Friday, March 21, 2014

An Architect of Our World, Robert Strauss, Died

Robert Strauss died Wednesday at age 95. Strauss was a Jewish lawyer from Texas who was connected with their Democrat machine, working with Lyndon Johnson and Governor John Connally. He was a "moderate" member of the party. More a business wing of the party strategist than a policy wonk. Strauss was also a prime mover in the change in American government as the business forces of the US struck back at the New Left and even environmental zealots. Strauss was an architect of the system we have today.

Strauss' crowning achievement is said to be the 1976 Democrat convention. He was chairman of the party going into the convention of '76. The prior two conventions had been a mess, first on the streets in '68 and then on the convention floor itself in '72. This march of the New Left hoodlums from streets onward would continue until a protyege would win the presidency in '08. Strauss knew in '76 that he had a weak field of candidates, a party with a bad reputation and a nation disgusted by what it saw the prior two elections. In 1976, allt hat was needed for a Ford win was a switch in 20,000 votes in Wisconsin and 6,000 votes in Ohio. This all despite the lingering aftertaste of Watergate and Ford's pardon of Nixon. Strauss tightly worked the convention to symbollically show the resolution of the Wallace wing and McGovern wing with Carter's outsider, Southern boy nomination. Now it's the McGovern wing, Hispanics tipping the scales in swing sand states and the Wallace wing is the evil enemy.

Strauss' real achievement was in setting the Democrats up well to take advantage of the switch in the '70s of a lot of GOP men to the Demcorats and the rise of corporate political invovlement. Guys like Leon Panetta who swtiched sides were Strauss men. Strauss had a rolodex anyone would envy. His soft power was so strong that he helped former Democrat but now Republican and dear Strauss friend, John Conally, get a puff piece profile in Fortune magazine in the late '70s, explaining why he should be the GOP's presidential nominee and not the Goldwater conservative Reagan. The money is what mattered because in 1976 unions were politically outspending corporations in donations. In 1971, future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote to businesses to get more involved or watch the communists take over and kill the golden economic goose. Strauss was a well connected lawyer, and his political involvement pushed international affairs and engagement. Surprise surprise, his law firm was a powerhouse in legal advice for international mergers and acquisitions. The Washington Consensus and neoliberalism always has a payoff.

Strauss had an even bigger achievement that affects us today that is left out of his NY Times obituary. A simple bit of advice that set a ball into motion that still rolls. I only discovered Strauss years ago because of a line in Robert Rubin's memoir about how he became involved in politics. In the early '80s, Rubin was interested in becoming politically involved. The Democrats had just lost the presidency to Reagan, 30+ seats in the House and lost control of the Senate. Strauss did not recommend Rubin run for anything, but he told them that if you really want a seat at the table, you have to raise a lot of cash. Rubin raised $1 million at a dinner, which in 1982 was a gigantic haul, and began his slow, but thorough, conquest of the Democrats. There are no bankers in jail. The Too Big to Fail banks still live. Stanley Fischer, IMF goon who plundered Russia and Asia in the '90s, worked for Rubin at Citigroup in the 2000s. The same vampires who orchastrated the ground conditions for the crisis still walk free. Strauss and Rubin are why.

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