Friday, May 23, 2014

U.S. history is studded with presidential dynasties from day one

By Marc Jampole

Whenever the news media begins to stir about Jeb Bush running for president, a pundit or two does some verbal hand-wringing about the ruinous state of our democracy if the wife of one former president ran against the brother/son of two other presidents.

There are certainly many reasons to fret often about the weakening of democracy in the 21st century: the massive increase in election spending by the ultra-wealthy; the demise of trade unions; the prevalence of lying in public discourse, suborned by the mainstream media; and the refusal of politicians to follow the expressed will of the American people on matters such as taxes on the wealthy (we want them higher) and unemployment compensation (we want it extended). 

But the fact that relatives of presidents may be running for our highest office is not a manifestation or a cause of a diminishment in our democratic traditions. Presidential dynasties have been a major part of presidential politics since the birth of the Republic. Most Americans living a full life since 1800 have experienced two presidents who were closely related.

Let’s do the math:
1.      34 years rolled by between the time father John Adams, our second president, (president 1797-1801) took office and his son John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) left office.
Ø  12 years passed before William Henry Harrison was inaugurated.
2.      52 years rolled by between the time grandfather William Henry Harrison (1841) took office and his grandson Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) left office.
Ø  8 years passed before Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated.
3.      44 years rolled by between the time cousin Theodore Roosevelt took office and his cousin Franklin Roosevelt died in office.
Ø  44 more years passed before George H.W. Bush was inaugurated.
4.      20 years rolled by between the time father George H.W. Bush took office and his son George W. Bush left office.

If Jeb is elected in 2016 and serves eight years, the Bush presidential dynasty will have lasted 36 years. If Hillary is elected and serves two full terms, the Clinton presidential dynasty would have lasted 32 years, with zero time between dynasties.

This catalogue of presidential dynasties leaves out the dozens of other national political dynasties that have always dominated national politics: the Cabots, Dirksons/Bakers, Gores, Hydes, Kennedys, Lehmans, Macks, Madisons, Marshalls, Masons, Rockefellers, Schuylers, Tafts,  Talmadges, Wadsworths, Walkers—the list is not endless, but could go on for pages.

It looks to me as if dynastic families have always played a major role in American politics. Nothing has changed.

I’m not saying that presidential dynasties are good for the country. All things being equal, I would prefer if people got by on their talents, not their names. But the fact that a Bush may run against a Clinton does not symbolize the bankruptcy of American democracy. Rather it serves as an example of how tightly a narrow sliver of the wealthy and the connected has always controlled our politics.  We can exemplify that fact by taking a look at the backgrounds of the 10 men and one woman involved in this discussion of presidents who were related to other presidents or might be in the future.  The Adams, Harrisons, Roosevelts, Bushes and Hillary Rodham all came from privileged and connected backgrounds, all had every opportunity to succeed handed to them on a silver platter.  All, of course, except Bill Clinton, who truly did fulfill the quintessential American myth that anyone can grow up to be President, assuming he or she has talent and drive. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Christie shows once again that Republican Party is no friend to the working class

By Marc Jampole

No one likes to play pension politics more than the Republicans.  For example, over the past few years, Republican politicians and their fellow travelers have accusedpublic workers of receiving overly generous pensions as a means to drive a wedge between them and the rest of the middle class. Rather than cause the banks that manipulated Detroit into bankruptcy with bad credit swap deals to lose their truly onerous profit, the overseers of the Motor City—appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder—are taking money from retired Detroit workers. 

Republicans use pension politics not only to hurt unions, but to harm government operations.  Under Bush, the Republican Congress saddled the Post Office, a quasi-governmental organization, with onerous pension fund payments that have forced it to raise postage rates and cut operations. The Post Office’s private competitors—FedEx, UPS and DHL—don’t have to set aside anywhere as much money for their pension plans.

In not making these payments, Christie reneges on a deal he made with public unions a few years back. Christie’s pension overhaul shifted more costs to public workers, raised their retirement age to 65, and froze yearly cost-of-living adjustments. In exchange, Christie and lawmakers agreed to make bigger payments each year to the pension fund to repair the financial damage of years of former administrations paying nothing into the system.

When announcing his dead-beating of New Jersey public workers, Christie tried to make himself into a hero of the day by declaring passionately that he refused to cut funds for Medicaid and schools.  Of course, Medicaid and support of public schools are two other issues on which the Republicans and many Democrats also play games.  After years of advocating cuts to social service programs, Christie came off looking like what he is—a a very big hypocrite!

What Christie didn’t say is that New Jersey, like most other states and the federal government, has purposely starved itself over the past three decades by lowering the tax burden, especially on the businesses and the wealthy.  This fiscal anorexia is the true cause of the budget shortfall that New Jersey faces.

Instead of weakening the already damaged finances of state pensions, Christie could curtail tax breaks for corporations. He could call for the repeal of the massive tax breaks and other incentives to businesses he signed into law late last year, which will cost the state millions of dollars.  One article two years ago computed the value of Christie’s corporate handouts at that point to be $1.57 billion. If New Jersey reneged on those corporate giveaways, it would leave New Jersey with a $1.03 billion shortfall on pensions, which a rise in taxes of about $382 a year for two years (but probably moving forward as well) on the approximately 1.35 million New Jerseyites making more than $75,000 a year. 

But making businesses and the relatively well-off pay their fair share is not part of the Republican play book. At least since Ronald Reagan gained influence, Republicans have been dedicated to cutting taxes ever more on the wealthy and businesses while shrinking the services that government offers to everyone—from support of public schools and universities to funding for libraries, roads and the indigent.  It’s now been more than 30 years since wealth and income started flowing from the poor and middle class to the wealthy and especially the ultra-wealthy. By refusing to fund pensions for public employees and ratcheting up giveaways to businesses, Christie is merely going with the flow, just floating along a rising tide which is lifting the oversized yachts of the rich while sinking everybody else.