Don’t move or we’ll lose our political stability

Atlas 2

Nothing about this political cartoon is there so that it will cause us to feel an affinity with the fat capitalist in the overstuffed chair.  I’m not entirely sure what the food is on the table behind the safe, but the table cloth suggests that some attention has been paid to it and the bottle is probably not olive oil.  The safe is presumably full already, which is why the bags of money are stacked up against it rather than being safely inside.  The chair is supposed to look comfortable and the little doily under his right arm and the antimacassar behind his head are likely there to suggest prudence.

On the other hand, he is not a liar.  If the poor people on the right move toward all that money on the left, the current balance of the whole tableau will suffer.

On the right, I see a couple of women with babies and a couple of men with clubs.  I suspect that the women and the babies are there to suggest the much higher birth rate among poor people than among rich people.  I am quite sure the clubs are there to illustrate the possibility of “the violence of the people,” a possibility that the Framers of our Constitution would have called “democratic violence.”

atlasThe poor guy who is supporting this whole tableau looks very much like Atlas to me except for the way his fingers are splayed out.  Democrats in the U. S. often talk about “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor,” meaning that the budget reductions that will be necessary if we are not to lose our fiscal stability, come from programs that benefit the poor, like food stamps, rather than programs that benefit the rich, like farm price supports.  The little guy in the middle is there to suggest that figure of speech, at least that is why he would be there if I had drawn the cartoon.

What to do?  If the poor rush “the rich,” they will not be rushing just this one fat guy.  When he said “we” and “our”—in “we will lose our political stability”—the “we” included the police and the army.  If the protests begin to be successful, “we” will include the banks as well.  There will be chaos and further repression.  The action the peasants are contemplating is not a prudent action.  They are there because they have come to feel that “prudence” is not helping them.

I have treasured this cartoon since I first saw it in 1974.  I was on my way to my first post-degree gig as a political science professor and I found this in a book called American Politics: Policies, Power, & Change, 3rd Edition, on page 70.[1]  The last chapter of their book contained four scenarios of change.  The most likely ones were catastrophically bad.  They were a) Erratic marginal change culminating in a corporate-dominated system, b) Marginal reactionary change culminating in fascism, and d) Immediate fundamental change by revolution leading to fascism or socialism.  I think it is worth pausing for a moment to look at a, b, and d because c is not going to sound very likely to you and I want you to keep the alternatives in mind.  Dolbeare and Edelman formulated these four scenarios because they thought we could not just keep on kicking the can down the road forever.  We have been doing that for forty years since they wrote these scenarios, so maybe we can just keep kicking it down the road.  It’s a discouraging prospect.

So here’s the good one.  Keep the cartoon in mind as you read it.  This is scenario c) and they call it “Marginal reformist change culminating in welfare capitalism.”  First they posit some destabilizing event, like a war or a depression.  Whatever it is:

What is crucial is that it provide a basis for some degree of class consciousness or other shared consciousness of joint deprivation sufficient to overcome the divisiveness of group or racial conflicts.

This is the dream that Mitt Romney’s 47% of the people, who are somehow on the dole, will unite and stop squabbling among themselves.  In this and the later steps, remember that the authors are not predicting these events: they are saying what it will take to pull this scenario off and in that, I think they are right.


Considerable value change, gaining momentum continually as new waves of young people enter the society’s mainstream, would make for a temporarily severe “generation gap.” Before very long, however, elites themselves would be penetrated by the new standards, and key personnel at middle-management levels would begin to see like-minded persons permeating their areas of activity—including politics.

This requires an unrealistically long run of progressive politics among young people, but notice that in this scenario, middle management is where these class conscious people wind up and they start making a difference as soon as they hit.  That’s the “severe generation gap,” and remember that this was published in 1974.

And finally:

In time, as each adjustment granted new legitimacy to the rationale underlying the demands, and more and more elites became committed to the new values, a major turning-point would occur. The most likely would seem to be a sweeping victory for the more progressive political party in an election posing clear-cut alternatives between the new and the old values. After that, major institutional changes (such as the elimination of conservative rules in the Congress) would he possible, and fundamental change could then ensue.

This is my favorite part.  “Clear-cut alternatives between the new and the old values” is not something people hope for any more.  It is something we have.  We call it polarization and it has brought the government to a standstill several times in the last few years.  The authors provide in this scenario that there is an Armageddon-like election cycle in which the forces of good (welfare capitalism) are triumphant and major institutional changes are forthcoming.

I know it doesn’t seem very likely, but ballot-driven change is the major alternative to bullet-driven change.  And sustainable change is the resolution of the cartoon and we could really use such a resolution.

And a world series win for the Chicago Cubs.



[1] Ken Dolbeare and Murray Edelman were the authors.  I met Edelman in the company of a few University of Oregon faculty just after an explosive meeting of the American Political Science Association at which my advisor, Jim Davies, provided a good deal of the fireworks.  Good memories.  Ken Dolbeare moved to The Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington, just up the street (I-5) from me and I got to know him pretty well.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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