Goodbye, Joplin Globe

The problem with newspapers isn’t the quality of their journalism but the weakness of their business model. It’s ironic that readership of newspaper content in print and online is at an all-time high while the revenues of the US industry are at a 60-year low. We should be focused not on preserving newspapers but on preserving journalism.”

—Paul Gillin, of Newspaper Death Watch

 should tell you that the Joplin Globe has given me the left foot of fellowship.

The beer money I was earning for writing this blog affiliated with the paper proved too much for its finances to bear.* Man, these are hard times when a newspaper the size of the Globe can’t afford to pay a pittance for quality commentary!  Maybe if John McCain had been president, the economy would have blossomed such that the paper could afford my meager wages. Damn, maybe I should have voted for McCain, but the Joplin Globe told me not to.

In any case, as grateful as I am to have had the conservative Globe’s blessing as a liberal blogger, I am now untethered from of our local newspaper, which means that if this blog continues it will do so as a labor of love.  For now, I plan to keep writing through the November election. I began this endeavor just after Obama took office in 2009, and I want to keep at it at least until voters have their say on his presidency.

And besides that, I have some scores to settle with a couple of (now former) conservative Globe bloggers, which I will hopefully get to in time.

As for changes, the only thing I can foresee now is that I won’t be so concerned about profanity. Regular readers who don’t appreciate cursing and coarse talk are now forewarned that I will no longer censor some of the language that most people—even religious people!—use  in everyday life.

I once audited a class out at the local ultra-conservative Christian college where a very capable Greek teacher held an enlightening discussion about profanity. He (unwittingly) convinced me that we make way too much of such words, and give them too much power over us.

William F. Buckley, whose writings I have read with great care and enthusiasm (as a conservative) and with great care and dismay (as a liberal), sometimes used words that stuffy folks considered profane and sacrilegious. He defended such use on the grounds that some words perform a function peculiar to those words and that a writer ought to use all of the resources of the language. On that I still agree with Buckley.

Finally, this would be a good time to thank all of the faithful readers of this blog. The readership has grown steadily since I moved to WordPress in September of 2009, and I appreciate your time and attention.

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*Most of the Globe blogs were on WordPress and thus readers could avoid going to the Joplin Globe website to read them. And since most readers bookmarked my site and did not go through the Globe (only about 3% of the traffic came from the link on its site), the paper’s management likely reasoned that they weren’t benefiting from my readership. The most obvious solution for the paper, if it wants to be a complete player in the digital age, would be to develop its own blogging platform.

Bailouts? Who? Me?

Here is a short and sweet critique of that right-wing piece of work, National Review Online (the original was created by William F. Buckley), and of that right-wing piece of work, Mitt Romney (the original was created by Oliver Stone?), related to the issue of government bailouts, which Romney and the GOP allegedly abhors:

Good Conservative Commentary As Easy As 1-2-3

Good things come in threes, the superstitious often aver.  On two of the Sunday morning shows, I heard two different conservative pundits—George F. Will and David Brooks—say sensible things, in threes.  And after I throw in a little William F. Buckley, this will mark the first time in the history of this blog that I have favorably quoted three conservatives.

From ABC’s This Week, I want to bring attention to this brief exchange between two regular panelists, Martha Raddatz and Will, during the program’s segment discussing President Obama’s speech last Wednesday on the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year:

MARTHA RADDATZ: I think the president has never wanted a full counterinsurgency. The president has never even mentioned counterinsurgency in December 2009 and he certainly didn’t mention it the other night.

I always had the impression that David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal before him were fighting a war based on counterinsurgency, but the president was never committed to that…

GEORGE WILL: Obviously Pakistan is key. If Afghanistan were next to Denmark, we wouldn’t be there, we wouldn’t be worrying about it the way we do, because it is next to Pakistan, a nuclear power.

I think Martha has got it exactly right, which is the commander in chief and his commander in the field are fighting different projects.

David Petraeus is the author, literal, of the book on counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is nation building. The United States army — army has been engaged in 16,000 economic projects over there.

There are three problems with nation building. It’s expensive and we’re short of money. It takes time and we’re short of patience. And, three, we don’t know how to it. It’s like orchid building, nations are not built like tinker toys.

I think Raddatz and Will are pretty close to the mark, although calling them “different projects” is going too far.  But Petraeus and Obama are not exactly on the same page with the counterinsurgency stuff, as I suggested last week

And Will’s triplet formulation and criticism of the counterinsurgency strategy is right on:

1. It’s expensive and we’re short of money.

2. It takes time and we’re short of patience.

3. We don’t know how to do it.

I will insert here a quote from another conservative voice, William F. Buckley, related to the nation-building idea:

One should not tire of repeating the fatalistic but wise maxim of Senator Fulbright, that the United States government has no proper quarrel with any nation no matter how obnoxious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. As much was said by President John Quincy Adams when he stressed that Americans were friends of liberty everywhere, but custodians only of their own.

I also want to point out another triplet advanced on Sunday by yet another conservative, David Brooks.  On NBC’s Meet the Press, this brief exchange took place:

DAVID GREGORY:  …I spoke to a CEO this week who said, “Yeah, you go around the world, in Asia and Europe, there’s this sense that Pax Americana is over.” But even in a more positive way, David, that American influence is waning because our politics is not up to the task of some of the challenges we face.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yeah.  We’ve got a government problem.  We don’t have a country problem.  We still have an entrepreneurial country.  We’ll still have the only country in the world, only big country, where people can come in from all over the world and magnify their talents.  But we have a government problem. 

We have to do three things.  We have to be fiscally sustainable, we have to do it in a way that increases growth, and we have to do it in a way that reduces inequality.  Those are three things that are in tension with each other.  So if any of us who watch Washington think that our political system is capable of doing two–three things in tension with each other all at once?  It means borrowing from column A, column B, I haven’t seen that level of borrowing.

Again, the triplet that Brooks advanced is sound:

1. We have to be fiscally sustainable.

2. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that increases growth.

3. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that reduces inequality.

While I tend to share Brooks’ pessimism about the ability of contemporary politics to achieve those three things, my admittedly liberal analysis leads me to believe that Democrats and Republicans all agree on the first two points, but the truth is that Republicans don’t give a damn about the third point: whether any fiscal solution involves the reduction of inequalities.

And that’s why they are willing to play chicken with the economy.

Just Who Are The Malcontents These Days?

When I was a conservative, one of my heroes was the wonderfully eloquent right-wing writer, Joseph Sobran.  If you’re not familiar with him, think: Pat Buchanan, also a Sobran admirer.  Probably more than any single writer, with maybe the exception of the great William F. Buckley, Joe Sobran shaped the way I thought and reasoned as a conservative, and still shapes the way I think and reason as a liberal.

As you might imagine, he was a severe critic of liberals and the liberal mind, of the “malcontents.” The theme that permeated his most philosophical writings was that liberals “fail to appreciate” our “normal life,” a life lived outside the boundaries of politics. To him, a conservative was one “who regards this world with a basic affection,” and liberals simply lacked that basic affection for things.

He was wrong, of course.  But I won’t go into that now.  What I want to do is bring attention to an important question he asked, which I have never forgotten:

What we really ought to ask the liberal, before we even begin addressing his agenda, is this: In what kind of society would he be a conservative?

This idea—that one’s philosophical views might not be static, might need some adjustment—so bothered me, that I once phoned Mr. Sobran, while he was still working for Bill Buckley’s National Review, before Sobran was given the left foot of fellowship by the serious members of the conservative movement (believe it or not, serious conservatives policed themselves in those days) for his attitude toward Israel and what he considered to be the too-strong Jewish lobby in the United States (I told you, think: Pat Buchanan).

I asked my conservative hero about the idea of finding ourselves, as conservatives, in the kind of society we don’t wish to preserve, don’t wish to “conserve,” and finding ourselves wanting to dismantle the welfare state rather than see it continue.  How, I asked him, can we continue to call ourselves conservatives when we essentially are radicals who want to fundamentally change the course of our country? 

His answer was underwhelming.  In fact, he didn’t have an answer.  As I realize now, he could not answer that question because much of what Sobran so eloquently wrote could actually be used to defend today’s “big government” reality, at least in terms of what he called “an appreciation of the role of appreciation.”

He wrote,

Habits of conservation depend heavily on our affection for the way of life we are born to, which always includes far more than we can ever be simultaneously conscious of at a given moment. We speak our language and observe our laws by habit. It would be too much of a strain to have to learn a new language or a new set of laws every day. Habit allows a multitude of things to remain implicit; it lets us deal with ordinary situations without fully understanding them. It allows us to trust our milieu.

Only a madman, one might think, would dare to speak of changing the entire milieu— “building a new society”—or even to speak as if such a thing were possible. And yet this is the current political idiom. It is seriously out of touch with a set of traditions whose good effects it takes too much for granted; it fails to appreciate them, as it fails to appreciate the human situation.

Sobran wrote that in 1985.

That “set of traditions,” to the chagrin of the modern and brutal conservative movement, is now the New Deal and the Great Society, traditions and programs engrained in our way of life, a way of life people are loath to give up.  “Conservation is a labor, not indolence,” Sobran wrote, “and it takes discrimination to identify and save a few strands of tradition in the incessant flow of mutability.” Yes, it does take labor. Hard labor.

Sometimes, as we watch the struggle to keep alive the institutions that represent our social safety net, as we watch Republicans try to tear down those institutions of stability, as we watch shaky Democrats try to preserve—conserve—our traditions, it seems like the labor is not only hard, but impossible.  

And it seems that in terms of the kind of conservatism that Sobran and Edmund Burke and the Old Guard wrote about, Democrats today are the conservatives, and Republicans today are the radicals who fail to appreciate the things of this—our modern—world. 

Just watch Barack Obama as he desperately tries to defend New Deal and Great Society institutions and tell me who the real conservative player is in the “negotiations” on how to save our country from the irresponsible politics of the Right.

You see, we now have the answer to that wonderfully insightful question Joe Sobran asked liberals more than twenty-five years ago: In what kind of society would you be a conservative?

This one.  The one we are trying to save from the ravages of a radical Republican ideology, an ideology that inappropriately and inaccurately calls itself conservatism.

The Revisionism Has Begun: George Bush Is The Hero Of Egypt

Charles Krauthammer wrote this incredible paragraph, which is only a part of the Right’s campaign to revise history and resurrect the political carcass of Bush II:

Today, everyone and his cousin supports the “freedom agenda.” Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers who dared challenge the received wisdom of Arab exceptionalism – the notion that Arabs, as opposed to East Asians, Latin Americans, Europeans and Africans, were uniquely allergic to democracy. Indeed, the left spent the better part of the Bush years excoriating the freedom agenda as either fantasy or yet another sordid example of U.S. imperialism.

It’s as if the preemptive invasion and occupation of Iraq never happened.  All that is left is Bush’s and the neocon’s “freedom agenda,” which according to many on the Right is bearing fruit in Egypt today.

Here is what Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the W. Bush administration said recently:

The Bush administration pushed hardest on democracy in Egypt in 2004 and 2005 and got some results. 2005 is when Mubarak, for the first time, actually had a presidential election; prior to that he was selected by the parliament without even a fake election… so there was some movement in Egypt in 2004, 2005 when we were pushing hardest.

See there?  The Bushies are taking credit for fake elections!  But here is what the Brookings Institution wrote in 2009 about Bush’s efforts:

Bush’s bombastic rhetoric alienated the Egyptian president, but produced some small gains in political freedom in Egypt that were quickly reversed when Bush’s pressure on democracy let up in 2006.

Abrams also wrote a column about Bush’s “freedom agenda,” extolling Bush for a speech he gave in 2003, which defended the idea of Arab democracy and self-government. Here’s how the Washington Post presented Abrams’ column on January 29:

Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about freedom in the Arab world

Let me see.  Why did Bush had taken an interest in Arab freedom in 2003?  What happened that year?  Oh, yeah: We invaded Iraq and took over the country and found no WMDs there, thus instead of a whoops! we got the “freedom agenda.”

In fact, here’s how the Washington Post opened its story on the speech on November 6, 2003:

President Bush today portrayed the war in Iraq as the latest front in the “global democratic revolution” led by the United States.

Those were heady days, I suppose.

Maureen Dowd wrote half apologetically last week:

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. “In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush’s first term, told me. “It’s more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it’s externally driven.”

All of this is not to say that efforts to stir up democracy in the region by both Bush and Obama—remember the Cairo speech?—were of no effect.  But no one outside of Egypt can take credit for what has happened there and therefore the main responsibility for what happens in the future is on those inside Egypt.

We can and should do all we peacefully can to aid and abet any forthcoming Egyptian democracy, but William F. Buckley was fond of quoting John Quincy Adams in this regard:

…the American people are friends of liberty everywhere, they are custodians only of their own.

It’s just sort of pathetic that apologists for the last administration are setting the Egyptian uprising in the context of Bush’s “freedom agenda,” and using this opportunity to try to make us forget that his agenda had more to do with justifying his disastrous invasion of Iraq than anything else.

[top image from Huffington Post; bottom from Reuters]

An American Smile

Just a short, if unlikely, tribute to Ronald Reagan, on this day, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

I am on a short list of people, I suspect, who both loved and admired Ronald Reagan and love and admire Barack Obama.   My passionate affair with politics essentially began with Mr. Reagan and his ascent to the presidency in 1981.  I spent most of the following two decades as a hard-core conservative, with Ronald Reagan as my politico hero. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Even back then, I had my problems with Reagan.  My unrelenting and uncompromising conservatism found Reagan’s governance problematic, especially in his second term.  I vehemently disliked the way he seemed to throw Oliver North under the liberal bus, as Democrats pursued the Iran-Contra scandal. 

I wrote William F. Buckley—my intellectual hero at the time—and asked him if he wanted to reevaluate his fondness for Mr. Reagan in terms of his conservatism, since it seemed that Reagan was wavering on his commitment to conservative principles.  Mr. Buckley’s brother responded with a curt, “Bill hasn’t changed his mind.” 

I was fortunate enough to get to ask Bill Buckley a question in 1987, after a speech Buckley gave in Wichita.  “Is Ronald Reagan a good conservative?” I wondered.  Buckley’s answer was an affirmation of Reagan’s conservative credentials and a short lesson on how difficult it is to get things done in Washington.   But I think that’s still a good question today.  Was Ronald Reagan a good conservative?

Certainly the way Ronald Reagan practiced his conservatism is different from the way it is practiced these days.  Reagan’s pick of George H. W. Bush, a then-moderate Republican, as his running mate in 1980 and his subsequent appointment of James Baker, a pragmatic, non-movement conservative, as his first Chief of Staff was seen as something of a betrayal of principle, an unholy compromise, by many on the calcified Right. And certainly Reagan’s legendary “deals” with Democrats were not the kind of thing one would expect to see today from Republican leaders, despite the lame duck agreements last year. 

As uber-conservative William Bennett said today, there is good and bad to say about Reagan, in terms of his conservatism.  He signed a law as governor of California that was one of the most lenient abortion measures in the country; he raised taxes as president; he granted amnesty to illegal immigrants.  And outside of a conservative context, there are other things to say good and bad about the man: his description of the Soviet Union as the “evil empire”; his pursuit of arms control agreements; his increased pressure on the Soviets until they collapsed; his legacy of deficits and debt; Iran-Contra; and so on.  

But all that is for another day. 

Today, I want to pay respect to a man whose smile, as James Baker said in a ceremony in California, was “a national treasure.”  No matter what you thought about his policies, there is still something comforting even today about that smile, which really is an American smile.  It was full of the promise and hope of America, and too often promise and hope are missing in our political chatter today. 

So, as much as it is possible for a liberal to do so, I want to honor Mr. Reagan, not so much for what he did, but for who he was: An American president who loved his country, a love inherent in every reassuring smile.

The Kochtopus

It’s time for a lengthy look at what’s happening to our country.

According to the New Yorker, The Koch brothers, David and Charles,

are lifelong libertarians and have quietly given more than a hundred million dollars to right-wing causes… The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.

Also,

In Washington, [David] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

Okay. So, tell us more. Who are the Koch brothers? 

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

And,

…Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

Okay.  So, what does it mean that two rich brothers, whose father was an enthusiastic supporter of the conspiratorial John Birch Society, are libertarians and have “small-government” views?

These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

Part of the Kochtopus is an organization called Americans for Prosperity, an allegedly “grassroots” Tea Partyish organization, which David Koch started in 2004.  Now, the group describes itself this way:

AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels. The grassroots activists of AFP advocate for public policies that champion the principles of entrepreneurship and fiscal and regulatory restraint.

Also,

The heart and soul of AFP and AFP Foundation are our citizen activists. They organize events, write letters to the editor, and petition their lawmakers to uphold freedom and prosperity.  Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation have more than 1,500,000 activists, in all 50 states, and 31 state chapters and affiliates. More than 80,000 Americans in all 50 states have made a financial contribution to AFP or AFP Foundation.

There’s no mention of David Koch on the AFP website, but there is on the AFP Foundation site:

David Koch is the executive vice president and a member of the board of directors for Koch Industries, Inc., based in Wichita, Kansas. He helped found Americans For Prosperity, and also serves on the board of directors for the Reason Foundation and the CATO Institute. David was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president of the United States in 1980.

So, is Americans for Prosperity a grassroots organization?  I’ll let David Axelrod explain it, from the New Yorker article:

What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.

I think that’s a fair statement, although “bunch” might be stretching it in these tough economic times.

But even though AFP, started with Koch money, is obviously part of the Tea Party movement, do the Kochs consider themselves teapartiers?

In April, 2009, Melissa Cohlmia, a company spokesperson, denied that the Kochs had direct links to the Tea Party, saying that Americans for Prosperity is “an independent organization and Koch companies do not in any way direct their activities.” Later, she issued a statement: “No funding has been provided by Koch companies, the Koch foundations, or Charles Koch or David Koch specifically to support the tea parties.” David Koch told New York, “I’ve never been to a tea-party event. No one representing the tea party has ever even approached me.”

The New Yorker does a good job of refuting that notion, including this:

Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”

And this:

A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!”

And this:

The Republican campaign consultant said of the family’s political activities, “To call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground!” Another former Koch adviser said, “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Rob Stein, a Democratic political strategist who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, said that the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.”

Interestingly, the Koch’s John Bircher father, Fred Koch, had some beliefs that don’t sound all that different from some of the stuff that comes from tea partiers today:

In a self-published broadside, Koch claimed that “the Communists have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Parties.” He wrote admiringly of Benito Mussolini’s suppression of Communists in Italy, and disparagingly of the American civil-rights movement. “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America,” he warned. Welfare was a secret plot to attract rural blacks to cities, where they would foment “a vicious race war.” In a 1963 speech that prefigures the Tea Party’s talk of a secret socialist plot, Koch predicted that Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the President is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.”

And according to the New Yorker, “David Koch recalled that his father also indoctrinated the boys politically“:

“He was constantly speaking to us children about what was wrong with government,” he told Brian Doherty, an editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, and the author of “Radicals for Capitalism,” a 2007 history of the libertarian movement. “It’s something I grew up with—a fundamental point of view that big government was bad, and imposition of government controls on our lives and economic fortunes was not good.”

During the 1980 presidential campaign in which David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate, those anti-government views were prevalent. The New Yorker explained that the party platform,

called for the abolition of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The Party wanted to end Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; it proposed the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function: the protection of individual rights. William F. Buckley, Jr., a more traditional conservative, called the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.”

Needless to say, those views weren’t all that popular in 1980.  The Libertarians received 1% of the vote (almost 12% in Alaska).

But those views and ideas live on in the Koch-funded Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation—where popular right-wing radio and television hosts get a lot of their talking points and whose scholars regularly appear on the Republican “News” Channel and other networks.

The Kochs also started another think tank in Arlington, Virginia, at George Mason University, the Mercatus Center, which Democratic strategist Rob Stein calls, “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.”  The Wall Street Journal called the center, “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of.”

Realizing that in order to disseminate their ideas more broadly, the Kochs began yet another group in 1984, Citizens for a Sound Economy. On board that effort was a man named Matt Kibbe, who we know today as the president of Freedom Works, a prominent Tea Party group.  In fact, Citizens for a Sound Economy split into two groups in 2004: Freedom Works and….Americans for Prosperity.

Amazing.  Both Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity have been busy making many earnest people think they are part of a grassroots movement, even though the truth is that they are really pawns in a scheme funded by billionaires to change the rules of the game in their favor.*

The New Yorker article is a long read, full of many more examples of the Koch brothers’ influence on our politics. But it’s well worth reading, if you want to understand how one wealthy family can have such a profound effect on how Americans think. 

And now that the Citizens United case has completely opened the doors to people like the Koch brothers, and now that the Republican Party has withdrawn its previous support for at least transparency in our politics, there is little to stop them from using their money—through groups like Americans for Prosperity—to further erode average people’s faith in our political system and our government, a government that has kept many of those people from the harm that the the Kochtopus philosophy would surely bring to them.

Here is a short video that connects the Koch brothers to the “grassroots” Tea Party movement:

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*For a Missouri connection, here is a paragraph from the St. Louis Activist Hub blog:

“The Post-Dispatch wrote an excellent editorial last week documenting the astroturf activities of Carl Bearden, the former director of Missouri’s Americans for Prosperity and someone who played a crucial role in starting the St. Louis tea party. Bearden organized a rally outside of Senator McCaskill’s office where the tea party falsely claimed that someone from McCaskill’s office “gave them the finger” (in fact, it was someone from an adjoining office who was upset that the tea party was banging on their windows). McCaskill, in typical weak-kneed Democrat fashion, apologized anyway and agreed with Bearden to hold a meeting that was covered by Fox News and largely kicked off the tea party’s summer of angry, obnoxious, town halls. So Bearden played a crucial role in a pivotal “birthing” moment for the St. Louis tea party, and likely played a big role in turnout efforts for their other events. He also organized some of the original tea party events in other parts of Missouri.”

Here is the link to a video of Carl Bearden’s address to the Joplin Tea Party earlier this year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx6OV5FrqMw

Glenn Beck’s Spirit Present At Joplin Tea Party

I thought I would see and hear some references to Glenn Beck at Thursday’s Tea Party here in Joplin, since many of the ideas tossed around at such gatherings seem to first originate in his strange and lucre-loving mind.

But that didn’t happen.

Then, I realized that the spirit of Glenn Beck was there all around me: in the form of a book.

That book, The 5000 Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen, was available for free (courtesy of the Jasper County Republican Party), with copies spread along the table holding the “scroll of grievances.” 

John Putnam said the book, which he “found” in 1984, had “inspired” him.

Beck has endlessly and energetically promoted the book, which, according to Alexander Zaitchik, has become “the bible of the 9/12 movement,” “the civic initiative he pulled together…to restore America to the sense of purpose and unity it had felt the day after the towers fell.”

The popular Fox broadcaster has even claimed the book is “divinely inspired,” although Beck doesn’t specify what divine being inspired it. Presumably, it was the God of Mormonism.

So, since our local Republican Party subsidized the distribution of the book, and since our local Joplin Tea Partiers were urged to read the book—and I saw many folks walking around with fresh copies in hand—I thought I would find out more about the author, especially since the Tea Party movement is heavily influenced by Beck-like thinkers. 

Who was W. Cleon Skousen?

Perusing Alexander Zaitchik’s essay on Salon.com, I discovered that Skousen shared Glenn Beck’s Mormon faith, and that he was ostensibly a “historian.” But as Zaitchik described him,

 …Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen’s own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”

Skousen died in 2006 at the age of 92, the author of more than dozen books; a 15-year veteran of the FBI (in administration);  a law school grad; a teacher at Brigham Young University;  Chief of Police in Salt Lake City (where, according to Zaitchik, “he gained a reputation for cutting crime and ruthlessly enforcing Mormon morals” and, according to a 1961 article in Time, the conservative Mayor of the city said Skousen, “operated the police department like a Gestapo“);  and most important for our purposes, a virulent anti-communist conspiracist,  who earned a good living giving speeches to far-right gatherings.

As an anti-Communist, Skousen was affiliated with the John Birch Society, whose elaborate communist conspiracies proved too much for men of the right like William F. Buckley, who sought to sever the Birchers from “legitimate” conservatives. In those days, there were adults in the conservative movement, and when Skousen and the Birchers grew more and more extreme—accusing WW II hero Dwight Eisenhower of being a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy“—most responsible conservative groups dumped him.  Buckley said such accusations were “paranoid and idiotic libels.”* Russell Kirk, an eminent conservative philosopher, viewed such people as being “disconnected from reality.”  Barry Goldwater concurred.

Wrote Zaitchik:

By 1963, Skousen’s extremism was costing him. No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him. Members of the ultraconservative American Security Council kicked him out because they felt he had “gone off the deep end.” One ASC member who shared this opinion was William C. Mott, the judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy. Mott found Skousen “money mad … totally unqualified and interested solely in furthering his own personal ends.”

Damn. That sounds a lot like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other right-wing conspiracists these days.

Zaitchik also wrote something about Skousen’s increasing popularity that again sounds eerily like our own Glenn Beck, whose “enemy” is not so much communism, but progressivism:

When Skousen’s books started popping up in the nation’s high-school classrooms, panicked school board officials wrote the FBI asking if Skousen was reliable. The Bureau’s answer was an exasperated and resounding “no.” One 1962 FBI memo notes, “During the past year or so, Skousen has affiliated himself with the extreme right-wing ‘professional communists’ who are promoting their own anticommunism for obvious financial purposes.”

By 1970, Zaitchik reports that Skousen had discovered that “liberal internationalist groups” like the Council on Foreign Relations were pushing U.S. foreign policy “toward the establishment of a world-wide collectivist society,” which would later become the New World Order, a “super-conspiracy” involving the Rockefellers and the Rothchilds and other very “powerful” people.

Eventually, the Mormon Church cut its ties with Skousen, which was just in time for his invitation to become part of the “Reagan Revolution.”  Zaitchik wrote:

In 1980, Skousen was appointed to the newly founded Council for National Policy, a think tank that brought together leading religious conservatives and served as the unofficial brain trust of the new administration. At the Council, Skousen distinguished himself by becoming an early proponent of privatizing Social Security.

It was around this time that Skousen published the book that changed the life of Glenn Beck, The 5,000 Year Leap,  which Zaitchik described this way:

…a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined.

So, learning all of that, I realized that Glenn Beck was in fact a part of the Joplin Tea Party, through the vehicle of W. Cleon Skousen’s book.  And I realized what attracted John Putnam, the chairman of the Jasper County Republican Central Committee, to Skousen’s interpretation of American history.

Putnam is a conservative Christian, who when I first encountered him, was an elder at Christ’s Church of Joplin, and who was a believer in the Bible as the “inspired” and inerrant Word of God.  

He said at the Tea Party on Thursday:

I see a real similarity between the days we live in and the founding days of this country. I realized at least in 1978 that America was on an unsustainable path.  We have continued to spend more than we take in, we have continued to turn our back—to become more interested in commercialism and entertainment and luxury than we have the spiritual values that made this country great. And my family’s tired of listening to me say we can’t go on this way, but in the last year there is a whole lot of other people who have seen that the pace is accelerating and it is up to the people to restore the country…

I suspect that many in the crowd Thursday hold views similar to those of Mr. Putnam.  Indeed, Jay St. Clair, the minister who uttered a rambling four-minute plea to the Almighty, began his remarks this way:

Welcome to the Tea Party!  Well, this isn’t a religious gathering but I will tell you that everything about our country was founded on the faith of God and the principles that are found in his Word…

Such folks don’t want to admit that our secular country—the United States of America—was not founded on the Bible, but on Enlightenment philosophy, a philosophy that was responsible for taming the excesses of fundamentalist Christianity, and a philosophy that is under attack, either consciously or unconsciously, by some members of the Tea Party movement.

If these people were to get what they wanted—a return to “God-directed” governance—then the Tea Partiers would no longer be mere objects of liberal scorn.

They would be forces to fear.

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*In 1962, Buckley published “a 5,000-word excoriation” of Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, which included the following:
How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points . . . so far removed from common sense? That dilemma weighs on conservatives across America. . . . The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false, and, besides that, crucially different in practical emphasis from their own.
Few conservatives today are willing to say about Glenn Beck and other conspiracists that their views are “so far removed from common sense.”

Darwin’s Wasp

In a year in which many of us celebrate both Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th birthday of the “Origin of Species,” it is apropos to use what some have called “Darwin’s wasp”—the Ichneumonidae—to make a point about the state of the Republican Party.

The parasitic wasp, which lays its eggs inside a caterpillar so that its larvae can feed on it, carefully guides its sting into each ganglion of the prey’s central nervous system, not to kill it, but to paralyze it, so that its offspring will have fresh meat to eat. The victim is literally devoured alive from the inside out.

Darwin found this situation incompatible with his religious beliefs. He wrote,

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.

The Republican Party, like the unfortunate caterpillar, is being devoured from the inside out.

Caustic conservative chatterers, from Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Glenn Beck, along with some extremist politicians like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Joe Wilson, have attached themselves to the party and are, issue by issue, rant by rant, consuming its electoral life. They have effectively banished from the party moderates and patriots like Colin Powell, reasonable, moderately conservative writers like David Brooks or Sam Tanenhaus, and virtually anyone who dares to croon slightly off key in what has become a choir of fear, singing a menacing mantra: We hate Barack Hussein Obama.

Thus, the party of Lincoln is fast becoming a parochial, nationally irrelevant party.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan—in an electoral landslide—received 55% of the white vote. In 2008 John McCain—who lost by nearly 10 million votes—also received 55% of the white vote. What was the difference? The percentage of the overall electorate for white voters dropped from 88% in 1980 to 74% in 2008. So, while Republicans maintained their hold on white voters, the political clout of those voters had declined.

Understandably, Barack Obama had overwhelming support among African-Americans (95%) in 2008, but Republicans have otherwise struggled to attract more than 10% of black voters since Reagan’s 14% showing in 1980. Since then the percentage of black voters among the overall electorate has increased from 10% to 13%.

But the real tale is told by the Hispanic vote.

In 1980 Hispanics comprised only 2% of the electorate, and Jimmy Carter received 54% of their votes compared with 36% for Reagan. In 2008, Hispanics had grown to 9% of the electorate (a 450% increase), and John McCain—having forsaken his moderate position on immigration reform in favor of the hard-line conservative stance—received only 31%. Obama won 67% of the Hispanic vote.

Add to this that Asian-Americans are now 2% of the electorate (the same as Hispanics in 1980) and that Obama managed to garner 62% of their votes, and the picture becomes very clear.

No matter what Republicans may think about these trends, they cannot be ignored with impunity. It may be that conservatives these days are incapable of embracing a philosophy adjusted to fit the reality of changing demographics. Certainly, a staunch adherence to purist conservative doctrine plays well in places like Jasper and Newton counties in Southwest Missouri, or in the Old South, but it is a doomed strategy for long-term national Republican success, even if the party manages to make modest inroads in 2010.

Rather than acknowledge this reality and adjust their positions on the various issues accordingly, most Republican “leaders” are content to prostrate themselves before Rush Limbaugh’s Attila the Hun chair, and in one sycophantic spasm after another confirm that they are content with a regional appeal.

Joe Scarborough, the popular conservative host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has written a book urging conservative Republicans to heed the advice of the founder of conservatism, Edmund Burke, who “had contempt for rigid ideologues of all stripes.” So far, such advice goes unheeded.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal—the scourge of contemporary conservatism—came to pass largely because of the alignment of otherwise disparate groups that ignored important, but comparatively marginal, differences in favor of gaining political power sufficient to win elections. From 1932 through 1964, this coalition of “big city” political machines, labor unions, minorities, progressives, and Southern whites, won seven of nine presidential elections, losing only to WW II hero, Dwight Eisenhower.

If Republicans hope to continue as a national party, they have to shout down the strident voices of conservative ideologues and submit to demographic reality. It is difficult to understand why there isn’t one leader in the party who will take on the obviously unhinged Glenn Beck, just to name one glaring example. But so far, none has assumed the mantle of leadership necessary to save the party from irrelevance.

In the early days of the 20th century conservative movement, William F. Buckley, a conservative and a Republican, gave the left foot of fellowship to the John Birch Society, who, he surmised, would ultimately prove lethal to the conservative cause. He did the same thing to the Objectivists, most especially Ayn Rand. Mr. Buckley much later had to call out conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran, when they expressed opinions that appeared to embrace an anti-Semitic philosophy. In that regard, Buckley acted like a true father of the movement, an adult who had to call out phony or wayward conservatives in the name of preserving the conservative family and by extension the Republican Party.

There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed (before he embraced late in life and inexplicably, Rush Limbaugh), and there certainly appears to be no adults in the Republican Party, but perhaps there is someone out there with sufficient courage who is willing to take on the conservative bullies. We can only hope.

Darwin lost at least part of his faith because he could not imagine that God could create the Ichneumonidae and its seemingly cruel method of survival. For him, such cruelty seemed incompatible with decency.

Today, the parasitic wasps in the Republican Party—those who are using the party only to advance their extremist ideological causes with little regard for the party’s survival—may not cause many to lose faith in God, but the tolerance of such people by party leaders causes many of us to doubt their decency.

And sadly, while there are many caterpillars in which Darwin’s wasp can lay its eggs, there is only one Grand Old Party.

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COMMENTS:

juan don writes:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 06:10 PM

RDG,

Excellent post. The desert clime agrees with you.

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 anson Burlingame writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:14 PM

Duane,

You wrote, “There is no one in the conservative movement with the stature William Buckley enjoyed …” I agree. Perhaps George Will comes close to Buckley’s intellect as to some degree does Thomas Sowell (knowing you don’t like the lader one bit).

I am also not at all aware of any left commentator today who meets the standards set by Buckley, or Will and Thomas for that matter. If there is one I would be the first to ask for his publication on a regular basis in the Globe.

As we all correctly ponder the issue of media bias, I look for thoughtful alternatives on the left but have difficulty doing so.

Any suggestions?

Anson

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Duane writes:

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 04:29 PM

Anson,

First, Thomas Sowell, who used to be semi-respectable as a columnist, has lost all credibility since Obama has come on the scene. He has repeatedly made oblique and sometimes not so oblique references to Obama and murdering dictators. Unacceptable.

You asked for a “couple” of suggestions on liberal columnists. Here is my “short” list:

Paul Krugman (Pulitzer economist and generalist) would offset George Will nicely.

Eugene Robinson (Pulitzer and wonderful writer)

Michael Kinsley (he used to appear regularly on Bill Buckley’s program).

Jonathan Alter

Frank Rich

E.J. Dionne, Jr

David Corn (from the Nation, a REAL liberal)

Eleanor Clift (who used to appear in the Globe, and whom I used to loathe)

Arianna Huffington (who with her popular online site would appeal to net surfers)

All of these names I sent to Carol back in July in hopes that one or two might regular appear in our paper.

Duane

No Proper Quarrel

Tom Simpson, formerly of Carthage, contributes a column to the Globe regarding our “success” in Iraq. He says, “The war in Iraq is over. The good guys won.”

He wouldn’t be the first one to prematurely designate “mission accomplished” in Iraq, but Mr. Simpson does give us hope that things are improving. No doubt, after all of the devastation caused by our assault on their land, the Iraqi’s need good people like Mr. Simpson to help them restore their society, but I am disturbed by a couple of his pronouncements:

Iraq is a victory to those who oppose subjugation of a nation by dictatorship and violence.

Yes, we threw out the ugly dictator, who ruled by violence, but what of the other dictators ruling throughout the world? The implication of Mr. Simpson’s “thesis,” as he called it, coupled with his “nation building” advocacy, is that our role in the world is to make war on all such dictators and bring the world the gift of democracy. Otherwise, by what criteria do we decide which dictators we will kill and which we will permit to live, continuing the “subjugation” of their populations?

I would like to see the formula for figuring that one out.

Another troubling assertion by Mr. Simpson is:

Americans can take pride in our involvement in Iraq. It is an honorable mission to promote democracy, embrace individual freedom and assist millions of Iraqis to live in peace.

These two sentences don’t necessary connect. As Americans we can all attest that it is an “honorable mission” to promote democracy, freedom, and peace. But whether the war in Iraq should be a source of pride is another matter. If by “promoting democracy,” one means encouraging and supporting democratic institutions, that is one thing. If it means conquering other nations in order to impose our democratic ideals, that is another.

I realize the original justification for the war in Iraq was not the idea of “nation building,” but out of necessity it has evolved into a post-invasion rationale for it. Mr. Simpson’s use of the word “mission” evokes the words of the late J. William Fulbright, Missouri-born U.S. Senator from Arkansas:

Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations – to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God’s work.

Conservatives, of all people, should be wary of using the idea of nation building to justify invading and occupying foreign powers, whether it is before or after the war is “over.” And the so-called neo-conservatives, who were largely responsible for the Iraq war, should suffer for their mistakes, not at the hands of liberals, but at the hands of other, more thoughtful conservatives, who should at least be as contemptuous of them as the neo-cons are of those who have questioned the legitimacy of the war.

All of which reminds me of another reference to Senator Fulbright, made by William F. Buckley, the father of modern conservatism:

One should not tire of repeating the fatalistic but wise maxim of Senator Fulbright, that the United States government has no proper quarrel with any nation no matter how obnoxious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. As much was said by President John Quincy Adams when he stressed that Americans were friends of liberty everywhere, but custodians only of their own.

I don’t mind Mr. Simpson defending his valuable and necessary work on behalf of the Iraqi people, but he could do so without appealing to some misplaced national pride in the invasion and occupation of their country. Some us still question the wisdom of the “mission,” notwithstanding its alleged success.

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COMMENTS:

poetikus writes:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 11:55 AM

Is there no depth to your dimentia? This man is over there DOING and writing about it from EXPERIENCE and you have the gall to criticize? I have been on the internet since the old bulletin board days in the 90′s and seen thousands of kook sites since, but the so called erstwhile conservative definitely ranks at the top. Congratulations, you have taken idiot to an entirely new level.

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Anson Burlingame writes:
 
Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 12:19 PM

Mr. Graham, In my view, Mr. Simpson’s article lends a perspective to Iraq seldom if ever seen in the press. He deserves great credit for that as well as his work in that country.

I am very tired of the pro and con critiques on how we “got” into Iraq. The issue today is how to “get out” in as constructive way as possible. Mr. Simpson identifies some good ideas on that subject. Do you have any that balance “cut and run” or “stay the course?

And then of course there is Afghanistan. Any thoughts there?

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