The Elite Class in America: Explaining Trump and Setting the Agenda for Democratic Revival

Karl Marx is noted for the theory that capitalism breeds distinct social classes. Evidence came from his observation of 19th century England and Germany. Marx’ followers early on saw United States as an exception. They claimed lack of barriers to mobility militated against permanent classes in America. Constraining capitalism rather than overthrowing it became the objective. That approach informed Progressivism, the New Deal, and it remains in vogue today.

That said, we do have a semi-permanent class in America today––a ruling class of elites who are products of our university system and whose primary ideology is that they and not the people of this country know best. Today the elite control the federal government and our universities. Even Congress is discounted as we see in Barack Obama’s usurpation of powers that previously required Congressional approval.

While early social scientists were not elitists, their theories provided the backbone of today’s elitist ideology:

  • States and localities are too parochial (i.e., too much under the control of interest groups) to deal with important, national issues.
  • Policy implementation requires an entrenched civil service at the national level.
  • The market place inevitably fails to provide for the less privileged and less able and thus must be controlled by the federal government.

Today’s elites believe those who resist the policies promulgated by the federal government are social misfits––racists, bigots, religious zealots, and people trying to hold on to undeserved privilege.

The elite class has found a home in the Democratic Party. While claiming to be the party of inclusion, its policies favor those who have emerged from the chosen channels to claim their place as movers and shakers.

Symbolic of the gap between the elites and the rest of the country is the drive to legalize marijuana. While our nation’s inner cities are ravaged by the drug trade, which results in gang violence and thousands of lives lost to addiction, the elite want to be able to enjoy their pot parties. Visit the campuses of the top-ranked colleges and universities if you have any doubts. As a result, instead of stopping the traffic of heroin and other drugs at our borders, which could be done if made a priority, our legislators protect drug use by the elites and make a superficial effort to conduct the war on drugs.

The problems we face as a society today as a result of the existence of an elite class stem from an ideology/philosophy that conflicts with the principles upon which our country was founded. They justify their power as being deserved by merit, by electoral victories and the application of social science methodologies to address societal problems. But national electoral victories are won with the help of a media industry driven by the same elitist ideology. Then, when push comes to shove in making policy, social science practice and technological potential get set aside. Ideology wins out, which is why political appointees and not civil servants make the ultimate decisions in the federal government.

Donald Trump vs. the Elites

Those who rail against Donald Trump’s views see those who tell pollsters they plan to vote for him as part of the misfit class. In fact, however, the vast majority of his supporters are neither racists nor nutjobs, but people who recognize that their voices are not represented either in Washington or Hollywood. Rather than trying to protect their privileges, Trump supporters (as well as those who favor Carson, Cruz, and some of the other GOP candidates) lack the privileges enjoyed by members of the elite class. Trump supporters are not graduates of America’s elite colleges, they don’t hold high level positions in government or academia, they are not on the boards of huge corporations; nor do they earn six figure salaries at not-for-profit organizations or cultural institutions.

Trumpism represents a problem for the Republican Party because the Party’s leadership shares in the benefits of elitist power. They hold down positions where they earn high salaries, have a voice (every once in a while) on policy, and can avoid the worst of society’s detritus––urban slums and crime, rural poverty, and social malaise.

The past two national elections saw the GOP lose when they nominated moderate candidates who did not excite enough of the disaffected population to defeat the dream candidate. While nominating Trump or one of the other conservatives might energize the disaffected, it also might lead to the kind of defeat that happened in 1964 when the party’s leadership failed to pull out the stops for conservative Barry Goldwater. The sad part of Trumpism is that people accept slogans for policies and seem to want a savior to solve everything for them instead of becoming an ongoing part of the decision-making process.

Pundits say the GOP cannot win behind a conservative––however you want to define that––because they will inevitably lose the minority and female vote. They report the ethnic balance of the country is shifting towards minorities who at the moment see their futures and those of their children tied to the Democratic philosophy.

To win, the GOP must find a way to disabuse minority and female voters of the elitist implications of the Democratic Party’s philosophy. They must ask black Christians why they stick with the party that is hostile to Christianity; why blacks who live in depressed cities ruled by the Democrat Party continue to vote Democratic; why Hispanics who are in this country legally support a party that rewards illegal entry; and why women who chose a traditional role in the family are disparaged in the media?

Does Democracy Have A Future in America?

Other commentators have identified the existence of an elite class in America. One observer, Christopher Lasch, author of The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, which came out more than twenty years ago, asked whether democracy has a future. Odd question? Not at all. What Lasch is getting at is that holding elections does not signify the existence of a democratic culture––one in which an educated citizenry determines policy and elected officials represent the interests of those who elected them.

Today’s elite hold a view of democracy in direct conflict with that of our country’s founders. The Founders believed democratic habits of self-reliance, responsibility and initiative were necessary for the establishment of ‘self-governing communities’––not an all-powerful federal government that usurps power from localities, the states and even Congress.

If the Republican Party, independents, or a third party would compete with the elite ruling class, they will have to start at the grass roots level, offering opportunities to average citizens to participate in a process that is not dominated by people at the top. Political “reforms” like open primaries undercut the role of local leaders and should be opposed. Open primaries are another victory for elitism couched as a democratic reform.

The second component of a campaign to challenge the elite is to overcome the mainstream media’s elitist bias. Opponents of elitism need to do more than develop their own alternative media outlets. Those are necessary, but not sufficient. The mainstream needs to be challenged, not catered to. Some of this year’s candidates have been willing to take on the hostile questioning of media chosen moderators. The notion of impartial moderators is in itself a function of elitist ideology. Opposition candidates should only participate in debates where the format allows them to speak to the issues and where “moderators” represent their supporters. Even if the mainstream media fails to cover such debates, people interested in change will find refreshing a willingness to bypass the networks and will tune in.

Third, a campaign against elitism cannot be confined to election cycles. Political activism has to be a 365-day effort, including representation at government hearings, filing freedom of information requests, court challenges, and protest events. As the Tea Party demonstrated, an active opposition movement doesn’t require a national governing group or a ton of money. It does require, however, people who are willing to stand up and speak out. The leaders of tomorrow need to get engaged today without regard to the outcome of the 2016 election. Elitism has a firm grip on power in America. It will take years to re-democratize America.

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Art in the Service of Evil

Pretend you’re a museum director and a painting of a lovely mountain scene is offered to you. The painter is Adolph Hitler. Do you buy it and display it as art?

Let’s try another example. You work for a major publishing house and someone comes to you with a diary that has just been discovered–-a detailed first hand account written by a slaveholder, which includes descriptions of his punishment techniques. Do you buy it and publish it?

Is something that has all the attributes of art––a painting, a novel, a piece of music––worthy of being displayed or performed if it has a direct connection to evil, either through the artist or the subject?

Now try this one: You’re the general manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera and you are offered for your upcoming season an opera that tells the story from the hijackers’ point of view of the hijacking of a cruise ship and the killing of a passenger?

I made up the first examples; the last one is true. The Met, has decided they will perform John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” in the fall of 2014, which they justify by typical liberal relativist thinking.

According to the Met’s director of customer relations, the composer “has said that in writing the opera he tried to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for the humanity in the terrorists, as well as in their victims.”

By the logic, it must also be acceptable to look for the humanity in a concentration camp guard, a slave holder, or a man responsible for the deaths of millions, and, if embodied in a work of art created by “one of America’s greatest living composers,” it is a legitimate choice for an institution whose works will be seen by millions world-wide.

But what happens when one looks for the humanity of murders? It’s not as if this doesn’t color one’s portrait of the events, perhaps by taking the focus away from their actions and pointing instead to what made them turn out that way.

For the title of his opera Adams chose “The Death of Klinghoffer” not “The Murder of Klinghoffer”––muting the evil and suggesting the manner of Klinghoffer’s death was in some way justifiable.

All acts are justifiable if we look for the humanity in the perpetrators. Hitler must have been justified in hating Jews because a Jew didn’t like his paintings. The young man who murdered seven and injured thirteen in California recently was upset because he didn’t have a girl friend. He felt justified in his actions.

Adams has the right to tell whatever story he wishes to tell, but doesn’t the Met have an obligation to consider the consequences of their choices? After all, they can only choose a limited number of operas to perform each season. In this case the opera should have been rejected not just because it distorts the facts of the case and borders on being anti-Semitic, although those faults ought to be sufficient, but because it makes a case for the commission of murder whenever one believes one’s cause is great.

The Met has chosen to be on the side of the slaveholder, the concentration camp guard, the ethnic cleanser, and the young man who feels rejected by society. For shame.

Why Socialism will never arrive. A review of The Impossible Dream

Bernard Johnpoll with Lillian Johnpoll, The Impossible Dream. The Rise and Demise of the American Left, Greenwood Press, 1981

I was fortunate to have taken a class with Professor Johnpoll in the 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University at Albany. He was sui generis––a cigar smoking, iconoclastic, child of Communists who admired people who flirted with the Left while understanding their dreams were impossible.

Why impossible? The conundrum socialists have been unable to solve for two hundred years is how to get from present circumstances to the “cooperative commonwealth.” Further, they never reached a consensus on what the cooperative commonwealth looked like, which made it easy for the leaders of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions to get away with calling their un-cooperative societies socialism.

Bernard Johnpoll dissects the history of the main socialist leaders, movements, and organizations in the U.S. from the early nineteenth century to the 1970s. Based on extensive use of primary and secondary sources, he documents his thesis that these organizations and movements were bound to fail despite their high ideals.

The Long History of Protesting Capitalism

From the early days of industrial capitalism in England and the United States there have been people who chafed at the negative side effects of the “industrial revolution”––the lack of restraints on working conditions, wages and output that resulted in a system that chewed up people in the name of profit.

Not that pre-industrial societies lacked poverty or suffering, but what prevented the rise of reform movements in those years was an absence of a clear way to a better world. Once technology, starting with steam engines, introduced the possibility of a world where you were not tied to your previous station in life, reformers and reform movements sprouted like dandelions.

The primary critics of early capitalism were craftsmen whose skills were becoming irrelevant in the face of a new competitive environment where products could be produced in large numbers and sold for less than hand-crafted items. Combining religious images like the golden rule with visions of how industry could be re-organized, Robert Owen and others preached the coming of a society built around cooperative communities. Although the model communities Owen and others set up invariably failed––and did so very quickly by the way, they planted seeds which others sowed in the fertile fields created by capitalism’s destructive excesses.

The goal of socialism––whether Marxian, Christian, or communitarian, is to take over ownership of the “means of production” and put it in the hands of the workers. The problem socialists have never solved, according to Johnpoll, is how one gets there. Nowhere was that more evident in their dealings with the working class.

Labor Unions versus Socialism

In the nineteenth century, while reformers were preaching their individual variants of the total reformation of society, workers who couldn’t wait for the arrival of the cooperative commonwealth, began to form labor unions. For a time the interests of socialists and unionists were allied because owners backed by the police and legal system of the state resisted all efforts of workers to organize––often by force.

Once the workers’ demands began to be translated into law, however, their leaders broke with the socialists. When he expelled the socialists from his American Federation of Labor in 1903, Gompers said, “I want to tell you, Socialists, that I have studied your philosophy; read your works upon economics, and . . . I have heard your orators and watched the work of your movement the world over . . . Economically you are unsound, socially you are wrong, industrially you are an impossibility.”

For Gompers and others, socialists wanted to revolutionize all of society, while unionists were satisfied with improving the present-day lot of their members. This caused huge problems for socialists––some eschewed ameliorative gains while others saw reforms as the path to God’s kingdom on earth. Either way they failed again and again to win over the working class.

Socialist leaders, most of whom did not come from the working class, had an even harder time when it came to the problem of whether or not to participate in the electoral process. Some felt socialism could be brought about democratically, while others felt the owning class would never allow that to happen and only through an uprising by the working people of the world could a revolution that overthrew capitalism be accomplished.

Throw in conflicts born of ethnic differences and leaders personalities and you have a history of organizations being formed, making temporary gains, and then failing apart. It happened over and over again. Each generation of leaders thought this time will be different: this time the workers will vote for us or respond to our call for a general strike or join our socialist labor union. When that didn’t happen, they always had fellow socialists to blame.

Johnpoll clearly admires the reformers of the nineteenth century more than those of the twentieth with a few exceptions. Early reformers didn’t have experience to guide them and they paved the way for positive changes in society once social opinion or historical circumstance convinced the political party in power to implement reforms. They didn’t achieve their dream, but we take for granted many of the reforms that they called for, from an end to child labor to unemployment insurance, from compulsory education to the right to collective bargaining.

Are Today’s Democrats Socialists?

Some conservatives accuse the Democratic Party and the Obama administration of trying to implement socialism as they take more and more control over all aspects of the production of goods and services. Of course, that’s the same charge conservatives levied at the New Deal.

The problem is partially one of labels. There’s no worldwide licensing bureau that requires an organization to conform to certain policies in order to use words like socialist, liberal, conservative, etc. Many old-time socialists would be appalled at the role of government in today’s society. They viewed the state as an agent of capitalism––an opinion that one still hears from Wall Street Occupiers and the like––and wanted to destroy the state not take it over.

From a historical perspective what the Democrats are moving towards is more like the system that ruled the Soviet Union than the cooperative commonwealth envisioned by nineteenth century social philosophers––including Karl Marx. The Soviet Union was a totally statist society in which the state apparatus controlled everything, including personal choices in many areas. (There was nothing communistic about it.) We’re not there yet, but that’s the direction we’re heading in––namely, the sacrifice of personal liberties on behalf of the “common good.”

The problem is who defines what’s good. In the Soviet Union it was a bureaucrat who had to satisfy the leaders of the Communist Party. In the US today, it’s also a bureaucrat who gets his direction from the political party in power. The fact that we elect our leaders is a critical difference because it offers the possibility that the power of the state can be restrained, but to the average citizen there’s little difference when waiting to get an appointment with the VA hospital in the U.S. or the poor quality of socialized medicine in the former USSR.

Ultimately, most reformers are totalitarians. They don’t like conditions in the present. Fine. They see a better world. Fine. They want to impose their vision of a better world on everyone else. Not so fine. We only have to look at Russia, China, and Cuba to understand what happens to the individual when reformers grab the power of the state. That’s the danger we’re facing in the U.S. in 2014. Reading Johnpoll’s Impossible Dream can help you understand why the future world painted by today’s reformers is impossible to achieve no matter how appealing the picture.

Coda: Marx’s scientific socialism predicted the most advanced capitalist societies would be the first to undergo a conversion to socialism. Clearly that prediction was wrong. Lack of economic development where the elements of a capitalist system are non-existent or weak, is often coupled with a non-democratic political system, while in the US, where democracy while not perfect is nevertheless deeply embedded, capitalism has raised the standard of living of the entire society even under the restraints of social legislation. Like democracy, capitalism is the best option available on a list of imperfect choices.

One Man’s Take on Mayor Bloomberg’s Gun Control Activity

Richard Ottalagano, a retired Democrat Fulton County supervisor, is fed up with Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement that he’s going to spend $50 million to support gun control legislation. Disclosure: Supervisor Ottalagano and I have been friends since high school.

Here’s what he says:

“Many people admire and revere former NYC Mayor Bloomberg. Looking at this differently, I see a clear and present danger to all Americans. With his massive power and money, he would push his will on us…

“His stand on guns, though well-sounding, is a play on the fears of innocent people. The record shows that most gun accidents are not caused by legal gun owners.

“In New York City, a gunman was cornered in a building, gunned down by law enforcement, and seven innocent people were hit. None of the bullets came from the gunman!… I support law enforcement, so I won’t go on…

“Following Bloomberg’s media statements, . . . are we seeing 1930’s Germany again, where a powerful person swayed a nation and caused millions of deaths, and mass destruction.

“Guns are not the issue! Our Constitutional rights are! Every time a national tragedy happens, government overreacts, and American citizens lose more rights. Look at the Patriot Act, and now the SAFE Act.

“As a Democratic Committee member, half the people I represent will work against Governor Cuomo’s Bloomberg sponsored run for re-election. Upstate Democrats are disgusted by the injustices coming from Albany! Cuomo’s constant shell games no longer fool people. . .

“In 1776, the impossible happened: a dedicated group of Patriots stood together and defeated the world’s largest power. We can do this, except instead of musket and shot, we need to use voter registration cards and the vote. If the number of people who never voted were induced to vote, we would win.

“Get voter registration forms, convince others to register to vote!”

The Soviet Union Comes to Washington, D.C.

While the world watches the former Soviet Union celebrate its accomplishments since breaking from Soviet style rule, the mentality of communism has made its way into our nation’s capital. One example: did you know that you can be ticketed for legally parking on a D.C. street?!

That’s right. I recently found a “warning notice” on the windshield of my car which had been legally parked overnight near my son’s house in D.C. The notice said I would become eligible for “a ticket and/or impoundment” for failing to secure D.C. tags. My crime was having my car “observed for the second time within an 180 day period.”

Given that I do not live in D.C. and therefore am not eligible for a D.C. tag, here’s what I have to do to avoid being ticket AND/OR having my car IMPOUNDED for parking legally on a city street in our nation’s capital.

I have to REPORT to a DMV service center with a copy of the notice, and PROVE my non-residency. To do so I must provide them with an out-of-state lease or mortage, AND an utility bill from the same address, AND my out-of-state vehicle registration. In other words, I am guilty before proven innocent and the burden of proof is on me.

This is how I imagine communism worked in the Soviet Union. The people exist to serve the government. The people are weak, stupid and guilty. Those who run the government are strong, smart and always right. Rules can only be broken by top level government employees. In fact, rules are written to make life miserable for the average citizen and to make life as a government official a cushy lifetime sinecure.

I feel sorry for and do not blame the people in the D.C. DMV who have to enforce stupid laws like ticketing people who have not broken the law. It’s the members of the D.C. City Council who passed the law and of course they care little what acts of human hostility are directed at those they hire to enforce their stupid laws.

P.S.: If you visit our nation’s capital, it’s best not to drive your car or rent a car. You are sure to get a ticket for going through a yellow light or driving 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone or parking in a spot reserved for a D.C. City Council Member!

Why NYS Needs a Third Party

Dividing my time each year between Maryland and NYS has given me a new perspective on retail politics and has strengthened my belief that the kind of change that is needed in NYS will not take place without the formation of a new third party to pressure the existing parties to move out of their walled-in fortified positions.

Start with the understanding that each election cycle thousands of voters stay home because they’re disgusted with the lack of choice between the major party candidates. That is not to say there aren’t significant differences between Dems and Reps. Of course, there are, but neither party is speaking to the frustrations of many voters–those when polled who say they want elected officials to do their job, those who have given up trying to understand and keep up with the issues, and those who have tried to make an impact by writing letters, demonstrating, etc. only to see their concerns swallowed up in the ineffable cacophony of the legislative process.

Many voters with the same views vote for the least offense candidate or vote the line of the party they’ve always voted for without feeling good about it.

In other words there are untapped thousands of voters who would respond to a party that offers a new approach and that speaks their language.

A key reason why NYS needs a third party is that many voters will not vote for a candidate from the other party. They’ve voted Democrat their entire lives and they’d rather have a root canal than vote Republican. But when you ask them where they stand on issues such as state spending, local mandates, taxation, etc., their positions do not correspond with the party they vote for.

Third parties are often accused of bringing about the defeat of the candidate they are closest to on the political spectrum and there are cases to back that up. Yet look at the long-term success of the Conservative Party in NYS. By holding Republicans feet to their ideological fire, they’ve had an influence beyond the size of their membership. Unfortunately, today the Conservative Party has degenerated into a patronage funnel for their top officials. They no longer care to reach out to dissatisfied voters in large part I believe because they know many of those voters would disagree with some of their positions and they’re unwilling to change. For that reason NYS needs a new third party.

The kind of third party that is needed is one that combines the anti-big government enthusiasm of the Tea Party without its populist naivete. The new party would represent middle class homeowners/tax payers, small and medium sized business owners, young professionals struggling to find secure careers, gun owners and all people who are concerned that the Democratic Party is throwing the U.S. Constitution out the window for handouts of inferior healthcare and free lunches.

Now all that’s needed are a core of people to step forward to show the way.

Can you walk a mile in their shoes?

The Cherokee are reported to have saying, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” I wonder how many people are open to that aphorism when it comes to the members of the U.S. Congress––in particular to the tea party Republicans?

Assume for one minute, if you can’t walk that particular mile, that you are a tea party representative, that you’ve been elected to come to Washington to fight against the trend of the federal government to take over more and more of our lives, to oppose further deficit spending, and to reform the tax code and the entitlement programs that threaten to bankrupt us.

When you arrive, you find the only chance you have to slow down the agenda of the President and Democrat Party is to take advantage of the constitutional power granted to the House of Representatives with regard to the federal budget because when you try to hold conversations on some of your concerns, you are ignored, belittled and pushed aside.

What should you do? Should you turn your back on the people who elected you because theirs is a minority view in Washington? Should you betray your own beliefs in hopes that your enemies will be nice to you after your constituents throw you out office? Should your vote be controlled by poll numbers, media commentaries, or pronouncements from the White House press secretary?

A minute is up. You can go back to being you. Now, will you continue to condemn those you disagree with for doing what they were elected to do? Will you condemn them for voting their conscience? Perhaps their refusal to bow down to the pressure being placed on them will give you pause. Why would someone be so stubborn you might ask yourself? Maybe you ought to consider that they might be sincere, principled people with whom you could work if you would only give them a little credit and listen to their concerns. Maybe you ought to ask yourself if they might be right on some of the issues that brought them to Washington.

You also might want to ask yourself why Senator Harry Reid would rather see a cancer-stricken child without services than work with tea party Republicans? Perhaps he and the rest of the Democrat Party leadership care more about crushing the tea party than taking care of the people they claim they’re working for. Maybe they are happy about this so-called shutdown because it gives them a chance to denounce those who oppose them, to get the media to slam them, and to get their donors to empty their wallets in advance of the 2014 election. Maybe if you walked in Harry Reid’s shoes, you might not like the fit. Try it and let me know.

It takes one to be one

Remember as a kid when you learned a clever response to someone’s calling you names was to say “it takes one to know one”.  Eliot Spitzer represents the adult variation on this theme. In his case it takes a fraud to be one as the following column by Seth Lipsky reprinted from the New York Post on August 8, 2013 reminds us.

Libel Case Puts Spitzer on the Spot Over Bullying

by Seth Lipsky

If Eliot Spitzer wins the race for city comptroller, his first job may be defending himself in court. Last month a libel suit was quietly filed against him in a state court in Carmel by Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, the biggest of the tycoons Spitzer targeted as state attorney general.

The case doesn’t involve a lot of money, at least at this stage — the lawsuit simply says damages exceed $25,000. But the issue it raises is crucial: Will the courts countenance Spitzer’s penchant for taking to TV and the press to declare his targets guilty of wrongdoing, even before they’ve been convicted of anything? In other words, does the bully pulpit mean he can be a bully, even long after he’s left office?

Greenberg was the chairman of the huge insurance combine AIG when Spitzer launched his attack, which eventually forced Greenberg to leave AIG. The new management took enormous financial risks and imploded during the 2008 crisis, and the company had to be bailed out by the Federal Reserve (raising issues at the center of separate litigation also launched by Greenberg).

The tycoon’s libel suit centers on statements Spitzer made after he resigned the governorship. One was in May 2012, as Spitzer reacted to a state Supreme Court ruling that his private e-mail account would be subject to New York’s freedom of information law because Spitzer had used it for public business.

The ex-governor told The New York Law Journal that the decision was part of an effort by Greenberg and a colleague to “clear their names” for their involvement with the “corrupt company” AIG. He said they couldn’t “escape the simple reality that they were running a crooked company.”

He went on to say that Greenberg had been “thrown out by his own board and his accounting was fraudulent.” It was classic Spitzer, in that neither he nor any other law-enforcement agency has managed to convict Greenberg of any fraud — a point that was pressed by Maria Bartiromo in an interview that is also at the center of the libel suit against Spitzer.

In that July 13, 2012, interview, he told her that Greenberg was one in a “litany of corporate executives who defrauded the market.”

When Bartiromo pointed out that some people blame AIG’s failure on the fact that management Spitzer himself picked to run AIG had “permitted the company to take on unacceptable risk,” Spitzer again asserted that “Hank Greenberg’s accounting was fraudulent.”

This began an astonishing exchange in which the newswoman tried repeatedly to warn Spitzer that, as she put it at one point, “You just can’t throw around the word ‘fraud.’”

As Greenberg’s complaint reports, Bartiromo warned Spitzer: “You keep saying fraud, but there’s no charge of fraud.” She cautioned him against acting “like judge, jury and the executioner.” The court, she noted, “did not say Hank Greenberg committed fraud. You said it, you continue to say it, and you say it all the time.”

What a reversal: Usually, it’s the reporter trying to goad the public official into saying something newsworthy. Here, it’s the reporter trying to steer the public figure into behaving responsibly.

Spitzer’s apparently not up to that. There just seems to be some demon urging him on.

This doesn’t mean he’ll lose the libel action. It’s extremely difficult for a public figure, like Greenberg, to win a libel suit. But it will be a case to watch in the coming months.

New Yorkers, after all, are weighing whether to give Spitzer a second chance and a third bully pulpit. His successor as attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, may win on two outstanding civil counts against Greenberg. But they are a small remainder of what Spitzer ballyhooed. The real question is whether New Yorkers will be in for a new term of bullying from a public pulpit.

Pandering: A Modern Political Artform

The Democratic Party likes to position itself as women-friendly on such issues as choice, equal pay and equal opportunity. So why do so many Democratic Party men fall short in their personal relations with women? From Bill Clinton to Eliot Spitzer, from Vito Lopez to Anthony Weiner, Democratic Party men have engaged in the kind of behavior that one would think would be seen as antithetical to women’s interests. Yet women voters seem ready to forgive their personal indiscretions. Why?

It seems voters in general are swayed more by what these men say than what they do. One possible reason is that the voters do not have any personal contact with these men. They only know them through the news media and each of these men, with the possible exception of Vito Lopez, is expert at managing his image. Each appears devoted to protecting the innocent and the poor, to advancing the disadvantaged and to taking down the enemies of the people––namely, Wall Street and Republicans.

Of course, there have been Republicans whose personal behavior conflicted with their professed values, but Republicans are less likely to engage in pandering on gender, race and ethnicity.

Pandering has become a modern political art form. It benefits from the short-term memory of the voting public and from the media’s grasping onto candidates who espouse big ideals.

Thus, voters forget, if they ever knew, that the Sheriff of Wall Street, as the media dubbed Eliot Spitzer, often crossed the line as Attorney General of NYS that separates responsible investigation on behalf of the public and using the power of government to engage in ad hominem personal attacks. (See John Faso’s excellent analysis in the New York Daily News “Spitzer’s Reckless Leadership @ http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/spitzer-reckless-leadership-article-1.1401585)

People willing to run for public office certainly need large egos to stand up to constant attention and the possibility of failure, but unchecked these egos too often display the kind of behavior on a personal level typified by Bill Clinton’s denials, Vito Lopez’ harassing of female staffers (a not uncommon theme among men in the State Legislature), and Anthony Weiner’s sexualizing his relations with female followers.

It’s easy to be in favor of something when you do not have to sacrifice or give up anything personally. When a politician proposes broad legislation to aid women, minorities, immigrants, etc. his personal circumstances are not impacted. To the contrary he hopes his support for those groups will enable him to remain in office with all the rewards that go with the position. When elected officials attack businesses like Eliot Spitzer and his successors have done from the Attorney General’s office in Albany, they are not penalized if their charges are unfounded. As along as his career is advanced no price someone else has to pay is too great.

Let’s hope the voters of New York City wake up and keep Vito Lopez, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer from succeeding in fooling them once again.

The Sad Truth About Those Who Protest the End of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

It saddened me to see the immediate and negative reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act from liberal black, Jewish and other organizations. Instead of celebrating the end of Jim Crow, they seem to be saying ‘America is still a racist society.’ Instead of honoring the facts on the ground, they seem to be saying ‘the facts be damned; we want policies we like in place even when they are no longer needed.’ Instead of addressing current problems denying people access to the polls, such as the reported suppression of Black Republican turnout in Philadelphia by the Black Panthers, they want to continue to believe Americans of European descent want to deny basic rights to Americans of African descent.

Let’s review the facts.

The Voting Rights Act was passed to end Jim Crow––a system in place mainly in nine Southern states––which denied Blacks access to “white” institutions including the polls. A friend offered a pertinent example on his Facebook page.  He related a conversation he’d had with his grandfather who when trying to register to vote had been told he had to recite the Declaration of Indpendence from memory. The grandson knew his grandfather could pass that test, but his grandfather didn’t try. Why not? Because they’d just ask me to recite some other document he replied.

Such literacy tests were outlawed by the Voting Rights Act and none have existed since. The act also placed a burden on certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination requiring them to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department in advance of any changes to their election laws to prevent similar measures, including gerrymandering (manipulating voting districts), from re-instating discrimination under a different guise.

It was that preclearance provision––not the rest of the Voting Rights Act––that was struck down. Those jurisdictions need no longer obtain prior approval because as Justice Roberts wrote “No one can fairly say that [they show] anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination . . . that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the Nation.”

Fact: Jim Crow supressed black participation in the electoral process. Yet, in 2012, no state had a voter turnout under 50%. In fact, as Abigail Thernstrom points out in the Wall Street Journal (A Vindication of the Voting Rights Act, June 26, page A21), Mississippi––one of the targets of the original legislation––led the nation in turnout percentage in 2012! Clearly Blacks can and do vote everywhere in the country.

So if the facts no longer support the necessity of the preclearance requirement, why did so many groups scream bloody murder when the court struck it down? These groups apparently need the public to believe that white racism and discrimination against Blacks continue to dominate American culture. It is the basis for their ability to raise money, hire staff and engage in lobbying and similar activites.  They must now mount a campaign which obfuscates the facts on the ground and denies real progress. In particular, they must convince whites that they have not yet paid the price for slavery and Jim Crow.

In order for people to believe that 50 years of change has only been superficial and that America remains under the thrall of white racism, those who protest the court’s decision are undermining the rationale for preclearance provision of Voting Rights Act in the first place. If it hasn’t worked, why continue it in place? Either you believe society cannot change, in which case why fool yourself by trying, or you believe that it can, in which case why not celebrate progress? Those who are angry about the decision are telling us that government intervention has no efficacy. Then why seek it?

As one who participated in the struggle for racial equality in the 1960s and 1970s, I’m proud of what we accomplished. We not only changed laws, but we changed people’s minds. America is a much different country than it was 50 years ago. I’m sad the people who find that to be a problem are the ones who claim to be in favor of equal justice. I can only hope that the public sees through their false claims and rejects their leadership on this issue.