Think of this as Volume 17, Number 5 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
By January of 1865 the Confederacy was all but dead. By this time in 1901 the Populists were a spent force. The initial crisis that created the New Deal was settled by 1937, although the struggle for democracy was just beginning. By 1973, we were well past the 1960s and talking full-time about Watergate.
While the course of our future politics seems settled, however, the political crisis that began in 2008 is ongoing, and the underlying economic cause – the War Against Oil – seems barely to have been launched.
You may ask why. I'm here to tell you:
Many of the figures who came up under the Nixon Thesis remain relevant. Hillary Clinton was part of the Judiciary Committee staff during the Nixon Impeachment. David Keene, now head of the NRA, was already politically active in 1973. (I got drunk with him at a political meeting in 1971.) The early Nixon era remains part of living memory, and thus political memory. Ironic that while technology changes faster than ever today, our reaction to it changes more slowly, but there you are.
The Crisis was Averted – The crisis elections of 1860 and 1932 were set against ongoing conflict. Conflict had really just begun in 2008, at least the political conflict on which today's crisis is based. The actions taken in late 2008 and early 2009, and their honest Administration by both the givers and recipients of that aid, prevented a wholesale collapse that would have led to faster realignment.
Imagine if FDR had been running for office in 1929 (or if Al Smith had won in 1928) – how might swift action have kept the Great Depression from turning out as badly as it did. And how much closer might the subsequent election have been had FDR had to run for re-election against the backdrop of a faltering recovery rather than a knife-like slide?
The Underlying Crisis is Not Yet Seen – This may be the most important point of all.
All of America's political crises, in my view, are fights between a dominant economic order, which has taken control of politics, and a rising economic order. The Civil War was about manufacturing vs. hard labor. The Progressive Era was about organized inputs vs. a disorganized market. The New Deal was about supply needing demand, and the 1960s were about a slowing manufacturing base against a new base in technology and content.
Today's fight is between renewable energy and fossil fuels. Renewable energy can cap fossil fuel prices, sending them downward, gradually creating abundance. Economic abundance, an end to a generation's economic bottlenecks, is always the aim of a new Thesis, a new politics, and answers a generation's political crisis. The business of America remains business.
Renewable energy has grown in the last four years, and the case for it is clearer than ever. Biofuels are approaching cost parity with fossil fuels, and solar energy is approaching crossover with grid energy, but the decisive turn hasn't come. Yet. It's in sight, but it's not here yet, because public policies have yet to rush forward to meet that economic turn.
You could argue that the President has deliberately ignored the underlying economic forces, that he has failed to understand the climate crisis. Or you could argue that President Obama has allowed the crisis to fester, to continue, in order to make certain that the lesson is learned for all time.
The President did address the climate crisis in his Inaugural Address, while everyone else continues to talk about a jobs crisis, or a deficit crisis, or a growth crisis. The War Against Oil is not just a cure for the climate crisis, but for all these other crises as well. Taxing carbon, pushing up the price of fossil fuels against alternatives, only works economically if renewables are scaling to meet the new demand. That's just now ready to happen. That scaling will allow the employment of millions of new workers. The resulting taxes and growth will deal with most of the current deficit crisis. Tax revenues from a carbon tax would take care of the rest.
It's also true that the political class around fossil fuels is more intractable than any class that has come before. Just as the New Deal crisis wasn't really ended until World War II, so we find in this case that Hitler is among us. Sorry for violating Godwin's Law here, but it must be said. The threat of climate change created by the fossil fuel magnates is as existential a threat as what we faced in World War II – more existential.
And the forces arrayed against us aren't on some foreign shore, but here among us. The Koch Brothers and their ilk, the same men pushing the climate crisis onward, are American citizens, and legal participants in American politics. The Hitlers of our time are our fellow countrymen. They can't be isolated as they were in 1861, to a single section of the country, or in 1933, to the other sides of the globe. The men who would kill your grandchildren are here. They are Americans. They are rich, and they remain both powerful and dangerous.
Despite this, the solution to all our problems is in sight. The economy is turning, our politics have turned, but Wall Street remains unready to switch sides, to turn on the Kochtopus. That's the last step in ending this game. Business has to persuade itself that abundance is the right way to go, and that a carbon tax is the easy path to that abundance.
Why does it take so long for all this to happen? Well, consider that Hillary Clinton is still thought to be a candidate for Obama's succession. A woman who helped impeach Nixon, who has been part of the national political conversation for over 20 years – political lives are measured in dog years – may still be our President in the year 2020.
History takes time.