Tag Archives: history

In Memoriam

The end of a year is a time for contemplation–for considering how the world has, or has not changed, and evaluating the apparent trajectory of our social institutions…for considering who and what has been lost….

In that vein, I share this quotation from Theodore White’s Making of the President: 1960. I came across it again recently, and was struck by its current relevance.

Read it and weep….

The Republican Party, to be exact, is twins and has been twins from the moment of its birth—but the twins who inhabit its name and shelter are Jacob and Esau: fratricidal, not fraternal, twins. Within the Republican Party are combined a stream of the loftiest American idealism and a stream of the coarsest American greed….

[I]t is forgotten how much of the architecture of America’s liberal society was drafted by the Republicans. Today they are regarded as the party of the right. Yet this is the party that abolished slavery, wrote the first laws of civil service, passed the first antitrust, railway control, consumer-protective and conservation legislation, and then led America, with enormous diplomatic skill, out into that posture of global leadership and responsibility we now so desperately try to maintain.

The fact that all this has been almost forgotten by the current stylists of our culture is in itself significant. For until this century and down through its first decade the natural home party of the American intellectual, writer, savant and artist was the Republican Party. Its men of state and diplomacy were, as often as not, thinkers and scholars; and it is doubtful whether any President, even Wilson or the second Roosevelt, made the White House so familiar a mansion to writers and artists as did Theodore Roosevelt (who, indeed, was also one of the founders of the Authors’ League of America).

The alienation of the Republican Party of today from the intellectual mainstream of the nation stems, actually, from the days of Theodore Roosevelt. For when in 1912 the twins of the Republican Party broke wide apart in the Roosevelt-Taft civil war, the “regulars” of the Taft wing remained in control of the party machinery, and the citizen wing of progressive and intellectual Republicans was driven into homeless exile.

An exile within which we remain, nearly 60 years after this was written.

Despite the fact that I consider myself an optimist, I doubt very much that 2016 will see a return to reason and moderation.

The United States desperately needs two sane, adult political parties. We don’t have them now, and the prospects for the near term are not promising.

No, All Attention Isn’t Good…

There’s an old political saying to the effect that publicity is always good, as long as they spell your name right.

Not so much.

There’s been a lot of attention focused upon Indiana Governor Mike Pence as a result of his RFRA signing and his obvious inability to understand the blowback or handle the subsequent fallout. But aside from generating increasingly serious concern about the damage done to Indiana, the weighing in by pundits and the skewering by late-night talk show hosts, the controversy has also encouraged media exploration of the Governor’s past performance and policy positions–and that exploration has underscored Pence’s deeply-rooted animus to LGBT folks, his contempt for women’s rights, and…how to say this?…his less than adequate analytical skills.

In the wake of the eruption over RFRA, I’ve seen the following:

A 2008 article about Pence’s bizarre 2005 proposal to advance Social Security privatization.  Here’s the first paragraph:

There are very few members of congress with whom I’ve ever had the opportunity to discuss a substantive matter of public policy. But as it happens, one of them — the one with whom I’ve had the second-longest exchange — is Mike Pence (R-IN) who I’ve seen on television today repeatedly discussing the Republican Study Group’s “plan” for the financial crisis. And I can tell you this about Mike Pence: he has no idea what he’s talking about. The man is a fool, who deserves to be laughed at.

The remainder of the article explains how the author came to that conclusion–and explains a lot about the “growth” policies the Governor has been pursuing in Indiana.

Then there was “Smoking Doesn’t Kill and Other Great OpEd’s from Mike Pence, which I originally thought was a joke, but apparently isn’t. It reproduces several op-eds penned by Governor Pence over the years; my favorite was on climate change, where Pence wrote that CO2 from burning fuels can’t cause increased global temperatures because they are a “naturally occurring phenomenon in nature.” (He also mixed up India with Indonesia.)

Perhaps the most telling–given the Governor’s protestations to the effect that he doesn’t believe in discrimination– was this article, detailing his long history of anti-gay bias. From Business Insider, no less. That one begins:

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) apparently previously advocated far more controversial positions on gay rights than his state’s controversial new “religious freedom” law.

One thing about the Internet. Nothing ever disappears. But they did spell his name right.

Conserving Our System

What passes for political discourse these days is so debased, so irrational, that we no longer even think about the real meanings of the words we throw around. So “socialist” is conflated with “Nazi” (and used without any obvious understanding of what the term describes) and “conservative” is used to describe positions that are anything but.

To be conservative is to “conserve”–to protect elements of the past.

E.J. Dionne makes the point that today’s self-described conservatives are really radicals bent upon a wholesale abandonment of settled aspects of our national life.  It’s an important column, and well worth reading in its entirety.

Now, there are times when wholesale change is necessary or advantageous. There are other times when dramatic, radical reinvention is profoundly harmful. In a democratic system, it is up to the voters to decide whether they want to replace what they have with something radically different. But in order to make that decision, voters need to understand what is really being proposed–and in an era where propaganda has displaced much of the news, where a pitiful minority know enough about America’s history or constitutional system to recognize the magnitude of the changes the current GOP field is advocating, the significance of the 2012 election is not obvious to many–perhaps most–voters.

What was that old Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times?

We’re there.