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On the Inside
In This Issue:
¨ Obama Vs. FDR
-significant differences are apparent
¨ What have the people noticed?
-Democracy depends upon people being well informed
¨ The real President Nixon story
¨ How the presidency is impacted by the media elite
-a letter responding to an article by Bill Shipp, 1987
OBAMA VERSUS FDR
THERE ARE LONG-TERM ROOTS TO
OUR PRESENT POLITICAL CRISIS
By Ivan W. Parkins
We should not rely too much on comparisons of the Obama and Franklin Roosevelt Administrations. There are crude similarities in their excesses of deficit spending and their gross expansions of the national government, but circumstances were different in many and significant respects.
First, let us consider the popular sovereignty issue. Both the British tradition and the Constitution of the United States set some limits to popular sovereignty. The essential idea is that while a popular majority should hold primary power, no single and brief majority should be permitted to change the basic system (constitution) without further confirmation of its public support, i.e. no short term or “mob” changing in the rules of the political contest.
Franklin Roosevelt’s initial popular sanction was in a 1932 victory that elected over 100 more Democrats to the House and over a dozen more Senators than Obama has so far had. FDR, himself, entered with 4% more of the popular votes and over 100 more electoral votes than Obama has so far won. ( Furthermore, Roosevelt extended all of those margins in both the elections of 1934 and 1936). And, Roosevelt entered office at a time when Western Civilization was being threatened by the development of several vast, aggressively authoritarian, and increasingly militarized nations. He faced that with an American military establishment that was both technically out-dated and defensive in posture. Domestically, he had to deal with what really was our “greatest natural disaster.” The Dust Bowl drove many hundreds of thousands from their homes, choked and dirtied millions of Americans (us) who lived further east, and defied any quick or easy remedy. That tragedy was invited by pre-New Deal neglect, but precipitated by a particularly severe drought.
It now appears that the Obama Administrations’ massive and complex legislative “innovations” may be even more limiting to the discretion of future Congresses than FDR’s were. Also, there is no evidence that the coming election will advance the Obama Administration’s popular mandate. President Obama faces world-wide threats, but while commanding the world’s most technically advanced and globally capable military. And the Gulf oil spill is a large, but mostly very recent, man-made and man limited, disaster. In terms of popular sovereignty, the Obama Administration treads a fine line of separation from the unconstitutional “mob-rule” that our Founding Fathers so much feared.
-SOME FACTORS THAT HAVE NOW CHANGED OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM.
Since the middle of the past century advances in electronic communication, especially television, have greatly changed the enterprises through which the American public gets most of its political information and opinion. Those changes have also extended to the personnel and power structures within journalism, and in ways that affect political outcomes. News “anchors” of major networks became “celebrities” and better known to most citizens than any except the highest and most popular of political officeholders.
Meanwhile, since the New Deal and World War II, Congress has been in session during a large part of nearly every year. Also, the American population has been growing rapidly. The net result of those factors is that Representatives have had less and less time in which to meet directly with the greater and greater numbers of their constituents. President, Senators, and Representatives all are less and less accessible to the public, except via electronics. And that avenue is more and more managed by professional journalists.
Also, World War II and the “G. I.” Bill expanded greatly the numbers of persons seeking college educations. Soon older colleges and universities, many of them having been church affiliated, were being dwarfed by new, publicly financed institutions. Curriculum emphasis shifted away from developing the characters and capabilities of individuals, and towards encouraging social and political activism in student groups. I witnessed the exclusion of Senator Robert Taft from an official appearance at the University of Akron, as “too controversial” (i.e. He was a candidate for reelection.), and a couple of decades later the well-paid appearance of Jane Fonda at Central Michigan University, where she attacked Dow Chemical Company and the Vietnam War.
A letter in the WALL STREET JOURNAL (7/26/10) quotes a young woman as saying that she wanted to study journalism “Because I want to change the world.” That is very much like much of what I encountered as a political science teacher. Too many students were already convinced that they knew what in the world needed changing; they wanted only to be helped with the means to do it.
I found myself ailing from increasing signs of stress. To reduce that I avoided some face-to-face confrontations and began writing columns in the local newspaper. That helped until a change of editors produced an order that I not criticize journalism. I W Parkins 72610
WHAT HAVE THE PEOPLE
By Ivan W. Parkins
Democracy rests upon an assumption that the people are well-informed. Or as Thomas Jefferson put it, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they can be relied upon to set them right.”
A long life of studying, teaching, observing, and writing about American government has left me with two main conclusions. First: that the public has generally been right, and is so now in its belief that “the system” needs changing. Second: that the public is greatly confused regarding what changes are needed.
Authoritarians may deny their people some information, but mostly they brainwash them with disinformation. Old sayings about the pen being mightier than the sword can be misleading. Often the sword has been used first, to control most of the pens. The pens are then used to disinform the people in ways that permit most swords to remain sheathed. Once firmly established, authoritarians control virtually all schools, publishing, news facilities, and other sources of information.
Today, that is becoming more difficult. But, what if most of the pens, i.e. professional communicators, were to unite in cooperation with one another and with one political party? That is the transformation that I believe I have witnessed in American society since World War II. Mass communication, especially television, has invaded households to an unprecedented degree. Schools and teachers have been nationalized by union and governmental actions. Possible competitors such as families and churches have been harassed and legally restricted.
The one place in our national system where information has been most extensive and public choice most informed has been presidential elections. There, three recent Presidents, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan won reelections by the largest popular pluralities and by three of the largest majorities in our history. Johnson was then discouraged from seeking the additional term for which he was legally qualified. Nixon was promptly forced to resign. Reagan survived and in many respects triumphed, but only by facing long and severe harassment.
Since then, President Clinton has survived two terms in office, in spite of having been impeached by the House of Representatives and losing in the courts on the several challenges that he brought there. He and his defenders claimed that it was all over a “private” sexual matter. Congress, unwilling to face media friendly to Clinton with another election pending, left most other issues to Clinton’s own subordinates. Even so, the House indicted, and a secure room filled with hundreds of documents showing evidence and testimony of witnesses was provided for the Senate. No Democrat Senator signed into that room before voting to acquit. Coincidentally, Clinton was the only President since Wilson many years earlier to win the office twice without winning a popular majority either time. Feb/08 (I have added a small update to this article below)
President Bush did win a popular majority in 2004, only a slim one, but better than any Democrat since Johnson. He has faced what have probably been the most voluminous and intense media attacks upon his Presidency and his person endured by any President.
Now, talk radio, cable television, some of the newer publications, and a few web sites offer promise that the people may become better informed. But several decades of public brainwashing by the media have left scars that threaten democracy in America. How can people choose a better course when they know so little about the one that we have traveled recently?
We know what happened to President Nixon, but how much do we know about why?
By Ivan W. Parkins
Nixon resigned rather than risk a bitter and nationally divisive impeachment fight, which it appeared that he would lose. Chief among the charges pending against him was abuse of power. And, one of the most substantial items in that charge was that he had impounded i.e. refused to spend, about half of the funds which Congress had appropriated for Senator Muskie’s Clean Water Act. Even the Supreme Court held against the President in that matter.
Years later, it occurred to me that there should be new evidence re that charge. I checked THE STATISTICAL ABSTRACT for what we actually did spend. With Nixon out of the way, we spent just about what he had recommended.
Letter to the Editor: THE
ATLANTA JOURNAL AND CONSTITUTION
Concern for the Presidency deserves priority over concern for Ronald Reagan, as Bill Shipp’s Dec. 26 column suggests. However, my concern for the Presidency first became critical when Lyndon Johnson was being hounded from office in 1968.
I was reassured by the vigorous leadership of Richard Nixon and by his record plurality in 1972. We all know the outcome of that.
Ronald Reagan has been a significant President because of his capacity to win and retain a large popular following and because of his success in imparting a spirit of hope and direction to America. Much more than his personality and reputation is at stake.
If, within one generation, a third President of the United States is driven into oblivion not long after winning a landslide confirmation of his leadership, I will regard that as the greatest repudiation of constitutional democracy in history.