Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: VHeadline.com (3-31-10)
Jeffrey W. Rubin is associate professor of history at Boston University, where he directs the Enduring Reform Project, a research initiative focusing on business responses to progressive reform. He received a MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Grant for his research on social movements and democracy in Latin America.
March 31 is the birthday of the Chavez Americans love to love ... Cesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers (UFW) to successfully take on California agribusiness in the 1960s, and his soft-spoken manner and fierce commitment to social justice inspired a generation of activists.
Supporters remember the grape and lettuce boycotts of the 1960s and '70s as a time when ordinary people joining together began to change the world. Mr. Chavez' birthday is celebrated in eight US states, and during the 2008 campaign US President Obama said he'd make it a national holiday, in tribute to the charismatic Latino icon.
Hugo Chavez is the Chavez Americans love to hate. Blustery President, challenger of US influence in Latin America, and subverter of democratic norms, Mr. Chavez seeks counsel from Fidel Castro and mocks US presidents in public. He polarizes Venezuela by alternately rallying the poor and shutting down radio stations, and he urges leftist presidents across the Americas to take up his anti-US and anti-capitalist stance.
The truth is, however, that the two Chavezes are more alike than they are different. Americans' inability to see that, says more about our own political blindness than about these two charismatic fighters for social justice. And if we re-examine these figures, we may find a way out of our own political impasse....
Few Americans know that the gains won by the UFW in the '70s have since unraveled. There are few unions for California's farm-workers. Many of these workers face conditions similar to those of the 1950s, living in tents in the canyons of San Diego and receiving minimum wage for backbreaking labor that is also irregular and unsafe....
Few Americans know that Hugo Chavez has brought dignity, food, and a say in politics to many of the poor Venezuelans who were excluded from the wealth and upward mobility of the oil-boom years. Organized in neighborhood councils, Venezuela's poor feel like citizens for the first time in their country's now 50 years of democracy. They can debate public issues, contribute to the development of their neighborhoods, and get access to healthcare....
We don't know these things because we don't like to see politics in complicated packages. We think of successful movements for social justice as entirely good, and we imagine democracy as a system of elections, laws, and courts that produces sound legislation out of the needs and preferences of citizens, mediated through elected representatives. When democracy doesn't work this way, we decry partisanship and special interests. But we understand social movements and democracy as separate phenomena, both of them good, but very different one from the other....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 15:30
SOURCE: LA Times (3-31-10)
Two years ago, a presidential contender touting his roots as a community organizer endorsed the idea of a national holiday to honor a legendary organizer.
"As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago," said Barack Obama, then on the verge of his own improbable victory. "It's time to recognize the contributions of this American icon."
An icon, according to Webster's, is "an object of uncritical devotion." And that's precisely the problem: Cesar Chavez has been elevated to iconic status, his name reverently placed on schools, streets and postage stamps, without his legacy having been critically examined.
Chavez merits an important place in the history books, as a civil rights leader, an inspiration for a generation of Chicanos and the founder of a movement that transformed thousands of lives. But the history is more complex than the hagiography, and more enlightening. His birthday, March 31, should be an occasion to educate new generations about Chavez's remarkable accomplishments, and to learn from his life in all its complexity and contradictions....
Chief among the lessons we should take from his life is that heroes are human, with real flaws. You follow them blindly at your own risk. The biggest regret that many who worked closely with Chavez now express is that they did not speak up for what they believed in when it might have mattered. They failed to fight to keep building a labor union when Chavez veered determinedly toward his vision of a communal movement for poor people, based on an ideology of sacrifice.
A second lesson is that the inspirational leaders who build movements are not necessarily suited to run organizations. Chavez was a brilliant strategist, most comfortable in the adversarial role he termed the "nonviolent Viet Cong." By contrast, he dismissed as "nonmissionary work" the day-to-day routine of administering a labor union, negotiating contracts and resolving grievances. He lacked the interest to focus on those more mundane issues -- or the will to delegate the work to others and relinquish control....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 15:27
SOURCE: WaPo (3-31-10)
When Americans protest, whether it is today's Tea Party members or Vietnam Veterans Against the War being arrested on Lexington Green in 1971, they often lay claim to the ordinary patriots of the Revolution. The impulse of many protesters has been to assert kinship with the middling Americans who came forward to resist British imperial power. But what do we know about the motivations and actions of the ordinary colonists who risked killing and getting killed at the birth of independence? Judging by some of the uses to which their memory is put, not much. These remarkable men and women, however, left ample records; we can discern their motivations in their own words.
First, the American patriots of 1773 and 1774 worked hard to promote unity. The 13 colonies could have broken up into small, squabbling units, an event that would have doomed effective military resistance to Great Britain. But rather than trumpeting narrow regional, ideological or class interests, ordinary patriots insisted on promoting a general American cause. They understood that it was only by working together that they could hold their own against the empire. As the Rev. Nathaniel Niles of Massachusetts reminded parishioners in 1774, "The smallest particles have their influence. Such is our state, that each individual had a proportion of influence on some neighbor at least; he, on another, and so on; as in a river, the following drop urges that which is before, and every one through the whole length of the stream has the like influence."
Second, the colonists did not protest taxation. To be clear: They protested against taxation without representation, an entirely different matter....
Third, the colonists appreciated that any disgruntled person can mouth words of protest. But resistance to Britain demanded serious sacrifice....
Modern Americans owe a tremendous debt to the ordinary patriots who launched an insurgency that became a revolution that brought independence. Simply put, without them there would be no United States. The minimum repayment is to know their history. Anyone wishing to cloak present-day complaints in that early generation's sacrifice ought to understand how it managed during a severe political crisis to bring forth a new republic dedicated to rights, equality and liberty....
Posted on: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 08:05
SOURCE: DanielPipes.org (3-30-10)
[Mr. Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.]
Iraq's recently-concluded, inconclusive elections will be followed in August by the pullout of American troops, making this a good time to ask what American taxpayers have achieved with the US$45 billion spent on reconstructing Iraq since 2003 and what steps to take next.
That $45 billion includes no expenditures on the U.S. military itself but $21 billion for Iraqi security forces, $11 billion for Iraqi infrastructure, and $6 billion for various Iraqi government-related services.
Sadly, this vast sum has largely been wasted. Firstly, because once coalition forces leave Iraq in August, the mullahs in Tehran will begin their takeover; second, because hubris and incompetence have riddled U.S. spending in Iraq. To get some sense of those errors, let's review the highest priority American project, namely the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.
Everything about this embassy, planned at the height of the U.S. occupation in 2004, is gargantuan. As the largest diplomatic facility on Earth, it extends 104 acres (42 hectares), making it ten times larger than the next largest embassy complex (the U.S. mission in Beijing) and only slightly smaller than Vatican City. A mini-city unto itself, its 21 buildings include stores, restaurants, schools, a movie theater, fire station, and facilities for athletics, electricity, telecommunications, water, and wastewater. Fifteen-foot thick walls protect the complex. Some 5,500 staff live there. The annual embassy budget comes to about $1.5 billion.
The complex has suffered from cost overruns, delays, and shoddy construction. Projected to cost $592 million and open in 2007, it actually cost $700 million and opened in 2009. A Washington Post article recounts the travails of a brand-new guard house:
The first signs of trouble … emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15[, 2007]. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt. … the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.
The trailer manufacturer, a Saudi company, helpfully suggested that guards keep the windows open and use charcoal to absorb the odor, but to no avail. All ten power stations developed leaks because builders used Teflon tape designed for water, which fuel dissolved on contact.
Poor construction can be remedied, but not the compound's taunting size and aggressive location, which imply permanent American rule over Iraq. The embassy sits on appropriated (i.e., not purchased) land in the "Green Zone," a governmental area once belonging to Saddam Hussein that borders the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad.
The International Crisis Group notes that the massive embassy complex "is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country." Jane C. Loeffler, author of The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America's Embassies, adds that Washington "has designed an embassy that conveys no confidence in Iraqis and little hope for their future." Anne Gearan of the Associated Press rightly predicts that the complex "quickly could become a white elephant." William Langewiesche derides the complex as a self-built "prison."
Not surprisingly, America's kept politicians in Iraq welcome this assertion of American muscle: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says the complex serves "a symbol of the deep friendship between the two peoples of Iraq and America," while Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari endorses its colossal dimensions, seeing in it "a sign of the American government's commitment to democracy in Iraq."
Six years ago, I declared myself uneasy due to "the monumental size of this embassy, … Far better would be to turn decisionmaking over to a strong Iraqi leader and maintain a small U.S. presence. If not done earlier, I fear, this will be done later, and under less auspicious circumstances." Those inauspicious circumstances are now five months away; the oversized complex on appropriated land in central Baghdad will likely become a symbol of U.S. arrogance, irritating Iraqis and making the country more vulnerable to Iranian influence.
The damn thing's been built, so it's too late to stop that act of diplomatic over-reach. But the sooner the complex is turned over to Iraqis, with Americans moved to a normal-sized embassy on duly purchased land, the better for future U.S.-Iraq relations.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 23:35
SOURCE: Politico.com (3-30-10)
Many liberals are euphoric about Congress passing health care reform. When President Barack Obama signed the most ambitious social legislation since President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, the tide seemed to have turned for the Democrats.
But this is not the end of the political struggle. Just the start of a new chapter.
While outright repeal of health care reform — as many conservatives demand — seems unlikely, there is no guarantee this reform will stick. Future Congresses could erode or undercut the law.
For there is a long history of major social legislation coming under attack post-enactment. New legislation, whether misunderstood or poorly designed, often can take several years to gain solid public support. Political sustainability is not automatic.
One of the Democrats’ most embarrassing moments involved the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988, which Congress repealed 16 months after adoption.
The reform was the biggest expansion of Medicare since its creation in 1965. It earned some of the same praise we hear today for Obama's health care reform.
But soon after passage, the public soured on it. When House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) went home to his district, angry seniors surrounded his car in a parking lot. They were protesting new taxes that they believed they would have to pay.
The protesters screamed “Liar!” “Coward!” and “Impeach!” One elderly lady jumped on the hood of Rostenkowski's car as he and his driver tried to get away....
This reform is especially vulnerable because the public does not see it as a broad middle class entitlement and because its most generous subsidies won't kick in until 2014. The benefit backloading was one factor that helped undermine public support for Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act.
In addition, as Henry J. Aaron and Robert D. Reischauer point out, the federal government is relying on state authorities (some of whom oppose the reform) to play a big role in the law's implementation. If the Republicans win the White House or Congress in 2012, look for the law's taxes and mandates to be significantly modified.
Supporters of health reform need to put the cork back in the champagne bottle and get back to work.
In the next few years, they must find ways to make the law more acceptable to a skeptical public, more workable and, most of all, more fiscally sustainable.
If they don't, their hard-won political victory could remain at risk.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 19:32
SOURCE: Daniel Martin Varisco at his blog Tabisr (3-30-10)
[Daniel Martin Varisco is Chair, Anthropology Department at Hofstra University.]
Those Americans who feel compelled to rewrite our collective history as the emergence of an avowedly Christian nation are fond of quoting scripture. Take the seemingly noble sentiment in John 15:13, where Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I say “seemingly noble” because even the Devil is good at quoting scripture. Consider the fringe Christian apocalyptic group called the Hutaree; there this motto blazes their website just above the image shown above. Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney General announced the arrests of nine individuals accused of “plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising, the latest in a recent surge in right-wing militia activity,” as the New York Times reports. The plan is right out of what is often called the Al-Qaeda playbook, one played out in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan on almost a daily basis: kill a police officer and then when there is a funeral procession, set off an i.e.d. Were these Muslim extremists, the word “jihad” would be on every television newscast. But, no, these are individuals who claim to be following a commandment of Christ. So why not face the fact that rhetorically it is possible to jihad for Jesus?
Speaking of those who believe in a literal Devil and do not recognize they are doing his work, earlier today I happened to be leafing through The Devil’s Dictionary by the Ohio-born American journalist Ambrose Bierce. Here is what Bierce had to say a century ago about the real-world definition of “Scriptures”:
“The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”
Having grown up in a Bible-believing Baptist church, I have heard my fair share of scriptures bent to just about anything one can imagine. But the bent of the intent can best be blunted by looking at what other scripture says. I suspect the Hurtaree Nine did not choose the preceding verse in John (15:12) for good reason. That says “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Or verse 17, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.” Now, I remember Christ getting angry at the money-changers (I can only wonder what Jesus would have said about the Republicans lobbying against health care), but nowhere do I read that he put on camoflage clothes, sharpened the best spear available and led an armed revolt against the Roman authorities. I take it that the biblical phrase “render unto Caesar” is not the same as “render Caesar in two.” Could the Hutaree Jesus be the same one that told Peter to put down his sword even as he was being led away to certain death? And, to add to the hubris, Jesus is not talking about out-of-work Michigan right-wingers or any other potential Christian, but himself.
Surfing the Hutaree website, still up as of this posting, is instructive not simply because it is absurdly paranoid, but because it represents the logical outcome of the negative posturing by rightwing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, not to mention the crosshaired vice-pundit Sarah Palin. Consider the following fear-mongering on the Hutaree website:
This is probably the “touchiest” topic in this discussion. If normal government law enforcement services are unavailable, and large numbers of people get desperate, the potential for serious trouble is obvious. No matter how much you prepare, it will do you and your family no good if you have no way to stop society’s predators from making you their next victim.
Some will say “just give them what they want.” What if what they want is your wife or your daughter? What if giving them what they want will result in the death of you and your family? These are serious questions that need to be answered. The clear choice for defense is a firearm - all other means are a very distant second place for use during a serious emergency. After careful consideration, if you decide to own and use a gun for personal defense, you’ll need to know what kind to get. It seems that everyone who enjoys owning and shooting guns has their own opinions on what makes the ideal defense gun for someone just starting out. I am no exception, so I will make the following recommendation: a good quality, stainless steel .357 magnum revolver with a barrel of 4″ or less, and non-adjustable (fixed) sights. This covers a large number of guns, and is pretty much a plain-vanilla, general purpose, simple-to-use gun. If you’re already a gun owner, whatever you already have is probably just fine to use. Besides, that means you probably already have your own opinions on the best choice anyway. Just make sure you have a good supply of ammunition.
Society’s predators? What if what they want is your wife and daughter? This sounds like the patriarch Lot waiting for the Sodomites and Gomorrhians to bugger his angel guests. But then, scripture says that Lot offered his daughter and waited for God to send the fire and brimstone. If there were a major nuclear disaster or anything else that destroyed our government infrastructure, it would be intolerant groups like the Hutarees who would be the predators. Predators tend to be uneducated, so is it a surprise that Mr. Stone, the leader of the group, pulled his son out of public school after the fifth grade and home-schooled him or that the younger son, now 19, never went to school?
OK, these are extremists, but their basic premise of a soon-to-come Armageddon (a phrase Representative John Boehner of Ohio resurrected during the health care debate) is widely shared on the Christian right. Sarah Palin, who advises her tea-party and gun-toting rabble to “reload”, did not choose crosshairs accidentally to pinpoint elected members of congress for abuse. When Ahmadinejad uses such strident rhetoric against Israel, he is rightly condemned, but somehow there is less concern when someone jihads for an intolerant patriotism or does so in the name of Jesus. Somehow the party of Lincoln, who freed the country from the ethical burden of slavery in 1863, is less heroic to the rightwing today than Barry Goldwater, who a century later uttered the dangerous mantra that “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Consider the context: Goldwater was running against a fellow southerner who dared to put Civil Rights into law and Goldwater lost by a landslide. But if one must quote vintage Goldwater, then read the whole speech. He also said “History shows us—it demonstrates that nothing, nothing prepares the way for tyranny more than the failure of public officials to keep the streets safe from bullies and marauders.” Even if these bullies invent a silly name like Hutarees and claim to do jihad for Jesus.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 15:13
SOURCE: The Chronicle of Higher Education (3-30-10)
[Tom Hayden is a visiting professor of sociology at Scripps College, in Claremont, Calif. His most recent book is The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama (Paradigm, 2009).]
"There are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. ..."
That heartfelt plea for university reform, issued in 1969, is striking because it was voiced by Hillary Rodham, a student at Wellesley College. Are there any lessons or comparisons to be drawn from those turbulent times for the students and faculty members who are today demonstrating against the rising cost of higher education? As a student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in those days and an itinerant sociologist at Scripps College now, I believe we can look to the past as legacy but not as blueprint.
The current generation of young people deserves admiration for the contributions they already have made: creating hip-hop culture, winning sweatshop-free purchasing agreements, leading online advocacy groups like MoveOn.org, and for being the backbone of Barack Obama's unprecedented volunteer campaign. They will be the cradle of social activism for the next 20 years. But the challenges they face on their campuses are far different from those of my generation, and perhaps more profound. Tuition at Michigan in 1960 cost less than $150 per semester. So I could obtain my degree, edit the student newspaper, go south to work in the civil-rights movement for two years, return and enter graduate school, and never feel that I was falling behind in the competitive economic rat race that young Hillary spoke out against.
Students today, however—even those who hold two part-time jobs—fall tens of thousands of dollars into debt, a burden that limits their career choices. Dropping out for social activism brings competitive disadvantage. The speedup of academic pressures dries up discretionary time that used to go to dreaming and exploring. Campuses are crowded with scrambling multitaskers for the most part too busy to protest the pace. Meanwhile, increases in the cost of college exceed inflation every year, intensifying the squeeze....
The value of the past lies in remembering how recently higher education was affordable, even cheap. It's not inevitable that a college education today costs so much. Undergraduate education is virtually free at the Sorbonne or the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and a year at Oxford costs no more than community colleges charge here. The choices we have made as a country—to relentlessly privatize our public institutions; to eventually spend three trillion dollars, by some estimates, on the war in Iraq instead of on our public universities; to bail out billionaires on Wall Street while hitting students and their families with repeated tuition increases—are choices with consequences that we have to rethink or accept....
The recent discontent on campuses is a healthy challenge to America's priorities. I hope that Hillary Clinton hears an echo of herself before she and her colleagues become the politicians she warned us against.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 13:11
SOURCE: openDemocracy (3-19-10)
In a speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on 21 May 2009, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, argued that the future of the west’s relations with Muslim-dominated countries lay in the building of broad coalitions based upon consent among citizens—not just ruling elites. Prior to making his case, he acknowledged the elephant in the room of Anglo-Muslim relations: Britain’s colonial record in the middle east and south Asia, and its legacies. As part of this rare confession of culpability, he noted ‘the failure – it has to be said not just ours - to establish two states in Palestine'.
This admission, as rare as it may be, gives only a very partial picture of what is a largely unacknowledged story. With a mandate from the league of nations, Britain governed the Holy Land from the end of the first world war until 1948. During this time, the political landscape of Palestine was completely transformed. Whilst Arabs and Jews played a fundamental role in the unfolding drama of mandate Palestine, the driving force was imperial Britain. The old myth that Britain was merely ‘holding the ring’ — trying to keep the peace between two irrational, warring parties — is a gross misunderstanding of history.
In November 1918, Palestine did not exist as a political entity. What became mandate Palestine was carved out of four districts of the Ottoman empire, which had ruled the roost since 1516. In the Jewish world, only a small, though growing, minority were members of the Zionist movement by the end of the Great War. Many Jews were virulently opposed to the idea, though most were indifferent to what was viewed as a utopian movement. In 1918, approximately 10% of the population of the Holy Land were Jewish, of whom many were not Zionist. Amongst the Arab population, there was a growing sense of Palestinian identity before 1914. But this was just one of many competing loyalties at the time. Just after the war, the predominant aim of Arab nationalists in Palestine was to establish independence for Greater Syria—incorporating today’s Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestinian territories, and Jordan.
But by the end of British rule in May 1948 there had emerged a powerful Zionist movement. It had succeeded in forging the institutions for statehood and independence. Palestinian nationalism had also become deep-rooted in Arab society. But the Arab population suffered from under-development, debt, widespread illiteracy, disillusionment, and the after effects of Britain’s decimation of the Palestinian Uprising of 1936 to 1939. These seeds of Zionist victory and Palestinian defeat were the direct outcome of Britain’s drafting, interpretation, and implementation of the league of nations mandate for Palestine.
On the rare occasions when Britain’s record in Palestine is discussed critically outside of academic circles, many emphasise the mistake of issuing the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917. It often has been thought that this statement committed Britain to supporting Zionism, come what may. As a result, the British were forced to make the best of a bad job. They could not abandon Zionism, as it would undermine Britain’s honour and prestige—the perceived beating heart of imperial authority. But this version of events lets the British empire off the hook. It suggests that the Balfour Declaration, the act of a short-sighted government embroiled in the Great War, was the only problem. The Declaration, however, committed Britain to doing very little in Palestine.
The text of the Declaration stipulated that the British government viewed with favour, and would ‘facilitate’, the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’. This statement was followed by the caveat, ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’. As I argue in a forthcoming book edited by Rory Miller, Palestine, Britain and Empire: The Mandate Years, there was no attempt by the government to define what was meant by these promises. There was no serious consideration by the cabinet or the foreign office as to what was meant by the term ‘national home’, or how exactly Britain would ‘facilitate’ its establishment. Also, no thought was given to how the rights of the so-called ‘non-Jewish communities’ might be affected by the ‘national home’, or how they would be protected.
The principal reason for this oversight is that the government was not focused on the future of Palestine when it issued the Declaration. Their primary objective was to rally world Jewry behind the Allied war effort, especially in Russia and the United States. This policy was pursued because of a mistaken belief in Jewish power and commitment to Zionism....
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 12:55
SOURCE: The New Republic (3-30-10)
Historical amnesia is as dangerously disorienting for a nation as for an individual. So it is with the current wave of enthusiasm for “states’ rights,” “interposition,” and “nullification”—the claim that state legislatures or special state conventions or referendums have the legitimate power to declare federal laws null and void within their own state borders. The idea was broached most vociferously in defense of the slave South by John C. Calhoun in the 1820s and 1830s, extended by the Confederate secessionists in the 1850s and 1860s, then forcefully reclaimed by militant segregationists in the 1950s and 1960s. Each time it reared its head, it was crushed as an assault on democratic government and the nation itself—in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “the essence of anarchy.” The issue has been decided time and again—not least by the deaths of more than 618,000 Americans on Civil War battlefields. Yet there are those who now seek to reopen this wound in the name of resisting federal legislation on issues ranging from gun control to health care reform. Proclaiming themselves heralds of liberty and freedom, the new nullifiers would have us repudiate the sacrifices of American history—and subvert the constitutional pillars of American nationhood.
The origins of nullification date back to the stormy early decades of the republic. In 1798, a conservative Federalist Congress, fearing the rise of a political opposition headed by Thomas Jefferson, passed the Alien and Sedition Acts outlawing criticism of the federal government. Coming before the Supreme Court had assumed powers of judicial review, the laws, signed by President John Adams, were steps toward eradicating political dissent. In a panic, Jefferson and his ally James Madison wrote sets of resolutions duly passed by the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky, which called upon the state governments to resist and, as Madison put it, “interpose” themselves between the federal government and the citizenry. But the other state legislatures either ignored or repudiated the resolutions as affronts to the Constitution, and the crisis was ended by the democratic means of an election when Jefferson won the presidency two years later—the wholly peaceable and constitutional “revolution of 1800.”
The concept was revived by John C. Calhoun, who expanded it into a theory of nullification and Southern states’ rights in 1828. The specific issue at stake was a protective tariff that Southerners believed unfair to their section, but behind it lay a growing fear that the federal government might interfere with the institution of slavery. Calhoun declared that as “irresponsible power is inconsistent with liberty,” individual states had the right to nullify laws they deemed unconstitutional. He asserted further that should the federal government try to suppress nullification, individual states had the right to secede from the Union. In 1832, the South Carolina legislature passed a formal ordinance nullifying the tariff. But President Andrew Jackson proclaimed nullification pernicious nonsense. The nation, Jackson proclaimed, was not created by sovereign state governments—then, as now, a basic misunderstanding propagated by pro-nullifiers. Ratified in order “to form a more perfect union,” the Constitution was a new framework for a nation that already existed under the Articles of Confederation. “The Constitution of the United States,” Jackson declared, created “a government, not a league.”...
After four years of Civil War, in a “new birth of freedom” that resurrected the Union, Calhoun’s states’ rights doctrines were utterly disgraced—but they did not disappear forever. Nearly a century later they were exhumed to justify the so-called “massive resistance” of the segregationist South against civil rights and, in particular, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The current rage for nullification is nothing less than another restatement, in a different context, of musty neo-Confederate dogma....
That these ideas resurfaced 50 years ago, amid the turmoil of civil rights, was as harebrained as it was hateful. But it was comprehensible if only because interposition and nullification lay at the roots of the Civil War. Today, by contrast, the dismal history of these discredited ideas resides within the memories of all Americans who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s—and ought, on that account, to be part of the living legacy of the rest of the country. Only an astonishing historical amnesia can lend credence to such mendacity.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 - 09:01
SOURCE: Juan Cole at Informed Comment (Blog) (3-29-10)
FBI raids on the Hutaree Christian militia brought to light this formerly little-known group based in Adrian, Michigan.
Unlike the generally secular white supremacist organizations, Hutaree are explicitly Christians. Many seem to be millenarians, expecting the end of time to come soon. Like the so-called Patriot Movement, they are gun nuts. They are said to be organized to kill the Antichrist, and some reports say that they planned violence against American Muslims....
I am struck that Hutaree has a great deal in common with the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq. The Hutaree militia seems to recruit from the poor or lower middle class. Michigan's real unemployment rate is said to be 17%, and for many Michigan workers there have been years of hopelessness and joblessness, inducing despair and anger. The Mahdi Army likewise drew on Iraqi unemployed and angry youth. Many Sadrists believe that the Mahdi or Muslim messiah will soon come, perhaps accompanied by the return of Christ. The Mahdi Army has sometimes targeted Christian video or liquor shops, as a symbol of the oppressive other (yes, that is unfair to Iraqi Christians but they had the misfortune to be W.'s co-religionists.). The Hutaree, a mirror image, target Muslims. The Mahdi Army considered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the Dajjal or anti-Christ. Both have an unhealthy interest in firearms for political intimidation of others. The Hutaree fear the United Nations, as the Mahdi Army fears the US occupation. (Muslim radical groups often also hate the UN.)...
The US press is saying the Hutaree people are a Christian "militia" but is avoiding calling them 'alleged Christian terrorists." Apparently only organized Muslim radicals can now be called terrorists.
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 18:54
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (3-26-10)
THE CRAZIES have come out of the conservative woodwork. Enraged and infuriated by the election of President Obama, bereft of any intellectual leadership or compelling figurehead, unable to stomach their declining powers in a multicultural America, conservatism has been reduced to a rump movement of alienated working class whites who can only mount bizarre “tea parties” to express their discontent....
WHEN THE markets tanked in 2008, conservatives were caught unprepared. For decades they’d been celebrating the powers of American capitalism and proposing the market as the solution to all social problems. Their vision of capitalism was narrow and teleological: it led always upwards, and it largely ignored the boom-and-bust cycle that has marked the American economy for centuries.
The confusion was, perhaps, best captured by a chastened Alan Greenspan, who appeared before Congress in October 2008 to confess the “flaw” in his ideology. It was a breathtaking moment: Not only was a powerful political figure admitting he had been wrong, but he was also invalidating the whole neoliberal worldview that his tenure as Federal Reserve chairman had come to symbolize.
But Obama’s election has reinvigorated the right’s faith in capitalism and its skepticism of government. The swift and loud conservative reaction to the stimulus has clouded the policy agenda and slowed the political momentum for change, and Obama’s presidency has become rich fodder for a right that has transitioned from religious fundamentalism to market fundamentalism....
WHEN IT first appeared, Atlas Shrugged was disliked by conservatives and liberals alike. Written in 1957, the novel is set in a decaying future America, where a socialist government has brought the country to ruin and the country’s top industrialists and executives—led by the heroic John Galt—have gone “on strike.” Panned by critics, Atlas Shrugged was criticized by conservatives for its atheism and its harsh view of humanity. None other than Whittaker Chambers, the patron saint of modern conservatives, called it “a remarkably silly book” and declared its underlying message to be: “To a gas chamber—go!”
But on today’s right, Rand’s many uses have obscured the controversial side of her philosophy. Rand redirects conservative rage away from the more obvious targets on Wall Street and focuses it instead on the federal government. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, outrage against bankers and their outsize compensation packages was widespread among those on both the right and the left. But now the bankers have been rebranded as “John Galts” who are being punished for their virtues.
Rand’s dark vision of government matches the way many conservatives see the Obama administration’s policies, and her binary worldview of good and evil dovetails with the conservative mindset. Modern political conservatism emerged among widespread fears of Communism, often understood as a global battle between the forces of Christianity and atheism. Today, Rand enables pundits like Beck and Limbaugh to continue this familiar pattern and channel their moral outrage into economic terms. Instead of saints and sinners, it’s the producers against the moochers and looters....
...[C]elebrity conservatives like Beck, Limbaugh, and Palin have reactivated a powerful strain in the American political DNA: conservative anti-statism. Though 2008’s presidential election signaled the momentary weakness of conservatism, it has also given the right a shot of adrenalin. At February’s CPAC convention, an annual gathering of conservative activists, the mood was jubilant and upbeat. Scott Brown’s surprise victory in January was blood in the water for conservatives, and they now foresee a string of similar victories in 2010. They may well be right, for the history of American conservatism has demonstrated repeatedly that conservatives thrive on defeat as much as success.
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 18:40
SOURCE: Huffington Post (3-29-10)
This past weekend, President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan, during which he doffed his civilian coat and tie and donned a "Commander-in-chief" leather flight jacket provided to him by the Air Force. I suppose the president believed he could better connect with the troops by wearing "less formal" garb; I suppose as well he thought he was honoring the military by wearing the flight jacket associated with Air Force One. But as snazzy as the president may have looked in his flight jacket (and I liked my jacket when I was in the Air Force), his decision to don it was a blunder.
No, I'm not saying the president is a military wannabe; I'm not saying the president is a poseur. What I'm saying is that the president, whether he knows it or not, is blurring the vitally important distinction between a democratically-elected, thoroughly civilian, commander-in-chief and the military members the president commands in our -- the people's -- name....
We must wean ourselves from Hollywood illusions that our president should parade around like the ultimate fighter pilot (even if, once upon a time, he flew fighters, like George W. Bush did). This is not the set of "Independence Day." Neither is it a photo op.
President Obama admires Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln visited General George McClellan during our Civil War, he didn't don a military greatcoat; instead, with army tents and uniformed men all around him, Lincoln dared to look incongruous in his dress civilian clothes, complete with top hat.
Incongruous? Perhaps. But look closely at the photo: Never was Lincoln's authority clearer.
And that's the point: Lincoln knew he was a civilian commander-in-chief. Precisely by not donning military clothing, he asserted his ultimate civilian authority over McClellan and the army....
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 17:44
SOURCE: Hellenic News (3-29-10)
When the euro—the ev-roh, as Greeks pronounce it—replaced the drachma as the currency of Greece, I decided to keep a few bills and coins in my pocket. The drachma was, after all, the oldest currency in Europe. Socrates bought his groceries with it (or, more likely, Xanthippe). It had been down before, but never finally out. Besides, it was visually attractive. It honored classical art, democracy, and the Greek Revolution, all very good things. The euro was drab and utilitarian. It honored no one's tradition, for fear of offending someone else's. Plato couldn't appear on it, or Dante, or Goethe. It had in fact no tradition, since it was the product of no one's culture and no one's history. It was simply itself, a common currency for a free-trade zone linked by certain rules and agreements. Scrip.
The Greeks themselves were of two minds about the euro. On the one hand, they were sentimentally attached to the drachma. On the other, entry into the euro zone meant full membership in the European Union. A European currency promised a European standard of living. The drachma was the weakest currency in the EU. When it was retired, it exchanged at a rate of 342 to one....
In recent decades, the Greeks have been learning the mixed blessings of European integration. The Greece I first encountered was, by American standards, a poor country. People bought at small local markets, and carried their purchases home by hand. They darned their clothing. They spent their evenings at the neighborhood taverna, other amusements lacking. There was only one four-lane highway in the country, the “national road.” It could take a day to reach an island.
The Greece of today has many wide roads, hydrofoils for sea travel (hermetically sealed lest you actually get a view), video games and pornography for the evening hours, American-style supermarkets, and fast-food places for tavernas. No one takes a siesta, because air-conditioning keeps out the summer heat. No one takes leisurely midnight meals during the workweek, because everyone has to be up for eight hours of uninterrupted labor—if one has a job.
These aren't just lifestyle changes, they're “modernization.” Modernization costs money. Private cars do; condominiums do; personal computers do. No one can afford poverty anymore. Yet, while prices have continued their relentless rise toward general European levels—an obvious consequence of a common currency zone—wages have not kept pace. Greeks have made up the difference in the usual ways. They've gone heavily into debt, encouraged by the credit card culture. They've shifted more and more of the economy underground, away from licensing fees and taxes. They've honed tax avoidance to a fine art....
To put the general crisis in better context, it is helpful to consider what the EU is and isn't. Europe was, within living memory, master of the globe. In 1945, Great Britain alone commanded a quarter of the world's population and resources. Within an astonishingly short time, the European empires vanished from the scene. Men like Robert Schuman in Germany and Jean Monnet in France foresaw that, without economic integration, Europe might well become an economic backwater in a relatively short time. They saw, too, that the continent itself was being politically partitioned by two hegemons, the US and the USSR. Its armies and arsenals had already been largely deployed in the service of the superpowers. Economic autonomy was its last card....
Present-day Europe is the only major economic zone in the world that is still politically balkanized. China, India, and the US are all unitary states. The US is a federal republic of fifty states, all exercising certain sovereign functions. All fifty states, however, are required to balance their budgets annually, no matter at what cost. Only the federal government can print money. Of course, creative accounting can postpone the day of reckoning, as in California and New Jersey. Many state governments might have gone effectively bankrupt last year but for federal stimulus money. Nonetheless, the rules are understood, and the federal government has powerful leverage to enforce them....
The current crisis will pass. The International Monetary Fund will prop up Greece if no one else does. The EU will probably need its own fund, and rules for administering it. This will push political centralization further. It will not be an easy process, nor an edifying one to watch. In the meantime, Greece will pay a stiff price for the sins it only shares with others. Some of them will doubtless pay in turn....
As for me, I'll keep those souvenir drachmas in my wallet. When even The Financial Times of London speculates about bringing back the drachma, you never know.
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 15:28
SOURCE: Pajamas Media (3-28-10)
If we assume that Obama & Co. wish to radically remake the United States — along the lines of a European socialist society, or perhaps to the left even of a Belgium or Denmark — then the past 14 months were as predictable as the sun rising.
Liberal Utopia. To transmogrify a center-right country into a liberal utopia, certain things follow: higher taxes on the better off to pay for redistribution and to bring “fairness” to society (e.g. called “redistributive change”, “spread the wealth” “patriotic” “paying your fair share”); increased government coercion to force the reluctant to conform (e.g., new IRS agents, more regulations and government intrusion; mandatory new fees); a growing constituency to administer and receive entitlements (e.g., I never really heard much about ACORN or SEIU until the Obama ascendency); a public relations campaign to demonize the skeptical as enemies of civil society, starting with “selfish” and “greedy” escalating to “racists” and finally reaching the dangerous level of “terrorists” who “threaten officials” (those who used to court Michael Moore, or snooze about books and movies suggesting scenarios of killing George Bush are suddenly worried about uncivil discourse); a new neutralist foreign policy to match defense cuts on the horizon and to adjust our stature abroad with our new more revolutionary profile at home (cf. the treatment of an Israel or Britain to the new efforts at winning over Iran and Syria; or our shrinking navy and air force); and a highly educated, urban technocracy not subject to its own new protocols and dependent on an ever growing bureau (e.g., Geithnerism, or the strange career of Van Jones); and a new euphemism in language (there is no “terrorism” any more; liberals disappeared and were replaced by “progressives,” we have no more enemies from the radical Islamic world, etc.)...
As Obamans realize that the current fiscal course is unsustainable, and as they sense the country is still center-right and their political futures uncertain, we will experience a sort of hysteria.
“Will” is the wrong auxiliary verb tense; we’ve already seen it. Congressmen walk the national mall, intent on proving to America it is now again 1965 in the Deep South and they courageously are replaying the civil rights marches among Neanderthal tea party racists — the sort of psychodramas comparable to Skip Gates donating his handcuffs to the Smithsonian....
We search for one honest man behind all this, just one. How wonderful if a Reid, Obama, or Pelosi for a moment would just come clean, if even in defiant fashion. Imagine:
“Some people screw up or are unlucky. We’re here to ensure they end up the same as you who don’t screw up or are luckier. We can’t say they are in any way culpable, so we blame either the system or you who are better off. The best way to level the playing field is to tax all we can, take our percentage, and redistribute the rest. Lots get hired to administer to even more. The rules don’t apply to ourselves, who are wealthy but not the targeted culpable. We know privately all this is not sustainable, but assume the better off will find a way to save themselves and thus us, before we bankrupt ourselves — after we are gone. And we don’t care really whether this is always legal, or fair, or workable, because we know it is moral and we are far more moral people than you.”
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 15:17
SOURCE: Times (UK) (3-29-10)
Only in the UK would it take 60-odd years for MPs to realise that our relationship with the US is no longer particularly special; and even then the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee can’t bring itself to drop the word altogether.
In 1951 the new President, Eisenhower, noted with some sadness in his diary that Churchill seemed to be living in the past with regard to the UK/US relationship. Mesmerised by Harold Macmillan’s epigram that “we are the Greeks in the new Roman Empire”, the British have adopted an attitude of more or less complete subservience to the Americans.
After being dropped straight into the guano at Suez in 1956, Eden wondered in his memoirs whether it would have served Britain better if we had taken a leaf from de Gaulle’s book and treated the Americans mean to keep them keen. Now even this committee of MPs has realised that behaving like a love-struck co-dependent only works when the object of that dependency reciprocates.
To be fair to the Americans, they have long made their attitude clear: the sudden end of lend-lease in 1945; insisting on interest on the loan Britain begged them for in 1946; leaving us and the French dangling at Suez; insisting that we should join the Common Market; and even when the Argentinians invaded British territory in 1982, President Reagan had to be pushed by his Defence Secretary out of neutrality. One might have thought then that an inability to be able to distinguish between a nasty dictatorship and an ally might have given the British Government a clue to the real nature of the Anglo-American relationship.
But no, Mrs Thatcher donned the Churchillian rose-tinted spectacles and continued to gush about “the” special relationship, as did her real heir, Tony Blair...
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 15:13
SOURCE: LA Times (3-28-10)
President Obama gets it. So did President Eisenhower half a century ago. When you are breaking a decades-long legislative logjam, you take what you can get so you can do better later.
Critics deplore the compromises Obama made on healthcare. And it's true that the bill he signed Tuesday doesn't accomplish everything reform advocates had hoped for.
But give Obama credit for historical perspective. Covering the millions without health insurance is the civil rights issue of our time. And Obama walked a path analogous to the one Ike walked on civil rights in 1957.
Eisenhower proposed a strong bill that year. It seemed a fool's errand -- no civil rights legislation had been passed for 82 years. The proposal included protection for voting rights and authority for the attorney general to enforce an array of civil rights, including school desegregation.
The latter provision, known as "Part III," quickly ran into political trouble. Southern Democrats at the time were the "party of no," and they presented a united front. Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia charged that Eisenhower's bill was "cunningly designed" to authorize the attorney general "to destroy the system of separation of the races in the Southern states at the point of a bayonet." That allegation was the 1950s equivalent of last year's allegations by Republicans that healthcare reform would set up government-run "death panels."
Finally, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson told Ike he had the votes to kill the bill if Part III remained in the legislation. Eisenhower dropped it to salvage voting rights.
Even that part of the legislation proved difficult. Southern senators gutted the remaining reform by persuading the Senate to require a jury trial for anyone prosecuted for violating voting rights, something that would make convictions extremely difficult. In private, Ike stormed: "Hell of a thing. Here are 18 Southern senators who can bamboozle [the] entire Senate."
In public, Eisenhower lamented that "many fellow Americans will continue, in effect, to be disenfranchised." Obama's declaration while campaigning for passage of healthcare reform echoed that principle: "We can't have a system that works better for the insurance companies than it does for the American people."
Like Obama, Eisenhower was urged to give up or, in effect, "start over" on drafting a bill that would have wider acceptance. Civil rights leaders implored Eisenhower to veto any bill that didn't make meaningful change.
Instead, Eisenhower took what one columnist called "a bold and perhaps dangerous gamble." He prolonged the exhausting debate, holding firm and threatening to resubmit Part III if he didn't get an agreement. The condition for avoiding that fight was removal of the jury trial roadblock to the protection of voting rights.
Obama took a not dissimilar path. He refused to start over and instead used the reconciliation process to push forward...
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 15:08
SOURCE: Globe and Mail (3-26-10)
Modern health-care systems don't work very well. Despite the best efforts by the U.S. Congress, despite the single-payer system in Canada, there is no easy resolution of the fundamental policy issue. This is the conflict between the need to supply health care as a matter of right and the need to control costs.
It wasn't this way in earlier eras when health care was often ineffectual and marginal. But, by the mid-20th century, health care had become so important in advanced societies that demand for it became virtually insatiable. Wonder drugs, lab tests, artificial joints, organ transplants, imaging, expertise, home care, end-of-life care, brain surgery, research breakthroughs – we want it all, and we want to be insured against its costs.
Because we are compassionate, we tend to believe that no one should be denied access to health care for financial reasons. Even in the highly individualistic United States, access to high-quality health care is seen as a fundamental human right.
Nowhere, however, have insurers, public or private, succeeded in controlling the consequence of meeting demands for high-quality universal health care. Costs increase faster than inflation, faster than economic growth....
Strategies to try to limit demand by limiting the supply of health care were particularly popular in Canada from the 1970s through the 1990s as governments tried to use their monopoly power to close hospitals, limit the supply of doctors, ration access to diagnostic facilities and operating rooms, and so on. A dominant school of health economists believed that the public was overserviced and that patients could happily make do with less.
Media and voter outrage were the kiss of death for the supply tinkerers. The demand for health care is not just misperception fostered by self-interested doctors and druggists. It's real and massive, increases as we age, and has media support....
In both countries, the health-care burden on governments will mount and mount (just as it's rising for Europeans, who, until recently, have expected and settled for less than we rich North Americans). Crippled by debt and resistance to taxes, the United States may be the first country that finds health care's breaking point.
Our history of struggling with the problems of containing the costs of health insurance suggests there are no practical panaceas, quick fixes or easy answers. We can and should rejoice at the wonderful successes that modern medicine and modern social policies have given us in terms of years of extra life, health and productivity. We can just as rightly ring our hands at the mess we create when we lean on other people to help pay to maintain our personal health....
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 09:33
SOURCE: CNN.com (3-29-10)
As he stood before the delegates of the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco, California, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party's presidential nominee, said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."...
Yet Goldwater soon learned that extremism could quickly become a political vice, particularly to a party seeking to regain control of the White House. The right wing of the Republican Party in the early 1960s inhabited a world that included extremist organizations, such as the John Birch Society, that railed against communism.
The Birchers developed a huge network of local activists, reaching more than 100,000 members. They published pamphlets and books and threw their support behind local candidates. Some mainstream conservative outlets depended on supporters who were in these groups. Many right-wing organizations in the South were opponents of civil rights and advocates of racial segregation....
When Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980, he worked hard to weaken the connections that existed between Republicans and the fringes. He learned the lessons of 1964 and sought to remake a Republican Party that could appeal to mainstream America. Reagan realized that if he did not, the perception of extremism would pose a long-term threat to the party's future.
Now Republicans are facing the Goldwater threat once again. At the same time that conservatives have every right to oppose and challenge President Obama's agenda, they must make clear that there are limits and that the kinds of actions that we have seen in recent days are not something that either party will be willing to tolerate in the year ahead....
Posted on: Monday, March 29, 2010 - 09:26
SOURCE: PajamasMedia (3-27-10)
Harsh condemnations of Israel for building in areas of Jerusalem acquired after the Six Day War in 1967 have backfired. If President Obama thought that he would move negotiations ahead and force Israel to make more concessions, he caused the exact opposite situation. Israelis have united in support of Prime Minister Netanyahu, while Arab Palestinian leaders have, on cue, stepped back....
The premise of Obama’s demand that Israel stop all construction in all areas conquered by Israel in 1967 is logical: if Israel has violated international law by “illegally occupying Palestinian land,” then there are no differences between one area and another. But PM Netanyahu distinguishes between Jerusalem and the rest of Judea and Samaria, hinting that he’s open to more withdrawals.
In the short run, Netanyahu may think he can save Jerusalem by giving up all or part of Judea and Samaria; in the long run, however, it spells disaster. The same deal which previous governments offered — under Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert — were overwhelmingly rejected by Israeli voters and Arab leaders and are proven catastrophes. Giving territory to a terror-based Palestinian entity which refuses even to acknowledge Jewish historical claims and admit that Israel has a right to exist is senseless.
Jewish reverence for Jerusalem is a special case because the city is the spiritual center of the Jewish people, but Jews have no less affection for, and identify with, hundreds of historic places throughout Judea and Samaria. The land of Israel isn’t some historic amusement park of sentimentality, or a romantic Hollywood of memories. It is at the core of Jewish consciousness....
Obama has set the rules of the game: if settlements are wrong because they are built on conquered land, then Jerusalem does not belong to Jews. And by those criteria, nothing does.
Posted on: Saturday, March 27, 2010 - 22:20
SOURCE: Truthdig (3-26-10)
Thanks to Newt Gingrich’s loose lips, the cat is out of the bag: The Republican Party, answering the call of a large part of its following, will continue its subtle and not-so-subtle uses of the “race card.” Gingrich said during the health care debate that “much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” when Congress enacted civil rights legislation, President Barack Obama’s health care reform will prove as destructive. His audience needs no reminder of Republican divisiveness, but Gingrich, no stranger to distorting history, demands correction.
First, LBJ and his party, the anomalous home of Southern segregationist congressmen, never could have passed civil rights legislation without the herculean efforts of the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., and the late Rep. William McCulloch, R-Ohio, who led most of their party to enact bipartisan legislation. Appropriately, after a century of trimming, the Republican Party briefly returned to its anti-slavery and Reconstruction Era roots. Gingrich’s version of history cannot imagine what he considers improbable.
Second, the Democratic Party was not destroyed by its support for civil rights, but instead it gained some ideological clarity, and lost that segregationist base, which readily donned the proper Republican attire. Being a Republican in the South became a cover for racial attitudes that in no way could be suppressed or changed. The shift is captured in the recent movie “The Blind Side,” with its Christian, Southern setting, in which a prospective employee sheepishly reveals her dark secret—she’s a Democrat. Can anything be more ironic than a Republican “Lincoln Day” dinner in the South? The Republican Party of today, born in that 1960s moment, must be totally alien to its founders. Where are you, Sen. Dirksen, now that we need you?...
More history is in order. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision striking down segregation in Brown v. Board of Education is the watershed event for the next half century and beyond in our domestic life. Race became—and remains—a central, national issue. It serves as a political platform for those who advocate equality for all citizens, and it provides that useful instrument to play on prejudice for political gain. Racial equality is embraced within our constitutional framework in ways 180 degrees from what had been; nevertheless it also has left us with an increasingly alienated and emotionally distraught part of the populace, bereft of the once legally mandated system of apartheid....
Innuendoes are gone; witness the recent protests at the Capitol by supposed tea party folks as they hurled racial epithets at congressmen as they approached to vote on health care. House Appropriations Committee Chair David Obey, D-Wis., merely was accused of illegitimate birth; Barney Frank, D-Mass., received the familiar homophobic remarks. Similar outbursts occurred in the chamber. The C-SPAN archives undoubtedly will prove useful to future historians. Unlike the networks’, the C-SPAN video was unedited and not vetted to remove “offensive” remarks....
The media have obsessed on the 2010 midterm elections, and beyond to 2012. The Republican nominee will have a racist constituency he dare not disavow. All the more imperative that President Obama, who, in the health care run-up, looked and sounded like the 2008 candidate he was, return to that attractive, widely appealing form. Race will remain in our politics, but we can defeat the ambitions of those who embrace it to divide and cater to our worst instincts.
Posted on: Saturday, March 27, 2010 - 22:08