An Edsel or a Fusion?

     The Edsel, named after Henry Ford's son, was an automobile that was manufactured by the Ford Motor Company during the later 1950s. The Edsel, because rumors had circulated  that it would be an entirely new kind of car, quickly disappointed consumers. It was viewed as stodgy and unstylish, and it was designed with the same engineering and bodywork as most other Ford models. Hence, it never became a popular model and it sold poorly. As a result, the Ford Motor Company lost millions of dollars on the Edsel's development, manufacture, and marketing. Today, the name "Edsel" is synonymous with failure.


           Fifty-two years later, the Ford Fusion has become a top-selling automobile. Stylish, sleek, relatively inexpensive, the 2010 model was awarded the Motor Trend Car of the Year and the hybrid version of the Fusion was recognized as the 2010 North American Car of the Year Award.  The new 20013 Ford Fusion represents the second generation of the car,  a thoroughly re-designed  model that was unveiled at the 2012 North American International Auto Show. Since its introduction in 2006, the Fusion has sold over one million vehicles.

           Both of these automobiles have been manufactured by the same company, but the contrast could not be greater. The Edsel illustrates the kind of a poorly designed,  poorly-performing vehicle  that was the result of arrogant and unimaginative corporate groupthink and planning. By contrast, the Fusion is emblematic of the future of automobile manufacturing, based on a desire to provide consumers with an extremely dependable, fuel efficient and attractive alternative to European and Japanese manufactured cars.      

          In some important ways, the Ford Motor Company, and its experiences with these two very different automobiles, serves as a  metaphor for the current state of American politics. The GOP today - as exemplified by their Presidential candidates -  is dominated by those who profess a nostalgia for the America of the 1950s. They express a preference for limited government, low taxes and a  truculent foreign policy .Their nostalgia, however, is not reality-based..

          In the 1950s, economic inequality was significantly lower than today, median incomes, in terms of real purchasing power, higher, and the share of taxes paid by corporations and wealthy Americans was greater. Robert H. Frank, a Cornell University economist, reported in a New York Times column ["Income Inequality: Too Big to Ignore," October 16, 2010] that, during the decades after World War II, incomes in the United States rose rapidly and at about the same rate - approximately 3 percent a year - for employees at all income levels. As a consequence, America had an economically dynamic middle class; its roads and bridges were well maintained; and Americans as a whole were optimistic as investments in infrastructure and public goods increased. In that era of relative economic equality, Frank noted, that public support for infrastructure - paid for by taxes - enjoyed  wide support.

            By contrast, Frank notes that, during the past three decades, as the economy has grown much more slowly, America's  infrastructure has fallen into grave disrepair. Simultaneously, all significant income growth has been concentrated at the top of the scale with the largest share of total income going to that top 1 percent of earners.
            It is also important to remember that President Eisenhower, despite the bellicosity of John Foster Dulles and other members of the GOP's lunatic fringe, was able to disengage this country from the Korean War. He was also able to keep the United States out of any major confrontation  with the Soviet Union by a combination of diplomacy, some-ill considered covert action that later had disastrous consequences, and the use of concerted multi-lateral alliances such as NATO.            

          At the end of his second term, President Eisenhower warned against an ever-growing military-industrial complex and observed that, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

          Because of their inability to apply the facts of the past to the needs of the present, today's GOP have become the Edsel of American politics. If President Obama and the Democratic Party want to become the future model of  American politics  - the Fusion, as it were - they must not be intimidated by the rhetoric that endorses austerity, trickle-down economics and a passive role for government in the face of increasing misery.  
        The Oxford University philosopher, Thomas Hill Green, challenged the conventional wisdom of his day - classical liberalism with its laissez-faire prescriptions - with the argument that, in a democracy, government must be used as a positive instrument for the public good. Green's advocacy of an activist government, his disavowal of extreme individualism and his communitarian politics were subsequently endorsed by A.D. Lindsay who insisted that the purpose of the state is "to serve the community and in that service make it more of a community."

       "Modern liberalism" as articulated by Green and Lindsay, if embraced by Democrats, can provide a firm foundation for a creation of a new and resilient progressive tradition.  It would also offer tangible evidence that, even in politics,  it is still possible to learn from past mistakes,  triumph over political inertia, and  offer a coherent vision that can persuade a majority of citizens that their greatest needs will not remain unmet.     

Enhanced by Zemanta