Georgetown University historian Michael Kazin points us toward a better way:
What kind of economy do Democrats believe in? Joe Biden calls for “stronger labor laws and a tax code that rewards [the] middle class.” Bernie Sanders wants to raise taxes on the rich and guarantee every adult a job. Elizabeth Warren has a slew of plans that include giving employees seats on corporate boards and breaking up giant firms like Facebook and Amazon. Kamala Harris urges a big tax cut for ordinary families and “stricter penalties for companies that cheat their workers.”
Recent polls show that the public is increasingly supportive of proposals like these. Yet no one who hopes to become the nominee has yet come up with a larger vision that would animate such worthy ideas. And without an inspiring way to tie them together, they may come across to voters like items on a mediocre takeout menu: tasty enough but forgettable.
So let one loyal, if anxious, Democrat offer a solution: “moral capitalism,” a system that, in the words of Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, would be “judged not by how much it produces, but how broadly it empowers, backed by a government unafraid to set the conditions for fair and just markets.”
It is a goal that, by different names, national Democratic leaders have articulated since the party first emerged almost two centuries ago. They understood that most voters liked the general idea of a market economy in which they would have a fair chance to rise, but also resented an economy that failed to live up to the rosy promises of its defenders in business and government.
The tradition began in the 1830s when Andrew Jackson vetoed a renewed charter for the Second Bank of the United States, declaring, “It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Grover Cleveland renewed the offensive in his attack on the protective tariff in the 1880s, as did William Jennings Bryan in his crusade against the “money power” at the end of the 19th century, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in his assault on “economic royalists” in the 1930s.
For all these Democratic leaders, moral capitalism was an aspiration for a system that would balance protection for the rights of Americans to accumulate property and start businesses with an abiding concern for the welfare of men and women of little or modest means who increasingly worked for somebody else.
Teachers hard at work on lesson planning
Day 3 is in the books! (For posts on Day 1 and 2 click here).
We covered a lot of content today. I spent the morning lecturing on the seventeenth-century Chesapeake. After lunch, we started on the Puritans and Massachusetts Bay. Nate continues to spend the afternoons working with teachers on their colonial-era lesson plans.
Tonight we took an informal tour of Princeton’s Presbyterian Cemetery where we visited the graves of Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Withersoon, Aaron Burr Jr., Grover Cleveland (and his daughter “Baby Ruth”), B.B. Warfield, and others. We also ran into the eminent early American religious historian Thomas Kidd. Tommy is in town leading a Witherspoon Institute seminar on religion and the founding era.
Telling the Princeton Seminar teachers about the work of Thomas Kidd
Participant Matt Lakemacher gets the award for the best tweet from the cemetery:
After the cemetery visit, several of us walked over to Morven, the eighteenth-century home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We also stopped at the Princeton Battle Monument.
It is these informal moments with the teachers that I enjoy most about the Princeton Seminar.
Here are some pics:
An impromptu lesson on the first six Princeton presidents
We are in Philadelphia today. Stay tuned for a report.
Georgetown political historian Michael Kazin asks which past U.S. president best exemplifies the ideology of today’s GOP and its presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. His answer: Grover Cleveland, a Democrat. Here is a taste of Kazin’s piece at The New Republic:
But at the same time, if Grover Cleveland could read the 2012 Republican platform, he would find much to smile about. The GOP calls for an offensive against both private and public unions through such measures as so-called “right-to-work” laws and a repeal of the bill, enacted way back in 1931, which requires contractors to pay a prevailing wage on federal construction projects. The party also warns that any adoption of a national sales tax (common in much of “socialist” Europe) “must be tied to the simultaneous repeal” of the federal income tax. The delegates in Tampa even voted in favor of appointing a commission to study the feasibility of returning to the gold standard. (Which is not to say that Cleveland’s support would have been unanimous: The Democrats in Cleveland’s day, as now, were pro-immigration.)
If Mitt Romney manages to win election, he will surely disregard much of his own party’s platform. (In Grover Cleveland’s day, when parties were much stronger as institutions, voters demanded a certain allegiance to positions adopted on the convention floor). If Republicans actually governed according to their own strict “free-market” principles, they would quickly lose the support of the large majority of Americans who like much of what the government does for them. But by echoing a creed that failed the nation at the end of the nineteenth century, the conservatives who rule the GOP make it almost impossible to have a serious debate about how to solve our problems in the early twenty-first. As Cleveland himself once confessed, “I am honest and sincere in my desire to do well, but the question is whether I know enough to accomplish what I desire.”