Browsing the archives for the American History category.


The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis, Revisited

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American History, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

On the Right the Shiny Object de la semaine, if not du jour, is birthright citizenship. This is the legal right to citizenship of all babies born in the U.S. regardless of the status of their parents. From time to time conservatives get whipped up into a Nativist frenzy and demand that birthright citizenship be ended, and now is one of those times.

It’s widely believed that birthright citizenship is established by the 14th Amendment, and that it would take a constitutional amendment to change it. But many on the Right deny this. They don’t think the 14th says what it says, and they think birthright citizenship could be ended through an act of Congress. For example, Edward J. Erler wrote in National Review,

A correct understanding of the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment and legislation passed by Congress in the late 19th century and in 1923 extending citizenship to American Indians provide ample proof that Congress has constitutional power to define who is within the “jurisdiction of the United States” and therefore eligible for citizenship. Simple legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president would be constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

I don’t have time to write a long post explaining why Erler is wrong. Fortunately, I already wrote that post, more than five years ago. In the earlier post (The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis) I respond to a George Will column that made nearly identical arguments to Erler’s. And those arguments are taken pretty much wholesale from the minority opinion in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) . The detail that Will and Erler both hope nobody notices is that the majority opinion in Wong Kim Ark disagreed.

Erler also tries to argue that Wong Kim Ark only applies to children born of legal aliens, but I read the Wong Kim Ark opinion, and that’s not apparent to me. For one thing, I’m not sure “illegal aliens” was conceptualized then as we conceptualize it now. In any event, Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the U.S. to Chinese laborer parents who were considered “subjects of the Emperor,” at a time when Chinese laborers were strictly excluded from the U.S.  But Wong Kim Ark claimed citizenship by right of birth, and the Court agreed with him.

So here’s most of the earlier Anchor Baby post, and you can substitute “Erler” for “Will” if you like.

Now, most legal experts say that because of the 14th Amendment, Congress does not have the power to deny citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.” Doing this would require a constitutional amendment. But righties are arguing no, because the 14th Amendment doesn’t say what it says. This argument was presented by none other than George Will a few days ago, and it is a tortured argument, indeed. But when I read Will’s column I didn’t have the time to research what he was saying to see if it could hold mayonnaise, never mind water.

But lo, yesterday, while researching something else entirely, I ran into a discussion of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (see also Wikipedia discussion of Wong). Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the United States of ethnic Chinese parents. At the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. You probably remember that this barred anyone of the Chinese “race” from entering the U.S., and it denied citizenship to ethnic Chinese people already in the U.S. Wong challenged this law, and in a 6-2 decision the Supreme Court agreed with Wong, and said he was a citizen of the United States by virtue of being born here. And it seems to me there’s a made-for-television movie script in there somewhere.

Anyway, as I read about the Wong decision I realized that the dissenting argument in the Wong case is exactly the same argument being made today by Will and the Republican lawmakers.

The dissent was based on an interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Will and the two SCOTUS dissenters (John Harlan and Melville Fuller) say this phrase means “and not subject to any foreign power.” In their dissent of Wong, Harlan and Fuller point out that native Americans were (at the time) not citizens of the U.S. because the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given citizenship to “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

This act became law just two months before the 14th Amendment was proposed. So, the argument is, this wording gives us insight into where lawmakers’ heads were at the time. And thus, if the parents are subjects of a foreign power, then their baby born in the U.S. is not eligible for citizenship. This was the dissenting opinion in Wong in 1898, and Will repeated this same argument in his Washington Post column. Will doesn’t bother discussing that pesky Wong majority opinion, however.

Will argues further,

What was this [the jurisdiction phrase] intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.

As far as I know, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt to render any sort of immigration illegal, and it didn’t become law until 1882. Congress had passed an earlier version of the exclusion act in 1878, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. But the Wong majority decision says plainly that an act of Congress making Chinese immigration illegal, and denying citizenship status to ethnic Chinese, did not override the clear language of the 14th Amendment.

So, whether Will and the Republican lawmakers like it or not, SCOTUS already nixed their argument.

The majority opinion in Wong is based partly on English common law, which said that babies born in England are English, with the exception of the children of diplomats and children born to hostile forces occupying English territory.

In addition, at the time native American tribes were not considered subject to U.S. jurisdiction and were therefore not citizens. Another case decided in 1884 (Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94) had declared that a native American who left his tribe and went to live in a white community didn’t automatically get citizenship, although he could be considered a citizen if he went through whatever naturalization process existed at the time and paid taxes.

Will leans heavily on the example of non-citizen native Americans to argue that the 14th Amendment was not intended to confer citizenship to babies of foreigners who happened to be in the U.S. at the time. But the Elk decision (which Will doesn’t mention, either) did not consider Indian tribes to be foreign states. A tribe was an alien political entity which Congress dealt with through treaties, but not the same thing as a foreign nation.

So, it seems to me the Wong decision — the majority opinion, anyway — more closely speaks to the circumstance of babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants than does the Elk decision. And I think I just blew by nerd blogging quotient for the day.

Update: Read more about Wong Kim Ark in “The Progeny of Citizen Wong.”

And thank goodness for archives.

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The Anniversary

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American History

Today is the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb. The New Yorker is republishing John Hersey’s essay Hiroshima, which originally appeared in the August 31, 1946 issue. The essay centers on six Hiroshima residents who survived the blast, giving us as intimate a view of the devastation as language can provide. Recommended.

Salon is running an essay arguing that America has never owned up to Hiroshima. The author, Christian Appy, argues that the bomb was unnecessary and was dropped purely as an act of cruelty. Appy is a historian, although the body of his published work is on Vietnam, not World War II. I’m not a historian, but I have some familiarity with the sources he cites as well as some he didn’t cite. The phrase “cherry-picked” comes to mind; I’ll come back to this in a bit.

In Rethinking Religion I have a section on “moral clarity,” defined as “a state of mind achieved by staking a fixed position on a presumed moral high ground and then ignoring the details of human life that fog the view.” My primary example of “moral clarifying” are the anti-abortion activists who argue incessantly for the sacredness and rights of the fetus while barely mentioning the woman carrying the fetus in her body.

Appy, and many other liberals, try to pull something like that with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They stake the moral high ground that dropping the bomb was absolutely evil, and then revise history six ways from Sunday to “prove” that the men who chose to drop it were just evil and callous and had some nefarious end other than the stated one, which was to end the war quickly and avoid a ground invasion of Japan.

I do not know if the bomb was militarily “necessary” or a better or worse option than the ground invasion. I don’t think anyone can know such a thing for certain. You can find all kinds of arguments made later, by both generals and historians, for both options. What I do sincerely believe is that the men who were faced with making the decision did not have the “benefit” of moral clarity. Based on the information at hand and recent events in the war, there was no “good” option in front of those men that would clearly have avoided a massive loss of life, including Japanese civilian lives. Many liberals today fervently want to believe otherwise, but I think that’s revisionism.

Yesterday I read arguments that Japan was just about to surrender, anyway (not according to any history I’ve read). I read arguments that the Japanese people could just have been starved until they surrendered. I fail to see why that would be a more moral option, especially considering the loss of life probably would have been even higher.  One genius commenting on Appy’s article was absolutely certain the bomb was dropped to intimidate the U.S.S.R., whom the commenter imagined was about to come to the aid of Japan. Why the U.S.S.R. might have done that I can’t imagine; the U.S.S.R. still needed the Allies, and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), in which Japan pretty much handed Russia its ass, had not yet passed from memory. Another  theory was that the bomb was about the Cold War, and was dropped as a warning to the U.S.S.R. But the Cold War hadn’t really begun yet and wasn’t really on anyone’s radar in 1945, I don’t think.

If we’re discussing the morality of something, there’s an understandable human tendency to want to find oneself on the side of the angels, whatever that might be. The knee-jerk tendency of some is to cite Japanese atrocities committed in World War II to argue that Japan “deserved” Hiroshima, but I reject that as a moral argument. It’s not up to us to judge what other people, especially civilians, “deserve.”

The knee-jerk tendency of others is to seize the moral high ground by deriding the decision itself, to portray the dropping of the Bomb as utterly evil, unnecessary, and proof of the moral depravity of the U.S. government and military.  This position allows one no end of indulgent self-righteousness while appearing to be “smart” about what that sneaky government really is up to. But that’s a post-Vietnam view of things.

So why was the bomb dropped? By June 1945 the U.S. had made elaborate plans for a ground invasion of Japan, fortified by blockades and bombardments. Several invasion scenarios were on the table. The Joint War Plans Committee prepared casualty estimates for each. The Committee emphasized that any number they might give could be wildly off. Appy cited one of these estimates, 40,000 killed. That was a lowball; the Committee also said that the deaths could total as many as 220,000 if the Allied troops were forced to seize all of the island of Kyushu and the Tokyo plain. The staffs of generals MacArthur and Nimitz also prepared death estimates in the quarter million range. Appy doesn’t mention that.

Soon after these estimates were provided military intelligence learned it had drastically underestimated the number of Japanese troops on Kyushu, the island chosen for the initial invasion. The invasion plans had assumed there were 300,000 Japanese troops on Kyushu that June; on August 2, an MIS report stated there were at least 534,000 troops on Kyushu, and possibly more. [source]

Put another way — by the first week in August, the estimated total of Japanese army and naval combat troops on Kyushu alone was more than six times what it had been on Okinawa. Note that the combined death toll of Allied and Japanese troops and civilians on Okinawa is still disputed, but could have been as high as 240,000. Nearly a quarter of a million. Most of those casualties were civilians, many of whom committed suicide.

By the first week in August, the old casualty estimates had been pretty much tossed out the window. Appy doesn’t mention that.

President Truman said after the war that Gen. George Marshall had told him an invasion would cost “at a minimum one quarter of a million casualties and might cost as much as a million.” Truman may have been making excuses for himself, but the quarter million number was consistent with other estimates.

Meanwhile, the bomb itself was an unknown factor. From what I’ve read, for example, pretty much everyone underestimated the danger from fallout. We’ve had 70 years of living with nuclear weapons as a fact, and of watching movies and reading novels in which humankind destroyed itself with thermonuclear weapons. The Bomb has had 70 years to take its place in our collective subconscious as the mythical One Forbidden Thing; the thing that must never be done. But in 1945, nuclear weapons weren’t unthinkable yet.

So, knowing only what Harry Truman knew in August 1945, looking only at the options he had in front of him, what do you do?

I’m not sure there was a “right” decision. There was no clear, easy out. Any decision made would have resulted in unbearable loss of life. I think it’s entirely possible that if the bombs had never been dropped, today we’d be complaining that America has never apologized for the bloodbaths on Kyushu and Honshu, and if Truman had just dropped the bomb much of that could have been avoided. We’ll never know, of course. It’s also foolish to assume that if the U.S. had never developed the Bomb there’d be no nuclear stockpiles today.

My larger point, though, is that if we’re going to own up to something, we need to own up to how difficult a decision that was to make. Real-time, real-world moral decisions often are very, very difficult. Often, “moral clarity” is achievable only if we close our eyes to most of the facts. Often there’s no “good” solution. This is how it is. It’s childish to assume everything sorts itself into good and evil, and we can just choose good and remain pure.

It’s also estimated that the incendiary bombs dropped on Japan by B-29s could have resulted in as many as 200,000 civilian deaths, and many people were burned alive. Yet, somehow, we’re never asked to don sackcloth and ashes about those deaths, even though they seem just as terrible to me. This speaks to the unique place the atomic bomb occupies in our collective subconscious, I think.

For the record, the official estimates of killed and wounded in Hiroshima (150,000) and Nagasaki (75,000) are no doubt conservative and may have exceeded the loss of life from firebombing. But we don’t know for certain.

But to my mind, arguing about the morality of the bomb is the wrong argument. We should be thinking about the morality of killing, by any means, as an instrument of policy, period. That would be the better way to remember Hiroshima.

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The Lost Cause Is Losing

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American History, Republican Party

As political support for keeping Confederate flags flying over statehouses evaporates, and as even Wal-Mart has declared it will stop stocking Confederate flag merchandise (current inventory is moving at a brisk pace, though), the Moonlight and Magnolia bitter enders are filled with despair.

“This is the beginning of communism,” said Robert Lampley, who was standing in the blazing sun in front of the South Carolina State House shortly after the legislature voted overwhelmingly to debate the current placement of the Confederate battle flag. “The South is the last bastion of liberty and independence. I know we’re going to lose eventually.”

“Our people are dying off,” he went on, before encouraging a white reporter to “keep reproducing.”

They’re worried that some tidal wave will destroy Confederate monuments and force the re-naming of all the (Nathan Bedford) Forrest Avenues to Malcolm X Boulevards. Heh.

One guy suggested removing the Confederate flag from statehouses and replacing it with another flag associated with the Confederacy (there were several) but not associated with racist movements.

“You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters,” said Greg Stewart, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the executive director of Beauvoir, the last home of Jefferson Davis.

No, we’re asking you to agree that your great-grandparent and great-great grandparents lost the freaking war and surrendered their flags to Gen. J. L. Chamberlain at Appomattox 150 years ago. The Lost Cause is really, truly lost. Try to adjust.

Some of them are complaining that the change is coming too fast. Too fast? It’s been 150 bleeping years.

Today the governor of Alabama ordered a Confederate flag be removed from state capitol grounds. Sen. Mitch McConnell requested that a statue of Jefferson Davis be removed from the Kentucky state capitol. Well, he’s still got most of a six-year term to serve; he probably feels safe. Governors of several states are requesting that Confederate specialty license plates be redesigned.

My guess is that these guys realized this was going to have to happen sooner or later, and they might as well do it now while they’ve got some political cover.

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Grant Versus Lee

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American History

Going back to Appomattox — Jamelle Bouie has an excellent article at Slate that I urge people to read. Bouie is spot-on correct in both his historical facts and his analysis of how we remember Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant the way we do.

From the end of the Civil War and through the rest of the 19th century, U.S. Grant was one of the most popular and respected figures in American life and history. According to many accounts, his death in 1885 threw the nation into the same depth of grief as had the death of Abraham Lincoln. People around the country donated money to build him a grand memorial tomb, and when it was dedicated in 1897 there was a huge parade and vast crowds of people turned out to pay their respects once again.

On the other hand, R. E. Lee’s generalship was more flawed than confederate apologists will ever admit. Some time back the British military historian J.F.C. Fuller wrote an analysis of the generalship of Grant and Lee, and Fuller found Lee highly overrated. In Fuller’s view Lee was second-rate in most regards. (Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship is still in print and is very readable. If you’re into military history I recommend it highly. See also Fuller’s The Generalship Of Ulysses S. Grant.)

But a few generations later, people remembered Grant as a stupid, drunken brute and Lee as nearly a saint. Bouie explains why and how that happened. Much of it has to do with Grant’s policies as President during Reconstruction, namely that he took equal rights for the freed people seriously and tried to protect them. Bouie writes,

As best as possible, President Grant was a firm leader of Reconstruction America. Faced with the titanic challenge of integrating freedmen into American politics, he attacked the problem with characteristic clarity and flexibility. He proposed civil rights legislation (and would be the last president to do so until Dwight D. Eisenhower, nearly a century later) and deployed troops to hot spots across the South, to defend black Americans from white supremacist violence.* And while there were failures—at times he was too passive in the face of white violence, too paralyzed by petty politics—there were real victories too. After Congress passed the Enforcement Acts—criminal codes that protected blacks’ 14thand 15th Amendment rights to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and receive equal protection of laws—Grant authorized federal troops to confront the Ku Klux Klan and other groups of anti-black terrorists. Declaring them “insurgents … in rebellion against the authority of the United States,” Grant and his subordinates—most notably Attorney General Amos Ackerman and the newly formed Department of Justice—broke the Klan and restored some peace to the Republican South.

In using federal power to prosecute white supremacists and support Reconstruction governments, Grant had tied his fortunes to those of freedmen and their allies. They were grateful. Grant won re-election in 1872 with the vast backing of black voters in the South, as well as former Union soldiers in the North. Appalled by his use of force in the South, his enemies dogged him as an enemy of liberty. Indeed, for as much as scandal plagued his administration, it’s also true that many cries of corruption came from angry and aggrieved Democrats, who attacked military intervention in the South as “corrupt” and “unjust.” Opponents in the North and South reviled Grant as a “tyrant” who imposed so-called “black domination” on an innocent South.

Unfortunately, in the early 20th century some confederate sympathizing historians got themselves into leading positions in American academia and saw to it that history as cranked out by scholars of the day reflected their biases. In the latter part of the 20th century some historians began to turn this around and correct the record, but much of the correction hasn’t trickled down to primary and secondary education or undergraduate history classes.

The Gone With the Wind version of Reconstruction history, in which poor destitute Scarlett O’Hara was reduced to eating raw radishes (from the garden she still owned next to the mansion she still occupied), apparently because the “servants” had run away and she had never learned to cook, is still being foisted on schoolchildren around the country. I have found young people who still believe that Reconstruction was “punishment” for the South because of the Civil War or because Lincoln was assassinated, or some such thing.

The truth is that the freed people were being terrorized and slaughtered wholesale by white mobs, sometimes by the hundreds. Freedmen frequently were shot for trying to vote. In one particularly horrible massacre in New Orleans, 1866, whites —  including police and city officials — stormed a peaceful political convention of people who wanted to end the black codes, killing 238 people, mostly African American.

General Grant, who in 1866 was something like the Joint Chiefs of Staff in one person,  had stationed Phil Sheridan in that district to keep the peace. Fake reports of violence in Texas drew Sheridan out of New Orleans, allowing the massacre to take place. By all accounts, Grant was furious and suspected Andrew Johnson’s administration of being complicit in the fake reports.

And that’s why President Grant ordered troops into the South. It had nothing to do with “punishing” anybody for Lincoln’s Assassination.

The best history of Reconstruction is Eric Foner‘s, but recently when I recommended Foner to some young folks on the Web they dismissed him as a “socialist.” So, because they don’t like his politics — which they probably don’t understand — they assume his history is bunk. Never mind that other historians regard him as the preeminent historian of the Reconstruction era of his generation. Thus are the ignorant kept ignorant.

Lee was a complicated guy whose choice to fight with the Confederacy was possibly more motivated by restoring family honor than defending slavery. The Lees of Virginia had been patrician and prominent for generations. But Lee’s father, Revolutionary War hero Light-Horse Harry Lee, somehow spent the fortunes of two wealthy wives — gambling and other vices are hinted at — and when Harry was in debtor’s prison Lee’s mother took toddler Robert and his baby sister to live with her wealthy family near Arlington. So he was raised in the plantation class but wasn’t entirely of it, since he had no inheritance or property of his own. At the same time, an older half-brother, a son of Light-Horse Harry by his first wife, got into some sort of big, splashy sex scandal, I believe with his wife’s sister. I suspect that what really motivated Lee was a need to prove he belonged in the patrician class he had been born into. Note also that R.E. Lee married into the Custis family, descendants of Martha Washington by her first husband.

Confederate apologists like to point out that Lee never owned slaves, but the fact is Lee never owned much of anything except through his marriage. But he married into a slave-owning family and appears to have not minded that.

Let it not be forgotten that when African American troops were captured by his army, saintly Robert E. put them to work building fortifications where they were within range of Union fire. White troops, on the other hand, were traded for Confederates in prisoner exchanges. Grant and Lincoln both felt that soldiers were soldiers and should be treated alike, and when Lee refused to exchange black prisoners the prisoner exchanges stopped, causing much human misery for which Grant and Lincoln, but not Lee, have been blamed.

One more note about Grant’s alleged drinking — that’s the one thing people know about Grant, was that he was a drunk. But these days historians say otherwise. There are some credible accounts of binge-drinking when he was a young officer stuck on the Pacific Coast away from his family, but the stories of his drinking during the Civil War mostly come from one uncorroborated source, or have been proved to be unfounded. The one fact about Grant all his biographers agree on is that his marriage was very happy, which is not generally the case with alcoholics. Accounts of White House dinners suggest he was able to drink a glass or two of wine and then stopping, which is not generally the case with alcoholics. So let’s put the “Grant the Drunk” slander to rest.

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America the Obstructed

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American History

Timothy Egan on Lincoln:

Now think of the legacy on this anniversary of the American passion play. Think of free land for the landless, the transcontinental railroad, the seeding of what would grow into national parks, the granting of human rights to people who had none. …

… But beyond: Could the Republicans who control Congress in 2015, the party of no, ever pass a Homestead Act? That law, which went into effect the very day, Jan. 1, 1863, Lincoln’s wartime executive order to free slaves in the breakaway states did, carries a clause that very few Republicans would support now.

Former slaves, “famine Irish,” Russian Jews, single women, Mexicans who didn’t speak a word of English — all qualified to claim 160 acres as their own. You didn’t have to be a citizen to get your quarter-square-mile. You just had to intend to become a citizen.

In that sense, the Homestead Act was the Dream Act of today. It had a path to citizenship and prosperity for those in this country who were neither citizens nor prosperous.

Consider the vision to stitch a railroad from east to west, an enormous tangle of infrastructure. In 1862, Lincoln signed legislation spurring construction of the transcontinental railroad. That same year, he approved a bill that led to the creation of land grant colleges.

And so on. He also signed a bill that allowed California to protect the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias from being developed by private enterprise. President Ulysses S. Grant would later make Yosemite Yellowstone the first National Park in the history of the world.

All these things were essential to building the United States into the economoic powerhouse it would become in the 20th century. And Egan’s point is that today’s Republican Party would have just obstructed all of it.

Today, Congress will not even approve enough money to keep decrepit bridges from falling down, and has whittled away funds to help working kids stay in college. It’s laughable to think of Republicans’ approving of something visionary and forward-looking in the realm of transportation, energy or education. Government, in their minds, can never be a force for good.

And then there’s this:

The great, nation-shaping accomplishments of Lincoln’s day happened only because the South, always with an eye on protecting slavery and an estate-owning aristocracy, had left the union — ridding Congress of the naysayers.

There’s a lot of truth in that. The 19th century Democratic Party was anti-progressive. They not only favored slavery and later Jim Crow laws; they were also opposed to the role the federal government played in getting the railroads built. A lot of them reflexively opposed spending tax money on infrastructure projects, I have read.

The parties switched positions in the 20th century, so now the Dems are the progressives and the Republicans are the obstructionists. The point, though is that in the 19th century for a time the nation was able to invest in itself, and it became more prosperous thereby. Today’s Republicans like to warble about exceptionalism, but their policies are rendering the U.S. nothing but an exceptionally crappy place to live.

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Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhaoibh

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American History, Republican Party

Well, it’s move-in day at the Zen Center (ZCNYC-Fire Lotus Temple). Exactly how long I’m going to be there is up in the air. My intention is to stay at least six months and possibly a year, but we’ll see how it goes. And where I go after that I have no idea.

Anyway, some brief comments — Tom Cotton has learned that Iran is expanding its reach in the Middle East and already controls Tehran. He’s a quick one, our Tom. See also Jeb Lund, “None Dare Call It Treason: Tom Cotton, Iran and Old GOP Ideas.”

The CPAC conference room was standing-room only, stuffy with faint sweat, hot worsted wool and heavy breathing for boilerplate comments you could have predicted before you crossed the threshold. Cotton – who looks appropriately like Anthony Perkins in Psycho – proudly likened America to Rome, an empire that slowly tore itself apart over for-profit foreign wars, external threats leveraged to drown out domestic discontent, revenue diverted from infrastructure. Listeners murmured approvingly. Cotton asserted the need to send America to war to “defend its national interests” against “trans-national terrorist groups.” By his utterly meaningless definitions, we need to fight anyone, and we need to do it anywhere, and it is our right. A thrill went through the audience.

IMO it’s important to understand neocons and other reactionary hawks as pro-active isolationists. Oldstyle isolationists just wanted the outside world to stay out, and maybe go away. Pro-active isolationists will not rest until anything “outside” has been either forced into assimilation or destroyed. They’re something like the Borg, in other words.

Lund goes on to review the history of right-wing obstruction of U.S. foreign policy interests, from the 1930s Neutrality Acts to Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to negotiate a peace in Vietnam. And there is a review of Iran-Contra and the lie campaign that stampeded America into invading Iraq. And the fact that nobody ever is held accountable for any of this, and indeed, most of the voting public doesn’t really understand what was done, anyway.  Lund concludes,

In its Constitutional idolatry and boundless bellicosity, Cotton’s Republican Party has arrogated to itself the presumption that anything it does is explicitly American. The normative conditions of patriotism are whatever they want to do at any given moment, because only they have the courage to defend you from enemies abroad with guns and enemies at home via a fundamentalist reading of the texts and hadith of Our Founding Prophets (which, conveniently, also mentions guns). Anything outside their chosen agenda is met with the word no, which is the finest distillation of their agenda for anyone other than their own.

This prospective nuclear deal with Iran merely creates a shredded barbecue plate of corpses and the idea of America as commonwealth of disparate voices represented in equal strength. Government is not allowed to function when it disagrees with Cotton, because he not only considers government’s existence indivisible from his ideology but also because the Constitution in his reading explicitly demands that he do this. You cannot chasten a man who believes by the word of his holiest texts that this is his job. And his job, as written, is to advise and consent. On Iran, his message is clear. His advice is to stop, and you do not have his consent, which reifies not only the illegitimacy of your actions but the holy writ of his own. Without his consent, you cannot have anything at all, except a potential nuclear clash of messianic visions of world order. In which case – to quote the previous president’s nuanced address to the same enemies foreign and domestic – bring it on.

It’s also election day in Israel, and while Netenyahu’s Likud party is likely to lose he likely will be able to put together a coalition that will allow him to keep his position as Prime Minister. A pity.

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The Weekly Smoke and Mirrors

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American History

Weekly Standard headline on article by Daniel Halper: “NYTimes Fails to Disclose Clinton Paid for Interviews About Administration.”

Wow, the Times paid Hillary Clinton for interviews? That’s really odd, but … oh, wait, that’s not what happened.

In a five year span, the William J Clinton Foundation gave five grants totaling $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. One year in particular, 2007, the Clinton gift was specifically marked: “Oral history project of Clinton presidency.”

Well, today the New York Times has a front page feature on the newly released oral history project about the Clinton presidency. The one the Clintons helped pay for. But nowhere in the 2,600 word piece do Times writers Amy Chozick (who is on the Clinton beat) and Peter Baker (longtime White House reporter) disclose the obvious conflict of interest.

Per Halpern’s article, in 2007 the Clinton Foundation marked $144,350 to pay for an oral history project of the Clinton presidency. The other four grants were not so marked. In the Times article about the oral history project, the Times failed to disclose that some of the funding for the project came from the Clinton Foundation. Halpern insinuates this was money being used to pay for fodder to help HRC’s assumed presidential bid in 2016. (Money spent in 2007? Was this about 2008? But the interviews weren’t made public until recently.)

But the Times article Halpern whines about suggests the oral history, which discusses HRC as First Lady, isn’t necessarily flattering to HRC and actually undermines some of her claims about her role as FLOTUS. And in fact Halpern couldn’t resist quoting some of the unflattering stuff about HRC’s screwups, thereby refuting his own thesis. But then he sneers, “An image of a strong, smart, loyal Hillary Clinton is one the former first lady will surely want 2016 voters to have of her. So perhaps it’s safe to say the Clinton Foundation’s $851,250 to the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was money well spent.”

In fact, the “oral history project” really isn’t really about the Clintons exclusively. Per the Miller Center website,

The Presidential Oral History Program is systematically and comprehensively debriefing the principal figures in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton, with plans to do the same for future presidents. We are also conducting special projects on important topics in political history, including a six-year oral history on the life and career of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Further,

The Presidential Oral History Program is a public service endeavor to provide such means and to preserve the true voices of past presidencies for posterity. …

… Accordingly our approach, first developed in the Center’s 1981–85 interview study of the Carter White House, differs from traditional interview practice in several respects. Rather than concentrating on a particular personality, issue or type of activity, we endeavor to cover in our interview program all the key actors in the administration together with the important issues and activities in which they were involved. Rather than one-on-one interviews, our interviews are normally conducted by teams of three or four scholars in several sessions over a two-day period. … Rather than Q&A sessions, the interviews may be likened to seminars in which former officials are teachers about the presidency in which they served and interviewers are students who want to have a better understanding of that presidency than is likely to be gained from news stories, memoirs, or public documents alone.

In other words, the Clintons were not in control of the interviews and were not paying for fluff and flattery. Halpern is crafting a “scandal” out of smoke and mirrors. So typical of the Weekly Standard.

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How Saul Alinsky Became the Bogeyman

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American History, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The rightie noise machine is pushing a story about a “close relationship” between the dreaded Hillary Clinton and the dreaded Saul Alinsky. Apparently some ancient correspondence between them has been published, proof of the evilness of the Evil Clinton Agenda.

Here’s typical commentary from a rightie blogger:

Alinsky’s chilling rules outlined in Rules for Radicals can be found here. Alinsky’s theories espouse Marxist and socialist ideologies, and this is the man on whom Hillary Clinton wrote her Wellesley College thesis. While writing her thesis at Wellesley on Alinsky’s theory of community organizing, Clinton met with Alinsky to have what she would later refer to as “biennial conversations.”

In her thesis, Hillary attempted to portray Alinsky as a mainstream American icon, writing, “His are the words used in our schools and churches, by our parents and their friends, by our peers. The difference is that Alinsky really believes in them.”

The real Alinsky was neither a Marxist nor a socialist, of course. This is from that radical e-rag, the Christian Science Monitor:

While he has become associated with radical left-wing politics in current political thought, it’s an association that’s largely misplaced, says Mark Santow, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and the author of a forthcoming book on Alinsky.

Professor Santow says Alinsky’s philosophy did not have a political persuasion. Rather, he was “relentlessly non-ideological.” In fact, Santow says parts of Alinsky’s thinking could be found in elements of today’s Democrat and Republican Parties.

“He basically believed that American society was increasingly dominated by large institutions, governments, corporations,” he says. “He thought that ordinary Americans had lost citizenship.”

He adds: “He bears some resemblance to libertarians like William Buckley … but he also bears resemblance to green, new left politics on the other side as well.”

This article also points out that Clinton’s senior thesis was critical of Alinsky in several respects.

Dylan Matthews has a longer article at Vox examining the relationship between Alinsky and Clinton in more detail, and in the context of the times, and of course what is revealed is neither communist nor Marxist but more along the lines of traditional American leftie-progressive populism.

Matthews’s article is titled Who is Saul Alinsky, and why does the right hate him so much? He answers the first question pretty well — ironically noting that something like Alinsky’s methodology was used to organize the Tea Party — but I don’t think he answers the second one.

I doubt very much of your average rightie has more than a vague idea who Saul Alinsky actually was, what he actually proposed, what he actually did. I think the name has come to represent something dark and nasty from deep beneath the subconscious of the rightie hive mind that has little to do with the real Saul Alinsky. I sincerely believe the straw-man Alinsky is the Right’s Emmanuel Goldstein, the possibly fabricated enemy of the state from Orwell’s 1984.

And let me also say that if Alinsky actually had been named William Thompson or John White we wouldn’t be hearing about him now. The name itself, IMO, stirs up nameless fears of a foreign “other” in our midst. For all their celebrated support of the state of Israel, the U.S. right-wing base is an overwhelmingly Christian crew representing a portion of our population long associated with antisemitism. As much as they may support Israel, Jewishness may be something else to them.

Alinsky’s most famous work is a book titled Rules for Radicals. Even though they are radicals themselves, the word radical makes righties nervous. They associate it with the Left, I believe; “right-wing radicalism” is an oxymoron to them. The word radicalism seems to stir up fears of chaos and civil disorder, which they don’t like unless they are causing it. Then it’s okay.

Saul Alinsky, then, makes a first-rate right-wing bogeyman who sends chills up the spines of the faithful even if they couldn’t tell you who he actually was, beyond some guy who did community organizing.

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Killing the Goose, Dreaming the Dream

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American History

I have just a couple of quibbles about Digby’s otherwise excellent rant about the death of the American dream. One is that she doesn’t clarify that the American Dream was pretty much exclusively owned by white people until relatively recently. Here’s the other:

In a time when people feel they can’t keep up or are falling behind, it’s hard to have faith in the idea that everyone can achieve a base level of security and provide for their kids to do better than they did. That was always the deal for working-class Americans, immigrants and middle-class alike.

That may always have been the ideal, and it worked out for a lot of folks, but I’m not sure even most white people born in the U.S. in the 19th century thought of it as “the deal” and expected to achieve a greater degree of security than their parents. They may have reasonably hoped to, and a lot of them did, but the experience that made the dream an expectation was really what happened from the late 1930s until about 1972. Digby’s a boomer too, although I think slightly younger than I am, and white middle class boomers really did expect a financially secure and ever more affluent life, because that had been our parents’ experience and we saw no reason for it to stop. And for some of us that happened,and for some of us, it didn’t.

In the 19th century, the Dream was largely crafted from the Western Territories. If you were an ordinary white working-class shlub or farmer living in the East you probably were not going to improve your situation much, but you could always Go West. That didn’t always work out, but the possibility was always there and made life seem less desperate.

Also in the first half of the 20th century ordinary working people and farmers, white and black, often lived very meager lives in the U.S., but people ignored them. (My mother used to tell stories about her very white poor cousins who sharecropped watermelon in the Ozarks in the 1920s, whose standard of living probably wasn’t appreciably different from what their parents’ had been in the 1890s.) Large parts of the U.S. were sunk into terrible poverty during the “Roaring 20s” but we remember the Gatsby lifestyle, fueled largely by speculation and bubbles, because that’s what was recorded in the magazines and in films.

The New Deal, GI Bill and other great liberal 20th century programs that did things like improve working conditions and reduce black lung in coal miners really created the Middle Class that we think of today as the Middle Class. And just as we all got complacent and began to think this is the way things are always going to be, the malefactors of great wealth started to persuade some of us that everything would be so much better if we dismantled some of those awful government programs that got in the way of wealth creation. We didn’t remember that those awful government programs had made the Middle Class possible. We really have become people who got greedy and killed the goose who laid golden eggs.

As Digby points out, part of our problem is that today Democrats and Republicans conceptualize the American Dream very differently.  Democrats think in terms of a decent and secure standard of living; Republicans want to get rich. And what’s happening is that the more modest “dream,” which might be achievable for most people, is being sacrificed for the sake of the fantasy one.  And, ironically, data tell us that southern working-class whites, who overwhelmingly vote Republican, are the biggest losers here. But you can’t tell them that because guns, gays and God.

Reactionary “conservatism” has put us on a course that is not sustainable, and I honestly don’t see what’s going to change anything, especially with our corrupted election system. So there we are.

Update: See also Krugman

I’ve just reread a remarkable article titled “How top executives live,” originally published in Fortune in 1955 and reprinted a couple of years ago. It’s a portrait of America’s business elite two generations ago, and it turns out that the lives of an earlier generation’s elite were, indeed, far more restrained, more seemly if you like, than those of today’s Masters of the Universe.

“The executive’s home today,” the article tells us, “is likely to be unpretentious and relatively small — perhaps seven rooms and two and a half baths.” The top executive owns two cars and “gets along with one or two servants.” Life is restrained in other ways, too: “Extramarital relations in the top American business world are not important enough to discuss.” Actually, I’m sure there was plenty of hanky-panky, but people didn’t flaunt it. The elite of 1955 at least pretended to set a good example of responsible behavior.

But before you lament the decline in standards, there’s something you should know: In celebrating America’s sober, modest business elite, Fortune described this sobriety and modesty as something new. It contrasted the modest houses and motorboats of 1955 with the mansions and yachts of an earlier generation. And why had the elite moved away from the ostentation of the past? Because it could no longer afford to live that way. The large yacht, Fortune tells us, “has foundered in the sea of progressive taxation.”

Back to my premise, that from the last years of the Depression and until about 1972 — the point at which real wages for working American peaked and began to decline — the U.S. enjoyed the smallest degree of wealth inequality in its history. The rich were not so rich, and the poor were not so poor. A lot of factors killed this situation, but more than anything else “Reaganomics” has seen to it those conditions can never come back.

Update: See also “The most important chart about the American economy you’ll see this year”

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Why Dems Lose, Reason # 32

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American History, National Security, Republican Party

This is something I’ve written about at length before — somehow, since about 1950, the Republicans have claimed the mantle of being the “tough” and “effective” party on matters of crime and national security even though there is absolutely nothing in the historical record to show that the nation has been any more or less secure or crime free under Republican Administrations than Democratic ones.Yet this doesn’t seem to sink into voters.

Peter Beinert (yeah, I know, it’s Peter Beinert) writes that Dems are in trouble because the “security moms” are back, possibly alarmed by the thought that ISIS is smuggling Ebola-infested Guatemalan babies across the border. So, naturally, when people are afraid they turn to Republicans because … why, exactly?

Steve M. writes,

Look, I understand that President Obama failed to anticipate the rise of ISIS and failed to prevent the beheading of two Americans, but George W. Bush failed to prevent 9/11, and these “security moms” responded by voting for his party in 2002 and 2004.

As a New Yorker, I’m familiar with the domestic version of this. If you’re a liberal mayor — David Dinkins or Bill de Blasio — the public’s reaction to a crime wave or a horrific crime on your watch is to blame you. If you’re a conservative mayor — Rudy Giuliani or the all-but-Republican Ed Koch — the reaction is to rally around you, because you’re “tough on crime.” A horrible crime on a tough mayor’s watch is considered further evidence that we need precisely the tough guy’s policies.

The 9/11 issue is a particular sticking point with me, and not just because I was an eyewitness to what happened to the WTC. I still don’t think the American people are aware that the Clinton Administration really had been sizing up al Qaeda and taking steps to beef up security, and that as soon as the Bushies took over in 2001 they dismissed all that. They not only brushed off the recommendations of a Senate commission that predicted a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they actually stopped the Senate from acting on the recommendations. They downgraded the threat of a Qaeda. They adamantly ignored all the hair-on-fire warnings being given them by U.S. intelligence as well as the intelligence services of several other nations.

When these facts began to come out in 2002 it fueled trutherism, but the truthers continue to ignore several other obvious facts, including the fact that the attacks caught the Bushies absolutely flat-footed. It’s been well documented that after  President Bush left the elementary school, Air Force One spent the next two hours circling Florida while Dubya and Dick argued about what to do next (press were on board; some media actually reported on it). If they had known it was going to happen they would have been prepared with chest-thumping theater, instead of needing three days to pull something together. And if the Bushies had picked a target, no way would they have picked towers full of their people, the captains of finance. They would have found a bunch of regular working stiffs to be martyrs.

I say that if there were a God, any time somebody actually says “Bush kept us safe” a giant hand would reach out of the sky and smack them.

Let us also pause to reflect on Beirut 1983 and Benghazi 2012, and the very different ways Congress dealt with these foreign disasters.

Of course, it’s the same thing with the economy. Everybody Knows Republicans are better for the economy, except history says otherwise. That history guy is either really stupid or knows something the rest of America doesn’t.

Gary Hart wrote,

Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often difficult search for truth.

It also doesn’t help us that it’s considered “smart” to assume “both parties are just as bad.” The Dems largely are a pack of mutts who get themselves outmaneuvered  way too often, and many of them owe their careers to being Repubican Lite. But no, on the whole, both parties are not just as bad.

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