The GOP's Newest Candidate for Court Jester

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            This past Wednesday, Rudolph Giuliani, former New York mayor and one-time GOP presidential candidate, appeared at the "21" Club in Manhattan to attend a fund-rasing event that featured Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. According The New York Post ("Giuliani: Obama doesn't 'love America'" by Geoff Earle, February 19, 2015), Giuliani told about 60 conservative business leaders gathered at the 21 Club that, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. "He doesn't love you. And he doesn't love me. He wasn't brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country."  

            A front page article by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman in the February 21,2015 edition of The New York Times reports that earlier that same evening Giuliani expressed indignation with President Obama at another fund-raising event in Manhattan where he took issue with the president's comments that compared the present Islamic extremist terrorism to the depredations that occurred during the Crusades.


           The Times' reporters state that a week before, at a realtors' conference in Las Vegas, Mr. Giuliani also criticized the president's irresolute stance toward President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and on February13, 2015, he told an Iranian-American group in Arizona that Mr. Obama was not "a man who loves his people."       

            Giuliani's intemperate outbursts and his questioning of President Obama's loyalty represent a new low in GOP demagoguery, but his comments need to be remembered in the context of Samuel Johnson's observation that "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."


        Giuliani's twists and turns from a youthful supporter of Robert Kennedy, to one who voted for George McGovern, to one who cavalierly changed his politics once he was received an appointment in a Republican administration raise troublesome questions about his own loyalty, his core values and the sincerity of his political convictions. Giuliani's behavior, similar to that of so many other spokesmen for today's GOP, suggests that he will do and say anything that advances his own political agenda and financial interests. 

           Giuliani is also an unmitigated hypocrite. Given his background, he is hardly in a position to question anyone else's loyalty. He was raised in a first generation Italian-American family as Roman Catholic. Prior to John Kennedy's election, Catholics in the United States were viewed by many "red, white and blue patriots" - today's GOP constituency - as agents of a foreign potentate - the pope.

             Giuliani also avoided military service during the Vietnam War. As a student at Manhattan College and NYU Law, he received student deferments from conscription. Upon graduation from the NYU Law School in 1968, he was classified by the Selective Service System as 1-A-  i.e., available for military service. Although he applied for a deferment, he was rejected.

            In 1969, Federal Judge Lloyd MacMahon, for whom Giuliani  was clerking, wrote a letter on his behalf  to

Giuliani's draft board and requested that he be reclassified as 2-A - i.e., that he be given a civilian occupational

deferment as an essential employee. That  deferment was granted at a time when thousands of other ordinary

young men in New York City and elsewhere across the country- young  men who lacked Giuliani's influential

sponsor - were conscripted and  became potential cannon fodder in the jungles of Vietnam.


            The following year - for some mysterious reason - Giuiliani was not called up for service, although by that

time  he had been reclassified 1-A. His favorable treatment was similar to the  experiences of two other 

prominent, present-day GOP defense hawks and draft evaders, Dick Cheney and Donald Trump.

           Giuliani is not unique among GOP "movers and shakers" and before he can be anointed as the official court jester and resident buffoon of the Republican Party, he will need to overcome stiff competition from the likes of former GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachman, Iowa Congressman Steve King, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert,  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Texas Senator Ted Cruz,  Ben Carson and a legion of other lunatics and clowns. All of his competitors revel in their anti-intellectualism, their unwavering support for the 1%, their advocacy of unlicensed gun-ownership, their abysmal ignorance of history, xenophobic fear of other cultures and people who speak different languages, and their abhorrence of science and the empirically-driven evidence that informs its hypothesis and findings.   

             Once upon a time, the Republican Party was a progressive political party with big ideas about the future of the United States. Abraham Lincoln endorsed a broad vision of policies and programs designed to promote the general welfare. Lincoln defeated the forces of disunion and persuaded the country to abolish slavery and to guarantee equal rights to all male citizens with the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

           Lincoln also signed into law the Homestead Act in 1862 that made available millions of acres of government-owned land in the West for purchase by settlers at substantially reduced costs. That same year, he also signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, which provided government grants for creation of agricultural colleges in every state in the union. In addition, the Pacific Railway Acts of 1862 and 1864 provided federal support for the construction of the United States' First Transcontinental Railroad which, upon its completion in 1869, linked all the United States from coast to coast.

             During the First Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt pursued policies designed to curb the excessive economic power wielded by the Robber Barons and their trusts, condemned predatory practices by corporations, and spoke out in support of organized labor.Roosevelt also successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and The Pure Food and Drug Act. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the expansion of the national park system and the subsequent transfer of the administration of the park system from the Agriculture Department to the Department of the Interior. As his successor, Republican President Howard Taft continued Roosevelt's progressive domestic policies and vigorously enforced antitrust legislation.

             In the early decades of the twentieth century also, Wisconsin Governor and later U.S. Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. enjoyed the loyal support of unionized workers and farmers as a populist. An elected Republican office-holder, he condemned laissez-faire and emphasized the need for government to serve as an advocate for ordinary citizens, as opposed to corporations and other moneyed interests.

             Former Congressman and New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia burnished his credentials as a reform politician and as a progressive who, appalled by the excesses of the 1920s and the misery spawned by the Great Depression, championed the policies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. At the beginning of the Roosevelt administration, he and Nebraska Republican Senator George Norris successfully co-sponsored the Norris-LaGuardia Act. That act declared yellow-dog contracts illegal, forbade the federal courts from issuing injunctions against unions in non-violent labor disputes, and prohibited interference by employers against workers trying to organize trade unions.        


             Unfortunately, the success of Franklin Roosevelt and New Deal subsequently changed the direction of the GOP. Beginning with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, the GOP, prodded by reactionary interests committed to undoing the legacy of the New Deal, became increasingly hostile to unions and supportive of business interests and Wall Street.    

              After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new Republican agenda was cobbled together. Nixon's cynical and craven decision to adopt a "Southern Strategy" required that the GOP abandon its historic commitment to civil rights to attract the support of hard-scrabble, disaffected white Southerners who felt threatened by the elimination of Jim Crow.

              The rest is history. Within a decade, the "Solid South" became the preserve of the GOP, whose rank and file members, despite their increasingly challenged economic circumstances, have become unabashedly anti-intellectual, anti-science, and hostile to unions, minorities, women, public-sector employees, and to the idea that government should be used as a positive instrument to promote the public good.


              Ronald Reagan delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce. He successfully refined a winning political strategy for the GOP by intentionally appealing to the most base instincts of Americans. With his attacks on welfare queens and "'strapping young bucks"' who used public assistance to buy T-Bone steaks," Reagan further stirred the pot of racial animosity. His insistence that government was the problem, not the solution, and his endorsement of trickle-down economics was a repudiation of the GOP's venerable heritage as an opponent of Social Darwinism; and his policies repudiated the observation Republican jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

              Lee Atwater, who was Reagan's campaign strategist, described how and why Reagna;s strategy worked: "In the 1980s campaign, we were able to make the establishment, in so far as it is bad, the government, in other words, big government was the enemy, not big business. If the people think the problem is that taxes are too high, and government interferes too much, then we are doing our job. But, if they get to the point where they say that the real problem is that rich people aren't paying taxes...then the Democrats are going to be in good shape. Traditionally, the Republican Party has been elitist, but one of the things that has happened is that the Democratic Party has become a party of [rival] elites."

             Reagan's divisive rhetoric appealed to an increasingly distracted, unsophisticated base of white males and females, and enabled him to attract "Reagan Democrats" and other low-information voters. They did not understand that the policies that Reagan set in motion - the destruction of traditional  pension plans, the privatization of pension risks through the creation of defined contribution plans -aka 401K plans - with the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) - and the out-sourcing of jibs to the third-world were inimical to their own best interests. Reagan also successfully waged war against public unions with his destruction of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) during their strike in 1981.


             Since the Reagan era, the template has remained the same. But, with the advent  of Roger Ailes and Izvestia-like propaganda outlets such Fox News, as well as the onslaught  of private, undisclosed 501C interests unleashed by Justice Scalia's 5-4 decision in the Citizens United case, the GOP strategists have become vastly more sophisticated and cynical.

              In his Politics, Aristotle insisted that man is by nature a political animal and that one's participation in the life of a democratic state was the highest form of human activity.  Leo Strauss, a political philosopher in the European conservative tradition, observed that the proper object of political theory and inquiry is to discover the Truth of the human condition. Measured by the standards of Aristotle and Strauss, what passes for a discussion of serious issues and ideas in American politics is woefully deficient. Our politics has been reduced to the equivalent of a food fight in which the superficial - who's up? who's down?  who's loyal? who's a real American? - has become the standard by which our leaders are evaluated and chosen.

             Sadly, the GOP alone is not responsible for the trivialization of American politics. Undoubtedly media and the enormous infusion of money from corporations - with their legions of lobbyists and super PACs sanctioned by the Citizens United case - have played a large role in the decline of meaningful political discourse, but they also are not alone.

              Who else bears responsibility? We all do. By our apathy, our lack of active participation in the political system, our unwillingness to challenge the lunatic fringe, and our tolerance of political lies, we have allowed the democracy to which we claim allegiance to be gamed and stolen.

            Howard Zinn once warned that, "If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves." His fear is now becoming our nightmare.   



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