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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Do you remember?

Back in April, when the legislative session was about to end and thoughtless Republican legislators – most of that young frat boys – were patting themselves on the back about their budget?  A reporter who was paying attention to the world outside of Tally asked one about the budgetary effect of the new virus.  "I hadn't thought about that," he replied.  I wrote about it at the time, but it's time to review from another angle.


If he had thought about it, he doubtless would have dismissed the pandemic as a Democratic hoax that would stop at the shores of the Atlantic.  After all, Der Fuhrer repeatedly said that.  State budget writers had no need to consider the possibility of record unemployment, record loss of tax revenue, record expenditures to keep people alive.  To say nothing about actual sickness and death.


Now we know that Dear Leader lied.  He did know that this virus was deadly.  He did know and deliberately dismissed it in public, misleading not only millions of Americans, but also the tens of thousands of elected officials who plan our communal spending.  Florida's fiscal year doesn't begin until October 1, but legislators in Tallahassee finalize it in May or at least early June, when Trump encouraged them to believe nothing would go wrong.


Florida's legislature has been dominated by literal bullies for a long time, and it's not coincidental that we are one of the few states that never has had a woman as Speaker of the House.  Minions pass whatever the leadership wants and get out of town -- especially in election years.  Indeed, rushing seems to be a goal in itself, and they take pride in adjoining early.  And in not coming back, even as this year has shown a great need for budgetary realism and revision. 


Nor have we had Cabinet meetings, as Governor Ron DeSantis emulates Trump in avoiding open discussion of real data and hard numbers.  A few national Republican leaders have rejected Trump and adhered to the party's traditional talk about fiscal conservativism, but no one here in Florida.  The deluge will come to frat boys who "hadn't thought about it."  Unfortunately, most will get reelected, and it's probably in vain that I hope they see whose denial and deliberate lies got them into this mess. 




A grandson of Nan Britton, the well-known mistress of President Warren Harding, has gone to court to exhume the body of his presumable grandfather.  Harding, a Republican, was elected president of the United States almost exactly a century ago, in November 1920.  He had no legitimate children, and his lateral family is objecting to the exhumation only because they say they already have acknowledged the illegitimate side of the family.  They argue that there is no need for DNA evidence to prove the genetic connection because they agree with the plaintiff's basic claim.  I'm looking forward to the case, however, because he also asks for more attention to his grandmother in the Ohio museum that honors Warren Harding. 


Of course, he was from Ohio.  After the Civil War, plutocrats there (especially political manipulator Mark Hanna) persuaded national Republicans into nominating a disproportionate number of its native sons.  I knew this, but was surprised myself when I checked the facts:  during presidential elections between 1868, with Ulysses S. Grant, and 1920, when Harding won, eight of the 14 Republican nominees – or more than half – were from Ohio.  (The others were from New York and Indiana.)  It's notable, too, that until recently, Grant and Harding were our most corrupt presidents.  Ask any historian.


But I want the exhumation for a different reason.  Like a number of other historians, I suspect that Florence Harding poisoned her husband, and even a century later, it is possible that forensic scientists could prove or disprove that.  Warren Harding lacked principles and was completely unqualified to be president – which is what his puppet masters wanted.  A former newsman, he spent his time in the White House playing poker and entertaining women, especially Nan Britton.  Florence Harding also had a background in journalism.  That means she was smart:  unqualified women didn't get those jobs in those days.


She had every reason to be embarrassed and angered by his scandals, both sexual and financial, and by 1923, I think she decided to put him out of her misery.  Warren died after a trip with Florence to Alaska.  Newspapers said he ate some bad salmon, but no other travelers were similarly sickened.  He was buried without an autopsy and with what some saw as unseemly haste and "odd comments" from the widow.  Upon returning to Washington, she took bundles of his papers from the White House and burned them. 


She died herself soon thereafter, and the mystery never has been solved.  Maybe an exhumation would do it.  My takeaway:  Scandals, both sexual and financial, are not new; and husbands should be careful about humiliating their wives.




I know I talk a lot about income inequality, but it is THE neglected issue of our times.  The Rand Corporation – which has a long history with defense industries and certainly is not an agent of the left – said in a recent report:  "if income distribution had merely held steady in the decades since 1975, some $50 trillion would have gone to ordinary workers rather than the nation's oligarchic leaders – enough to pay every working-class American an additional $1,144 a month."


Please note "since 1975."  The next year, a Republican Hollywood actor would defeat a Democratic Sunday School teacher from Georgia for president – with the votes of a lot of blue-collar workers who should have known better.  I guess they were more comfortable with Bedtime for Bozo than with the Naval Academy's nuclear scientist.  Reagan and his handlers, however, put the plutocratic machine into motion, steadily breaking unions and lowering real wages. 


Warren Harding and other Republican presidents in the 1920s did same, oblivious to the evidence that farmers and factory workers were sliding down the economic scale while Wall Street soared.  Then came the crash into the Great Depression, which too many people today have forgotten.  It was the Democratic New Deal that pulled us out of that abyss, with Franklin Roosevelt's guarantees of Social Security, minimum wages, and other protections we now take for granted. 


It was this relative economic equality and its ability to fund their future that motivated the Greatest Generation to fight in World War II.  Our troops knew that the New Deal would not allow Grandma to go hungry and that manufacturers' excess profits would be taxed to the max.  They could expect that the GI Bill would provide them with college tuition and affordable housing, so they fought on to victory.  I doubt if that would be the case with today's young people -- and for reasons that make sense. 


The Green New Deal could go far to provide them hope while they struggle for a foothold in today's economy.  It will offer many new jobs, especially as we transition from oil and coal to sustainable energy sources.  It's easy to mock young AOC, but thinking through how to modernize the financial world is hard, and getting it done is even harder.  My recommendation is that Elizabeth Warren take over monetary matters.  Then we'll see reforms that will close the staggering division between the rich and the rest of us.




Back during the Clinton administration, I hoped for a national discussion on race.  He and I were young Arkansans when other whites violently fought the 1957 integration of Little Rock's Central High School.  We saw that play out, and over the decades, we saw Arkansas and other states of the once "Solid South" switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican.  The trend began with Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in 1968, and by the end of the century, Arkansas was akin to other former Confederate states in having few to no Democrats in top offices.


Because of Black Lives Matter and other organizations, the national conversation on race that Bill Clinton proposed finally is taking place – but I want to remind you of how very long it took.  I especially want to trace Florida's transition from domination by conservative Democrats to conservative Republicans.  There are a few other factors in this pattern, but race is the main one.  Black Floridians began to go to the polls after they were protected by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The vast majority of them voted Democratic because of Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry Truman's Square Deal, and the Kennedy/Johnson push for civil rights.  In response, millions of white Floridians re-registered as Republicans, often saying "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; it left me."   


Hubby and I moved here in 1972 – almost two decades after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that segregated schools were inherently unequal – but Hillsborough schools were only beginning to integrate. The Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) still included a lot of supporters of segregationist George Wallace, who ran for president that year.  He ran as a Democrat, but his followers were indeed racist.  Their Confederate heritage meant that they rejected the national party's reforms at raucous conventions in 1964 and 1968.  Republicans held quieter conventions, saying in effect that no liberals need apply.


Locally, the DEC remained quite important.  Indeed, the late historian Leland Hawes said that prior to the 1970s, no governmental decision that was opposed by the DEC had any chance of passage.  And until progressive Democrat Betty Castor won a seat on the County Commission in 1972, all major elected officials were white men.  Although the national party had rules that should have given women a voice, women's primary purpose within the county DECs was to decorate campaign headquarters and serve post-meeting cookies. 


So in 1974, Hubby went door to door trying to defeat our precinct's committeeman and committeewoman, who were avowed racists allied with Wallace.  (I didn't go with him; we had a new baby and I stayed home.)  Unfortunately, because we were newcomers and unknown to the DEC's progressives, the Classroom Teachers Association also ran candidates, and in a three-way race (with voting at the actual polls), the conservatives won. 


It wasn't until 1976 that Hubby and I prevailed, the same year that Georgian Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination and the general election.  Yet in 1978, when I was employed by the DEC, I still had to deal with some alleged Democrats who refused to sit next to African Americans at meetings.  In a weird way, I was grateful for the 1980 Republican victory.  Its "Reagan Revolution" made it clear who was on which side, and today's national conversation on race is clarifying that even more. 


The fuzziness and equivocation and "both sides" excuses are almost gone.  I'm especially happy to report that my brother in rural Arkansas, a machinist who previously seemed to believe that God registered as a Republican in 1980, now is volunteering to build a church for an African-American congregation.  He and his wife like the preacher and may even move their Baptist membership.  That's progress.



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