Progressive Writers Bloc

The Other War

By Bill Becker

Bill Becker The great American journalist and social commentator Walter Lipmann once wrote

''On all but a very few matters for short stretches in our lives, the utmost independence that we can exercise is to multiply the authorities to whom we give a friendly hearing."

I have found few analysts of the political and economic trajectories of the last 30 years as worthy of a friendly hearing as former Republican political strategist Kevin Phillips. Still a Republican, but repentant, Phillips is informative and authoritative.

Phillips’s 2004 book title, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush is particularly telling in itself. Here, Phillips paraphrases master political strategist, Nicolo Machiavelli in The Prince: “a ruler can ignore the mob and devote himself to the interests of the ruling class, gulling the inert majority who constitute the ruled.” Phillips goes on to say, “Borgia references aside, 21st-century readers of The Prince may feel that they have stumbled onto a thinly disguised Bush White House political memo.”

And who constitutes America’s “ruling class?” Effectively the upper 1 percent of American households, who, since the Reagan years, have successfully waged a war on the middle class. In The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990), Phillips explains early on that “the Republican party’s historic role ... has not been simply to revitalize U.S. capitalism, but to tilt power, policy, wealth and income toward the richest portions of the population.” (For one graphic representation of how successful the Republican coalition has been in achieving that goal, visit David Chandler's L-Curve web site at

From Phillips’s 1993 book Boiling Point: Democrats, Republicans, and the Decline of Middle-Class Prosperity, a trenchant analysis of the revolt against the policies of the Reagan-Bush years that propelled Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992:

“Social thinker Charles Murray hypothesized a nation in which the most prosperous 10 percent (or more) of Americans would cluster in privileged enclaves, leaving the public-service world of inadequate schools, unsafe streets, uncollected garbage and gridlocked transportation to the lower and middle classes—and taking their tax dollars with them. ‘The Left has been complaining for years that the rich have too much power,’ said Murray. ‘They ain’t seen nothing yet.’”

Fast-forward 13 years. According to the Tulare County website, “Tulare County is the second-leading producer of agricultural commodities in the United States, and its strategic location and valuable tax incentives make this area a desirable distribution point for many major corporations.”

In November, Tulare County residents will vote on a new tax incentive: a half-cent sales tax for the improvement of our roads. If voters approve the sales tax, whatever modest benefits they have enjoyed through six years of Republican-driven income tax cuts will be diminished each year for 30 years. But they will earn the gratitude of the “major corporations” whose products travel along those roads to market.

Phillips closes his 2002 book, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History Of The American Rich, with a politically incorrect word:

“As the twenty-first century gets under way, the imbalance of wealth and democracy in the United States is unsustainable, ... Market theology and unelected leadership have been displacing politics and elections. Either democracy must be renewed, with politics brought back to life, or wealth is likely to cement a new and less democratic regime—plutocracy by some other name.”

Or, to quote former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "We can have a democratic society or we can have great concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both."

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