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I missed out on the site's Kos-inspired "Libertarian Dem" philosophy discussion because I had too much going on, but I wanted to add my two cents.  I think it's misleading and awkward to try to jam the traditionally hostile terms "Libertarian" and "Democrat" together -- it forces us to round off edges and ignore complexities that are often fundamental to the terms.  But I agree with Kos' underlying point: we need to draw a distinction between the individualistic, self-empowering ideology shared by much of the netroots and the institutional, communitarian values promoted by traditional liberalism.  I think Social Capitalism bridges that gap.

First of all, I want to do something I'm usually very uncomfortable doing: I want to give props to the DLC.  I strongly disagree with what they've become (more on that below), but I think we have to recognize that the desire to shake off some of the more dogmatic elements of liberal philosophy was founded.  By 1980, the (very admirable) focus on full employment and government programs had, in part, fueled massive inflation, causing terrible economic turmoil.  Reagan was our country's bitter pill to swallow in response to that disaster, and we have been paying for it ever since.  However, the Democrats were consistently unable to remove themselves from these ideological shackles to find a way to communicate with the American people.  This was partly due to bad candidates -- Mondale and Dukakis were not exactly inspiring -- but it was also due to a perception that our ideologies had simply failed.

That is why I think conservative and moderate Democrats performed a great service in the 1990s by shaking the party to its very core.  They created a deconstructed Democratic party, a party that was willing and able to discuss its core ideals openly and passionately.  In particular, they allowed us to engage the idea of the market, and generally capitalist modes of viewing public policy once again.  Clinton's "Third Way", while it has been much-derided among us latte-sipping Volvo-driving types, promised to shake up the boundaries of conservative and liberal thinking on economic issues.  Unfortunately, it was leavened with a whole lot of political expediency, and was never clearly articulated.  Nevertheless, I think we can now look at Clinton as leading by example, and extract some meaningful lessons from his term in office.

I believe Bill Clinton's greatest achievement was to finally prove that, in the hands of a capable administrator and responsible government, capitalism works.  In fact, capitalism works incredibly well -- increasing median wages and decreasing unemployment in nearly every sector of the populace.  Yes, there were things I did not agree with: wholesale dismantling of welfare, a lack of political will on healthcare, and an unreasonable faith in the power of free trade.  But they were dwarfed by his achievements, most of which are only clear in their absence.  Over the last quarter century, we had only one President who was deadly concerned with cleaning out the Augean stables of our budget, only one President concerned with promoting international peace and political stability, only one President devoted to maintaing major government programs like Social Security in a sustainable way, only one President that has been sincere about conserving our environment, and only one President that has understood America's strength lies in its scientific development.

I believe Bill Clinton was this era's major proponent of Social Capitalism -- the idea that capitalism works best when the government is maximizing people's ability to compete.  The term has two parts: it is undeniable capitalist in that it makes use of market forces to the greatest degree possible, but it is "social" to the extent that government is bold and unapologetic in maintaining competition for the greatest number.  To many here, this sounds like a right wing talking point, but I believe it is at the crux of what we as Progressives hold dear.  We do not want government programs layering us with third world bureaucracy any more than we want government watchdogs probing our bedrooms with third world morality.  We are in no hurry to return to an era of "nurturing parent" paternalists, tut-tutting cultural development for its lack of morality.  

But we believe that every single one of us deserves a chance.  Within the heart of every human beats an important, valuable individual that can make our country a better place.  But you can't achieve your potential if people are just judging you by the color of your skin, or your gender, or who you love.  You can't achieve your greatness if you're forced to carry an unwanted child to term.  You can't compete if you become seriously ill because you couldn't afford healthcare.  You can't become an entrepreneur if you're shackled by debt.  

Our economy has always been driven by entrepreneurs -- risk takers who gamble everything on a wild dream.  The strength of capitalism is that it allows this risk-taking, much more easily than other systems.  Our nation has grown and prospered precisely because it has subsidized risk.  Yet today we find independent action riskier than ever.  Would Thomas Edison have risked it all on crazy electrical gizmos if he had to deal with today's bankruptcy laws, or affording individual health insurance?  How many of tomorrow's Thomas Edisons are we preventing with our current destruction of the social safety net?

Conservatism, at least in the post-Reagan era, is all about preserving those inequalities.  It is about maintaining a system which makes a few people incredibly wealthy, while destroying the ability of each of us to rise above our economic destiny.  Conservatives believe you should be rewarded for being born rich, Democrats believe you should be rewarded for working hard.  We believe government should do whatever possible to make it easier for you to follow your dreams, because every new dream is a new point of competition -- and competition fuels capitalism.

Throughout our history, certain individuals have stepped in when America was suffering, and have promoted this idea of Social Capitalism, albeit with different names.  Clinton was one of these, as were both Roosevelts.  I believe our next great American President will need to promote this strain of capitalist thinking again.

Originally posted to ChicagoDem on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:49 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  NOT an economist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fladem, Simplify

    So if I'm on the wrong track, feel free to call this bunk... but it seemed clear to me.

    Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

    by ChicagoDem on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 09:50:52 PM PDT

  •  Be careful (2+ / 0-)

    Be careful, because what you describe at social capitalism is not social capital and it might be too easy to confuse the terms.  I have been reading some economic anthropologists lately who suggest a very similar dynamic that you are describing but they call it I think population dynamics.  Their argument is that we make a mistake trying to impose capitilist ideals that the middle class has developed in this country on other societies or even more marginal populations in our own country.  We want individuals to compete, because (coming from a Darwinian perspective) we are a very goal driven species.  But they need to compete based on their own indigenous wants and needs.

    •  Yeah (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      claude, fladem

      Totally agree with this:

      But they need to compete based on their own indigenous wants and needs.

      I mean individuals have opinions.  "The market" is just a sum of those opinions.  So the market is going to be a hell of a lot different for some things in, say, Iran than here.  But I don't think we can deny the fact that it exists.  At heart, the idea is that people want certain things, and they'll try different ways to get them.  I don't think we can or should discourage that.  I just think we should be providing ways so that everyone can try out their own ways of getting the stuff they want (and I'm using "stuff" in a broad sense -- material objects, but also cultural values, political goals, etc...).

      I've been thinking about the link b/w "social capital" and "social capitalism" too.  I do think they're connected, though a bit more ephemerally.  As Democrats, we believe that individual empowerment cannot take place except in the context of community support.  We need strong community institutions if every one of us is really going to be able to compete.  The rich come with their own very powerful social capital connections, but by building community we can provide similar connections to everyone.

      Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

      by ChicagoDem on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:06:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  King Clinton? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    overturned turtle, zorba

    Could you tell me exactly what Clinton achievements were able to dwarf his dismantling of welfare, a lack of political will on healthcare, and an unreasonable faith in the power of free trade?

    And when did he promote international peace and political stability?  Is this a reference to his bombing of Iraq the whole entire 8 years he was in office?  His bombing of Somalia and Serbia?  Failed to do anything in Rwanda?  Invaded Haiti?  NAFTA?

    •  Uhm (3+ / 0-)

      Come on, have you been paying attention in the last 6 years?  Yes, there were things Clinton could have done differently, but compared to the other "leaders" bookending him, he did each of the things I mentioned.

      Somalia was a situation handed to him by Bush I, and he got out very quickly.  After "Blackhawk Down", every Western nation's appetite for military intervention decreased, and while I strongly believe we should have intervened in Rwanda I don't think a unilateral occupation would have turned out well.  The Belgians who caused the problem weren't exactly chomping at the bit to throw in troops either.  For whatever reason, there was strong multilateral will to intervene in Kosovo, so the US helped.  I classify this as maintaining order -- we will help you if you ask us, but not if we're not wanted.  It's certainly better than lying our way into a war.

      And I do believe that keeping Saddam contained the way Clinton did was necessary.  That's a big Gordian knot there, and the options were either to ease up, keep him contained, or push regime change.  Option A wasn't going to happen (and might have had some pretty awful results if it did), and we've seen how terribly Option C turned out.  Clinton also spent quite a bit of time bombing Afghanistan hunting down a certain Saudi mujhadeen killer, but I see you didn't include that on your wall of infamy.

      NAFTA blows, and I wish Clinton (and, for that matter Kerry and the other Dem Senators who supported it) had more foresight.  But I understand the political reasoning -- we needed a way to interface with the rest of the world, preferably on our terms.  We had a GOP Congress on top of that -- to the best of our knowledge, NAFTA was the best deal we could have.  Although I do think the Admin should have been more vigilant about including and enforcing trade and environmental protections.

      Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

      by ChicagoDem on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:16:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Clinton got out very quickly? (0+ / 0-)

        On December 9th, 1992 the first US Marines land on the beach in Somalia.  On August 26th. 1993 US Special Forces arrive in Somalia.  Clinton declares that American troops are to be fully withdrawn from Somalia by March 31st, 1994!  You call that quick?  And what about the thousands of people they murdered while they were there for more than a year?

        •  Transition (0+ / 0-)

          Going from Marines to Spec Forces to withdrawal.

          Somalia was a political bomb Bush I had thrown right at him.  If he had just jumped out, it would have killed his political capital right there.

          Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

          by ChicagoDem on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 07:04:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Welfare (0+ / 0-)

      was, is, and ever will be one of the worst ideas Democrats ever had.

      Don't get me wrong, people need help, but that system was a pure loser.

      •  Welfare one of the worst ideas... (0+ / 0-)

        Why do say that?

        •  Because it ended up being a trap (0+ / 0-)

          for poor people.

          There was no incentive to work, that was the worst effect.  So it wasn't a help. It did nothing to cure poverty.  

          I don't believe in continuing to reward bad behavior.  If people are down on their luck, you give them help, food stamps, child care, and education.  You give them the tools to climb out of poverty.

          •  Call It 'Investment' (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ChicagoDem

            Since the topic was called "Social Capitalism," we might as well us the language of that economic perspective.

            A company that neglected maintenance of its means of production would generally be considered irresponsible. If they did not invest in their business and upgrade their systems they would tend to become less productive, less competitive. Why does capitalism apply capital investment to assembly lines, computers and software, and all of the other means of production, but always seems to try to use the human capital on the cheap?

            Maybe it's the way business in this country has gotten focused on their Quarterly Profits that causes the neglect of Long - Term investment strategies. Many of the causes of the Labor movement have been focused toward these elements - a living wage, health care, safety, time-off benefits - that are actually to business' advantage. A healthy employee is more productive. An employee confident that they and their families will be able to get by will tend toward loyalty. Federal acts like Family & Medical Leave are good examples of this.

          •  I think (0+ / 0-)

            you got your idea of what welfare was from GOP talking points rebroadcast through the mass media and your class bias interfered with your critical thinking. Have you ever known any actual poor people?

            By and large, the "Great Society" programs actually worked.

            Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

            by alizard on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 03:08:44 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Think again (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ChicagoDem

              Class bias?  At one time I was extremely poor, a hair away from having to go on welfare, myself.  So I think it fair to say I know some poor people.  Still do.

              You say,

              By and large, the "Great Society" programs actually worked.

              I was speaking about welfare.  Tell me what the objective's were, and whether it was successful.

  •  Here's some things to think about (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    overturned turtle, zorba

    First, the history of human civilization is not one of competition.  Successful species do not compete with either each other or other species on a widespread basis, but the competition that does occur draws attention.  Yes, in many species males spend time battling for reproductive opportunities.  But if you look at the overall picture they spend very little of their time and effort in that competition.  Some males have specialized equipment for competitive behavior, such as seasonal horns, but that is one specialization out of many.  It's just really noticable.  Among the females of the same species we often see tremendous cooperaton in raising the young.  Similarly, the wars that humans have fought draw a lot of attention, but it is cooperation that hsa given us all the things we consider good in society.

    Second-the American myth of the rugged individual is pervasive, but it is a myth.  Yes, ideas of a few people have contributed to the development of this nation, but no where near as much as the individual freedoms of general working people.  I'm not against risk as a part of the socioeconomic equation-far from it.  But it is often given far more credit than it deserves.  In part because we do not hear about the failures, except for a few truly spectacular ones.  Edison himself said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% persperation.  But we tend to ignore the persperation part of it and focus on what inspiration has done.

    Live Free or Die-words to live by

    by ForFreedom on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:31:26 PM PDT

    •  I really have trouble squaring this statement (0+ / 0-)

      "First, the history of human civilization is not one of competition."  with any reasonable reading of human history.  We must be reading from different history books, because to me it looks like human civilization is nothing BUT competition.

      Of course, that is much of the problem....

      •  i'll split the differece/launch the cliche, then (0+ / 0-)

        The history of human civilization (oy, that's the statement I've got trouble squaring) is largely and broadly defined as a result of competition AND cooperation, the major revolutions taking place where these two concepts meet.

        If I'm reading you right, ForFreedom, you seem to be suggesting the idea that cooperation is superior to raw competition as a strategy for individual and group success. I definitely agree with that.

        •  Not even so much that it is superior (0+ / 0-)

          but that cooperative behaviors outweigh competitive behaviors by an enormous margin, but that they do not get recorded because they are not dramatic.

          Really simple example: We hear about a car accident at an intersection because someone broke the law.  We don't hear about the thousands of cars that went through that interesection safely because people followed the law well enough.

          Live Free or Die-words to live by

          by ForFreedom on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 09:24:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  We probably are (0+ / 0-)

        because most history books only record the competitive behaviors.

        History books tend to record the major events without covering how people actually lived.  they cover the competitive war, but not the huge cooperative infrastructure that built the tools and weapons for the war, and made the war worth fighting (from the perception of those who fought it) in the first place.  Why have a war to defend territory unless that territory is worht something?  What makes that territory worth something?  The cooperative efforts that make it farmland, or a mine, or a city or any other added value above and beyond the land itself.

        When you look at the history of technology it shows a much different picture than what you look at political history.

        Live Free or Die-words to live by

        by ForFreedom on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 09:20:50 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I dunno (0+ / 0-)

          I mean history contains components of both.  Sure, people are pulling together to make things better, but why?  Because they just generally want things to get better out of some ideological motivation, or because they want to make sure they always have enough food, water, Shiny Things, etc...?

          I think it's foolish to ignore the fact that most people act out of self-interest.  The trick is to harness that self-interest to work towards cooperation instead of against it.

          Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

          by ChicagoDem on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 09:25:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Perhaps a different term (0+ / 0-)

            than self-interest.  I'd be OK with needs and wants.  Self interest is too one-dimensional, because most of our actions to address needs and wants that are more complex than simple self-interest.

            On that basis needs and wants are the prime motivator for peoples actions.  Occasionally people do act ideologically.

            But the core point is that humans more often work cooperatively than competitively.  Certainly competition has played a role in our history.  What I'm saying is that the record is distorted because only certain forms of action tend to be recorded-the dramatic ones.  Even in peaceful actions this is true-we pay attention to the Great Pyramid, but not as much to the infrastructure of the country that built it.

            And I'm' not saying that paying attention to the dramatic is wrong-it's perfectly natural.  But it does not necessarily produce a good basis for developing future plans.

            Live Free or Die-words to live by

            by ForFreedom on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 12:41:45 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The one thing Clinton did NOT do (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    overturned turtle, zorba

    was prove capitalism works.  

    About the only thing he did do was move to the right while placating the Democrat left with relatively minor crumbs.

    Don't get me wrong, I liked the guy, but in hindsight, I think he sold us a fake bill of goods.

  •  Along time ago... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claude, ChicagoDem, Simplify

    In the early 80's there was considerable discussion about the subjects this diary raises.  A group in the Senate - the neo-liberals - tried to square liberal values of egalitarianism and community with an understanding of the power of the markets.

    Note - do not confuse the neo-liberals of this era with the neo-liberalism practiced by the IMF and symbolized by the Washington consensus of the 90's.

    I worked for one - Gary Hart - and I think he was very much onto something. If you read the book he wrote prior to the '84 campaign you will find this discussed.  

    The neo liberals of that era differ in some critical respects from the DLC mindset.  The neo-liberals were not willing to comprimise core liberal values while the DLCers were and I believe are.  See for example Micky Kaus's book The End of Equality.

    The World is more complicated now - and any liberal understanding of markets must now consider Globalization and its discontents (See the book by the same title).  Nonetheless the stuff that was written over  20 years ago is still a useful starting point to create a liberal economic aganda.

    •  I agree (0+ / 0-)

      I think a major problem with the MODERN DLC is that it has replaced a willingness to incorporate some elements of market ideology into a liberal framework with a fethization of "compromise".  It has chosen to dogmatically move to the right on EVERY issue, regardless of the merits.  In effect, it has become as ideological as any "Old School" Democratic organization -- it's just that they've adopted Republican ideology.

      Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

      by ChicagoDem on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 07:16:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Democratic Socalism! (0+ / 0-)

    n/t

  •  Clintonian Democracy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChicagoDem

    I'm willing to believe it.

    Despite being seen (occaisonally)as a foaming at the mouth anti-corporatist, all I'd like is some balance.  Being 61, I lived through the whole swing to the left in the 60s and 70s and watched some of it go to the point of absurdity. I've also seen the Right take it to the limits and now it's time to swing back again. Tricky, finding that ballance.

    The individual/society dichotomy. Been going on a long time and we need a new iteration of the balance. Finding that balance is (or should be) the art of politics.

    -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

    by claude on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 10:56:46 PM PDT

  •  This Diary Is Dangerously Naive (0+ / 0-)

    The dominant thinkers in capitalism are far more liberal than they have been but they are not liberal. The American worker advanced very little during the Clinton years. But more important than that, the Clinton years left the Democratic party almost completely unprincipled. They now believe that if they raise a lot of money and get "Independent" votes, nothing else matters. The moment the Republicans won the White House, the Democrats were totally cowed. The "spirit" of this supposed "Social Capitalism" doesn't inspire Democrats to stand for anything. It inspired them only to suck up.

    More than that, this "Social Capitalist" thinking makes a weak, uninspiring message that fails to draw votes from where we needs them. Mainly, this "social capitalism" attitude has in it NO CRITIQUE of the Republicans.

    •  Why should it? (0+ / 0-)

      I agree with this:

      the Clinton years left the Democratic party almost completely unprincipled. They now believe that if they raise a lot of money and get "Independent" votes, nothing else matters.

      But I think this was due to the fact that Clinton never really articulated any sort of value system.  His advisors were notable in that they were willing to break down old ideological systems when they encountered a program that worked, but they studiously avoided expanding that into a larger view of the world.  The message that too many Dems took from that was NOT that we had moved into a new vision of American liberalism, but that "anything goes".  And so everything went.  So while I think it's important to recognize that the DLC was right in the 1980s, I definitely don't think the Beinarts and Kauses of the world are on to anything these days.

      But I have a big problem with this:

      More than that, this "Social Capitalist" thinking makes a weak, uninspiring message that fails to draw votes from where we needs them. Mainly, this "social capitalism" attitude has in it NO CRITIQUE of the Republicans.

      I would argue that it's old school liberalism that doesn't really draw votes from where we need them.  We were offering high taxes with very few visible results.  Yeah there were a ton of reasons for that, but that was the perception.  Just hammering the same message after Reagan was going to get us slammed.  But now we need to develop the "do something new" thinking into a bigger theme -- one that incorporates things that have worked, but also connects it to traditional Democratic values of expanded opportunity.

      Finally, I think it's weird that you say our core ideology should have some direct engagement with the Republicans.  I don't think that's appropriate at all.  If they're really our core values, they should be true no matter what the political landscape.  The Declaration of Independence says "All men are created equal..." not "Unlike the Royalists, we believe the following..."  Simply harnessing market forces doesn't make you Republican, any more than believing in the positive ability of government makes you a Communist.

      Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

      by ChicagoDem on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 07:32:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Inflation 1980 (0+ / 0-)

    had something to do with the aftermath of Vietnam and energy shocks that were at least in part an effect of it.

    I believe Bill Clinton's greatest achievement was to finally prove that, in the hands of a capable administrator and responsible government, capitalism works.

    I think his greatest achievement was to reinforce the timeless wisdom that personality works. He got himself elected and re-elected while leaving the US a 1-major-party nation. The opposite party to his.

    He showed that capitalism works the way it's always worked--temporarily faking opportunity and growth through one or another atypical surplus. Originally, it was vast lands free for the taking from their heathen occupants. Later it was global resources free for the taking from their heathen foreign owners.

    In Clinton's case we all got rich[er] by constructing the infrastructure of outsourcing and automation of our own careers--I as a programmer was one of these--not by building a sustainable economy.

    He presided over us eating our own muscle. Great taste--but unfortunately for the long term, it was less filling.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jun 13, 2006 at 11:32:16 PM PDT

  •  well (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChicagoDem, Simplify, shergald

    you are not onto anything the founding fathers were not onto.

    Jefferson beleived in regulating capitalism, so that the wealthy could not use their wealth to create a new aristocracy created by inherited wealth.

    John Adams held the same ideas of regulating wealth and using the money for the benefit of the citizens.

    Trust good old Ben Franklin to be most radical.
    He said that no one should be allowed to possess more wealth than they needed for their own modest comforts and that all the rest was the property of the state, to be used to benefit all.

    •  I don't think this is new at all (0+ / 0-)

      Like I said, I think Clinton and both Roosevelts were essentially doing it to.  And I think Lincoln wanted to, but he didn't really get a chance to execute much policy outside the war.  I'm just trying to characterize this idea and put it in words for a 21st century perspective.

      Read James Loewen's "Sundown Towns"!

      by ChicagoDem on Wed Jun 14, 2006 at 07:18:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well Lincoln was more representative (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ChicagoDem

        Of the midwestern populist Republicanism that the party started with.

        But within 40 years the Midwestern populists lost out to the Eastern Big Business Republicans who basically started financing the party as it started to slide out of control after the impetus of the civil war was and reconstruction was over.

        One thing is clear.

        Most of the founding fathers bleeived in capitalism, but a restrained and regulated form, rather than laissez faire.

        They also seemed to prefer a form of economic democracy, a sort of economic leveling to prevent the welath from fulfilling its historically obvious role.

        The creation of hereditary, propertied aristocracies, no matter what they CALLED themselves.

        It is amazing that this FACT about the founding fathers is so easily repressed.

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