City Journal Spring 2014

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Fred Siegel
Dudes and Democrats « Back to Story

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One last bit about Frederick G. Dutton’s 1971 book – “Changing Sources of Political Power” – in which he pretty much laid out in plain and simple English what would become the Democrats’ strategy for creating new demographic ‘Identities’ to replace the then-shattered New Deal electoral coalition.

When he died in 2005, both the 'Chicago Tribune' and the the 'New York Times' ran lengthy obits. But while both of those papers discussed his early life and his post-1975 career as a registered lobbyist for Saudi Arabia (he arranged many arms-deals), both papers simply had a short paragraph to cover his political consulting for the Democrats and neither of them mention his book, which – arguably – is one of the most significant and revealing books on American domestic political strategy of the 20th century. The consequences of which book bethump us even unto this very day.

And maybe that’s why there was such a silence.
‘Pat’ puts some excellent insights into the mix here. They prompt the following thoughts, building on what Pat has written.

In his 2007 book “Liberal Fascists” Jonah Goldberg makes a telling and comprehensively documented case that the American Progressivism of the classic period (1890s-early 1900s) was actually another variant of the various forms of ‘totalizing’ approaches to government that were its contemporaries in Europe: Leninism, Fascism (as practiced by Mussolini) and – the conceptual runt of the litter – Hitler’s National Socialism.

If we were to call all of these approaches to government ‘totalitarian’, Goldberg says, then the key to that characterization is the common presumption and dynamic they all share: that government is the only and the vitally necessary power over the lives of their citizens, and that consequently all power must flow to the central government and all authority must flow out (only) from the central government. As Mussolini put it pithily: nothing against the State, nothing outside the State, nothing above the State.

This approach to government requires constant ‘crisis’ mode, and thus is literally dependent upon ‘crises’ and ‘emergencies’ in order to keep up the pressure on citizens to acquiesce in its absorption of all power and influence in culture and society (as well as politics and governance).

It was so successful in this country that from either the Right (starting with Teddy Roosevelt) or from the Left (starting from Woodrow Wilson) all subsequent American presidents have been ‘totalizers’ (or ‘progressives’) with the exception of Harding and Coolidge.

Wilson had been saying as early as 1885 in his professorial days that the Constitution was designed for a “horse and buggy” era and that something new was necessary to provide a philosophy of governance for the brash, rich, and rapidly developing America that was heading into the 20th century.

FDR was a protégé of Wilson and LBJ was a protégé – as Pat notes – of FDR.

In his State of the Union Address of 1941 FDR enunciated the “Four Freedoms”, the first two of which – freedom of speech and worship – were congruent with the Constitution but the second two of which – freedom from want and freedom from fear – began to pull the dynamic toward an almost godlike assumption of government authority to smooth out all of life’s (admittedly noxious) difficulties. In this scenario, Citizens would skew toward becoming dependent clients of the government (relying on it for a protection they had previously sought from the Divinity), allowing their own power and role (as presumed in the Framing Vision) to flow to the government.

In his State of the Union Address of 1944, FDR expanded this ‘progressive’ vision (in the mid-30s he had taken to calling Democrats ‘liberals’ rather than ‘progressives’ because of the bad odor created by Wilson’s many fundament-shaking initiatives … it was not for nothing that Harding sought “a return to normalcy” in the country) to include what he called a “Second Bill of Rights”: Employment and a living wage, freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, housing, medical care, social security, and education. The keynote was “security”, for which the government would assume the role of provider and grantor.

You can see where all this could (and eventually did) go as time went on. Also, note that “security” served the purposes of both a) the National Security State, created in Truman’s administration in 1948 by the document known as NSC-68, which set the US on a constant and permanent war-footing and war-economy and b) the National Nanny State as it mutated from LBJ’s Great Society in the mid-1960s to the beastie we know today.

The “poor” of FDR’s era were joined by the race element in the 1960s. Although, as I noted in a prior comment here, there were two distinct phases to MLK’s civil-rights movement. The first ended with the 1964-5 passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts; the second began almost immediately thereafter as MLK was kicked to the curb by Black Power and ‘revolutionary’ and ‘separtist’ elements and the government’s unilateral imposition of its own racial selection/preference schemes.

And then in the early 1970s, building upon the last-minute inclusion of “sex” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s provisions against “discrimination”, radical-feminism (claiming to speak for all ‘women’ and kicking all moderate feminisms out of the nest) more fully incorporated Marxist-Leninist-Gramscian analysis and methodology to ‘justify’ the government’s engorgement of power and authority. Thus the National Nanny State was put on a permanent war-footing in a life-and-death struggle against ‘hegemony’, ‘oppression’, and ‘marginalization’ (all Gramscian terms) and the number of ‘identities’ thus oppressed began to grow like Topsy.

All of this was abetted by a number of intellectual refugees from Hitlerite Germany who came over here and for some decades after the war (on into the 1960s, certainly) made a place for themselves by discovering that - when you really came down to it – American culture was really not much different-from or better-than Hitler’s version. One thinks of Herbert Marcuse and Theodore Adorno among many others.

And as the demographically desperate Dems realized in the late-1960s (especially after the shock of not only Watts (within a week of the signing of the Voting Rights Act) but also the urban riots and the frakky mess that was their 1968 Convention) that the New Deal demographic coalition that had sustained their electoral viability since the early days of FDR was now shattered and they needed to come up with some new ‘demographics’ pronto.

Thus they embraced whatever oppressed ‘Identity’ was pushed their way, most significantly embracing the potential client-and-voting Identies of Race, Youth, ‘Women’ (meaning radical-feminism) and Immigrants … anything, in fact, that was not white, male, patriarchal, macho, industrial, oppressive and so on and so forth.

I can’t imagine that even in his most moist dampdreams Gramsci ever imagined that any Western government would so fully embrace his plan for undermining its own culture and civilization, effectively turning upon its own culture and traditions and citizens (just as, I note, Lenin and Mussolini and Hitler – those other totalizers – had wound up doing).

At this point now it is anybody’s guess whether the wrack and ruin of the past 40-50 years can be ameliorated, let alone reversed. Perhaps ‘Richtea’ is right that only the collapse of the money that has been the government’s primary lubricant for all of these friction-generating and fracture-generating schemes can now stop the ‘progress’. But what will follow such a collapse, I shudder to think.

Lyndon Johnson was a close and extremely loyal protégé of Franklin Roosevelt. Johnson’s career began as a Texas director of a minor New Deal agency, followed shortly by his election to congressional office. As a young man tasting power for the first time and an enthusiastic witness to what Roosevelt was doing relative to federal assistance, LBJ later attempted to recreate the New Deal dynamics where the poor were assisted – but - without reliance on a specific seminal event such as the Great Depression. FDR expertly utilized the Great Depression as his pivotal political rationale while Johnson had the much more difficult task of creating a national crisis where none actually existed. Americans, as voters, were beautifully prepared to accept taxpayer assistance to the poor and on a massive scale mandated by federal law thanks primarily to the example of and much heralded success of the New Deal.

However, there were specific psychological differences between the Great Society and New Deal. With millions of Americans out of work during the 1930’s, the emotional rationalization was defined to be “temporary assistance” until the economy recovered. It was further assumed by voters the taxpayer assistance would cease once the country recovered and the alphabet New Deal agencies would voluntarily dissolve. The New Deal storyline insisted America’s workforce wanted only honest labor, Americans were willing to work hard but jobs simply weren’t available. And with millions out of work, there was no individual shame attached to being down and out. LBJ crafted the Great Society along much the same psychological rationales while insisting the lack of a devastating economic depression was no longer important to American values and moral imperatives.

America’s poor desperately wanted to better their individual conditions but society prevented their easy assimilation into the middle class according to LBJ’s Great Society theory. With temporary assistance, courtesy of New Deal type agencies, our American poor would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps with careful guidance provided by modern social theorists.

Just as with the Depression’s unemployed workers, there would be no personal fault attached to their economic condition and the same social dynamic to work hard at bettering their lives would apply if only taxpayer funding was freely and fairly offered. Within a few short years, the American landscape relative to the poor and chronically "helpless" would be gradually transformed.

However, many Americans didn’t share LBJ’s sense of crisis, didn’t agree with his logic borrowed from the New Deal and there was, in fact, no Great Depression providing a dramatic sense of urgency and logical motivation to resurrect the New Deal. America’s poor were equally baffled by the Great Society’s marketing approach. What was expected of them now? How could some government agency change their lives at a fundamental level?

LBJ couldn’t offer the innumerable make work jobs and federally financed manual labor FDR had created as the funding vehicle transferring personal wealth from some Americans to other Americans. But many living Americans remembered the New Deal years while younger Americans lusted after an idealistic crusade to justify their unearned prosperity and privileged lives.

With much assistance from the media, the Great Society became the psychological successor to the New Deal. And for America’s poor, it quickly became evident nothing was required of them by the Great Society. If they remained “helpless”, assistance would appear, without attached blame and without any sacrifices on their part.

The problem was in creating a permanent Great Depression as a national motivator and that has proved an impossible task over the past decades. Americans have grown cynical concerning the “helpless” and weary of the Great Society’s aging storyline. But at a fundamental level we can’t punish our “helpless” for being helpless and we’ve reached an unhappy impasse where previously cherished hopes now appear naïve and misguided. As the cynicism has grown, social thinkers are now willing to admit that the poor and downtrodden share some of the blame, are partially responsible for their present condition.

Unfortunately, the only logical response to such recent concessions on the part of social welfare advocates is “So What?”. The “helpless” can readily admit personal culpability but does that change anything, does it make them any less helpless? Only when Americans who are not “helpless” admit to that basic reality will social change occur. And there certainly is no pleasant or easy fix to the problem of the chronically “helpless” – something both Americans and Europeans are slowly learning.
‘Richtea’ has a very good point: as Potter wondered in 1955, what happens when the ‘Abundance’ goes away?

What frightens me about the scenario that ‘Richtea’ quite rationally imagines is that the awesome and awe-full experience of ‘Scarcity’ (which Dutton in 1971 presumed would never come back again in this country) will hit a Citizenry now hugely degraded in its core civic competence.

And a Citizenry hugely weakened in its moral and characterological competence as well. Look what the financial crises of the early and then the later 1920s and early 1930s did to as mature a society as Germany’s. The fact that the profound shocks of serious economic failure didn’t create such a moral and civic implosion here in the early 1930s can be ascribed – I would say – to the solidity of the American people’s maturity. And that maturity is gone now.

Yes, to the revolutionary eye such ‘solidity’ is actually only ‘stolidity’: a herd-like, bovine acceptance of a bad situation rather than a vigorous (and violent) revolutionary rejection of the whole shebang.

But Americans of the 1930s – despite all the ways they appear flawed to the gimlet post-Modern and Correct eye – remained committed to confidence and faith in the American vision and their own communities (not to say, with equal fervor, to the government). They dealt with the challenge – even where that coping required a great deal of patience, prudence, and mutual communal support.

Will we see such qualities deployed if the Abundance and the economy goes nowadays? Or will we now see instead an agitated and fearful stampede toward Hobbes’s nightmare?

It is axiomatic in Identity-Politics (which shares so much with postwar Euro-communism) that there must necessarily be mutual antagonism between and among ‘groups’ in American society. (Although somehow, magically, such hostility and adversarial aggression does not and will not exist among the numerous ‘oppressed’ groups and Identities themselves.)

In that sense, the Beltway – with the Dems leading back in the early 1970s according to Dutton’s gameplan – has created such a mélange of groups or Identities, but has consistently and increasingly plastered over the active fracture-zones and cracks with cash and ‘wealth’ (real or otherwise). Sort of like trying to hold a poorly-baked, multi-layered cake together simply by larding on more frosting into the spreading cracks and fissures.

If the ‘frosting’ goes, then those cracks are going to spread into a dynamic web at an increasingly rapid rate. And what – besides the ‘wealth’ of frosting – is there to hold American civic commonality and communal comity together? For decades now the assorted select Identity groups (and the rich, from their side) have been looking out for themselves while constantly weakening the core sense of commonweal that any Citizenry of a democracy must share in common.

What’s left now to hold back the flood?
Publion hits many a nail on the head. Yet the final resolution will rest not so much in politics as in finance. The die is cast, and the U.S. is irrevocably on the road to ruin, Weimar writ hyper-large. No black swans need appear, just let things run their course and cataclysm will come as surely as night follows day. "Liberals" will have their death wish fulfilled beyond their dreams - at everyone’s expense, as usual.

Since Europe is very much in the same boat, losing a civilization is now a risk-on proposition.
I’d also add that bringing “the young” into voting has increasingly resulted in an erosion of the civic competence of the Citizenry, creating not so much ‘voters’ as ‘political fans’ (evidenced so queasily by the First Lady’s appearance at the Academy Awards, among so many other things). Politics has become a ‘fan’ thing, resembling more the bobby-soxer histrionics over a young Frank Sinatra, their children’s generation (the Boomers) similar looniness over the arrival of the Beatles in New York, and the overall approach of ‘roadies’ following fave-rock bands everywhere in the 70s.

How sustain a mature and competent Citizenry this way? And if there is no Citizenry, then – ominously – what need for a democracy at all?
If I may offer one tweak to ‘Pat’s points: the poor are not “total strangers” – they are – or were back in the 60s – mostly fellow Americans.

The problem – to my mind – has always been the Method that LBJ (for his purposes) and later the demographically-desperate Dems generally (for their own purposes) embraced in order to address the problem.

The Titanic Texan simply figured that there is a problem (and poverty is a problem, I agree) and that therefore America had the money and he had the political savvy and power to simply impose – in a rather anti-democratic and fundamentally anti-political way – whatever solution he saw as serving the purpose.

And when the Dems a bit later came to embrace Dutton’s ideas, they were helpfully provided with a ‘philosophy’ for doing so: since most people ‘just don’t get it’, then the Beltway is going to have to man-up, step in, and impose rescue from (this, that, and every other ‘oppression’) upon the entire country, culture, society, and Citizenry. And John Rawls quickly came in with a more urbanely and academically stated position (compared to the radical and often clearly Marxist-derived ‘thoughts’ of revolutionary cadres of Black Power and radical-feminism): clearly what the Dems were doing was simply what any ‘reasonable’ and ‘rational’ person would do. And – but of course – the ‘Archie Bunkers’ (thank you, Norman Lear) didn’t count any longer (Dutton himself also said as much in his book, without the TV reference to Archie Bunker).

At this point – having also experienced decades of the ‘victimist’ philosophizing that holds that people are helpless and merely the pawns of forces beyond their control and must be rescued by the government (and can never be “blamed’, which phrase – don’t blame the victim – also came to the fore in a book by a Boston College prof in that interesting year of 1971) – generations of young have now reached chronological maturity having been soused with all this stuff.

And now – after decades of assiduous cultivation – the Beltway has established a patron-client relationship (like the ancient Roman patron-client politics) with both the corporations and the assorted ‘oppressed’. How the country can step back from this abyss is a sobering question indeed.
Detroit is receiving much attention recently, particularly from the conservative media. But most of the fingers point in the wrong direction by describing the symptoms in loving detail while deliberately ignoring the disease. The epidemic started with LBJ and his Great Society prophets who elevated “being helpless” to a respectable career decision and rescuing the “helpless” to a noble and obligatory national crusade.

When you’re “helpless” in modern America you’re relieved of all personal responsibility, things are done to you but not by you and you possess a moral right to be rescued from your condition. It wasn’t always that way but once the “I’m helpless” sickness took hold during Great Society days, the prognosis was a long and lingering illness leading to complete breakdown followed by death.

Americans are literal prisoners of our guilt ridden consciences and under the psychological control of those we think of as officially “helpless” - just as a middle aged son or daughter is controlled by the daily needs of an aging parent suffering advanced dementia along with a host of physical ailments. There’s nothing that you, as the loving child, can do except wait it out and care for your loved parent until death takes him or her.

What the Great Society’s emotional manipulation did was transform total strangers into symbolic ailing parents. You can’t imprison or otherwise punish an unmarried welfare mother with 3 children who spent the gas and electric utility money on drugs or alcohol. Should her kids freeze during a cold Detroit winter? Should her and her children be left to fend for themselves knowing she can’t possibly cope with providing for their care? And will there ever come a day when she cleans up her act and stops being “helpless”? Or, more likely will the problem just go on and on?

Starting in the late 60’s, Detroiters quickly embraced the concept of what it means in America to be “helpless” and they have been refining this bizarre moral philosophy to their own benefit ever since. Being ”helpless” political etiquette requires a laser like focus on the individual “victims” of poverty but only a hazy reference at best toward what events led up to the immediate crisis. The demands are always for instant help, invariably monetary in nature, without promising any long term solutions. A second chance must always be given to the “helpless”; some academic’s latest idea or social scheme will require funding through other people’s money and this plan will invariably fail requiring yet another new idea or scheme – government assisted “urban farming” in Detroit is the most recent in a long line of scams being touted and this scheme will eventually fail as well.

LeDuff’s book “Detroit: An American Autopsy” follows this rationalizing the “helpless” formula to the letter with much focus on the individual victims of poverty. Anecdote after anecdote like the frozen dead body lying ignored in the street, the murders, rapes, drug addictions and the thousands of abandoned homes overrun by vegetation and wild animals fill the pages of his book. It was always vitally important to put a human face on what it means to be “helpless” in order for the psychological magic to do its work. But an honest historical analysis is conspicuously lacking – as per normal.

Eventually, we know the state of Michigan will give up on saving Detroit and dump the problem in Washington’s lap. Then Americans living outside Michigan in Idaho or South Carolina will be privileged to pay for Detroit’s ongoing life support. There is no known cure for those Americans who are officially “helpless”, there are only innocent others who must assume the thankless responsibility of saving them.
Regarding the 'Lake Worth' comment: I don't see the article as suggesting that Blacks not vote (which is, as LW says, a "core right of citizenship"). The problem was not the first Phase of the civil rights movement (culminating in the 1964-5 passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts).

Rather, the problems came in the second Phase when MLK was kicked to the curb by Black Power separatists and revolutionaries and when the Beltway decided all on its own to impose government-managed racial selection.

And when Black Power separatists and revolutionaries embraced Marxist-Leninist thought in both Content and in the Method in which American change had to be carried out. The Content consisted in Marxist analysis of American culture, society and politics. The Method consisted in an anti-political and anti-democratic imposition by government against the will of the majority of its own Citizenry (when it didn't simply outright demand 'revolution' in the classical sense).

As for 'the young': the Dems - desperately in need of fresh demographics to replace the shattered New Deal coalition - pushed for lowering the vote to 18 from 21 in order to supply themselves with more votes since - as Dutton observes - the young are "easily moved" (meaning: you can easily stampede them into embracing whatever you push their way).

But if 'youth' is sufficient to ground a competent and mature and informed voting Citizenry, why leave it at 18? Why not go lower? Or is it 'elitist' or 'ageist' to have any voting age at all?

The brain - as we now know - doesn't really assume its basic adult competences until at least 21. Is it wise to allow not-yet-matured brains to vote?

For anyone interested, Dutton's book gives a clear picture of what the Dems were trying to do, based on their assumption that the young (in 1971, that would be the Boomers) were going to be too big a demographic and the 1970s were going to be a fantastically glorious decade.

The Dems and Dutton were arguably not accurate, to say the least.
Really ??? "...the contemporary liberal lifestyle of upwardly mobile people who, in their twenties and thirties, are square by day, swingers by night...."

So conservatives are to believe that young educated people are "swingers."

And Blacks would be better off governed by the likes of Senators Wicker, Blunt, Roberts, Hatch who would drop the Voting Right Act. And the 2013 followers of the "conservatives" who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the extension of 2006.

Also, similarly, by "conservative" legislators who oppose requiring states with Spanish-speaking populations to provide bilingual ballots.

Voting is the core right of citizenship. You can bitch about liberals all you want, but it is "conservatives" and only "conservatives" who are fighting tooth and nail to keep non-Whites and urban young people from voting.

Thus "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few." Wendell Phillips, recasting this Jeffersonian sentiment in an 1851 speech at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Blacks and young people know who got hammered in the Big Bubble, Big Bust of 2003-2009. And which political party favors the few.
lessthantolerant March 11, 2013 at 2:49 AM
I have never understood how blacks could let liberalism and the left destroy then as they have. I have black friends shunned by their peers for acting white and yet they tell me that the liberals are really just a refaced Klan.

I sometimes wonder if they are not right.
In 1971, California attorney and Democratic political strategist Fred Dutton published his book 'Changing Sources of Power', advising the Dems to abandon the New Deal blue-collar workers and their fuddy-duddy philosophy of life based on "scarcity" and instead to embrace the boundlessly fluid vitalities (and voting strength) of the Boomers, in order to 'lead' them into the glorious 1970s.

When I first read it, it seemed to contain more 'strategy' than 'thought'. In 1955 David Potter had written in "People of Plenty" that American abundance had actually brought democracy, rather than the other way around. What would happen to democracy if that 'abundance' dissolved? (And in that very year of 1971 Nixon had unilaterally withdrawn the US from the Bretton Woods agreement, because the country could no longer hold up its role as the lynchpin of the postwar economic system.)

And along came Dutton pretty much insisting that the Dems had to take everything that almost wrecked the 1968 Democratic Convention and turn it all into the dogma that would control the 1972 Democratic Convention.

And yet only Dutton's vaunted "young" (not so far from fairy-tales themselves) and the monomaniacal cadres of revolution (for whom everything is a fairy-tale except their vision of the revolution) could possibly believe that you could kill the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs and yet still expect a steady supply of Golden Eggs.

Dutton came from California. I sometimes wonder where the Boomer-Dem dampdream would have been had it not been backlit by that Southern California light (itself freighted with the unthinking presumption of an eternally benevolent climate and geology, an ever-expanding economy, and the unboundaried leisure to indulge one's every fantasy. One thinks of Dustin Hoffmann floating in the family pool in "The Graduate".

So-called 'liberals' today can claim they had the best of intentions, but that's not enough. The warning signs were always there: their good intentions were not sufficient to deal with realities, just like the captain's good intention to get his passengers to New York on time were not sufficient to see 'Titanic' to safety.

Koo-kukachu, Mrs. Robinson. And 'Nearer, My God, To Thee'.

A History of American Liberalism should show that the world events which preceded it such
as the two world wars, the smaller limited
wars of Korea and Vietnam, and the economic
preponderance that those and other eventsgave
created a new family and personal increase in
income that made USA people over generous to the betterment of other countries, relaxed
the expenditure of disposable income and raised the standard of living of all people
living in the USA. It made USA the creator of progress, and peace keeper of the world
position not comfortable to liberalism that
forgot work and sacrifices made by over two
generations before.Who made USA # 1 in the world by the best mix of races and cultures human kind has ever seen.
Robert B Bregman March 10, 2013 at 9:12 PM
Mr. Siegel,
You quote talk of hipsters, riots, white-blacks and a bunch of other items in some kind of historical context that has nothing to do with the facts. I can't wait to see your "fanciful" history of "American Liberalism". Who are you going to quote in that book? And you're called a scholar. St Francis must be whirling in his grave.