improve our world. If you have ideas along that line, please share them here. If you do not like President Obama, it’s okay to mention that and tell us briefly, in polite language, why.
I’ll try to visit here at least five times a week. If you comment, that will be welcome and reported to me. And I’ll respond as soon as I can.
Mahalo — the word we use in Hawai`i for gratitude — and please do take part.