For the past few months I’ve been very fortunate to be working with Henry Bushkin, an attorney from Los Angeles who for nearly two decades represented the peerless Johnny Carson. (Yes, Henry is the famous `Bombastic Bushkin’ who showed up in Johnny’s monologues with some frequency.) Henry and I do not get to talk face-to-face very often, but last Thursday he was in New York for a case he’s working on in federal court, and I had the pleasure of lunching at Amarath on East 62nd Street with him and his tres chic companion, Jackie Jordan. We had a great time, and I look forward to meeting again soon.
Mr. Media, a/k/a the charming Bob Andelman, recently interviewed me for his radio program/podcast/column, and we had a delightful time talking about not only And the War Came, but also bygone days at Spy and Playboy. It was a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to listen to the program can find it here. And the War Came also got wonderful treatment at The Nervous Breakdown, a wonderful site devoted to books and authors. As my British friends would say, I am seriously chuffed by their notice, given how youthful and hip and with-it everything else on the site seems to be. Either I am more highly regarded than I thought, or they have some sort of quota they have to fill. Anyone who wishes to take a look can click here. Finally, to help spread the word about And the War Came, my friend Marshal Zeringue asked me to contribute to his wonderful blog Campaign for the American Reader, participating in both The Page 99 Test, and also his What I’m Reading feature. Many thanks to all!
At the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1984, UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick memorably labeled the Democratic Party, which was meeting that year in San Francisco. “And now, the American people, proud of our country, proud of our freedom, proud of ourselves, will reject the San Francisco Democrats and send Ronald Reagan back to the White House,” she said. Pleased with herself, she soon applied the label again. “When Marxist dictators shoot their way into power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don’t blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies. They blame United States policies of 100 years ago. But then they always blame America first.”
Ouch! The insult was effective because it drew a little blood. San Francisco, home of Haight Ashbury and hippies and the Grateful Dead, of Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement, of Berkeley and the Free Speech Movement and multi-culturalism and Sly and the Family Stone, so close to Big Sur and Marin County and hot tubs, was a kind of a knee jerk liberal place, a place that seemed to bring out a bit of the inner crewcut in liberals from other parts of the country. It was a sharp caricature. It stung. It was thought-provoking.
But if the country is now wary of the excesses of San Francisco Democrats, why are they not just as hip to the far-out excesses of South Carolina Conservatives? Just look at the record, starting with the Nullification Crisis and John Calhoun; Senator James “Cotton is King” Hammond; ultra-secessionists like Robert Barnwell Rhett, Congressman Preston Brooks (who caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts), Francis Pickens, The Gist brothers William and States Rights, and loudmouth Congressman Lawrence Keitt; postbellum, the racist Gov. Ben Tillman and recently, the defender of segregation, Senator Strom Thurmond. Though born in Atlanta, Lee Atwater made his bones in South Carolina. And don’t forget the ugly smear campaigns leveled at John McCain when he was running for president in 2000.
Lo and behold, it turns out that five of the mainstays of the group holding the country’s economy hostage are congressmen from South Carolina. One, Joe “You lie!” Wilson, is already well known, but four of these terrorists are freshman Republicans: Jeff Duncan, Mick Mulvaney, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy.
When will the country learn to treat with extreme suspicion the radical ideas authored by South Carolina conservatives?
In The New York Times last Sunday, John F. Burns wrote a lamentation for the state of his native Britain, and the recognition of the overall depressing complexity of the hacking scandal, the corruption of the three major institutions of the media, the police, and Parliament, really left one with the sinking, sickening feeling that the country was at a low ebb from which it will be hard to recover. Here Burns quotes Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labor Party in Parliament:
“Looking back over only the last three years, Mr. Miliband has said that the three great crises to hit Britain since then — the banking crash of 2008, the furor over fraudulent parliamentary expenses in 2009 and the tabloid scandal — have been rooted in a culture that engendered a “shirking of basic responsibility” from “top to bottom” in British life, that “sends the message that anything goes, that right and wrong don’t matter, that we can all be in it for ourselves as long as we can get away with it.”
“What,” he said, “is a young person, just starting out in life, trying to do the right thing, supposed to think when he sees a politician fiddling the expenses system, a banker raking off millions without deserving it, or a press baron abusing the trust of ordinary people?”
Britain is fortunate at least that it has been shaken so hard–Hacking the firm of dead girl! one can hear all of Britain asking, Joseph Welch-like, Have you no shame?–that Milliband and yes, even the Prime Minister David Cameron have asked this question. What’s terrible for the United States is that we are nowhere near that point yet. A wholesale pillaging of the economic system has taken place, with politicians and mortgage brokers and investment bankers and credit raters all complicit, and America is still not shocked and stunned enough to start dishing out punishment. And now we have this miserable spectacle of this debt ceiling crisis, in which the fundamental party seems quite willing to wait and see if the President Obama might just be wrong about the catastrophic consequences of destroying the country’s credit rating.
But ti’s even more than that. These people are de-legitimating the government, and they are de-legitimating the votes of all of us who voted for Obama and his policies. By denying a compromise, they are denying the our right to hold our views.
This cannot go on. Reform through the ballot box is unlikely when so much power and money is in the hands of the establishment. It is telling that in 1861, the North roused itself to stand up against southern secession not because the North cared about slavery, but because the South refused to accept the results of the election; after so many years of swallowing southern shit because the rules were the rules, the South’s refusal to accept the rules was the reason the North went to war. And this de-legitimation, too, could have the same kind of awful consequences. “Violence is as American as cherry pie,” Huey Newton once observed. “It was a case of the chickens coming home to roost,” Malcolm X said about the assassination of JFK. It is a terrible thing to envision, but the disrespectful, heady, almost giggling irresponsibility of the “no new revenue” fundamentalists is heading for blood.
At the risk of making myself part of a set of Russian nesting pundits, please let me take this opportunity to endorse Fareed Zakaria‘s column in yesterday’s Washington Post about how to escape our dysfunctional politics, which is itself an endorsement of a column former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards wrote for the The Atlantic. Edwards suggests a set of six reforms, some of which involve internal procedural reforms in Congress, but two of which are dorectly conected to reducing the influence of party zealots on the political process. Looking at the huge number of Americans who are registering as Independents who are deprived of the ability to select candidates, Edwards recommends open primaries in which independents can vote, which would dilute the influence of party hardliners over the choice of candidates. Edwards also recommends putting redistricting in the hands of independent boards that will draw, as much as possible, competitive districts. California will do that this year; let’s hope they lead the way.
Today, too few candidates have to compete for votes across the political spectrum, and too many merely have to satisfy the core voters of one party to get elected. This encourages partisanship and rigidity. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that the great vast market of soda drinkers benefits from having Coke and Pepsi compete for their business, but that even Coke loyalists and Pepsi faithful benefit when the companies have to strive to keep prices low, dream up new promotions, and maximize product availability. Competitive districts and open primaries would help voters by making candidates compete harder among more segments of the electorate. Forty years ago, in all my impatient teenage wisdom, I used to complain that there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. Today I know there is much much more than a dime’s difference, and I see how very costly, and damaging, that gap is.
Did Grover Norquist blow it a little bit yesterday when he played the “what the meaning of `is’ is” game with his famous No New Tax Edict, which he wields over Republcians faithful like a scythe? Plain as a guillotine, the edict requires all Republican candiates to forswear raising taxes while in office. First, he told the writers and editors of The Washington Post that “not continuing a tax cut is not technically a tax increase. ” So lawmakers who allow the Bush tax cuts to expire wouldn’t be violating the pledge? “We wouldn’t hold it that way,” he said. You can imagine that Norquist must have received a bunch of calls his masters who pay his bills saying “Yo Grover, WTF?”, because Norquist was undertaking a full media press to make it clear that his organization does oppose all tax increases, and that “any failure to extend or make permanent the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, in whole or in part, would clearly increase taxes on the American people.” In other words, I am once again the Great and Glorious Oz, and you should pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. It probably won’t make much difference. I suspect John Boehner and some of the other old-school Republican dealmakers would like to be rid of Norquist, but the Tea Party zealots drink this anti-tax Kool Aid every day for breakfast, and the Norquist shuffle won’t matter to them. But now we know more clearly than ever: Norquist is just a guy with a gimmick, and the rest he makes up as he goes along.
Fifty years ago (fifty years ago tomorrow, to be precise), my mom and dad drove my brother and me from our home in Baltimore MD to Culpepper County, Virginia, about sixty miles away, for a centennial reenactment of the first Battle of Bull Run, which took place 150 years ago today. About 2000 reenactors restaged the first great battle of the war for about 70,000 spectators. It was an awfully hot day, about 100 degrees, and my dad declined to pay $4 each for grandstand seating, preferring to maneuver for a slice of shade. Northern newspapers criticized the event: “90 minutes of profuse feigned violence in scorching heat”, ludicrous restaging”, “a grisly pantomine” and a general chiding for staging such pageants while the scars of the war remained unhealed and great issues remained before the nation. True, true, very true. Nonetheless, we loved it!
My dad, Clem Malanowski, took these pictures. I believe his ambitions exceeded his equipment and his skill, but I like some of these shots quite a bit: the troop in the top photo, with the unfurled Stars and Bars and their gallant brigadier with his sword and the lovely crinolined ladies on the right (God, think of the sweat!); my brother Matt and me (wearing a Confederate cavalry hat with the left brim dashingly upturned, plus a canteen on a strap), posing with a Yankee reenactor; the spectators, who even from the back look all abuzz (the men’s straw hat industry has been clobbered by the universal appeal of the baseball cap); a rebel artilleryman, ramrodding something into the barrel of his Parrot gun; and the rather bulky statue of General Thomas Jackson, standing like a stone wall at the battle where he earned his name, in a cape that he doubtless did not wear during the battle 150 years ago today.
People may not realize, but many institutions and groups made special efforts to mark the centennial, not the least of which was Life magazine, which, with its visual eclat and dexterity, was still at its peak as an American institution. Life published a six part history of the war, the highlights of which were a series of fourteen full-page or double=page paintings of battles, which to my eight year-old mind, were some of the most stunning images I had ever seen. For the first Battle of Bull Run, the editors chose Stanley Meltzoff, an artist known primarily for his painting of fish and sport fishing. Meltzoff decided to depict the scene where a stampeded Union army ran into the gaggle of spectators who had come down to watch the splendid battle, resulting in clogged chaos on the Warrenton Turnpike. Meltzoff brilliantly assembled in one scene a group of individuals who in all likelihood did not run into one another, and created a thought-provoking, emotionally moving painting. From left, by the cannon: Alfred Waud, the noted Civil War artist, works at his sketch pad; a vivandiere mourns a dead soldier, while behind her another stands with a pistol, just to the right of William Howard Russell, the famous war correspondent of the London Times, looking through binoculars; at center, photographer Matthew Brady, in a white duster, who has lost his camera but found a sword, walks between two Zouaves; a drunken officer, reported to have been wearing two hats, is above a despondent young picnicker; at right, in the carrriage, Judge Daniel McCook, transporting the body of his son Charles, an 18 year-old private in an Ohio regiment. The 63 year-old judge had ridden with several congressmen to join the fight; by happenstance he met up Charles, who met his death later that day. here shown .
The highly revealing Parliamentary hearings into Rupert Murdoch and the News Corp. hacking scandal were interrupted yesterday when spectator Jonathan May-Bowles, a.k.a. “Jonnie Marbles” tried to throw a shaving cream pie at the media baron but was thwarted by his wife, Wendi Deng. In an article in The Guardian, May-Bowles defended himself. “Simply put, I did it for all the people who couldn’t,” he said. “For a few bright moments I thought I might see justice done, keep the pie in my bag, and spare myself a night in jail. Those moments were short-lived: As committee member after committee member feebly prodded around the issues and [James] Murdoch Jr. began to dominate, I knew I was going to have to make a massive tit of myself.” I am more impressed Deng, Rupert’s 43 year-old third wife (wearing pink in the video.) That little lady can sky! Patrick Ewing couldn’t have done a better job of rejecting that pie.
In his column in today’s Times, David Brooks points a finger at the various Republicans who let the opportunity for a grand bargain with President Obama on the deficit crumble away. It is worth quoting at length:
“Republicans will come to regret this missed opportunity. So let us pause to identify the people who decided not to seize the chance to usher in the largest cut in the size of government in American history. They fall into a few categories:
“The Beltway Bandits. American conservatism now has a rich network of Washington interest groups adept at arousing elderly donors and attracting rich lobbying contracts. For example, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has been instrumental in every recent G.O.P. setback. He was a Newt Gingrich strategist in the 1990s, a major Jack Abramoff companion in the 2000s and he enforced the no-compromise orthodoxy that binds the party today. Norquist is the Zelig of Republican catastrophe. His method is always the same. He enforces rigid ultimatums that make governance, or even thinking, impossible.
“The Big Government Blowhards. The talk-radio jocks are not in the business of promoting conservative governance. They are in the business of building an audience by stroking the pleasure centers of their listeners. They mostly give pseudo Crispin’s Day speeches to battalions of the like-minded from the safety of the conservative ghetto. To keep audience share, they need to portray politics as a cataclysmic, Manichaean struggle. A series of compromises that steadily advance conservative aims would muddy their story lines and be death to their ratings.
“The Show Horses. Republicans now have a group of political celebrities who are marvelously uninterested in actually producing results. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann produce tweets, not laws. They have created a climate in which purity is prized over practicality.
“The Permanent Campaigners. For many legislators, the purpose of being in Congress is not to pass laws. It’s to create clear contrasts you can take into the next election campaign. It’s not to take responsibility for the state of the country and make it better. It’s to pass responsibility onto the other party and force them to take as many difficult votes as possible.
“All of these groups share the same mentality. They do not see politics as the art of the possible. They do not believe in seizing opportunities to make steady, messy progress toward conservative goals. They believe that politics is a cataclysmic struggle. They believe that if they can remain pure in their faith then someday their party will win a total and permanent victory over its foes. They believe they are Gods of the New Dawn.”
Marly Rose Carroll, whom we have literally known her entire life, was married last evening to D.J. Johnson, on the verdant grounds of the Crabtree Kittle House in Mount Kisco. The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, the setting was lovely, the weather was perfect, the food was delicious. Parents beamed, friends applauded, guests ate and danced and ate and danced, tears appeared, were outdone by cheers, and another boat, built by love, was launched upon the seas of life with a fair wind of good wishes filling its sails. Congratulations and good luck, Marly and DJ!