Recently in History Category

I've had my fair share of run-ins with wingnuts, but I was reminded of one in particular while reading Daniel De Groot's rendition of the counter-conference Malkin and company were holding to bolster their lagging self-confidence in the shadow of Netroots Nation in Austin. I was physically accosted and called a commie for supporting Reagan.

Anyone really want to make the case that conservativism is anything more than a set of shallow authoritarian personality cults to rationalize socially destructive behaviour?
All they have is Reagan. And only their posthumous fictional version of him to boot. The one in office pissed them off by making nuclear arms reduction agreements with the Soviets.
I remember the Reykjavik conference, the one Reagan ended up walking out on, leaving most of us who were against wasting more money on more missiles and more nukes slapping our skulls and wondering how a geriatric moron could ever become president. (Some things never change.)

They had a special kind of lapel bling going around then that had both the Soviet and American flags crossed, and I got a hold of some as well as some stickers with both flags together. I was in law school at the time, and involved in running the Cleveland National Model United Nations Conference.

See boys and girls, way back when before the scary Muslamonazis threatened our very existence with dime-store box cutters, there was this guy named Gorbechev who had at his disposal thousands of nuke-u-ler missiles aimed at every square mile of this land-o-plenty on hair trigger release. And what did the great Saint Ronny Ray-gun do about this monstrous threat? He sat down and held face-to-face talks with him so we wouldn't soot our missiles at them if they didn't shoot theirs at us -- and maybe they thought they might get rid of some of them since they promised not to use them anyway.

President Ronald Reagan and Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev entered into an unprecedented dialogue regarding their desire to eliminate their countries' nuclear weapons. "It would be fine with me if we eliminated all nuclear weapons," Reagan said. Gorbachev replied, "We can do that."
That was the theory, the "aspirational goal horizon" if you will. Of course Saint Ronny thought the best way to get an agreement for fewer missiles was to build more. The usual counter-intuitive wingnut nonsense. But the idea that the two leaders would talk face-to-face, that Reagan would meet with the head of what he labeled the "Evil Empire" was music to the ears of us lefties. Together they worked to keep the peace, just as the logo symbolized with each flag's "pole" merged into the other, neither on top. Neither dominating the other.

So I was wearing one of these pins with both superpowers' flags, using it as a tie-tac actually, and handing out the stickers to anyone in our lobby who might be interested in the Model UN conference. Then this huge guy came by to rain on my parade, calling me pinko scum and assorted other nasty things having to do with my heritage and politics because he saw the USSR flag.

I asked him if he knew what the logo symbolized, tried to explain what it was about, but he literally stuck his chest in my face, hollering and refusing to let me get a word in edgewise about his hero approving the pin, that it came from out own State Department. He didn't care. He just "saw red," and chest-thumped me a couple of times, trying to get me to throw the first punch -- and I was tempted despite his six inch reach advantage.

I walked away to the taunts of liberals all being cowards and his buddies led him out of the lobby. This bully was a college grad. I know that since you have to be "educated" before accepted to law schoolm and he was indeed a fellow student. When it came flag pins and talking with our rivals he had no desire to be further educated. His mind long since closed.

No, you'll never hear from me how there's more to conservatism than belonging to a tribal culture who spit on the very idea that inspired this nation's beginning, E. Pluribus Unum -- or as Ara likes to say, we're all in this together.

From the terrific HBO miniseries John Adams, the scene wherein the Continental Congress approves the Declaration of Independence and the document is read aloud on the steps of Independence Hall. The filmmakers intercut that with John Adams' daughter reading it from her sickbed at home which adds a touch of sweetness to the event.

You really cannot "get" the Declaration of Independence until you've heard it read aloud. After all, it isn't called the Statement of Independence, right?

Could there be a more heinous villain in the popular mind than Osama bin Laden? No.

And/But the debate rages: if he should be captured alive, would he, should he, be accorded habeas corpus rights or not?

History (and the American tradition) would teach us an important lesson and provide us with a useful guide -- if we would only listen.

Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a tense situation due to a heavy British military presence in Boston boiled over to incite brawls between soldiers and civilians, and eventually led to troops discharging their muskets after being attacked by a rioting crowd. Three civilians were killed at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident.

Samuel Adams, a patriot and founding member of the Sons of Liberty, called the incident a "plot to massacre the inhabitants of Boston" and used it to rouse fellow colonists to rebellion. It worked: the shots fired that day are widely considered to be the initial battle of the American Revolution.

Who, then or now, could defend what the British soldiers did that day?

...[N]o lawyers in the Boston area wanted to defend the soldiers, as they believed it would be a huge career mistake. A desperate request was sent to John Adams from Preston, pleading for his work on the case.

Adams, who had everything to lose and nothing to gain (his political career was just beginning), nevertheless took the case because he believed that even the most hated criminal is entitled to a legal defense.

He was a masterful lawyer and mounted a successful defense of the accused. As a result of his skill, all but two of the soldiers were acquitted. The others were convicted of a reduced charge of manslaughter.

In his closing argument to the jury, Adams (a masterful orator) said something that, if he is ever honored with a memorial in Washington DC, should be engraved in stone for future generations of Americans -- and all people -- to remember forever:

Facts are stubborn things...Whatever our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence...The law is, on one hand, inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners. But on the other hand, it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamors of the populace.

John Adams, founding father, patriot and president, is speaking to us now, you and me, and our children, and our childrens' children -- if we would only listen.

Thanks to Mark for recommending Mustang Bobby's moving piece on Bobby Kennedy. If you haven't already read it, do so now. I did and was inspired to recall how I felt that morning after Kennedy was shot.

I, too, was 15 that year. And for me, the election of 1968 was the first presidential campaign that I had an emotional attachment to. Back then, I backed McCarthy because I felt Kennedy was too opportunistic -- you know, he was the "ruthless" Kennedy. Bobby even joked about it in his speeches.

I remember watching the last Kennedy-McCarthy debate which happened on the weekend before the California primary. I watched that debate with my dad. During that telecast, one of the moderators asked each candidate about their support for Israel. Kennedy stated that it would be his policy to continue the sale of arms to the Jewish state. I remember my father saying, that night, that it was a position that would not be popular with Arabs. That all came back to me when I heard Bobby had been shot by Sirhan Sirhan

I went to bed on the night of the California primary without knowing what the final tally was. So when I woke up in the night at 3am (something I still often do) I remember switching on the radio and hearing a report -- in mid-sentence -- that doctors were attending to Sen. Kennedy who had been shot and was in critical condition. Even today, I can't find the words to express how bleak I felt on hearing that news.

Later that morning, as I rode the city bus to school, I remember standing next to a woman, seated quietly, her head hung down, hands folded in her lap. I watched her tears falling, drop by drop, from behind her sunglasses.

I also remember, several days later, watching Ted Kennedy's moving eulogy of his brother, his voice quavering, on the verge of breaking down, then gathering strength and continuing on despite his heartbreak:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be rememberd simply as a good decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Many years later, on a trip to DC, I visited Arlington Cemetery. I visited the familiar and dramatic set-piece that is the JFK family grave site. If you have only seen pictures of it, you are missing the grandest part of all -- the view out over the Potomac River and across the mall. You can literally see for miles. It is a breathtaking view of Washington.

But around the corner, a short walk away, is the grave site of Bobby Kennedy. It is a totally different experience. Robert Kennedy's grave sits by itself, marked with a single white cross and a small, gravestone lying flat on the ground. It is surrounded by green grass. On the other side of the walk is a low fountain, more of a basin than anything else.

Carved into the walls surrounding the fountain are words from a speech that Kennedy gave in Indianopolis on the evening that Martin Luther King was shot and he had to tell the crowd that Rev. King was dead. Among those words were these from his favorite poet, Aeschylus:

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Only in the decades since Kennedy's passing have I come to realize how unique and special he really was.

Fellow Toledoan, Mustang Bobby at Shakespeare's Sister shares his memories of "That Morning." The morning 40 years ago before the world changed, that hope died, that's taken us four decades to even come close to setting right.

It was the last morning the world could still look forward to Robert F. Kennedy becoming president.

If you're old enough to remember 1968, and even as a grade-schooler the events of that year were so transformational they made a profound impact on me, complete with very vivid, "technicolor" memories, go read Bobby's piece just to refresh your recollection.

If you're too young, it's even more important that you take a look just at this incredibly well written post to get a feel for where we've been, what we've gone through, and what could have/should have been.

Ever read Before the Storm by Rick Perlstein?


It's a brilliant look at how Goldwater founded the modern conservative movement.
The parallels to today are startling, a sort of Dean bizarro world stuck on opposite day -- a Republican Party that was trying to be "Democrat-lite" and an establishment hostile to "outsider" forces. With Goldwater railing against his party's establishment and the special interests that controlled it. Throw in innovative use of tactics and technology (Goldwater pioneered the use of direct mail) and a crushing defeat, and you've got the Dean phenomenon.

Of course, that would mean Ronald Reagan's Bizarro world counterpart would be (wait for it) Barack Obama. Hmmm. The book has been on my Amazon wish list for a while; I guess I'm going to have to actually, you know, read it now.

Henry Farrell:

The intellectual genesis of the netroots analysis lies in a book called Before the Storm by left-liberal historian (and TNR contributor) Rick Perlstein. He argues that the conventional narrative of the '60s pays far too much attention to left-wing activism. After all, he observes, the '60s ended with the left smashed by a rising conservative tide that has continued to this day. The real story is that of the grassroots countermobilization on the right, which took its most public form in the Barry Goldwater campaign. This movement built counterparts to the dominant liberal institutions, slowly took control of the Republican Party from the moderates who had been running it, and jerked the national agenda sharply to the right.

Reading history is now a good news/bad news experience. The good news is that some very sharp writers are providing us with some very enlightening insights. The bad news? Realizing that I'm old enough now that I actually remember these events from 40+ years ago.

For example, I picked up a second-hand copy of The Making of the President 1968 at a used book sale the same day that Hillary assassinated RFK again. I was 15 in 1968 and it was the first presidential campaign that I was emotionally invested in. It's an interesting feeling reading this stuff so much later. On one hand, I experienced those times first hand, so I have my own take on it. And/But it is enlightening to read a more studied take on it too.

by Mark Adams

I don't know if Peggy Noonan ever read any of Bob Altemeyer's study of the authoritarian personalities that are the heart and soul of the conservative Republican political infrastructure, but sometime in the last several months of reading the scribbling on the White House walls, she's reached the beginning of understanding why the current incarnation of the GOP coalition was doomed, eventually, to fail.
Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party's fortunes from the president's. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn't be left with a ruined "brand," as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership,"
I say she's only reached the beginning of understanding. The key here the last sentence, and it bears repeating: ... not serious about leadership, only followership.

Tim the Soldier reminded me of the words of Paul Wellstone, who while using the word "politics," really was talking about leadership, or rather the ideal of leadership:
"Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives. It's about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people."
The leadership of the conservative movement, now gasping for air, never once led with any sense of altruism -- ever. Power for power's sake, for money, for winning simply to "prove" they were every bit as good as the "elites" they scoff at who think they know better. Winning not to lead a better way forward, but simply so the other guys lose.

Peace, justice? Making life better for everyone? If life in the early 21st Century has shown us anything so far, it's that these concepts are the antithesis of Republican Party rule.

40 years ago, a much more thoughtful and principled Senator represented the State of Arizona than the current aging incarnation. When Barry Goldwater was the icon of conservative leadership, there was a consciousness to the party. His last noble act was to inform Nixon that the thuggery that had usurped the conservatives' cause and betrayed the nation was through.

Nixon was gone, but his thugs and misanthropes stayed on in the party leadership, one of whom holds the record for the longest serving Defense Secretary whose answer to GOP electoral disappointments is not to govern more effectively but to invite an attack against our country's interests; and another who picked himself as the nation's most powerfully sinister Vice President. The intellectual soul of the party, unfortunately, (more interested in good politics in the Wellstone tradition) were relegated to mere tools used by the factions that cared more about "winning" than governing. Peggy Noonan was and is one such useful tool.

The hard-built paternity of 40 years that Noonan eulogizes was effectively neutered the day they allowed a win-at-all-cost criminal like Nixon to take control of an authoritarian political culture that survives more on loyalty than lofty ideals. Promoting incompetent politicians who can act the part, and do it well as long as they have good writers like Noonan authoring the script, they never understood that "big" government or "liberal" government is not the enemy of the people. Bad, incompetent, corrupt government is the insidious evil that can destroy a nation and it's society. Real leadership can cure that sickness.

Noonan has taken a first step, but has a long way to go to understand that this former Reagan speech writer is just the other side of the coin that laid the stench on America's body politic. Her old boss was given pass after pass, defended vehemently by Peggy herself for betraying the Constitution and conservative orthodoxy, making deals with terrorists, conducting illegal wars, "fixing" illegal immigration through amnesty and never enforcing the laws against employers who created the demand for cheap labor in the first place -- and living in a perpetual "Senior Moment."

I doubt seriously that Noonan will ever get to the point where she will acknowledge that the doddering buffoon she and her friends spent so much effort lionizing wasn't really "leader" they believed him to be. Ronald Reagan was an opportunist, like Nixon before him and the two Bushes who followed, and every bit the pandering flip-flopper the Republics collectively are holding their nose and offering up as a sacrifice to the political gods today.

Come on, Reagan was a union president and a Democrat before he saw a clearer path to power as a Republican and in his first major act as President busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union. Call him many things, but someone who stood on long standing principles he most definitely was not.

Peggy's recognized that in a party with no leaders, just opportunists and blind followers, there is a dim future. What she many never come to terms with, much to her unending confusion, is that she was merely 18 years old when the thousand points of light that illuminate that shining city on the hill started going out one-by-one. Now there's none left.
Slate's Jacob Weisberg has tracked the verbal train-wrecks that emanate from Commander Guy's pie-hole. But this is one for the ages ...
"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what
happened inside this Oval Office.
"—Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008
I hope I live long enough to see the day.

Indeed, I hope George W. Bush lives long enough that if History hasn't quite got around to judging him, at least a jury of his peers will have the opportunity.


I don't recall Barack Obama offering Osama bin Laden the Sudetenland (or a slice of the Afghan/Pakistan border). Did anyone catch Obama offering Hamas any Israeli territory in exchange for peace, or Hezbollah their own section of Lebanon to call their own?


The fact is, Obama has said exactly the opposite:

"Obama and McCain have the same position on Hamas —no talks, no recognition, no outreach."
But mere facts have never, ever prevented George Bush and his crime family from creating a myth out of whole cloth and fighting the strawman with every ounce of venom their being.

It's not just that George Bush implied the Democrats are no better than Nazi appeasers with this bit of nonsense (via) before the Israeli Knesset ...

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you.

... it is an outright lie!

Unless the Dickhead in Chief is talking about Ron Paul, no legitimate office seeker in this country wants to break ties with Israel. No one is trying to appease, or psychoanalyze, or give aid and comfort to extremists and terrorists -- unless you count John McCain sucking up to homophobic, bigoted preachers ... or listening to Don Rumsfeld's solution for using terror to increase GOP loyalty.

I looked for a video of Rev. King's last speech, given on the night (April 3, 1968) before he was murdered. You've seen it perhaps; it still moves me deeply every time I watch it.

The following clip includes the end of that speech. But it has another set of excerpts of Rev. King relating to his views on war. Many people forget today that he was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam war. And in these days when the words of another black pastor have shocked people, you might do well to recall similar words from Dr. King, spoken on more than one occasion. And trust me: reading it on the page is nothing compared to watching him deliver the words:

"...[D]on't let anyone make you think that God chose America as his divine Messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgement and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, "You are too arrogant! If you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power. And I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I am God."

UPDATE: The next night, Bobby Kennedy, who was campaigning in Indianapolis in advance of the Indiana primary, gave a speech. By all accounts, he gave it nearly extemporaneously, having composed it in the few minutes after he heard that King had been killed. This audio recording captured Kennedy's words that night in Indianapolis.

And here's some video of the speech:

"In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.

"For those of you who are can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

"We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization--black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

"Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust...against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.

"I had a member of my family killed...

"But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.

"My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote: 'In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'

"What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

"So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King...but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love--a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke."

What he said that evening is carved on the walls of a fountain near his grave at Arlington National Cemetary.



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