Memo To: Website fans, browsers
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Al Hunt on the Political Spectrum
An interesting exchange took place over the weekend regarding the political paradigm to which Albert Hunt of The Wall Street Journal pays homage. Hunt writes a weekly political column and is also a regular tv personality on CNN. He was for several years the Washington Bureau Chief of the WSJ and for the last quarter century has been a major player in the news media's involvement in the highest levels of policymaking. How do we fix Albert in the political firmament? How interesting that two of our most enthusiastic TalkShop participants wondered about all this last week and focused their attention on Mr. Hunt, one of my oldest and sincerest adversaries.
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Peter Duveen: Al Hunt is a raging liberal.
Dick Fox: I wish [Al Hunt] were a liberal. He is actually a fascist, wanting a strong dictatorial President who would take charge of large portions of industry, and this guy is at The Wall Street Journal. I am sorry to take issue with you, because I do know what you mean. I just believe that we should not fall into the trap of letting the opposition define the terms. Liberal is a much more benign term than fascist, but I do believe you will agree with me that Hunt is more fascist than liberal. He doesn't want to liberate anything. He wants to enslave large segments of the economy. I spent a lot of time once trying to come up with a better word than liberal to describe the policies of the left. I thought of federalist, but they are not federalists in the term used by the founders. They are actually fascist as the term was used in the early 20th Century, a philosophy many embraced before Hitler. I fear that Hitler simply made them change the name but not the philosophy. We should call them what they are.
Jude: The benign use of the term fascist locates it amid the early 20th century "syndicalists," which was an offshoot of "democratic" elitist rule, It is Plato moving toward an extreme. Democratic means the system will enable the lowest of the low to get to the top in his/her lifetime, if they are meritorious. Syndicalists believed that if the best and the brightest joined intellectual and political forces in a "syndicate," they could make greater achievements than if they had to slow down for the unwashed masses. The term "fascist" comes from the symbol of twigs of wood bound together, which suggests strength in unity. The twigs represent government, business and labor in their most elite forms.
Fascism surfaced first in Italy with Mussolini, who made the trains run on time — although I pointed out in my book, The Way The World Works, that he had a fabulous finance minister named Alberto de Stefani, a junior Alexander Hamilton. The economy boomed because of the supply-side tax and monetary policies of de Stefani, but the fascists in other countries took credit. The forces that came together behind the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1929-30 were of course those representing Big Government/Big Business/and Big Labor. The American Federation of Labor was an enthusiastic supporter as was the major industrial combination. To this day, the elites here refuse to recognize what they did to put the world on the track to Depression and WWII. They instead argue that the masses of people speculated unwisely on Wall Street and produced the bubble that burst. Ah, if only we had a stronger government. The New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was explicitly designed on the Mussolini pattern, on the theory that the market system had failed and the national government had to become active in getting the economy under control. Instead of socializing industry, government would regulate it, subsidize it, help it, protect it. The New Deal philosophy carried through the Democratic Party up to its nomination of Hubert Humphrey in 1968. It then moved left with the nominations of George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984 and Michael Dukakis in 1988. The Clinton election of 1992 moved the party back toward the philosophy of the New Deal, explicitly favoring Big Business and Big Labor in partnership with an activist government. We can say with some assurance that this helps explain the high performance rating that helped save Clinton from conviction in his Senate impeachment trial.
Where does Al Hunt of the WSJournal fit into this scheme of things? Indeed, he fits more in the New Deal mode which can be loosely said to fit into the fascist category, which is right of center. Because each of the Axis powers in WWII were "fascist" in organization and philosophy, the term has taken on a far more extreme connotation than when it was originally introduced. Hunt is not a "liberal," and even might protest if he were called one. He would insist he could not be pigeonholed, but of course everyone can, and I've always thought of Albert as a benign fascist. At The Wall Street Journal during the past quarter century, he did everything he could to block the populist conservatives associated with Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, and the supply-siders. He will go to his grave, for example, certain that the Clinton tax increase of 1993 is responsible for the budget surplus we are now enjoying. And that the supply-side tax cuts under Reagan were ill-considered.
At the WSJournal editorial page, Robert L. Bartley has had a much more populist footing. Bartley was instrumental in providing the intellectual support for "Reaganomics," which is really a personalized supply-side policy mechanism. This is why we have seen for the last two decades a tension between the editorial page and the Washington bureau, where Hunt resides. Because Bartley does hang out with Big Business and the political elites, he has flirted with them too, but for the most part has held on to his populist roots. Watch and see as the struggle continues into the new millennium.