Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Is Building or Looting the Path to Presidential Greatness?

It’s a showdown between the two most influential presidents of the 20th Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt versus Ronald W. Reagan.

Forty-five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say FDR, the Democratic father of the big government New Deal who led the country to victory in World War II, was the better president of the two.

The results are actually inconclusive here, but clearly we are witnessing something of a turning of the tide.

I find it a bit flabbergasting that the Republican bad mouthing of FDR's New Deal which vociferously began while FDR was in office and has never ceased, becoming a drumbeat for deregulatory dismantlement ever louder and ever more ruinous every year after right up to the present day, is still so fragile a thing that Americans with so little encouragement or explanation otherwise still remember enough and know enough and care enough to see through the crap they've been peddled and assert so contrary a vision of American greatness.

It's interesting to note that the framing of the poll results here remains more firmly in the grip of Reagan-era fallacies, perhaps, than the people they polled. FDR is the Democratic father of Good Government quite as much as "big government," after all.

Of course, it is important to realize that FDR and Reagan do not represent competing visions in some abstract way, so much as the direct, explicit, passionate assault of elite and incumbent interests on the relatively democratized (but still racist, to its irreparable cost) middle class society created by the New Deal. Ever since FDR and quintessentially so in Reagan, the Right has been defined by the project to roll back the New Deal (largely through the activation of divisive class resentments filtered through racism and patriarchy). Meanwhile, the Left has been defined by the project to preserve the New Deal while ambivalently (to be polite) coming to terms, on the one hand, with the institutional legacies of racist slavery and, on the other hand, with the transformation of patriarchy exacerbated by the pill and gay liberation.

I suspect that this poll will much more enthusiastically favor FDR over Reagan in eight years' time, after two Obama terms (knock on wood). What would be interesting, and far more apt, is to find comparable numbers favoring Carter over Reagan as well by then. Although I would not be the least bit tempted to propose that Carter was a "great" President, I do think it is a heartbreaking catastrophe for the United States that Reagan (who was also far from great in my view, in fact he was relentlessly awful) truly was, as the poll would have it, incomparably the more influential President of the two. Had Carter been the more influential President, I think a renewable energy economy, a basic income guarantee, and universal single-payer healthcare might all be realities in America by now. Imagine! As for Bush, of course, whatever Pickles says to the contrary, now and always and evermore our Worst. President. Ever.


Anonymous said...

I think the reason why many Americans have and will probably continue to believe that Ronald Reagan was an influential U.S. president isn't so much because of his supply-side economic policies (known as "Reaganomics") but rather because of his mythical role in single-handedly ending the Cold War when, in reality, a degenerated workers' state's internal weakness became obvious enough that the USSR would have eventually collapsed regardless of whether we had a "hawk" or "dove" in power...

Dale Carrico said...

I have heard that Reagan did actually exhibit some real leadership on the question of nuclear proliferation, for which he deserves some credit (even if his idiotic championing of missile defense ultimately cashes out in a compensatory arms-race, endless destabilizing provocations in the worst imaginable places and moments, and militarist budgetary derangements without end here in the US).

It's interesting to re-imagine the Cold War as a meta-stable planetary postcolonial hegemony that mistook itself as a stalemate between two diametrically opposed ideologies when in fact it constituted a continuous ideological system representing the ideology of extractive- centralizing- authoritarian industrialism.

The "end of the cold war," then, might represent less the victory of one antagonist (capitalism) over the other (socialism), but the exhibition of systemic contradictions at both poles in a planetary hegemony that eventually engulfed the whole, first at one pole and very soon after (what wishful thinking, the end of history!) at the other.

Few readers of this blog will be surprised to hear that I regard the successor to extractive-industrialism as polyculture: sustainable planetary p2p consensual multiculture. Darker possibilities are certainly also possible, history in this moment is rather up for grabs.