I loved our president. Loved him. Walked neighborhoods for him (in a far-right county, too). Defended him so vehemently that I lost some of my more liberal friends (Naderites).
But my love has faded.
With great regret, I can even see myself walking neighborhoods for a Democratic challenger in the 2012 primaries.
But I also recognize that, even if someone defeats Obama in the primaries, the new candidate isn't likely to win the general. A primary challenge will split the party and cripple the winner.
Without presidential coattails, moreover, our liberal House candidates will lose. And the Senate ... let's not even talk about that. The math is terrible for us.
I hope that things somehow improve before 2012. But even if they don't, let's follow in the fine tradition of the Cubs, the Red Sox, and my own Arizona Cardinals, and start rebuilding for 2014.
As part of that rebuilding effort, let's reclaim the founders from the Tea Party. More below the fold.
As we well know, the Tea Party claims to be heir to the American Revolution. The founders, insists Glenn Beck, promised that government would remain small. Then, in the early 1900s, government lurched away from the Constitution, embracing a new authority to tax and to regulate. Things have deteriorated ever since.
Beck’s philosophy comes from his spiritual guide, Joseph Smith, who foresaw a time when the Constitution would hang by a thread. Beck is equally beholden to W. Cleon Skousen, the twentieth-century Mormon ideologue who held that President Eisenhower (a Republican) was a communist.
Now let me explain why Democrats are the true heirs to the founding legacy. (and for those who already know these arguments, forbearance, please)
What liberals need to challenge is not necessarily the prophetic origins of Glenn Beck's ideology, but his understanding of the founders’ vision. That understanding comes from Cold War era history textbooks written for students in junior high. Textbook writers—-concerned about Soviet totalitarianism—-stressed the founders’ opposition to taxes and their love for small government, government that gave brave entrepreneurs unfettered liberty to create wealth.
The Cold War understanding of the founders is partly correct. As the great historian Joyce Appleby has shown in several books, some of the founders, some of the time, espoused free markets. But the Cold War understanding is simplistic.
Liberals have greater claims to the founding legacy, though few realize it. Liberal politics originates in the visions of both Alexander Hamilton, the great Federalist, and Thomas Jefferson, the great Democratic-Republican. True, Hamilton and Jefferson were bitter enemies, but both were our progenitors.
The first epic argument under the Constitution involved federal assumption of state war debts. Hamilton lobbied for assumption in order to strengthen ties between creditors (holders of government securities) and the U.S. A federal debt, he reasoned, would give rich creditors cause to support a strong central government.
Jefferson and his ally, James Madison, strenuously argued against assumption precisely because it would empower the rich. To profit from their securities, the rich would require the government to tax the people. Neither Jefferson nor Madison objected to taxes per se; they objected to taxes intended to redistribute wealth upward in order to create aristocracy.
The next big fight concerned the creation of the Bank of the United States. Hamilton wanted a bank to hold federal deposits, to regulate currency, and to provide loans for industrial development. Jefferson and Madison cried foul. The Constitution, they argued, gave the government no right to create banks. Behind their principled stand was their fear of aristocracy. The bank, insisted Jefferson, would create inequality. It would create wealthy industrialists and pauperized commoners. "Let our workshops remain in Europe," he inveighed.
On both assumption and the bank, Hamilton won. What occurred in the short term was a 1790s bubble much like that of 2007-08, but of course much briefer and smaller. Credit was too loose; investors went bankrupt; no bailouts ensued.
Hamilton was nevertheless right: the federal government needed to direct economic development through loans and subsidies. Too, the federal government needed to regulate currency and lending. Hamilton also won insofar as his "implied powers" interpretation of the Constitution prevailed over Jefferson’s literalist (Tea Party) interpretation.
Thanks to Hamilton’s vision, the economy flourished. The Whig Party took up where Hamilton left off by pushing for high tariffs to protect American manufactures for and government-subsidized infrastructure (turnpikes, canals, railroads, harbors, telegraphs, postal services). The result was dynamism.
Jefferson’s vision, meanwhile, animated the Democratic Party that grew up around President Andrew Jackson in 1832. Jackson killed the second Bank of the United States, though the Supreme Court continued to recognize its constitutionality. Though Jackson, in good Jeffersonian style, continued to insist that the bank was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court adhered to the "implied powers" interpretation.
More important, Jackson-—taking inspiration from Jefferson-—attacked the commercial and banking aristocracy. Fighting aristocracy in one form or another consumed most of his presidency. Historians debate, to be sure, whether Jackson really fought aristocracy or just fought a small elite centered in New York and Philadelphia. Some very fine scholars, however,--namely Sean Wilentz and Charles Sellers--argue that Jackson really did fight the forces of entrenched wealth.
Let's be clear with the American people. Liberals are the true heirs to the founding tradition. Liberals take the best from Hamilton, Jefferson, and Jackson. Like Hamilton, they understand how important it is for government to regulate credit and to subsidize infrastructure (alternative energy, the internet, rapid transit). Like Jefferson and Jackson, they battle against the forces of self-serving aristocracy (big business).
Republicans, by contrast,—-Glenn Beck among them-—take inspiration from the founders’ worst legacies. From Hamilton they take a love for wealthy elites. From Jefferson they borrow small-government rhetoric, though—thanks to Cold War textbooks—they are ignorant of its anti-aristocratic intent.
If the founder’s vision hangs by a thread, that thread is what's left of liberalism. Neither Mormons nor the Tea Party, nor even "moderate" Republicans, are the bulwark of the founding tradition. WE ARE.
And if the Constitution falls, it will be the Tea Party—-with its Paliny, Angly, Perryish talk of secession and rebellion—-that severs it.
Liberals: take back the founders. Please. They're important. Many were slaveholders. Many were Indian haters. But there is another legacy that liberals do well to recall: the founders' fight against aristocracy and their fight on behalf of activist government.
When some fool shows up at a ball game with a t-shirt that says "Jefferson, Madison, Adams: Right-wing extremists," tell them they do not know what they are talking about. Leaving Adams aside, tell them that Jefferson and Madison were ARDENTLY against the aristocracy of entrenched wealth.
Jefferson got Virginia to abolish primogeniture and entail, laws that held large estates intact to be passed down to eldest male heirs. He was very proud of that accomplishment. Land, he believed, should be divided among heirs, else aristocracy ensued.
The same is true of any other sort of wealth. When the wealthy become too powerful, Americans suffer. That is what Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson understood, though Tea Partiers do not.
Hell, wear a T-shirt saying "Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton: Left-wing extremists."
Let's rebuild. Start over. We'll come back. The younger voters are with us. They're far more open to progressive ideas than the generation who grew up reading Cold War textbooks.
Tell the Tea Partiers: Your understanding of the founders comes from 1950s junior high. They'll hate that accusation, but it's absolutely true. They have a junior high understanding of the founders. A schoolboy understanding. And it matters!
The founders matter because, for better or worse, they are the founders. They did give us a legacy. Take the founders back from the stupid literalists out there--the ones that don't understand the founders dedication to activist government (Hamilton) or to fighting aristocracy (Jefferson, Madison).