Sunday, October 30, 2005

Waiting for Arnold by Bernie Quigley

Note: This article ran in The Free Market News Network on March 30, 2005. Arnold faces a referendum in a week and a half which will be the catalyst to his political career. It should be noted that he is the first politician since John F. Kennedy with a natural sense of humor.

IN 1991 a sea change occurred here in New England. Massachusetts elected William Weld as its governor, who cavalierly referred to himself as a Libertarian. In the most general sense, this was a new idea up here in the north country and one that translated into a new and independent direction. From 1980 and earlier we had begun to hear tinkle in the new language of the Libertarians, generally speaking, of politicians who were fiscal conservatives on economic issues and liberal on social policies. But until the dynamic and charismatic Bill Weld appeared, it never quite materialized.

The significance of this was brought home in 1994 when Weld was reelected. Not long before, politics in Massachusetts and New England was an ethnic rivalry not far removed from that of the Kurds and the Sunnis - Episcopalian gentry and its management subsidiary voting in opposition to Catholic working class in an ancient scenario that found its roots in East Boston where John J. Quigley opened a bar with P.J. Kennedy a generation after his father came over from Ireland. That the same Boston would elect a Blue Blood New Yorker with buildings named after him at Harvard was a milestone of politics and Americanization. I received calls from ancestors that he was a Bourbon, a robber baron and a red head. But Weld won the day with 71% of the vote and the American condition won out over the ethnic condition. Consider today, when a vastly competent and intelligent man like Mitt Romney is elected governor of Massachusetts, a Mormon and a Republican whose family traveled from West to East to get to Massachusetts, and no one, not even us Hibernians, gave it a second thought. Possibly the curse is lifted.

There are rumors today the Mitt Romney will seek the presidency or the vice presidency, possibly as a running mate to John McCain. I see this as highly possible. During the crisis in Iraq the two mainstream parties were driven to a crisis moment and their extreme posts were exposed. When the Democrats found Howard Dean, and affirmed Dean again recently when rank and fire operatives electing him to leadership of the Democratic National Committee, I believe it was a fateful moment. Dr. Dean is novelty politics. Here in the mountains his time has come and gone and we have moved beyond him. History will prove his ascension to the national front to be a decisive moment as a wrong turn to a dead end for the Democrats.

The war on Iraq has been compared to the War of 1812 but I see a relevant resemblance to the Mexican War. Ulysses S. Grant called the Mexican War a war of the strong against the weak, the one merely establishing dominance over the other because it was stronger. But good or bad, he said, it was a pivotal event and anyone who did not participate in it would not participate in the future of the country and in the critical events just ahead on the Southern borderlands.

I worked up here in New Hampshire for Wesley Clark as a volunteer all through his campaign and thought then and think now that he had the correct perspective. General Clark was fiercely opposed to terrorism and railed against it. He opposed the invasion of Iraq but welcomed its democrazation. When he told a group of voters up here at a veteran's rally, "When I say I'll bring Osama bin Laden back dead or alive, I mean it," you knew in your heart that he meant it.

But Howard Dean, who also opposed the war, sent a different message. I live about 200 feet from the state of Vermont and have been watching it closely all my life. There is a Magic Mountain quality to Vermont. Magic Mountain is a novel by the great German novelist Thomas Mann about the German middle class backing away from its responsibility and duty as Nazism rose in the heartland, and retreating instead to the fashionable tuberculosis camps in the mountains, feigning vapors and cultivating artistic disaffection. Vermont has that quality of the Magic Mountain to some good degree. People move to Vermont to escape, retreat and feign artistic disaffection - it its way it is like a pastoral province of Brooklyn Heights in New York City, or much like Provincetown, Massachusetts or Nantucket. More than half of the people in the state were born someplace else, many of them in New York and Massachusetts. You pass the same people you would pass at Herald Square or Tribeca and would see at Bloomingdales. Dean is the mayor of Magic Mountain, and during the war in Iraq he became the standard bearer for the disaffected left.

The problem the Democrats have now is that the war in Iraq has more or less ended with at least a generic degree of success going to President Bush. And though it may have been opaque and morally ambiguous, as Grant said of Mexico, only those who participated will go forward. That would be the Republicans.

The mainstream parties are as polarized today as they were in 1831 and the Republicans at the helm today resemble the Jacksonians who mocked the policies and pretensions of northern Whigs in their heyday. After the Mexican war the South gained strength and the Whigs succumbed, regrouping under the aegis of the Republican banner with a new set of ideas. With Dean at the helm of the party the Democrats could conceivably succumb and meet the same fate as the Whigs.

With Dean on one end and Tom DeLay on the other, both parties are at their political extremes. But the center today is wide open as it was in the 1830s. This is the great opportunity for the Libertarians.

What is bringing the demise of the Democrats is a ritual attachment to ideas whose times have passed. That which necessity might have called forth 100 years back when half of Americans work in factories and the other half in fields no longer fits in an America that is mostly middle-class. But Libertarian ideas are beginning to fit, and increasingly they fit better and better.

In the years ahead we will see a new line develop. As the Republican Party rose from the ashes of the Whigs in the mid-1800s, so will we see a new movement arising. Perhaps, as David Brooks has written recently, with a larger-than-life figure or a heroic figure leading the charge, like Ross Perot or Arnold Swarzenegger. (Did someone say larger than life?)

But rather than a new party development more likely we will see a stronger competition developing within the two existing lines of the Republican party, loosely called economic conservatives and cultural conservatives, while the Democrats descend into irrelevance. The cultural conservatives reign freely now and the reelection of President Bush showed widespread support. But recent events in the Terri Schiavo case have shown the country a startling display of religious sentiment by the cultural conservatives, passionate and sanguine and some would say beyond reason; the kind of religious fervor akin to that left behind by northern Europeans long before the founding of the American republic. President Bush's approval rating has slipped into the mid 40s. How will the country respond now to a failure of the dollar or the collapse of General Motors or any other number of monetary and financial crises which seem to be just beyond the curtain and are most likely to occur in the next three years?

A division is occurring in the conservative movement between those guided by passion and those guided by reason and common sense. The vote by Congress to allow the federal courts to take over the Terri Schiavo case has created distress among some conservatives who say that lawmakers violated a cornerstone of conservative philosophy by intervening in the ruling of a state court, Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. Stephen Moore, a conservative advocate who is president of the Free Enterprise Fund, said: "I don't normally like to see the federal government intervening in a situation like this, which I think should be resolved ultimately by the family: I think states' rights should take precedence over federal intervention. A lot of conservatives are really struggling with this case," Nagourney reports.

And Senator John W. Warner of Virginia said, "This senator has learned from many years you've got to separate your own emotions from the duty to support the Constitution of this country. These are fundamental principles of federalism."

This is where the Libertarians should nurture and cultivate the growing constituency disaffected with the tradition of the left but uncomfortable with the passion-driven reactions of the Republicans in power.

William Weld is prelude to a new direction of national politics that will take wing and rise out of this crisis and those ahead, just as the Republican Party rose out of crisis and sent Lincoln to the presidency in 1861. In Massachusetts, the most liberal state and the most tax-prone, this Republican governor cut taxes, slashed government social spending, privatized parts of the state government, and won reelection by one of the highest percentages ever. As high as any ethnic son of the old sod ever had. His legacy is ahead.

Consider a presidential ticket of John McCain and Mitt Romney, and with Arnold Schwarzenegger brought in as Secretary of State. The on-line magazine The Free Liberal calls Arnold the "most feared social conservative" by other Republicans - the cultural conservatives and those of Bush's core constituency.

"Arnold Swarzenegger is a libertarian Republican, short and sweet," they write. "And the emergence of a true blue libertarian Republican to the forefront of the GOP spells disaster for social conservatives."

But not for Libertarians. A new century beginning with this line-up would bring a sea change to politics and would bring Libertarian ideals to the forefront of American political culture.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Federalists and Unitarians – the Return of States Rights

By Bernie Quigley

The recent appointment of John Roberts to the Supreme Court has brought The Federalist Society to the public eye. Federalism is an American riddle. No one really knows what it means anymore. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. was driven to apoplexy at even the mention of the Federalist Society, which Roberts belongs to, although he says he can’t remember signing up. In a letter to The New York Times Schlesinger wrote (August 7, 2005): “The Federalist Party, the party of Washington, Adams and Hamilton, stood for a strong central government. The Federalist Society stands for negative government and states' rights. If its members were honest, they would call themselves, in the terms of the 1790's, the Anti-Federalist Society.”

In the beginning, novelist Kurt Vonnegut. Jr. once wrote, when God created the world he divided it into two teams. But Democrats and Republicans are not the two teams. Today, there is only one team. Schlesinger, a Democrat, and one of the key architects of the Kennedy agenda and Presidency is on Hamilton’s team. But so are all Republicans today. And in spite of some seductive states-rights sweet talk by Ronald Reagan in the early days of his campaign for the Presidency, he became one of the most Hamiltonian of Presidents in modern times. No candidate or political party today advocates the Jefferson view.

Up here in the mountains of New Hampshire where the buses don’t run we have a few Libertarians who are not Hamiltonians. But Jeff Davis aside, the last so-called “Anti-Federalist” president was James Monroe, a Democrat-Republican who yielded office in 1825. When God created the world he created two teams as Vonnegut said. On the one team were Hamilton and Adams, joined by Washington after he signed the John Jay Treaty. On the other team were Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. The first shot fired in this conflict was the one fired into the heart of Alexander Hamilton by Jefferson’s vice president and fellow Democrat-Republican, Aaron Burr. The last was fired at Appomattox Station.

Thus the shrill voice of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. when even the topic is brought up. The Federalist Society holds in honor its avatar, James Madison, Father of the Constitution and Jefferson’s right-hand man. And now there is new talk since the Roberts appointment – journalists mention it in hushed tones and with knowledgeable chills. Will the new justices appointed to the court look to the “original intent” of the Founding Fathers? But again, which original intent do they mean? There are two sets of original intentions, one for each team.

Perhaps the greatest essay on the nature of federalism as it was understood in the Revolutionary Period is by historian Frank Owsley, author of “Plain Folk of the Old South,” and a key influence on all Southern historians since World War II. In an essay titled “The Irrepressible Conflict,” published in a classic series of essays by dissident Southerners known as The Agrarians at Vanderbilt University in 1930 (I’ll Take My Stand, Louisiana State University Press, Lewis P. Simpson, Editor) Owsley gets to the core of federalism in 30 remarkable pages.

“In the beginning,” writes Owsley, “ . . . two men defined fundamental principles of the political philosophy of the two societies, Alexander Hamilton for the North and Jefferson for the South. The one was extreme centralization, the other was extreme decentralization; the one was nationalistic and the other provincial; the first was called Federalism, the other State Rights.”

Owsley disagrees with Schlesinger. He says the States Right position should be called Federalism and the Hamilton position called Unitarianism.

The different views of the two men grew out of two fundamental differences which existed between the two sections, writes Owsley: the North was commercial and industrial, the South was agrarian. “The fundamental and passionate ideal for which the South stood and fell was the ideal of an agrarian society. All else, good and bad, revolved around this ideal . . . Jefferson, not visualizing the industrial revolution which whipped up the multiplication of populations and tore their roots from the soil, dreamed of America, free from England, as a boundless Utopia of farms taking a thousand generations to fill.”

Owsley suggests that had there not been slavery as an added difference between the agrarian South and industrial North, the two sections would have developed each its own political philosophy to explain and justify its institutions and its demands upon the federal government.

In hindsight, apologists for both sides may have lost their bearings – if Northern attitudes were a product of industrialization, and Southern attitudes a product of an agrarian system which is gone with the wind, both have lost their economic motive. Slavery is thankfully gone for good in this country. But industrialization is quickly following - on the road again to Mexico and China. So why does the Hamiltonian model persist? Or does it? Today we have culture wars between red and blue America which in many ways seem a hangover from the contentions of the 1950s and 1860s.

Historian Dan Carter writes in his book, The Politics of Rage, a biography of George Wallace, that the entire Wallace rise and fall was a reaction to the new initiatives of the culture of the 1960s, of the Freedom Riders in the South, the integration decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the hippies and so on. “. . . as the civil rights movement expanded in the 1960s to inspire the women’s rights movement, the antiwar movement, and the politics of sexual liberation, George Wallace adroitly broadened his message,” writes Carter. “Journalists might greet this growing counterculture with curiosity, even approval. But Wallace knew – instinctively, intuitively – that tens of millions Americans despised the civil rights agitators, the antiwar demonstrators, the sexual exhibitionists as symbols of a fundamental decline in the traditional cultural compass of God, family, and country.”

Wallace invoked images of a nation in crisis, writes Carter, a country in which thugs roamed the streets with impunity, antiwar demonstrators embraced the hated Communist Vietcong, and brazen youth flaunted their taste for “dirty” books and movies. “And while America disintegrated, cowardly politicians, bureaucrats, and distant federal judges capitulated to these loathsome forces."

And furthermore in the summer of 1974, after Wallace made a much-heralded visit to the Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty Road Baptist Church, home of the burgeoning “Moral Majority” movement led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the Wallace bid would evolve into what has come to be known as the Religious Right.

From first days to the present, there it is: Pat Robertson, Newt Gingritch, the NRA, the 104th congress, the “culture wars,” the teaching of Creationism, the whole nine yards – it’s all about the Beatles.

Perhaps culture is not really enough to fight about and these contentions will dwindle. The rise of the Asian economies will certainly turn our gaze elsewhere in the next century, and California and the Pacific Northwest are certain to develop more fully with this trade – conceivably in opposition to “old school” America back East. And anyway some of the most formidable hippies – Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Kris Kristofferson – were Texans. And one of the country’s most deeply conservative current governors, Massachusetts’ Mitt Romney, is a Westerner. Only recently, one of our governors even up here in the North Country, Angus King, was a Virginian.

And in very recent times, the states rights defense was used again. This time by Representative Barney Frank, in defense of gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Nobel Prize for Kurt Cobain

By Bernie Quigley

I was a little disappointed in the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to British playwright Harold Pinter this week. I thought Neil Young was sure to get it this time. Dang.

“Thinking your mind was my own in a dream/What would you wonder and how would it seem.” I like that part – like the Taoist tale of the man who dreamed of a guru and in a moment of Awakening saw that the guru was dreaming of him.

And the next line: “Living in castles a bit at a time/The king started laughing and talking in rhyme.” Could be a scene right out of the Upanishads in which a cosmic vision of the Self emerges as the Sword of Discrimination cuts away day-to-day illusion. Good stuff.

About 100 years ago someone asked Bob Dylan who he thought was the greatest poet of the age. I think he said Smokey Robinson of the Motown group, Smokey and the Miracles. I did a little research and looked through the past few winners of the Nobel laureates for literature. Smokey wasn’t on the list either.

I don’t know. The people who decide these things are Old Swedish Men (Old Swedish Men of every race, creed, color, sex and sexual orientation, of course) and live in tiny little rooms in a cold and knarly land like I do and they never go anyplace fun. I know they have never paddled the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and Wisconsin and heard the night cry of the loon or been to the Dixie Classic or drove to Nashville and drank and smoked all night and got tattoos - (I’m quite certain that not one of these venerables has a tattoo of the Zig-Zag man on his forearm like my friend Burt has).

Indeed, it is a well-known fact that these people only leave their rooms once a year to grant these awards. Maybe they should just try moving the awards to someplace more interesting like Afghanistan or Africa or India and see what happens. And take away that thing that says you have to be an Old Swedish Man (but of any race, creed, color, sex and sexual orientation, of course) to be one of these judges. I bet if you just took six random tribal elders (and you don’t have to be old to be an elder) – three men and three women – from Nigeria or Bali or Uzbekistan and asked them to make an objective study and draw up a list of the most dynamic and influential poets and writers in the American century since Victory in Japan you would come up with something entirely different. Smokey might even make the list. Maybe Neil too. And Hank Williams and Laura Nyro and Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain.

It is possible that the Nobel Committee for Literature, like the army under Tommy Franks (who poses to look like Eisenhower inspecting D Day troops on the cover of his recent autobiography, which is a little beyond belief) and the British crown under the pending doom of Camilla and Charles, are a little out of touch. Winning an award is always a sign that you are getting out of touch. And so is giving an award. Queen Elizabeth just recently gave an award to Tommy Franks, making him a knight and putting him in the same crowd as that life insurance salesman, Paul McCartney. And Mick Jagger. Friend of Bill. He got one too. You remember him. He does football games and Bar Mitzvahs now. That’s why the gods take the great ones young, before they can start getting awards and selling insurance.

I mean there really hasn’t been anything around that you could actually call literature – Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Mann, William Butler Yeats, Emerson, Willa Cather, Tolstoy – at least since the Second World War. And except for the occasional Japanese courtesan, the art form of writing novels, for which Nobel Prizes in Literature are most frequently awarded, is an almost purely European form in case you haven’t noticed. Tolstoy said it was for the entertainment of a bored parlor culture of people with nothing better to do. He abandoned the craft in mid life.

What is inherent in the giving of these awards is the idea of a superior sensibility which should advise power. In the age of Johnny Bravo and the Powder Puff Girls – America’s Siegfried and the River Sirens - they look for a higher voice which would advise the throne. But mostly the throne doesn’t listen. Indeed, the work of the chosen poets and writers of the Nobel committee is generally known only to the pot-bound, jargon-speaking and jargon-thinking, autonomous, reclusive and irrelevant world of the English Department because nobody else pays attention.

And that is not only my consideration. Here is Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English department at Yale, who writes on a variety of contemporary poets, speaking here on that dark twin who lingers under the stairs of the Academy, Lit-Crit: “When did you last read a book of literary criticism?” he asks. (Not since Moe’s Bar went Po-Mo.) “Not recently, most people who do not write criticism themselves will answer. Criticism today is impenetrable and irrelevant, since it is jargon-ridden and no longer interested in literature.” At one of the most prestigious Ivy League schools up in these parts they have even recently taken the introductory and remedial writing courses out of the English department entirely.

In the days of Victoria, the gay crowd at the Marlborough House might have had a perverse interest in Wilde and co. and the interesting lot of artists and writers who stopped by William Morris’s kitchen. Even up until 1914 when a remarkable individual like T.E. Lawrence could enjoy celebrity both as a warrior and a literary lion. But not today. Not since victory on the Western Front in 1917. Our world is a direct democracy – there is no enlightened eloi class of the Academy which speaks on our behalf. Nor does it speak to the more influential on our behalf. We speak for ourselves and if we want to name our kids Thursday and start our own religion we in this very public age will do so, and we will probably also form an internet group for that purpose and for other families with Thursday children. The Nobels might think of retooling. Maybe they should take a cue from the gaudy and unabashedly proletariat Academy Awards and give a variety of awards for specific tasks. Something like this: The Nobel Prize for Perfect Spelling and Grammar to Joan Didion; The Victoria, Empress of India, Award for Telling Foreign Devils How to Act to Salmon Rushdie; The Most Pissed off Young ‘Un Award to Suketa Medha (his recent book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found is actually well work reading, so he might not qualify); The I’m Very Old Now and I Still Don’t Like Anybody Award to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. That way you could generate the gushy and dynamic tension like on Academy Awards night, instead of the just that one thing every year to someone you usually never heard of before and will almost certainly never hear of again.

Pinter says he was influenced by Jimmy Joyce and Beckett (does not every lace-curtain South Boston Irish family like my own have their own Samuel Beckett, his angular bird’s face into the soup and grimly muttering something oblique and incomprehensible to himself before Thanksgiving Dinner? Does everyone who is not Irish want to have an uncle or an auntie like that?). But that’s not why Pinter won the award. It is not that Pinter is a bad playwright. I have always liked his work and have nothing against him except that he wears a Greek fisherman’s hat. But clearly he got the award this year for yelling about the war in Iraq. The Nobel committee often attempts to affect the flow of human events in the world by giving awards that way. A poke in the eye to the Establishment, it is supposed to be don’t cha know, but usually it just comes out like a very unliterary, “Yhneah, yhneah.” (Or worse, the devastating, sing-song rhyming couplet, “Yhneah, yhneah/neh yhneah yhneah.”) And it is very unbecoming in Old Swedish Men. I guess full disclosure is needed here. I yelled about the war in Iraq too and all I got was a one-way ticket to Palukaville.

Myself I would like to see Leonard Cohen, an old Jew (he calls himself) who lives in a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco and at one time wrote probably one of the most touching Jesus poems of the century (“Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water . . .”). Back in the Sixties everybody like it, which in itself qualifies him for disqualification for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Anyway, I can’t see the Nobel committee liking it. He also wrote the catchy theme song at the beginning of The Sopranos (“Woke up this morning . . . got myself a gun . . .”) but I doubt they watch that.

I’d also like to see Nora Ephron get a life award as she is the fish that swims not at the front but near the front of the school and where she goes the generation goes and here at the very latter end of the American century to some extent the world still goes. And follows with uncanny precision. In the first and perhaps only century of and for the ordinary people of the world she writes of love between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But I’d also like to see Ingmar Bergman and Bernardo Bertolucci get one too. Of course, they write moves and the Nobel Committee has that thing about only giving to plays staged in stark Scandinavian basement theaters and to poetry written with quills.

Anyway, I don’t think any of those people are interested in these awards. They would perhaps prefer the distinguished company of those like Leo Tolstoy, who The Nobel Prize in Literature passed over in its first year, 1901, for the poet and philosopher Sully Prudhomme. Ever since, it has been a time-honored tradition.

How about this: a Nobel Prize for the Dead, to go back and retrieve those – Tolstoy, Proust, Hardy, Chekhov, Ibsen, Joyce, Conrad, Kafka, Breckt to name a few - who the committee overlooked. That way Neil and Smokey and Laura Nyro and Bob Dylan might even get one eventually. And change the standards as well. Give the awards not just to writers but to writers/singers/musicians - to anyone who’s spirit soared and who lived for love and died for love and took his craft to be a sacred task in that river and followed that muse relentlessly to her destiny.

Where is that Deathless Child now? Where is his song?