Friday, August 5, 2011

Who Owns History?

Once again we find ourselves in a battle over "who owns history?"  Republican presidential candidates have been making some rather sensational interpretations of American history, and the Tea Party would like to claim its roots in the original Tea Party revolt of the 1773.  Sarah Palin's recent tour of the Northeast defied all credulity when she repeatedly confused historic facts, as she tried to blend American history into her own personal narrative.

We've all read how SC justices Scalia and Thomas have inventively reinterpreted the Constitution, including the 14th amendment to favor corporate interests, and in Scalia's case demean women's rights.  The "original intent" debate seems to be the cornerstone of the right-wing "think tanks," with conservative writers re-interpreting the Constitution and its Congressional debates to suit their own interests.

As Eric Foner notes in his collection of essays, this intellectual posturing has deep roots.  He focuses on the "Redeemers" in one essay, who succeeded in repealing the hard fought post-Civil War Reconstruction, and how contemporary Republicans would like to see Civil Rights legislation similarly repealed, focusing largely on the affirmative action legislation which followed. 

Rick Santorum, who was born in 1964, is on record as saying he "hates" the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the Medicare bill which followed, preferring instead a pre-1964 America. I wonder if he would prefer an America without him?  Seems Goldwater is more the "godfather" of the current crop of Republicans than Reagan, who similar lashed out against Civil Rights legislation.


  1. Foner's "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution" is as good as history gets. Anyone who wants a better understanding of how we got where we are today should read it. It is not a book that will revive your faith in our elective democracy. However, it will help you put the current state of affairs in perspective.

  2. A professor here in Atlanta at Emory University has a very strong Op/Ed piece in today's New York Times that bears very directly on the value of "story":

  3. I sent that editorial to a friend earlier today. She supported Clinton during the primaries, and I'm beginning to think she had it right.

    That editorial captures my deep disappointment in Obama and what has happened over the last two plus years. I still think he is probably the best and certainly the smartest president I'll see in my lifetime, but I don't think he was the right president for how the politics and economy have unfolded. The racism of this country doesn't help either.

    As much as I worked against Hillary Clinton in the primaries because of her hawkishness, I have to think now that I probably made a bad choice. The right would have tried to undermine her, too, albeit for different reasons, but I think she has more fight in her for core democratic principles. Obama, for all his strengths, just doesn't have any fight in his DNA. He is a teacher and a peacemaker (except of course in the Middle East). My greatest fear now is that no matter who the republicans run in 2012, they will win.

  4. You honestly think Hillary would have been any better choice? She would have accepted the budget cuts just as easily as Obama has done. This is a page straight out of the Bill Clinton Handbook of Political Survival. And, the Clintons similarly have had a very poor environmental record over the decades, both in Arkansas and in Washington.

    What has happened is that the Democratic Party as a whole has shifted so much to the center that it no longer represents traditional liberal values. Only a relative handful of Congressional Dems still hold onto any semblance of these values. Most are all too willing to vote Republican on key issues. Obama was unable to close Gitmo because the Senate voted 90-6 to block funds for the transfer of the remaining detainees. Do you think Hillary would have overcome a vote like that? Or, even bothered to try to transfer the detainees to begin with?

  5. Interesting article, Rick, but it took two New Deals and a Works Progress Administration to ease the huge unemployment of the Depression. FDR fumbled his way through the crisis his first term in office much the way Obama has done. We forget that FDR had three terms in office.

    The "Half Stimulus Bill" has created anywhere between 1.8 amd 3 million jobs, depending on whose figures you quote. It has managed to keep abreast of the roughly 100,000 new job seekers who enter the market each month. Of course, we could have used another Stimulus Bill, or a jobs program, which the administration offered as part of its $50 billion roads bill and the massive energy bill it proposed, but Congress was having none of it. Obama cannot "create" jobs without Congressional support.

  6. Do I think Clinton would have done a better job? That's always hard to say. My fall back has always been she would have kept us involved in the Middle East just to keep her image up, but we're still there in any event.

    But we know for a fact that Obama won't take on a political fight he can't win. It's not in his DNA. He games it out and goes to the end point to get it over with -- I think to avoid all the rancor and to get on to what he thinks is his real job. In the end, he won't take on any real political risk.

    FDR was a member of that ruling elite, and didn't mind getting in their face. He didn't even have conservative democrats with him and after trying everything he could to sway them, he campaigned against them during primaries (didn't work).

    The one thing you can say about Hillary Clinton is that she is -- or at least was -- a scrapper. Now whether or not the outcome would have been different, that's also hard to say. But it couldn't have been any worse than it is now. And I at least wouldn't be left with this sense of no one is out there fighting for the rest of us.

    And I say that with deep regard for Obama. I worked 'round the clock on his campaign and experienced a great sense of relief when he was elected. I just don't think this was the time for his kind of politician given what he was up against.

  7. I think you are approaching this from the wrong angle, Av. Obama ran as a Centrist. Hillary actually ran a little right of Center. Edwards was probably the most Populist of the candidates, but what a mess that would have turned out to be. As for the current situation, I think it would have been little different had we had any one of the three.

    The problem is within the Democratic Party itself, which appears to lack the will to fight aggressively for sweeping changes, even when it had the numbers to do so. To be more specific the problem appears to lie in the Senate, where you have mushballs like Reid and Baucus sitting in top level positions, perfectly content with the status quo or so it would appear.

    Then you have all these "Blue Dogs" like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu who simply aren't going to vote for something as sweeping as single payer health care no matter how you package it.

    Obama is a pragmatist. He isn't going to pick a fight he knows he can't win. I don't see this as any different from Democrats in the past. Did FDR stand up for Civil Rights legislation? Hell, he wouldn't even support a Democratic sponsored anti-lynching bill out of fear of losing Southern Democratic voters. It took someone with real tenacity, LBJ, to finally get a Civil Rights Bill through Congress, and Democrats are still paying the political fallout for this landmark legislation.

  8. But ... maybe this latest crisis and the upcoming election will motivate him. It's not too late. And he's a great educator, and could be a great leader, if he wants to take all of this on.

  9. It really is beyond him, av. There are some executive tools he can use, but once he sets the precedent, you can bet the Republicans will resort to the same tactics when they get back the White House.

    What he can do more forcefully is take his case to the people so that maybe they will vote these Republicans out of Congress again. But, Americans need to vote in real Democrats. Not conservatives masquerading as Democrats.

  10. Ironically, one of the best things that happened to the Republican Party is being teabagged. They have an ideological center once again.

    The Democratic Party has lost its ideological center. It is too willing to compromise on issue after issue after issue with the hopes of maintaining the "middle ground." Elections have become highly specialized strategic marketing.

  11. You pick your fights, there's no getting around that. But I'm not seeing Obama having the stomach for any fight. I think that's the potential difference I see with Clinton. But the grass is always greener, right?

    I saw the primaries differently. I thought Obama was more conservative than Clinton on several issues, but believed he had the ability to get things done. At the time he seemed a better bet of the two. But remember, I was an Edwards supporter, so I learned a good lesson there, too.

  12. And by the way, I'm sure I would be hating Clinton by now. At least I still love Obama in spite of his failures!

  13. Hard not to like Obama. I think he still holds onto the illusion that he can somehow mend the differences between the two parties, even if he has to drift to the right of center to do so. This is his character. It was forged in the Illinois state legislature and in the Senate.

    I don't remember Hillary being that much of a scrapper in the Senate. She seemed to go with the consensus, which is why I had no intention of voting for her in the primaries. But, I think a lot of disgruntled Democrats are remembering Hillary much differently.

  14. Clinton went with the flow because she had other ambitions. That's why her vote on the Iraq war, even without reading the intelligence, really turned me off.

    I voted for her husband the first time because I was confident he would put Robert Reich in his cabinet. I voted for him the second time because I was confident Hillary would do good work. I really did buy the two-for-one argument, although I saw him as the number two you got as part of the deal. I was very impressed with her then.

    Better get to work while I still have some to get to.

  15. I couldn't bring myself to vote for Clinton either time, or Bush or Dole. Variety of reasons. Hillary didn't make much of an impression on me either way, although I thought she was unduly vilified by the rightwingers.

    Quite ironic that they would be so "supportive" of her during the '08 primaries, to the point of crossing over in the open primaries to vote for her. Ohio and Texas both had open primaries, which I think helped her a great deal when her nomination bid appeared over.

  16. Funny story coming out of Wisconsin:

    Ya gotta love it.

  17. This has been an amazing story in Wisconsin -- Democrats actually fought back. But the media hasn't had much interest in it, which I suppose shouldn't surprise me.

    I made calls during the Supreme Court election since the election would (and eventually did) decide the outcome of the law denying workers the right to collectively bargain. I had hoped to make get-out-the-vote calls again today, but had to work, and right now I have to make every penny I can. I have tuition due! But I'll be glued to the t.v. tonight hoping the state shows Democrats how it's done!

  18. It is amazing to me that Wisconsin residents would vote any Republicans back into office after what they went through. Yet, three Republican incumbents survived their recalls.

  19. Seems the Repugs held onto their majority in the Senate,

    'tis a shame.

  20. Very sad results. It will be interesting to see what happens in Wisconsin -- if it will discourage those who came out by the thousands to try to stop Scott Walker.

    This is yet another case of people voting against their own self interest -- the public sector from police and firemen to teachers and people who plow the roads are really going to get hit hard now. Or maybe the republicans in the state (with Koch bros support) think they can do without all of that.

  21. I suppose if you look at the way the media has. Basically, the Dems went after Republicans on their turf, and took two out, yet the Republicans claim "victory," after having a 19-14 majority in the state senate trimmed to 17-16, pending the two Democratic recall elections, which I imagine the Dems will hold.

    So much for the "liberal" bias in the media.

  22. Actually, the Times had a very supportive editorial. But the lack of coverage generally does speak volumes, since people, including police and firemen, were taking to the streets.

    But it looks like the Democratic Party in Wisconsin isn't giving up -- they are going after Walker next year, which has him suddenly willing to talk to the other side. So that's a positive outcome.

    But you don't go into these fights thinking you're tilting at windmills, republican district or not. You go in hoping that most residents (of Wisconsin, of the nation) can _see_ what is going on and are willing to change course regardless of their party affiliation. Obviously that's not the case in some areas of Wisconsin. At least not yet.

    My favorite comment still comes from Arizona when they started cutting back on rest stops, and some republican who had to drive from Sun City to Phoenix without one said it was a plot to raise their taxes.... The choices (to me) are clear, but I'm not sure it was yet to the woman from Sun City.

  23. Death of a principled Republican:

    ''For me, the first word that comes to mind is "statesman." Senator Mark O. Hatfield, brought such a high standard of ethical leadership, dignity and respect to the public role with which he was entrusted. Unfortunately these qualities are too often missing in today's acrimonious political landscape ...

    ''In the 1960s, the Senator was among just a few in Congress who took a strong stand against the Viet Nam war. His principled position was the natural expression of his steadfast commitment to the value of human life. For Hatfield, his opposition to that war, as well as to capital punishment and abortion, came from this principle. ''

    Principle and honor ~ this is what is missing among politicians today.

  24. Unfortunately it isn't only politicians who are short on principles and honor. Let's be honest about this. The average citizen isn't much better.

  25. No question about that Rick.

    Today people talk about their ''rights''. But how often do you hear them talking about responsibility? It is a shame and a sad day & time for this society where so many talk about what they get get from everyone else without having to be contributive in any sense.

    A society that fails to live by solid pragmatic, utilitarian, and upright principles is one destined to succumb to its vices. History gives us plenty of examples where this has happened. Hopefully, it won't happen in the USA within my lifetime but it seems destined to happen eventually.

  26. Av, I'm glad to see that at least the Times saw it for what it was, an electoral defeat for the Republicans. I suppose the rest of the press was expecting a Democratic rout, so the Republicans holding onto their Senate majority was seen as a "victory."

    As far as priniples go, seems not much is left in the GOP, even Stockman thinks this year's crop of GOP candidates has "checked out of reality,"