AUGUST 2016

AUGUST  2016
1912 - The Last TIme the G.O.P had a Liberal Wing

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TOO MANY GOVERNORS

I am surprised that nobody got lynched in Nebraska during the winter of 1890-91. Tempers were tense on the prairie that winter,  and the newspapers all had a dog in the hunt, so to speak, and they could be trusted to be neither fair nor accurate, but certainly unbalanced. In the election on Tuesday, 4 November, 1890, the Republicans and Democrats split between them seven seats in the state senate and forty-six seats in the house. But every other seat, eighteen in the senate and fifty-four in the house, gave a clear majority to an upstart third party, the so called “hogs in the parlor”, the People’s Independent Party. And to those who dream about the transforming- the log-jam busting magic -  of a third party in Congress, let the experiences of the PIPs be a lesson in reality.
Cornhusker politics have often been more colorful than the reticent citizens are wont to admit to outsiders. What other state’s tourism motto could boast with a straight face “We go both ways”? Either they don’t think anybody else is bright enough to get that joke, or they aren’t. And either possibility is not a compliment to the denizens of Nebraska.
Even before Nebraska was admitted to the union, on 7 January, 1859, a fracas of fisticuffs fractured the Nebraska territorial legislature, between those who lived north and those who lived south of the Platte River. It may seem pointless to be divided by a stream famously described as “too thick to drink, and too thin to plow”, a river which, in the late summer, resembles more plain than flood plain, but politics is rarely about reality and doubly so in Nebraska, where reality is so flat and peppered with cow poo. After the brawl the South Platte faction removed themselves across the river to the hamlet of Florence, which had, according to the newspaper “Nebraskian”, “…been, for months, laboring assiduously to delude strangers that it was a city”.
The entire place only became a state over President Andrew Johnson’s veto in 1867. And in the 1870 Supreme Court decision “Baker V. Morton” the justices had to slap down the state’s power structure for stealing land from a poor sod buster and using it to bribe state legislators, in the infamous “Skiptown scandal”. But all of this would prove a mere foretaste to the bounty of bovine pie hurling offered up after the election of 1890.
To the farmers living on the Nebraska prairie in the 1880’s it seemed the railroads were standing on their throats. And to those concerned about Health Care Reform or Union busting, I urge you to study the century long struggle against the railroad monopolies. All across the American west, farmers had bought their land from the railroads. The banks which held their mortgages were owned by the railroads. The only way to get their wheat and corn to market was via the railroads. The only silos to store their harvested crops while awaiting shipment were owned by the railroads. The railroad monopolies set the shipping rates and the silo rates and there was no appeal to their heartless bookkeeping.
Try and start a bank to break the railroad monopoly, and the state legislators would make it illegal. Try and build your own silo, and the state legislators would make it illegal. Politics in Nebraska were so rotten it was said the Union Pacific Railroad picked one of the States’ two Senators, while the other was chosen by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
Theoretically the American two-party system should offer the oppressed a choice. But by 1890, thanks to political contributions from the railroads,  the Democrats supported a laissez faire approach to capitalism, while the Republicans were tied to an activist government in favor of the capitalists (i.e. the railroads). The oppressed majority were cow pied out to luck.
Thus was born the Farmer’s Alliance, which morphed into the People’s Independent Party. It was forged in response to decades of railroad corruption, railroad influence selling, and political stagnation - sound familiar? (I'll give you a hint - substitute the word bank or insurance company for the word railroad)  And then on top of that, a drought not equaled again until the dust bowl of the 1930’s reduced many Nebraska farmers to poverty. According to one mocking Republican observer, the ideal world envisioned by these “hayseeds” was a combination of a Victor Hugo plot and a Baptist revival meeting. But the truth was, all that most of these farmers wanted was for somebody to just acknowledge the railroads were standing on their wind pipe. It was their hoarse cry for justice which had produced the results of the election of November 1890. And when the Nebraska legislature convened in joint session in January of 1891,  things very quickly developed into that Victor Hugo melodrama.
To begin with, the new speaker of the House, Independent Sam Elder, decided he was going to bypass the acting President of the Senate, Republican Lieutenant-Governor George Meiklejohn, and preside over both houses of the legislature all by himself. That was plainly illegal and extra-constitutional but Sam figured that desperate times called for desperate measures.
However, Elder’s plans for a grand investigation of election fraud and a remaking of state government were derailed when Meiklejohn grabbed the gavel off the podium and refused to return it. There was a shoving, grasping cat fight for the precious totem, which Meiklejohn eventually won. From this point the business of government in Nebraska got very noisy and ground to a complete halt, all over the issue of the certification of the new governor.
As these things were normally counted, the clear election loser was the Republican candidate L.D. Richards, who received just 68,878 votes. The Democrat, James Boyd, had received 71,331 votes, and was, according to county election officials from across the state (who were all either Democrats or Republicans, of course), the winner. But Speaker Elder was certain the actually winner had been John Powers, the candidate of Elder's People’s Independent Party. Officially Powers had received 70,187 votes, making him second by 1,144 votes. But Elder believed with good reason that 2,000 fraudulent votes had been cast for Boyd in Douglas County, centered on Omaha. And Speaker Elder was demanding an immediate investigation.
With the Republicans siding with the Democrats against the Independents, neither side dared to adjourn. Elder presided from the podium, calling on speakers and announcing votes, while Meiklejohn sat at the clerk’s desk, doing the same. Nobody got anything done because nobody could hear anybody else. Sometime after midnight, with the Republicans caucusing with their Democratic allies in an anteroom, Speaker Elder ordered the doors locked and told the sergeant-at-arms to admit no one without a written pass from him; check.
Meanwhile, the presumed victor, James Boyd, had requested and received an immediate hearing before the State Supreme Court. Boyd was asking for a writ of mandamus (“…a court order that required another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual, to perform a certain legally required act”). Boyd’s attorney argued his case before three judges of the Nebraska state Supreme Court, in a hearing room crowded with armed angry spectators from various political factions. After the hearing it was expected the judges would retire to consider the arguments. Instead the justices held an immediate huddle and after a few moments Chief Justice Cobb announced that the weighty issues of freedom of speech, suffrage, democracy, public order and good government were all irrelevant. The court had decided that certifying election results was simply a clerical duty and not a matter of choice. Cobb signed the writ of mandamus on the spot and then ran for the exit; checkmate.
The spectators were so stunned they were frozen. And that was probably the only reason none of the freshly disenfranchised voters in the room started shooting. The sheriff of Lancaster County (a Democrat), surrounded by deputies (more Democrats), smashed down the locked doors of the legislative chamber, charged to the front of the room and forcefully served the writ upon Speaker Elder. They practically threw it in his face.
And to everyone’s surprise, Speaker Elder did as he was ordered to do. John Boyd was officially declared the official governor of the state of Nebraska. “Thus”, said Judge Bayard Paine forty-five years later, “tragedy was averted in Nebraska statecraft.” Instead, tragedy was converted into low comedy.
At that point in time the most hated man in Nebraska was probably the outgoing governor, Republican John Thayer. It was Thayer’s open kowtowing to the railroads over the previous year which been most responsible for the defeat of the Republican Party in the past election. And he now refused to surrender his office, saying he would “hold on to the chair, the seat, and the office of Governor until the cows come home.” Whatever happens in Nebraskan politics, one way or the other, it always seems to come down to cows.
While the legislature bickered downstairs, Thayer barricaded himself in the governor’s offices upstairs. He called on 25 men of the State militia under the appropriately named Captain Rhody, who was a Republican,  and the Republican dominated Omaha Police Department, to stand guard over his self. Having finally taken the oath, Boyd moved into other offices in the State House and dispatched the Lincoln County sheriff (again) to take procession of the executive suites. But this time the sheriff ran up against an armed militia which refused to surrender. Fist fights again broke out, until Boyd ordered his side to retire.
On 10 January, 1891 it finally occurred to Captain Rhody that he and his little band of men had been maneuvered out on a limb, and if that limb collapsed he was the one most likely to be lynched from it. Rhody announced to Governor Thayer that “I have saluted you for the last time”, and then marched his little army back to their barracks. Abandoned, Thayer surrendered the Governor’s offices, and Boyd moved in.
But Thayer was far from ready to give up. He hired his own attorney and on 13 January, 1891, appealed to the state Supreme Court. His argument was inventive; John Boyd was not qualified to be governor because he was not an American citizen because he had not been born in the United States. And that made John Thayer the original “birther”.
Indeed Boyd had been born in Ireland in 1834. His family had immigrated to America when he was 14. His father had begun the naturalization paperwork in 1849 but events, both personal and political, had intervened. In 1856 the Boyd family had moved to Nebraska territory and had become involved in business and local politics. They were still residents in 1867 when Nebraska had been admitted to the union over President Andrew Johnson’s objection. But Boyd’s father had never completed the naturalization paperwork. Ergo, argued ex-Governor Thayer, John Boyd was not qualified to be the current governor of Nebraska.
And on 5 May, 1891 the State Supreme Court agreed with Thayer. Of course most of the judges had been appointed by Thayer, but Boyd chose not to call the Lincoln County Sheriff again. Boyd was out and ex-governor Thayer was Governor again. The Nebraska governor's office was beginning to resemble the prize in a game of musical chairs, but without the music. But what Thayer had done was a desperate power grab and doomed to failure in the long run, if for no other reason than it assured that any Irish Republicans in Nebraska were not likely to vote Republican again in the near future.
More immediately, Boyd appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their decision was announced by Chief Justice Fuller: “Manifestly,"  he said, "the nationality of the inhabitants of territory acquired by conquest or cession becomes that of the government under whose dominion they pass…The judgment of the supreme court of Nebraska is reversed…” It was an 8 to 1 judgment, issued on 2 January, 1892. And thus the election of 1890 was finally decided, over a year later. Boyd resumed his office on 3 February of 1892. But, since the Governor of Nebraska served just a two year term, the antics of Governor Thayer and Speaker Elder, had effectively cut Boyd’s term in half.
And that is the kind of political victory that only makes sense when figured by the quarterly profit and loss statements of a corporate board. Politically, the Republicans were still out on that limb, in strong disfavor in Nebraska, and the Democrats made the smart move of courting the Independents.
The frustrated farmers and their leaders had come to the realization that to fight the large railroads would take a national political movement, and the Nebraska Independents, along with similar groups around the nation, found themselves drawn toward the Democratic Party. And in the Presidential election of 1896 they aligned themselves behind Nebraska Democratic Senator William Jennings Bryant, for President. He lost.
And that defeat deflated the Independents. nationally. They never  beat the railroads, which retained a great influence over national politics well into the 1950’s.  But rather than the Democrats absorbing the Independents, in fact the Independents absorbed the Democratic Party. What came out of their joining was a populist Democratic party, a party that saw government as a force to redress grievances, a party which, for all its numerous failings, was a people’s party. And in that small way, the Nebraska populists won. In the long run. The human race is a marathon, dear readers. And none of us will live long enough to win it. But you still have to run.  You might as well at least try to win.  Just to keep it interesting.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

RUNNING AGAINST SOCIAL SECURITY

I would say that Bertrand Snell is a shinning example of the “Peter Principle”. Bertrand (above, with his ideological opponent, FDR) started out life as a bookkeeper. Then he successfully ran a cheese factory, and then a lumber company in upstate New York.  For awhile he was the president of a small college. in 1915,  Bertrand was elected to congress as a Republican.  In 1931 he became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. That led, in 1932, to his being elected Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. And that made him one of the primary architects of the disaster which befell the Republican Party in 1936, the first time they ran against the brand new Social Security program of the New Deal. In short, it was Bertrand Snell’s fault. Of course, he had some help.
Herbert Hoover had not only lost the 1932 Presidential Election, he lost it by almost 18 percentage points. His ineffectualness at dealing with the Great Depression (the stock market crash had occurred just 6 months after he first took office) was so obvious that Herbert won only 6 states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, R.I., Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. And yet Herbert still had hopes he could engineer a come back. Yes, FDR’s New Deal had already created six million jobs, and had doubled industrial production and sent corporate profits from a $2 billion loss under Hoover to a $5 billion profit under Roosevelt. But there were still 8 million Americans unemployed, and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) was charging that the new Social Security Administration was part of a fascist/communist take over of the federal government. Does any of this sound familiar?  Anyway, back to our story...
On Tuesday, 9 June, 1936, Herbert addressed the Republican National Convention in the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and did his very best to rally the faithful to his cause. As Time Magazine detailed, “After 15 minutes (of) yelling, shrieking (and) hooting, (Hoover) was allowed to begin."
He warmed up quickly. According to Time, Hoover told the faithful, "Fundamental American liberties are at stake. Is the Republican Party ready…to cast your all upon the issue?" "Yes!" roared the crowd….".. have you determined to enter in a holy crusade for freedom which shall determine the future and the perpetuity of a nation of free men?" "Yes!" roared the crowd in ecstasy.” The faithful went on chanting “Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver,” long after Herbert had left the stage.
Noted Time; “The demonstration could not be stopped for half an hour, even when Speaker Snell tried to introduce a little old lady, surprisingly pert for her 77 years, the widow of President Benjamin Harrison.” Finally Bertrand banged his big gavel and informed the crowd that Herbert would not be coming out for a curtain call because he had already boarded a train for New York. Stunned, the floor demonstrators paused for a breath, and in vague confusion the demonstrations petered out. 
Except, Herbert had not even left the building. He was in fact, just off stage, waiting to be recalled by the carefully prepared demonstrations, and proclaimed the nominee by acclamation. That was his plan, anyway. But Bertrand had already determined that the party nominee would not be Hoover. It would be Governor Alf Landon, known affectionately to the faithful as “The Kansas Coolidge”. The party chairman had cut the ground right out from under Hoover.
Alf, was the only Republican governor re-elected in 1934. He had a reputation as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes and balanced the state budget. That made him the Republican wonder-kid, the perfect man to oppose the “tax and spend” Roosevelt.
Alf's candidacy had a few problems, of course. What candidate does not? First; Landon had balanced the Kansas budgets because Roosevelt's New Deal had kicked in millions of dollars to offset the state's deficits. Second; Alf publicly supported so many parts of the New Deal, including Social Security, that he was at odds with the Republican party platform. Third; Alf was a terrible public speaker. He mumbled. And like any good mid-westerner, even when speaking clearly he didn’t blow his own horn very much. As H. L. Mencken noted, he "simply lacks the power to inflame the boobs."
The party platform that Alf was going to have to stand on had been engineered by Chairman Bertrand and forty-four year old John Daniel Miller Hamilton (above), the “crinkly haired” “jut-jawed” G.O.P. general counsel, who reeked of “animal vigor.” Hamilton was paid $15,000 a year to be the party's  attack dog. He was described by one fellow Republican as having, “…a seven-devil lust to live and shine under the blessings of the rich”.  Both Bertrand and Hamilton were Alf’s front men, and Hamilton had even nominated the Kansas Governor. And to seal the deal, in his nominating speech Hamilton had read a telegram from Governor Landon promising to support the anti-New Deal anti-Social Security platform. 
Said the Republican platform; “For three long years the New Deal Administration has dishonored American traditions…has been guilty of frightful waste and extravagance, …has created a vast multitude of new offices, …set up a centralized bureaucracy, and sent out swarms of inspectors to harass our people. It has bred fear and hesitation in commerce and industry, thus discouraging new enterprises, preventing employment and prolonging the depression…We pledge ourselves: To preserve the American system of free enterprise, private competition, and equality of opportunity...We advocate: Abandonment of all New Deal policies that raise production costs, increase the cost of living, and thereby restrict buying, reduce volume and prevent reemployment. …”.  Sound familiar? It should. Basically, this has been the Republican Party Platform for the last ninety years!
But the platform saved its most vicious criticism for that newest New Deal program, Social Security. It was Social Security that had "energized the base".  As it was initially passed the program did not cover farm workers, the self employed, state, federal or local government workers, railroad workers, or domestics. There was no aid for the disabled, and there were no cost of living alliances. Still, the Republican platform for 1936 charged, "The New Deal policies, while purporting to provide social security, have, in fact, endangered it", and claimed that "the fund will contain nothing but the government's promise to pay" and is "unworkable".  Again, does any of this sound familiar? 
 
Bertrand had a master plan for victory, funded by a $14 million war chest (equal to $207.5 million today), with over a million of that coming from just three families – DuPont, Pew and Rockefeller – and the rest almost entirely from business leaders anxious to prevent further Federal regulations of their business. 
And then there was “The Liberty League,” described by one historian as “…the best-financed and the most professionally run…anti-big-government organization ever to come down the pike.” Before the Tea Party, that is. The League was the original "Astro-turf" - a pesudo-grassroots organization. It raised and spent as much cash as the two established parties combined (30% of it coming from the Koch brothers of the day,  the DuPont family). The League's  national headquarters occupied 31 rooms in the National Press Building, and there were 20 state branches. Hamilton confessed later, "Without Liberty League money we (the GOP) wouldn't have had a national headquarters."
The campaign that followed saw the constant repetition of the extremist scare tactics. The New Deal became “The Raw Deal”. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became “Stalin Delano Roosevelt”. William Randolph Hearst asserted in a pro-Landon editorial, “The Bolshevist tyranny in Russian has ordered all Bolshevists, communists and revolutionaries in the Untied States to support Roosevelt!" It all sounds so familiar in the anti-Obama Care anti Hillary world of 2012 - 2016
In late October 1936 the Republican National Committee sent checks for $5.00 to 400 black pastors in Maryland, along with a letter, which began, “Dear Brother,” and then argued that the G.O.P. had always done more to help blacks than the Democrats had. Of course, not  since the Civil War, but it was the thought that counted, right?  And $5.00 wasn't small enough in 1936 to seem like an insult, right?
The Young Republicans were founded during this election to get out the "youth" vote. And to encourage women to vote Republican, fashion shows were staged.  Every show would start with a woman wearing a wooden barrel on suspenders, marked, “If The New Deal Wins”, followed by lovely models in Paris designs, marked “If Landon Wins." Women were expected to be swayed by such "fashion politics".
A few weeks before the election, tens of thousands of workers opened their paychecks to find what looked like an official government notice. In fact it was from their bosses and the Republican Party, warning workers that if Roosevelt were re-elected, come January they would all suffer a 1% pay reduction because of the socialist Social Security Program. This prompted the head of the Social Security Board, a life long Republican, to issue an immediate response, asserting that ""Any political message in a worker's pay envelope is coercion. It is a new form of the old threat to shut down the mill if the employer's candidate isn't elected. We're supposed to be beyond that in this country."  Well, we are approaching a century later and we still aren't!
Finally, Landon himself was coaxed into actually speaking out against Social Security, and joining the anti-Social Security bandwagon. In a Milwaukee speech, he called the program ""unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed."  It was socialism, communism, and an attempt at the redistribution of wealth. And it would bankrupt the nation in a year. Or maybe two. Almost a century later, and the Republicans are still predicting its immanent demise.
However, it appears that most Americans saw all of this Republican effort in the same light as that expressed by the voter,  who said that Roosevelt was "the first man in the White House to understand that my boss is a son-of-a-bitch"  In 1936 the Democrats came out swinging, including FDR, as illustrated in a speech he delivered in Boston, and which he wrote himself. “In the summer of 1933", said FDR, "a nice old gentleman fell off a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran down the pier, dived overboard and pulled him out. But his silk hat floated away with the tide. After the old gentleman was revived he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving his life. Today, three years later, the old man is berating his friend because the silk hat was lost.”
The election of Tuesday, 3 November, 1936 was the most lopsided since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820. Eighty-three percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls and Roosevelt won almost 61% of their vote. He carried every state in the union except Vermont and Maine, giving rise to the Democratic twist on the old adage, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont”. 
Roosevelt won 532 electoral votes to Landon’s 8. Seventy-one percent of Americans of African decent voted Democratic, as well as 57% of women, 63% of men, 76% of low income voters, 80% of Catholics and 86% of Jewish voters. After the election the Democrats held the Senate, 75-16, and the House, 332 to just 88 Republicans.
Landon would admit that his attack upon Social Security had been a mistake, and henceforth he publicly opposed any attempt to dismantle this New Deal program. John D. Hamilton would say after the election, "The Lord himself couldn't have beaten Roosevelt in 1936, much less the Liberty League." Maybe; but the election was the death knell of the Liberty League. They lingered into 1940, when the DuPont family finally pulled their funding, and the group then quietly died. Long before that John Hamilton had his own reactionary reckoning. 
In 1937 Hamilton's wife sued him for divorce, on the grounds of “gross neglect of duty, abandonment and extreme cruelty.” That same year Alf Landon had Hamilton removed as Party Chairman, as Landon tried to rebuild the party in his own Midwestern less reactionary less-ideological image.
Under Landon's non-red baiting non-FDR hating conservative guidance the party stopped trying to overturn all of the New Deal at once and began to climb its way back. The Republicans would gain strength until 1948 when it looked like they were certain to regain the White House. But late in that campaign they gloated too publicly about finally eliminating Social Security,  and that handed Harry Truman his come-from-behind re-election. It was not until Ronald Reagan in his 1981 inauguration speech that the G.O.P again openly called for overturning substantial parts of New Deal programs. But even Reagan knew better that to attack Social Security. 
The 1936 election left Bertrand Snell, the leader of smallest Republican Minority in the House of Representatives since the Civil War. He was one of the few Republicans re-elected in 1936. But he did not run again in 1938. Instead, he went into the newspaper business. He published the "Potsdam, New York Courier-Freeman" and ran it until 1949. He also became the owner of the New York State Oil Company. He was ably qualified for both of those jobs. He died in 1958, while a Republican occupied the White House. That Republican was Dwight D. Eisenhower, He was a national hero, born and raised in Kansas, and a product of the Landon influence. But the conservative wing of the GOP charged that "Ike"was a Republican In Name Only, and his administration was nothing better than a "little New Deal" administration. 
It seemed that with time, the Grand Old Party is determined to forget the lesson Bertrand Snell had sacrificed himself to teach them, and which Alf Landon had given so much to drive home to the party faithful. Running against Social Security is political suicide. And now so is the Affordable Care Act. Republican ideology is so convinced it is evil, they have become blind to the advantages it gives middle class Americans.  And that isolates them as they have not been since 1936.
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