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So the "conservatives" on Wall Street and in parts of corporate America seem on their way to buying an election. This is not foreordained: Voters could come to their senses and not return to power the very party whose policies and ideology most caused our mess. Democrats might come out fighting as Democrats, not Republican-lite — although that window is closing thanks to the odious and dangerous vote-by-mail trend. But it looks as if this is the world we'll live in. And we'll look back fondly on the hapless Harry Reid and the rictus smile of Nancy Pelosi.
The ideal world of the Republican plutocracy and their Tea Party stooges is the 1920s, if not the Gilded Age. No New Deal. No Social Security or Medicare. No worker protections purchased with union blood. It's a far cry from the "right to rise" for everyone and heavy emphasis on government infrastructure that characterized the early GOP, from Abraham Lincoln's pronouncement: "Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration." It is far from Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford or even Ronald Reagan." They want government to enhance the fortunes of the rich, the big corporations, a huge defense establishment and devil take the hindmost — for the middle class, it will be the law of the jungle. At least the years of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover didn't include theocracy, the sidelining of science and endless wars.
Whether they get it will be another matter. But if the election turns out as it appears, I wonder whether the Democratic Party has much future, whether it will become the Whigs of the 21st century, or the equivalent of Britain's Liberal Party. And, forgive me, I wonder, in the wake of the Citizens United decision by the permanently "conservative" Supreme Court combined with an ignorant citizenry and the bungling of the Obama administration, whether progressivism can ever make a comeback in America. Karl Rove and the old white people win, after all. And who knows if the coming racially diverse and smart young America promised by Mr. Obama's election will ever materialize as a positive electoral force in the face of so much corporate and plutocratic power?
The great question as Arizona seems headed into its next phase of destruction is: How could they vote for Jan Brewer? How could they vote for the same bunch of Kooks in the Legislature, with the same policies, that have already caused so much damage in the Grand Canyon State? It is a thundering question for the nation, as well. How could so many people be willing to return to power the party and philosophy that gave is the Lost Decade of the Bush years (stagnant stock market, falling living standards, record income inequality, rising deficit and the greatest economic crash since the Great Depression)?
For Arizona, the answers seem painfully obvious: The long incubation of right-wing philosophy seeded by Barry Goldwater but returned in a whirlwind of nihilism, hatred and God-guns-gays gasbaggery that Barry would despise. The Big Sort that has drawn like-minded people there in a surprising cluster for such a populous state (Washington, of similar population, is much more diverse politically). The fierce political activism and reliability of the neo-Birchers, paranoiacs, racists, proto-fascists and Mormons that decides elections where turnout it low. The civic detachment of a state where many residents don't consider it "home" and resort-apathy is rampant. The "What's the Matter With Kansas" mentality of working-class whites consistently voting against their economic interests. And the campesino mindset of the Mexican-American population that doesn't vote, even though its very existence is threatened by the Kookocracy.
But Jan Brewer? Is this the level of idiocy to which my home state has sunk? Roman Hruska, a forgotten Nebraska senator, defended a Nixon Supreme Court nominee by saying, "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos." I suppose the idiots of Arizona deserve the representation of Jan Brewer. And she came along at the right time: When the white-right was ginning up its anti-immigrant hysteria.
The Republicans are on a roll, or so the conventional wisdom goes. The American public, with the memory of a kicked dog, is ready to re-entrust power to the Party that Wrecked America. It certainly has the eye-candy for horny white male voters, such as the comely-but-stupid Christine O'Donnell and the leggy half-term Gov. Palin. It has billions of dollars thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling on corporate campaign spending (corporations are people, you see, except when they break the law). And it has issues: Gays and Muslims are taking over the country, along with Obama's "socialism" — such as the big giveaway to the for-profit health-care sector, the rescue of the casino on Wall Street and continued funding of the for-profit national security economy. Issues such as that the Constitution is sacrosanct, with its mandated theocracy, that evolution is a "theory" (like gravity) and should not be taught, that stem-cell research is, like all science, of the devil and we should just incinerate all those embryos, that tax cuts and no regulation will solve every ill, that brown people cutting your lawn are the biggest threat to American civilization.
America has become like Arizona: Ignorant, fearful, disconnected from and hostile to the commons, inordinately dependent on gub'ment dollars even as it rails against gub'ment. And, most of all, locked in a clueless feedback loop trying to avoid reality. But the real world moves on.
A new world order is crashing down on us whether we like it or not. And it's not the new world order of Glenn Beck's paranoia or George H.W. Bush's optimistic post-Cold War vision.
I was asked to speak at the 90th birthday of Kenilworth School, my alma mater, on Oct. 23rd. Obligations keep me from attending, but this is what I would say:
Ten years ago I had the great fortune of speaking at the 80th birthday of Kenilworth School. I had come a long way from a child for whom this school held so many good memories, but also one for whom it held anxieties and fears, an average student except in reading, one who was poor in athletics, a target of bullies, who watched the clock on the wall in every classroom waiting for each school day to end, who quailed in terror when we were herded into the auditorium and made to lean against the walls and cover our heads as protection against Soviet missiles.
Ten years ago I had returned to a Phoenix spread across 1,500 square miles. A huge freeway cut its way beside Kenilworth. "Master planned communities" were where many people chose to live, even as they complained that Phoenix had no soul and no history. Natives were hard to find among the huge Midwestern influx. The temperature had risen 10 degrees and the summers were hotter and longer. Downtown and north Central had been denuded of retail and jobs. And yet Kenilworth School still stood. My message then was how Kenilworth and everyone who loved it — lawyer Fred Rosenfeld and other alums maintained an association to help the school — had kept faith. Here was Phoenix's soul and history.
News item: Glendale is stuck figuring out, in a shifting economic landscape, how to deal with roughly $500 million in borrowing for the sports district. By the time Glendale pays interest over three decades, the city will have spent close to $1 billion.
The common cover story, bought into by the Republic, goes like this: "Glendale had been on track to stunningly remake itself into a sports mecca with four major sports: hockey, baseball, basketball and football. Then the economy collapsed." In fact, Glendale epitomizes everything nearly wrong with metro Phoenix economic development. It was not so much a victim of the Great Recession as it invited a reckoning no matter that happened to the national economy. That's why, aside from its dark comedic value, this disaster is worth dwelling upon.
This was once one of the sweet and distinct farm towns of the Salt River Valley. It depended on a diverse array of crops grown in the surrounding fields, which were then packed in town and loaded on the Santa Fe Railway for shipment back east (a passenger train stopped daily, too). Other businesses supported the ag sector with supplies and equipment. The railroad itself had a large icing dock in the days before mechanical refrigerator cars. Nearly every retailer was local. The population was about 15,700 in 1960. This was the most scalable and sustainable it would ever be. Then it was absorbed by the Growth Machine and became just another Phoenix suburb with all the attendant drawbacks.
Even though President Obama can still give a good speech, it's not too early to assess the latest failed American presidency.
Making advanced investments to create jobs and industries, as well as making America more competitive? No, he can't. Closing Guantanamo? No, he can't. Preparing America for a future of high energy costs and resource competition? No, he can't. Ending our ill-considered imperial adventures in the Muslim world? No, he can't. Addressing climate change? Reforming the dangerous Wall Street casino? Correcting bad trade deals that have cost millions of American jobs and closed thousands of American manufacturers? The employee free-choice act? Overcoming special interests. No. No. No. Hell, no.
Barack Obama is one of the most gifted politicians in my lifetime. When he was elected, the comparisons were abundant: The second coming of Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, FDR. None of that turned out to be real. Instead, the comparisons now trend to Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. If the Republicans were not so crazy, Mr. Obama would be a one-term president. With Mitt Romney lurking in the wings, he may yet be.
Among the weirdness of Phoenix, here's one that stood out. I went down to Union Station on one of regular pilgrimages, to this building that represented so much of the city that's gone yet I still love. When they finally find a way to tear it down, I'll be gone for good. Outside the nearby immense Maricopa County jail complex, uniformed correctional officers and deputies stood smoking. Down the street, work was continuing on the new courts building, yet another dreadful dehumanizing edifice plopped into the public square. It was shift change and workers were walking to their cars past Sheriff Joe's men. The laborers were all Hispanic, all speaking Spanish, all passing without a care. The coppers didn't even glance at them.
How many were really citizens or legal migrants? Did it even matter? I saw this all over Phoenix. Whatever fear or outmigration the Jim Crow anti-immigrant SB-1070 provoked, Hispanics are everywhere and everywhere working. It reinforced my belief that the law is more about voter suppression and keeping them in their place than any cry for help because Washington failed to "secure the border." Even with the migration of millions of Midwesterners, Phoenix can't escape its heritage as a Southern town, especially with segregation. And on the other side of the tracks remains the huge underclass that keeps the low-wage economy going. It wouldn't surprise me if the 2010 Census showed the city with close to a Hispanic majority.
Most work hard and play by the rules. Some want to earn money and return to Mexico. Most want to be Americans. To be sure, they face virulent bigotry not unlike that endured by the Irish and Italians before them. Unfortunately, Phoenix is a poor melting pot. It lacks the economy with the rungs in the ladder to allow most to rise. The education system is among the worst in America, including the joke of the "charter school movement." And yet the man who has presided over not only its continuing miserable performance but a worsening is on his way to a new public office. Meet the new Attorney General, Tom Horne.