Archie and Reggie . . . the Comic Book Fifties and Sixties . . . and the Republican Debate

Archie and Reggie . . . the Comic Book Fifties and Sixties . . . and the Republican Debate

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As a young boy growing up in the late fifties and early sixties, I think I read almost every Archie and the Gang comic book ever published. I remember a stack on the floor in my closet maybe three feet high that my mother eventually just threw out. Too bad. Sometimes I wish I still had them today.

"Reggie & Me - Archive Comics Group," No. 120, Close-up Inc., New York, 1979.
“Reggie & Me – Archive Comics Group,” No. 120, Close-up Inc., New York, 1979.

Archie was the good guy. Always trying to tell the truth and do the right thing. Even when he was wrong in something—or in deep romantic trouble with either Betty or Veronica—he had a conscience about what he was doing and tried to do the right thing. Reggie was the rich kid, and the exact opposite. He was the bad guy—and the perfect counterpoint to Archie—always lying and scheming to gain some advantage. A lot like our political parties today. The Democrats—even when they’re wrong—at least have a conscience about what they’re doing and try to do the right thing. The Republicans—like Reggie—are always scheming for the advantage, usually just to help their wealthy donors get even wealthier. This usually comes at the expense of everyone else—the average working American.

The fifties and sixties were a simpler time.

The fifties and sixties were a simpler time—a bit monochromatic perhaps—but certainly a more prosperous time for a still emerging but strong middle-class. Unions were strong representatives of labor, representing a much larger portion of the total work force than they do today, and corporate managements still took a largely paternalistic interest in the welfare of their employees. That all translated into the average working class American getting at least a fair share of the total labor pie. The typical male factory worker could support his family and maintain a modest house in the suburbs. It looked like the movie American Graffiti. Hod Rods were in and cool. And Rock ‘n Roll and Elvis were all the rage. Girls wore bobby-socks and sneakers. And boys all tried to look like the Fonz.

The sixties would be a time of upheaval. In 1963 the country would endure the assassination of a beloved president. There would follow the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Time to put away the Archie comic books, life moved outside the Malt Shop and took on a far more serious aspect than the complications of adolescent romance and the dating lives of a bunch of high school kids.

By the end of the sixties, things were no longer so simple. There were race riots erupting in cities across the country, the war in Vietnam was raging causing protests.

By the end of the sixties, things were no longer so simple. There were race riots erupting in cities across the country, the war in Vietnam was raging causing protests and campus demonstrations, a whole generation rising up and protesting an unpopular war. Woodstock would set the tone for a young generation of Americans awakening to a whole new reality. The country seemed on the verge of another civil war. The politics got harsher, more strident and less civil. Liberals advocated for more social change. Conservatives feared a complete breakdown of the social order. America ran its first big trade deficit, an unsettling and inauspicious milestone for a country that had once been the exporter to the world. Europe and Japan had been rebuilding for twenty years. Japan was on the cusp of eclipsing the U.S. auto industry, and we were starting to feel the competition. Inflation was starting to eat into the average worker’s pay, living standards started to slip, and the country began to lose its industrial preeminence. The U.S. dollar was no longer the currency du jour. In fact, the French president De Gaulle insisted that France exchange its dollars for gold. In August 1971 President Nixon closed the gold window and essentially took the world off the gold standard. This ended the post-war Breton Woods Agreement. Going forward the U.S. dollar would just be another fiat (paper) currency subject to the vagaries of the market.

The seventies would see more inflation and more dollar weakness, the first OPEC oil embargo and the resultant energy shortages and gas lines.

The seventies would see more inflation and more dollar weakness, the first OPEC oil embargo and the resultant energy shortages and gas lines. The economic “malaise” of the Carter administration and the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 would set the stage for what would be a sea change in American politics, ushering in the end of American middle-class prosperity.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, “the Great Communicator” would be elected President, promising fiscal austerity and an end to big government. He would double the pay-roll tax, triple the country’s deficit, double the size of the government and begin a process of deregulation and financial manipulation by the big banks, the hedge funds and private equity speculators that would lead to the savings and loan debacle (the country’s first major financial crisis since the ’29 Crash and the Great Depression) and the 1980’s mergers and acquisitions mania that would reshape forever the corporate landscape. So-called “Raiders” like Carl Icahn and Boone Pickens would use the high-yield bonds created by financial genius and convicted criminal Michael Milken to buy up under performing companies, down-sizing and reshaping modern corporate America and changing forever the social and economic contract between the average American worker and his or her corporate boss.

From then on major multi-national companies would be managed for short-term profits rather than long-term growth. Cost cutting (laying off employees) became the modus operandi of corporate America—exemplified in no better way than the corporate villain par excellence Jack Welch, called Neutron-Jack, a cynical joke about how he killed people and ended careers, but left the buildings standing. His legacy to America— corporate cost-cutting (celebrated everyday on CNBC) – would persist for the next thirty years, destroying lives, whole careers and the manufacturing infra-structure of America, heralding in a new era of corporate greed, the myth of the CEO, and the dismemberment and dismantling of the American middle-class, and the destruction of the U.S. economy. Way to go—Jack!

Today many of the factories are gone. The music has moved on, and styles of dress are different—though not that much. Technology and the computer, however, have changed everything. Particularly how we work today. The good jobs that used to provide American workers a decent standard of living have all been out-sourced to Asia. Today in the U.S. we are a service economy. We flip hamburgers, do each others nails, and manage each others money. The only things we produce are military hardware that just ends up falling into enemy hands and being used against us in the pointless, stupid wars that we fight in the Middle-East, cheap processed foods that just make our kids fat, and dangerous pharmaceuticals that poison and kill our drug dependent seniors. The cars, cameras and computers that used to provide American workers good jobs are now imported from Asia. At the end of the sixties the United States was the world’s largest creditor nation.

Today, thanks to the political and economic policies of the last thirty-five years, we are the world’s largest debtor nation.

Today, thanks to the political and economic policies of the last thirty-five years, we are the world’s largest debtor nation. And all we have to show for it is a crumbling infra-structure and a crumbling middle-class. Thanks be to Reaganomics. Every year the competitive pressures from so-called “free-trade” increase. You see, it’s not a comic book world anymore. China and Asia intend to take over, and we only go out of our way to help them with stupid trade agreements like the TPP or Trans Pacific Partnership. We have our President Barack Obama (an accommodating and triangulating, fundamentally weak-kneed Republican) to thank for that. God bless America!

The Republican clown car has run out of gas, is pulled over and stopped at the curb; but the Donald—with his poll numbers sky-rocketing—has called in his personal limo. He is speeding ahead, standing up through the sun-roof and waving at the passing crowd. Tomorrow the Republicans are holding their first national debate, and as candidates they have a lot to answer for. Over the last thirty-five years, since the election of Ronald Reagan, the country has been under a regime of strict, conservative “trickle-down economics”. I’m including in this tally the two so-called Democrat administrations of Clinton and Obama. Clinton was a Democrat in name only, and Barack proved to be no better. As a former Rhodes Scholar, however, Clinton was probably just the smartest Republican president the country has ever had.

Today we’re a country that embraces “financial engineering” over real substantive economic growth. We’d rather create paper (bogus Wall Street securities) over real products, hedge fund fortunes over middle-class jobs. Republicans don’t really care who their policies hurt as long as they take care of their donor-class, the big multi-national corporations, the Koch brothers and the other wealthy Americans (the top 1%) who donate to their campaigns.

If you’re a pissed-off American, you know where to direct your questions — and your anger.  Don’t expect those chuckle-heads from Fox to ask anything close to a penetrating question. So you need, for instance, to ask why the United States can’t have a universal, single-payer health care program—like the rest of the world’s industrialized nations—that covers everyone? You have to ask why as a compassionate God-fearing country we can’t find a reasonable “path to citizenship” for the millions of undocumented workers who already live and work here, who pay their taxes and are otherwise good law-abiding citizens? How come we can’t get a much-needed infra-structure spending program through the Congress? And you have to ask these Republicans why they’re so passionate about defunding Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides health care services to millions of poor and younger women who would not otherwise have access to health care? Why they try so hard (often illegally) to restrict voting rights? And why they want to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that is important not just to America, but the safety and security of the entire world?

It really isn’t a comic book world anymore.

These questions—and the many others that could be asked—are, of course, rhetorical. We already know the answers. But still, it’s important to call the Republicans out on a national stage for their lies, their deceit and hypocrisy.

Nowadays whenever I get really personally pissed-off, I have to remind myself that the fifties and sixties are gone, that our national political life today can’t be compared to the nostalgic high-jinks and romantic frolics of a bunch of fictional high school kids—that it really isn’t a comic book world anymore.

The Money Trader

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