Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Born in Texas

by Bernie Quigley

- for WesPAC, 6/12/06

“I am delighted to be here with you this evening because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.” Ann Richards

Could be that we are all destined to be born again as Americans in Texas. Could be that something will happen in Texas to make us different kinds of individuals in the world and a different kind of country. Something from which there will be no going back. Could be that destiny awaits us in Texas. The great visionary Salvador Dali saw a cosmic man-child, Geopoliticus Child, born there in the desert; hatched there, hatched out of a world egg. A new man for a new millennium beholding to none who came before.

Our primary myths arise from Texas. New England was much the same as England after the Revolution. And even when my grandparents arrived here, the mills in Manchester, New Hampshire, were identical to those in Manchester, England, and so were the people and so was the countryside. But Texas is different. Right away you notice it: The sky is big, the desert flat and arid. It does something to you.

The Alamo brings us a more American myth. We began to rise then in conflict with one another in the Mexican War and in the great civil conflict which followed on its heels. And in Texas, lost, gunned down and left for dead, we met our spirit friend. He nurtured us back to life and health. And when we were born again by the Indian healer’s hand we were finally Americans with no thoughts remaining of our European prehistory. Chief Joseph said this spirit would always walk among us, and when we least expected it, it would be there. Like at Appomattox, when Robert E. Lee was signing the surrender. He noticed an Indian present, Col. Ely Parker, a Seneca who worked for Ulysses S. Grant. Lee said, “I’m glad to see there is at least one real American here.” The Indian said, “We’re all Americans here.” Europeans have not such friends. No one does.

Six years into the new millennium we sense an awakening. It is appropriate that we sense it in Texas where seven Iraq war veterans are seeking office as Democratic candidates and are rising up in a new beginning, like the six mythical Texas Rangers left for dead in the desert, rising from the dead and born again. It is appropriate as well that General Wesley Clark is speaking on their behalf and on behalf of all veterans and all Democrats in Texas. We are at a cultural turning. The seven Texas Fighting Dems spearhead a new Democratic movement forming across the country. It is bringing a change to the political culture like I have not seen since I watched the Friday Night Fights on TV with my father. Since they asked us weekly on the TV, “Who is that Masked Man?”

I felt a sea change in politics a few months back when reports of the Fighting Dems first began appearing on Wes Clark’s web site. I’d been in the room with General Clark when he signed the book to enter the primary in New Hampshire and I volunteered for him all through his campaign. General Clark brought integrity and character to the Democrats. Frankly, he brought a sense of adulthood, duty and responsibility that somehow had drifted over the generations. Now others, the seven Texans and Iraq war veterans like Eric Massa of New York and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois were bringing the same bright and positive charge to the table. This will awaken in Texas.

It is a trifecta week: three major and formative events are at hand - Jim Webb, the Texas Democratic Convention and the Yearly Kos. Jim Webb, running for Senate in Virginia faces a primary on June 13. He is possibly the most effective public speaker since Malcolm X. He will eat them alive. He will hunt them down and leave them in a pile of spit and bones on the floor. But what I like about him is that his American journey is in one important way the characteristic American journey of our times. It is a path which begins with the Democrats and ends with the Democrats. When institutions he was born into or became part of would take a wrong turn as all public institutions invariably do, he would leave without hesitation and beat his own path. Eventually the vast majority would abandon the institution as well and follow his path. Like 80% of the voters in my old precinct in the hills of North Carolina, he was a Southerner who was born Democrat and switched parties as the country was ramping up to the Reagan period. George Will said in a column about him in The Washington Post, Webb “ says he was ‘pretty much’ a Democrat until President Jimmy Carter ‘pardoned the draft evaders.’” As we approached the day when 49 states would vote for a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, Webb and the vast majority of Americans were again on the same path. He told Will, "I wouldn't shake John Kerry's hand for 20 years," because of Kerry's anti-Vietnam activities, but “I voted for him in 2004.”

This is the pattern of many who are returning to the Democratic Party. Born Democrat in Northern cities and Southern towns, they left the party during the Reagan administration. Now they are coming back. My thought is that they were right to leave then and now they are right to come back. Now is the time for a new turning of the political culture.

The Democratic Party was once the party of the real people of this country. The people who grew soybean and cotton, the people who gathered for barbecue at the Legion Hall, who went to church, listened to Johnny Cash, and served without rumination or discussion when they were called to duty.

Here in Boston, New York and New England, Democrats changed our world, turning Irish, Polish, Jewish, German and other immigrants into full-blown Americans, proud, hard-working and unpretentious. They were people like my father who bought the Boston tabloid every evening on the way home from the factory for the single purpose of checking the Treasury balance – not that they were heavily invested in T bills, but because every day each factory worker would bet on the last three numbers in a factory pool. They sent their champion to Washington in 1961. The very last of these public figures from my old neighborhood, Massachusetts representative Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neil and Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Mary McGrory, have slipped into history’s shadow lands.

Now they are coming back. Jim Webb is one of them and so is Wesley Clark. Webb is an astonishing individual, well known to all of us who were awake during the war in Vietnam. He is a warrior to the bone who wrote one of the most important novels about Vietnam, Fields of Fire. In his amazing life’s journey he was also Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, but quit his post when they cut the Navy’s funds. He is a man who could sit at the table with Tip O’Neil or John F. Kennedy. And every Fighting Dem is a profile in courage and can do the same. Webb and General Clark speak on their behalf.

From Webb’s political writings, it seems clear that the Dungeon & Dragons Warriors of the White House Cabal which engineered the misbegotten vision of hubris and fantasy play in Iraq, is what led him back to the Democratic Party. Which was a kind of homecoming. On Sept. 4, 2002, he wrote in an article called “Heading for Trouble” in the Washington Post: “American military leaders have been trying to bring a wider focus to the band of neoconservatives that began beating the war drums on Iraq before the dust had even settled on the World Trade Center. Despite the efforts of the neocons to shut them up or to dismiss them as unqualified, these leaders, both active-duty and retired, have been nearly unanimous in their concerns. Is there an absolutely vital national interest that should lead us from containment to unilateral war and a long-term occupation of Iraq? And would such a war and its aftermath actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism?”

We heard similar words from General Clark during the New Hampshire primary, while most other Democrats seeking high office supported the neocon agenda. Now they have flipped and are following General Clark’s initiative. But we have lived in crisis for six years now. Corruption in policy making pervades the Administration and decay has reached the base of the spine as even the public air waves are dominated by the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Charles Krauthammer and that tall, blond number who dresses like a transvestite. Americans are beginning to seek authenticity. And that is bringing a fork in the road.

Last week Russ Feingold, Senator from Wisconsin, who was one of the very few Senators to oppose the invasion of Iraq, spoke to us here in New Hampshire and put much of the blame on the Democrats. We have challenged corrupt government only with weakness and timidity. We have sustained mediocrity and corruption by governing passively; hoping it would pass soon and then our turn would come. But with this approach it does not pass; it sustains and builds itself to higher crescendo. As Thomas Mann chronicled the moral decline of the German middle class in his great writings, an attitude of passivity, smugness, affectation and cultural retreat was the hallmark of the rise of fascism in Europe. We in the Land of the Free are following sheepishly in the same dynamic pattern.

Feingold speaks with clarity and authenticity. His integrity has brought him to the top of the youthful and dynamic movement which vents its spirit daily at the Daily Kos and the other blogs.

My thought is that this is the most important of generational movements in America today. It is the fourth post-war generation, the group historians William Strauss and Neil Howe say will begin America’s millennial epic. This generation shares none of the timidity of those on the one hand/on the other hand Democrats. They will run the country for the next 30 years.

Recently, Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos, who coined the phrase Fighting Dems and has heavily promoted them on his blog, suggested a fork in the road for Democrats. He wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post saying that there are now emerging two Democratic Parties; old Democrats, and he mentioned Senator Clinton and John Kerry, and new Democrats (he mentioned Russ Feingold and Mark Warner, who have recently scored one and two in his monthly survey of readers). General Clark also consistency scores high in Daily Kos polls and has since he entered Presidential politics in the last election. Kos has actively promoted the new wing of the Democratic Party, featuring a new Fighting Dem every week.

“Hillary Clinton has a few problems if she wants to secure the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination,” wrote Kos. “She is a leader who fails to lead. She does not appear ‘electable.’ But most of all, Hillary has a Bill Clinton problem. (And no, it's not about that.)”

Hillary Clinton leads her Democratic rivals in the polls and in fundraising, said Kos. Unfortunately, however, the New York senator is part of a failed Democratic Party establishment -- led by her husband -- that enabled the George W. Bush presidency and the Republican majorities, and all the havoc they have wreaked at home and abroad.

The Yearly Kos, uniting the netroots this week in Las Vegas, is a Who’s Who of new Democrats, and although Markos does not endorse candidates at the conference, star power participants who are candidates or possibly will be candidates for public office include Mark Warner, Wes Clark and Eric Massa.

This could be a watershed event and such a turn in the culture comes none too soon. Pundits, some of whom were the original neocon enablers, have recently compared the Bush Presidency with the Jacksonian period, when the newly empowered Southern states to the west flaunted a new populism in the face of the Whigs in the Northeast, driving them to extremes. I think it is an appropriate analogy. And it should be remembered that the Whigs, who bore a close similarity to the passive and effete wing of the Democrats today, were driven out of business. But from there a new party rose like a Phoenix. We see that potential today as well. Recently, Alan Greenspan has said that he expects a third party challenge in either the 2008 or the 2012 race as both mainstream parties are at their extreme, leaving the wide middle open to new cultivation. But that challenge could come instead from the division of an existing party as it did back in the mid 1800s with the rise of Lincoln and the Republicans, and there is increasing evidence that it is building now in the Democratic Party.

It should be recalled that when the country desired to be born again in the 1830s it could not rely on the mainstream press, which had succumbed to the same passivity, corruption and ambivalence as the political culture as a whole. So William Lloyd Garrison began a new press, The Liberator, in 1831, and the Gray Champion and Yankee Crusader, Theodore Parker, mounted the podium at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where his fiery addresses would find their way into Lincoln speeches.

Nature will always find its way in a country with a temperament as free and independent as ours, and this time it is the independent journals and the blogs rising organically into the political culture. Markos is their William Lloyd Garrison.

These events come in a good week. Al-Zarqawi is dead and with Henry W. Paulson heading to the Treasury Department, there are clear suggestions that Rove and his folkloric crew of unenlightened amateurs have been sidelined and the Bush Administration is making attempts to rejoin the world.

But after six years when every utopian, millenialist, religious zealot and political cultist was drawn to his aura, we have to wonder. With what strengths do we approach the new century having let go the reins of the world for six years? When President Jimmy Carter went back to the farm after four years, which had been left in the hands of brother Billy, he found there was little left. Paulson will need strong kung fu to reach over the transom and grab hold the dollar before it sinks into oblivion.

The sudden appearance of competent managers from a mainstream sensibility like Goldman Sachs and the dispersal of ideologues are good for the country. But it may not be good for the President. As he, like myself and 40 million others who rose together in a wave out of WW II, turns 60 in the next few weeks. He has always seemed to dislike his own generation and sometimes to despise it. Indeed, he strangely seems to have no real friends his own age. And he was clearly chosen by an older generation to oppose his own and to do the impossible – to form an alternative path to the inevitable destiny of one generation following the next; to hold back time. The recent suggestion of competence in the White House reveals the able hand of James A. Baker, administrator of extraordinary competence in the Reagan Administration and the Bush family fixer. As the President turns 60, once again, the reins have been taken from him by his family. He cannot feel good about his work in the world to date at a birthday which signals completion and returning. And that cannot be good for the country.

I am not one of the people who hate the President. I have always shared the values and the family culture of the Bushes. And as one born in New England, which often seems hindered in its progress by a wistful yearning for the Old World of England and the Continent, what I like about the Bushes is that they continued their American journey and moved to Texas. Because sometime maybe 30 years after watching the Lone Ranger with my father, I somehow came to understand why he wore a mask. The Texas lawman was left for dead in the desert and was brought back to life by an Indian healer. But he had no memory of his own history; no memory of Boston, England, France, Poland, Russia, Italy or Ireland. He was born again; born American and he had only the Indian to guide him. He had nothing else and was alone in the desert. He was new in the world and free. Free for the first time. We are the Masked Man, our identity incomplete. But free for the first time, born in Texas.