TALKING DISUNION IN MANHATTAN

100_0819hanks to the folks at Jackson-McNally Bookstore in Soho for hosting a panel discussion by three of us who have been contributors to The New York Times‘ Disunion series, and to the new 1Dcompilation of pieces from the series published by Black Dog & Levanthal. Clay Risen of the Times, Ted Widmer of Brown University, and yours truly met with about twenty people, and we had a fun and lively discussion. Most pleasant surprise: meeting a young lady who turned out to be a cadet from West Point who was doing a summer internship at The Wall Street Journal and who had written about Alonzo Cushing, and why he deserves the Medal of Honor.

NULLIFICATION, SECESSION, AND NOW OBSTRUCTIONISM

One of the pitfalls in writing about the Civil War is the tendency to see things through a Civil War lens. As a result, one sometimes sees connections between phenomena and events that have no business being tied together. And that’s what may be going on here. Still, when one reads in the Times about House Republicans pledging “to gut many of President Obama’s top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and [to launch] a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president’s signature health care law is stripped of money this fall,” one cannot help but hear echoes of earlier moments in our country’s history when the minority refused to behave like a minority, and attempted to exert its will over a duly-elected majority’s. John Calhoun did that in the 1830s when he offered his theory of nullification, and Andrew Jackson beat him back. The secessionists tried to do it in the 1860s, and they were defeated, with much cost and loss of life. Now the House Republicans, bolstereed by such undemocratic devices as gerrymandering and the Hastert rule, are playing the same game–not protecting their rights as minorities, but threatening to destroy the government unless they get their way.

The country has not generally liked the idea of minority factions imposing its will on the majority. During the secession crisis, nothing infuriated northerners more than the idea that the south, having so long had its way in the governance of the country, was now refusing to abide by the rules that had until recently so served them so well for so long. Much more recently, Reagan conservatives were able to achieve great success by blaming small minorities–the media, the judiciary, liberals, etc.–for imposing rules and policies on an unwilling minority.

It’s time Democrats learned this lesson. Nothing moves Americans more than an appeal to fundamental fairness. Democrats need to nationalize the election, and campaign on the idea that what the Republicans have been unable to win at the ballot box, they are securing through manipulating the rules. Not cheating, but manipulating. People hate that even worse than cheating; it seems nearly as immoral, and it comes across as clever.

TAKE WEINER OFF THE GRILL. . .

. . .he’s done.

As the New York Post reported yesterday, “The other shoe dropped yesterday for Anthony Weiner, who was forced to admit he engaged in a months-long sexting affair with a woman — a year after he resigned from Congress in disgrace — using the bizarre online alias Carlos Danger. Weiner copped to the pathological behavior after the Web site thedirty.com reported that he had exchanged dozens of sexually explicit messages, phone calls and photos with a then 22-year-old Indiana woman. Weiner, who at the start of his mayoral campaign said other instances of sexual high jinks might surface, sent snapshots of his penis to the woman and engaged in extremely raunchy talk last summer — long after he claimed to have been rehabilitated.
Some of his messages were enough to make a porn star blush. “So I walk into a hotel room and you are at the end of the bed naked, except for some amazing f–k- me shoes, your legs are spread and your feet are flat on the ground,” wrote Weiner using both Carlos Danger and Dangr33. “I slide my c–k in you slow at first, then harder my b—s are slapping your a–. With each thrust you squeal a little. I start to f–k you so hard your t-ts almost hit you in the face. You reach behind and spread your a–.”

Weiner’s ‘net pal was identified by Buzzfeed.com as “progressive activist” Sydney Leathers of Indiana. Hours after the raunchy chats were posted, Weiner issued a statement confirming that some of the details “are true” and apologized.”

Weiner’s candidacy was going to be an interesting test of what today’s voters would forgive. I believe they would have forgiven sexual indiscretion, preferring a sexual politician to a boring one. ut voters would never forget ludicrousness. Once you are the butt of mockery, you’re done. Anthony Weiner might have had a political career; Carlos Danger doesn’t.

SPITZER’S GAME?

I’m delighted to see that Eliot Spitzer is running for Comptroller of the City of New York. Spitzer was an excellent public servant, especially as State Attorney General, where he reduced corporate big shots to sputtering and perhaps worse. I’m entirely open to the suggestion of the film Client 10 that with his predileciton for prostitutes, Spitzer gave his enemies a sword that they used against him. (You don’t really belief that children’s fable that investigators `accidentally’ ensnared the governor, do you?) And as City Comptroller, he will a large platform on which to reestablsih himself as a fighter for the people.

But I don’t think that City Comptroller is really the office that Spitzer wants. The group of candidates for Mayor this year is particularly weak; it’s not hard to imagine that whichever one of them emerges will struggle with the office, and enter 2017 with high vulnerabilities. As I look into my crystal ball, I see Comptroller being highly supportive of Mayor Whomever in 2014 and 2015, and then starting in 2015, distancing himself from Hizzoner. Then, maybe in 2017, and if not, certainly in 2021, Spitzer will run for mayor.

BUSTING THE FILIBUSTER

harry_reid_rotundaI don’t know who put the chili in Harry Reid‘s grits, as Ann Richards used to say, but I’m glad Reid had the gumption to begin to take on lipless Mitch McConnell and the other anti-government Republicans. Hey, I don’t hate filibusters; I studied political science, I know their value. And the last two filibusters of note–Rand Paul and Wendy Davis in Texas–were done in support of causes I support. But the way the Republicans have applied the threat of filibuster during the Obama era has just been to stifle and stymie government. Obama has won more than 50% of the popular vote in two successive elections; by any measure, he has won the right to govern. It should not be necessary for him to get a 60% majority in order to fill positions and appoint judges. Nor, for that matter, to pass legislation. I understand that occasionally there will be significant issues that the minority should be able to filibuster, but this is too much. These (mostly) southerners have tried this `If we don’t get our way, we’ll go home” trick before”– nullification, secession, and now obstructionism, it’s all the same deal. The Senate is already an inherently undemocratic institution; the profligate use of its own made-up rules must be discouraged.

GO, ELIZABETH, GO!


With this appearance on CNBC last week, the Legend of Elizabeth Warren continues. Look how she shoots down these two smart-alecks who dare come at her armed with nothing more than some producers’ notes and a little cocktail party conversation. “No!” Elizabeth says, and they are gobsmacked. You know, I love Hilary Clinton, but whenever Elizabeth decides to run for president, I’m her guy.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: CRUMPLER’S BLUFF, VA, JULY 14

100_0798100_0799The first engagement in which William Cushing distinguished himself was at the battle of Crumpler’s Bluff, which was in Franklin, Virginia. Federal officers designed a combined army-navy operation against elements of Longstreet’s army camped near Franklin on the Blackwater River in October 1862. While Navy gunboats under the command of Charles Flusser made their difficult way up the narrow, twisty Blackwater, the army was supposed to attack overland from the other side. They didn’t, leaving the gunboats perilously exposed. Under deadly fire, Cushing freed a cannon that had been strapped to the deck and fired, breaking the confederate attack. The pictures give an idea of how twisty the river is. By the way–there’s no bluff in sight. And for the record, yes, that’s a sewage treatment plant downriver to the left.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: FORT FISHER NC, JULY 13

100_0776William Cushing‘s last engagement was at Fort Fisher, in January 1865. Located on a piece of land separating the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River in southern North Carolina, the fort protected shipping bringing goods across the Atlantic and up the river to Wilmington, which, in 1865, was the confederacy’s last open port. The fort, which was comprised of giant molded mounds of sand, was shaped like a 7. The Army attacked the western point of the fort, while sailors and marines under Cushing attacked the eastern juncture. Cushing’s assault was stymied, but the army broke though, and carried the day. Above, the Fort Fisher monument. Below, the mounds of Fort Fisher; ocean-battered trees; a gun placement on one of the western mounds.
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