The Clare Spark Blog

August 26, 2012

Democratic Party talking points 2012

Pro-Andrew Jackson cartoon

[Read this along with https://clarespark.com/2012/06/26/aaron-sorkins-scottish-blood/. Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom (now complete) will preview Democrat talking points, without missing a beat.]

The Yankee Doodle Society is a 501©3 organization, and its purpose is education, not polemicizing for one party or the other. Nevertheless it is not unscholarly to note the ideology informing the talking points of the Democratic Party.  I start with my own list, then add several messages submitted by Facebook friends.

Clare (off the top of her head): [From NPR:] Voter fraud a bogus issue invented by the pigs (or as Aaron Sorkin calls them, “the American Taliban”) to negate minority voting

The War on Women/women’s health

Romney is waging war on the poor through clever evasion of income taxes [NPR interview with Nicolas Shaxon]

R wants to harm students and teachers

R is destroying Medicare and Social Security

FB friend: it’s all bush’s fault… the other guys want to return to the same failed policies that led us to the brink of disaster…mitt is out of touch with the voters.. flip floppers.. mormons are weird(unless of course they are senate majority leaders)… republicans want to lower taxes on the rich and raise them for the middle class…people who oppose obama must be racist… they will destroy medicare as we know it…. mitt’s a felon… mitt didnt pay his taxes for 10 years.. mitt likes to fire people… mitt is a job exporter… mitt and bain are tax cheats…ryan has dangerous randian notions… republicans are greedy and unfeeling , democrats are kind and generous…. republican party is the party of the rich, corrupted by evil corporations… we’ve created 4.4 million jobs since bo took office, more than george w or reagan did in recoveries(really false btw).”

FB friend Mike Murray: War on Women, White Privilege, Fat cats, Fair Share. On a local note, something I find absolutely fascinating.  The state of Minnesota would, per the language of the proposed amendment, provide a free photo ID for every eligible voter, as a photo ID would be required to vote.  Taxpayers would pay for this, of course, so it wouldn’t be “free,” yet this is somehow evidence of a war on the poor?

FB friend Randy Davidson: “Obama’s Pet Peeves: The Constitution, Congress,The Supreme Court, The separation of powers, Thomas Paine, Israel, Alexis de Tocqueville, Capitalism, Oil companies (even though he accepted more money from them than any other Presidential candidate in history), Thomas Jefferson, The free market, Private jets (with the exception of Air Force One, Pelosi One and Soros One), Hayek, Chevy Suburbans and Cadillac Escalades (with the exception of those used by Rap Stars and the Presidential motorcade – where is that fleet of Chevy Volts the White house ordered?), Montesquieu, Doctors (he accused them of unecessary amputation among other things, although he’s okay with late-term/partial-birth abortion), The private sector, Banks (see oil companies). Ironic afterthought: Although Barack Obama is a rabid anti-colonialist, he does in many ways bear a striking resemblance to the late King George III.” [Added by anon. FB friend: England… Arizona…Fox News… Health insurance industry.]

Taken as a whole, a detached observer might conclude that the Democratic Party is waging “total war” on their challengers for the presidency.  This is nothing new for the Democrats. As I showed in prior blogs, Claude Bowers laid out his program here: https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/. But see also the “progressive” appropriation of German/Nazi methods of mind management here: https://clarespark.com/2010/04/18/links-to-nazi-sykewar-american-style/.

These tried and true propaganda techniques were not once brought out in my graduate school education (not at Harvard, not at UCLA), nor have I seen an article or a book that identified them with a critical eye. We should all be asking, “why not”?

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December 10, 2011

Claude Bowers: racist Dem pol

Claude Bowers

[For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/06/16/the-social-history-racket/. More irrationalism in our political culture.]

This blog is about Democratic Party fundamentalism as expressed by the populist journalist Claude Bowers, keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention of 1928. The Democratic essentials had already been revealed in Obama’s speech at Osawatomie, Kansas on December 8, 2011, but I had never heard of Bowers, a Hoosier journalist, politician, and later ambassador to Spain and Chile, before reading about his role in the ascendance of Jeffersonianism and the concurrent stigmatizing of Alexander Hamilton in the early 20th century. (My source was Stephen F. Knott’s Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth.) Since Knott had mentioned Bowers’ memoir and Bowers’s racist elevation of Andrew Johnson in the bestselling Tragic Era (1929),* and since I had never heard of him before, I consulted his memoir. I was not prepared for this inside story of Democratic politics, nor the starring role that this autodidact had played in publicizing not only the Jefferson-Jackson contribution to populist ideology, but in delegitimating such Radical Republicans as Thaddeus Stevens and the whole Reconstruction [gang]. This hatred would be transferred to “the money power” and the ostensible Republican “oligarchy” that had viciously exploited the suffering masses, masses whom Bowers was calling to arms, as indeed Obama had done in his New-New Nationalism peroration.

The first thing I noticed in the Bowers memoir was his excitement in vivid Irish oratory and the theater of politics, also by the Leader principle, for his book is full of hero-worship and the language of military battle, replete with violent metaphors. Then I came upon his speech, delivered to the most powerful Democratic partisans during the election year 1928, and the word protofascist came to mind. So I am copying out his own transcription of the rules for fighting Democrats that are in many ways, indistinguishable from the rhetoric of communists, fascists, and the most militant of social democrats (including POTUS). (This speech was meant to unify a dangerously splintered Party, divided about such issues as evolution and Al Smith’s Catholicism, but also fatally defeatist, in Bowers’s view. In his memoir, he places his speech to the Jackson Day Banquet of 1928 after a description of a pleasant meeting with FDR, at that time an adviser to Al  Smith. This is not his keynote address at the 1928 convention: that one sharply divided Hamiltonian Republicans from Lincoln Republicans, thus annexing Lincoln to the politics and policies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, and consigning the Hamiltonians to hell/the “penitentiary.” Bowers viewed his accomplishment as banishing forever the false notion that party differences were merely about patronage, as opposed to [class struggle].)

[Claude Bowers, as reprinted in My Life (Simon and Schuster, 1962):]

“[Referring to Andrew Jackson as exemplary Jeffersonian democrat:] He was too wise to enter a conflict with enemies, spies and traitors in the rear.

He had no patience with the timid or the time server, and the ordered the Miss Nancys and the Sister Sues back with the scullions and the cooks to make way for two-fisted fighting men upon the firing line.

His strategy of battle was to center on a single issue, brush all extraneous matters out of the line of march, and, the strategy determined, close debate and concentrate on victory.

Imagine, if you can, an Iago insinuating himself into Jackson’s camp to propose the division of the party on evolution or the theory of relativity and living to report progress to the enemy that sent him.

He never fought with ping-pong sticks—he gave his men battle axes and artillery.

He never soft-pedaled his approach to conflict—he rode to battle waving a warrior’s sword and shouting commands, and he rode at the head of the column.

He never inquired whether a policy would be good for the North, South, East, or West, for he knew if it were really good it would be good for the masses of the people everywhere.

He fought the common enemy; he waged no civil wars.

Under his courageous leadership, the jingle of the golden coin could not intimidate the army that he led, and the enemy barricades could not stop it, and the machinations of the enemy could not divide it, and thus he moved to inevitable and immortal victories for popular government and the economic rights of man.

And how did he do it? By giving the people a fundamental issue that had a meaning at every fireside in every home in the country. He pointed to the entrenchments of monopoly [i.e, the National Bank, CS] and he said, “We will take that.” He called attention to the increasing arrogance of class rule, and he asked the masses to follow him to battle for the restoration of a government of equal rights for all and special privileges for none.

….

[Bowers, cont.] But someone asks what Jefferson and Jackson have to do with present-day problems and conditions; and the answer is that there is scarcely a domestic issue that Jefferson thought for and Jackson fought for and Wilson wrought for that is not a vital living issue at this hour.

If the party that these men stood for stands today where these men stood, for equal rights for all and special privileges for none—there is an issue.

If it stands where these men stood, against monopoly and autocracy in government and industry—there is an issue.

If it stands where these men placed it, for the rule of the majority and the greatest good to the greatest number—there is an issue.

If it believes, as these men did, that the debaucher of the ballot box and the hucksters in high places who sell the nation’s birthright to line their pockets belong to the penitentiary and nowhere else—there is an issue.

And to put it all in one sentence: If it stands where these men stood, for democracy and against the oligarchy of a privileged class—there, there is an issue that can mobilize the people and make them march with waving banners and the will to victory in their hearts.” (pp. 178-180) [End, Bowers excerpt]

[Clare’s comment:] Earlier in the text, Bowers mentioned Jefferson’s beloved household servant, too reticent, perhaps, to name the servant as a slave. So much for Jeffersonian or Jacksonian democracy, models that are supposed to speak to us today, red banners waving. Obviously, the entire gold-jingling, huckster-ridden Republican party should be hunted down and jailed. So much for popular sovereignty: we don’t need any. The Leader and the masses are joined at the hip.

*The Tragic Era is notorious in the annals of apologetics for white supremacy. It was favorably reviewed by William E. Dodd (see my remarks on Dodd’s Southern agrarianism in https://clarespark.com/2011/08/14/review-in-the-garden-of-beasts-by-erik-larson/ . Peter Novick in That Noble Dream, p.231, states that Bowers’s achievement in discrediting the Republican Party in the South was awarded with the ambassadorship to Spain. Novick doesn’t mention that it was FDR’s appointment that sent Bowers off to a Spain he romanticized in his autobiography.

November 21, 2011

Cormac McCarthy vs. Herman Melville

Premodern Cormac McCarthy

[This is the second of two blogs on Cormac McCarthy: see https://clarespark.com/2011/11/17/blood-meridian-and-the-deep-ecologists/]

At a bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a retired English professor friend of mine was offered a signed copy of McCarthy’s The Crossing for $1250. McCarthy does not sign his books any longer and apparently does not give interviews, except for this long piece for the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/19/magazine/cormac-mccarthy-s-venomous-fiction.html?src=pm, authored by Richard B. Woodward, which contains the following passage:

“Blood Meridian” has distinct echoes of “Moby-Dick,” McCarthy’s favorite book. A mad hairless giant named Judge Holden makes florid speeches not unlike Captain Ahab’s. Based on historical events in the Southwest in 1849-50 (McCarthy learned Spanish to research it), the book follows the life of a mythic character called “the kid” as he rides around with John Glanton, who was the leader of a ferocious gang of scalp hunters. The collision between the inflated prose of the 19th-century novel and nasty reality gives “Blood Meridian” its strange, hellish character. It may be the bloodiest book since “The Iliad.”

From the interview, we also learn that McCarthy is a cult figure, that Saul Bellow was on the McArthur Foundation committee that gave CM a “genius” award, financing the writing of Blood Meridian, and that the author is a reclusive “radical conservative”, born of a Catholic well-off family in Tennessee, the son of a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Another source adds that his sisters were high achievers, and that his father was stern.)  Also that he prefers the company of scientists to writers, and that he is no fan of modernity, quotation marks or semicolons. For a more recent interview see http://tinyurl.com/7dg52qr, that elaborates on the father-son theme.

I would like to go on with a psychoanalytic meditation on this writer, especially the father-son dyad, but I don’t know him.* Instead, this blog is about the Melville-McCarthy connection, which is tenuous at best.  First, the notion that Judge Holden is a Nietzschean Superman, beyond good and evil, may have been gleaned from David Brion Davis’s Homicide in American Fiction (1957), wherein Captain Ahab was limned as a Nietzschean Superman. That was the year (Fall, 1957) I took Davis’s class in intellectual history at Cornell U., and I well remember his linking Hawthorne and Melville as the authors who brought back the conception of evil into American culture, which, presumably, had been overly optimistic about the possibilities of perfecting human nature, supposedly a core belief in American exceptionalism. Or so I infer, for Davis may have been thinking primarily about racism, or, with students, anti-colonialism: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brion_Davis, and my prior blog https://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-american-landscape-sublime-or-despotic/.

But on the subject of Enlightenment optimism regarding human nature, consider this passage from Benjamin Franklin’s letter to Joseph Priestley (7 June 1782):

“…Men I find to be a Sort of Beings very badly constructed, as they are generally more easily provok’d than reconcil’d, more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation, much more easily deceiv’d than undeceiv’d, and having more Pride and even Pleasure in killing than in begetting one another, for without a Blush they assemble in great armies at Noon Day to destroy, and when they have killed as many as they can, they exaggerate the number to augment the fancied Glory; but they creep into Corners or cover themselves with the Darkness of Night, when they mean to beget, as being ashamed of a virtuous Action….”

[Perhaps writing a novel is for the male, a similar generative act to be submerged in darkness– the powerless, demoralizing blackness that envelops today’s popular culture, whether it be gangsta rap, gangster movies, cultish vampire movies, recent movie versions of McCarthy’s books, or science fiction fantasies that end with the bad guys prevailing: see  Joss Whedon’s The Dollhouse, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, preceded by such antimodern classics as 1984 or Brave New World or Anthony Burgess’s Clockwork  Orange). In academe, the same tone is set in Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature, that is elaborated in McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tale The Road (2006).]

Second, return to Captain Ahab’s supposed amorality. He is nothing like Judge Holden, who is a  Nietzschean amoralist, even a Foucaldian, as these lines from Blood Meridian demonstrate:

“Might does not make right, said Irving. The man that wins in some combat is not vindicated morally. [Holden responds:] “Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak….” [p.250, quotation marks not in original.]

On the most superficial level, perhaps, it may be said that Blood Meridian is some kind of homage or rereading of Moby-Dick (or even Joyce’s Ulysses). There are compound words, neologisms, and an often nauseating text. It starts with three quotations that correspond only roughly with the “Extracts,” there is an epic journey, in which most of the characters perish, and there is an Epilogue. But in Melville’s allegory, the first edition (published in England) not only lacked any survivors whatsoever, but ended with the Extracts, and these pages of quotations in turn ended with a Whale Song,[i] certainly to be taken ironically: “Oh the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale/ In his ocean home will be/ A giant in might, where might is right,/ And King of the boundless sea.”

Alleging that Ahab’s sin consists in his hubris, with Ahab believing 1. That truth exists; or 2. That he can extirpate evil from the world, has been one theme in scholarly and popular misreadings of the text. Surely, the Ahab as Superman reading by David Brion Davis must have been based in a common postwar belief (initiated by Charles Olson, then F. O. Matthiessen) that Ahab was an anticipation of Hitler and Stalin, and moreover that Hitler was influenced by Nietzsche, is probably the source of Cormac McCarthy’s misconception of Melville’s great book.

I will say this on behalf of a McCarthy-Melville affinity. In his recent novel, The Road, McCarthy uses the word “secular” twice. This suggests to me that CM’s bleak books are laments for the supposed loss of faith in a “secular” world (an argument that some conservatives make in the culture wars). Without religion, humanity is out of control and on its death trip, the road to oblivion. After the Civil War, Melville wrote a long poem, Clarel, and, earlier,  in his journal of the trip to the Mediterranean and environs in 1857-58. But in the poem of 1876, Melville distanced himself from his most pessimistic characters, inter alia, masking himself beneath his Promethean, secularizing Jew, whereas McCarthy is silent, preferring to hide himself and his meanings in “mystery.” One has to wonder about that suicidal sister, a character that haunts McCarthy’s latest novel, still in process.

*From reading interviews and other journalistic materials, I think that McCarthy’s well-received novel, The Road, tells us a lot. CM had two failed marriages as a younger man. He is older than I am now, and in his third marriage, had a son John, who is described by his father as delivering much of the dialogue in the novel. I infer that this last novel expresses his fear of dying before John reaches manhood, hence his father will no longer be there to protect him. Although in Blood Meridian, the Indians are as depraved and bloodthirsty as the whites and Mexicans, Indians and frontiersmen alike know how to survive cold and hunger, and also how to make do with the detritus that “civilization” leaves behind. Hence the Southwestern garb that McCarthy wears in his cover photos, along with the amazing ingenuity of the father figure in The Road.

[Added, 12/12/11: While reading Claude Bowers’s The Tragic Era (1929), it occurred to me that the ruined Southern landscape under the occupation of Northern soldiers may have been part of the cultural memory transmitted by McCarthy’s family or his neighbors. (His family originated in the North, but moved to Tennessee, the home of Andrew Johnson, staunchly defended in the Bowers best-seller.) This would give an added resonance to The Road. For more on Bowers, see https://clarespark.com/2011/12/10/before-saul-alinsky-rules-for-democratic-politicians/.]


[i]Moby-Dick was the neglected masterpiece that most excited the 1920s Melville revivers and their successors; it was first published in England as The Whale; unlike the American edition that followed, the title page featured an epigraph connecting Milton’s fallen Satan with Leviathan, and its last words, “Whale Song,” were a final blast at the ancient doctrine that Might makes Right. Readers seeking to understand the dynamics of the Melville Revival should ask whether the Leviathan State was a good or bad thing in the twentieth century, and what entities and social forces made it what it came to be. ….” These are lines taken from my book Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival (Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 2001, rev.ed. 2006)

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