Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Discussion on Sullivan's Blog sound like discussion in book on muckraker Lincoln Steffens, in early 1900s

As I see discussion on Andrew Sullivan's blog, of the current financial crisis, etc., I find words sounding the same in a glance at Justin Kaplan's biography, Lincoln Steffens (1974, Simon & Schuster).

In discussing financial problems of the President T. Roosevelt era, I see words such as (Page 161) Steffens saying to Roosevelt, “Fighting dishonesty as you are, you are doing more than all the rest of us so-called muckrakers put together to show the American people that the cause of graft and the result of all our corruption is simply misrepresentation in government, and that the cure is to regulate, to control, or if these fail, to own those businesses which find it necessary to their success to corrupt men and cities and states and the United States....You ask men in office to be honest, I ask them to serve the public.”

Although Steffens had been wrong about some people and events, such as Mussolini, Hitler, Spain, in the Afterword we are told that Steffesn had predicted the arrival of a time when the government would give way to a consortium of special interests.

In saying that muckraking is still needed, and this is in the time of Ralph Nader, My Lai and Watergate, the author closes the book with what sounds like a comment for today. “Never before, perhaps, has there been quite so much to expose or so strong a resistance to exposure. Never before has muckraking had to contend with such elaborate safeguards and such an advanced state of moral numbness on the one side and, on the other, so high a threshold of moral outrage in the public sensibility. Never before has muckraking-‘the letting in of light and air’-been so nakedly recriminated and menaced by men in power. Lincoln Steffens’ bold thrust and Theodore Roosevelts's seemngly operatic party prefigured a conflict of as yet unsettled dimension and outcome.”

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