Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fear & Loathing In Austin (And Everywhere Else)

Be very afraid, dear reader. The Butcher of Broadway (Frank Rich) writes a horrifying account of the nuts, Dumbos, and True Republican Witches (substitute a word that rhymes with "ditches" here) in our midst. This blogger lives on a hilltop less than two miles from the IRS office that was the target of Andrew Joseph Stack III's kamikaze attack on February 18. 2010. If there is a Hell, may Stack, and all of the Dumbos and crazies depicted below, burn there for eternity. To paraphrase Leonard Pitts, Jr. on 9/12/2001: "You monsters. You beasts. You unspeakable bastards [and bitches]." Know that these words are intended for Glenn Dreck, Ron Paul, the Former Governor of Alaska, True Republican Women, and Dumbos everywhere. The POTUS (44) should emulate Andrew Jackson who faced secessionist and nullifyer treason in South Carolina in the early 1830s. Old Hickory threatened to come to the Palmetto State with enough rope to fill the trees of South Carolina with traitors dancing at the ends of as many nooses as necessary. ("There's an empty tree. Hang the sumbitch!") The secessionists should have faced firing squads or the gallows after the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865) and there would be fewer loons — like Governor Goodhair (R-TX) — speaking of secession today. If this is (fair & balanced) white-hot rage, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Axis Of The Obsessed And Deranged
By Frank Rich

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No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, TX, on February 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. (Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.) The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.

The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.

The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president. As George F. Will recently pointed out, Palin will not even be the G.O.P. nominee “unless the party wants to lose at least 44 states” (as it did in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Waterloo). But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism. This ideology is far more troubling than the boilerplate corporate conservatism and knee-jerk obstructionism of the anti-Obama G.O.P. Congressional minority.

In the days after Stack’s Austin attack, the gradually coalescing Tea Party dogma had its Washington coming out party at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), across town from Capitol Hill. The most rapturously received speaker was Beck, who likened the G.O.P. to an alcoholic in need of a 12-step program to recover from its “progressive-lite” collusion with federal government. Beck vilified an unnamed Republican whose favorite president was the progressive Theodore Roosevelt — that would be McCain — and ominously labeled progressivism a cancer that “must be cut out of the system.”

A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation. Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged. At the conference’s conclusion, a presidential straw poll was won by Congressman Paul [R-TX], ending a three-year Romney winning streak. No less an establishment conservative observer than the Wall Street Journal editorialist Dorothy Rabinowitz describes Paul’s followers as “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged.”

William Kristol dismissed the straw poll results as the youthful folly of Paul’s jejune college fans. William Bennett gingerly pooh-poohed Beck’s anti-G.O.P. diatribe. But in truth, most of the CPAC speakers, including presidential aspirants, were so eager to ingratiate themselves with this claque that they endorsed the Beck-Paul vision rather than, say, defend Bush, McCain or the party’s Congressional leadership. (It surely didn’t help Romney’s straw poll showing that he was the rare Bush defender.) And so — just one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office — the heretofore milquetoast former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”

Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it. Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives. In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”

In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history. In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, [Republicans] Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.

In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”

Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now. Ω

[Frank Rich is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times who writes a weekly 1500-word essay on the intersection of culture and news. Rich has been at the paper since 1980. His columns and articles for the Week in Review, the Arts & Leisure section and the Magazine draw from his background as a theater critic (known as "The Butcher Of Broadway") and observer of art, entertainment and politics. Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (2007). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Saturday, February 27, 2010


To paraphrase the Bard, we live in a time of tales told by an idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. First, Glenn Dreck babbles nonsense (swallowed whole by the Dumbos and their Tea Party fellow-travelers) about Progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. See Jon Stewart's priceless skewering of Dreck here. Then, one of the idiots appointed to review 5th-grade history textbooks for the State Board of Education of Texas, evangelical minister Peter Marshall, proclaimed "To have César Chávez listed next to Ben Franklin" — in the current textbooks — "is ludicrous." The only ludicrous figure in 2010 is the Reverend Mr. Peter Marshall. Read Richard Rodriguez's essay about César Chávez and decide for yourself: stupidity or good history? If this is (fair & balanced) fury at idiotic babbling, so be it.

[x WQ]
Saint Cesar Of Delano
By Richard Rodriguez

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The funeral for Cesar Chavez took place in an open field near Delano, a small agricultural town at the southern end of California’s Central Valley. I remember an amiable Mexican disorder, a crowd listening and not listening to speeches and prayers delivered from a raised platform beneath a canvas tent. I do not remember a crowd numbering 30,000 or 50,000, as some estimates have it — but then I do not remember. Perhaps a cool, perhaps a warm spring sun. Men in white shirts carried forward a pine box. The ease of their movement suggested the lightness of their burden.

When Cesar Chavez died in his sleep in 1993, not yet a very old man at 66, he died — as he had so often portrayed himself in life — as a loser. The United Farm Workers (UFW) union he had co founded was in decline; the union had 5,000 members, equivalent to the population of one very small Central Valley town. The labor in California’s agricultural fields was largely taken up by Mexican migrant workers — the very workers Chavez had been unable to reconcile to his American union, whom he had branded “scabs” and wanted reported to immigration authorities.

I went to the funeral because I was writing a piece on Chavez for The Los Angeles Times. It now occurs to me that I was present at a number of events involving Cesar Chavez. I was a teenager at the edge of the crowd in 1966, when Chavez led UFW marchers to the steps of the capitol in Sacramento to generate support for a strike against grape growers. A few years later, I went to hear him speak at Stanford University. I can recall everything about the occasion except why I was there. I remember a golden light of late afternoon; I remember the Reverend [Mr.] Robert McAfee Brown introducing Cesar Chavez. Something about Chavez embarrassed me. It was as though someone from my family had turned up at Stanford to lecture undergraduates on the hardness of a Mexican’s life. I stood at the back of the room. I did not join in the standing ovation. I would not give him anything. And yet, of course, there was something compelling about his homeliness.

In her thoroughly researched and thoroughly unsentimental book The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement, journalist Miriam Pawel chronicles the lives of a collection of ­people — farm workers, idealistic college students, young East Coast lawyers, a Presbyterian minister, and others — who gave years of their lives at subsistence pay to work for the UFW. By the end of her book, every person Pawel profiles has left the union — has been fired or has quit in disgust or frustration. Nevertheless, it is not beside the point to notice that Cesar Chavez inspired such a disparate, devoted company.

We easily forget that the era we call “the Sixties” was not only a time of vast civic disaffection; it was also a time of religious idealism. At the forefront of what amounted to the religious revival of America in those years were the black Protestant ministers of the civil rights movement, ministers who insisted upon a moral dimension to the rituals of everyday American life — eating at a lunch counter, riding a bus, going to school.

Cesar Chavez similarly cast his campaign for better wages and living conditions for farm workers as a religious movement. He became for many Americans, especially Mexican Americans (my parents among them), a figure of spiritual authority. I remember a small brown man with an Indian aspect leading labor protests that were also medieval religious processions of women, children, nuns, college students, burnt old men — under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

By the time he had become the most famous Mexican American anyone could name—his face on the cover of Time — the majority of Mexican Americans lived in cities, far from the tragic fields of California’s Central Valley that John Steinbeck had made famous a generation before. Mexican Americans were more likely to work in construction or in service-sector jobs than in the fields.

Cesar Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927. During the hardscrabble years of his youth, he dropped out of school to work in the fields of Arizona and California. As a young man he accumulated an autodidact’s library. He read books on economics, philosophy, history. (Years later, Chavez was apt to quote Winston Churchill at UFW staff meetings.) He studied the black civil rights movement, particularly the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. He studied most intently the lives and precepts of St. Francis of Assisi and Mohandas Gandhi.

It is heartening to learn about private acts of goodness in notorious lives. It is discouraging to learn of the moral failures of famously good people. The former console. But to learn that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was a womanizer is to be confronted with the knowledge that flesh is a complicated medium for grace. To learn that there were flaws in the character of Cesar Chavez is again to test the meaning of a good life. During his lifetime, Chavez was considered by many to be a saint. Pawel is writing outside the hagiography, but while reading her book, I found myself wondering about the nature of sanctity. Saints? Holiness? I apologize for introducing radiant nouns.

The first portrait in The Union of Their Dreams is of Eliseo Medina. At the advent of the UFW, Eliseo was a shy teenager, educated only through the eighth grade. Though he was not confident in English, Medina loved to read El Malcriado, the feisty bilingual weekly published by the UFW. He remembered that his life changed the Thursday night he went to hear Chavez in the social hall of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Delano. He was “disappointed by the leader’s unimpressive appearance.” But by the end of the evening, he had determined to join the union.

No Chavez speech I have read or heard approaches the rhetorical brilliance of the Protestant ministers of the black civil rights movement. Chavez was, however, brilliantly theatrical. He seemed to understand, the way Charlie Chaplin understood, how to make an embarrassment of himself— his mulishness, his silence, his witness. His presence at the edge of a field was a blight of beatitude.

Chavez studied the power of abstinence. He internalized his resistance to injustice by refusing to eat. What else can a poor man do? Though Chavez had little success encouraging UFW volunteers to follow his example of fasting, he was able to convince millions of Americans (as many as 20 million, by some estimates) not to buy grapes or lettuce.

Farmers in the Central Valley were bewildered to find themselves roped into a religious parable. Indeed, Valley growers, many of them Catholics, were distressed when their children came home from parochial schools and reported that Chavez was used as a moral exemplum in religion class.

At a time in the history of American entrepreneurialism when Avis saw the advantage of advertising itself as “Number Two” and Volkswagen sold itself as the “bug,” Chavez made the smallness of his union, its haphazardness, a kind of boast. In 1968, during his most publicized fast to support the strike of grape pickers, Chavez issued this statement (he was too weak to read aloud): “Those who oppose our cause are rich and powerful and they have many allies in high places. We are poor. Our allies are few.”

Chavez ended his 1968 fast in a tableau that was rich with symbol and irony. Physically diminished (in photographs his body seems unable to sustain an erect, seated position), he was handed bread (sacramental ministration after his trial in the desert) by Chris Hartmire, the Presbyterian minister who gave so much of his life to serving Chavez and his union. The Protestant activist was feeding the Catholic ascetic. Alongside Chavez sat Robert F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator from New York. The poor and the meek also have allies in high places.

Here began a conflict between deprivation and success that would bedevil Chavez through three decades. In a way, this was a struggle between the Mexican Cesar Chavez and the American Cesar Chavez. For it was Mexico that taught Chavez to value a life of suffering. It was America that taught him to fight the causes of suffering.

The speech Chavez had written during his hunger strike of 1968, wherein he compared the UFW to David fighting Goliath, announced the Mexican theme: “I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non- violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men.” (Nearly three decades later, in the program for Chavez’s funeral, the wording of his psalm was revised — “humanity” substituted for “manliness”: To be human is to suffer for others. God help me to be human.)

Nothing else Chavez would write during his life had such haunting power for me as this public prayer for a life of suffering; no utterance would sound so Mexican. Other cultures in the world assume the reality of suffering as something to be overcome. Mexico assumes the inevitability of suffering. That knowledge informs the folk music of Mexico, the bitter humor of its proverbs, the architecture of its stoicism. To be a man is to suffer for others. The code of machismo (which in American English translates too crudely to sexual bravado) in Mexico derives from a medieval chivalry whereby a man uses his strength to protect those less powerful. God help us to be men.

Mexicans believe that in 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared in brown skin, in royal Aztec raiment, to a converted Indian peasant named Juan Diego. The Virgin asked that a church be erected on the site of her four apparitions so that Mexican Indians could come to her and tell her of their suffering. Our Lady of Guadalupe was a part of every UFW demonstration.

Though he grew up during the American Depression, Chavez breathed American optimism and American activism. In the early 1950s, while still a farm worker, he met Fred Ross of the Community Service Organization, a group inspired by the principles of the radical organizer Saul Alinsky. Chavez later became an official in the CSO, and eventually its president. He persuaded notoriously apathetic Mexican Americans to register to vote by encouraging them to believe they could change their lives in America.

If you would understand the tension between Mexico and the United States that is playing out along our mutual border, you must understand the psychic tension between Mexican stoicism — if that is a rich enough word for it— and American optimism. On the one side, Mexican peasants are tantalized by the American possibility of change. On the other side, the tyranny of American optimism has driven Americans to neurosis and depression — when the dream is elusive or less meaningful than the myth promised. This constitutes the great irony of the Mexican-American border: American sadness has transformed the drug lords of Mexico into billionaires, even as the peasants of Mexico scramble through the darkness to find the American dream.

By the late 1960s, as the first UFW contracts were being signed, Chavez began to brood. Had he spent his poor life only to create a middle class? Lionel Steinberg, the first grape grower to sign with the UFW, was drawn by Chavez’s charisma but chagrined at the union’s disordered operations. “Is it a social movement or a trade union?” Steinberg wondered. He urged Chavez to use experienced negotiators from the AFL-CIO.

Chavez paid himself a subsistence annual wage of $5,000. “You can’t change anything if you want to hold onto a good job, a good way of life, and avoid suffering.” The world-famous labor leader would regularly complain to his poorly paid staff about the phone bills they ran up and about what he saw as the misuse of a fleet of second-hand UFW cars. He held the union hostage to the purity of his intent. Eliseo Medina, who had become one of the union’s most effective organizers, could barely support his young family and, without even the prospect of establishing a savings account, asked Chavez about setting up a trust fund for his infant son. Chavez promised to get back to him but never did. Shortly after, discouraged by the mismanagement of the union, Medina resigned.

In 1975, Chavez helped to pass legislation prohibiting the use of the short-handled hoe — its two-foot-long haft forced farm workers to stoop all day. That achievement would outlast the decline of his union. By the early 1970s, California vegetable growers had begun signing sweetheart contracts with the rival Teamsters Union. The UFW became mired in scraps with unfriendly politicians in Sacramento. Chavez’s attention wandered. He imagined a “Poor Peoples Union” that would reach out to senior citizens and people on welfare. He contacted church officials within the Vatican about the possibility of establishing a religious society devoted to service to the poor. He grew interested in the Hutterite communities of North America and the Israeli kibbutzim as possible models.

Chavez visited Synanon, the drug rehabilitation commune headed by Charles Dederich, shortly before some of its members were implicated in a series of sexual scandals and criminal assaults. Chavez borrowed from Synanon a version of a disciplinary practice called “the Game,” whereby UFW staff members were obliged to stand in the middle of a circle of peers and submit to fierce criticism. Someone sympathetic to Chavez might argue that the Game was an inversion of an ancient monastic discipline meant to teach humility. Someone less sympathetic might conclude that Chavez was turning into a petty tyrant. I think both estimations are true.

From his reading, Chavez would have known that St. Francis of Assisi desired to imitate the life of Jesus. The followers of Francis desired to imitate the life of Francis. Within 10 years of undertaking his mendicant life, Francis had more than 1,000 followers. Francis realized he could not administer a growing religious order by personal example. He relinquished the administration of the Franciscans to men who had some talent for organization. Cesar Chavez never gave up his position as head of the UFW.

In 1977 Chavez traveled to Manila as a guest of President Ferdinand Marcos. He ended up praising the old dictator. There were darker problems within the UFW. It was rumored that some within the inner circle were responsible for a car crash that left Cleofas Guzman, an apostate union member, with permanent brain damage.

Chavez spent his last years protesting the use of pesticides in the fields. In April of 1993, he died.

In death, Cesar Chavez became a Mexican saint and an American hero. The year after his death, Chavez was awarded the National Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a 37-cent stamp bearing the image of Cesar Chavez. Politicians throughout the West and the Southwest attached Chavez’s name to parks and schools and streets and civic buildings of every sort.

In 1997 American painter Robert Lentz, a Franciscan brother, painted an icon of “Cesar Chavez of California.” Chavez is depicted with a golden halo. He holds in his hand a scrolled broadsheet of the U.S. Constitution. He wears a pink sweatshirt bearing the UFW insignia.

That same year, executives at the advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day came up with a campaign for Apple computers that featured images of some famous dead — John Lennon, Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra — alongside a grammar-crunching motto: THINK DIFFERENT.

I remember sitting in bad traffic on the San Diego Freeway and looking up to see a photograph of Cesar Chavez on a billboard. His eyes were downcast. He balanced a rake and a shovel over his right shoulder. In the upper-left-­hand corner was the corporate logo of a bitten apple. Ω

[Richard Rodriguez, an editor with New America Media in San Francisco, is the author of Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002) and Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father (1992). Hunger of Memory, Rodriguez's autobiography (and first book), was greeted with great acclaim upon its publication in 1982. The book won several awards, including the Gold Medal for non-fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California, the Christopher Prize for Autobiography, and the Ansfeld-Wolf Prize for Civil Rights from the Cleveland Foundation. Rodriguez is a graduate of Stanford University and spent two years in a religious studies program at Columbia University.]

Copyright © 2010 The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Friday, February 26, 2010

The USA Is Exceptional! Exceptionally Stupid!

In the following essay, Professor Damon Linker notes that Tocqueville wrote, in Democracy in America, that Americans were prone to “the perpetual utterance of self-applause.” Many centuries before Tocqueville wrote his critique of our national stupidity, a Zen master asked: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" This nation deserves the sound of single-handed round of applause for the nonsense that morning comes only in this country. The only unique thing about the Land O'The Free and The Home O'The Brave is that it is filled with so many stupid people aka Dumbos. If this is the (fair & balanced) sound of silence, so be it.

[x TNR]
Taking Exception
By Damon Linker

Every now and then a piece of writing captures the mood of the moment and the essence of an ideology so completely that it warrants special attention. This is certainly the case with “An Exceptional Debate: The Obama Administration’s Assault on American Identity,” an essay (and cover story) by Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in the March 8 issue of National Review. Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original. It is so widely held and so frequently asserted on the right, in fact, that it can almost be described as conservative conventional wisdom. Still, NR’s treatment of the subject stands out. Lowry and Ponnuru aim for comprehensiveness, and they maintain a measured, thoughtful tone throughout their essay, marshalling a wide range of historical evidence for their thesis and making well-timed concessions to contrary arguments. It’s hard to imagine this key conservative claim receiving a more cogent and rhetorically effective defense. Which is precisely what makes the essay’s shortcomings so striking. While its authors clearly mean it to stand as a manifesto for a resurgent conservative moment, the essay far more resembles a lullaby—a comforting compilation of consoling pieties set to a soothingly familiar melody. The perfect soundtrack to a peaceful snooze.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with definitions. Lowry and Ponnuru aim to convince their readers that the President of the United States denies the idea that lies at the core of American identity: that the country is exceptional. But what makes America exceptional? This is what the authors tell us: Americans affirm a creed that upholds “liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.” These principles then combine with “other aspects of the American character—especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force—to form the core of American exceptionalism.”

Some of this is faintly ridiculous. (Is anything less exceptional in human history than a country’s willingness to defend itself by force?) As for the rest, it’s either a string of American banalities and clichés—or an abstract of the Republican Party platform. The next several paragraphs of the essay make it very clear that it’s the latter. That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru expect their readers to believe that what makes our country exceptional is that large numbers of Americans affirm the ideology of the modern conservative movement. But that’s not quite right. Through long stretches of the essay they go much further—to imply that America is exceptional because the nation’s creed is the ideology of the modern conservative movement.

Follow the bouncing ball: the fact that “a profit-seeking company” founded Jamestown and that Puritan merchants wrote “In the name of God and of profit” at the top of their ledgers; that, in a “telling coincidence,” Adam Smith’s “free-market classic” The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence; that Benjamin Franklin’s name “comes from the Middle English meaning freeman, someone who owns some property”; that Abraham Lincoln supposedly hated few things more than “economic stasis”—all of these and many other anecdotes are supposed to add up to an endorsement of “the American economic gospel” (read: libertarian economic gospel) about “wealth and its creation.” Meanwhile, other cherry-picked facts in later paragraphs serve to highlight the American fondness for democratic elections, the country’s incorrigible patriotism and religiosity, and its “missionary impulse” to “export our model of liberty” to the world, often at the point of a gun.

If Lowry and Ponnuru merely wished to trace the origins of several influential strands of economic and political thinking in American history—the strands that the modern conservative movement has woven into a politically potent ideological tapestry—the story they tell would be unobjectionable, if a little quirky in its emphases. But that is not their aim at all. What Lowry and Ponnuru want to accomplish is something far more pernicious—namely, to relegate contrary voices in our national narrative to the periphery of our history, and perhaps even to read them out of our history altogether.

It’s a very old ideological trick—one that conservatives have mastered over the past several decades. From Allan Bloom blaming the campus violence of the 1960s on Heidegger’s Rektoratsrede to Sarah Palin’s twangy tributes to the folksy wisdom of average Americans, it has been deployed in various idioms for various purposes over the years. But the picture it presents is always the same. On one side of an unbridgeable divide stand true Americans, devoted to God and country, liberty and virtue; on the other is an insidious assortment of liberals, leftists, radicals, secularists, and foreigners. Yes, foreigners. At its most effective, the narrative has always traced the origins of national corruption not to an aspect of American history or culture but rather to the influence of harmful foreign ideas.

That’s why halfway through their essay Lowry and Ponnuru veer off on an otherwise inexplicable disquisition on European critics of the United States, which they then identify as the source of virtually any argument or political position that has diverged from the ideology of modern conservatism. Jane Addams, Herbert Croly, New Deal economist Stuart Chase—all of them, and many more, failed to understand and appreciate America’s exceptional character and sought to replace it with “the best innovations of the modern dictatorial movements taking over in Europe” during the 1920s and ‘30s. That’s America for you: Members of the modern conservative movement squared off against the European-inspired liberal fascists, forever searching in desperation for “a foreign template to graft onto America.” If only the latter could be convinced not to hate—let alone to like or love—their country. But alas....

It should be clear by now where Lowry and Ponnuru believe Barack Obama’s presidency has gone wrong. Instead of patriotically affirming the American exceptionalist creed—instead, that is, of governing like a Republican—he’s placed our national character “under threat” and set out “to change the country fundamentally.” Liberalism necessitates such radical change because liberals give their allegiance not to the country they actually inhabit but rather “to a hypothetical, pure country that is coming into being”—an ideal that looks suspiciously like the sclerotic welfare states of continental Europe. And that's the danger—that in pursuing a liberal public policy agenda, which amounts to a “rush to social democracy,” the president will succeed in making us “less free, less innovative, less rich, less self-governing, and less secure”—in sum, less American. While Lowry and Ponnuru generously admit that it is “madness to consider President Obama a foreigner,” they nonetheless insist that “it is blindness to ignore that American exceptionalism has homegrown enemies”—enemies such as the president of the United States.

But of course there is far more to America than is dreamt of Lowry and Ponnuru’s ideologically inspired homily. Take their risible charge that liberal patriotism is defective because it sometimes puts more faith in the American future than in its past or present. Nowhere in their 5,000-word article do Lowry and Ponnuru acknowledge that significant numbers of Americans—very much including the current occupant of the White House—have very good historical reasons to feel something less than uncomplicated delight in the country’s past.

Yes, America’s principles are admirable, and the vast majority of liberals admire them deeply. But it is most certainly not the case, as Lowry and Ponnuru piously write, that America’s creed of liberty—including the principle of equality of opportunity and respect—was “open to all” from the beginning. On the contrary, it was closed to many until quite recently. Indeed, it remains nearly closed to this day in the impoverished, blighted ghettos of West Philadelphia, just blocks from my office at the University of Pennsylvania, where thousands of pampered students live and study in a profoundly different world—one structured to provide them with all the knowledge and skills they’ll need to take full advantage of the countless unequal opportunities that our country places before them.

Like many conservatives, Lowry and Ponnuru appear to be untroubled by the chasm that separates these two worlds. Sure, it’s a source of “political tension.” But it’s nothing to be overly concerned about, because, they tell us, a 2003 Gallup poll showed that “31 percent of Americans expect to get rich, including 51 percent of young people and more than 20 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 year.” That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru think it’s a very good thing indeed that millions of Americans are deluded about their future life prospects—in fact, these senior editors of National Review give every indication of hoping to perpetuate the delusion.

And let’s face it: they have a point. The United States would not benefit from the kind of social and political unrest that would follow from the shattering of its citizens’ economic pipe dreams. Conservatives like Lowry and Ponnuru respond to this fact by upholding the fiction that America has always been a land of equal opportunity for all. Liberals respond by crafting policies that they hope will bring the country into closer conformity to the ideal of equal opportunity for all. That’s one way to define the division of labor that separates our nation’s parties at this moment in our history. What should disgust all historically informed citizens is the smarmy and ignorant insinuation that the liberal response—the one that seeks to make the United States a fairer and freer nation for more of its citizens—is something less than authentically American.

Lowry and Ponnuru are right about one thing: liberal love for the United States is complicated by criticism. And that appears to be something the right simply cannot abide, or perhaps even understand. How else to explain the bizarre passage of their essay in which Lowry and Ponnuru slam President Obama for failing to “defend the country’s honor” when a foreign critic “brought up the Bay of Pigs” during an overseas trip? Apparently “acknowledging that America has been a force for good” in the world, as Obama did, is not enough. The man who leads the nation that is by almost any measure indisputably the most powerful on earth must go further—to make a fool of himself and the country by defending an escapade from half-a-century ago that nearly everyone acknowledges was an embarrassing blunder. But that’s not all. According to Lowry and Ponnuru, he must also robustly defend American exceptionalism—and thus American moral superiority—before foreign audiences, evidently because it’s the president’s duty to provoke anger and resentment, and thus opposition to our global leadership, around the world.

Lots of conservatives turned on George W. Bush by the end of his presidency. But here we see that if Bush didn’t exist, the right would have had to invent him. His proud parochialism, his simple-minded and insecure suspicion of intelligence, his swaggering self-righteousness—all of it is the natural expression of contemporary conservatism's outlook on the world.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a hero to many on the right, noted with concern nearly two centuries ago that Americans were prone to “the perpetual utterance of self-applause.” For all of his prescience, I suspect the great Frenchman would be surprised and disappointed to find that all these years later, at a time when the country faces daunting long-term challenges, one of the nation's two governing ideologies has come to define itself by its singular dedication to the proposition that the standing ovation never stop. Ω

[Damon Linker blogs about religion, culture, and politics for The New Republic and teaches writing, religious studies, and political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Theocons (2006) and The Religious Test: Six Political Commandments for Believers and Atheists (forthcoming in 2010). His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He formerly edited a monthly opinion journal (First Things) and wrote speeches for New York’s Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Linker studied history, philosophy, and writing at Ithaca College, graduating with a BA in 1991. He went on to earn an MA in European history from New York University and a Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University.]

Copyright © 2010 The New Republic

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

To Hell With The TX SBOE's Public School Textbook Committee! Anne Hutchinson, Not TRW!

Anne Hutchinson was stricken from a list of “significant colonial leaders” in a proposed fifth grade history textbook by a Textbook Committee appointed by the State Board of Education of Texas. Give this blogger Anne Hutchinson any day of the week over the True Republican Women on the SBOE of Texas! True Republican Women include the former Governor of Alaska and her breed. True Republican Woman include Senator Kay B.(lah Blah) Hutchinson (no kin to Anne) and her erstwhile Libertarian/Republican opponent in the race to succeed Dumbo Governor Goodhair. Like all True Republican Women, Blah Blah Hutchinson and Debra (Truther and Birther) Medina are b-words (rhymes with "witches") and aren't fit to carry Anne Hutchinson's garter belt (the distaff version of a jock). A plague on the Reverend Mr. Peter Marshall (mentioned below) and his True Republican Women ilk. If this is (fair & balanced) cheer for heresy, so be it.

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Heresy Is A Cradle
By Arthur Goldwag

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“Heresy is the eternal dawn, the morning star, the glittering herald of the day. … It is the perpetual New World, the unknown sea, toward which the brave all sail. It is the eternal horizon of progress. …Heresy is a cradle; orthodoxy, a coffin.”—Robert Green Ingersoll

In the perpetually new world that is America, orthodoxy is never more than a temporary consensus. Yesterday’s heresy is today’s revelation—and today’s revelation is tomorrow’s worn out creed. Most great religious movements begin as heresies; when they cease to inspire, they are either revivified or supplanted by new heresies.

However reviled and despised their ideas might be, heretics—important historical ones like Pelagius, Martin Luther, and Giordano Bruno, and obscure contemporary sectarians like Marie-Paule Giguère, the self-styled reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and the founder of The Community of the Lady of All Nations, aka the Army of Mary—aren’t nihilists or wishy-washy relativists; they are believers par excellence. “In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic,” G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book Heretics. “It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics. He was orthodox.”

Heretics was published in 1905, when Victorian certainties were being sharply questioned, when Marxism, Freudianism, Einsteinian relativity, and esthetic modernism were turning the known world upside down—and when traditional belief had become a kind of heresy in its own right. A practicing Catholic and an eloquent and witty apologist for the prerogatives of mystery, Chesterton understood that the torture chambers of the Inquisition had no place in the modern world, but he feared that the age of reason was engendering horrors of its own that would beggar the imagination of a Torquemada.

Chesterton believed in original sin, but he also believed in redemption and grace. “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason,” he wrote. “The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” For Chesterton, the particulars of orthodoxy—or for that matter of a heresy—mattered less than the all-pervading sense of seriousness that it engendered: the conviction that right and wrong were real things that genuinely existed. To be a heretic was to say no to moral complacency, to refuse to compromise one’s other-worldly ideals for the kingdoms of this world.

Consider Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), whose arguments with mainstream Puritanism made her, at one time, the most hated woman in America. “Your opinions fret like a gangrene and spread like a leprosy, and infect far and near, and will eat out the very bowels of religion,” her erstwhile teacher Minister John Cotton admonished her, as she was excommunicated from the Church of Boston and consigned to the mercies of the wilderness. The Puritans celebrated when they received word of her death seven years later; its grisly circumstances—she and more than a dozen members of her household, including six of her fifteen children, were scalped by an Indian war party—were regarded as wondrous evidence of divine providence.

American history textbooks usually describe Anne Hutchinson as a martyr to Puritan narrow-mindedness, as an early—perhaps the first—American feminist, and a courageous champion of civil liberty and religious tolerance. There is a germ of truth in this description of her, but it does justice neither to her nor her persecutors.

The controversy that brought about Anne Hutchinson’s expulsion from Boston revolved around questions that had been roiling Christianity since its beginnings: Did good works play any role in one’s salvation, or was salvation something unmerited and unearned, a gift freely bestowed by God through Christ? If human beings are so steeped in sin that only Christ can redeem them, do they cease to be human when and if they’re saved? Since obedience to the law doesn’t earn one grace, does breaking the law cause grace to be forfeited?

Those who answer this last question in the negative are called Antinomians. The word (which means “against the law”) was coined by Martin Luther to describe the errors of his student Johannes Agricola, who argued that believing Christians might abandon every scruple without any risk to their souls. “Art thou steeped in sin, an adulterer or a thief?” he asked. “If thou believest, thou art in salvation. All who follow Moses must go to the Devil.”

Most of the particulars of Hutchinson’s alleged doctrinal errors, wrapped as they are in obscurities, are difficult for modern readers to grasp. “Theological controversies are as a rule among the most barren of the many barren fields of historic research,” Charles Francis Adams wrote in his classic Three Episodes of Massachusetts History (1892), “and the literature of which they were so fruitful may, so far as the reader of to-day is concerned, best be described by the single word impossible.” With offhand condescension, Adams portrayed Hutchinson as an irritatingly superior busybody, a bored housewife who took a dislike to her ministers and got in over her head. “She knew much,” he sniffed, “But she talked out of all proportion to her knowledge. She had thought a good deal, and by no means clearly; having not infrequently mistaken words for ideas.”

Though the Puritans feared Antinomianism, they didn’t really believe that Hutchinson, the deeply pious mother of fifteen children, was an advocate of free love or lawlessness. But Massachusetts’s ministers keenly resented her imputation that they themselves were in error, that if they showed their flocks a way, as she put it, “it was a way to hell.” What infuriated the Puritans the most wasn’t how Hutchinson parsed this or that doctrine (when push came to shove, she would formally abjure her most extreme positions), but her implacable self-certainty. She was convinced that her way was the Godliest—God himself had told her so.

During one of her trials, she told the court how God had urged her to leave England and go to Massachusetts, where, Daniel-like, she would triumph over her ungodly persecutors.

“And see this Scripture fulfilled this day in mine eyes,” she prophesied from the dock, “Therefore take heed what ye go about to do unto me, for you have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm, for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah my Savior, I am at his appointment, the bounds of my habitation are cast in Heaven, no further do I esteem of any mortal man, then creatures in his hand, I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands, therefore take heed how you proceed against me; for I know that for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity, and this whole State.”

Where had Anne Hutchinson learned such an outrageous idea—that a person can be in direct communion with God? From the Bible; from the promptings of her heart. Minister John Cotton—who would later condemn her so severely—had taught her that the inward dwelling Spirit of Christ was more than a mere metaphor or abstraction. “It is not you that speak (and consequently not you that think or do),” he had written, “But the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.”

Just as Antinomianism wasn’t something that Hutchinson had cooked up on her own, but an ineluctable (if morally and philosophically problematic) corollary of the doctrine of Justification by Grace Alone, there was ample biblical precedent for Hutchinson’s conviction that she could hear God’s voice. When the court demanded that she tell them how she knew that it was God who spoke to her and not the Devil, she answered with a question of her own: “How did Abraham know that it was the voice of God, when he commanded him to sacrifice his son?”

During the years of her exile, Hutchinson became a Seeker, a radical variant of Puritanism that held that all churches were false and that questioned the existence of the Trinity—but that believed in the inward dwelling spirit of Christ. Many Seekers would join George Fox’s Society of Friends, whose members the Puritans would persecute as zealously as they did Anne Hutchinson, imprisoning, banishing, and even executing them.

Charles Francis Adams might have deprecated the theological importance of the Antinomian Controversy, yet he acknowledged that it was a seminal event in American history—“the first of the many New England quickenings in the direction of social, intellectual and political development.” Hutchinson, he wrote, for all her foibles, was “the great prototype” of a New England Transcendentalist.

In a lecture at Boston’s Masonic Temple in 1842, Ralph Waldo Emerson defined the Transcendentalist as one who:

Adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration and in ecstasy. He wishes that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end, in all possible applications to the state of man, without the admission of anything unspiritual; that is anything positive, dogmatic, personal.

Hutchinson had all of Emerson’s interiority, not to mention the passion of a Margaret Fuller and the principled civil disobedience of a Henry David Thoreau. But she didn’t share their broadmindedness, their universalist spirit. If Hutchinson’s faith in her own divinity anticipated their mystic raptures, she was still a Calvinist to the core, convinced of humankind’s innate depravity. The Transcendentalists’ talk of Oversoul and Godhead and Brahma would have mystified and very likely scandalized her.

But three and a half centuries after her death, she still has the power to inspire—and, just as she did in her own day, to drive some people crazy. Just as I began to write these pages, a story broke in the news about the Public School Textbook Committee that was recently appointed in Texas. One of its members, Peter Marshall (whose eponymous ministry is “dedicated to helping to restore America to its Bible-based foundations”), objected when a proposed fifth grade history textbook included Anne Hutchinson in a list of “significant colonial leaders” along with William Penn, John Smith, and Roger Williams. “Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen,” Marshall wrote. “She was certainly not a significant colonial leader, and didn’t accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.”

Hutchinson’s troublesomeness was inscribed on her DNA. Her father Francis Marbury attended Christ College, Cambridge, and took orders for the clergy. At some point in the 1570s he penned an allegorical play in the style of the University Wits called The Marriage Between Wit and Wisdom. It was performed in London and survives today in a fragmentary and difficult-to-decipher manuscript that was transcribed, edited, and published by the Malone Society in 1961. Towards the end of the play, the allegorical figure of Wit is traduced by Idleness and thrown into jail. Before Good Nurture can secure his release, Wit is heard lamenting in his cell:

The silly bird once caught in net
if she escape alive
will come no more so nigh the snare
her freedom to deprive
but rather she will leave her haunt
the which she used before
but I alas when steed is stolen
do shut the stable door
for being often caught before
yet could I not refrain
more foolish then the witless bird
I came to hand again
Alas the chains oppress me sore
wherewith I now am laid

Though the play is a farce, the scene strikes a somber note, for Marbury would be imprisoned himself.

During Marbury’s childhood in the 1550s, the Church of England was still undecided about how Reformed it intended to be, whether it was a Catholic church with an English king filling in for the Roman pope or altogether Protestant. Edward VI, who ascended the throne in 1547, was England’s first openly Protestant ruler, but he was a weak king and his reign was short—he was just fifteen years old when he died. His Catholic successor Queen Mary executed scores of Protestants between 1553 and 1558; their stories fill the pages of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Zealous to purge every last vestige of Romanism from the English church, Marbury was much more of a dissenting Protestant or Puritan than a loyal Anglican. And like his daughter would be, he was an incorrigible gadfly, a provocateur. No sooner did he leave Cambridge to take a living as a deacon in Northampton than he began to publicly berate his colleagues for their ignorance and slackness. Like Wit in his play, he was twice arrested. Even so, he refused to toe the line. In November, 1578, he was arrested for libel for a third time and hauled before the ecclesiastical Court of High Commission in London.

“I come not to accuse but to defend,” Marbury declared to the presiding bishop. “But because you urge me for advantage, I say the bishops of London are guilty of the death of as many souls as have perished by the ignorance of the ministers of their making whom they know to be unable.”

“Use my Lord more reverently,” the court secretary remonstrated Marbury. “He is a peer of the Realm; I perceive your words are puffed up with pride.”

“Sir, I speak but the truth to him,” Marbury retorted. “I reverence him so far as he is reverend and I pray God to teach him to die.”

“Thou speakest of making ministers!” the bishop expostulated. William Shakespeare was only fourteen years old in 1578, but the bishop sounds uncannily like one of the officious buffoons that turn up in so many of his comedies. “Thou takest upon thyself to be a preacher, but there is nothing in thee; thou art a very ass, an idiot and a fool. Thou art courageous, nay, thou art impudent! By my troth, I think he be mad, he careth for nobody.”

When the bishop tried to reason with Marbury, to make him understand that the church could only work with the human resources it had at hand, Marbury’s comeback—categorical and utterly unanswerable—epitomizes the heretical spirit of his famous daughter: “It is better to have nothing than that which God would not have!” As the jailer conveyed Marbury off to prison, he flung back a curse disguised as a benediction: “I am to go whither it pleaseth God, but remember God’s judgments. You do me open wrong. I pray God to forgive you.”

Marbury was restored to the pulpit again two years later, at the church of St. Wilfrid’s in Alford, Lincolnshire. In addition to his duties as vicar, he served as master of the Alford Free Grammar School, where one of his students was John Smith, of Jamestown, Virginia, fame. Marbury married and had three daughters, two of whom survived; when his first wife died, he married Bridget Dryden, whose older brother’s grandson would be the poet John Dryden (yet another famous name—the world was at once much bigger and much smaller in those days). Anne was Bridget’s third child and the second to survive; twelve more would follow.

Marbury would have one last run-in with church authorities in 1590, just before Anne was born, when he criticized its ill-educated bishops as “self-seeking soul murderers.” He was placed under house arrest and remained in limbo for the next three years. It was around this time that he adapted the transcript of his earlier trial as a play and had it published in an anthology of Puritan tracts.

The lines I quoted give a fair sense of its flavor—it is livelier and much more to the point than the stylized, high-browed waggery of The Marriage Between Wit and Wisdom. Marbury’s sangfroid as he deftly turns his accusers’ judgments back on themselves can’t but remind readers of his famous daughter’s equipoise during her own trials, six decades later and a continent away. His parting words to the bishop foreshadow Anne’s after she was delivered up to Satan, accounted a “Heathen and a Publican,” and formally excommunicated from the Church of Boston. “The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth,” she said as she walked out of the meeting house for the last time. “Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ.”

It was a role she was destined to play; she had been rehearsing for it since her earliest girlhood. Along with the Bible and Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Marbury had used his version of his trial as a primer when he taught Anne and her siblings how to read.

It’s tempting to construct an elaborate Freudian apparatus around Anne Hutchinson, what with all the attractive-yet-compromised father figures she had to contend with (her mentor John Cotton shrank from the implications of his most radical ideas; her father, too, eventually reconciled with the Anglican establishment). One of the crimes the Puritans charged her with was violating the Fifth Commandment, “which commands us,” Governor John Winthrop reminded her, “to honor Father and Mother, which include all in authority.”

But when all is said and done, the Texas textbook commissioner might have said it best: Anne Hutchinson was a troublemaker—her most important legacy was her very ungovernableness. Hutchinson epitomized Jesus’s all-or-nothing morality and Protestantism’s dissenting spirit. During America’s birth pangs, when our Puritan forefathers were assembling the machinery of a theocratic state, the truest, deepest believer of them all—a woman and a midwife yet, who was pregnant most of her adult life and up to her elbows in blood and bodily fluids—tried to toss a monkey wrench into the works.

The America we live in today is built on a foundation of paradoxes and tensions: its strong government co-exists with extravagant ideals of personal liberty; its citizens’ religiosity is guaranteed by its government’s religious neutrality. The authoritarian Governor Winthrop and the disobedient Hutchinson—the American Jezebel, as he called her—are two sides of the same American coin, forever in tension: thesis and antithesis, Yin and Yang.

Nathaniel Hawthorne invoked “the sainted Anne Hutchinson” in The Scarlet Letter; he also paid tribute to her “extraordinary talent and strong imagination” and her “irregular and daring thought” in a sketch he wrote about her in 1830. “There is a delicacy... that perceives, or fancies, a sort of impropriety in the display of woman’s naked mind to the gaze of the world,” he averred. Hawthorne pictured Hutchinson as she is frequently depicted in engravings, standing “loftily before her judges, with a determined brow and, unknown to herself... a flash of carnal pride half hidden in her eye.”

In April of 1851, Herman Melville wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne a letter. He apologized that he hadn’t been able to find a cobbler in Pittsfield to fashion a pair of boots for one of the Hawthorne children, and he raved about Hawthorne’s newest book, The House of Seven Gables. Theirs was not an easy friendship—Melville’s emotional intensity was off putting to Hawthorne, and he had the disquieting habit of projecting his most eccentric, not to say transgressive, ideas onto his famous friend.

In the review of Mosses from an Old Manse that Melville had published in The Literary World a year before, he’d written of the blackness that shrouds one half of Hawthorne’s soul, a blackness “ten times black.”

Whether there really lurks in him, perhaps unknown to himself, a touch of Puritanic gloom,—this, I cannot altogether tell. Certain it is, however, that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. ...Still more: this black conceit pervades him, through and through.

In his letter from Pittsfield, Melville told Hawthorne that he embodies “the tragicalness of human thought in its own unbiased, native, and profounder workings.” We mortals, Melville continued, “incline to think that God cannot explain His own secrets, and that He would like a little information upon certain points Himself.” But if we would only cease our theologizing, we would begin to apprehend the universe’s deepest truth: that it is what it is. “Take God out of the dictionary, and you would have Him in the street.”

Melville proposes that grace is to be found in moments of Zen-like silent attentiveness, in what the poet John Keats, in a different context, called “negative capability”—“when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” True spirituality is the reward of an open mind; anything “positive, dogmatic, personal” is inimical to it.

“There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne,” Melville concludes his letter. “He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes.”

For all men who say yes, lie; and all men who say no, —why, they are in the happy condition of judicious, unencumbered travellers in Europe; they cross the frontiers into Eternity with nothing but a carpet-bag, —that is to say, the Ego. Whereas those yes-gentry, they travel with heaps of baggage, and, damn them! they will never get through the Custom House.

Whether or not Melville accurately plumbed the depths of Hawthorne’s soul, he captured the essence of religious inspiration—and of heresy too. Heretics—and Melville was every bit the heretic that Anne Hutchinson was—simply don’t know how to say “yes” to anything that is dogmatic, authoritarian, or unspiritual.

Which is why we need them so badly. Ω

[Arthur Goldwag is — most recently — the author of Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies (2009). A freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, he has worked at Book-of-the-Month Club (where he created Traditions, a club devoted to Jewish interests), as well as at Random House and The New York Review of Books. Goldwag received a B.A. at Kenyon College and an M.A. at Brown University.]

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get The Newest Glenn Dreck Book: Steal This Idiot!

Michael Lind offers trenchant analysis of the New Right (Tea Party Faction). Just as Russell Kirk said of the John Birchite fantasy that "Dwight Eisenhower was a conscious, dedicated agent of the Community conspiracy: 'Eisenhower isn't a communist, he's a golfer.'" Today, it's "Obama isn't a socialist, he's a baller." (Baller (n) — One who exhibits a consistent exuberant love for the game of basketball.) In the meantime, the Tea Partiers and their fellow travelers in the right-wing media do their best to voice the outrage. If the wacko who flew his private plane into the IRS offices in Austin, TX last week wasn't a Tea Partier, he was a fellow traveler. If only Glenn Dreck and the rest would go underground and just talk among themselves. If this is (fair & balanced) wishful thinking, so be it.

PS: Jon Stewart did another nice Dreck-riff on "The Daily Show." Watch this clip and see a certifiable lunatic in action.

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"Rage Within The Machine — Progressivism"

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Glenn Beck Is The New Abbie Hoffman
By Michael Lind

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Street theater. Communes. Manifestos. Denunciations of "the system." The counterculture is back. Only this time it's on the right.

Political factions that are out of power have a choice. They can form a counter-establishment or a counterculture. A counter-establishment (a term that Sidney Blumenthal used to describe the neoconservatives in the 1970s) seeks to return to power by reassuring voters that it is sober and responsible. A counter-establishment publishes policy papers and holds conferences and its members endure their exile in think tanks and universities.

In contrast, a counterculture refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the rules of the game that it has lost. Instead of moving toward the center, the counterculture heads for the fringes. Like a cult, it creates its own parallel reality, seceding from a corrupt and wicked society into morally and politically pure enclaves.

In response to the long era of Republican presidential hegemony that began with Nixon, many on the American left adopted the countercultural strategy. Some withdrew to raise rabbits and home-school their children in rural America. Other radicals on the left made pilgrimages in search of utopia to this or that illiberal communist dictatorship — Mao's China, Cuba, Nicaragua.

Many devoured books by Noam Chomsky and the late Howard Zinn, who taught them that Washington and Lincoln and FDR were all capitalist warmongers and that America was the greatest menace to world peace. They cheered on Jesse Jackson as he denounced an insufficiently multicultural curriculum at Stanford, with too many overrated dead white European males (DWEMs) like Aristotle and Dante and Shakespeare on the reading list, by chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!" Coming at a time when the right was becoming increasingly scholarly and policy-oriented, these antics by the countercultural left backfired by identifying liberalism with the lunatic fringe in the minds of many middle-of-the-road Americans. (It was its association with the countercultural left in the 1960s and '70s that made the word "liberal" so toxic that it has been dropped by the center-left for "progressive"; New Deal liberal programs like Social Security and Medicare remain popular with Republican and Democratic voters alike.)

As the hegemony of conservative politics deepened in the 1980s and '90s, others to the left of center rejected the counterculture and sought to assemble a progressive counter-establishment. This was the project of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and its leaders like Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. In retrospect they made too many philosophical and programmatic concessions to the reigning right of their time. But many groups to their left, like some environmentalist groups and critics of Pentagon spending, followed them in abandoning the moralistic tone of the counterculture and argued on the basis of facts and trade-offs.

Meanwhile, as counterculture was succeeded by counter-establishment to the left of center, the post-'80s right moved toward the fringes. Like T.H. White's Merlin, the American right is aging backward. What was a mature adult has regressed to a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum. When he founded National Review in 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. said that conservatives wanted to stand athwart history and cry, "Stop!" The post-Buckley right has managed not only to stop history — the history of conservatism — but to run the reel backward.

When Buckley came on the scene in the mid-1950s, the American right was dominated by kooks: right-wing isolationists, Pearl Harbor and Yalta conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and members of the John Birch Society like the palindromical y-named Professor Revilo P. Oliver. Buckley and his movement conservatives, and later the early neoconservatives, struggled to purge the right of crackpots and create an intellectually serious movement capable of governing the country.

And yet the right of 2010 looks like the fever-swamp right of 1950 instead of the triumphant right of 1980. The John Birch Society, which Buckley and Goldwater expelled from the conservative movement in the early 1960s, was a co-sponsor of this year's Conservative Political Action Convention (CPAC). Folks who claimed that Eisenhower was a communist now insist that Obama is a socialist. (The conservative historian Russell Kirk had the wittiest put-down of the Birchers: "Eisenhower isn't a communist; he's a golfer.")

The tea partiers are the hippies of our time. True, they tend to be relatively affluent — but so were the hippies. As Tony Hendra once told me, "You had to have a lot of money to take part in the Summer of Love."

Consider the following countercultural features of the emerging American right:

Anti-System Radicalism: Just as the New Left claimed that the New Deal era wasn't really liberal, so the countercultural right claims that the Republican Party from Nixon to George W. Bush wasn't really conservative. '60s radicals like Carl Oglesby denounced John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as sinister "corporate liberals" in the same way that the radicals of the right claim that the two Bushes, if not the sainted Reagan, were inauthentic "big government conservatives." The radical left had Ralph Nader. The radical right has Ron Paul.

Luddism: A few decades ago it was the countercultural left that opposed science, technology and markets. Now mainstream environmentalists have arguably gone too far in adopting the market rhetoric of cap-and-trade. Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, today seeks to save the environment by means of nuclear power plants, genetically modified crops and urban living.

Nowadays anti-science, anti-technology Luddites are more likely to be found on the right, among opponents of stem-cell research and evolutionary biology. And while the exaggerations and cover-ups of some scientific proponents of global warming undermine the claim that science on this subject is settled, it is clear that many conservatives reflexively believe the opposite of what progressives say on this and other subjects. If Al Gore changed his mind and announced that global cooling was imminent, one suspects many on the countercultural right would immediately warn of rising global temperatures and flooded coastlines. A counterculture inverts not only the widely-shared values but also the agreed-upon facts of the dominant culture they despise.

Street Theater: The eclipse of the countercultural left by the countercultural right is evident in political protest as well. Carnivalesque protest is practically monopolized by the tea-party right in the age of Obama. In the U.S., at least, the street theater of antiwar and anti-World Bank activists cannot compete with the mass demonstrations of the tea partiers. The giant puppets of the left are out. Posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache are in.

Dropping Out: In a letter to other conservative activists in 1999, the late Paul Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress Foundation, called on the right to adopt an explicitly countercultural strategy. "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority," Weyrich wrote. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values."

Echoing the back-to-the-land hippies of the '60s and '70s left, Weyrich called on conservatives to secede from American society and form their own subcultural communities. "And while I'm not suggesting that we all become Amish or move to Idaho, I do think that we have to look at what we can do to separate ourselves from this hostile culture." Weyrich concluded by holding up the countercultural left as a model for the new countercultural right: "The radicals of the 1960s had three slogans: turn on, tune in, drop out. I suggest that we adopt a modified version."

During the freak show at CPAC, the crumbling old conservative establishment sought to prove that it's still relevant by calling for "constitutional conservatism" in its "Mount Vernon Statement." Signed by dignitaries of the old regime like Reagan's Attorney General Edwin Meese, the Mount Vernon Statement is less interesting for its content — an attempt to reunite the libertarian, religious and foreign policy hawk wings of moribund "fusionist" or "movement" conservatism — than for its dignified style and invocation of philosophical first principles.

The attempt of the Mount Vernon constitutional conservatives to re-create conservatism as a counter-establishment is almost certainly doomed. Meese and the other signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are to the tea party right what Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and other lions of New Deal liberalism were to Abbie Hoffmann's Yippies. Indeed, in Glenn Beck, the countercultural right has found its own Abbie Hoffmann. In both cases it is hard to distinguish sincere zealotry from self-promoting show business.

The rise of the conservative counterculture may provide the beleaguered Democrats with a stay of execution. A serious Republican counter-establishment, putting forth credible plans for addressing the nation's problems and determined to collaborate with the other party to govern the country in this crisis, would be a greater threat to the new, shaky Democratic establishment than the theatrics of the right's Summer of Love.

Or should it be called the Winter of Hate? Ω

[Michael Lind is the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life (2006). Lind holds a B.A. from the University of Texas-Austin, an M.A. from Yale University, and a J.D. from University of Texas-Austin.]

Copyright © 2010 Salon Media Group, Inc.

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