Showing posts with label Conservatives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conservatives. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The More things Change

The more they stay the same.  Well, not exactly.

I’ve been winnowing my old files.  The stuff I come across sometimes amazes me, things I wrote that I don’t remember or don’t remember saving or why.  Two recent discoveries remind me that over the decades I have witnessed an amazing span of history, technological developments, a world that has evolved with increasing complexity and interconnectiveness.  Yet, still, some of the old political issues are not old at all.  They have merely festered and changed their spots.

I found copies of two letters I wrote in my salad days, the first to the New York Times commenting on their editorial on Barry Goldwater’s nomination, a man who, in retrospect, seems tame by today’s conservative / tea party crowd. However, at the time of his presidential candidacy in 1964, he had not ruled out the use of tactical nuclear weaponry against our Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union, and anyplace where communism was being supported.  Johnson beat him badly in 1964.  Interestingly Goldwater moderated in his later years as a statesman, and in my mind redeemed himself, although always a staunch conservative in the classic intellectual sense, not the bible-thumping variety of today.

In any case, at the height of Goldwater’s rise to the nomination in 1964, the twenty one year old me wrote the following to the New York Times:

                                                                July 19, 1964

The Editor
New York Times
New York, New York

To the Editor:

“Disaster at San Francisco,” indeed, may yet become a disaster for America.  Your firm editorial stand against Senator Barry Goldwater must be continued to help defeat this dangerous radical, so that we may prove to ourselves and to the rest of the world that “it can’t happen here.”
As Hitler made use of Germany’s post-World War One frustrations, Senator Goldwater is a political demagogue who similarly, but more subtly, intends to capitalize on the frustrations of many Americans, frustrations that have arisen in the ashes of domestic racial problems and the tensions of the Cold War.  Goldwater tells us, as Hitler told Germany, that we are the strongest country in the world and we should stand up to the opposition (who he vaguely refers to as “the Commies”).  This simple, but realistically absurd suggestion, appeals to those who are unable to bear the responsibility of living in these modern times.  Unfortunately, there are still many “good citizens” of America who believe that if we act as if it is still the “good old days,” we will recreate those days.
If we are to preserve democracy in our country and continue to encourage democracy abroad, we must condemn political extremists who present oversimplified, irresponsible, and inherently contradictory solutions to complex issues, solutions which would isolate us from our friends abroad and which, conceivably, could destroy the world as we know it.

Its contents mention some of the same issues Americans face today, particularly as espoused by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.  The latter of course bills himself as a true conservative, but he is the very kind of conservative who I think Goldwater himself would have condemned.  In fact where is Barry Goldwater when we need him : -)?  Here is something Goldwater said to John Dean in 1994: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.”  How profound is that, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Cruz?

And my files coughed up a letter I wrote three years later to Senator J. William Fulbright during the height of the Vietnam War.  Again, different times, different war, but still relevant in many ways:

                                                                                August 6, 1967

Senator J. William Fulbright
Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
United States Senate
Washington D.C.

Dear Senator Fulbright:

I am just finishing your book THE ARROGANCE OF POWER and I felt obligated to immediately express my support of your thesis.
The Vietnam situation is truly tragic.  The noble ideals of our great country are belied by our actions.  How can we expect the world community to look to America for leadership while we drop millions of tons of bombs on a small country of mostly peasants, support dictatorships, even as we seem incapable of resolving many of our own domestic problems?
                While I do not feel that we can just abandon our Asian commitments, we need to discard our military’s “search and destroy” philosophy in favor of seeking a solution over a conference table – which may demand compromise, but ones also compatible with democracy.
                In addition, I believe that the United States has more to lose by endeavoring to become the world’s policeman.  An Asian conflict should be resolved, in the most part, by the Asians and/or the United Nations, with the encouragement of the world’s great powers.  Our military involvement in the affairs of other nations only tends to weaken the fabric of the U.N. and secures the animosity of other nations toward us.
                I encourage continuing your efforts to reestablish the system of checks and balances provided for in the Constitution so a more realistic foreign policy can be devised and implemented.
                With great admiration of the courageous and sensible stand which you have taken, I am,
                                Sincerely yours,

So, there you have it: the “mini- me” of some five decades ago writing about some of the same issues of today. 

And now the present brings us into a political environment ripe for extremism, as evidenced by the unexpectedly strong primary showings of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, polar opposites but in many ways playing to the same base, the disenfranchised. In early December I wrote a piece It Can’t Happen Here? (the very words I wrote to the NYT fifty two years earlier) suggesting that Trump was merely a Trojan horse for Ted Cruz.  Still might be (or for Rubio), but now two plus months later Trump is not only still in the Republican race, he’s in command of it, and in fact could be much closer to becoming the Republican nominee after today’s primaries. 

And who knows where Hillary might be if her email morass deepens, but assuming she is the nominee, what if some of Sanders’ supporters, particularly the disenfranchised young, join up with the Trump crowd (who Trump now likes to celebrate as being the short, the tall, the skinny, the fat, the rich. the poor, the highly educated and the poorly educated – making a particular point that he LOVES the poorly educated). Those two groups could become a potent base.

Trying to connect all the dots in my mind – how can a phenomena such as a Trump come into being?  An epiphany: I remembered my long-ago reading of Eric Hoffer’s classic The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements.  For a more detailed recollection, I went to Wikipedia’s description.  Hoffer is eerily on the mark.  It could serve as a textbook explanation of Trump’s appeal, other than the merger of “reality TV” and the presidential primaries. From Wikipedia…..

Hoffer states that mass movements begin with a widespread "desire for change" from discontented people who place their locus of control outside their power and who also have no confidence in existing culture or traditions. Feeling their lives are "irredeemably spoiled" and believing there is no hope for advancement or satisfaction as an individual, true believers seek "self-renunciation." Thus, such people are ripe to participate in a movement that offers the option of subsuming their individual lives in a larger collective. Leaders are vital in the growth of a mass movement, as outlined below, but for the leader to find any success, the seeds of the mass movement must already exist in people's hearts.

While mass movements are usually some blend of nationalist, political and religious ideas, Hoffer argues there are two important commonalities: "All mass movements are competitive" and perceive the supply of converts as zero-sum; and "all mass movements are interchangeable." As examples of the interchangeable nature of mass movements, Hoffer cites how almost 2000 years ago Saul, a fanatical opponent of Christianity, became Paul, a fanatical apologist and promoter of Christianity. Another example occurred in Germany during the 1920s and the 1930s, when Communists and Fascists were ostensibly bitter enemies but in fact competed for the same type of angry, marginalized people; Nazis Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm, and Communist Karl Radek, all boasted of their prowess in converting their rivals

It is unlike any presidential election cycle I’ve ever known, even the Goldwater era which from this point in the future looks placid, even sane.   The macho trash talking of the Republican “debates” leaves me bewildered, but that testosterone also extends into policy – make America “great again” by building up the military (we should be building our infrastructure instead).  A highly recommended read on the topic is written by an ex-military man himself, Jim Wright: The Latter Days of a Better Nation

An afterthought, the relevancy of art as expressed in Your Beliefs by Jani Leinonen -- displayed at the recent Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show.

                                           Your beliefs become your thoughts,
                                           Your thoughts become your words,
                                           Your words become your actions,
                                           Your actions become your habits,
                                           Your habits become your values,
                                           Your values become your destiny.
                                                             ― Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Talk about a scary Halloween.  We're fearing little goblins with Ted Cruz masks, demanding all the Candy or else, the "trick" being they will stay at our doorstep forever, blocking our exit until we relent. Other non-Cruz goblins better watch out too, once the Cruz clan congregates. 

Until now, I've been silent on the subject of Ted Cruz.  He burst on the political scene as did Sarah Palin, but Palin was clearly a hopeless lightweight who was "hired" to play a role.  She is a reality TV star, and that's about it.  But Cruz is very different, and I've been trying to make some sense of him, his views, and where he might be going.

He is perhaps the most disturbing politician I've witnessed firsthand (only vaguely remembering Joseph McCarthy from my childhood).  I thought Barry Goldwater was dangerous, but unlike Ted Cruz I don't remember him threatening to hold the US Government hostage.  Cruz's intransigent political views, with no compromise possible, is menacing enough. He is clearly an exceedingly ambitious politician who has all the requisite American-as-apple-pie views and the mannerisms of a preacher, attributes that appeal to his Tea Party / Christian Right followers.  (His recent hunting outing was amusing, perhaps not as well staged as Sarah-got-her-gun trained from a helicopter for moose in Alaska; he was in Iowa, the first stop for the Primary.  And he looks oh so manly with a gun.  Check out the pix here.)  Furthermore, Cruz is well educated and one can only assume that his behavior is being carefully choreographed to achieve the objective of running for the Presidency of the United States. 

His call to shut down the government and have the US default on its debts is a form of economic terrorism, i.e. the "threatened use of force [in this case, legislative force] a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons." (The Free Dictionary) Or at least the rubric of demagogue might apply -- "a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the less-educated citizens in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness." (Wikipedia)

I can't help but think of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, depicting the rise of a Senator "Buzz Windrip" to the Presidency, a campaign built on the back of patriotism and traditional "American values" promising economic reform, and after election appoints his own personal army ("The Minutemen" -- perhaps the NRA would apply for the job?), curtails minority rights, institutes kangaroo courts to do his dictatorial biding, while also limiting the power of the United States Congress. 

No, I don't believe that is what would happen if the unthinkable occurs, Ted Cruz being elected President, but he has mainly used his Senatorial seat as a bully pulpit for his Tea Party views, so his political ambition seems to know no bounds.  And I also can't help but think of this very loose paraphrase of a quote (sometimes attributed to Sinclair Lewis, but no one is sure)  -- if some form of dictatorship ever comes to America, it will be with a cross wrapped in an American flag. (Whatever happened to the concept of the separation of Church and State?) 

One would hope that moderates in the Republican Party can put down this radical, take-all-or-else faction.  John G. Taft, who rightly calls himself "a genetic Republican" made the brilliant case for reigning in the likes of Ted Cruz in his Op-Ed column in the October 22 NYT. He expresses my concerns exactly.

Here are some bullet point quotes from the article....

* If he [Senator Robert Alphonso Taft, his grandfather] were alive today, I can assure you he wouldn’t even recognize the modern Republican Party, which has repeatedly brought the United States of America to the edge of a fiscal cliff — seemingly with every intention of pushing us off the edge.

* Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility.

* Speaking through the night, Senator Ted Cruz, with heavy-lidded, sleep-deprived eyes, conveyed not the libertarian element in Republican philosophy that advocates for smaller government and less intrusion into the personal lives of citizens, but a new, virulent strain of empty nihilism: “blow it up if we can’t get what we want.”

* This recent display of bomb-throwing obstructionism by Republicans in Congress evokes another painful, historically embarrassing chapter in the Republican Party — that of Senator Joseph McCarthy.....There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement.

* Watching the Republican Party use the full faith and credit of the United States to try to roll back Obamacare, watching its members threaten not to raise the debt limit — which Warren Buffett rightly called a “political weapon of mass destruction” — to repeal a tax on medical devices, I so wanted to ask a similar question: “Have you no sense of responsibility? At long last, have you left no sense of responsibility?” [A paraphrase of what was asked of Senator McCarthy.]

So, we now wait until February 7, the next "deadline" for the debt ceiling (it's becoming a Yo-Yo economy with all these kaleidoscopic, Armageddon-like cut-off dates).  It will be fascinating (or perhaps even more frightening) to watch Senator Cruz's machinations as that fateful day approaches.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Running Through the Jungle

That jungle is here. The U S of A. The conservative mind would like us to believe that we'd all be safer carrying a weapon (or at least, "feel" safer). When John Fogerty wrote (and the Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded) his prophetic 1970's, Run Through the Jungle, it was thought that, along with many of his other songs, the jungle he was referring to was Vietnam. Wrong. It was his plea, still unanswered, that some gun control sanity transpires -- here. The lyrics refer to 200 million guns -- then the population of the United States....

Run Through The Jungle

Whoa, thought it was a nightmare,
Lo, it's all so true,
They told me, "Don't go walking slow
'Cause Devil's on the loose."

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Thought I heard a rumbling
Calling to my name,
Two hundred million guns are loaded
Satan cries, "Take aim!"

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Over on the mountain
Thunder magic spoke,
"Let the people know my wisdom,
Fill the land with smoke."

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Now, only forty years later, there are 300 million people who could be armed, locked and loaded. Wouldn't you feel safer?

And toward that end, in Florida we have "Stand Your Ground," Yeehaw!!!

With the tragic killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin, by a "crime watch volunteer," George Zimmerman, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" provision has proven to be the gun-slinging cowboy's best friend. This NRA supported measure says "a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." "Reasonably believes?" Does a hooded black youth give cause to "reason?"

Life imitating art? It conjures up the Bertolt Brecht play, The Exception and the Rule, a parable for these times, in which a merchant hires a coolie to help him cross a desert to close an oil deal, but near the end of the journey, when the exploited and abused coolie offers his boss some water, the merchant mistakes the gesture for an attack and shoots him dead. He is put on trial but acquitted as the court concludes the merchant did not know the coolie meant no harm and therefore the killing was pardonable. If the one with power kills, he may do so merely out of fear. One has to be armed to have that power and Brecht saw that as an issue in class warfare.

Let's escalate this insanity further. Guns in classrooms. The Colorado Supreme Court recently upheld a state law that allows residents to carry concealed weapons, finding that the University of Colorado's campus gun ban violates the "law." Colorado is not the only state with such a law and guns are not the only "approved" concealed weapons. In some states such weapons "may" include one or more of the following: Brass knuckles, Slingshots, Martial arts weapons, Knives, Swords, Spears, Daggers, Clubs, Electronic dart guns, Blackjacks, Sand bags, Razors. Sounds like a scene from West Side Story or Blackboard Jungle. Or something out of Medieval "Fechtbuchs." Including "sand bags?" Ouch!

My old college buddy, Bruce, who was the chairman of a high school English Dept. in Massachusetts, and also a Vietnam vet who knows first-hand the consequences of brutal gun force, was stunned to read Jeff Jacoby's March 21 piece in the Boston Globe, A Safer Society with Guns

With forced logic and anecdotal statistical evidence, Jacoby happily concludes that it is OK for students to carry guns, as "having a gun makes many people — for good reason — feel safer." Yeehaw!!!

In disgust, Bruce dashed off a letter to the Globe, but as his comments are steeped in sarcasm, perhaps the Globe thought it disrespectful and elected not to publish it. Legacy media ought to rethink its policies if it is to survive. Here is Bruce's response....

Thank you, thank you, Jeff Jacoby, for standing up for a student’s right to carry a concealed weapon. We’ve known all along that such sound arms policy would only make our schools and our nation safer, kinder and gentler. As a teacher, I have always advocated that my students be able to carry concealed weapons.

Though I live in Massachusetts where the benighted populace still prevents students from carrying concealed weapons or even visible ones (typical liberal policy that ignores the need we all have to defend ourselves in the classroom—Obama’s fault for sure), I can finally hope that one day I will be able to teach in Colorado. In the meantime, I can only hope that perhaps among my students are an enlightened few, who are courageous civil libertarians, carrying
concealed weapons in defiance of Massachusetts law.

I myself would like to be able to carry an M16 in the classroom or perhaps an M60 machine gun, and I dream of the day when this will be possible. To be sure, I would not be concealing those weapons but would be using my desk in the front of the room to mount the M60. (I note here that large arms carrying laws across the nation need to be changed. We vitally need to be able to carry automatic rifles and other large arms, locked and loaded. But that’s an issue for discussion at a later date.) As for myself, I could work out some camouflaging technique if we can get some reasonable laws passed for concealment. With columnists like you Mr. Jacoby
leading us out of the unarmed wilderness and with, I’m sure, the backing of the NRA, perhaps all students and teachers will one day be armed.

Thank goodness for the sound reasoning of the conservative voice backed by the statistics you gave us showing reduced crime and kill numbers in jurisdictions where people can carry. Thanks for not showing statistics from other pusillanimous societies that haven’t the courage or the manhood to carry. Who would want to know that those sissy societies don’t kill nearly as many men, women or children with firearms as we do? Thanks for knowing what in addition to weapons needs to be concealed. Thanks, and thanks again.

-- Bruce Rettman

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conservative Media Goes Rogue

Recently I was trapped in traffic in my car, channel surfing for news on the Egyptian revolution, and came across a Fox funny person, Glenn Beck. I should have surfed on by, but was fascinated by his off the wall comments -- which admittedly I am probably taking out of context as I only listened to him for a couple of minutes -- but if I understood the thesis correctly, Obama's secret agenda ( as a "community organizer") is to organize the youth of the world (evidence: Obama appealing to "the youth of Egypt" during the crisis) in an attempt to encourage some sort of a new Industrial Workers of the World? Did I hear that correctly? And what does Beck have against youth?

Between Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (BP&R), a flood of bizarre assertions have been made about Obama's motivations, and the conservative media is drowning in their spewed sewage. It is one thing to call Obama incompetent, or having the wrong priorities (neither true for the most part, at least in my opinion), but to foster these conspiracy theories is quite another. No American president has been so reviled by conservatives and, frankly, I can't figure out why and how the conservative movement thinks it can benefit from this kind of extremism, other than selling more newspapers, books, and media time.

No doubt, there is a buck to be made by BP&R and conservative leaning media, particularly Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which now owns Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and the book publisher HarperCollins, just to name a few. This media giant can now create persuasive circular arguments, hiring Sarah Palin as a Fox News Contributor, having HarperCollins publish "her" book, the Wall Street Journal and other media quoting the wacky output of this celebrity politician, and, then have Fox News quote the WSJ. Murdoch began turning the UK's newspaper industry into sensational tabloids at the end of the 1960s (with the kind of blaring headlines as seen here in Piccadilly Circus when we first visited London after we were married) and some of the same methodology seems to be migrating to more recent ventures.

However, to my surprise, I read Michael Medved's opinion column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal discussing this very issue of the demonization of Obama -- and a "fair and balanced" one as well (maybe I'll keep my subscription after all) -- Obama Isn't Trying to 'Weaken America'.

Of course, as a conservative commentator, Medved fears that the BP&R's fixation on Obama as an evil-doer will ultimately be the ruination of Republican chances in the 2012 election. He rightfully points out that while the history of the presidency is fraught with mistakes, essentially the office has been occupied by people of good intentions. I could argue that although Nixon's presidency might have begun there, it ended in the office's worst betrayal, but I agree with Medved that the presidency's history "makes some of the current charges about Barack Obama especially distasteful—and destructive to the conservative cause."