BurtonHanson.Com Political Opinion Journal - Archives V
Might this day, fifty years ago, have been the real day the music died?
At 3:30 p.m., 09.30.1955, just outside Bakersfield, driving his new Porsche Spyder 550 on the way to Salinas, with his mechanic beside him, he is stopped and ticketed for speeding. At 5:45 p.m., at the intersection of Routes 466 and 41, near Chalame, the Porsche collides with a sedan driven by a fellow named Don Turnupseed. His mechanic is thrown free and survives. James Dean is dead.
I was 12 at the time. I didn't know who James Dean was, although his first movie, East of Eden, had opened nationwide on 04.10.1955 and had just made it to my hometown, Benson, 130 miles west of Minneapolis, in early September. By a strange curiosity of fate, at least from my perspective, my brother Galen, four years my senior, had been selected from thousands of newspaper deliverers to serve as "Editor for a Day" for the issue of the Minneapolis Tribune for the issue dated 10.01.1955. His article, on the United Nations, appears in that issue, the same issue that announces the death of James Dean.
My bro was pretty quick on buying into the James Dean craze that followed his sudden death, and, as in so many things, led the way for me. He bought himself a red "Rebel jacket," identical to the one Dean wore in Rebel Without a Cause, his second movie, which premiered nationwide on 10.26.1955, less than a month after Dean's death. The James Dean in that movie, which was the perfect 1950's movie, is the James Dean that provided fuel to the James Dean of myth. Rebel didn't reach Benson until the following March. Thanks to my bro, I had already bought into the myth, and I had been waiting to see it. But things like the James Dean myth used to take a bit more time to reach small town America, and I don't believe the movie created much of a stir in Benson at first.
If I recall correctly, the Dean craze started to grow in Benson later that spring, 1956, and continued throughout the 1956-1957 school year (when I was an eighth grader and my bro a senior) and through the summer of 1957. My bro, wearing his red Rebel jacket and a Dean Doo, even attracted a circle of local female admirers. I vividly remember sitting in the southwest exam room of Dr. Silas Waldimar Giere in his office suite in the Paris Hotel Building early one morning, getting treated for some minor virus, and hearing through the open window the chatter of some "with it" seventh grade girls on their way to the northside school (grades six through twelve). One of them, whose voice I recognized, was saying she'd "had a dream about Galen Hanson." These were girls that, if Life were fair, should have been having dreams about me and other guys in the eighth grade. Sigh....
I used to have copies of Teen magazine from 1957. That was the year the editors conducted a James Dean-lookalike contest/promotion, promising the winner a trip to Hollywood and a screen test. My bro, of course, entered it and, it shouldn't have surprised me, nearly won it. He was always entering (and not infrequently winning) contests -- of all types, speech contests, essay contests, talent contests, "Editor-for-a-Day" contests, James Dean contests. During the 1955-1956 school year, his junior year, he won the state, the four-state subregionals, and the regionals of the American Legion National Oratory Contest and came in third out of four in the finals, held in St. Louis, winning a $1,000 scholarship.) If I recall correctly, there were three issues of Teen in which his picture appeared, the first naming him as one of a number of quarter-finalists, the second naming him as one of the semi-finalists, the third naming him as one of, I believe, four finalists. I still laugh when I think of the audiotape he was required to make of a dramatic recitation of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabelle Lee" in connection with the finals. I used to tease him and get him to laugh by mock-reciting, in a schmaltzy way, a few lines as he had done -- "Oh, Annnna-belle Lee-ee-ee!"
Giant, filming of which had just ended in Marfa, Texas, when Dean died, opened in New York on 11.10.1956. My bro and I saw it in Minneapolis a short time later. By the time it reached Benson, for a three-day run on August 11-13, 1957, Galen was still in the running in the Teen magazine competition and the craze was at its peak. My friend, Paul, and I sat near the front of the DeMarce Theatre on Sunday afternoon, August 11. A row or two in front of us sat a couple of the girls in my bro's little fan club. I could name them but I don't want to embarrass them. As the movie, with the great Dimitri Tiompkins score, opened and a glimpse of James Dean first appeared on the screen, the girls stood up and cried, in semi-grievous tones, "Jamie!" Paul and I said, "Sit down!" -- and chuckled.
East of Eden, which may be my favorite Dean movie, returned to Benson (to cash in on the craze) on September 4 and 5 (week nights), 1957, and Rebel Without a Cause returned a few weeks later, on September 25 and 26 (also week nights). Mom usually didn't like me to go to movies on school nights, but she was good at making exceptions and made them so I could see the two movies again.
One day that fall I was walking home after school when I saw, from a block or so away, the Greyhound bus from Minneapolis dropping off passengers and saw that one of them was my bro. Which was curious because he was a student at Augsburg college in Minneapolis, rooming with Paul's brother, and wasn't expected home. I followed him into the Paris Hotel but didn't see him. I found him in the men's room in the basement, throwing up violently. He was in the middle of a serious attack of appendicitis (although he didn't know it was appendicitis) and had foolishly taken the bus home so he could get treatment in his beloved Benson. I helped walk him home, a six block walk. My mom got home shortly thereafter from her rural teaching job and we drove to the hospital, several blocks away, where Dr. Giere was waiting. I waited in the car for an eternity. Eventually, Mom came out and told me a decision had been made to remove the appendix. She let me drive the car home alone, even though I didn't have my license yet.
Next day at school my dad's step-mom, who had never picked me up anywhere before, got me out of class. Galen had experienced a sudden, near-fatal drop in blood pressure from the general anaesthetic. By the time I had gotten there, Reverend Nasheim had arrived. I remember listening to him read from the Psalms. Pretty sobering stuff. But Galen made it through. One of my most vivid memories is of being with Galen in his hospital room after he'd made it out of the Shadow. It was a bright sunny fall Saturday morning and we listened to the radio. An announcer reporting on the CBS network out of Chicago was trumpeting the newest sensation, Sam Cooke, and together we listened, for the first time, to his first great hit, "You Send Me": "Darling, you-oo-oo-oo send me, honest you do, honest you do." It is impossible for me to listen to that song without being drawn back in time to that moment of pleasant, optimistic, sunny recuperation.
On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1996, daughter Jennifer (home from Harvard College) and I went to a moviehouse just off the U. campus and attended a late-afternoon revival showing, on the big screen, of Giant. History does repeat itself: there was a guy in the nearly-empty theater -- perhaps a bit "touched" -- who talked to the screen, just as those foolish teen girls did back in Benson that August afternoon in 1957, when "Jamie" first appeared on the screen. Afterward, we visited Dad in Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. He had only 27 more days to live.
Galen was my bro (my one and only real bro), but James Dean was, I think, one of our brothers of the spirit. To teen girls he was one thing. To teen boys, some of us at least, he was the misunderstood, sensitive less-loved twin in East of Eden, the sensitive, decent love-starved "rebel" of Rebel Without a Cause, and the Jet Rink-loner of Giant. In each of the movies, there's a woman who sees something in him and us -- Julie Harris in East of Eden, Natalie Wood (ah, me!) in Rebel, Elizabeth Taylor in Giant. In each of the movies he depicted something that is very deep in so many young men. He was playing us up there on the screen -- our sadnesses, our shyness, our sensitiveness, our aloneness, our craving for love from fathers and mothers and -- yeah, from some ideal young woman who believed in us and might help make us whole.
Galen is gone now, too. He died last November. I've missed him for a long time. Today I miss Jamie Dean. I am James Dean.
Bush's latest "war."
What does a Leader of a country or city-state (or whatever) do to divert attention from his failures and to unite the gullible public behind him? The typical solution, as old as recorded history (read, e.g., Plutarch's Lives), is this: Go to war! (As Sinclair Lewis put it on the opening page of It Can't Happen Here (1935), "Almost any old war that might be handy.)" But what do you do when you've already suckered the public into an unjustified and immoral aggressive war, and the public somehow has figured out it was suckered into it and that not much good, if any, is going to come from it and it's going to deprive us of thousands of our young people and cost us a ton of money? Well, if you're any good and/or smart, you make damn sure the Government does an A-1 job helping the victims of a major natural disaster by following plans you've surely developed as part of spending all those billions to make the country safe from terrorists. But what if it turns out your planning has been pretty bad, and the public figures that out, too, and your approval ratings continue to fall? Oh, I've got it -- you declare another "war." And thus it is that the President has started recruiting FBI agents to help him in his "War on Porn," not child porn but the good old-fashioned garden variety adult porn -- the kind that depicts consenting adults and is marketed to consenting adults -- that has been around for ages and that many FBI agents themselves admit to liking. See, Recruits Sought for Porn Squad (Washington Post 09.20.2005). Apparently, FBI agents themselves are poking fun at the whole plan. One is quoted as saying, "I guess this means we've won the war on terror." Another: "Honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves."
Sinclair Lewis - as timely as if he were still churning them out.
Here's an excerpt from a "speech" by "General Edgeways" in Lewis' It Can't Happen Here (1935), a fable set in 1936 America in which a fascist leader uses the same old tactics fascists, etc., have always used to gain and keep power, a fable in which an insurgency, led by "Farmer-Laborites" in Minnesota, grows and takes on the regime. :-) Anyhow, here's the excerpt from the good general's speech:
...for these U-nited States, a-lone among the great powers, have no desire for foreign conquest. Our highest ambition is to be darned well let alone!..But...we must be prepared to defend our shores against all the alien gangs of international racketeers....For the first time in all history, a great nation must go on arming itself more and more, not for conquest -- not for jealousy -- not for war -- but for peace!....
It could be an excerpt from one of our President's speeches circa 2002 or 2003. Some things never change.
Judge dismisses indecency charge against nude protester.
During the noon hour on August 9 Haila Faisal, a 47-year-old Greenwich Village artist, removed her clothes & jumped into a large public fountain in Washington Square Park, which borders Fifth Avenue & NYU & is a hub of activity in Greenwich Park. It is to free speech in NYC what Harvard Sq. is to free speech in the Boston area & what Hyde Park is to free speech in London. Using her body as a billboard/canvas, Ms. Faisal had used red paint to paint anti-war slogans, in English & Arabic, on both her front & back. She had hoped others would follow her lead & jump in & join her. But no one did. Instead, she found herself arrested & charged with public indecency. Her case came on for trial yesterday before Judge Stanley Katz. Her attorney, Ronald Kuby, was prepared to argue that Ms. Faisal's act of public nudity was a form of protected free expression. But the judge didn't let things go that far. Instead, he dismissed the complaint for failing to specify exactly what Ms. Faisal exposed to the public. According to the report in the N.Y. Times:
Lacking the guidance of the arresting officer or a representative from the Manhattan district attorney's office, neither of whom showed up at the hearing, Judge Katz said it was anyone's guess what she had revealed. "It could be anything," he told [Mr.] Kuby. "In some places they don't even want your face exposed."
The Times story suggests that Mr. Kuby was disappointed by the dismissal, because he wanted to argue the constitutional issues. But Ms. Faisal either was relieved or wasn't relieved. The story first says she was relieved but then says, "Asked if New Yorkers could expect a repeat performance, Ms. Faisal paused and said, 'Yes, because I feel bad if I don't say what I believe in.'" We take Ms. Faisal's expression of good faith at face -- no, full body exposure -- value. But we note that the whole ordeal might yield an unexpected bonus: the Times reporter notes that "[Ms. Faisal's] nude paintings of women are on display at the Village Quill Gallery [on Franklin St.] in TriBeCa." For a contemporaneous account of Ms. Faisal's protest & arrest plus a picture from behind of Ms. Faisal (thumbnail above), see Ronda Kaysen, The Naked Truth About the Power of Protest Today (Downtown Express 08.12.2005 - 08.18.2005 issue).
a) For a summary of the caselaw on nude dancing as a protected form of free expression, see, David Hudson, Nude Dancing - Overview (First Amendment Center). I've always been a tiny bit skeptical of claims of constitutional protection made by bar & strip club owners, but I'm also mindful that my main judicial hero, Justice Holmes, enjoyed patronizing risque burlesque shows & was heard to say on more than one occasion relating to this interest of his, "I thank God I'm a man of low taste." Let's put it this way, I'm more interested in defending on First Amendment grounds conduct such as Ms. Faisal's, given the political nature of her act and the circumstances surrounding that act, including that it took place in a public place well-known as a public forum with the widest tolerance for the diversity of free expression & protest. Consider, e.g., this bit from Ms. Kaysen's contemporaneous report, supra: "'Itís kind of hard to shock people anymore,' shrugged Gregory Keller, a Grove St. resident out walking his dogs."
b) Ms. Faisal's baring herself to protest the war provides a metaphor for what any lone person does when he publicly stands up & takes a controversial position. I bared myself, in a way, a year ago when I ran as an anti-war candidate against Congressman Jim Ramstad, an enthusiastic supporter of the war, in the GOP primary. Some people felt I was unpatriotic in doing so & have not spoken to me since. Do I care that I lost? Do I care that some people thought I was off my rocker? Hell, no. A lot has changed in the last year. Mr. Bush's military policies were enjoying widespread support then; now a clear majority agrees with what I was saying a year ago. Thus, even though I got only 11% of the vote, in a way I won -- & I didn't even have to go to Washington (something I'm not even sure I'd have done if I had won). Ms. Kaysen's report, supra, says that Ms. Faisal was an actress in Syria nearly 25 years ago but left it because of the political repression (her uncle spent two decades as a political prisoner). She eventually made her way here after studying art in Russia and France. She became a U.S. citizen just a few months ago. Her first real act of public expression of her First Amendment rights occurred shortly thereafter -- there in Washington Square Park. Justice Frankfurter said that the most important office in a democracy is that of citizen. Ms. Faisal, welcome to the community of those who occupy democracy's most-important office. I admire you. In just the first few months as citizen, you've proven yourself worthy of the office. So few ever do. See, W.H. Auden, The Unknown Citizen.
Chimps as honest politicians.
It's refreshing to work with chimpanzees: They are the honest politicians we all long for. When the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes postulated an insuppressible power drive, he was right on target for both humans and apes. Observing how blatantly chimpanzees jockey for position, one will look in vain for ulterior motives and expedient promises.
Federal-regulation-through-prosecution of local government & politics?
Justice of peace rules judge's death a suicide. "A state district judge who died while facing a federal investigation committed suicide, a [justice of the peace] ruled today. Edward Aparicio was found dead in his home [of a gunshot wound] in April, a half-finished glass of wine, half-lit cigar, and newspaper clipping of his last election victory by his side...'An honorable man who has lost his honor does not deserve to live,' [his wife] quoted him as saying." More (Houston Chronicle 09.14.2005). Comment. In recent months I've been astounded at all the federal investigations & prosecutions of state & local judges & other elected officials around the country, including here in Minnesota, that I've read about while maintaining my blawgs. Am I the only one troubled by the federal government's literally having taken over a function that traditionally has been left to each of the states, i.e., policing its own political system? It seems in many of these cases that the federal court's justification for taking jurisdiction -- e.g., that the state court system accepts federal dollars -- is flimsy at best. In so many ways, the Republican Administration seems to have abandoned its traditional commitment to the classic principles of federalism, one of which is that crime control is traditionally a matter left to the states. I think we as individuals, who need ever to be vigilant in protecting our rights, ought to be more than a little concerned about the increasing federalization of the criminal law and the increasing federal-regulation-through-prosecution of local government & politics.
'Sex tourism' now, 'abortion-tourism' later?
Ex-judge on trial in federal court for traveling to Russia to have sex. "After a week of jury selection, opening statements in the [child pornography & sex tourism] trial of former state Superior Court Judge Stephen W. Thompson are expected to begin in federal court in Camden this morning. Thompson's attorneys plan to argue an insanity defense, saying Thompson suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his Vietnam War injuries...In addition to possessing...child pornography -- including images on a laptop computer he kept in his courtroom -- Thompson has been charged with traveling to Russia to have sex with a boy. A video Thompson made of the hotel encounter could be played in court this week..." More (Philadelphia Inquirer 09.14.2005). Comment. Federal statutes governing trafficking and sex tourism include 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2421, 2422, and 2423. No one wants to criticize the federal government for trying to curb so-called sex tourism, but the statutes in question stretch the concept of territorial jurisdiction over criminal conduct far beyond traditional limits; moreover, the statutes are awfully broad & theoretically could be used to prosecute, say, your 18-year-old son for having consensual sex with a 17-year-old woman he meets while traveling abroad in, say, Sweden. If Roe v. Wade is ever overruled and replaced by a federal statute criminalizing abortion, there are those who undoubtedly will try to make it a federal crime for a woman to travel to, say, Canada to have an abortion. You heard it here first. Indeed, an effort has been underway in Congress for several years (click here for the House bill) to criminalize, under certain circumstances, the transportation (or aiding and abetting the transportation) of a minor girl across state lines for purposes of obtaining an abortion. Our own Congressman here in Minnesota's Third District, Uber-Bush-Loyalist Jim Ramstad (who I was proud to run against in the 2004 G.O.P. primary), has voted for this legislation, which passed again in the House this last spring.
Carl D'Aquila (1924 - 2005). Carl D'Aquila, one of the Grand Men of what once was a Grand Old Republican Party in Minnesota, died on Friday at age 81. His funeral, in Hibbing, is tomorrow. "The owner of the Mesabi Tire Co. in Hibbing, D'Aquila was a former member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission and a former member of the Minnesota House. Elected to the Legislature in 1946 when he was 22, D'Aquila was the youngest person to serve in the House at that time. He served from 1947 to 1951. A Republican among liberal Iron Rangers, D'Aquila later was the chief proponent of the 1964 Minnesota Taconite Amendment, which led to expansion on the Range...." More (St. Paul Pioneer-Press 09.11.2005). Among his gifts to the people of the state are his outstanding children, including his daughter Barbara Jean D'Aquila, who once clerked at the Minnesota Supreme Court and is one of the best lawyers in the Twin Cities.
Dr. F. Lavoris Pusso, Ph.D., SuperNintendent of Schools, on John Roberts. Excerpts:
"John Roberts will be the first graduate of the Federalist Society's version of the old East German Olympic Medal Machine (substitute 'Romanian,' 'Russian,' or 'Chinese' for 'East German,' if you want) to make it to the Supreme Court. Guys like former Solicitor General Ted Olson have been mentoring him & nursing him along the Path to Judicial Righteousness ever since they first spotted him at former Attorney General Edwin Meese's Future Judges of America Junior Judges Camp...
"There's no doubt he's met the so-called 'objective' qualifications to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court, but then you could randomly pick five names from the graduates of any class of Harvard Law School in the 1960's or 1970's or 1980's and perhaps three of them, maybe all of them, would meet any 'objective' criteria you could fairly come up with...
"Just as President Bush ought not be overly praised for coming up with an objectively-qualified nominee who also satisfies all the President's subjective criteria (as Olson & Meese have made sure Roberts does), no Senator ought to be criticized for using his or her own subjective criteria to vote to reject the President's objectively-qualified nominee...
"That said, what do I, Dr. F. Lavoris Pusso, Ph.D., SuperNintendent Expert on Everything, think about Roberts personally? I see a man who's been flying higher & higher on an ever-ascending path toward the Sun. Perhaps his wings aren't made of wax & he'll reach the Heights without ever crashing. Personally, though, I like a guy who's already tried climbing Mt. Olympus & fallen a few times, picked himself up, dusted himself off, & started all over again. Roberts' hero, Holmes, was wounded three times in the Civil War & came back each time. And he put in the longest, loneliest hours in the Slough of Despond when he researched & wrote The Common Law...
"Roberts is no Holmes. So what? Holmes himself couldn't get nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, much less to the typical (say, Minnesota's) state supreme court, were he alive today. One thing Holmes did that Roberts yet might do, even though he's no Holmes, is 'break with the Father.' Long before Freud & Co. talked about a young man's antinomian need to both break with ('slay') the Father & then 'find' Him again, 'the Greeks' illustrated it in their Myths. Holmes' father, of course, was the much-loved scientist & novelist & celebrity, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Much (too much, perhaps) has been made of Justice Holmes' need to 'slay' him, which he did in his own way, as sons tend to do, by rejecting his advice & becoming a lawyer (his dad told him law wouldn't challenge him). On the other hand, perhaps not enough has been made of Holmes' 'finding' his dad, as by also becoming a writer (an even better writer than his old man) & as by distinguishing himself in his own chosen field, the law, as his dad did in his field, medicine...
"Maybe, also, not enough has been made of Holmes' neat little 'break' with the tough little fellow who appointed him, Teddy Roosevelt, in his surprising (to T.R.) dissent in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904), as well as his 'break,' in numerous cases, with the interests of his own socio-economic class...
"I'm just guessing that at some point, if he in fact was any good to begin with, Justice Roberts will 'break,' too, with those who invited him & escorted him to the Ball. It will be interesting to see how it happens & when....
"And I wouldn't discount the possibility, nay likelihood, that even Justice Scalia may still have within him the stuff to not only surprise Justice Roberts and us but also surprise himself. Since we're talking small-group dynamics here, the ascension of Justice Roberts surely not only will change Roberts but in curious ways will change everyone else on the Court...."
When the world is too much with us. Right now, exhausted from trying to tend to two pup friends of mine (each belonging to a different person), exhausted from five years of living under the reign of George II (who seems to my exhausted mind to have made this country catastrophe-prone), exhausted from living under a two-party system where "my" party stands for things I don't believe in & the other party stands for nothing (it's not even good at mere "opposing"), exhausted from my allergies (which combined with rainy, sunless days always seem to knock me down in September), I am thinking this morning of Wordworth's poem:
The World is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gather'd now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -- Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn, --
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
And then a thought comes to me. Why don't we expand our Empire? What better way to find escape from our woes?
But how to do it on the cheap? No, not by using our National Guard. It never dawned on us, did it, that we might need them back here at Home? And, anyhow, we've found out anew ("The only thing new in the world is the History you never read" - Harry Truman) that we might lose lives & it might cost us a lot of money to invade another country if our smart bombs, dropped from on high, don't do the trick.
And which country (or countries) should we covet as a way of diverting us from our own mistakes?
And then it all comes to me. While mind-surfing, on the ever-increasing waves of information that soon will be revealed as not mere waves but Tsunami waves that will overpower our villager minds, I come across this little piece (at MetaFilter.Com) about what some are now calling the greatest country on Earth -- NORWAY! And just as quickly, the answer to "How to?" comes to me.... We'll annex it!
The way we should have gotten out of Viet Nam was the same way we should get out of Iraq -- Declare victory & leave. And that, my friends, is the way to pull us out of our malaise -- Declare that Norway is ours. Those Norwegians might resist our declaration with a little good ol' fashioned Norwegian passive-aggression, but what's that to us? And after we've annexed Norway & made it the 51st state, we can annex Canada (52d), Sweden (nice-looking babes - 53rd), Iceland (nice-looking babes - 54th), Tuscany (nice place for Americans to vacation - 55th), the South of France (ditto - 56th), Barcelona (57th), New Zealand (fun to go there & watch the sheep dogs do their thing & a good place to make movies - 58th), Mexico, Central America & South America (59th), Denmark (60th), the Czech Republic (a few nice-looking babes - 61st), India (those folks are good at math & computers & make good receptionists - 62d), China (they make good stuff cheap & some of their babes have a way about them, plus they invented paper, or something - 63rd), Kenya (good place to make romantic flicks about Danish women on coffee-plantations & English guys dying while flying single-engine planes - 64th), etc. (BTW - No need to annex England -- they're already our lap dog.)
The old ideas are the best, my friends, and old-fashioned Thomas Jefferson-style & Teddy Roosevelt-style American Expansionism doesn't seem such a bad idea, if done right, on the cheap (what was it we paid for the Louisiana Purchase & look what we got). Why buy new when second-hand will do? No, why invade when buying will do? Why pay a lot when you can pay a little? Why pay a little when you can just take?
Well, I feel much better after solving my little September malaise.
Republicans have made a mess of things -- with lots of help from Democrats. Today's Strib has an interesting piece by Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray from the Washington Post titled Democrats waver in unifying stand against war in Iraq. The gist of the piece is that while some Democrats in Congress might like to take a stand against the war, they fear "that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush's options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives fear such moves would exacerbate the party's traditional vulnerability on national security issues."
The piece highlights what I've been saying for a long time: the Democratic party has lost its "soul." I've been saying the same thing about my Republican party for some time. The difference is that the Democrats have become me-too-er's & seem to have concluded that if losing its soul has worked for the Republican party, maybe it will work for the Democrats. This is nothing new. When Nixon taught the Republican party how to use the crime problem to win votes, the Democrats slowly but surely started copying them, in some cases even trying to out-tough the Republicans. On issue after issue the Republicans have been aggressive & clear, & on the same issues the Democrats have either been wishy-washy in their opposition or have tried to make their message sound like the Republicans' message. President Clinton, our so-called First Black President, also in many ways was one of the most effective "Republican" Presidents, with his welfare reforms, budget balancing, tough talk on crime, etc. The saddest examples of this Democratic me-too-ing all have to do with the Democrats' rubber stamping all of President Bush's post-09.11 initiatives, from the Patriot Act to the directive on GITMO detainees to the invasion of Iraq.
Gary Hart, who is the smartest thinker the Democrats have these days, wrote the other day in the Washington Post:
History will deal with President Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the world, diverting guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up and weakening America's national security. But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on?
More (as reprinted in Miami Herald 08.28.2005).
What are the Democrats' bright ideas these days? Senators like Joe Biden & Hilary Clinton are saying we need to send more troops over to Iraq. As they say, it's déjà vu all over again, because that's what we heard back in the 60's when we were mired in Viet Nam: "We can't cut & run," they said; "more troops are needed to do the job." Harry Truman said the only thing new in the world is the history you never learned. Almost none of our Congressmen have an original thing to say on the subject of Iraq. About the only thing many of them are saying that's different from what the Republicans are saying is we need to revive the draft (what'd I say last summer?) And why do we need to revive it? Because, their reasoning goes, if middle-class boys & girls were subject to the draft, there'd be a greater likelihood of opposition to the war and a greater likelihood that the President and Congress would proceed more cautiously before getting involved in such a war again. That's why we elected them in the first place -- to serve as a loyal opposition and not as a rubber stamp, to show some guts rather than just read the polls, yes, to do the right thing even if it means running the risk of being called disloyal for failing to go along with the President on a matter of war & peace.
Robert Frost, who had more gravitas in his little finger than all the Members of Congress put together, said repeatedly that each of us needs people in his life who will provide what Frost called "original response," some sort of loving obstacle or friction with which to contend. Why? Because ideas need to be tested in a vigorous marketplace & because brooks are lovelier if there are stones sticking out here & there, creating the ripples on the surface & the rippling & gurgling sounds. Just as poets benefit from having to contend with the requirements of form, metre, etc., we too must metaphorically contend, as poets do, with the forms and metres and frictions and nets and picket fences and iron curtains and laws that seemingly keep us from being as free as we might sometimes like to be. Indeed, the underlying premise of our great Constitutional scheme is that multiple checks & balances are necessary not only to check abuses of power but to help increase the likelihood that the government's work product is good. I said shortly after 09.11 that Congress needed to run the President's post-09.11 ideas through a metaphorical Swede-designed DeLaval cream separator. The Congress -- Democrats & Republicans alike -- didn't do it. And all you have to do is read the latest news from Iraq and fill up your car with gas and take a peek at our ballooning deficit to see the pathetic results.
Nine prophetic words by Clean Gene McCarthy at the start of Iraq War II. "I don't think they know what they're getting into."
Congressman Jim Ramstad plays the 09.11 card. Jim Ramstad, self-denominated "moderate" Republican, who represents Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District in Congress, met with a hostile audience at one of his "town meetings," which in the past he's used as a p.r. vehicle. According to The Edina Sun (08.11.2005), at his town meeting in Edina, Ramstad faced a barrage of hostile questions from the audience. Several had to do with his continuing vigorous support of President Bush's pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Ramstad reportedly said, "We're fighting a war on terror...a very real war," & that, as paraphrased by the Sun reporter, "he wished he could bring some of the troops in to the meeting to talk about what's going on in the war." [Does he really think those who attended the meeting don't know "what's going on in the war"?] At one point he said "that perhaps too many people, including the meeting attendees, had forgotten 9/11." A woman then reportedly yelled from the back of the room, "How dare you. How dare you, Jim Ramstad." Comment. Good for her, good for her. Jim -- who I've heard from those who know him is a nice guy but one who worries too much about retaining his seat & maintaining the illusion he's a "moderate" -- is, in my opinion, increasingly out of touch with the voters of heretofore staunchly Republican Edina. Believe it or not, those voters voted for Senator Kerry over President Bush in 2004. He seems to think the meeting was "stacked" because the attendees asked him some tough questions. No, Jim, the questioners are your constituents. They are aware, if you're not, that these are tough times -- & tough questions of our representatives are in order.
President Bush says leaving Iraq would send a bad signal. Maureen Dowd of the NYT returned from leave & published her first regular op/ed column in quite some time Wednesday: Why No Tea and Sympathy? - President Bush's inhumane humanitarianism. It was a devastating piece, dealing, inter alia, with President Bush's silly refusal to meet with the mother of the soldier killed in Iraq who's been in Crawford picketing him on his five-week vacation. Apparently stung by Dowd's devastating attack on him, the President held a briefing today, saying, in the words of this report in the Guardian, that he sympathized with the mother & with her views but that leaving Iraq would send the wrong message. Bush: Leaving Iraq Would Be a Bad Signal. Comment. No, invading Iraq sent a bad signal. Occupying Iraq has sent a bad signal. Staying there sends a bad signal. But, hell, who cares about signals? Everyone in his right mind knows now, as we opined it would be before the invasion, that the war has been one big fat mistake. As Dowd said:
It's getting harder for the president to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1,835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that. More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Mr. Bush.
Speaking to the Martians.
"We are a warlike species, you claim, and you show me films of Earth battles to prove it. But I have seen all the films about twenty times. Get some new films, or, so help me, if I ever get out of here I will empty my laser pistol into everyone I see, even pets...." From What I'd Say to the Martians, by Jack Handey (The New Yorker - double issue dated 08.08.2005 & 08.15.2005). Comment. This is a terrific & hilarious satire on how people may think of themselves as a peace-loving people & yet act & speak in ways that are anything but peaceable. Jack Handey, by the way, is the former SNL comedian & writer of a number of small volumes of pensées that go by the name of "Deep Thoughts," such as this one: "If you ever teach a yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep the students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we build to that."