Friday, March 30, 2018

Some radical observations on American politics from ... Jimmy Carter?!?

The PBS Newshour has a two-part interview with former President Jimmy Carter.

Carter was President from 1977-1981. Since then, he has become so well known for his charitable and international peacemaking efforts that he is mainly known as a left-liberal "elder statesman." (Do we still use that term these days?) But he won the Democratic nomination in 1976 as a more conservative candidate, though not so conservative as the neoconservative patron saint Henry Jackson, who also ran that year.

As President, he did some distinctly liberal things, like the CETA program to reduce unemployment by providing job training and temporary jobs to the unemployed. Such a thing is considered heresy to the neoliberal gospel now. By 1996, Democratic President Bill Clinton was pushing "welfare reform" to get the allegedly lazy welfare recipients to get off their rear ends and get a job. That was the sentiment to which he was appealing, though Clinton himself didn't phrase it so crassly. But almost.

But Carter as President also made significant concessions to the neoliberal twist on conservative economics that was then still in its ascending phase int he area of business deregulation. Matt Welch, editor of the Koch-libertarian Reason magazine, uses that fact in a polemic for what he styles as the good old days of regulation, quoting Carter in one of his 1980 debates with Ronald Reagan: "We've been remarkably successful, with the help of a Democratic Congress. We have deregulated the air industry, the rail industry, the trucking industry, financial institutions. We're now working on the communications industry." (Democrats these days hate deregulation, but once upon a time they loved it Los Angeles Times 02/08/2018)

Don't take Welch's framing as unproblematic, though. As Welch mentions, even the liberal icon Ted Kennedy was in favor of some deregulation including on trucking, which surely had something to do with the long-time bad blood between the Kennedys and the Teamsters Union. The Democrats were more focused on the ways that regulatory regimes preserved corporate monopolies in ways that were detrimental to consumers. They weren't preaching some libertarian doctrine that the Invisible Hand of business buccaneering, or trying to do away with safety regulations or laws against fraud and false advertising.

But the results of the Carter deregulation didn't meet the highest expectations of their advocates. There weren't a lot of reports in the late 1970s about airlines beating up their passengers or suffocating puppies in the overhead bin. Carter signed into law in December 1978 the Revenue Act of 1978 a reduction on the capital gains tax passed by the Democratic controlled Congress, something the industries that were then becoming known as "high tech" were pushing for. There was a group of that kind of tech-friendly Democrats in Congress that were known briefly as "Atari Democrats," Atari being one of the first sensational boom-and-bust tech success stories. Though Carter had opposed the capital gains tax cut as it moved through Congress. That was the year Proposition 13 passed in California and a "tax revolt" was said to be underway.

Carter faced serious primary challenges in 1980 from Ted Kennedy and Jerry Brown, both perceived as left challenges.

That's why it's still somewhat surprising to see Jimmy Carter sounding like Jerry Brown on the corruption of politics or Bernie Sanders on the growing dangers from American oligarchy.

Jimmy Carter: U.S. on a path of nuclear confrontation with North Korea 03/27/2018

Full Transcript of Part 1.

Jimmy Carter: Supreme Court seems eager to see rich people become more powerful 03/28/2018:

Full Transcript of Part 2.

Here are some of Carter's more notable comments from this two-part interview.

"I think the worst mistake [Trump has] made so far has been the appointment of John Bolton to be his national security adviser."
"I think a lot of [the polarization in US politics] is due to the massive influx of money into the campaigns.

When I ran against Gerald Ford, who was the president of the United States then, you know how much money we raised for the general elections? Zero.

I would like to see the money aspect to elections reduced in this country dramatically."
Presumably what he means is that it was the Democratic Party structure rather than his own campaign that raised the funds.
"We now have a development in America where the massive influx of money into campaigns has elevated rich people, powerful people above the average person.

So, we are moving toward an oligarchy of a powerful element of rich people compared to a true democracy."
"I think [US politics is] corrupted in a way, although I can’t say against the law, because the law is established by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court seems to be eager to see rich people become more powerful and to see corporations become more powerful than individuals with their — with their previous rulings."
"In fact, eight people in the world — six of them are from America — own as much money as half of the total population of the world, 3.5 billion people.

In America, we have the same problem, maybe even in an exaggerated way. We have marginalized the average person, for the benefit of the wealthier people in America."
"... I think, to a great extent, even in the United States, we have lost faith in democracy. We have lost faith in the integrity of our human beings. We have lost faith in ourselves. We have lost faith in the future. We have lost faith in the truth.

We have much greater division of American people than we ever had before. And we have lost faith in the future being better for our children than it has been for ourselves."
Carter has been quoted as wanting Robert Mueller to wrap up his investigation soon. That could be understand as a sort of "look forward, not backward" attitude aimed at giving Trump de facto immunity for crimes. But that's clearly not what Carter means. He is thinking politically and strategically about this issue:
"I just wish that [Mueller] would finish his work earlier, rather than later, so that we could see if there is anything legally to be brought forward about President Trump and his involvement in the 2016 election, because I think the future of the politics in America is dependent on what Mueller will have come forward to allege.

And so I think, the longer this is postponed, the more damage we might see done, including with the issues that I have already described, that is, the nuclear weaponry and altercations with Iran and with — and with North Korea and also with the global environment."

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