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William Greider, Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (New York: Rodale, March 2009). [On Jun. 14, 2009 #9,712 on Amazon.com] [Thesis. Americans are in dire straits and must change how they live, but their leaders are not telling them what they need to know. As one American addressing ordinary Americans in whom he has a deep and abiding faith, Bill Greider tells us we should grow up, get engaged in a “third front of mobilized citizens,” and rethink how we live. Greider would like to see a five-year national austerity plan that turns the country inward and returns it to its core values, best represented in the African American experience.] Ch. 1: Fair Warning. The country is in trouble and people must change (1). The evasiveness of American politicians is “merely one symptom of the deep decay in America’s representative democracy” (3; 2-4). But Americans have seen worse and can pull through (5-6). We can “redeem ourselves” (7; 6-9). Ch. 2: The Other America. Greider grew up optimistic on farms in Ohio and western Pennsylvania; is Scotch-Irish on his mother’s side (10-11). He has faith in “ordinary Americans,”but not in “the governing classes” (12-14). Ch. 3: The Walls Closing In. American culture is too self-congratulatory and triumphalist (15-16). Five “hard facts” degrade prospects for Americans: (1) Globalization (16-18); (2) Militarism (1819); (3) Free-market fundamentalism (1920); (4) Peak Oil and the “ecological crisis” (20-21); (5) Paralysis of political reform (22). These will breed “class conflict” (24; 23-24). Ch. 4: The “Winner’s Complex.” Our leaders embrace a triumphalist view of U.S. history casting the nation in the role of “[l]eader, architect, supervisor, benefactor, protector, and enforcer” (27; 25-27). But the U.S. has lost the capacity and the right to these roles (27-29). “We are governed now by many expressions of crackpot thinking” (28). Economic power is moving to Asia and Europe (2931). U.S. politics defines “national interests” in terms of corporate interests rather than citizens’ interest; this is another aspect of the “winner’s complex” (31-33). The U.S. should shrink its military (33). This book’s title comes George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign (34). “It was never America’s destiny to run the world” (35). The country should grow up and turn inward (35-36). Ch. 5: The Politics of “Hard Money.” The 2008 financial crisis epitomizes our quandary, effecting a reduced role for the U.S. globally (37-39). “‘Normal’ life is not going to resume” (39). An account of the financial crisis (39-41). Its causes are in the fundamentals, not tactical mistakes (41-43). Financial interests have been demanding a greater and greater economic slice; the Federal Reserve has been the chief agent of this shift and its power continues to grow (4345). Americans were once engaged on these issues but with the creation of the Fed in 1913 lost their “voice” in “the money debate” (45). In the late 1970s the Fed “effectively took control of government economic policy” through monetary policy (46; 46-48). The Fed tamed inflation “by targeting the wages of working people” (48). Paul Volcker antagonized Republicans and was replaced by Alan Greenspan, who “restored the system that had failed
some seventy years before” (51; 49-55). The Fed needs to be reformed; instead it is being given new powers, raising the prospect of “the formation of a corporate state” while the public is “treated like children” (59; 55-60). The Fed should be stripped of its independence and made answerable to the president and subject to congressional oversight (60-61). Ch. 6: Blinded by Faith. The “perverse symbiosis” of the U.S. and China, in which a rich country borrows from a poor country to sustain a high standard of living (62-63). Demonization of China is just a rationalizing excuse (6365). The U.S. is wasting away economically in a process that derives from Cold War arrangements, national arrogance, and simplistic policy analysis (65-69). The élites are pursuing globalization while 80% of Americans are convinced that this is jeopardizing the situation of working families (69-74). The economic theory of globalization does not correspond to the reality, which is driven by state-capitalist deals and not by abstract “market forces” (74-76). 1980s IBM vice president for science and technology Ralph E. Gomory is a heretical capitalist critic of globalization, arguing that it is weakening the nation (76-79). William J. Baumol co-wrote Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests (2001) with him, arguing that the cheap goods that globalization gave to Americans will soon disappear (79-81). European and Asian policymakers value society more than Americans (82-83). East Asia (8384). Japan (84-87). Germany (87-90). China (90-92). Ch. 7: Second Thoughts. The “global trading system” is more fragile than generally imagined (93-94). U.S. élites (Robert Rubin, Alan Blinder, Lawrence Summers, Paul Krugman) are having doubts about globalization (95-102). U.S. claims to global leadership are impeding adjustment to the reality of the situation (102-03). The U.S. should cap
trade deficits, tax U.S. multinationals and investment capital firms, and rebuild the national economy (103-09). But it is moral for the U.S. to defend its citizens’ interests in a world marked by acute global poverty and inequity only if “international labor rights” are also pursued (112; 109-16). Ch. 8: The Next War. “The U.S. military . . . has itself become the gravest threat to our peace and security” because of the globally aggressive “Long War” strategy described in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (117; 117-20). It’s really about our oil supply (120). At the end of the Cold War, the U.S., in thrall to its “winner’s complex,” tragically and unnecessarily pursued a strategy that abandoned realism (i.e. the view that nations pursue their own interests in international affairs) (120-26). Greider’s own military experience (in the early 1960s?) leads him to praise the military as an institution (126-29). Covering the military as a reporter during the Vietnam era (129-32). The military in the 1990s (132-33). “The armed services, in my experience, is possibly the American institution that most effectively advances equal opportunity. . . . [T]he people in uniform have a lot to teach the rest of society” (133). But trying to maintain dominance is, inevitably, a losing strategy (134-37). Present policies encourage nuclear proliferation, if only for self-defense (137-39). Counterinsurgency strategies promise to be counterproductive (139-43). Oilmotivated U.S. militarism is pushing adversaries together, e.g. China and Russia (143-49). Ch. 9: Why Not Victory? Four years into the Iraq war, Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly found that highranking American officials were unable to state the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims (150-51). “Ignorance makes it easier to go to war” (151). The
Korean war was the result of ignorance (152). So was the Vietnam war (152-53). The U.S. is still a democracy; it has not evolved into an imperial state—we have “changed as a people” and no longer desire imperium, though our élites still pursue this (154-58). “If government officials privately consider themselves in charge of an empire, they had better not tell the people” (156). Anyway, no great power can set itself imperial objectives nowadays (158-62). “Wars should not be fought at all unless they absolutely must be, and if they are fought, they must be won. . . . I am not a pacifist”; it follows, though, that humanitarian wars are to be rejected (163; 162-64). There has been opposition to the Iraq war inside the military (164-65). A “‘popular formation’ of citizens dedicated to confronting militarism” is a possibility (166-67). Andrew Bacevich’s The New American Militarism provides a platform “for thinking about reform” (167; 167-69). The U.S. is “losing the arms race with itself: The sole superpower is compelled to spend more and more each year, not because of its imagined opponents, but thanks to its own plans and projects” (170). “The cost of war making has never become a potent issue in US politics” but “an independent formation of well-prepared citizens could make a real difference” (171). Ch. 10: The End of the Conservative Era. The current crisis is good news in that it enables Americans to think anew for the first time since the 1970s (17374). But “no coherent alternative presently exists” (174). “Politics is muddled for the moment” (175). Unsound “supply-side” free-market policies of recent decades have produced “billionaires and borrowing” (176; 17681). As Republicans became profligate spenders, Democrats at the behest of Wall Street embraced fiscal discipline and became a party of capital (181-84). Inequality is bad for the economy (18587). It has damaged the “moral fabric of
the country,” as we see in a betrayal of pension commitments that amounts to stealing (187-91). We will be forced to change, and technologies exist to accomplish systemic changes, but “[t]he hard part is the politics” (193; 192-194). Can we Americans learn to be mature? Yes, though not painlessly. (194-95). Ch. 11: America the Possible. Americans should know they have to rethink their bedrock faith in economic growth, since it has been failing to help working people for some time (197-201). The failure of growth poses an acute political problem (201-03). The growth engine also “actively damages anything it does not itself value,” including the environment and morality (204; 203-07). Herman Daly’s Steady-State Economics offers an alternative model (207-08). Six imperatives can guide social transformation; these involve an expanded government role, a reinvention of capitalism (socializing corporations in ways that are vaguely presented), and “thickening” democracy (208-13). The U.S. is rich and can afford it (213-18). Ch. 12: Machine Politics. Corporate power is a central feature of our socioeconomic system, yet most politicians will not talk about it (219-20). Corporations today are most artful in avoiding taxes and fostering forms of corporate welfare (220-23). Deregulation (224). Public outrage (224-25). Corporations prey on government (22526). Not all corporations act irresponsibly (227-28). The corrupted values of government “probably had their origins in the great liberal reforms of the New Deal” (228; 228-33). Corporations have broken “the social contract” and the “business-government partnership” needs to be “broken” if problems like health care, pensions, and global warming are to be solved (23441). A “performance tax” and other means can be used to reform
corporations (241-46). Democracy must be reinvigorated (246-47). Ch. 13: The Reckoning. Americans face a WWII-sized challenge (248-52). The government could “suppress domestic consumption” while making “public investments in industry and public goods” funded by public borrowing, with jobs going to Americans during a 4-to-5-year period of austerity (252-56). “I am not delusional” (257). Franklin D. Roosevelt offers a model for leadership (257-59). To motivate them, Americans need a new vision; Greider proposes “the right of all citizens to larger lives” (259-64). Three other proposals: (1) the right to a job that pays a livable wage; (2) the right to “contribute and collaborate in important decision making within the firm”; and (3) a new form of business organization, the “social corporation” (264-69). Ch. 14: The Underground River. We all need to talk together more; Greider finds the conversations at Industrial Areas Foundations groups valuable, which give him faith that “authentic democracy” is possible (270-72). Americans need to recover their confidence (273). The two-party system is not working (273-75). They should form 10,000 to 10,000,000 “clubs for America” where they can “talk freely” (275). Americans need to heed a version of their own history as a struggle for maturity and shared responsibility (27578). “The singular struggle of African Americans is the core narrative of our national experience because it encompasses all that is tragic, triumphant, brutal, and beautiful in the American story” (279; 278-80). The faith in common people that characterized populism is something Greider has learned from long experience of dealing with ordinary people (280-83). Their experience forms the “deeper current in American life,” an “unseen river” that “is what gives me my permanent sense of
optimism about the country” and it is who he has intended his work to serve (283; 283-84). Examples (284-87). Americans have reached “a fracture point in our national story” (287). The creation of new “formations” could help (288-90). People must overcome their cynicism (290-91). With “independent formations” they could form a “third front of mobilized citizens” (291-93). It’s not clear how this could happen, but the new facility of communication through the Internet will help (294-99). “We can do this . . . I don’t claim to know for sure that we will succeed. I do believe that we will try” (299). Endnotes. 11 pp. Acknowledgments. Lawrence Goodwyn (Democratic Promise) and Lee Halprin; The Nation; publisher and editor; wife Linda Furry Greider. Index. 19 pp. About the Author. William Greider is national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has also written One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (1997); Who Will Tell the People (1992); and Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (1987). His journalism has been published in the Washington Post and Rolling Stone and he has appeared in six “Frontline” documentaries on PBS. [Additional information. Greider is from Ohio and western Pennsylvania where he experience farm life. He graduated from Princeton in 1958 and then served in the U.S. army. In Come Home, America he says he was conservative and anti-New Deal in the early part of his career (233). In the latter part of his career he has specialized in political and economic critiques from a non-doctrinaire left perspective. Greider has also written The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to
a Moral Economy (2008). See http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/07182 008/watch2.html for his July 18, 2008, appearance on “Bill Moyer Journal” (28 minutes).] [Critique. Come Home, America is light on specifics, notes, bibliography, and policy details, and heavy on American exceptionalism, comforting reassurances, calls for big pland, and interest in the
vague notion of “political formations” (e.g. 166, 244, 288ff.; derived in part from Walter Mosley’s Life Out of Context ). Like its author, the book’s tone is mild and rather bland, which does not quite suit the mood of great moral urgency that Greider says he feels (what a contrast to Derrick Jensen’s What We Leave Behind!). But such a quite, understated sincerity is a rare quality these days and is not unappealing.]
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