Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt’

Trump Blames Fail in Iowa due to Rumours

February 3, 2016

According to Mike over at Vox Political, Donald Trump is already pleading dirty tricks to explain his failure to take the lead in the Iowa Caucus. He claims that the results were skewed by a rumour going round that one of the other Republican candidate, Ben Carson, was going to retire. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/03/trump-gets-the-hump-over-iowa-vote/. Mike also reports that the piece about it in the Guardian states that this is par for the course in America. Both George Dubya and his father are supposed to have beaten their opponents by spreading rumours about them, or otherwise manipulating images to blacken their names.

This is true, and it’s been going on almost since the beginnings of America itself as an independent, sovereign nation. Andrew Jackson was plagued by a series of malicious rumours. One of these was that he had taken the virginity of the daughter of southern gentleman, while staying with the girl’s parents. Another was that he was drunkard and an atheist, who planned to burn Bibles. There are eerie echoes of that today, in all the bizarre pronouncements made by various Republicans about liberals in general being manic atheists, determined to destroy Christianity and American pride, decency and liberty. Ann Coulter devoted a whole book to this point, Godless: the Church of Liberalism. Or some such, in which she declared that liberals were indeed heartily opposed to God, and formed a dire atheist church in which ‘abortion is the highest sacrament’. There are atheist churches. One opened here in Bristol last October, but ‘liberalism’ as a general political creed isn’t a religious, or anti-religious faith. Atheists can be liberals, but then, so can people of faith and agnostics. And indeed, Soviet Communism was militantly atheist, but hardly liberal.

The book Rumor, by Hal Morgan and Kerry Tucker (New York: Penguin 1984) lists some of the American politicians, who’ve been plagued by malign rumours. These include John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin van Buren, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and JFK.

There’s a story about one of the 20th century American presidents – I think it may have been FDR, but I’m not sure – states that when one of his aids asked him what they were going to say about his rival, the great man responded by telling him to spread a particularly vicious rumour. The man was a farmer, and so FDR, or whoever, said, ‘Tell ’em he f*cks his pigs’. The aid was horrified, and protested that it was untrue. But the president continued. ‘Yeah, but let the sonofabitch prove it.’

Sometimes the attempts to cast aspersions on a rival’s character are genuinely witty, and actually show the man or woman to be entirely blameless, while seeming to do the opposite:

George ‘Smooch’ Smathers, in his 1950 campaign for the Senate, made this speech attacking his rival:

Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr Pepper, before his marriage, practiced celibacy.

So it’s been a long established custom in America to use all manner of dirty tricks to spread damaging rumours against one’s political opponents. However, the authors of Rumor also noted that this rarely works, though it’s the only positive thing that can be said of the tactic.

Not that this changes what happened to Trump. He still lost, and he’s whining about it. As you’d expect.

Financial Times Review of Book on Origins of American Financial Imperialism

October 27, 2015

Also looking through the pile of past newspaper clippings I’ve collected, I found this review by David Honigmann of Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy 1900-1930, by Emily S. Rosenberg, published by Harvard, in the FT’s weekend supplement for 11th/12th March 2000.

The Real Costs of an Empire on Loan

At the end of the 19th century, the US was acquiring an empire by default, picking up colonial possessions and exerting a sphere of influence it did not quite know how to handle. When the 1896 selection turned on the question of currency reform and the gold-standard advocates won, the next step to export the gold standard to the scattered territories under US control. It spread from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, then Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico. Eventually, US financial advisers would by plying their trade as far afield as China, Germany and Persia.

Dollar diplomacy was the term coined for an arrangement under which struggling economies would receive loans from US banks in return for accepting “supervision” from American economic advisers. The story of the public-private partnership that tried to bring this about is the subject of Emily Rosenberg’s meticulously researched book.

She traces the three parties involved in pushing dollar diplomacy. Investment banks, anxious for new markets, provided the loans. Academics made, in some cases, small fortunes from providing the advice: Edwin Kemmerer, who became the high priest of dollar diplomacy, made many times his already generous Princeton salary from grateful client governments. (Rosenberg cites personal correspondence to show that Kemmerer was obsessed with the inadequacy of his salary and what this meant for his manliness.

The third party underpinning all this was the US State Department, which played an ambiguous role in approving the loans. Each loan went to the State Department for approval, and when approval was granted there was at least a tacit expectation by lenders that the US government was backing it, protection which could take any form from ambassadorial murmurings to the dispatch of the Marines.

Banking was a contested area at the time. The gold standard, with its tendency to deflation, was inimical to small farmers and small businessmen. Marxists condemned it as materialism in action, and opposition to it also drew on a strain of populist anti-Semitism. (In the 1896 election, the Democrats warned against “crucifying mankind upon a Cross of Gold”.)

Attitudes to dollar diplomacy did not split evenly along political lines, however. When President (Theodore) Roosevelt, in 1905, halted the Dominican Republic’s slide towards bankruptcy by turning it into a US fiscal protectorate, and then built it into a model of dollar diplomacy, there was little anti-imperialist protest. The plan was seen essentially as extending “assistance without annexation”.

It was only as client countries began to rebel against the conditions and policies imposed to accompany loans (the Sandino rebellion in Nicaragua in the late 1920s being the most visible) that progressive domestic opposition and the Comintern rallied to denounce it.

Rosenberg dives deepest into the professional advisers and their search for respectability. this was the foundation of the whole system: the professionalism of the advisers reduced the perceived risk of the loans, lowering their price and making them affordable for the client countries. The advisers presented themselves as impartial third parties, aloof from both US governmental interests and the banks, responsible only to client governments. In fact, they received considerable support behind the scenes from the State Department, and Kemmerer was also kept on a secret annual retainer by Dillon Read, one of the investment banks: not so much Chinese walls as Hall of Mirrors.

Despite the technocratic claims of the advisers, dollar diplomacy was not a clean, value-free exercise. Rosenberg locates its roots in the cultural debates of the early 20th century. The Tarzan books and films were only one example of the ways in which other nations and peoples were framed as “primitive” and in need of western assistance.

Dollar diplomacy even became the subject of poplar entertainment, as in Edison’s 1917 film Billy and the Big Stick, whose hero was an American customs officer in Haiti, denied his salary by the Haitian president until he threatens the dispatch of gunboats. All very explicit, it might seem; in fact, as Rosenberg notes, it was the US financial adviser in Haiti who sopped the wages of Haitian officials until they agreed to his proposals.

The crux of Rosenberg’s argument is that dollar diplomacy cloaked geo-politics in the guise of market contracts, but with the iron first ill-concealed in the velvet glove. She draws a parallel with Victorian marriage contracts: “the dominant (male) party promised monetary support (loans) and supervision in return for obedience and acceptance of regulation. Yet, also like marriage, the status inequalities were embedded in the controlled loan contracts of dollar diplomacy, even as the contracts tended to be culturally presented as freely negotiated and based on mutual attraction.”

Financial Missionaries to the World is not easy reading. It is full enough of fiscal minutiae that even fairly central concepts, such as financing currency conversion through seniorage, go unexplained. There is no argument that is not a discourse, no assumption that is not a paradigm, no subordination that is not a “feminization”.

But it works well in explaining how this policy of arm’s length financial administration arose, how it was sustained by cultural pressures in the teeth of growing opposition from both isolationist Right and anti-colonialist Left, and how it eventually collapsed in the gale of the 1929 Crash and a series of armed rebellions.

Rosenberg does briefly trace the evolution of dollar diplomacy through Bretton Woods and the rise of the IMF, although a less scholarly book might have drawn even more explicit parallels with the financial regimens imposed by today’s multinational institutions. But perhaps the warnings are all too clear.

That last paragraph is important. The IMF and the World Bank certainly do act as instruments of American economic imperialism. When countries go for them for loan, these are given with a set prescribed conditions to rectify those nations’ ailing economies: they are to private the state industries and cut down on state expenditure generally, including removing or cutting back on any welfare support they may provide their citizens. The privatised industries are to be sold to American companies.

And the Americans haven’t just tried this with Developing Nations. They’ve done it to us as well. The British Empire was dismembered partly due to pressure from the Americans for their help during the Second World War, as they wanted to open up the closed imperial trading bloc to American companies. And they’ve continued interfering in our economic affairs afterwards. According to Lobster, one of the chiefs and head executives at the Bank of England under Bliar was Deanne Julius, a high ranking official within the American banking system. She believed that Britain should abandon its role as a manufacturer and concentrate instead on servicing American global financial interests.