Publisher: Forge Book, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave, NY, NY
Summary: Pattern analysis of American presidential elections form 1801 to 2000: a theory of American political parties and actions.
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 11/5/2008
With a new preface to the January 2008 paperback edition, Dick Stoken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS rolled off the presses just in time for the Barack Obama and John McCain presidential contest. Neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate was mentioned of course. At the start of January 2008, the leading contenders for the 2008 presidential campaign were Hilary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani. By August, the time of the Democratic Convention in Minneapolis, the presidential campaign had come down to a contest between a radical change in business as usual (Barack Obama) and a continuation of the Reagan revolution (John McCain). Politics as a great game indeed.
What Stoken does and does very well is present a theory of American politics. He starts with the grand theory of economics. Republicans are dedicated to continuing the “ruling elite” societal model of old Europe. The Bush administration sought to shove the “old Europe” into the historical gutter by demeaning it (we’re bigger, we’re richer, we’re stronger, bug-off)–while the Democrats are pushing the tenets of the French Revolution, as in Jeffersonian democracy. A simplistic strategem on the world stage, but it worked at home.
On a visceral level, Stoken’s identification of nine paradigm setting Presidents feels about right. What is extremely difficult to argue with is Stoken assessment that America arrived at its place in history by the see-saw weight of elitist Republican capitalism and Jeffersonian everyman idealism driving the engine of American political and societal change. Based on Stoken theory of American experimental democracy, we can safely add a tenth paradigm setting Presidents to his list of nine. Of course, Stoken did not have the pleasure of examining the 2008 presidential campaign. But he does state in the January 2008 Preface to this updated paperback edition of his book that, “It is not inconceivable that another time of troubles may start before Bush Junior [George W. Bush] finishes his presidency. “
The 2008 Time Of Troubles
Stoken loved the Ronald Reagan Presidency. It is a natural affection for the author whose other works are dedicated to exploring stock and financial markets and investment strategy. According to Stoken’s theory, every president following Reagan was a caretaker of a paradigm shift. Prior to Reagan, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who set the parameters of political reality in American politics. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and George H. Bush Sr. were all caretakers tweaking the machinery of FDR’s New Deal. Then came Ronald Reagan and his Morning in America In 1981. Reagan ushered in an idealistic era of less government, less regulation, and less taxes. The era lasted for twenty-seven years.
As of September 15, 2008, most historian would say that Reagan’s revolution failed. The United States and the world titters on the edge of a depression the likes of which have not been seen in sixty years. But Stoken implies and it is hard to argue the point that the Reagan revolution simply and naturally ran aground at the shores of self-centeredness, greed and myopia. It was not a failure. Indeed, continuing in the track of Stoken theory, the Reagan revolution succeeded in making the rich richer and elevating their living standard far beyond the European aristocracy of the eighteenth century or the robber-barons of the early twentieth century. The Republican Party is the standard bearer of mercantile capitalism and its wet nurse, financial manipulations. The GOP performed its function admirably.
But the “morning in America” revolution is over. Now comes the re-arrangement of the dishes. The starting point is rather foreboding. America is $2.67 trillion in debt to foreign governments and investors. As of October 2008, 1.2 million American had lost jobs during the year and the jobless rate stood at 6.5 percent. Energy prices, roughly 4% of a household budget during the 1990s and early 2000s, with see-sawing prices in response to demand, approached nearly $5.00 a gallon for gasoline before falling back in October when the transportation habits of most people could not be sustained. In short, the super-rich have hit a wall in scaling a higher standard of living and their wall is ready to fall on everyone else, lowering living standards for all. Into the gathering cloud of rubble steps the Democratic Party and Barack Obama.
The Word On the Door Of Utopia
Stoken’s theory of American politics offers a syllabus of what happens next in American society: the paradigm shifts toward uplifting the everyman of Jeffersonian democracy. The accumulated wealth of the rich is re-distributed to elevate the many. The Democrats will, over the course of the next four to twenty-years, push the equalizing power of the federal government to an extreme. The electorate will eventually feel constrained, hemmed-in and suffocated by “big” government-as if the whole can be smaller than its parts. Then comes the next paradigm shift, the next revolution, as the Republican are again called upon to expand the frontiers of wealth accumulation. That is how the cycle goes.
Actually, the redistribution of wealth shift came a little early this round.
The Republican President and Democrat controlled congress, on October 3, 2008, put their collective heads together and enacted a $700 billion dollar program to save the financial markets. According to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the program was designed to “stabilize our financial markets and [ensure] an uninterrupted flow of credit to households and businesses.” Nothing like it has ever been done before. It is, to use a term regurgitated during the tail end of the 2008 presidential campaign, a redistribution of wealth on an unprecedented American scale.
As others have pointed out, America really started on the road to socialism with FDR’s New Deal. The Welfare State. What most others miss of course is that the societal safety net of social security payments to individuals, welfare payments, medical care payments and the rest are merely adjuncts to a corporate welfare system. Corporations, farming enterprises, medical services providers have all been at the public money trough for decades. Now, the financial services industries have bellied up to get their share. Looked at in isolation, the subsidy of public and private entities can be viewed as good economic and financial policy, ensuring that the financial and economic systems are functioning at peak efficiency. Dig a little deeper, down to the dynamics of economic reality and there is that descriptive word, socialism. Americans have been living in a socialist society since the 1930s.
The Obama Era
Essentially, Stoken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS offers continued hope that the Great Experiment we call American democracy will survive those we elect to lead it. After the outright incompetence and clear and present danger of the George W. Bush presidency, things can not possibly get any worst. Or can they?
As the TGBR journal opinion stated in its July 2008 editorial, the American people, “. . . having tip-toed through the slurry sewage of nationalism for the past six years, are ready to flush the Homeland business back into the old world drainage ditch from where it was pumped and get back to the experiment that America is an idea, not a place, a goal, not an accomplishment”. During the presidential campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama were sending all the right signals indicating that they had gotten at least part of the message. The American character is not conducive to living in fear. President-elect Obama continues to say the right things and even do the right things indicating that America is getting back on the path of its founding.
America may be back. But the world appears to be drifting toward a “morning” of its own.
It is conceivable that within the next five to six years there will be a holocaust of unimaginable proportions in the near east. Essentially it is the old world at war with the new. It is a segment of the world feeling the death throbs of change, attempting to cling to a view in which humans are separate from their gods. Economics are at the root, but the overriding fuel is simply fear. One has only to look at what passes as the “middle class” in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, and so on to see the chains which effectively smother the human spirit. On the other side of this horror when the other side comes, America will clearly triumph, contrary to those predicting the decline of America as a world power. Nothing lasts forever. Not even turmoil. The Obama Era will be defined by how an Obama presidency repairs the world community. In turn, the game of politics in America will be redefined for the next several generations and the Republican party will shift accordingly. Captialism with a conscience they may call it-or something similar.
Stocken’s THE GREAT GAME OF POLITICS is not a great book, but it is highly recommended as a thought-provoking tour of history and beyond. __________________________________________________________