The following is a lengthy, freewheeling interview with historian Darcy G. Richardson, who is challenging President Obama in several Democratic primaries. The interview was conducted recently by Brandon, a precocious 14-year-old, eighth grade student from Illinois. Brandon’s interview is reprinted here in its entirety.
1. First off, what made you want to run for President in this election?
Well, I was sincerely hoping that a better-known Democrat would enter the fray, a candidate of some national stature. My personal preference would have been former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, whose talents are largely being wasted in academia. We need him in Washington. I also believe that Rep. Dennis Kucinich would have been an articulate spokesman for the progressive values that so many Democrats hold near and dear, or possibly economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Sachs, who is often one of the few sane voices in a world seemingly gone mad, would have been an ideal candidate. He has a terrific grasp of the issues and understands that our current economic woes have more to do with the under-taxation of wealthy individuals and corporations than runaway government spending. He also understands that the road to economic recovery won’t be found in austerity measures — the kind of draconian budget cuts being advocated by the carnival barkers in the GOP — but rather in increased public investments in our crumbling infrastructure, job training, education, energy and other areas.
I was also hoping Ralph Nader would come up with a slate of a half-dozen or so candidates, public policy experts on the economy, the environment, labor, consumer rights, etc., but Nader’s plan failed to materialize. Beyond that, I think there were several others who also could have mounted credible challenges to President Obama in the primaries, including Jerry Brown, the one-time philosopher prince of American politics, and former Colorado Senator Gary Hart, both of whom are in their early to mid seventies. Even Mike Gravel, who’s now an octogenarian but still as feisty as ever, would have been acceptable. I really didn’t want to run, but when nobody stepped forward to file in the first-in-nation New Hampshire primary, I reluctantly decided to give a whirl.
John R. MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s Magazine, published a piece last month calling on progressives — at least those who haven’t yet given up entirely on politics — to take their cue from the late Allard Lowenstein, an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and leader of the Dump Johnson movement in 1967. MacArthur’s article, deliciously titled “President Obama Richly Deserves to be Dumped,” made the rounds on liberal blogs, but didn’t generate much reaction from the Democratic left.
Unfortunately, it’s getting pretty late for a “big name” challenger to enter the race, unless he or she is willing to mount some sort of last-minute campaign, a la Jerry Brown in 1976. Of course, Brown, who swept most of the later primaries that he entered — even accumulating a staggering write-in total in neighboring Oregon — didn’t officially enter the race until March 12 of that year. Incredibly, he didn’t make his first campaign trip outside of California until April 28 — far too late to have a serious chance at capturing the party’s nomination.
2. Does it make you angry that the media will not acknowledge your campaign or host debates between you and the other Democratic candidates?
To be perfectly honest, the media coverage up to this point is about what we expected. I like to joke that my candidacy is one of the best kept secrets in America. Seriously, we never anticipated participating in any debates with President Obama. It would be foolish of him to debate any of his primary challengers. We’re nobody, as voiceless as the rest of the 99%.
On the other hand, I was invited to take part in a couple of debates in New Hampshire, including a “Lesser Known Candidates” forum hosted by New Hampshire’s Institute for Politics at St. Anselm College, but we graciously declined. I really didn’t have any desire to participate in a forum with a guy promising a pony for every American while wearing a boot on his head, another advocating the construction of 10,000 clipper ships, a third promoting the idea of an “afterlife” when most Americans are deeply worried about this one, and yet another rambling on endlessly about some sort of Zionist conspiracy — all of which was capped off by the glitter-bombing of gay loathing, anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry by a satirical perennial candidate. Thanks, but no thanks.
3. As President, Barack Obama is better known than you are. A lot of people think Obama already has the Democratic nomination locked. What are your plans to defeat Obama and get the nomination?
Well, President Obama will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. I have absolutely no chance of defeating him in the primaries. In fact, one will probably need a magnifying glass to read my vote totals, as was the case in New Hampshire last week. The whole point of my candidacy is to give disaffected Democrats an opportunity to register a protest against the President, to gently nudge him to the left. President Obama, whom I believe is a good and decent man, lamentably squandered the first two years of his presidency by governing from the middle.
Columnist Glenn Greenwald has even gone so far as to describe Obama as a “centrist Republican.” At least Greenwald didn’t go as far as one of my supporters who, only partly in jest, recently suggested that “President Obama makes Richard Nixon look like a liberal.” For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with Greenwald’s description. Obama is a moderate, if not center-right President. He’s also the preferred candidate of the financial oligarchs.
In any case, I think it was the late Gene McCarthy who once quipped that the worst accidents usually occur in the middle of the road, and I think that pretty much sums up the Obama Presidency.
4. Do you think Barack Obama has been dealing with the issues well in his first term?
No, not at all. It would help, I think, if he actually understood what those issues were. I mean, the fact that President Obama initially appointed Larry Summers as chairman of his White House Economic Council, should have given everybody pause. Summers, who pocketed some $5.2 million as the managing director of one of the world’s largest hedge funds in the year prior to becoming Obama’s chief economic adviser in January 2009 — and that doesn’t include another $2.7 million he received in speaking fees from the same Wall Street firms that received bailout funds from U.S. taxpayers — is probably more responsible for the country’s current economic mess than any other individual.
As President Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to January 2001, Summers shaped and pushed the financial deregulation that unleashed the near-collapse of Wall
Lawrence H. Summers, President Obama’s White House economic adviser
Street in the autumn of 2008, particularly when he pushed through the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 during the final years of the Clinton Administration — legislation, as you know, that prohibited banks from doing both commercial and investment banking.
An architect-turned-enabler of this never-ending economic crisis, Summers later supported the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, legislation that recklessly mandated that financial derivatives, including the absurdly abstruse credit default swaps at the heart of the financial crisis involving nearly $1.3 trillion in subprime mortgages — deceptively bundled as legitimate investments during the Alan Greenspan-engineered housing bubble — could be traded between financial institutions without any government oversight whatsoever.
The Summers appointment told me that the President had no earthly clue how this devastating financial crisis happened in the first place and what kinds of measures are necessary to prevent a similar financial meltdown from happening again.
Things only got worse after that. In addition to failing to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, President Obama went back on his promise to include a public option in his health care bill. Moreover, he failed to assert his constitutional responsibility during the recent debt limit crisis and he’s indicated a willingness to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block. He also extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and failed to push for cap and trade. He also failed to close Guantanamo Bay and now, as incredible as it seems, he signed into law a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows for indefinite detention without charge or trial.
When President Obama signed that bill — legislation he had promised to veto for several months — I was reminded of Bertram Gross’s prescient warning about creeping fascism, how it would take hold in this country through steady and subtle progression while administered by a friendly face. Alarmingly, I think we’re reaching that point.
The economy, moreover, is a mess. Most Americans feel like they need a second mortgage just of fill their grocery carts — and it’s even a greater hardship for those single parent and working couples with two or more children. Meat and potatoes alone have increased sharply over the past two years, with ground beef increasing from an average of $2.23 per pound to $2.77, an increase of almost 25 percent, and potatoes — one of the least expensive vegetables of all — climbing by eight percent. Coupled with usurious interest rates on credit cards being charged by the same banks that were generously bailed out by U.S. taxpayers, utility rates, health insurance costs, gasoline and home heating oil, property taxes, rents, the cost of education, and other everyday expenses have been climbing steadily. Millions of homeowners in this country have continued to pay the same amount or more in local property taxes as the value of their homes have dropped precipitously, thanks to Wall Street’s recklessness. Yet wages, sadly, have remained stagnant.
These are the sort of everyday things that the privileged “one percent” never even notice.
Beyond that, President Obama has failed to articulate an optimistic vision for the future. While Mitt Romney and the Republicans seek to preserve the undeserved gains of the country’s wealthiest citizens, our Democratic President boasts of a meager 0.1 or 0.2 percent monthly drop in unemployment, as if that represents progress. The snail-like pace of the President’s economic recovery is cold comfort to some thirty million Americans currently without jobs or working only part-time, while millions of others still clinging to jobs have seen their hours and employee benefits slashed sharply. Moroever, it does little to alleviate the misery of the millions of citizens who have lost their jobs and their homes — sometimes both — during this financial crisis of Wall Street’s making, including the growing number of Americans who have had to settle for jobs that pay considerably less than the jobs they’ve lost.
This is something Obama’s policy elite fail to understand.
The slight decline in joblessness over the past few months, incidentally, has less to do with any significant increase in hiring by the private sector and is largely the result of the tens of thousands whose unemployment benefits have been completely exhausted or who have simply given up on the idea of finding a job.
We need a bold and imaginative President like Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy and a modern-day TVA that will put tens of thousands of idle and underemployed Americans back to work in constructing a North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA), an idea conceived by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and proposed by the late Sen. Frank Moss (D-Utah), while countless others begin repairing and improving our nation’s crumbling infrastracture.
Ronald Reagan, who was always good at imagining the past while rarely giving a thought to the future, was wrong. Government isn’t the problem. With a little creativity and vision, it can be the solution.
Corporate profits — or the dizzying accumulated wealth of its richest citizens, for that matter — should never be a nation’s measure of greatness.
5. On your website, you say it was a mistake for Obama to have pushed for cap-and-trade as weakly as he did. Why would you support cap-and-trade?
Well, I mentioned cap-and-trade because it was yet another example in a long litany of issues where President Obama failed to get something through Congress — even when he had majorities in both the House and Senate. The idea of cap-and-trade — a steady reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions — had been strongly endorsed by candidate Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. It was even endorsed by John McCain. Though far from perfect, it was nevertheless a good idea and should have been a “no-brainer,” as environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy asserted at the time.
The original draft of the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill, a market-driven system that set a ceiling on global warming pollution, wasn’t too bad, but the final version of the cap-and-trade legislation supported by President Obama and a majority of House Democrats in 2009 was so watered-down, containing so many concessions and exemptions for the coal industry, utilities, oil refineries, heavy industry and agribusinesses, that even some Democrats refused to go along — including Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio — on the grounds that the legislation was so weak that it might have made the problem of global warming even worse. It was woefully and dangerously inadequate. Of course, cap-and-trade legislation languished in the U.S. Senate shortly thereafter and President Obama eventually dropped any mention of it in his budget.
We urgently need strong climate change legislation if we’re serious about avoiding a global catastrophe, including imposing bans on new coal fired-power plants, new nuclear power plants, and all mountaintop coal removal. I agree with the Greens who say that we desperately need an immediate and drastic reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and substantial reductions in CO2 and SO2 emissions by the end of the decade, while simultaneously investing heavily in renewable noncarbon-based energy technologies.
6. You say on your website, “I’m advocating a capital levy on wealth, not unlike the proposals currently being debated in Germany and other European countries. Much of our current fifteen trillion dollar national debt should be recouped from the rich – the pampered and privileged class that hasn’t paid nearly its fair share in recent years.” Many believe the wealthy worked hard to get the money they have. Why should they be taxed more than the average American?
We have to stop coddling the rich in this country and one way to do it is to impose a capital levy on wealth. Hit them where it hurts, beginning with a Wall Street financial transaction tax. We should also consider some sort of protective tariff — at least for America’s few remaining badly-battered industries. Why should all the pain be felt by poor, working-class and middle-income Americans? “Free trade” has killed this country. It’s time we fight back. We need to shock the whole corrupted system and an unexpected electoral outpouring in some of the early Democratic primaries could provide the spark to make it happen. The idea of higher wealth taxes to finance mounting public debt is gaining ground in several European countries and I believe that it’s something that we should be taking a serious look at here in the United States.
As income inequality threatens the ability of the next generation to achieve the American dream — your generation, Brandon — it only makes sense that those with the greatest wealth, the so-called 1 percent, should bear a greater share of the nation’s tax burden. It’s a question of simple fairness and equity. The average hourly wage earner in this country has probably been paying a higher percentage in taxes than a multimillionaire like Mitt Romney. There’s something terribly wrong with that. While it’s undoubtedly true that some wealthy citizens worked hard for their money, many others simply inherited their wealth. I say spare no millionaire or billionaire — regardless of how they achieved their wealth.
7. Barack Obama’s stimulus package was a failure. He spent 447 billion dollars, and you say you would spend more in a second stimulus package. How would a stimulus package work by spending more money?
I respectfully disagree with the premise of your question. President Obama’s original $787 billion stimulus package wasn’t a failure. The problem is that it simply wasn’t large enough given the severity of the economic crisis that he inherited. There’s little question that the 2009 stimulus program saved hundreds of thousands of public sectors jobs, but much more was needed to stimulate our ailing economy. More should have been done to stimulate the private sector, especially medium-size and small businesses, the backbone of the U.S. economy.
I have to laugh every time I hear a Republican complain about the President’s 2009 stimulus package, particularly considering how many Republican governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures used some of that stimulus money to balance their own budgets without having to raise taxes, cut jobs or scale back existing programs.
It’s important to keep in mind just how dire the budget situation was in early 2009, when some 43 states faced budget shortfalls totaling a whopping $183 billion. Obama — and let’s give him his due — essentially saved the day. He ought to be their hero.
Republican governors across the country, including the half-witted Rick Perry in Texas, eagerly used stimulus money to avoid making hard choices in their states. Putting ideology aside, then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who ultimately paid a tremendous political price for his apostasy, courageously used $3.5 billion in stimulus money to balance the Florida budget that summer, while Perry — an outspoken critic of the President’s stimulus program — relied on those same stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of the budget shortfall in Texas. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Perry closed his state’s $6.6 billion deficit in fiscal years 2010-2011 with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, thereby avoiding having to dip into his state’s $9 billion “rainy day” fund to meet the state’s obligations.
The biggest hypocrite of all, however, was Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, whose state received more than $5.2 billion in federal funding from the Recovery Act. Only a few months after denouncing the stimulus package as “useless and irresponsible,” the Louisiana governor was found touring his state handing out jumbo-sized checks to local officials — money that came directly from the same stimulus package that he had previously criticized.
8. What would you do about the illegal immigrants in our country?
Nothing. Instead of placing the blame for this severe economic downtown squarely on the Lords of Finance on Wall Street where it clearly belongs, the Republicans have found a convenient scapegoat in the estimated 11-20 million illegal aliens living in the United States. This is nothing new. As a nation, we’ve often — and shamefully — turned on our own inhabitants during periods of profound economic crisis.
During the Great Depression, for example, authorities in Florida and California went to great lengths to prevent impoverished individuals from entering their respective states. Both states set up roadblocks, manned by law enforcement officials, to prevent tens of thousands of destitute migrant workers displaced by the ravages of the Dust Bowl from entering their states. In Florida, anybody crossing the state line was forced to show proof that they weren’t impoverished. Many destitute migrant workers were turned away at the state’s border — and these were U.S. citizens.
The Obama Administration has played into this anti-immigration hysteria by reportedly deporting nearly 1.2 million people in the past three years — more than any previous administration.
I abhor the Obama administration’s increase in deportations and believe that the detention centers for illegal immigrants — cash cows for struggling, desperate municipalities and private prisons alike — are a national disgrace. They’re nothing more than warehouses for men and women who have already suffered tremendous trauma in their lives — the kind of poverty and neglect most Americans can’t even begin to imagine — while seeking a better life in the United States. Many risked their lives to come here. Our detention centers are disgracefully fraught with criminal abuses and medical neglect — according to one recent study, more than 120 people have died in our detention centers during the past eight years — and most of those detained are denied a fundamental right afforded most Americans: the right to legal counsel. And nobody cares…
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have become empty and meaningless words in 21st Century America. We need a humane immigration policy in this country, one with a clear and easy path to citizenship.
9. On your website, you say, “America doesn’t need a fourth Bush term.” Some believe that Bush was much better than Obama, and others believe that Bush was much worse than Obama. Why do you think Bush and Obama are about the same?
It doesn’t really matter which one was worse. They’re both pretty bad. One burdened us with this sluggish economy — the result of a financial meltdown that his administration never saw coming — and the other has no earthly clue how to get us out of it. Neither of them should have ever been elected President in the first place. Both men were elevated to a position that neither of them was adequately prepared for — precisely the kind of thing that happens in a narcissistic and celebrity-driven culture like ours where the average citizen pays far more attention to “reality” television shows and other forms of entertainment than they do to public policy and politics.
Our ailing economy, created by our dysfunctional, corporate-controlled government in Washington, is a direct result of our ill-informed citizenry.
But to answer you question, how can anybody really claim that Obama is better than Bush, since he’s largely pursuing the same misguided policies? The President’s billion-dollar re-election campaign, for example — a campaign that’s heavily financed by Wall Street interests and reportedly having a really difficult time finding volunteers — has recently been touting the notion that Obama kept a 2008 campaign promise by ending the war in Iraq by the end of 2011. It’s one of the few promises they can say he kept with a straight face, but even that claim turns out to be somewhat dubious, if not misleading.
Anyone not suffering from partial or total memory loss clearly recalls that the Iraq parliament voted to approve the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration on November 27, 2008 — some 55 days before Obama took office. That agreement, intensely negotiated over a period of several months, called for the removal of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009, and mandated the removal of the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq by December 31, 2011.
So, here we have the spectacle of a President taking credit for ending a war — an unjust, illegal and immoral war based on lies, mind you — that his predecessor not only started, but also concluded. Despite headlines to the contrary, the Obama Administration didn’t negotiate the end of the Iraq war. It simply presided over it.
Similarly, a cynic could say that President Obama is merely presiding over the demise of the middle-class — working-class and poor Americans, of course, already having been completely decimated by Wall Street’s recklessness. Obama didn’t cause America’s long decline and the resulting demise of the middle class, but at the same time he’s doing little to prevent its inevitability.
Anybody can preside over things. A leader makes things happen.
10. You worked for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaigns in 1972 and 1976. How much of a political effect did McCarthy have on you?
Well, I actually worked on McCarthy’s ’76 and ’88 campaigns, the latter of which was barely a footnote in a career that spanned more than four decades. I also assisted him in his 1992 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination — his “last hurrah.” McCarthy had a profound impact on my own politics. Gene always insisted that his independent candidacy in 1976, challenging the burdensome and unfair election laws across the country, was more important than his widely-publicized run for the presidency eight years earlier when he drove Lyndon B. Johnson from the White House over the war in Vietnam.
An original thinker and philosophical voice, Gene was that rare politician who had the ability, as one journalist put it, to see around corners, often framing issues in what sort of effect they would have twenty or thirty years down the road. He was very different than the majority of today’s lawmakers, most of whom can’t think beyond the next election cycle. I miss him a lot.
Like Adlai Stevenson, Gene was too smart for the American people. Everybody remembers the famous story about the woman in the ’52 or ’56 campaign who told Stevenson that he couldn’t possibly lose since all of the intelligent people were for him. “Yes, madam,” Stevenson reportedly replied, “but I need a majority.” The same thing was true of the witty and erudite Minnesotan.
11. In the 2008 presidential election, you advised Socialist Party USA nominee Brian Moore. Why did you choose to support Moore? Did Moore have any political effect on you?
Brian is a close friend of mine. As a third-party historian, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances across the political spectrum, from the Constitution Party on the right to the Greens and Socialists on the left — and a good deal of Libertarians and assorted anarchists mixed in for good measure.
One of the most influential individuals in my life, Max Weiner, founder of the Consumers Education & Protective Association (CEPA), had been a “red diaper baby” during the Great Depression. Max had been arrested and spent a couple of nights in jail back in the late 1930s while attempting to put the Communist Party on the ballot in Pennsylvania. A frail and diminutive man, Max had more physical courage than anyone I’ve ever met and was one of the country’s leading consumer activists — saving Philadelphia consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rate hikes, mass transit fare hikes, auto insurance increases, and taxes —long before Ralph Nader first landed on the national scene. Max, whose tiny yet feisty Consumer Party remained a fixture in Philadelphia politics for more than a quarter century, devoted the last twenty or thirty years of his life fighting for working-class and poor Philadelphians.
Max, of course, had an important ally in Democrat David Cohen, the city’s most progressive city councilman. Cohen, who later died in office at the age of 90, cut his teeth in politics by working in Adlai Stevenson’s first presidential campaign, was elected to city council in 1967, supported the Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy campaigns in 1968, and briefly ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 1971. One of the city’s most unswerving and principled advocates for social and economic justice, Cohen was also a a prominent leader in the drive to recall controversial, law-and-order Mayor Frank L. Rizzo in 1976. Cohen’s son, Mark, is currently the longest serving member of the Pennsylvania legislature.
Norman Thomas, who sought the presidency in six consecutive presidential elections between 1928 and 1948 — acting as America’s conscience in each of those quadrennial campaigns — is one of my heroes, so I certainly had no qualms about supporting Brian’s quixotic candidacy on the Socialist ticket four years ago.
As it turned out, I also supported a couple of other third-party candidates that year, including Charles Jay, a former boxing promoter and sportswriter who ran on the libertarian-oriented Boston Tea Party ticket. Charles is a great guy. Founded by edgy, self-styled anarchist and libertarian writer Tom Knapp of St. Louis and currently chaired by Darryl W. Perry, a bright, young freedom activist and author from San Antonio, the Boston Tea Party shares almost nothing in common with the banal and co-opted Tea Party movement.
Brian P. Moore, the Socialist Party’s candidate for president in 2008
In any case, Brian Moore was relatively new to socialism and the Socialist Party USA when he ran in 2008, so the campaign certainly had plenty of challenges beyond what the typical third-party candidate normally faces. He was learning as he went along, and I’m proud of the effort he made. It was a difficult undertaking.
Late in the campaign, Brian announced his prospective Cabinet — a fascinating administration that would have included, among others, Chicago physician Quentin Young, a longtime advocate for single-payer health care in the United States, as Secretary of Health & Human Services. He also intended to ask Ramsey Clark to head the Justice Department, a position the aging radical lawyer held during LBJ’s presidency. If memory serves me correctly, Brian also wanted to create a new Cabinet-level position and hoped to name a Vermont Socialist as the country’s first Secretary of Culture & Arts. That would’ve been pretty cool.
More importantly, I believe Brian intended to appoint Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as head of the White House Economic Council. Stiglitz, as you might recall, spoke to Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park a few months ago. Stiglitz, who laid out a brilliant four-point plan for ending America’s debt crisis back in August, would have been a refreshing and welcome contrast to President Obama’s initial appointment of Larry Summers, the hedge fund hyena and Wall Street lapdog who helped get us into this mess. One thing is certainly clear. Brian Moore’s administration would have looked a hell of a lot different than the Goldman Sachs-occupied White House that we’re saddled with today.
12. You have written five books and they all are about United States politics. Do you plan on writing any more books?
Thanks for asking. I have several books in the works. My sixth book, the fifth in a seven-volume series on independent and third-party politics, is finished and will be published later this year. I’m also working on a biography of the late Harold E. Stassen, the “boy wonder” who could never stop running for President, another, The Spirit of ’76, about Eugene McCarthy’s largely-forgotten independent campaign for the White House in the year of the bicentennial, and a separate book on the current economic crisis, tentatively titled, Collapse: How the Managerial Class Plunged the Nation into the Greatest Depression. I had hoped to have the latter book finished before embarking on this campaign, but it’ll have to wait until later. I’ll probably publish it sometime in the middle of Obama’s second term — you know, when the country is in a full-blown depression.
13. Who is your favorite President? Who inspired you to get into politics?
While admittedly there have been times when I actually miss Bill Clinton, especially when I think about the relative prosperity and the 22 million jobs created during his eight
Federal Reserve Chairman Marriner Eccles
years in office, the answer is probably Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite revisionist claims to the contrary — you know, the free-market fundamentalists who’ve essentially created a cottage industry in casting aspersions on the New Deal, ludicrously arguing, in some cases, that FDR’s policies actually prolonged the Great Depression — Roosevelt, with the Socialist Party’s Norman M. Thomas persistently pressuring him from the Left, deserves enormous credit for pulling the country out of its economic misery.
Monetary policy also had a lot to do with the recovery and for that we should thank Roosevelt for surrounding himself with some pretty capable people, not the least of whom was Marriner Eccles, a Mormon banker from Utah who discovered Keynesian economics before Maynard Keynes himself. Roosevelt appointed Eccles chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1934 — a post he held until 1948. The free-marketeers, of course, rarely mention the important role the policies pursued by Eccles played in our nation’s recovery.
As Robert Reich observed in his recent book, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future,” Eccles realized that private investment was unlikely to occur in a severely distressed economy, that the demand side of the economy — consumer spending — was the only thing that would really drive capital investment and eventually lead to a full recovery. Eccles was right — then and now. Investment from so-called “job creators” will only take place in a climate of relatively high prosperity, when the purchasing power of ordinary Americans increases. Why do you suppose U.S. corporations have been sitting on an estimated $2 trillion in cash the past few years? They clearly don’t want to invest in this sort of uncertain economic environment.
Much to his credit, Eccles, who became a millionaire by the time he was 22, prodded the Roosevelt administration to adopt bold and imaginative stimulus measures, including providing unemployment benefits for the jobless, massive government spending on public works, government refinancing of mortgages, a federal minimum wage, federally-supported old age pensions, and higher income and inheritance taxes on the wealthy. He advocated all of that in 1933, some three years before Keynes published his famous “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.”
Those who advocate austerity measures — a group that includes not only the entire Republican presidential field, but also President Obama himself — could learn a lot from a wealthy Republican like Marriner Eccles. It’s not often one can learn from them — especially today. Moreover, if deficit reduction is our only choice, we might as well forget about politics altogether and just surrender, sit back and enjoy some music. In fact, I can think of the perfect song: David Gilmour’s “There’s no way out of here.”
In all seriousness, anti-Keynesian economics are a recipe for disaster during an economic slump. As Paul Krugman and others have pointed out, policymakers and politicians in Europe, fixated almost exclusively on deficits instead of jobs and income, are about to learn that lesson the hard way.
The only way we’re going to recover from this devastating economic crisis of Wall Street’s making is through increased government spending, stimulative spending that actually puts money in people’s pockets. The private sector has already proven that it is unwilling to provide that stimulus, to provide the kind of capital medium-sized and small businesses — the backbone of the U.S. economy — desperately need to grow our economy. As Eccles realized nearly eighty years ago, it’s up to the federal government to make it happen and that involves a combination of fiscal and monetary measures.
In answer to your second question, I was probably most inspired by Eugene McCarthy’s insurgent antiwar candidacy in 1968. I was only twelve at the time, but I was one of those who was “Clean for Gene.” My late father was stationed at Rhein Main Air Force Base, so we were living in West Germany during most of the 1968 presidential campaign and I remember anxiously looking forward to reading the latest issue of the Stars & Stripes to find out what was happening back in the United States. That’s when Gene McCarthy caught my eye. My history teacher, a native of Kansas, was a huge Bobby Kennedy supporter that year and I remember some of the lively discussions we had during class. I also remember how distraught he was the morning afer RFK was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night of the California primary. We were all pretty devastated. American politics really hasn’t been the same since then.
14. How much support has your campaign been receiving? What can people do to help your campaign?
Not much, but that’s okay. We don’t plan to unfurl the white flag of surrender any time soon. Democrats deserve a choice and we’ll hang around as long as possible, even if it means running on fumes. Having said that, I’m pleased to report that we experienced a mild uptick in support following President Obama’s decision to sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), allowing for indefinite detention without due process. It was a stunning betrayal of the rule of law, particularly coming from somebody who once taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. While his latest reversal didn’t produce the sort of outrage among progressives that one might have expected, a few of those angered by the President’s latest betrayal have found their way into our camp. That’s probably the most encouraging development so far.
The Green Party’s Jill Stein
In addition to a growing number of progressive Democrats, including activist Aldous C. Tyler of Madison, Wisconsin, and union organizer Alan Maki of Minnesota, as well as a couple of local officeholders in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, I’ve also had a few Greens across the country offer their support. The Green Party, of course, has an excellent presidential candidate of its own, incidentally, in Jill Stein, a physician and longtime progressive activist from Massachusetts. While speaking for America’s better self, Jill’s candidacy is likely to cause more than a few sleepless nights in the White House this fall.
My supporters also include a former state chair of the California-based Peace & Freedom Party and even a young Philadelpha-area activist involved in Rocky Anderson’s fledgling Justice Party. I’m also hearing from quite a few college students and some of the Occupy folks —our last best hope for the kind of country we thought our children would enjoy. The Occupy Wall Street movement realizes that it’s later than we think. We should be joining with them and supporting them unconditionally. We also recently picked up the endorsement of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA), an organization formed last year that hopes to create a permanent progressive movement in American politics. They’re a pretty decent group.
On the other hand, people are really hurting financially, so I’m really reticent about asking them to dig too deep into their pockets for what will clearly amount to a lost cause. Contributions are welcome, of course, but any help is deeply appreciated — letters-to-the-editor, blogging, organizing an event, literature distribution, whatever people are willing to do will help us immensely. This is a really decentralized effort, so the campaign is essentially whatever people want it to be. Folks can volunteer on my website at www.darcy2012.com
That’s not to say there haven’t been some disappointments along the way, the most disturbing of which has probably been the growing number of progressives who are flocking to Ron Paul’s candidacy. While I probably wouldn’t go as far as Megan Carpentier, who recently described them as “Ron Paul’s Useful Idiots on the Left,” it’s pretty clear that most of Paul’s progressive, antiwar supporters — those who’ve been turned on by his non-interventionist foreign policy views — haven’t taken a serious look at the Texas congressman’s domestic policies, specifically his austerity agenda that calls for cutting a trillion dollars from the federal budget in his first year in office, thereby decimating Medicaid, WIC, LIHEAP (Low Income Heat Assistance) and other programs designed to assist our most vulnerable citizens.
I can’t understand how anybody but the most reactionary among us — those who dwell in what William F. Buckley, Jr., once called “the fever swamp of the berserk right” — would want to destroy our nation’s social safety net, and that’s precisely what you would get with a Ron Paul Presidency.
15. Why should people vote for Darcy Richardson on Election Day?
Well, we sort of know what the alternative is, at least on the Democratic side — four more years of the same. I guess it comes down to whether or not Democrats want another
Tracy Chapman: “Talking about a revolution”
four years of endless capitulation, caving into the Republicans time and again on the economy, energy, the environment and civil liberties. If disillusioned Democrats want to send President Obama a message, I’ve been suggesting that they can vote for me or they can vote for themselves.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the American people have lost faith in all of our institutions. The American people are hurting, and they’re hurting badly. According to the U.S. Census, nearly half of the citizens in this country — 146.4 million, including more than 49 million who fall below the poverty level — are considered low-income. That’s a disgrace.
What was it that Tracy Chapman said? “Don’t you know, they’re talkin’ bout a revolution. It sounds like a whisper. Don’t you know. They’re talkin’ about a revolution. It sounds like a whisper.”
Tracy, one of our truly talented national treasures, is right. It’s time to whisper really loud. In fact, let’s shout. It’s time to take our country back from the elite, super-wealthy. It’s time for the working class and the poor to take their share.
“And finally the tables are starting to turn…talk about a revolution.”
Sounds good to me.
Maybe we can finally say it out loud… It’s time for real change.
Thank you, Brandon, for your excellent questions. Long may you run, my young friend. Long may you run. Your questions were both penetrating and right on the mark — not the usual fluff stuff — and far, far better than most of the inquiries posed by jaded reporters more than twice your age from the mainstream media.