During an email discussion with a reader last week, I realised that I hadn't even looked in on Jackson Baker's Memphis Flyer Politics column in quite a while. Baker is the namesake for this blog's original incarnation. I had grown increasingly frustrated with his constantly unchallenged propaganda efforts masquerading as sage political commentary until I finally reached the point where I thought something had to be done. Someone had to speak against him. This blog was the result.
As I noted to my correspondent, I thought that Baker had been phoning it in for a while and was finally not worth the time to read. I quit commenting on his column. But, out of curiousity and fairness, I thought I'd have a look in again. I was not disappointed!
[Long digression: Can someone at the Memphis Flyer please thump the idiot on the head who designed their website layout? Every major regular column is designated with an "articletype=" tag that never changes. Jackson Baker is "articletype=4." Bookmarking that link will take you to the most recent column. When that column is rotated out, it gets a new, long URL. However, there's no quick link to prior columns, so you must go to Search Engine Hell to find it. I tried entering "Jackson Baker Woodrow Wilson," which is the subject of the column I wanted to link. Got no results. Entered "Jackson Baker" and got a long, long list of everything he's written, listed in generic ways that don't inform you of what the link is. It's awful and user-unfriendly. It needs to change. /digression.]
Anyway, Ol' Jacko tries to compare Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to former US President Woodrow Wilson. He also tries to rewrite recent State history, and his own positions, to suit the new political landscape. It's an embarrassment.
Let us begin:
At the conclusion of World War I, Woodrow Wilson proposed the principle of "open covenants, openly arrived at" as a standard for international relationships. The concept has been little more than fodder for ridicule ever since.Oops! Stop right there. Right away, Baker shows himself as an unschooled and ignorant follower of the Liberal tradition, which exalts Wilson and has worked very hard over the decades to erase his many horrifying deeds. If Baker knew the real history of Woodrow Wilson's presidency, he'd never have begun this analogy.
Wilson was an ardent internationalist in a strongly isolationist era. America had little stomach for the dangerous entanglements of Europe, fearing being drawn into their conflicts. We spent nearly all of the 19th century successfully doing that. As a nation seeing enormous immigration from that very continent at that time, and being composed of descendants of past immigrants, we knew well now dangerous that could be. Wilson was not to be deterred; the wisdom of George Washington and the Founding Fathers was good enough for him.
As World War One ground down into static trench warfare, chewing up men like a sausage grinder, Wilson was swayed by European leaders who needed American resources to continue their war and prevent German hegemony. America being isolationist because we came from German stock and had little interest in European wars, Wilson undertook to change American opinion. He created the Committee on Public Information, or the Creel Commission. It was the first and most successful of America's official propaganda agencies. One of the Commission members, Edward Bernays, even wrote a book about everything he learned, Propaganda, which is considered a classic textbook even today. Within a year, America went from proud German-lovers (Freud had just done a speaking tour of the nation to great acclaim. German heritage was equally as acclaimed as English, Italian or Hispanic is today.) to German-loathers, thanks to Wilson's efforts. The Creel Commission's work wasn't advertised (har, har), but their work is a cornerstone of every effort to control and manipulate public opinion since. It resulted in laws against the government ever having a propaganda arm ever again.
Even less so has the idea of candid and public handling of domestic affairs taken hold among Wilson's countrymen. Anybody with any experience in local, state, or federal governments knows that the real deals get cut behind closed doors and that what goes on in public debate is generally so much legislative window-dressing.Shocking! I didn't know that! What a revelation! Seriously, this is how we got the US Constitution, through a Constitutional Convention that was kept strictly secret during discussions which largely consisted of finding acceptable compromises through...er, deals. It's how business is done. Deal with it.
It was how things were done by Naifeh and Sundquist during the Income Tax Wars and Baker dutifully reported the situation then, not bothering to decry it. In fact, maybe he'd like to apply some of that philosophy to his brethren in the press, one of the most famously closed and opaque "back rooms" around?
But Phil Bredesen, the former Nashville mayor who's about to begin his second year at the helm of Tennessee state government, seems determined to change all that, acting to fulfill both the spirit and the letter of Wilson's dictum.And here Baker steps in it. Comparing a modern-day Democrat to Wilson is dangerous stuff. You see, Woodrow Wilson was a pure, unapologetic, and virulent racist.
Under his administration, government was almost completely closed to blacks. He made no bones of his racism and it encouraged those around and under him. The rise of Jim Crow has major roots in this atmosphere and period. Under Wilson, America entered a period of such racist sentiment that, within a year, blacks all across the country were rioting against it.
Wilson arranged for a big, new movie to be screened in the White House. That film? Birth Of A Nation, the notorious hallmark of racist cinema. He labelled the film "history writ with lightning," a review that made it to various prints of the film. Is this really where Baker wants to go? It's understandable to want openness in government, but is this his best analogy?
Last year, the newly elected governor found that the state was $100 million in the hole, even after the enactment of an unprecedentedly large sales-tax increase the year before. Instead of gnashing his teeth or wringing his hands, Bredesen analyzed the situation and determined to do that which no prior Democratic governor (or Republican governor, either) had done -- slash state spending across the board. Except for public education or where judicial mandates prevented it, the governor insisted that each department slash its budget by 9 percent. Remarkably, even the Tennessee Department of Transportation, whose roadbuilding apparatus had always enjoyed sacred-cow status, came under the ax.We'll have to parse this mess almost phrase by phrase, so monstrous is its ahistorical revisionism.
First, there's the sales tax increase shibboleth. Yes, we do have the nation's highest sales tax. It raised slightly more money, from every Tennessean and every other person who happened to purchase something while passing through our state, than the income tax "reform" that Baker touted, which would have raised slightly less money from only 40% of the citizens of Tennessee alone. We would have been in the same fiscal boat, but with a much smaller crew manning the oars, and working much, much harder at paddling. And as Bill Hobbs has been showing, the sales tax is recovering faster and producing more revenues earlier than the prophets of IT reform (Baker included!) ever admitted possible.
Baker then lauds Bredesen for budget cutting. This was a terrible surpise to every Democrat and the members of the press who thought Bredesen was going to dump his campaign rhetoric after his election and continue the IT press. Remember, this was the same group who had spent the previous year parroting the Naifeh/Sundquist "doom and gloom" and "Armageddon" scenarios that would result if we didn't get Sundquist's income tax implemented. Government would shut down and folks would be thrown into the streets to starve and die. It would be chaos and social collapse.
Ever member of the press was skeptical that Bredesen could follow through on his drive to cut the budget. But he did, despite their dire predictions, and proved them all wrong, I'm proud to say. And the State is still standing, business going on as usual.
The TDOT problem was one that Sundquist allowed and the press refused to pursue. TDOT chairman Saltsmann informed Governor Sundquist pre-emptively, when he heard rumors that the Department's one billion dollar bank account might be tapped for funds, or that the gas tax might have one penny diverted into the General Fund, that Saltsmann wouldn't allow it. Sundquist folded like a cheap paper towel and acquiesed to the road builders. Bredesen has shown antipathy to TDOT and the road industry, but so far hasn't really gone after them as he has gone after State bureaucracy. Maybe next year. Anecdotally, the road industry is ripe with corruption and undue government influence, but we have yet to see a single investigative piece by any State newspaper. I don't think we ever will, either.
Still, it was a case of a weak governor, Sundquist, prostrating himself before Big Money Interests and hooking his own political star to their security. The income tax "reform" was an effort by those who live off interest income (subject to the Hall Investment Tax) to shift that burden to the middle class in Tennessee, to bring in a tax structure that would allow them to benefit from shelters and every other trick of the accounting trade. Bredesen has shown no deference to that crowd and has bafflingly stifled all the old press and political voices that powered the IT drive. There were some very serious talks going on in that process, in back rooms and power restaurants around Nashville, that I'm sure Baker is privy to but declines to expose. Hypocrite. At least one Nashville television station did just that, but no newspaper has bothered to pick up on their lead.
How was Bredesen able to enforce his will? First of all, he had the support of his fellow Democrats in the legislature, who in the preceding years had rallied only unevenly to support Republican governor Don Sundquist's abortive tax-reform efforts. And it didn't hurt that Bredesen's actions were in conformity with the traditional "cut-spending" rhetoric of the General Assembly's Republicans.First sentence, see above. That's what I'd like to know, too. Report what you know, Baker; don't "go along to get along." There's a huge story in the still unexplained about-face by Naifeh and his merry band of cronies when Bredesen nailed his colors to the mast and made them salute it. Could it be that Baker, and all the rest of the pro-IT press, wants very much to preserve some semblance of strength in the rotting Democratic ship?
The rest of the paragraph is a spectacular rewriting of the record. Democrats were a bloc in support of the Republican Sundquist, not "uneven." Naifeh used every trick in his Book of Thuggery to keep people in line, even up to the famous brow-beating he gave four legislators in a closed meeting, during an IT vote, to get them to change their vote. Baker reported it, with no sign of distress or outrage. It was the Democratic majority, with some misguided Republicans looking for scraps from the power table, that nearly got us the IT. Only a vociferous, unrelenting press of "horn honkers" and the work of committed Republicans like Marsha Blackburn and Curtis Person kept the vote total down. It had nothing to do with wishy-washy Dems -- Naifeh kept his horses in the corral -- but with nervous Republicans eyeing November's coming elections.
That election seasonwas a shock to Nashville. A lot of folks either avoided re-election campaigns or went down in flames that year, for their position on the IT. No question that that was a major factor in the sullen support Bredesen scraped together. He made it clear he wasn't kidding and wasn't going to change. There were new stark choices (support Bredesen's option or risk losing perks or office) to replace the old (support the Naifeh/Sundquist axis or risk losing perks and power). Bredesen's firmness and his shocking turn of the tables made the herd change direction.
But the key to Bredesen's success in budget-cutting -- which guaranteed that the scalpel was wielded judiciously -- was his insistence on carrying on his budget negotiations, line by line, department by department, program by program, in public. No private pork-barreling, no back-room back-scratching. It was unprecedented. Open covenants, openly arrived at, indeed: Wilson would have been proud."Judiciously?" It was a blunt nine percent, with few and specific exceptions. Departments that only months before had sworn to the public there was no fat to cut suddenly found it. But I've never seen any press reports on where and how that fat was found. I don't think it's been covered. Yes, it was open to the public, but the press that covers it did little to no detailed coverage. God knows the new, Peck-era Commercial Appeal has moved away from State-level political reporting. Perhaps Baker would care to share his sources? And, again, what he knows?
Ahhh, I give up. I just can't do this. It's painful and protracted. Baker shows himself for the old-style Liberal (capital-L) that he is, like the Wizard behind the curtain, by choosing Wilson. Wilson's image is a construct of the internationalists who adore him, the same folks who have championed the UN ever since its Franken-phoenix arose from the decades old ashes of Wilson's failed League of Nations. It's not reality by any means. Whatever debatable good he did internationally was blown domestically by his racism. Yes, America helped win WWI, but we deferred to Europe at Versailles, following the lead of the same idiots who brought the War, and set up the conditions that created WWII. Tens of millions of people died because internationalist American elites changed the landscape of this country to suit their Europhilia through the use of propaganda.
Same as Baker is doing, on his own small scale, today. No one will die, but his approach ensures that the same old crowd will cling to power at your expense.