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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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A profoundly un-influential speech, 40th anniversary

Uploaded: Sep 9, 2015
We are approaching the 40th Anniversary of a speech that should have had substantial impact on American politics, but didn't. It is interesting to re-read this speech in the today's context, both nationally and locally. It gives a sense of how resistant some things are to change. It may encourage contemplation on the costs of letting these problems continue to fester.

First let me provide some context.
The speech was delivered to the annual convention of the New York Liberal Party on 9 October 1975. The primary topic was effective and responsive government, but that was not part of its official title. US Senator Edmund Muskie was slated to deliver the speech, but his flight was weather-delayed and the speech wound up being given by his speech writer, which probably lessened its impact. At the time Muskie was considered the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination for President—he subsequently decided against entering the race—and was considered likely to beat Republican President Gerald Ford in the general election. Muskie had been the Vice Presidential nominee in 1968, and an unsuccessful contender for the 1972 Presidential nomination (he was heavily targeted by Nixon's "Dirty Tricks" operation).

In the 1976 campaign for the Democratic nomination, the outsider Jimmy Carter demonstrated the resonance of many of these ideas with the public, but the response of the Democratic Party establishment was not reform, but an "ABC" campaign (Anybody But Carter). Although Jimmy Carter was responsible for many of the problems of his Presidency, he was repeatedly "impeded" by liberal Democrats in his Cabinet and in Congress.(foot#1) This was followed by the Reagan-Bush administrations, which forced some re-examination by Democrats, producing the Democratic Leadership Council which eventually resulted in the Clinton-Gore administration (recognize that this is a thumbnail context/history, not an endorsement by this blogger).

Rules for comments:
1. Focus on the local situation, which is the focus of this site (PA Online) and this blog.
References to the federal or state situations, both current and historical, are appropriate if they help illustrate the local situation or potential improvements.
Yes, I fully realize that commenters would have lots more fun discussing the national situation, but that would drown out those wishing to comment on the local level.

2. No political partisanship: Liberal vs. Conservative; Democrat vs Republican; ...
Note: There are a smattering of similar speeches from that time from "the other side" similarly critical of its trajectory.

The speech:
The Unfinished Liberal Consensus by US Senator Edmund Muskie, delivered to the annual dinner/convention of the New York Liberal Party in 9 October 1975 by his speech writer (Lester Hyman) because a weather-delayed flight prevented Muskie's attendance.
If you do a general web search, you will find various small fragments of this speech cited in various books and other commentaries, but this is the only full version I could find. My assessment that this speech was "un-influential" is largely based on subsequent events, but this paucity of references supports that belief.

Analogies to the local situation:
Remember, the primary purpose of reading history is to learn its lessons: what to do, what not to do, what is hard to do.(foot#2)

Many of the analogies should be obvious to the readers and commenters. However, let me highlight one that many may miss:
"Consider, for example, the 1972 National Platform of the Democratic Party. If you wanted to read it, it would take a while. It runs about fifty pages, or nearly 15,000 words, and it reads like the catalogue of virtually every problem that we liberals think bothers the American people. ... It was a wonderfully comprehensive and esoteric document. ... was irrelevant, for all practical purposes. ... For in promising so much for so many, it was meaningless."(foot#3)
Palo Alto's equivalent is its Comprehensive Plan (CompPlan) which currently runs over 200 pages, with one chapter itself being 50 pages.(foot#4) And the CompPlan Update, in progress, is likely to be of similar size. This problem has been the subject of several of my previous blogs about the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) on this Update (July 31, August 5, August 27).


1. As a prime example, frustrated Carter loyalists cited Cabinet Secretary Joseph Califano Jr at the massive Department of Heath, Education and Welfare (renamed Health and Human Services) as acting as if he was head of an independent branch of government.

2. Well-known quotations: The admonition "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it" is a widely used variation on "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" by George Santayana.
Or go with Shakespeare's "What's past is prologue" (from The Tempest).
Or for the cynic/realist: "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" ("The more that changes, the more it is the same thing" or "..., the more it stays the same")

3. Aside: The situation relative to Party Platforms has changed at the national level. 40 years ago, candidates attempted to influence what went into the platforms, and then gave the result a brief, obligatory nod. Today, many candidates don't even bother with the pretense that the platforms are relevant.

4. Page count of chapters in the current Comprehensive Plan:
Introduction: ??; Land Use and Community Design: 50; Transportation: 30; Housing: 39; Natural Environment: 36; Community Services and Facilities: 18; Business and Economics: 16; Governance: 12; Summary & Appendices: ??
Note: The title of the current CompPlan includes the dates 1998-2010, but it has been extended indefinitely by a prolonged (dilatory?) Update process.

An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particular strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", don't be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, don't waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.
What is it worth to you?


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