Karl Rove, Bush’s chief propagandist, likes to think of himself as a new Mark Hanna. Who was Mark Hanna, and is Rove right?
Karl Marx once wrote that the U.S. represented a “pure” form of capitalism, without the feudal hangovers that would hinder class development. Mark Hanna was an example of the “pure” form of capitalism. Hanna, a prominent Cleveland industrialist, became involved in politics to protect his interests and those of his class. And he did so by organizing first the Ohio and then the national Republican Party as a political machine, selling candidates the way the newly emerging giant businesses sold beer or soap.
In 1896, Hanna managed the presidential campaign of his protégé William McKinley against William Jennings Bryan, the candidate of debt-ridden farmers, who used left-wing evangelical rhetoric to appeal to the poor (typified by Bryan’s speech at the Democratic convention that year, which included the famous lines: “You shall not impress upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”)
In Chicago, Hanna’s men called Bryan an anti-Catholic Irish Protestant in Catholic districts, an anti-Semite in Jewish districts, and a secret Catholic whose real name was O’Bryan in Protestant districts! Hanna also played on the divisions within the Democratic Party, which had essentially been a minority party since the Civil War. Standing for segregation in the South, machine politics and a live-and-let-live attitude toward immigrants in the East, and whatever the Republicans were against in the West, the Democrats had no national program.
The conservative leaders of the American Federation of Labor in the early 20th century endorsed candidates of both parties based on what they would do for labor, and resisted the formation of a labor party, while labor militants supported the new Socialist Party. Both Republicans and Democrats united in working-class areas to fight the Socialist Party.
Mark Hanna’s GOP was the party most closely associated with an ascendant monopoly capitalism, the preferred party of big business and the rich. The slogan associated with Hanna and conservative Republicans was “stand pat,” don’t interfere with big business.
Karl Rove today is no Mark Hanna, but a petty servant of monopoly, following in the footsteps of Lee Atwater, the late GOP national chair under Bush’s father. Atwater’s “strategy” in effect was to red-bait liberal Democrats the way McCarthyites red-baited Communists and the broad left in the 1950s, portraying liberals as “weak” on “national security,” “soft on crime” and “big spenders” who would tax the “middle class” into poverty. Atwater’s legacy to the GOP was the infamous Willie Horton campaign commercial in 1988, the most crudely racist appeal in a national presidential election since Abraham Lincoln was denounced in 1860 as the candidate of “Black Republicans.”
Unlike the triumphant monopoly capitalism that Hanna represented over a hundred years ago, today’s Rove/Bush Republicans represent, and exacerbate, capitalism’s decay and weakness, much more directly than the Democrats. Whereas U.S. finance capital was on its way to becoming the leading creditor nation in the world in the early 20th century, the Bush administration has made the U.S. the world’s leading debtor nation, the center of a runaway national debt and a crippling consumer debt that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) sees as a danger to global capitalist stability.
In a world in which the U.S. is the global center of imperialism, the Bush administration is committed to a destabilizing policy of unrestricted export of capital, unrestricted state and consumer debt, and unchecked military-industrial-complex profiteering.
Karl Rove and the Bush administration are trying to conserve a decaying capitalism, and are seeking to eliminate all of the gains that working people made through the 20th century. Thus, in the tradition of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda (today it’s called “spin”), Karl Rove uses racism, homophobia, and a large religious right feeding on these issues, to divide and divert our working- class majority.
There is no Republican or conservative political majority in the U.S. today, no matter how much Bush and Rove may wish for one. There is an administration that resembles a sinister version of the Wizard of Oz, manipulating fear and hatred through illusions and lies to maintain its power. Our mission is to expose its illusions and lies and mobilize and unify our working-class majority against it on every issue until we have driven it from power.
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University. He can be reached at email@example.com.