Friday, January 3, 2014

Is Bill de Blasio the new...

...Howard Jarvis? Am I crazy?

When the new mayor was sworn in on Wednesday, the Times had a front-page article, "De Blasio Draws All Liberal Eyes to New York City," which made me wonder (again) if his election is another example of what Ross Douthat calls "Grand Turning Points, moments after which Nothing Is the Same." I suspect it is, but would rather call it Evidence that the Pendulum is Indeed Swinging. But time, as they say, will tell.

In the meantime, I've been thinking about two other Great Inflection Points in American history:

1. The end of the Third American Revolution, i. e., the Progressive Era, FDR, the New Deal and the Great Society. And,

2. The end of the Third American Counterrevolution, i. e., the Reagan Era.

First a little American history (according to me). The first American Revolution was the one with which we are all familiar. The counterrevolution would be the War of 1812, which was unsuccessful.

The Second American Revolution was the Civil War. While the South's secession from the Union was a near-term failure, the rebels managed, through the counterrevolution that was the Jim Crow South, to eke out a de facto victory for the next 100 years.

That brings us up to what I would call the Third American Revolution. Initially brought on by the Progressives of the nineteenth century, it was furthered by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, expanded dramatically by FDR and cemented by LBJ.

So what ended the Third American Revolution and ushered in the Third American Counterrevolution? Was it the election of Richard Nixon? The failed presidency of Jimmy Carter? Or the ascendance of Ronald Reagan?

I would argue that the canary in the coal mine was actually a guy named Howard Jarvis. Who? Jarvis was an anti-tax activist responsible for the passage of California's Proposition 13 in 1978. From Wikipedia (my emphasis):

In addition to decreasing property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases of any state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires a two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to increase special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.

Passage of the initiative presaged a "taxpayer revolt" throughout the country that is sometimes thought to have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency during 1980. 

And I agree. To paraphrase a famous historian: If Ronald Reagan hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to create him. In other words, the times made Reagan, not the other way around. And Howard Jarvis had a lot to do with changing the times.

Now, what ended the Third American Counterrevolution? It's probably too soon to tell, but it could be any one of the following: the disastrous administration of George W. Bush, in which the Reagan counterrevolution was shown to be utterly exhausted; the election of Barack Obama, the complete opposite in every way of his predecessor; the emergence of the tea party, which took the conservative movement in America to bizarre extremes, peaking in the midterm elections of 2010; or the (very) brief Occupy Wall Street movement.

Or, might we look back some day on the election of Bill de Blasio, an unabashed liberal, as the most significant event? Is he the new Howard Jarvis? Time, as I said, will tell. So will de Blasio's success or lack thereof. If his reforms work (and that's a big "if"), Democrats running in 2016 (think Hillary) will be forced to move leftward. Is the country ready for a return of activist government? Maybe. Stay tuned.

No comments: