Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Flashback: Why I Signed Up—for Better or for Worse…as the Hidden Cicada Burrowed Upward, Flapping its Wings.

[Fifty plus years of politics remembered for my kids and grandchildren].

In the previous segment I discussed the “Stans sell.” But good as he was at sales, Stans’ sell didn’t sell me. I sold myself.

If you see a contradiction between the youth who listened and responded positively to his Father’s axioms of conservatism…and the man who agreed at age 41 to form a new federal agency to spur development of minority enterprise largely through governmental action…you are 100% correct. The only way I can describe it is that a subversive liberal imagination had been germinating within me unknown and unheralded in the same way the cicada hides deep in the ground and emerges seventeen years later to make an annoyance of itself. There was a speech made by Franklin Roosevelt in my sixteenth year that set the ground-rules for all liberalism. I heard it and read the speech and was reminded of it the other day in an essay by John Marini, the conservative author of a timeless book, The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science.

In 1944 Roosevelt had to deliver his annual State of the Union message to Congress but was too sick from the flu to make the trip to the Capitol so he spoke it instead to a microphone in a Fireside Chat. He delivered it relatively flat, in patrician tones with his upstate New York accent, but it was powerfully revolutionary: almost terrifyingly so. But it made a great subliminal impression on me, started the cicada germinating way inside which emerged full-flown not seventeen but a full twenty-five years later.

These are the several paragraphs that Roosevelt read that to my mind was the blowtorch that has fired all liberalism until this day. World War II, of course, was well underway. He said

Americans have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule. But I donot think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

And what is the sacred obligation, dear Franklin?

The one supreme objective for the future which we discussed for each nation individually and for all the United Nations can be summed up in one word: security. And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security in a family of nations.

With these words was born the concept of international mutual security which dominated the Cold War and beyond. But he was not through yet. What he sketched now was a security that has spurred liberalism ever since and is as revolutionary today as when it was enunciated. Notice how cleverly and gradually he slips from the philosophy of our founders to a new revolutionary concept of liberalism. Now he sets the groundwork.

This Republic had its beginning and grew to its present strength under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our right to life and liberty.

Now here we go to the future.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

Get this: “equality in the pursuit of happiness.” Are we destined for equality in the pursuit of happiness? The ghetto child, the single mother, the family wracked by alcoholism? He says we are! Follow this line of reasoning.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.

Who has accepted this second Bill of Rights? Where was the vote taken when it was adopted? He goes on.

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home and abroad. The right of every family to have a decent home. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment. The right to a good education.

These rights could only be attained by the compulsive force of the welfare state. The radicality of Franklin Roosevelt became the slogan of modern liberalism which infected many…me subliminally, others in outward ways. Roosevelt had expressed this constant shift of governmental power before he became president in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 1932:

The Declaration of Independence discusses the problem of government in terms of contract…Under such a contract, rulers were accorded power and the people consented to that power on consideration that they be accorded certain rights. The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order. New conditions impose new requirements upon government and those who conduct government.

So Stans didn’t “sell” me aside from assuring me of his and Nixon’s commitment to the program I would head—which was a patent lie since, as you will see, as soon as political opposition sprouted, their fervor disappeared. But nevertheless it wasn’t Stans or Nixon who sold me. I sold myself! Small wonder that the cicada long buried within me…unrecognized by me and by Father during the long years of conservative reflection…began to struggle upward (when I absorbed some of it from Hubert, worked in state government under a progressive Republican, Governor Elmer Andersen) and now began to emerge by fluttering its wings and making a hideous noise! For two hundred years blacks were dissuaded from benefiting from capitalism by slavery, segregation and discrimination—and that we were those who could win liberation…the cicada came to full life. Forgotten and laid aside was the fact that business ownership was totally unlike political power, that it required different skills…certainly not federal subsidies. Forgotten was the lesson I forgot that a community’s economic output is maximized when its people have increased incentives to produce. People work when work is more attractive than non-work. The more a worker is rewarded for non-work and penalized for work, the less he will work.

Apply it to the minority community and the incentive should be not federal subsidies but severely reduced tax rates in the inner cities and the exporting of free market ideas to this “Third World” of the inner city.

Rationalizing, I assimilated the history of white business with subsidies as well. I told myself things Stans never thought to argue: remember the Privateering Act passed by the Continental Congress which rewarded merchant ships which attacked British shipping, allowing our marauders to keep the goods they confiscated? Remember the help our government gave to the railroads to build transcontinental lines through hostile territory? It was a short trip between those incidental events and the philosophy that insisted the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith didn’t always function, to believe in capitalism via the road of governmental assistance for investment. With just a little—maybe ten years—of governmental stimulus to the minority community for investment, the rest of the economy would prosper. Marx had believed in a capitalism doomed. I told myself my faith is in a capitalism viable. So after talking with Lillian…who really didn’t put up any objection…and after talking with my Quaker bosses—especially Bob Stuart, the CEO—I decided to go.

I had one prescient moment, however. While there was no way one could take a leave from private employment for federal service, I asked Quaker—Stuart and Bob Thurston, my immediate boss—to give me every possible consideration in the eventuality (I said “the certainty”) that I would come back when it was all over. They agreed but there could be no compact—just their word.

How glad I was that we had that discussion—later on. But for now, March, 1969, with the president signing the executive order, my liberal cicada was whirring its wings and making a fearsome noise. To bolster my spirits there appeared a column in the “Sun-Times” from Washington columnist Charlie Bartlett who heralded my coming.

Who gave him the story? Who else but Stans or his press aide Robert Smalley (whom we also called “Cringely”)? Now I cockily became engrossed in trying to re-order the old economic laws, replacing the free market with needed (I believed) subsidies. Ah who is not cocky at 41?


  1. Tom-
    I enjoy your Flashback series very much. This episode is painful, and I'm sure future installments will be more so. Sort of reminds me when I was a kid going to the Saturday matinee (12 cents admission), where we would yell at the hero not to go down that alley / open that door / look in that window, etc. because it was obvious disaster lurked.

    As chief purchasing director for several large companies, I was also in charge of MBE relations. A most frustrating activity. Firms that were well run didn't need much support at all, and those that weren't couldn't be successful with all the help in the world.

  2. Tom, the Good Citizen League claimed you in the end, anyway, so what's the fuss?