Category Archives: History

They have an odd sense of ‘longtime’ in Kansas

roberts

Or at least, at The Washington Post.

I was struck by the above headline on the Post’s iPad app this morning. I immediately thought, “Longtime? Well, Pat Roberts wasn’t a U.S. senator when I was in Kansas, working as the news editor of the Wichita paper. The senators then were Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. Or am I remembering it wrong.”

No, I was right. And while I admit my stint in Kansas was a  “long time” ago, he wasn’t elected to the office until many years after I left there, in 1996.

Which means he has served three terms. LIndsey Graham is running for a third term, and by South Carolina standards, he just got there. He replaced a man who served in the office from 1954 to 2003 (with a brief respite in 1956 when he resigned and was immediately re-elected to the office). Fritz Hollings was still our “junior senator” when he had been in office for 37 years!

Kansas just seems terribly fickle by comparison. People come and go so quickly there

So are things hunky-dory, or are we all gonna die?

I was struck by this contrast in The State this morning…

First, from a David Brooks column:

Widening the lens, we’re living in an era with the greatest reduction in global poverty ever — across Asia and Africa. We’re seeing a decline in civil wars and warfare generally.

The scope of the problems we face are way below historic averages. We face nothing like the slavery fights of the 1860s, the brutality of child labor and industrialization of the 1880s, or a civilization-threatening crisis like World War I, the Great Depression, World War II or the Cold War. Even next to the 1970s — which witnessed Watergate, stagflation, social decay and rising crime — we are living in a golden age.

Our global enemies are not exactly impressive. We have the Islamic State, a bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a lone thug sitting atop a failing regime. These folks thrive only because of the failed states and vacuums around them.

I mention all of this because of the despondency and passivity and talk of unraveling that floated around this summer. Now there is a mood of pessimism and fatalism evident in the polls and in conversations — a lack of faith in ourselves.

It’s important in times like these to step back and get clarity….

Then, from this feature from Carolyn Click about Rosh Hashanah starting tonight:

Jews mark the beginning of the High Holy Days at sundown Wednesday with the observance of Rosh Hoshanah, entering a time of personal reflection that comes amid a backdrop of fighting in the Arab world, a deadly Ebola outbreak in Africa and other world calamities.

“I think everyone is feeling the drumbeat of war in their ear,” Rabbi Jonathan Case, leader of Beth Shalom Synagogue on Trenholm Road, said Tuesday.

Older members of the congregation, those who lived through World War II, “feel that they have been in this place before,” Case said, “that the world seems to have gone awry. There is no doubt that people are scared.”…

Maybe Brooks is being a bit of a Pollyanna, but it would seem the Rabbi — or the people he’s referring to — are getting a tad overwrought. WWII? The Holocaust? Compared to now?

I think maybe Brooks and some of the folks at Beth Shalom should get together and compare notes…

Should McMaster be expected to quit Forest Lake CC?

You may or may not have seen this:

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Bakari Sellers asked Thursday that his Republican opponent, Henry McMaster, resign his membership at a Columbia country club that has a history of having only white members.

Sellers, who could be among the first African-Americans elected to statewide office since Reconstruction, said he made McMaster’s Forest Lake Club membership an issue because he wants to move away South Carolina from its past that includes bouts with outward racism.

“There are those who will call this a stunt. It is not,” said Sellers, a 29-year-old state representative from Denmark and son of a civil rights activist. “The truth is that this is already a campaign of contrasts, whether generational or idealistic, whether being one who believed in tomorrow or who hold steadfast to the themes of the past.”…

So is this a desperate bid for attention on the part of Rep. Sellers? Or is McMasters’ (and Kirkman Finlay’s John Courson’s) and membership in this club problematic in the 21st century?

MInd you, we’re operating without some key facts: We don’t know whether the club currently has black members. We don’t even know whether McMaster currently is a member. We know that he was in the past, and that the club was discriminatory in the past. How distant that past is, or whether, in Faulknerian terms, it is even past, remains fuzzy.

This is particularly interesting to me because — full disclosure time, for those of you who didn’t already know — I’m a member of the board of governors of the Capital City Club, which was founded specifically because other private clubs in the city did not allow, or at least did not have, black members.

After Cap City came along with its deliberate policy of seeking out members of all races and creeds, the other clubs in town were said to follow suit — although Forest Lake continued to have the reputation, fairly or not, of being slower to move on this than other clubs. (I emphasize again, I don’t know what the facts are; I just know it has had that rep. And that’s why Sellers is doing this — because of the rep.)

Finlay is quoted by The State as saying he doesn’t know whether the club has black members or not. I believe him. Although I’ll add, self-righteously, that no active member of Cap City would have to wonder about that. He or she would just have to look around, any time the club is open. The diversity is obvious.

But whether Forest Lake is exclusive or not, should that matter, in terms of Henry McMaster’s suitability for office? Is this a legitimate issue or not?

Burl Burlingame’s awesome second career

Actually, it’s not so much a second career as it is a continuation and expansion of one that he had always pursued.

Even in high school, Burl Burlingame was a Renaissance Man. He was a photographer, a musician, an actor, a cartoonist, a writer, an editor and a publisher, putting out his own underground newspaper at Radford High School, from which he and I graduated in 1971.

He was also really into airplanes and their history.

So while he was spending 35 years working for newspapers, he had a parallel career as a military historian specializing in the Pacific. He published on the subject, and became the leading expert on Japanese midget submarines. While working at the paper, he was a volunteer at a local aviation museum there in Honolulu.

Who could have predicted, in 1971, that among his many enthusiasms, the one that would be employing him in 2014 was his passion for building model airplanes?

But that’s the way it worked out, as Burl is now curator of the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

(By contrast, I was spending my 35 years in newspapers working 12-hour days so I had no time or energy for a outside pursuits, becoming expert in every aspect of the trade, innovating at every opportunity, leading the way on new technology, pioneering in blogging, leading other journalists, climbing the ladder to senior management — which led to nothing in the end. So let that be an object lesson to you, children.)

Anyway, since Burl is a regular here, I thought y’all might be interested in these video features about what he does, which seems to me like too much fun to get paid for. Above is an overall feature about his job and how he does it, while the clip below is Burl’s bio.

Watch, and envy him…

Catching up with Chris Verenes, now a bank CEO

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Chris Verenes at lunch today.

Some of you — the ones involved in state politics or media at the time — may remember Chris Verenes, the young executive director of the SC Democratic Party back in the late 80s.

I had sort of lost touch with Chris after those days, when I was governmental affairs editor at The State. I knew he had gone to work for Westinghouse at Savannah River, which sort of placed him in that area, but I was totally surprised to run into him at an event several months ago, when Midlands Fatherhood Coalition introduced itself to community leaders in Aiken. (The Coalition would formally open its Aiken office in July.)

Chris was his same genial, unassuming self. I had been feeling bad because I hadn’t worn a tie to the event — the ad game has had that casualizing effect on me, so that I don’t wear one most days now — and most men at the event were better-dressed than I.

Chris made me feel better because he was in a golf shirt, giving the impression that he’s doing something really laid-back these days.

But it turns out he’s a bank president — even though he neither dresses nor acts like Milburn Drysdale. He’s president and CEO of Security Federal Bank. His golf shirt had the bank logo on it. That’s the way executives dress every day at Security Federal, a community institution that started in Aiken back in the 1920s, but has grown and expanded into Richland and Lexington counties over the past decade.

In fact, he had to write a memo to himself to wear a coat and tie today, since I had invited him to lunch at the Capital City Club. As you see in the photo above, he remembered.

I enjoyed hearing from him about Security Federal, which he said differentiates itself by offering very customer-oriented services, from late hours and being open on weekends to offering financial advice that’s more about maximizing financial advantage to the customer than to the bank. The bank also has several employees devoted entirely to providing individualized coaching in financial literacy — a service he made a point of offering to the Dads who are helped by Midlands Fatherhood at the grand opening.

That kind of human-scale, community-oriented approach seems to fit Chris Verenes to a T, and I can see how he has thrived in that environment. As he tells it, he found a great bunch of people to work with.

But what I want to share with y’all is this: As we were heading to our cars in the garage after lunch, Chris was remembering his days in politics, and he shared this: He has been blessed by working with some superlative people in leadership positions at Security Federal, people he admires for their intellect, their community spirit and their selflessness.

But, he remembers, he also got to work with people like that in SC politics. He felt privileged to get to know people like John Spratt and Butler Derrick. And he noted that while, for multiple reasons, he found himself supporting Nick Theodore in his successful bid for the 1994 Democratic nomination for governor, he has the greatest respect for Joe Riley, who just barely lost the runoff to Theodore that year (which to me, is one of the saddest election results in my time covering SC politics, a huge missed opportunity for our state).

Y’all will recall that I tried making that point — that politics features a lot of really admirable people, and that most pols, even the more ordinary ones, are people who sincerely want to do good, according to their notions of “good” — on the radio recently. Only to draw heavy scoffing from Will Folks.

Of course, that’s a point I’ve tried to make fairly regularly, in one way or another, here on this blog, only to hearing multilateral scoffing from our more cynical friends.

But there are, and have always been, a lot of good people in politics. People like Chris Verenes, to name one — a guy many of you may not be familiar with, but who was involved in politics for the right reasons, trying to make a positive difference. And still strives to do the same today.

Richard Nixon, impersonated in all his awkwardness

Hard to believe that Friday marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation speech.

I was already working at my first newspaper job at the time. I was a copy clerk at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. I spent a good part of that evening running back and forth between the newsroom and the composing room (on the next floor), as the managing editor sent me up to have various headlines blown up to full page-width, and I brought full-sized proof of those heds back down for him to peruse.

That was how you did an eye-popping, historic headline in those days. Now, you’d just try various heds on your screen, and see immediately how they’d look on the page. Then, with the news pages still done on hot type (loud, clanking linotype machines, cutting-edge technology in the late 19th century), we had to get the hed set in the desired font by a compositor, have a high-resolution proof of it made, and have a camera shoot it at the right distance and magnification to blow it up on the page camera — a process even more tedious than that employed by David Hemmings in Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” Then, a proof was made of that.

At least, I think that’s how we did it. It’s been so long.

I saved at least one of those proofs I brought down to the M.E. Don’t know what I did with it.

Anyway, to celebrate the milestone, I share the above weird little video with Harry Shearer playing Nixon. Here’s a description of the video:

In a new video just posted online, Harry Shearer inhabits Richard Nixon in a verbatim comedic re-creation of Nixon’s poignant last 6 minutes before he resigned the Presidency, forty years ago today.

This excerpt, from Shearer‘s TV series “Nixon’s The One,” includes Nixon’s previously little known – and surprising – words to the CBS camera crew, which Shearer uncovered using advanced audio restoration techniques.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD46pHpRVzo

For the rest of “Nixon’s The One,” Shearer and his co-writer Nixon historian Stanley Kutler combed through thousands of hours of the legendary Nixon audio tapes, and re-enacted word for word the best moments as if filmed by a hidden camera.

“Nixon was one of the great comic characters of the 20th century,” Shearersays. “When I first began listening to his secret tapes, the revelation to me was the crazy conversations that went on in this place on the public dime. Stanley and I aimed to be as accurate as humanly possible in the way these lines are spoken, in the intonations, in the pauses, in the way people interact. Our job was to be faithful transmitters of this incredible record of craziness.”

Stay tuned for more news on the US launch of the series in fall 2014, which aired earlier this year on Sky Arts in the UK.

Remembering Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee

Lamar Hand Shaking_Display

I got this email yesterday…

Hi Brad,

I am a staff writer for Governing Magazine and came across your blog while doing some Googling about Lamar Alexander’s walk across Tennessee. (Governing covers state and local governments across the country and our audience is largely elected officials/public employees.) I’m working on a fun piece for one of our upcoming issues about the political stunt of walking and was wondering if you were available this week to chat about the topic as you covered Alexander’s campaign in ‘78. The piece will take an overall look at some of the more famous “walks” by pols – from Missouri’s Walkin’ Joe Teasdale to Illinois’ (aptly named) Dan Walker, the public stroll has been a popular political tool. More recently, Adam O’Neal, mayor of the small town of Belhaven, N.C., took a 273-mile trek to Washington, D.C. to protest the closing of his local hospital. President Obama this spring took an impromptu stroll to the Dept. of the Interior for a meeting.

I’d love to hear your take on the effectiveness of Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk and how it resonated with people. And I’m also curious about your broader thoughts on the gimmick as a whole. How effective has this type of stunt been? Who’s done it right and are there pitfalls?

Are you available Wednesday or Thursday for a phone call? Or you can always reach me directly at the number below.

Thanks,

Liz

# # # # # # # # # # # # #

Liz Farmer | Staff Writer
Governing Magazine

… and I talked with Liz for about 20 minutes this morning.

I didn’t have anything really profound to say. Here are some of the points I hit on:

  • First, I wasn’t on the actual, full walk across Tennessee (which, if you follow I-40, is about 450 miles). I was covering him during the last weeks of the general election campaign, and he had completed the walk (if I remember correctly) well before the primary. His walk was a campaign trope in the past tense: “On my walk across the state, I found yadda-yadda…” BUT I got the general flavor of it, because everywhere he went, he’d get out and walk a mile or so along the side of the road in his trademark red-and-black checked flannel shirt, khakis and hiking boots, waving at the cars. I got some photos of him doing that along a busy thoroughfare in Nashville. The brand was working for him, so he kept it going through to the end.
  • Lamar was trying to set himself apart at a time when politicians-as-usual had a particularly seedy reputation. The state had endured four years of astoundingly bold corruption under Democrat Ray Blanton. And Lamar himself had worked in the Nixon White House, a fact that might have figured in his failure to get elected four years earlier. Nixon was the master of limited access and staged availabilities, since he was so socially awkward. This walk was the opposite, and allowed him to project as an outdoorsy, clean-cut kind of guy — he looked and sounded like Pat Boone (Boone did some PSAs that were airing on the radio at about that time, and whenever he came on, I thought it was Alexander).
  • Since she was looking for examples of politicians talking long walks for political purposes, I urged her to look into Joe Riley’s march from Charleston to Columbia in 2000 to demand that the Confederate flag come off the dome. That had an impact at the time — and was mentioned recently in a nationally syndicated column, so it should be easy to look up.
  • Even though we’re far more cynical and suspicious these days, I think Tennesseans who remember Alexander’s walk still have positive connotations connected to it, largely because he wasn’t a disappointment to them. He was open and aboveboard in his dealings as governor. He worked VERY well across the aisle, persuading Speaker Ned Ray McWherter and the other Democratic leaders to go for the kinds of education reform that were usually anathema to Dems. He harks back to a better time, when Republicans like him and his mentor Howard Baker disagreed with Democrats, but didn’t see them as the enemy, but as people to work with for the betterment of the state and country.
  • That, of course, is why Alexander has Tea-Party opposition in this Thursday’s primary (Tennessee has primaries at a much more rational and voter-friendly time than we do; our June primaries mean there’s plenty of time for mischief in the Legislature after filing deadlines). Here’s hoping his opponent does no better than his counterpart in Kansas, the president’s distant cousin. Lamar Alexander is exactly the kind of senator this country needs in Washington, and there too few like him left. (See “In Tennessee, consensus politics makes a last stand” by Dan Balz in the WashPost.)

I wished I could have put my hands on one story I wrote, right after Alexander won the 1978 election, which ran on the front page of The Jackson Sun. It was an exclusive, and one of the best stories I wrote during my brief time as a reporter. It was Alexander’s own account of how he had come back after defeat four years earlier. A week or two before Election Day, at the end of a long day of campaigning, Alexander and a reporter from the Tennessean were relaxing over a drink on the campaign plane on the way back from an event at one of the far ends of the state. (We had access to candidates in those days that reporters only dream of now, and our papers thought nothing about paying a pro-rata share of the plane rides.) Alexander just started talking about how he come to that point, and the Tennessean guy just listened and enjoyed his drink, and I took notes like mad. Even John Parish, the gruff dean of Tennessee political writers, praised the piece I got from that eavesdropping.

That probably would have provided Liz with some insights, but this was years before electronic archiving. That clip is probably moldering in a box in my attic somewhere…

Haley wants Atlantic Beach to be the way it was in the 1940s. But I think she means that in a GOOD way…

tn_1200_Atlantic_Beach_Bikers_Weekend_17.jpg

You know, you could take this observation from our governor in a very negative way:

— Gov. Nikki Haley and Atlantic Beach officials remain at a standoff regarding the future of Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest after a meeting Tuesday morning.

Haley said she would like to see Atlantic Beach return to what it was in the 1940s when there were bustling businesses, hotels and attractions and is willing to help the transformation with state funding – if town officials end Bikefest.

“When I look at Atlantic Beach the feeling I have is pride,” Haley told town council members. “When I look at Atlantic Beach the feeling I have is history. … We need to find a way to make sure that this is a destination spot for all of the people from all over this country to [want to visit].”

But Atlantic Beach officials say that while they resepct and appreciate the governor’s opinion, they still have no plans to end Bikefest….

Um, the way it was in the 1940s? You mean, when black folks weren’t welcome on the “white” beaches, and Atlantic Beach was the only place they could go enjoy sand and surf?

But I don’t think she means that. I think she means Atlantic Beach should be proud that it was a welcoming place for black families, a wholesome place for folks to vacation with their kids.

As opposed to what it is now, during Black Biker Week each year.

I applaud the governor’s efforts to do something about an event in South Carolina that this year led to three people getting killed and seven injured in eight shootings. That’s enough to make anyone long for halcyon days. And I think she meant it in a good way….

That classic Ariail cartoon I couldn’t find the other day

Bent but not broken_cmyk

On Wednesday, I had wanted to use the above cartoon with my post about remembering The State‘s coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

It’s one of Robert Ariail’s most popular ever, and it served a good cause — it was turned into a poster, copies of which were sold, and the proceeds donated to disaster relief.

Unfortunately, it’s from the pre-digital days, so I couldn’t find it online.

Robert was kind enough to email this to me, so I share it now.

The original that ran in the paper was black-and-white, although color was added for the posters. After scanning the original to share it with us, Robert photoshopped in some color to recreate the poster effect…

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

TIM DOMINICK TDOMINICK@THESTATE

That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…

pulitzer

On the ‘dumbing down of America,’ starting with SC

It is perhaps appropriate that on the day we learn a reality-TV star (which is actually one of the more flattering things one can say about T-Rav) is vying to become a U.S. senator from South Carolina, Burl Burlingame brings my attention to this piece, headlined “America dumbs down,” which begins with an anecdote from the Palmetto State:

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection….

If you’re getting the impression that the author of this piece holds that people who hold conservative positions are stupid, you’re getting the right impression. Which, I admit, I find off-putting. I mean, I have trouble understanding why some fundamentalist Christians find it necessary to deny evolution (as a Catholic, I see no conflict between faith and science on this point) — trouble that grows out of my failure to understand why anyone would think such obvious allegories as the Creation story are factual, accurate history — I don’t believe in mocking or sneering at people who believe such things.

Predictably, the piece goes on to describe conservative positions on gun control, global warming and health care reform as evidence of idiocy.

Perhaps the most offensive (intellectually offensive, that is) assertions in the piece is this:

… many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

Apparently, this author who thinks other people are so stupid is incapable of seeing the difference between parents being concerned about their children’s exposure to depictions of sexuality and drug use and… the Taliban. Let’s see… on the one hand, you have parents who doubt that a particular book is appropriate for their kids (not whether the book should be burned or anything, but whether it’s appropriate for their kids). On the other hand, you have people who shoot girls in the face for the crime of going to school. Yeahhhh, that’s just exactly the same. Riiiight

All of that said… the overall phenomenon under discussion here is a real one. American history is rife with anti-intellectualism, and there is a downward trend over time, as our politics becomes more democratic, in a bad way. We do, indeed, live in a time and place in which you can win elections by appealing to foolishness over wisdom.

I was referring to an example of this earlier today, cited by Michael Kinsley back in the mid-90s — the polling that indicated that solid majorities of Americans believe we spend too much on foreign aid, that they think, on average, that we spend about 18 percent of our budget, and that they think a better amount would be 3 percent (actually, that that should be the minimum) — when actually, we spend about 1 percent.

It’s OK for the people to be confused on something like that — unless that confusion becomes the basis of actual policy going forward. Which, unfortunately, does happen sometimes.

Anyway, it’s a deeply flawed piece that nevertheless touches upon a real problem…

The passing of Howard Baker

baker

This came in a little while ago from The Washington Post:

Former senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who framed the central question of the Watergate scandal when he asked “what did the president know and when did he know it?” and framed portraits of history with his ever-present camera while Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff, died June 26 at his home in Huntsville, Tenn. He was 88.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said longtime aide Tom Griscom….

That’s me with Baker in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1980. I had just arrived to cover him as he campaigned for the presidential nomination. It’s a shame that he didn’t do better than he did.

And it’s a greater shame that there are so few pragmatic centrists like Baker left — a fair-minded conservative who did not hesitate to grill the Nixon administration to discover the truth.

We still have Lamar Alexander, who comes out of that same commonsense Tennessee Republican tradition — people who gained high office before the Reagan revolution, and before the hardening of ideological positions on both ends of the spectrum. Our own Lindsey Graham is made from a similar mold — although, being of a later generation, he is more marked by the partisan wars than Baker ever was.

But the Howard Bakers, the Sam Nunns, the Scoop Jacksons… they’re all gone. And we’re worse off for it…

Yo, T-Rav: There’s a REASON Stonewall Jackson never wrote a ‘little note’ like that, but it’s not the one you think

T-Rav, military historian

T-Rav, military historian

At the end of the story relating the appalling news that Thomas Ravenel is seeking to put his name on the fall ballot for U.S. Senate was this gem:

Still, Ravenel is cagey when asked about his strategy for the race, declining to discuss his campaign plans and fundraising goals or disclose the number of registered voters who already have signed his petition to be on the ballot, due to the State Election Commission by noon on July 15.

While he says he is a proponent for peace, Ravenel used a war analogy to explain his campaign secrecy.

“You think Stonewall Jackson wrote a little note over to Gen. Grant and said here’s my battle plan?”

Um… correct me if I’m wrong, Civil War buffs, but isn’t the main reason Jackson never wrote a little note like that the fact that he never faced Ulysses S. Grant in any battle at any time? Grant was out West until nearly a year after Jackson was killed in action.

For the record, Julius Caesar never wrote a little note like that to Napoleon Bonaparte, either.

But who’d sit still for a ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ debate today?

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Rep. Bakari Sellers reacted to Henry McMaster’s victory in his bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor as follows:

Rep. Bakari Sellers challenges Henry McMaster to five Lincoln-Douglas style debates across South Carolina 

Columbia, SC – State Representative and Democratic Nominee for Lt. Governor, Bakari Sellers, tonight challenged Republican Nominee Henry McMaster to a series of five Lincoln-Douglas style debates to be held across South Carolina during this summer and fall.

“Now that the nominees have been chosen, it’s up to the nominees to let the people hear how they stand on the important issues facing our state. Voters should be able to listen directly to the candidates discuss and debate issues and decide for themselves who has the best vision to lead our state as our next Lt. Governor”, said Rep. Sellers.

Sellers said that there are clear distinctions between the two candidates and he hopes to draw those distinctions during the upcoming months. Sellers said, “My opponent represents the status quo and is a decades long career politician who has been running for office for close to thirty years. This election is not about what was South Carolina was, nor what South Carolina is, it’s about what South Carolina can be. We have an opportunity to retire the “good-ole boy network” in Columbia.  Fresh leadership and fresh ideas is what I will bring to our great state as our next Lt. Governor.”

Sellers pointed out that the voters chose a little known state representative named Nikki Haley in the governor’s race over McMaster in 2010. Sellers’ campaign slogan is “We can do better,” and he hopes that South Carolina voters believe that as well.

NOTES:

Rep. Sellers is from Denmark, SC and represents House District 90 which covers parts of Bamberg, Barnwell and Colleton Counties. He is also a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Sellers is a candidate for Lt. Governor. The campaign’s website is www.sellers2014.com.

Sellers offered this definition of such a debate:

In a Lincoln/Douglas debate, the person speaking in support of the issue, called the Affirmative, is allowed a six minute segment to construct their argument. The opposition, or Negative, then has three minutes to ask questions of the affirmative, followed by seven minute to state the Negative case and argue against the Affirmative. The Affirmative has three minutes to cross-examine, then is allowed four minutes to rebut, using evidence from both their argument and the Negative argument. The Negative is allowed a final six minutes to rebut, summarize and plead for support from the judges, followed by a similar three minute period for the Affirmative. Including preparation time, the entire debate round takes approximately 45 minutes.

Yeah, well, that’s not the way I remember it from the history books. Forty-five minutes would have been considered just warming up in those days:

Lincoln and Douglas agreed to debate in seven of the nine Illinois Congressional Districts; the seven where Douglas had not already spoken. In each debate either Douglas or Lincoln would open with an hour address. The other would then speak for an hour and a half. The first then had 30 minutes of rebuttal.

But who today would sit still for, and listen to, such a marathon? No one, that’s who. So yeah, a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate today would have to be greatly streamlined…

Obama, the coup de main commander in chief

Something struck me over the weekend about POTUS.

We know he’s not much of one for committing conventional forces. He’s no Rommel or Patton; you’ll never see major armored formations maneuvering in large land battles if he can help it. And trench warfare is about 180 degrees from anything this commander in chief would engage in.

He’s even hesitant about the use of air power in any sustained way. He went along in Libya, but on the condition that we were just what Nick Adams in “No Time for Sergeants” called the whole danged Air Force: the helpers. Leading from behind, and all that.

On the other hand…

He’s more willing than any president in my lifetime to launch one-time, deus ex machina attacks from the sky, with devastating and deadly effect. I refer here to the drones, which he has used more extensively by far than any predecessor.

Also, let’s not forget the killing of Osama bin Laden. Or the snatching from Libyan soil of one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attack, just last week, the success of which the president was happy to tout:

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”…

No, he’s not one for the long-haul slog. But if he can pounce down on you and kill or capture you out of a clear blue sky, leaving behind nothing but a puff of dust in his wake, he will get your a__.

Over the weekend, it finally hit me: He’s the coup de main president. For those not up on military theory, a coup de main is “An offensive operation that capitalizes on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.

It’s like, if this generation of leaders had been in charge of the Normandy invasion, you’d want Colin Powell in charge of the beach landings — he’s all about putting massive, irresistible force on the objective and overwhelming the enemy’s defenses. But you’d put Obama in charge of something like the Pegasus Bridge operation — a swift, sudden attack by glider-borne troops on a small target of strategic importance to the overall operation.

Except he wouldn’t have gone in for that “hold until relieved” part. He would have wanted to go in, kill all the Germans defending the target, then get out. Which wouldn’t have been helpful in that case, since we needed the bridge to advance inland. So, bad example.

But you know what I mean — don’t you?

The ‘little Tony Blairs of Kosovo’




I love this little film that The Guardian has put together, about all the 15-year-old boys named after Tony Blair, who led the Western alliance to rescue Kosovo just before they were born.

I like footnote-of-history things like this. And since Tony Blair is my main man, one of my favorite political leaders of the past generation, that makes this all the better…

D plus 70 years

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This was the Day of Days, and I am still overwhelmed by the enormity of what was undertaken, and the fact that it succeeded in spite of monumental mistakes and frightful odds:

  • The idea of putting 175,000 men in one day on a beach, every square inch of which was pre-sighted by German machine guns, artillery and mortars.
  • The decision that Eisenhower and Eisenhower alone had to make, giving the “go” signal after a day’s delay, with only the most primitive weather forecasting. A mind-bogglingly complex plan involving more than a million men, thousands of ships and boats, amounts of materiel that make today’s stockpiles look like nothing, all having to come together at the right instants. And he said “go,” knowing it could be a disaster — as it nearly was at Omaha, which would have rendered the whole beachhead untenable, and the invasion a failure.
  • The stupendous foul-ups that nevertheless didn’t keep the invasion from succeeding — the aerial bombardment that fell too far inland to do any good (the pilots were afraid of hitting the boats approaching the beach), the rocket barrage that fell short into the sea, the naval artillery battering that failed to take out any of the German gun emplacements, the complete chaos of the airborne drop, with paratroopers landing as much as 20 miles from their drop zones, all mixed up with troops from other units and unable to find their own.
  • The moment when Omar Bradley was close to declaring Omaha a failure, with a pitiful few wet, bleeding men huddled against the cliff, unable to advance or retreat, and reinforcements unable to land.
  • The individual initiative here and there by sergeants, lieutenants and captains who knew the plan had gone to hell and that they had to improvise, leading small bands of men up the cliff, and (among the paratroopers behind German lines) organizing tiny ad hoc units to attack targets as they presented themselves. As impressive as what the generals had done in planning and preparation, it was these small, improvised actions that saved the day. (And, to give the generals a little of the credit, a result of the American method of training soldiers, which — unlike the doctrines of many countries — emphasized initiative, critical thinking and improvisation.)
  • The incredibly difficult fighting through the hedgerows — something entirely unanticipated by intelligence, providing the Germans with multiple defensible positions to drop back to every few yards — over the coming month.

And so much more.

I’ve never in my life seen a pivot point of history condensed and crammed into one place and one day, and almost certainly never will. It just amazes me something like this, something so huge, so sweeping and momentous, such an effort, such a throw of the dice, occurred just nine years before I was born.

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

President Barack Obama chats with John Cummer of Blythewood, a World War II veteran in Normandy, France, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Winston Pownall of West Columbia, another veteran on the trip, is next to Cummer. SGT. MICHAEL REIHSCH — U.S. Army Europe

Reparations and ‘the monster in the closet’

Doug Ross suggests that there would be great interest in a discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece in The Atlantic on the subject of reparations.

OK, so I’ll raise the subject. I can’t really comment this morning because I don’t have time to read the rather lengthy piece myself. I did, however, skim over the synopsis that Doug provided.

It tells me that what Coates suggests is not so much reparations in the sense of dollars. Rather, he wants to authorize a commission that would cause us to talk about the subject:

Calling the essay the “case” for reparation is equally misleading. Coates produces plenty of facts and figures that would be used to argue the case for reparations, his role though, is less that of the prosecuting attorney than that of the Grand Jury. He’s merely presenting enough evidence to make it clear that there ought to be a trial.

The “trial,” in this case, would be a study conducted by a congressionally appointed committee under the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, a bill that has been submitted by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) in every Congress for the past 25 years, but has never been brought to the floor.

The purpose of the bill is “To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.”

The Commission would have no authority beyond the ability to compel testimony and gather information, and would be authorized to spend $8 million–a sum utterly trivial in the grand scheme of the U.S. budget. Its conclusions would not have the force of law, and could not require the U.S. government to take any action whatsoever.

This brings us to the monster in the closet. Coates believes that the United States, as a people, has never been fully honest with itself about the extent to which black Americans were subjected to institutionalized discrimination. Further, to the extent that we have acknowledged discrimination, the U.S., as a country, has never made an honest effort to assess what it cost the country’s black citizens.

That’s what we’ve locked away in the closet, he argues, and the Conyers committee’s charge would be to open the door and find a way for the United States, as a people, to kill the monster. It’s that effort itself, Coates writes, done under the imprimatur of the federal government itself, which would be the true act of making reparations.

“Reparations—by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely,” he writes.

“What is needed is an airing of family secrets, a settling with old ghosts. What is needed is a healing of the American psyche and the banishment of white guilt….

The only reaction I have is, “More talk?” Perhaps because of what I have done for a living for so many years, every time someone says we haven’t talked enough about the subject of race in America, or some aspect of the subject of race in America, I wonder where they’ve been.

But hey, I’m a talker. Let’s talk away. I just don’t know where yet another talk can realistically be expected to take us…

Revisiting an intriguing proposition: Hillary Clinton as LBJ (rather than MLK or JFK)

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I was interested to read, in today’s excerpt of Jim Clyburn’s book in The State, the congressman’s account of his disagreement with the Clintons just before the 2008 SC presidential primary:

That charge went back to an earlier disagreement we had about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s suggesting that, while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had done an excellent job promoting the issues of civil and voting rights for black people, it took a sensitive president such as Lyndon Baines Johnson to have the resolution of those issues enacted into law. In a New York Times article referencing an interview Mrs. Clinton had with Fox News on Monday, Jan. 5, 2008, she was quoted as saying “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The article went on to say that Mrs. Clinton thought her experience should mean more to voters than uplifting words by Mr. Obama. “It took a president to get it done,” Mrs. Clinton said.

It was an argument I had heard before while growing up in the South, even from white leaders who supported civil rights reform. It took black leaders to identify problems, but it took white leaders to solve them, they said. I had accepted that argument for a long time; but in 2008 it seemed long outdated, and it was frankly disappointing to hear it from a presidential candidate. When the reporter called to ask my reaction, I did not hold back…

Actually, Clinton is misrepresenting what Hillary Clinton had said. I don’t think he’s doing so intentionally. I believe he truly remembers it that way, in those black-and-white terms.

But then-Sen. Clinton didn’t really put it in terms of black leader vs. white leader. Basically, she put both Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy in one category — that of the inspirational figure — and Lyndon Baines Johnson in the contrasting role of the less-inspirational leader who nevertheless follows through and gets things done.

I found her proposition intriguing at the time. She was posing the question, What do you want — inspiration or results? I wrote a column about it at the time, which ran on Jan. 20, 2008, just six days before Barack Obama won the SC primary.

Now that we’ve had several years in which to evaluate the kinds of results that Mr. Obama has produced as president, and as we look forward to a 2016 election in which the Democratic nomination is Mrs. Clinton’s for the taking, I think it’s interesting to revisit that column. So here it is:

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
BARACK OBAMA and Hillary Clinton decided last week to put their spat over MLK, JFK and LBJ behind them. That’s nice for them, but the rest of us shouldn’t drop the subject so quickly.
Intentionally or not, the statement that started all the trouble points to the main difference between the two front-runners.
And that difference has nothing to do with race.
Now you’re thinking, “Only a Clueless White Guy could say that had nothing to do with race,” and you’d have a point. When it comes to judging whether a statement or an issue is about race, there is a profound and tragic cognitive divide between black and white in this country.
But hear me out. It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”
She wasn’t insulting black Americans — intentionally — any more than she was trying to dis Irish Catholics.
To bring what I’m saying into focus, set aside Dr. King for the moment — we’ll honor him tomorrow. The very real contrast between the two Democratic front-runners shows in the other comparison she offered.
She was saying that, given a choice between John F. Kennedy and his successor, she was more like the latter. This was stark honesty — who on Earth would cast herself that way who didn’t believe it was true? — and it was instructive.
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the Master of the Senate when he sought the Democratic nomination in 1960. If he wanted the Senate to do something, it generally happened, however many heads had to be cracked.
LBJ was not made for the television era that was dawning. With features like a hound dog (and one of the most enduring images of him remains the one in which he is holding an actual hound dog up by its ears), and a lugubrious Texas drawl, he preferred to git ’er done behind the scenes, and no one did it better.
Sen. Johnson lost the nomination to that inexperienced young pup Jack Kennedy, but brought himself to accept the No. 2 spot. After an assassin put him into the Oval Office, he managed to win election overwhelmingly in 1964, when the Republicans gave him the gift of Barry Goldwater. But Vietnam brought him down hard. He gave up even trying to get his party’s nomination in 1968.
But he was a masterful lawmaker. And he did indeed push the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act into law, knowing as he did so that he was sacrificing his party’s hold on the South.
He brought into being a stunning array of social programs — Medicare, federal aid to education, urban renewal, and the War on Poverty.
So, on the one hand, not a popular guy — wouldn’t want to be him. On the other hand, President Kennedy never approached his level of achievement during his tragically short tenure.
You might say that if Sen. Obama is to be compared to President Kennedy — and he is, his call to public service enchanting young voters, and drawing the endorsement of JFK’s closest adviser, Ted Sorensen — Sen. Clinton flatters herself in a different way by invoking President Johnson.
They are different kinds of smart, offering a choice between the kid you’d want on your debating team and the one you’d want helping you do your homework.
Sen. Obama offers himself as a refreshing antidote to the vicious partisanship of the Bush and Clinton dynasties. That sounds wonderful. But Sen. Clinton has, somewhat less dramatically, formed practical coalitions with Republican colleagues to address issues of mutual concern — such as with Lindsey Graham on military health care.
Sen. Clinton, whose effort to follow up the Great Society with a comprehensive health care solution fell flat in the last decade, has yet to live up to the Johnson standard of achievement. For that matter, Sen. Obama has yet to bring Camelot back into being.
As The Washington Post’s David Broder pointed out, in their debate in Las Vegas last week, the pair offered very different concepts of the proper role of the president. Sen. Obama said it wasn’t about seeing that “the paperwork is being shuffled effectively,” but rather about setting goals, uniting people to pursue them, building public support — in other words, about inspiration.
Sen. Clinton talked about managing the bureaucracy and demanding accountability.
Sen. Obama offers a leader, while Sen. Clinton offers a manager. It would be nice to have both. But six days from now, South Carolinians will have to choose one or the other.

Hillary