A former friend, now gone missing as sometimes happens – people drift away, somehow – would now and then comment on her hometown, Paris, saying that each time she went back to visit her mother she understood how America was different. In Paris nothing changes. The city is always what you remember it to be.
Here in Hollywood, where she had settled and become a United States citizen, everything was always changing – major buildings, landmarks from the past and just the everyday stuff, were torn down and then there was something new and sleek, or cute and kitschy, and then that too would be gone, replaced by something else. We obliterate history. In Paris you just live with it – partly because of restrictive building codes, of course, to maintain continuity, but really because no one much thinks about what it would be like if everything looked all new and different. Or perhaps they think about that a lot. What’s the point? The city is fine as it is – you adapt to it, you find your own way to fit into the rhythm and feel of the place. You change – you deepen and mellow, or grow bitter and alienated, or something else – but Paris doesn’t change.
What my former friend found odd is that Americans look at it the other way around – you proudly say who you are, what you believe, tell everyone about the impressive thing it is you do for a living, and change the world around you. You buy cool stuff and build new houses and offices, generally bending the place to your view of things, not adjusting at all to any sort of sense of the past hanging over everything. Call it New World thinking – something we had from the start, back in the late eighteenth century, when there was nothing much here and we had to start a nation from scratch. You tame the wilderness and create a country. When the wilderness is gone, however, you still think that way – just force of habit, or national character. But the idea is that you are solid and unchanging – the world around you is what you change.
That’s why they tore down the house where George and Ira Gershwin lived – the place on Roxbury they bought from Ida Lupino, where those bothers composed all those songs that defined America for many decades. Someone with money leveled it and put up a new fake Colonial thing – what they always wanted, perhaps. You make the world what you want it to be. My friend couldn’t quite decide whether she liked that or not.
But of course, for Americans, some things don’t change. Even if buildings, and whole cities, come and go, and old-growth forests become shopping malls, farms become subdivisions, and the actual landscape changes, with new lakes appearing where they shouldn’t and pleasant hills leveled, some things just seem to be the same. You know – Democrats are the wild-eyed idealists all into social justice and sharing, and the Republicans are the sensible, pragmatic businessmen, sadly shaking their heads and making sure we don’t do anything imprudent.
Even before these two modern political parties it was always so – Jefferson and his talk about the common man, or at least the gentleman-farmer, and Hamilton with his idea that the successful elite should be in charge; for every boisterous Andrew Jackson, a somber William Howard Taft. The Republicans now have roped in the evangelical born-again folks, not much interested in responsible fiscal policy and the needs of big business, but that marriage has become a bit unstable. The Republican Party is still the party of big business – what keeps America strong and prosperous. They just have a wing with other priorities (who didn’t think much of that massively successful businessman, Mitt Romney). And too they talk of security at home by military intervention around the world, and limited government with few if anyone paying taxes, and heroics and patriotism, but we all know they are the ones who know how to run the economy – they are the successful and the rich, after all. As Hamilton would say, they are the successful elite who should be in charge. You don’t trust the country to some college professor – all theory and wild ideas – who never ran a business and thus never found out how things really work. A good number of people voted for George Bush because he had a Harvard MBA – he would be the CEO President. Even if he had been a crappy student, barely getting through the program, and had driven every business his family had given him into the ground, he at least was one of the elite, somehow. He got the concept.
But now something is changing. The educated and successful, Hamilton’s elite, are walking away from the Republican Party:
Republicans have lost an enormous amount of support among upscale voters, basically just breaking even among those with household incomes above $50,000 a year, a traditional GOP stronghold. Similarly, McCain’s losing to Obama among college graduates and voters who have attended some college underscores how much the GOP franchise is in trouble. My hunch is that the Republican Party’s focus on social, cultural, and religious issues – most notably, fights over embryonic-stem-cell research and Terri Schiavo – cost its candidates dearly among upscale voters.
That’s Charlie Cook in the National Journal, saying something is up when those who are that elite crowd would rather not be Republicans.
There seems to a lot of that going around, or so says the Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty:
“We cannot be a majority governing party when we essentially cannot compete in the Northeast, we are losing our ability to compete in Great Lakes States, we cannot compete on the West Coast, we are increasingly in danger of competing in the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Democrats are now winning some of the Western States,” he said. “That is not a formula for being a majority governing party in this nation.”
“And similarly we cannot compete, and prevail, as a majority governing party if we have a significant deficit, as we do, with women, where we have a large deficit with Hispanics, where we have a large deficit with African-American voters, where we have a large deficit with people of modest incomes and modest financial circumstances,” he said. “Those are not factors that make up a formula for success going forward.”
What happened? In a time of economic distress – a crisis such as we haven’t seen since the Great Depression – people are supposed to turn to those who know about such things. The business of America is business, and all that.
Maybe we didn’t get one of those folks this time around. John McCain presented himself as a war hero who would lead us to military victory after military victory around the world, and who was clearly befuddled by the complexities of the current international credit and liquidity collapse. It didn’t help that all those quotes of him saying he didn’t know much about economic issues would not just go away and he had to resort to name calling – that Obama-is-a-socialist business. He seemed to step back and finally just let that plumber from northern Ohio, Joe, make his arguments for him. That wasn’t very reassuring. All that must have made Mitt Romney weep in frustration.
Then there was his running mate, Sarah Palin – dynamic, articulate, charismatic, slyly sexy, and whatever you call several hundred steps below shallow. No one really knew what she was saying about the economy – it was like listening to the question portion of the Miss America Pageant. She smiled, winked, wiggled, and pretty much said nice things about world peace and puppies – it became a joke.
And then on Friday, November 14, the Republican Governors Association announced the members of its new leadership team. She didn’t make the cut:
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was voted RGA chairman, taking over the top job from Texas Gov. Rick Perry who will now serve as finance chairman. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is vice-chairman, while Florida Gov. Charlie Crist will serve as chair for the annual RGA gala, and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue will head up the recruitment effort.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will also sit on the RGA’s executive committee.
“Republican Governors are natural leaders who will find solutions to our nation’s challenges and bring back the Party,” Sanford said in a statement.
Looking back on the last several months, Adam Serwer explains:
The choice of Palin was made for transparently political reasons, undermined somewhat by her lack of qualifications but mostly by her manifest ignorance about issues facing the country. High profile Republicans went along with the farce because they were trying to win an election. Now that it’s over, their contempt for her is showing.
What happened to the Republicans from the fifties – all those businessmen we trusted? We’re used to having a “party of business” – we’ve always had one. Now the educated, knowledgeable and successful folks in the party are fighting to take back the party from the evangelical crowd, who offer faith and a blithe dismissal of all that silly detail of how things work, of what went wrong, of what can be fixed and how it can be fixed. It kind of makes you miss the anti-union pro-robber-baron guys of yore. You may have strongly disagreed with their views, with what they thought was best, but at least they were thinking. Being asked if you’re right with Jesus and have accepted Him in your heart just won’t do.
As for one of the Republican’s other strong suits, not just knowing business but being strong on national defense – killing the bad guys, breaking the rules when necessary, letting the world know we do torture people and we’ll go to war anytime and anywhere we please, and anyone who doesn’t like any of that is our enemy – that too is something you cannot count on any longer, given this:
Nicolas Sarkozy saved the President of Georgia from being hanged “by the balls” – a threat made last summer by Vladimir Putin, according to an account that emerged yesterday from the Elysées Palace.
The Russian Prime Minister had revealed his plans for disposing of Mr Saakashvili when Mr Sarkozy was in Moscow in August to broker a ceasefire in Georgia.
Jean-David Levitte, Mr Sarkozy’s chief diplomatic adviser, reported the exchange in a news magazine before an EU-Russia summit today. The meeting will be chaired by the French leader and President Medvedev.
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.
Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” – he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”
Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?”
Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah – you have scored a point there.”
The world is changing as Glenn Greenwald suggests:
Diplomats and human rights activists could use that tactic for all sorts of noble purposes: “You shouldn’t detain people without trials; you don’t want to end up like Bush.” “You shouldn’t torture; you don’t want to end up like Bush.” “‘You shouldn’t use secret prisons or invade countries that haven’t attacked anyone or spy on your own citizens in secret; you don’t want to end up like Bush,” etc.
This would be the positive converse of the recent trend whereby thugs like Robert Mugabe and even Putin justify their internal repression by pointing to the use of such measures by the Bush administration.
So Bush has changed the world – by absurd example.
All this wasn’t supposed to happen. Republicans are supposed to be the manly heroes, nobly facing down our enemies around the world, and the guys who know how things work here at home, able to fix things – the Daddy Party, as is so often said. Now they all have become a joke.
To make matters worse, there’s Shoshana Zuboff, the former Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, ripping into the American corporate community for its “failure to understand and respect your own consumers, customers, employees, and end users” – in the very Republican magazine Business Week with Obama’s Victory: A Consumer-Citizen Revolt (“The election confirms it’s time for sober reappraisal and reinvention within the business community. If you don’t do it, someone else will.”)
She knows things have changed:
This column is dedicated to the top managers of American business whose policies and practices helped ensure Barack Obama’s victory. The mandate for change that sounded across this country is not limited to our new President and Congress. That bell also tolls for you. Obama’s triumph was ignited in part by your failure to understand and respect your own consumers, customers, employees, and end users. The despair that fueled America’s yearning for change and hope grew to maturity in your garden.
Millions of Americans heard President-elect Obama painfully recall his sense of frustration, powerlessness, and outrage when his mother’s health insurer refused to cover her cancer treatments. Worse still, every one of them knew exactly how he felt. That long-simmering indignation is by now the defining experience of every consumer of health care, mortgages, insurance, travel, and financial services – the list goes on.
Obama was elected not only because many Americans feel betrayed and abandoned by their government but because those feelings finally converged with their sense of betrayal at the hands of Corporate America. Their experiences as consumers and as citizens joined to create a wave of revolt against the status quo – as occurred in the American Revolution. Be wary of those who counsel business as usual. This post-election period is a turning point for the business community. It demands an attitude of sober reappraisal and a disposition toward fundamental reinvention. If you don’t do it, someone else will.
The Daddy Party is in trouble. At Daily Kos, Susan G covers the rest:
As she proceeds through the in-depth indictment, she explores decades of consumer and worker despair, ruthless bottom-line management, the erosion of citizen trust in big business, and, finally, citizens discovering the ability to educate and inform themselves in a new digital age. Even entrepreneurs in the new, cutting-edge technology sectors are not spared, as the Facebook and Google CEO’s are held up as warning signs of slippage, still focusing on monetizing “eyeballs” and devising “two classes of stock intended to insulate top management from investor pressures.”
Solutions to the economic crisis, it’s clear, are going to have to be long-term and systemic. It remains to be seen whether Zuboff’s advice to Wall Street corporations to take responsibility for the financial crisis will be followed in the wake of a change election … or whether that change is read by the CEO’s to apply to government only.
Well, things change. Maybe the Republicans will have to get all French or even Parisian – don’t storm in and try to make the world the way you think it should be, learn to live in it.