Friday, May 27, 2016

Anti-Federalism and the 1992 Presidential Election

Anti-Federalism and the 1992 Presidential Election
P. Schultz

            Some of the Anti-Federalists imagined that government could be likened to a mechanical screw that, set above the people, from the outset starts to turn, moving ever downward onto the people and becoming, over time, more and more repressive until it becomes oppressive. Periodically, the people resist and the screw stops. However, this screw cannot be made to unwind and, so, when the people eventually become tired and relax, it begins its downward movement once again. Which is to say, as we know today, government is constantly screwing us, proving that when JFK asked, “What can you do for your country?”, he asked the wrong question. The right question was and is: What is your country/government doing to you? Or, in Anti-Federalist lingo: How is your country/government screwing you?

            A key event in the current screwing we are getting occurred in and after the 1992 presidential election, and this for two reasons. First, George Bush I lost, perhaps willingly, which (a) allowed him to pardon Caspar Weinberger and other Reagan/Bush personnel, some of whom had already been convicted, without political penalty thereby (b) laying to rest any further investigation, which was ongoing, of what was billed, inaccurately, as “the Iran-Contra scandal” just as it was leading toward exposing how those Reagan people, including George Bush and other former CIA people, had sabotaged the Carter presidency including his re-election chances by successfully undermining any resolution of the “hostage crisis” until Reagan was elected. This is what Ollie North was referring to, among other things, when he said that the Iran-Contra investigation was so confined that it missed other, far more troubling stuff than that which it investigated. And the new president, Bill Clinton, said soon after his election that his administration would not pursue that investigation because, among other things, Lawrence Walsh had been too “extreme” in his pursuit of the truth in these matters.

            And this brings me to the second reason that the 1992 presidential election was a crucial part of our current screwing. Clinton, a “New Democrat,” was elected, thereby helping to put to rest any chance that a genuinely liberal Democrat would or could rise to the top of “the New Democratic Party.” It might have been coincidence that the Republican right went after Clinton with a passion but even if it was, these attacks helped disguise the fact that Clinton was no liberal. These attacks culminated in an impeachment trial never meant to be successful but which made Clinton look like a victim of vindictive right-wingers, giving the impression that therefore he couldn’t be one too or have anything in common with them. These attacks allowed Clinton to establish “the New” in the Democratic Party as not being conservative even though his policies were about as conservative as the Republican Party’s mainstream members. That the Clintons are, even today, beloved by so many liberals illustrates the success of this strategy, as does the almost Bush-like character of Obama’s eight years. Obama is just another “New Democrat,” which explains why it is so difficult to distinguish his administration from Shrub’s administration. And, as Bill Clinton did with respect to Reagan and his administration – and even with respect to Richard Nixon – not an ill word has been or is to be spoken by Obama about Bush II. Of course, given the overlap between Obama’s presidency and that of Bush II, this makes perfect sense.

            So, 1992 was a key year in our recent political history and lends credence to the Anti-Federalist imaginings of government as a mechanical screw that slowly but surely represses the people. Because it was a year when the corruption of our then -  and current - regime was disguised and then dismissed, it was a year when our government and its caretakers seemed to be redeemed even while our screwing was ongoing. The current screw job even has a name to make it seem legitimate, “neoliberalism,” which has been embraced by the “New Democratic Party” who, really, are just Republicans pretending to care about LGBT people, universal health care, and protecting abortion and voting rights. However, Trump’s and Sanders’ popularity show that under this regime of collusion between our “two” parties, it is “We the People” who are getting screwed. And it also explains why both Trump and Sanders have been the targets of our ruling class.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trump and Presidential Standards

Trump and Presidential Standards
P. Schultz

            Donald Trump has been receiving a lot of attention, as he desires and as is necessary and fitting, and some of it is painting a picture of Mr. Trump that is less than flattering. Recently, articles have appeared calling attention to Trump’s alleged connections to the mob. Such articles have helped to lay the groundwork for Hillary Clinton claiming that Trump is not fit to be president.

            I would be one of the last people to argue that Trump is a man of good character. In fact, I think he is a rather despicable human being. However, in all fairness, it needs to be asked how Trump stacks up against others who sought the presidency in terms of character. After all, we need to be sure we aren’t using standards to judge Trump’s behavior that weren’t used in the past to judge other candidates seeking the presidency. And when we do this, it is quite interesting what emerges.

            Allow me to start with John F. Kennedy. Now, Kennedy claimed to have written a book, Profiles in Courage, which was, for the most part, written by his aide Ted Sorenson. In fact, Sorenson was given most the profits from the book, perhaps in the interest of keeping him satisfied. Moreover, while the book became a best seller, there are rumors that it did so because Kennedy’s father, Joe, had the book purchased in large numbers to obtain that rating.  And, finally, while the book won a Pulitzer Prize, it had originally not even been nominated and wasn’t considered for the prize until Joe Kennedy prevailed upon a friend, Arthur Krock, who was a long time member of the prize board, to have it nominated. When ABC TV aired a show with Mike Wallace interviewing Drew Pearson, who claimed that Kennedy was the only person he knew who had won a Pulitzer for a book ghostwritten for him, Joe Kennedy threatened to sue ABC for fifty million dollars! Wallace and Pearson stood by their story but ABC made a retraction and an apology.

            As far as connections to the mob, John F. Kennedy certainly had them. He was having sex with Judith Campbell, who was also the mistress of Sam Giancana and it seems pretty certain that Joe Kennedy was doing business with Giancana in the bootleg business during Prohibition. Moreover, during his presidency, the CIA used the mob to try to assassinate Fidel Castro, running what Lyndon Johnson called a “Murder, Inc.” out of the White House. That Kennedy was anything but averse to having those foreign leaders assassinated with whom he had disagreements is supported by the assassination of President Diem of South Vietnam a few weeks before Kennedy himself was assassinated. The Cuban operation, which was run by Robert Kennedy, was dubbed “Operation Mongoose.”

            Turning to LBJ, I cannot do better than Jonathan Cape did in his review of Robert Caro’s third volume of his LBJ biography, Master of the Senate. Let me quote him at length:

Lyndon Baines Johnson was a monster. Like many of his kind, he was driven by childhood demons, in this case the humiliation and insecurity suffered when his father lost the family ranch in Texas. He was corrupt, cruel, callous, crude, a vicious user of women, a bully of men and a shameless thief of elections. He sucked up to his superiors and kicked down on his inferiors. A favoured device to embarrass subordinates was obliging them to take his orders while he defecated. He liked to pee in the washbasin in his office in front of female secretaries and then wave his member about. Inordinately proud of his sexual apparatus, Johnson was given to bragging: 'Jumbo had a real workout tonight.'
He treated his devoted wife with abominable contempt. As Lady Bird sat next to them, he would thrust his hand up another woman's skirt. He was a physical coward who went to great lengths to avoid combat service in World War II. He was a moral coward. Fearing to be on the unpopular side of public hysteria during the Red Scare, he could have, but did not, mobilise opinion against Joseph McCarthy before that fascist had blighted the lives of thousands of innocent Americans.

            Now, is it any wonder that Johnson was capable as president when seeking election to the presidency in 1964 promising not to send American troops to fight in Vietnam while he was planning to do just that at the earliest opportunity? And how does Johnson’s character stack up against that of Donald Trump? It would seem, at the very least, that Johnson and Trump are cut from the same mold. 

            Then there is Richard Nixon. Nixon steered clear of the mob and corruption, so far as we know, although it is difficult to think that the “Nixon” that emerged during the Watergate scandal was a “new Nixon.” We do know now that Nixon worked to prevent an agreement on the Vietnam War between Johnson and the “North” Vietnamese, thereby extending the war and the captivity of our POWs he claimed later to care so much about. We also know that Nixon and Kissinger were willing to settle the war provided the “North” Vietnamese would grant an “interval” between the settlement and their taking over all of Vietnam, an “interval” that would allow Nixon to complete his two terms in office. 

            On a more personal note, Nixon apparently was something of an alcoholic, and it is often wondered how well he treated his wife, Pat. There are stories that he actually physically abused Pat, with at least one reporter claiming he had evidence of such abuse. In any case, it would difficult to hold Nixon up as an example of someone who displayed great character, character unlike that displayed by Trump. 

            And the next person in our panoply of presidents is Bill Clinton. Of course, we know that Clinton was unfaithful to his wife again and again, even cheating on her when he was president. Of course, in this, he was no different than Kennedy who also cheated on his wife, again and again, even doing so with more than one woman at the same time. Jackie Kennedy use to take the children away frequently in order to avoid these trysts, some of which took place in the White House. There are rumors that Clinton used cocaine and it is a fact that his brother, Roger, used cocaine. And Clinton successfully dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, about which he later lied or juggled the truth. And there is so much about Clinton that has raised red flags that it would be quite remarkable to contend that he and Trump are very different people when it comes to personal character. 

            And that brings us to George W. Bush, whom we know is an alcoholic and probably dabbled in cocaine in his younger years. He claims he reformed when he was “born again,” and I see no reason to doubt that he believes that. But I believe “Christ” came to him in the body of his wife, who told him to clean up his act or she was leaving. We also know that Bush got into the Texas National Guard by virtue of his father’s influence, not an uncommon phenomenon in those days when the Vietnam War was raging. We also know he got a DUI in Maine so it seems pretty certain that he was and is an alcoholic. In any case, his character does not seem to be so different from that of Trump in being questionable.

            This is not, as stated above, an endorsement of Trump, whom I take to be a despicable person. Rather, it is to illustrate that were Trump elected president, he wouldn’t be the first despicable person elected president. In fact, there have been several despicable people elected president just in my lifetime. I could go so far as to say that we are quite comfortable with despicable people in public office, the presidency included. And this is an interesting phenomenon, perhaps even more interesting than the Trump phenomenon.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Daniel J. Mahoney on Love, Seriously

Daniel J. Mahoney and the Progressive Apocalypse
P. Schultz

            Below you will find a link to an article written by Daniel J. Mahoney, once a colleague of mine at Assumption College, in which he argues that, yes, we should “love” democracy but only “moderately” so. And it is essential to our own well-being that we so “love” democracy because only in that way can our democracy be consistent with our “famil[ies], churches, the armed forces, and … universities,” institutions that “should not be endlessly democratized or subjected to social engineering. Democracy needs ‘extra-democratic’ institutions to flourish.”

This is the crux of Mahoneyism, as some call it, “that the ‘conservative foundations of the liberal order,’. . .[namely], healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth” are essential if we are to avoid a kind of “hubris” that makes we democrats think we are like the gods.

It is difficult to wonder why anyone would want to dispute Mahoney given that doing so seems to put one on the side of those who want to do away with a “healthy family life, a moral code rooted in religion and natural law, prudent and far-seeing statesmanship, the rule of law, a respect for legitimate institutions, love of truth. . . .”  But, apparently, at least as Mahoney understands them, this is precisely what the progressives want to do. As he summarizes progressive thought: “True democracy must move to the left, becoming ever more inclusive, tolerant, egalitarian, and relativistic. To realize the democratic ideal, we must reject antiquated truths and insist on extreme equality and unlimited personal choice (think “the right to choose” or the self-reinvention central to “gender theory”). In this view, there is no such thing as loving democracy (or liberty and equality) too much.”

But while I find Mahoney’s formulation of this debate humorous, even frivolous, and therefore not worth much attention, I have to ask two questions. First, where are these values, composing an “authoritative traditional framework,” to come from? From tradition? Well, that seems to be quite a weak link on which to hang the worth of our democracy. As Mahoney notices, the “Founders” themselves merely “presupposed” – that is, did nothing to provide for – such a “framework.” But what Mahoney apparently does not notice is that this “oversight” by the “Framers” was a result of their distrust of tradition as reflected by Hamilton’s rejection of ancient political thought and practice early on in the Federalist. The “Founders” claimed to embrace “a new science of politics,” one that made, I am convinced, traditional kinds of virtues, such as religious piety, seem unnecessary. And as Madison noted in a letter to Jefferson, defending the proposed Constitution, this was all to the good because religion had never, in Madison’s telling, proved to be a deterrent to tyranny, majority or otherwise.

The second question is this: Supposing we find a source for these values that makes them real, who in our pantheon of politicians will embrace them? Mahoney suggests that those who support “the millennial-old institution of marriage” will embrace them. But aren’t these the same politicians who are embracing American hegemony, and an hegemony based upon the idea that we can construct a military that can see everywhere, defend everywhere, and kill everywhere so that we can impose our will on the world? That is, Mahoney’s only example of the hubris he claims to be concerned with is those who would “rewrite the millennial-old institution of marriage by judicial fiat, ignoring nature, tradition, and biology, not to mention the sacred traditions of the West….” He ignores, completely, the hubris of those who, like our two Bush presidents, thought they could, by means of an overwhelmingly powerful military, create “a new world order.” He also ignores those who, like Dick Cheney, who said we would have to go to “the dark side” in order to create this new world order. But then perhaps “going to the dark side” is part of that “authoritative traditional framework” Mahoney is so enamored with.

Generally speaking, Mahoney doesn’t mention here – or elsewhere that I am aware of – a view of his hero Tocqueville according to which modern democracy is condemned, that it is the wave of the future, a virtual tsunami that will wipe away, gradually but certainly, the best of our humanity. This is Tocqueville “going to the dark side.” We can hope that if this is the best interpretation of Tocqueville, that he, Tocqueville, was wrong. But however that might be, it is certain that a debate about these “two Tocquevilles” and about their different takes on modern democracy would be far more worthwhile than “the debate” Mahoney would have us engage in.