From The Everything-Old-Is-New-Again File

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Aug 292009

I read an excellent article from Rick Perlstein in The Washington Post last night. (Perlstein article) In this, Perlstein takes the media to task for its coverage of the crazies in American politics these days. Perlstein offers a bit of interesting non-traditional political history then, discussing the extremist conservative nuttiness in the 1960’s. Only, back then, he says, those stories didn’t make the news. Walter Cronkite didn’t lower himself to debunk the crazy allegations made by extremists in those days (like that a provision in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed for enslaving white people), and Perlstein argues we shouldn’t now either. The “Birthers” and “death panel” arguments shouldn’t get a bit of coverage, and he scolds the media for giving them any time and attention.

This brings me back to what I’ve said before about appeals for rational debate and respect for others. We may be appalled that the “Birthers” get attention — or even that they persist in their craziness. We may get indignant when right-wingers label health care reform “socialism” and/or that our president is a communist/socialist attempting to end capitalism in America. And, we can — and should — be extremely incensed when any political candidate advocates the shooting of the president, even in jest. We can call for reasonableness and bi-partisanship. We can attempt to appeal to the angels of our better natures. But, we must never believe that this hostility and insanity is new to American politics.

In the day or two prior to JFK’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963, a small handful of super-conservatives (Time Magazine called them and other extremist groups of the times “the Ultras,” “far-rightists” promoting “superpatriotism.”) distributed flyers — on car windshields and folded in newspapers — that were extremely inflammatory and hostile to the president. (treason flyer) The president’s face appeared at the top — a front view side-by-side with a profile shot. Beneath the photos ran the headline: “Wanted for Treason.” I shit you not. The flyer claimed that Kennedy was violating the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold, that he had illegally invaded a sovereign state of the Union using federal troops, that he was filling the government and Supreme Court especially with Anti-Christians, and that his actions in regard to national security were WRONG (and presumably dangerous judging from the use of all capital letters). For these crimes of treason, Kennedy was a “wanted man.” Within two days, the president was shot dead in the same city.

As it turns out, his assassin was not one of these Ultras (in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald attempted to assassinate General Edwin Walker — one of the Ultra leaders — as well), and their huff and puff didn’t lead to any actual rebellious activity. Let’s hope things work the same way this time. For all the talk of buying “Obama tags” for license to hunt the president, it may just be talk. We do not know. This is for the future to reveal to us. This we can be certain of, however: the irate, baseless, ignorant political propaganda is not new to our country. There is an element here that, in the face of change, resorts to threats, disruption, allegations of sedition, and willful dishonesty. They are afraid — of you, of me, of Americans. Can you blame them really? 1.3 billion Chinese can’t be wrong.


 Posted by at 6:48 pm

Paging Mr. Welch

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Aug 202009
I’m not saying Glenn Beck is the new Roy Cohn or anything (neo-Cohn).  Nor would I call John Boehner Joseph McCarthy (Tobacco-funder Jo).  But, their inflammatory language has brought to mind the exaggerations of the Army-McCarthy hearings.  At these, baseless allegations were slung about as McCarthy purported to uncover one hundred and thirty card-carrying Communists working for the Army.  The Righties today promise to fight the Socialists at work in the White House.
The most famous moment of the Army-McCarthy hearings was a heated exchange between Joseph Welch, Special Counsel for the Army, and Senator McCarthy.  McCarthy and his aide, Cohn, had claimed that there were Communists working at Army plants and other locations.  Welch decided to call McCarthy’s bluff.  He asked Cohn to name the individuals or at least turn the names over “before sundown today” to the FBI, since the matter was of utmost importance and national security was at stake.  McCarthy piped up to say that there was a former member of a Communist-front organization working on Welch’s own staff.  McCarthy used the point to attack Welch’s sincerity (and to deflect from having to name names, which he could not do).  Welch attempted to respond but McCarthy wouldn’t stop talking.  Welch asked for his attention and McCarthy retorted that he could listen with one ear while talking simultaneously.  Welch finally gained the floor and explained that his assistant had admitted his membership in the legal organization for a time in college at Harvard Law.  Welch defended the young man from McCarthy’s attack, but Tailgunner Joe persisted.  Welch then voiced the immortal phrase:  “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
These hearings were televised and the public witnessed McCarthy’s attacks for themselves.  Thereafter, support for McCarthy waned, and in a few years he died in obscurity.  I would like to say that the moral of this story is that the public does have a sense of decency, and when they see partisans whipping up exaggerated claims with reckless disregard for the cost to others, they turn away.  However, today I see angry citizens screaming in a frenzy and making false and spurious claims, and I don’t know that history intends to repeat itself here.  The times, they have a-changed.  I’m not sure that collectively we have that sense of decency anymore.
It is possible, however, that we have just momentarily lost our heads. This would not be the first time.  During the civil rights movement, hostility to black (and sympathizing white) activists was high.  Criticism of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others was often blistering.  They also were accused of being communists and rabble-rousers.  In various places, anti-integration protestors surrounded the civil rights proponents, yelling all manner of vile and foul things.  In time, though, the viewing public who watched these doings on TV came to sympathize with black activists — of course, that was after they saw bystanders pouring mustard over and burning cigarettes into lunch counter sitters, little girls die in a church bombing, and children being attacked by large police dogs.  I hope that we will not have to suffer such extremes to find our decency this time.  I see citizens with loaded guns — even automatic weapons — at political gatherings now, and I wonder.  Have we lost our decency?  At long last, have we left no sense of decency?
 Posted by at 9:39 pm

That’s How They Like It

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Aug 172009
Hate heightens hyperbole.  Screaming red faces at public forums spew illogical, spurious claims that thinly veil their seething, savage hatred.  A hate that cannot exist only for an idea — a bodiless, formless thought which has of itself no power.  You cannot hate a precept with that kind of vitriol.  No, there is a body behind it.  Of course, the body is a man — a black man who is the President of the United States.  Last October, Pandora opened the box and unleashed banshees whose hate and tolerance for violence and cruelty takes one aback.  The hate spews without focus:  here a man is shot to death in his church, here another is murdered at a memorial site for mass murder, and here brothers talk about taking up arms against their brothers in order to rend our country in two for a second time.  The pain and punishment be damned.  This is how it is with hate.  It blinds you from consequences and to compassion.  So, now, Pharisees publicly renounce their Christian duty to care for the poor and less fortunate while waving their Patriot’s Bibles all red, white, and blue.  With a furor that is inexplicable and illogical, they let loose a torrent of hate for their fellow countrymen.  How can this hate — for government, for the concept of socialism, for ideas and human constructs — replace the innate social urge?  Is it so strong that it can cause us to turn away from hungry children, homeless families, the sick, and the broken?  The angry, angry red faces at town halls across the country seem a world away from the homeless shelters, hospices, and food pantries.
I would like to blame the hatemongers.  This has become the reasoned and yet unreasonable response to the outcries.  As Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh rant about socialism and death panels and rationed care, John Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Stewart Acuff call them on the carpet for fueling the hate and their politics of divisiveness.  They plead for a rational respectful debate wherein citizens hash through the facts and come to, if not consensus, compromise.  But, as Acuff has noted, the history is against them here.  We like to think fondly of olden days when respectful patriots put their heads together to come to wise conclusions through reasoned and civil discourse.  When were those days?  Was that the time firemen in Birmingham turned their hoses on black children who wanted equal opportunities?  Or, was it when Andrew Carnegie hired Pinkertons to occupy the Homestead plant, equipped with sniper towers and water cannons, to dispel striking employees who wanted to preserve their union?  Or was it when Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Sumner within an inch of his life on the eve of the Civil War?  Or, perhaps, it was when George Washington led the army against Revolutionary War veterans revolting against taxation under the fledgling U.S. government?
George Wallace lost his first race for Governor of Alabama in 1958.  Afterwards, he summarized his lesson learned thusly:  “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”  Wallace went on to serve three times as Governor, in 1963 declaring:  “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Politicians and pundits are opportunists feeding off of the prejudices and passions of the masses.  American history provides us with a wealth of examples of this.  Sometimes, change in our country is born of political expediency;  often from violence;  almost never from reasoned discourse.  It is unhistorical to expect otherwise.  We will weather this trial, as we have the others that have come before it.  It will be ugly.  It will be democracy.
 Posted by at 10:46 am

The Color Guard

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Aug 082009
Ahh, the ironies of history.  I live in what is now called a “red state.”  Fifty years ago, that phrase would’ve suggested that Oklahoma was full of communists.  Now, it most certainly means that the conservatives overwhelmingly hold the political power.   The Republicans here are proud of the moniker, and it still makes me giggle a little to know that they love being associated with a designation that used to make the Cold War, yellow-dog Democrat leadership cringe.  Pastors who used to rail against the godless atheism of communism now boldly wrap themselves in the red, white, and blue — emphasis on red.  Bumper stickers reading “Better Dead Than Red” have a whole new, complicating meaning.  I wouldn’t have dared flash one before, but I’m seriously considering picking one up now.  Incidentally, at one point, Oklahoma was home to the largest number of Socialists per capita in the country.  The poor Pinks can’t seem to ever take the majority.  In any case, this suggests that the politics of the state — like our dirt — has always had a reddish tint.  Conveniently, this means we can reuse our jerseys, even when we switch teams.
And, I have noted of late, that when speaking about moderate Democrats, the talking heads have started referring to them as “blue dogs.”  In my hometown, being blue means extreme, homo-loving, abortion-promoting, take-away-your-guns liberalism.  I guess it’s all relative.  Here, I’m a blue dog independent.  On a national scale, I wouldn’t be caught dead with the blues.  So, if Socialism is the new blue, what’s the new far left and what do we do with all these moderates?  Also, when did we get blue about politics anyway?  Being blue used to mean you were whiling away your time over beer at Joey’s listening to covers of Muddy Waters and covertly identifying yourself to others as a “friend of Bill (Handy’s).”
It seems the only thing the parties agree on is that they don’t want to be white anymore.  Well, some of the reds want to remain white (supremacists) but they need to woo the Hispanic vote.  In private, they may want to be the white party, but you can’t really say that in public anymore.  Amusingly, the Republican leadership bristles when people note the lack of people of color in their assemblage.  They huff and puff and fumble for words like old white men trying to make conversation with the homies next to them in line at the DMV.  They bring in Michael Steele to give them street cred by having a public swearing competition with Rahm Emanuel, and nod like they’re down with the NAACP.  Not that the Democrats are much better.  The leadership there is largely white too.  The blessed difference is that at least they have some women at the top….so Clinton can see up their skirts.
If you can’t bear to be red, white or blue, what’s the alternative?  We’re running out of political colors in America.  It’s enough to make you want to put on a green armband and shout “Death to the Dictator” from the rooftops.  But I don’t hate Ralph Nader that much (he does owe me an election though).  The obvious default here would seem to be lavender, a melting pot mixing of red, white, and blue, but then, these colors don’t run.
 Posted by at 11:40 pm

The War on History

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Aug 022009
For the record, I firmly believe that anytime anyone uses the phrase “playing the race card” that person should be tased in the gonads.  I say this because as soon as you compare the legacy of slavery with holding an ace in your hand, you have shown that you are a jackass bigot moron enemy of history.  Saying it is the same as starting your sentence with:  “I’m not a racist,” which is the bloody shirt that shows you are, actually, a racist.  Further, it demonstrates that you are yourself “playing the race card.”  It’s a phrase white people use to belittle the concerns of black Americans by reducing them to cynical ploys to gain the moral upper hand.  The purpose is to deflect the criticism so white people don’t have to face the truth about race relations in America.  So, they [whites] play the race card in order to cut the legs out from under those that still bear the burden of the legacies of slavery and segregation.
Not only does this poor defense add insult to injury, it also attacks our history for the worst possible reason.  These white critics want to treat situations like the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. or the trial of O.J. Simpson as isolated incidents.  They want to remove them from history and look only at that event — without the context of the Scottsboro boys or the Tuskegee experiment or Bloody Sunday.  By isolating the incident, you can minimize it.  It is no longer part of an enduring pattern of behavior in our country.  Essentially, it lets white people today break the connection between them and the racism of their white ancestors.  Whites often want to repudiate that connection because they don’t want to have to bear any responsibility for what happened.  But, to do so is to make war with history — with our consciousness, with the truth.  They want the history to go away.  They want to treat it like a dry erase board that can be wiped clean, creating a level playing field with the simple swipe of a felt pad.
History doesn’t work that way though.  You can’t undo consciousness, and actions cause reactions.  They create effects.  Chains of events set in motion cannot be stopped by wishful thinking — particularly to soothe the conscience of a group that does not want to face its culpability.  That group doesn’t necessarily do this to avoid acknowledging the past wrong — that, most whites are willing to do.  What they fear is giving up what they have to make any kind of restitution.  Often, white Americans want to believe in equal opportunity but they do not want to embrace affirmative action if it means that white people are denied any opportunities.  Thus, they don’t want to have to give up their advantage even though it was gained at the expense of minorities in this country.  They don’t believe — or want to believe — that they have an advantage.  They want to believe that they achieve their successes through hard work and skill.  Only, they don’t have many of the same anchors weighing down their chances as minorities still do.  Most whites support the achievements of minorities, but they don’t want to have to relinquish theirs for that to happen.  The problem with that is that blacks (and others) had all chance for achievement snatched from them for centuries, and that allowed many whites to gain a success they would not have earned all things being equal.  True equality means that white people will not have the same opportunities they have had in the past because these will be more limited by the larger pool of competition.  Whites know this and they do not want to be those left behind.  They don’t want to be in the same boat that blacks drifted in for so many years.
So, they take up their weapons and belittle the black perspective and deny the effects of the past.  With phrases like “playing the race card” or “reverse racism” they pretend that they are the victims of an equal harm and that the legacy of slavery and racism — with its sense of shame, lack of opportunity, mistrust of government/authority, and fear for one’s safety — does not exist.  It is as if it didn’t happen.  It is a story from long ago that is now just words without reality.  History is not like fiction, however.  You cannot simply close the book and put the events away.  We live today with the effects of those causes, which in turn shape our future as well.
To refuse to embrace the reality of the lingering affects of racism in America — or, to play the race card means declaring war on history.  It is to abuse it for greedy and political purposes.  There can be no smaller or more sinister reason to violate the truth of our past.  And, again, for the record, if you’re at war with history, then you’re at war with me.
 Posted by at 12:21 am