Friday, February 24, 2012

Zinn, Chapter 21

This is one of a multi-part blog series in Howard Zinn's groundbreaking and controversial book, "A People's History of the United States."
Historian Richard Hoftstadter wrote a book about American politics, and one of the quotes Zinn pulls from him, which I love, is: "the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. . .. They have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man. . . . That culture has been intensely nationalistic..." This whole chapter from beginning to end is about how the U.S. government raised spending for the military, bombing and killing people only to defend (offensively) its economic interests. In the meantime, the plight of the poor in the U.S. got even worse during the 1970s through the early 1990s.
Indeed, Zinn agrees: "Coming to the end of the [20th] century, observing its last twenty-five years, we have seen exactly that limited vision Hofstadter talked about—a capitalistic encouragement of enormous fortunes alongside desperate poverty, a nationalistic acceptance of war and preparations for war. Governmental power swung from Republicans to Democrats and back again, but neither party showed itself capable of going beyond that vision."
Ennui and hopelessness developed. "In 1960, 63 percent of those eligible to vote voted in the presidential election. By 1976, this figure had dropped to 53 percent. In a CBS News and New York Times survey, over half of the respondents said that public officials didn't care about people like them. A typical response came from a plumber: "The President of the United States isn't going to solve our problems. The problems are too big.""
Zinn is harsh on Carter's apparent attempt at appeasement: " The presidency of Jimmy Carter, covering the years 1977 to 1980, seemed an attempt by one part of the Establishment, that represented in the Democratic party, to recapture a disillusioned citizenry. But Carter, despite a few gestures toward black people and the poor, despite talk of "human rights" abroad, remained within the historic political boundaries of the American system, protecting corporate wealth and power, maintaining a huge military machine that drained the national wealth, allying the United States with right-wing tyrannies abroad."
Howard Zinn talks about how Carter, Reagan, and Bush all supported the economy, which Zinn considers a euphemism for Wall Street. In the 80s, only 5% of U.S. citizens held over 80% of the publically traded stock. Taxes for the rich and the safety of drinking water went down while defense contracts and inflation went up. I'll stop summarizing and pull out some quotes I like (or, well, hate but am moved by):
  • "Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness, both individual and collective, are contrary to the order of creation." ~ Pope JPII
  •  In the 80s, "In parts of Detroit, one-third of the children were dying before their first birthday." (Massive unemployment and severely curtailed welfare services contributed directly.)
  •  "[A]dmirers of free enterprise and laissez-faire [...] did not ask why babies who were not old enough to show their work skills should be penalized—to the point of death—for growing up in a poor family." 
  • "Republican Kevin Phillips, who analyz[ed] the Reagan years, wrote: "Less and less wealth was going to people who produced something ... disproportionate rewards to society's economic, legal and cultural manipulators-from lawyers to financial advisers.""
Democrats and Republicans loved war because it showed our force of dominance in the world and helped us secure economic interests in things like oil, diamonds, and bananas. 

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