Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Women’s Equality or Public Financing? We Need Both

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen before he presents his 2013–14 Executive Budget (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

You’ve got to hand it to them: Republicans know how to find connections between their issues—even if they’re of the perverse, dishonest variety. Last week, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers, following Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal, to pass a comprehensive women’s agenda. In a true feat of cynicism and obfuscation, the state GOP responded by attacking proposals for public financing of elections: “The height of hypocrisy is for Andrew Cuomo to claim to support women’s rights while asking New York’s women to spend their tax dollars on reelecting serial sex abuser Vito Lopez and his enabler [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver.”

Needless to say, public financing of elections is not about drafting citizens to endorse particular politicians. Rather, devoting tax dollars to funding campaigns is a smart and urgent way to dilute the influence of big money, which warps our politics and makes citizens bystanders as the public coffers are drained to reward private donors. But there’s a larger lesson here.

As we’ve seen since Cuomo reached the Governor’s Mansion, there’s a big difference between what the governor backs on paper, and what he’s willing to put his considerable political muscle behind (more often than not, it’s “social issues” where Cuomo chooses to champion progressivism). Perhaps the governor believed all along (incorrectly) that he only had the power to pass one of these landmark pieces of legislation, and chose to put them both out there, thereby creating competition between the movements backing each. But we need campaign finance reform, and we need a Women’s Equality Act that takes on domestic violence, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, pay inequity, and attacks on reproductive choice.

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This situation offers a challenge to progressives, who too often allow themselves to be placed into single-issue silos, and thus pitted against each other. We should know by now that regressive policies usually hit women the hardest, and single moms are often the most acutely affected of all. When we treat “women’s issues” as distinct from clean elections, or labor, or foreign policy, we endanger women and hold back progress.

Defeat or delay for clean elections means fewer women in office. There is a ton of data that women candidates win at the same rates as men. The problem is, they don’t run at the same rates. And the #1 issue given by prospective women candidates who consider but then do not run is that they don’t think they can raise the necessary money. New York’s public financing proposal will, in fact, enable enormous numbers of women to run.

(At the moment, National Conference of State Legislatures data show that New York State, despite its progressive reputation, is tied with Arkansas for thirtieth place when it comes to the proportion of its legislature made up of women—New York City is further along. The three states with public financing—Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine—come in third, ninth and tenth, respectively.)

Just look at Arkansas, where last year the Democratic Party lost the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. Culprits include Koch brothers cash. Once elected, Republicans quickly passed a twelve-week abortion ban, a frontal assault on the lives and autonomy of women across the state. That blatantly unconstitutional law will also have to be defended in court. In austerity-era Arkansas, that will no doubt sap needed resources from already-hamstrung programs that women and children count on. For progressives, there may be single-issue campaigns, but there are rarely just single-issue defeats.

There is an alternative. Governor Cuomo has the chance to mount a real fight for a bolder agenda now. That includes centralizing women’s equality in his agenda, and pairing it with public financing, because they go hand in hand if we care about economic justice and social progress. In the meantime, it falls to the rest of us to build deeper ties, and a less compromised and compromising political movement—demanding a government that respects and reflects women’s dignity and autonomy at the workplace, the doctor’s office, and the ballot box. As history has taught us, an injury to one is an injury to all.

Governor Cuomo wants to get rid of that pesky Working Families Party, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.

Going Bulworth

President Barack Obama walks to the podium to speaks to reporters at the White House in 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.  

Going Bulworth.  

The New York Times reported last week that President Obama fantasizes with aides about “going Bulworth.” For those who don’t remember, Bulworth is a brilliant 1998 film by Warren Beatty, depicting a corrupted and suicidal liberal senator from California who is facing a primary challenge while dealing with financial ruin. Unable to sleep or eat, Bulworth suddenly busts out before an African-American congregation in a black church in South Central Los Angeles and begins rapping the unspeakable truths about our politics. The Times report has led commentators to speculate on what the president might say if he went “Bulworth.” What’s revealing, however, is how much could be taken directly from the movie itself.  

As Republicans and the press hyperventilate about inflated scandals, the president could simply “go Bulworth” by borrowing directly from the movie to talk about what the actual scandals are:  

We got babies in South Central dying as young as they do in Peru.

We got public schools that’re nightmares  

We got a Congress that ain’t got a clue

The real crises are mass unemployment and falling wages. Mindless cuts in government spending are costing jobs, slowing any recovery. We have an economy that rewards only the few. Corporations are pocketing record amounts of the economy in profits, while wages hit new lows. The richest 1 percent captured more than 100 percent of the income growth of the society in the two years coming out of the recession. Yet Republicans continue to demand more cuts in programs for the vulnerable and reject even closing tax havens for the wealthy.

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

This Week in 'Nation' History: Reviewers Have Argued About 'Gatsby' Since 1925

With its Jay-Z soundtrack, bizarre 3-D effects and commitment of Nick Carraway to a mental institution, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby has seemed to some critics insufficiently deferential to a precious cultural totem. But long before it won silver in Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels, writers in The Nation offered drastically different assessments on both the book’s meaning and its legitimate place in the literary pantheon.

Carl Van Vechten, a writer and photographer who later served as Gertrude Stein’s literary executor, reviewed The Great Gatsby for The Nation in the issue of May 20, 1925, just a month after the book’s publication:

Mr. Fitzgerald is a born story-teller…[H]is work is imbued with that rare and beneficent essence we hail as charm. He is by no means lacking in power, as several passages in the current opus abundantly testify, and he commands a quite uncanny gift for hitting off character or presenting a concept in a striking or memorable manner…

Up to date, Mr. Fitzgerald has occupied himself almost exclusively with the aspects and operations of the coeval flapper and cake-eater. No one else, perhaps, has delineated these mundane creatures quite as skillfully as he, and his achievement in this direction has been awarded authoritative recognition. He controls, moreover, the necessary magic to make his most vapid and rotterish characters interesting and even, on occasion, charming, in spite of (or possibly because of) the fact that they are almost invariably presented in advanced stages of intoxication…

In “The Great Gatsby,” there are several of Mr. Fitzgerald’s typical flappers who behave in the manner he has conceived as typical of contemporary flapperdom. There is again a gargantuan drinking-party, conceived in a rowdy, hilarious, and highly titillating spirit. There is also, in this novel…something else. There is the character of Gatsby…

But in a review the following year of a stage production of Gatsby, The Nation’s theater critic, Joseph Wood Krutch, mocked Fitzgerald’s blurring of the line between spectator and spectated, satirist and satirized. Almost ignoring the theatrical production entirely, Krutch instead skewered the book:

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born into the flapper age with exactly the qualities and defects which would enable him to become its accredited historian. Though granted just enough detachment to make him undertake the task of describing, he is by temperament too much a part of the things described to view them with any very penetratingly critical eye and he sees flappers, male and female, much as they see themselves. Sharing to a very considerable extent in their psychological processes, he romanticizes their puerilities in much the same fashion as they do; and when he pictures the manners of the fraternity house or the Long Island villa he pictures them less as they are than as their practitioners like to imagine them. He makes cocktails and kisses seem thrillingly wicked; he flatters the younger generation with the solemn warning that it is leading the world straight to the devil; and as a result he writes The Flapper’s Own History of Flapperism. Thus he becomes less the genuine historian of a phase of social development than one of the characteristic phenomena of that development itself, and his books are seen to be little more than documents for the study of the thing which they purport to treat.

The book, Krutch added, was “preposterously maudlin.”

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The Nation has had only distaste for both screen adaptations of Gatsby reviewed in its pages. Painter and film critic Manny Farber panned the 1949 Paramount adaptation as “a limp translation,” writing that the film’s purposefully antiquated style “takes on the heavy, washed-out, inaccurate dedication-to-the-past quality of a Radio City mural.” Farber also said that the actress Betty Field failed as Daisy because she was “no more marked by Southern aristocracy than a cheese blintz.”

“Respectful work and appalling” were the choice words Robert Hatch, a longtime executive editor of the magazine, had for the 1974 adaptation starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Sam Waterston as Nick and Mia Farrow as Daisy, with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola. “When it sticks to the original, it adds nothing; when it deviates, it puts a heavy foot into Fitzgerald’s magic,” Hatch wrote. “Overall, its most conspicuous weakness is that it cannot handle vulgarity or ostentation without becoming vulgar or ostentatious”—precisely the same complaint Krutch expressed about the book itself in The Nation almost fifty years earlier.

Other Nation articles about Fitzgerald include a 1945 essay by Lionel Trilling—putting him in the same category with Shakespeare, Dickens, Voltaire, Balzac and Goethe—and a 1996 appreciation by friend-of-the-magazine E.L. Doctorow, who wrote that “in its few pages” Gatsby “arcs the American continent and gives us a perfect structural allegory of our deadly class-ridden longings.” And as many have argued, the release of “Gatsby” should also be an occasion for renewed discussion of inequality in America.

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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

Christie's Broken Promise

Chris Christie and Barack Obama inspect the damage from Hurricane Sandy. (Wikimedia Commons/Pete Souza.)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Last week, as news circulated of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight-loss surgery, so did a video in which Christie parodied his own brand—and the fleece he wore day and night during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. In the video, he asks everybody from Morning Joe to Jon Bon Jovi if they’ve seen his now-missing fleece, without which he is powerless, like Iron Man without his suit.

The governor may be able to poke fun at the absurdity of, among other things, his rising star, rumored ambitions and “relentless” fleece, but his real shortcomings are no laughing matter.

It was, after all, while wearing that infamous fleece that he raced across his state, doling out no-nonsense quips about recovering from the storm. And who can forget the iconic images of Christie and President Obama surveying the wreckage together, finding love, it seemed, in a hopeless place?

Christie seemed genuinely consumed by the unprecedented destruction caused by what the environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben called a “Frankenstorm….stitched together from some spooky combination of the natural and the unnatural.”

And yet, when asked the obvious question—how Christie would address the climate change challenges that contributed to the superstorm and will, undoubtedly, create more in the future—the famously blunt governor said, “Now maybe, in the subsequent months and years, after I get done with trying to rebuild the state and put people back in their homes, I will have the opportunity to ponder the esoteric question of the cause of this storm.”

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

This Week in 'Nation' History: Abundance and the Basic Income Guarantee

Fifty years ago, as today, the problem of economic inequality was very much on the minds of Nation editors. The issue of May 11, 1963 was given over—“in the spirit of thoughtful and significant dissent which is the hallmark of The Nation,” the editors wrote—entirely to a nine-chapter investigation by the economist and futurist Robert Theobald of the threat posed to the American economy by abundance. Whereas traditional economics was defined as the art of “distributing scarce resources,” in Theobald’s view the incredible developments of technology in recent years, and the promise of even greater leaps in the near future, meant that the chief economic problem of the time was not scarcity but abundance.

His magisterial essay, published later that year as a book titled Free Men and Free Markets, argued that great technological changes would free up surplus labor and capital to such an extent that it could actually prove detrimental to American society if not adequately harnessed. All the benefits would accrue to the rich, creating stress and disillusionment among the rest of the populace. Radical changes would have to be undertaken in order to accommodate that abundance: first among them what Theobald elsewhere called a “basic living guarantee,” or unconditional allotment of funds to all citizens. Piecemeal compensation like retraining, unemployment insurance, or Social Security wouldn’t improve the situation, Theobald argued. The solutions proposed by traditional economic theory were empty, he wrote:

Unemployment rates must…be expected to rise. This unemployment will be concentrated among the unskilled, the older worker and the youngster entering the labor force. Minority groups will also be hard hit. No conceivable rate of economic growth will avoid this result.

Only broad, systemic, and proactive initiatives like a guaranteed income could do that. One fault of Theobald’s essay is that he was perhaps too optimistic regarding the United States’ ability to adapt to the changes he describes, as here in Chapter IV:

The historian of the 21st century will still be puzzled as he looks back on the nineteen-sixties, for he will never understand our point of view. He will wonder how we could tolerate an exploited minority when it was possible for the remainder of the population to provide for it without damaging their own economic position. He will ask how we could accept a society in which those with money had relatively few unsatisfied needs and those with many unsatisfied needs had no money.

No historian is truly puzzled about this today, of course, since all the problems Theobald describes as of the utmost urgency have only grown worse, and the kind of structural changes advocated by Theobald in The Nation in 1963 have been deferred, to the detriment of so many, for fifty years and counting. That is why our work at The Nation is never done—as we continue to propose systemic economic changes that would lead to a more just and fair society.

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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

The Problem in New York Politics Is Big Money, Not Small Parties

Andrew Cuomo has proposed restricting third parties from placing candidates on their ballot lines without primary elections. (AP Photo/Mike Groll.)

Rahm Emanuel was right: A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Following the arrest of a leading state senator last month, which confirmed every New Yorker’s worst suspicions about the depths of our state’s corruption problem, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a rare opportunity to push common sense reforms to get money out of our politics. But, instead, he's seized the moment to push a “reform” that would leave our state’s politics even more dominated by the wealthy and well-connected.

As I noted last month, Cuomo has endorsed a legal change that would hamstring New York State’s third parties, including the Working Families Party, a savvy and steadfast counterweight against the power of big business and its backers in both parties. The WFP has been able to maximize its leverage here because, unlike most states, New York allows fusion voting: third parties can endorse a worthy candidate who’s also running on the Democratic or Republican Party ballot line, and place that candidate on their own line as well. Or, if neither candidate deserves their support, third parties can run their own candidate against them. Strategically deploying that option has helped the WFP become a force to be reckoned with. (Just look at Connecticut, another fusion-voting state: After a victory he literally owed to the votes he’d racked up on the WFP ballot line, Governor Dan Malloy quickly and aggressively pushed through a major WFP priority, the country’s first statewide paid sick leave law.)

The WFP’s grassroots base has either led the charge, or provided heavy artillery, for nearly every economic justice victory our state has seen over the past decade. So it should come as no surprise that now, like its agrarian populist third party forebears, it faces an elite-backed backlash.

Now, to be fair to the Governor, he did not propose eliminating fusion voting entirely. Instead, he just called for banning the leaders of third parties from placing candidates on their ballot line without holding primary elections. But that's little comfort.

Imagine a scenario in which, say, a billionaire mayor who’s also a media baron decides he wants as many ballot lines as possible and floods the zone with misleading ads in an effort to scoop up the WFP’s ballot line, the Conservative Party’s, and any other line on offer. Given the name recognition advantage of incumbents and major party nominees, and the broken state of campaign finance, it’s not so hard to imagine. Cuomo’s proposal would strip third parties—which exist in large part as bulwarks against betrayal by Democrats and Republicans—of the right to do quality control on their own candidates. (Keep in mind that the leaders of the WFP are themselves elected by a committee elected by registered WFP voters.) What’s at issue here isn’t the right to run for office—anybody, Cuomo included, can run in the Democratic or Republican primary. It’s the chance for minor parties—a key vehicle for bringing new voices and neglected issues into the process—to choose how best to wield leverage against a broken system.

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That’s a system that Cuomo can do more to fix. As I noted last month, fusion voting is not what ails Albany (note that the scandal Cuomo has been citing involves a senator’s alleged efforts to buy his way onto the Republican ballot line, not the WFP’s); none of New York’s thirty corruption scandals over the past decade have involved fusion voting.

What we do need is serious campaign finance reform, a goal that Cuomo has pledged support for (including recently) but has sometimes failed to back with the political muscle we know he’s capable of. While the Governor was sitting on his hands as the Democratic Party was maneuvered out of a senate majority, the WFP was successfully carrying reform champion CeCe Tkaczyk to an underdog victory.

I appreciate that Andrew Cuomo cares about important social liberal causes like marriage equality, but I wish he were equally invested in economic equality. If he were, he would be joining arms with the Working Families Party to pass clean elections, not making their vital work even more difficult.

Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on Barney Frank, who sees an opportunity to shift federal spending away from the military and put it into programs that help Americans.

Barney Frank Talks Common Sense

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA). (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.)

“Every time a group would come to my office,” says Frank, ‘and say, ‘We need more money for housing for the elderly, we need more money for transportation, we need more money for Superfund,’ at the end I would say, ‘You forgot one thing…. You forgot to say raise taxes and cut the military. Because if we don’t do some of each of those, then you’re never going to get anything you want.’”

And third, the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Americans’ well-grounded war-weariness, create an opportunity to reorient our spending to better reflect our needs and values. “In the immediate post-2001 period,” says Frank, “you could spook them with terrorists. The public now understands. Iraq [War] is now thoroughly discredited…. people are ready to pull back substantially.”

As Frank notes, a confluence of factors now offers us a real opportunity to tame the out-of-control military spending that’s eating away at national priorities and possibilities. First, there’s the attention—some prudent, some unhinged—to our federal deficit. “Now everybody understands it’s a zero-sum game…” Frank said on a call with Campaign for America last month. “The way it’s set up, either you make these kinds of cuts to the military, or they devastate Medicare and Medicaid.” On that question, he adds, like on legalizing marijuana, “some of the politicians, including the president, suffer from cultural lag, and the public, for its part, is way ahead of them.”

Frank notes that after a bipartisan drawdown helped achieve the Clinton budget surplus, the trend reversed under George W. Bush. He says that after 9/11, neocons “managed to inflate terrorism to the level of an existential threat, of the level we had seen with the terrorists and the Nazis. And obviously the terrorists are terrible people, and we need to fight them, but that is not remotely the order of magnitude of threat that we’ve had previously, nor do you fight them in the same way.” Frank also notes that, in contrast to the “isolationist” notes Ron Paul sometimes struck while criticizing the Pentagon budget, “I’m in favor of increasing money that we give to fight AIDS, I’m in favor of increasing money to feed hungry children.” Frank says he just rejects “the notion that you can bring about social change elsewhere in the world, and enhance America’s influence, by military force.”

Frank notes that military jobs could be scaled down by attrition, rather than through layoffs. Still, any proposal for military cuts comes up against the claim that our economy can’t afford the loss of military jobs. Last month, Washington Post reporters Ylan Q. Mui and Marjorie Censer wrote that a new government GDP report revealed recent military spending cuts as the cause of slow GDP growth. Two days later, the Post’s Zachary Goldfarb wrote that liberals face “a conundrum,” because “the significant reductions in military spending that they have long sought are also taking a huge bite out of economic growth.”

How far can we pull back? Over the next three or four years, argues Frank, “it is easily achievable, consistent with any legitimate national security, and some sense of responsibility to help others in need, to spend less than 80 percent” of current non-Afghanistan expenditures. As one example of a common sense cut, Frank offers the F35. “One of the things that you must demand of a weapon is that it have an enemy,” says Frank. “And the F35 has no enemy…It’s already the case that the second-largest air force in the world is the US Navy.”

Second, Frank sees greater grounds for bipartisan bridge-building than we’ve had in years: liberals increasingly recognize that tackling defense spending is a necessary condition for preserving social progress, and some principled conservatives are applying their cost-cutting philosophy to the military-industrial complex. While Rand Paul may be the most prominent Republican breaking with the defense industry, Frank urges that we keep an eye on South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, “a leading Tea Party activist” whom he also calls “a very good guy, very well respected.” Frank notes Mulvaney “was my co-author on the first amendment that passed in my thirty-two years” in which the House reduced the level of military spending that had reached the floor from the Appropriations Committee.

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Those arguments pack a punch in part because in recent decades, military Keynesianism has been nearly the only Keynesianism we’ve had. But as the Political Economy Research Institute’s Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier explained in our pages last May, military spending is one of the least effective ways for the government to create jobs: “1 billion in spending on the military will generate about 11,200 jobs within the US economy. That same $1 billion would create 16,800 jobs through clean energy investments, 17,200 jobs within the healthcare sector or 26,700 jobs through support of education.”

To avert draconian cuts, and bring sanity to the Pentagon budget, says Frank, “people really need to press the president.” Among the reasons for urgency is one that Frank notes too often gets overlooked: “It is the key to getting back to an effective government.” As Frank, the first member of Congress to marry a same-sex partner, notes, “my marriage now polls better than my congressional service.” He sees cutting the military budget as a necessary step to restoring faith in government. “The less the government can deliver,” says Frank, “the more unpopular it gets.”

When it comes to confronting military bloat, are we finally reaching a turning point? “We are on the verge, I think, of some major progress,” says Barney Frank. And if anyone would know, it’s Frank, the trailblazing former congressman and candor addict.

Read Katrina vanden Heuvel on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempts to get rid of the Working Families Party confronting big business.

This Week in 'Nation' History: George W. Bush Opens His Presidential Library & Collective Amnesia Reigns

The opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas, last week has led to a re-examination of the forty-third president’s legacy. An article in The Washington Post noted Bush’s approval rating has enjoyed a steady increase in the four years since he left office, attributing that spike to “the passage of time and Bush’s relative invisibility.” While that public invisibility has indeed been enjoyable, the library dedication should be an occasion to remember what it actually felt like in America during the Bush years. To take a tour through The Nation’s early judgments of Bush—before the wars, the cronyism, and the rejection of the rule of law brought such criticisms mainstream—is to be truly spoiled because there is so much to choose from, and there are many articles that deserve a second reading.

An early article on Bush’s first presidential campaign, “Running on Empty: The Truth About George W. Bush’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism,’ ” from April 1999, tried and failed to find a single way Bush had been compassionate to any constituency in Texas apart from his oil and gas industry cronies, arms manufacturers, polluters and other corporate malefactors. It also previewed Bush’s penchant for “speaking in tongues intended to be understood by the Christian right” and the regular-guy routine that became an important and effective component of his electoral strategy. “You think that if you could only forget the policies, the appointment and the vetoes, you could really love this guy,” Texas Observer editor Louis Dubose wrote. “He’s that good.”

An article published just before the 2000 election by David Corn, recent Polk Award winner and former Washington bureau chief for The Nation, considered the governor’s performance during the campaign—in which “Bush’s intelligence became a campaign issue”—and weighed the candidates’ respective closing arguments. “The dominant theme is, trust people, not the government,” Karl Rove told Corn. His boss’s own argument was more, well, succinct. “The greatness of America exists because our country is great,” Bush declared. At a certain point, one does feel a little nostalgic.

After Bush v. Gore, and after 9/11, The Nation had much more serious concerns about Bush than his garbled diction. In an editorial called “Bush’s Domestic War,” from December 2001, we took issue with Bush “invoking his wartime popularity and authority” for the purpose of ramming his conservative social and economic agenda through a reluctant Democratic Congress. “September 11 was supposed to change everything, but despite war and recession the President remains wedded to the same reactionary agenda he pushed before the attack,” we wrote. “Bush is squandering his chance to be a national unity President in order to pursue a conservative agenda out of step with the nation’s needs and the people’s expectations.” It was his pernicious combination of imperialistic foreign policy and reactionary domestic agenda that marked the Bush era in real time, and which deserves to be remembered today, despite the $500 million library and museum—and the former president’s calculated invisibility—designed to help us forget.

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The idea of the presidential library—first conceived by Franklin Roosevelt in 1939—has endured its own share of Nation criticism and parody, as in a 1971 article by Los Angeles Times reporter Nicholas Chriss. In “Lyndon Gets His Library,” Chriss wrote that Johnson, like Bush, was “no longer all that interested in the gut politics that absorbed him in the past” and would probably spend much time in the library if he could ever pass through the rows of University of Texas students protesting the war he escalated beyond repair. Chriss further questioned the objectivity of the museum’s account of the Johnson years, the completeness of its documentation and the anonymity of its donors.

A mock advertisement for the future George W. Bush Presidential Library was published in The Nation in September 2004, written by senior editor Richard Lingeman, purporting to offer billionaire donors “an opportunity to discharge your debt to George W. Bush for the handsome returns provided by his administration.” The circular continues:

Visitors enter through the imposing three-foot-thick Rumsefeld Memorial Bronze Doors, inlaid with scenes of George W. Bush’s Ten Most Statesmanlike Moments. Once inside, visitors are escorted to the John Ashcroft Lounge for interrogation and full orifice search. After screening they may proceed to the Great Hall, where two large dioramas are displayed: “Mission Accomplished: George W. Bush Bringing Democracy to a Grateful Iraqi People” and “Mission Accomplished: George W. Bush Bringing Tax Relief to Grateful Billionaires.” In the rear will be the Wall of Fame, on which are prominently displayed the names or corporate logos of $5 million donors to the Library.

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Subscribers to The Nation can access our fully searchable digital archive, which contains thousands of historic articles, essays and reviews, letters to the editor and editorials dating back to July 6, 1865.

Governor Cuomo and the Working Families Party: Eve of Destruction?

Governor Andrew Cuomo. (AP Photo/Mike Groll.)

The last few weeks have seen an amazing move by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In response to a prominent set of arrests of high-ranking Democrats and Republicans, the governor has proposed a series of proposals to strengthen the power of district attorneys to investigate corruption. Okay, that seems like a reasonable enough response.

But the governor has also proposed another response to the corruption scandal. He has proposed banning the Working Families Party. I know, he can’t ban a political party. But he has proposed to eliminate “fusion” voting. He calls it “cross-endorsement,” but fusion is the historical term. More on fusion below, but let’s stay in the news cycle for another moment.

The governor’s stated reason for banning fusion is silly. But his real, unstated reason is not. Let’s take them in turn.

Three weeks ago, State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested for allegedly trying to bribe his way into the Republican Primary for mayor, despite being a registered Democrat. The governor seized on this and said to the New York Post, “In an ideal world, there would be no cross-endorsements.” In other words, because Smith attempted to bribe his way to a “cross-endorsement,” we ought to ban cross-endorsements. By this logic, as one Working Families Party leader said on television recently, if Malcolm Smith had tried to bribe someone to get his kid a job, would we then pass a law to ban jobs?

The more likely (if unvoiced) reason for this proposal is plain. For reasons both similar and different, the governor and the real estate/Wall Street/low-wage employer wings of the Democratic Party in New York would like to see the Working Families Party disappear. The WFP is the most persistent threat to the power of business interests in the Empire State, and the governor doesn’t want anyone to point out that he governs as a centrist on economic issues and a liberal only on social issues. The business lobby is serious about crushing “the little party that could” (a Newsday headline of a few years ago), spending millions of dollars on television and mail against WFP candidates, and even trying to hire well-known progressive public relations firms to wage a PR battle against them. So far, they have failed.

Now, the governor’s aides are pushing a line to the press that the “third parties” in New York have “too much” influence. It’s true that the Conservatives have power and influence with the Republicans, and that the Working Families Party has the same with the Democrats. But that’s because they have support among the voting public, they have ideas, and they have verve. The Millionaire’s Tax, Paid Sick Days, the minimum wage, Rockefeller Drug Law reform, the Green Jobs Act, the emergence of the Progressive Caucus in NYC, the inclusionary zoning rules, the passage of the Wage Theft and Domestic Workers Acts—each of these, in ways large or small, got a boost from the electoral savvy and relationships that the WFP shows day after day across the state.

So it’s not a surprise that the business class and its allies want to see them weakened or, better yet, destroyed. One can’t help but point out that this is not the first time that establishment power has decided that one potent way to weaken the progressive left is to eliminate fusion voting. It happened more than a hundred years ago, and it’s a vital if little-known part of our political history. It’s unlikely that the legislators and press corps in Albany are aware of this, but it’s a history worth reciting as they consider the current proposals from the governor and Senator Jeff Klein, the renegade/independent Democrat who has aligned with the Republican State Senate majority.

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In a fusion system, a candidate can run with the endorsement of more than one party, with the votes on either line counting towards the total. Basically, fusion allows third parties to avoid the “wasted vote” or “spoiler” dilemmas that otherwise doom third parties in America to irrelevance. In the winner-take-all system that we have in America—meaning, no proportional representation—fusion is the best way past those twin dilemmas. In fact, some political scientists call it “modified proportional representation.” My sense, having watched the vicious attacks in the Murdoch press over the years, is that the WFP is entirely correct about the value of fusion. The right doesn’t waste time attacking people it doesn’t care about.

Fusion was once legal in every state. Especially during the agrarian insurgencies of the post–Civil War era, fusion parties were at the heart of the challenge to the powers-that-be. The Populists are the most famous, and their rise in the late 1800’s eventually produced a fierce counter-reaction. After the 1896 election in which William Jennings Bryan, running on a Democrat-Populist fusion ticket, was soundly defeated by McKinley and the railroad barons, the anti-fusion movement got serious. In one state after another, the electoral rule that allowed the workers (mostly Democrats) to unite with the farmers (mostly Populists), was changed.

Non-fusion third parties continued to exist, of course, and the Socialists were a vibrant presence until the First World War, but in general it’s fair to say that the anti-fusion rules made traditional third-party organizing less than it once was. The labor movement long ago threw in with the Democrats, because to do otherwise simply did not seem tenable. It’s been a barren marriage in many respects, and one hears plenty of frustration with the Democrats today from labor leaders Rich Trumka or Lee Saunders or Mary Kay Henry’s words. In most states today, the fusion option is not available, but a “Working Families Organization”—non-party parties, really—strategy is indeed available and popular among institutional progressive leaders in many states.

So, nothing new under the sun. The Populists made a real play for power, and the forces of capital united to crush them. No doubt the Populists made some mistakes, but their real sin was that they stood up for what they believed in. Today in New York and Connecticut, the more conservative elements in the Democratic Party are trying to eliminate fusion voting, and it remains to be seen whether the WFP and its allies in community, labor, civil rights, environmental, student and feminist organizations can stop them. Pro-fusion forces on the right like Mike Long and the Conservative Party will no doubt push the Republicans to withstand the governor’s call, but in the end it will come down to progressive-minded leaders and legislators inside the Democratic Party voting yea or nay. Here’s hoping they stand with working families, lower and upper-case.

The research undergirding austerity politics has been exposed as fundamentally flawed—yet Republicans continue to call for drastic cuts, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.

The Austerity Doctrine Exposed

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan Ryan has cited austerity research that was fundamentally flawed. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin.)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

The austerity claque got it wrong. And the harsh bill is being paid by millions of Americans and millions more in Europe in jobs lost, homes foreclosed, families split apart, hopes crushed.

They can’t repay the costs of their folly. We don’t really need an apology. But could they at least get out of the way so we could get on with the jobs programs that we should have undertaken years ago?

Austerity has been tried and found wanting in practice. Instead of expansion and growth, Europe has been driven back into recession. With Britain’s credit rating downgraded, its economy contracting, its unemployment rolls soaring, its debts rising, three years of rosy forecasts shredded, Tory Chancellor George Osborne’s tears at the lavish funeral for Margaret Thatcher may well have been for the burial of his own reputation. Britain is “playing with fire,” warned the International Monetary Fund’s chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, who told Sky News, “The danger of having no growth, or very little growth, for a long time, is very high. You get a number of vicious circles that come into play.”

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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