Wednesday, July 30, 2008
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 7/30/08
Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, has abandoned devotion to Kali, the Mother of Death and Life, and adopted the way of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They say it increases his chances of being chosen as Vice President by John McCain. They’ve been saying that about Tim Kaine, Governor of Virginia, as well. He’s top of the VP list for Obama. Sources close to Kaine say one of the things that makes him appealing for this job is that he is a Roman Catholic.
My own belief systems vary somewhere between the Bodhisattva and Brett Hull, so I shouldn’t claim that much insight to this.
But I’m not sure how Jefferson would feel about this. Or Jim Webb, the Senator from Virginia, who has written a nice book recently about the common folk of Virginia from which he hails.
One of the things I first found attractive about Obama is that in his book The Audacity of Hope he showed an ability to grasp how the longest stretches of history grow from a small but significant detail. And he explained the situation Jefferson faced in Virginia regarding religion. There was a strong movement afoot to create a theocracy so that Virginia’s high-church Episcopalians could lock out the Baptists and keep the common folk from rising up and taking over the government (Webb’s clan on the frontier out past the New River). So Jefferson in a rare instance followed the cue of the Christ, who pointed out that religion and government were the two faces of a coin and are naturally separate and should remain so. The things of Caesar belonged to Caesar and the things of God belonged to God, so Jefferson demanded likewise that they be separate. Otherwise it would be like in that Batman movie where the guy has a coin with heads, one on each side; Two Face.
But there is a whole movement afoot today toward Catholicism as a political agenda. The thoughtful political columnist for The Washington Post, Michael Gerson, who was also a speechwriter for George W. Bush, writes that Roman Catholicism is today a mainstream of thought in conservative thinking. The most influential political columnist, Bob Novak, born and reared Jewish, has not long ago converted to Catholicism. “Jeb” Bush, almost certain to run for President in 2012, is a serious Catholic. My mother would call him a “good” Catholic although the distinction today between a “good” Catholic and just a regular Catholic (or a “lapsed” Catholic) would probably be lost. George W. Bush is widely expected to convert to Catholicism when his tenure as President ends.
My mother would be thrilled. For decades, she prayed for the conversion of the Jews in congregation. My Aunt Nora used to baby sit for Jewish babies and bring them down to the Catholic Church and surreptitiously baptize them. Maybe Novak was one. But that was in the day when Rose Kennedy, mother of Jack, used to ask. “When are the nice people going to invite us over?” By the “nice” people she meant The Protestants, and the answer was never.
Joe Kennedy, father of Jack, was not so naïve. Roosevelt had said to him, “This is a Protestant country and you Jews and Catholics better get used to it.” So they bought their beautiful family compound at Hyannis Port on the Cape because Yankee Protestants refused to sell to Irish Catholics in nearby Cohasset.
The Catholization of conservatism is a significant turning of events in our time, and in a season when we have seen habeas corpus abandoned like a superstitious tribal talisman and the Constitution shredded for the simplest expedience of politics and religious warfare, this could have long-term consequences.
Nothing could have greater consequences than the traditional leadership represented by conservatives and Republicans today accepting the religion of the Divine Mother as their own because our historic period began when Elizabeth I – the Virgin Queen, for whom Jefferson’s state was named - did two things. First, she granted charter to 200 billionaires in London to form the East Indian trading company. But the second thing was more important: She outlawed the practice of worshiping the Divine Mother. The two together created the Protestant Ethic, the rise of modern-day capitalism, the British Empire and its secondary derivatives, like the United States.
This action by Elizabeth I is the hallmark of modern times. It is the core moment of awakening history since medieval times. From this the Enlightenment came and the scientific method. This is the journey which Mozart, the greatest of western visionaries, extrapolated from as the cosmic passage of the European in his opera The Magic Flute, in which the protagonist, who might well have been Jefferson, drops his allegiance to the Queen of the Night (Kali; the third phase of Europe’s Earth Mother as her moon descends to black) and crosses the universe to the Council of Fathers. This is the core and center of Michelangelo’s life work in which he not only takes the Christ Child - the Divine Child, who represented mankind – out of the Divine Mother’s arms and puts him on the ground in The Madonna of Bruges – “the better to serve his Warrior Pope” he says in his journals - but in the Sistine Chapel, he casts the Divine Mother aside in disgust. These are our historic beginnings.
I still have a friend which whom I attended Latin Mass with as a child and I still talk to her every few days. I can still smell the prayer book from the Latin Mass. Her grandfather and my grandmother were born in the same town in Ireland the second century back so she still has visual and sensory recollection of the women praying the rosary together in a circle and so do I. To us, who recall the image of the Divine Mother standing on the world with a dead snake under her feet; and remember the bloody feet of the Christ on the cross, the plaster worn through in the musty, cavernous, stone churches in Boston by the embrace and kiss of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, this is an interesting turn of events.
Boston was tribal back them; one was Irish Catholic, Jewish, White Glove Unitarian, etc., as in the movie Miller’s Crossing. Politics was virtually a play of single combat warfare between Henry Cabot Lodge and Jack Kennedy; that is, it was political warfare between Protestant Republican and Irish Catholic Democrats, the largest other tribe in the region, to which all others paid union dues. We in our tribe felt that Jack Kennedy won his day through working class solidarity and its collective strategies. We, the Irish Catholic majority, between 1880 thereabouts and WW II, had driven the wealthy Protestants down to Texas.
Now their Mexican wives and girl friends have converted them. My mother would be delighted.
It is interesting that this is occurring at a time when Pope Benedict has reinstated the old forms and even up here in the bush in northern New England you can once again attend a Latin Mass. I think I am probably the only one, but I see this as significant and historic turning of events and possibly a harbinger.
A Boston priest once commented that people of my generation who grew up Catholic and Irish left as a generation without hostility or malice; it was just like hanging up and discarding an old coat. But I and a few of my school friends back then felt that we didn’t really leave the church for The Beatles and Joan Baez, but that the church left us when it dropped Latin and instituted the secular forms. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote that with the Latin Mass all Catholics spoke in the same voice, throughout the world and throughout time and when they abandoned the Latin they broke the circle. He also made the point that with the new mass the priest faced the people, representing God to the people in an authoritarian posture. In the old form, the priest faced the other way, representing the people to God, as he always had.
Now it has all come back. Interesting as well perhaps that back then, all pop culture was concerned with rising, rising, like Michelangelo’s red-haired and muscular Christ, pushing the Divine Mother aside in the Sistine Chapel; rising to space, to the planets, to Pluto, Siruis and beyond as Walt Whitman predicted. (And then, he wrote in Passage to India, “ . . . the true son of God would come, singing his songs.”) Today it is all about returning, and in some cases coming back to earth and knowing it as if for the first time. Perhaps this is where we will land. In the same place from which we left.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill 7/27/08
Three of the country’s major politicians, Ed Rendell, Governor of PA, Mike Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City and Arnold Schwarzenegger have urged both the Republican and Democratic national committees to adopt pro-infrastructure planks in their party platforms. They are co-chairs of Building America's Future which is dedicated to bringing about a new era of U.S. investment in the infrastructure which enhances our nation’s prosperity and quality of life.
Both parties should heed their call. Both parties should call for an expanded mandate for these three to the point of assigning enough authority to them to create an organizational infrastructure within the government to fix falling bridges, collapsing levees, abandoned cities and other internal ills. And more should be added to their committee: People who know things that politicians don’t know; artists and waitresses and hockey players and novelists and people who understand that cities and regions have souls and who understand what those souls are made of in their particular area. People like Alice Waters who links farmer to restaurant to people in California. People like sculptor Maya Lin, who has a good feeling for circles and squares and water and can see things to their center. And even people like Marshall Bruce Mathers III – Eminem - the inner child of my favorite city, Detroit, who understands, like Yeats, that people are not separate from their places nor their places from them.
To the Building America’s Future committee: Note - The fiasco in rebuilding Ground Zero should be used as a model for what not to do; Manhattan Island should have been looked at comprehensively as one cultural and architectural unit before they attempted to rebuild; there was something askew with the placement of the Trade Towers in Battery Park from the first – rebuilding gave an opportunity to correct it. Note - The Modernist Movement is over and so are the post-modern and deconstructivist derivatives. These are internationalist visions suitable to the turn of the last century and to the 1920 and 30s which trailed to end-of-century as a singular power arc rose in the world. That arc is descending – those days are past; that century is over.
This is about America, not about Germany or China. It is about rebuilding regions which fit together to form a whole unit which is not the whole world but the United States of America and its greater continent, perhaps, north and south. In rebuilding regions, we should not look to Hamilton who saw all people in the world eventually as New Yorkers by degree of different shade and tinge. Under the Hamilton trajectory we have evolved as consumers rather than citizens. Under his tutelage our earth and structures have become economic zones rather than places. In this we should hark back to Jefferson, who believed in a country of unique peoples in complementary and sympathetic regions.
America, since Hamilton, has looked outward. This project demands looking inward. For a project of this scale, the continent needs to be reconceptualized. We should begin to look at the natural contours of American culture as they have evolved since 1776. One-size-fits-all federalism was the right way for the vast wilderness which was America west of the New River back in 1776, but since then we have developed unique regional cultures.
Unfortunately, we in the West have no matrix for looking inward; our way is to only look outward, then crash and burn. But in his last work, the great ambassador George Kennan proposed a model of regionalization, citing 12 regions which have evolved into natural states. It would be useful to look at his regional model as a managerial principle because if the U.S. were a corporation, it would be the only large corporation without district managers. As a tool for problem solving, the federal government as it has grown since 1776 may be too large to manage successfully and also too abstract and too remote, was Kennan’s concern, while most of the states are too small and powerless.
The Katrina disaster can be seen today as a failure first of all of Hamilton’s vision of federalism as a management principle. It is a disaster for which neither political party really holds the blame. It is the product of an outdated, outmoded and anachronistic management process.
In rebuilding America, the Building America Triumvirate might look to Kennan’s regional model. Each region can be seen as a managerial department with different needs and wants, and funding could be acquired from within the regions to fit the collective need there. The Katrina region, for example, is made up of three states. There should be a “Katrina tsar”; a regional manager with temporary and project-related authority over the three-state governors which answers directly to the President. Likewise, each region of the Building America group could have a “tsar” or district manager to assess need and insure cultural autonomy; 12 tsars or district managers answering to the Triumvirate, Rendell, Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg, and those three answering to either President Obama or McCain.
Environmental issues and security issues should be worked into this creative matrix of restoring the cities and regions. Canada is adopting new principles of intra-mural commerce between provinces to encourage local trade. It makes no sense to bring energy from Iraq here to us here in northern New England when we can get it cheap from Quebec or tomatoes from Mexico when we can get them from Nova Scotia. And for environmental and security reasons it makes better sense to buy local.
A different psychological model might eventually develop, one more akin to the vision of Alice Waters, who serves only regional food and produce in her Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. It adds something to the purpose of visiting up here in the northeast where people come to peep at the leafs in October when you order a lobster; it is part of the region and casts its karma on the people of the region. When you can get them anywhere – Lima, Ohio, or Yadkin County, NC - they seem a disappointment; one-size-fits-all lobsters.
"America's highways, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit have fallen behind. The same is true for our levees, schools, ports, courthouses and water delivery systems. Our economy and environment are suffering because we cannot move goods and people efficiently - we need a strong federal commitment to tackle this problem," said Governor Schwarzenegger at a recent conference. "We have always come together as a nation to solve our biggest problems and I am confident that if both parties make infrastructure a top priority we will rebuild America with the pride and ambition that reflects the unlimited potential of our people."
The great old American cities with their master works by architects like Albert Kahn in the Detroit region have fallen victim to time and clutter – they were built as industrial centers and to house immigrants entering by the millions, and have since found only ad hoc functions. But they have also fallen victim to committees. Detroit, for example, is cluttered with bad architecture, bad commissioned art, and building without a plan or worse, building with plans that changed so many times that that they formed no pattern but chaos. Underneath is a jewel of high architecture, vastly varied neighborhoods and one of the greatest farm markets in America, but it would take the eye of someone like Maya Lin to find it and retrieve it. It would also take a few with political clout and heft to take the sledge hammer to much of the trashy and didactic commissioned art. Like any manager restructuring say a university or museum, there will need to be long-term cohesive plans to keep unity over generations. Which is why the co-chairs in this Triumvirate might be appointed dictators for life, as the Supremes of the high court have life contracts.
"The principles we are advocating will help our nation be more competitive in the global economy, ensure our environmental sustainability, enhance our citizens' quality of life and improve public safety," said Mayor Bloomberg. "They are good public policy and make sound business sense. We need to invest more in our infrastructure and those investment decisions need to be based on merit, not politics."
Philadelphia, which went through a renewal period just prior to 1976 at the Bicentennial, had a very successful restoration and one which still echoes. Back in the early ‘70s a waitress/artist could buy an old stone historic house with boarded-up windows for $800 or less off South St., an area which had fallen into decline. Ed Rendell was a great mayor who came in during this time of growth. He helped awakened in Philly to a new sense of itself and a free feeling in the old city; it was a rich and happy time when poet drank with Kansas tourist, waitress/dancer and artist and local gangster together in the same rooms where Jefferson and Franklin cast our fate. It is auspicious that he co-chairs this committee. Today, these restored areas are among the most valued urban real estate in the country and the old Father-Son-Holy Ghost houses, as these little carved gems are called, are worth millions.
There were no doubt a whole group of committees to get this going at a time when Philly advertised itself with this slogan: “Philadelphia is not as bad as everybody says.” But the cultural awakening which Rendell presided over happened because it didn’t start really with some committee. It started with the artist/waitresses who lived along the South St. region. The idea was back then to send in the artists and let them live cheap and they will restore the old neighborhoods with their own initiative and creativity.
The lawyers would follow, they said, with their cash and cache and they will do the rest. And they did.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 7/24/08
The LA Times asks this week: Was Phil Gramm right?
At a gardening shop near where I live the proprietor points out that when the season opened this year she sold out of onions and potatoes in the first few days. In a time of scarcity, she said, people begin to stock up on basics. I see it all over – people up here building big gardens and turning to wood stoves. Local stores have sold out of them as well.
We are sensing the end of something. It has been rising for a long while, but now it has hit a nerve.
Phil Gramm’s recent comments were meant to scold and were no help to John McCain, but what he said about a “mental recession” has some relevance. “Mental,” or psychological factors are relevant influences on the culture and on the economy. They are fully predictable as a part of the business cycle because everything in human culture, including economic theory and its applied practice, comes first from the human psyche.
People sense that we are at a turning. But when my neighbors across the river in Vermont, which has more invested capital per capita than any other state, get all survivalist and start grabbing up basic food stocks like onions and potatoes, it is misplaced anxiety. We are at the classic third-generation break point which generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe tell about; the moment in post-war time when the world ends and begins again.
And we are also still at end of the millennium. Or rather, we are no longer at the end of the last millennium but are beginning to feel our feet in the new millennium. But they are not solidly grounded yet. It is a big change and history could well show the Clintons and George W. Bush as the unfortunate Keepers, the mythic Twins which accompany the millennia. Only now we begin to face forward.
The change ahead is holistic; Billary and Bush will be left behind but so will the attendant cultures which accompanied these generations. And so will Phil Gramm be left behind. Gramm was a good head-full-of-ideas and was man-of-the-hour oh, say 20 years ago. McCain’s selection of him as a key adviser is telling. It reveals McCain to be a nostalgico candidate; one seeking to restore a vision of the past and beholden to the past.
He senses it himself; he is a man who like all red-blooded American boys from the fifties felt aspiring to be President was the right thing to do, like going to church and playing sand lot baseball. But McCain is, if nothing else, a decent American and he knows that there is nothing really in his history or his present repertoire which would actually make him a good President. This is where the new uncertainty is coming from in his recent daily stumbling. And he is the warrior who has proven to be willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the party and the good of the country, like the fighter pilot who after being shot up in the air, considering his options and trying to find the steady-mindedness and balance enough to identify an appropriate target to hit on crashing.
That is why he is likely to avoid the fanciful and novelty in picking a VP, like some of the strange bachelor farmers and religious exorcists being suggested to him. That is why he will choose someone who can prepare the Republican party for 2012 and begin to rebuild from there. Obama, “The One,” as McCain has come to call him, has it wrapped up this time around and McCain can see that with some relief. Larry Sabato, the Virginia political analyst, compares the current race with the Eisenhower/Stevenson contest in which Eisenhower won all but a few Southern states, McCain being the Aldai Stevenson of the Republican Party. A pretty good analogy.
But Obama would do well to look beyond McCain and look to 2012 as well or his rising star will have come with the dust and like those of so many pseudo-political saviors which appear at turnings, will be gone with the wind by 2010. McCain’s logical choice is Mitt Romney and he is the choice of the Bushes as well, who McCain sees as wiser and more pragmatic than he is. Go back and look at Romney’s campaign logo; it is easily mistaken for that of the New England Patriots. Both Obama and Romney well – perhaps masterfully - understand organization but in their very different ways.
Romney’s creative management gifts should not be overlooked. If he looks stiff, he can also be versatile. In recent days his sideburns have grayed, and he has begun to look strangely and remarkably like Billy Graham. But when Fox reporters asked him recently: Governor Romney, Obama says Americans should talk French. Shouldn’t the French talk American just like Jesus talked? Romney stepped aside and wouldn’t play. He is actually fairly fluent in French having journeyed to Paris as a young man on his Mormon mission.
Obama is all about establishing new forms and his political survival beyond 2011 depends on it. He is good at it and he has a great team in this primary season. It is beginning to look like Jack Reed, the Senator from Rhode Island, could be his VP choice but Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, is also said to be a front-runner.
What he doesn’t need, and he probably knows this, is someone who will share the spotlight with him or even a VP who would be thought of as the next President to follow him. But what he does need is a bulky offensive line to protect him up front. Like Romney, he might look to the well-managed Pats. Obama, tall, lanky, self-assured and keen of eye and wit, does on occasion display an unbearable lightness of being not entirely unlike the Patriots’ quarterback who often seems to be just standing by himself in the field, aloof and alone with his thoughts, or waiting for something that the rest of us can’t see, until he throws the ball. But when the ball is thrown it is thrown as it has never been thrown before.
Forget VP, like Tom Brady, Obama needs to stand alone and like Brady, he needs bulls up front for protection. I’d suggest a bulky offensive lineup starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chicago’s Bill Daley and New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, with Daley as Chief of Staff. They are three of the most competent people in politics today and if Obama doesn’t poach two of them they are very likely to go to McCain/Romney.
This would be political theater on Obama’s part with the emphasis on theater. But it worked for Ronald Reagan, who brought far more than himself to the Oval Office. He brought a lineup. Forget VP. A great President stands alone and VPs advancing to the Presidency are always a disappointment. TV, a feeling rather than a thinking venue, tends to create states of conditioned reflex and for no good reason have we come to look to VP as the next President. But James A. Baker, Reagan’s Chief of Staff, would have made a far better president than Bush I.
Cultural turnings are looked at either as end-times or beginning-times depending on whether or not your own personal time and influence is ahead or behind. Panic mentality – wealthy people buying survival staples like onions and potatoes in a high-end garden shop - is normal in a time of transition.
Evidence is everywhere today that the fourth post-war generation is at hand. One of the features of the ascending century and its first generation – a generation of patriots and heroes according to Strauss & Howe - will be warrior-quality intensity in politician and poet. Singular individuals like Picasso will arise, who, when asked what he sought in painting replied, “I don’t seek. I find.”
Recently, my kids have been suggesting movies on the lives of artists and writers who were purely dedicated to pursuits of perfection and masters of their tasks and crafts; artist Jackson Pollock and writer Truman Capote in particular. Recent movies on their lives have won academy awards, but these great artists have long been absent from the public eye.
This presents to us a new trend; a trend which is diametrically opposed to Clinton-era soccer-mom culture in which everyone gets a trophy. As Bruce Wayne tells us (that would be The Dark Knight), mastery and perfection seeks no trophy and usually gets none. It is above and beyond the “excellence” theme of the Reagan period and its current moment can be seen in the work of the warrior artist who sought mastery and perfection and found it and died trying: Heath Ledger in the role of The Joker in the current blockbuster, The Dark Knight.
The new generation recalls the Old Masters, say Strauss and Howe, like Pollock and Capote. It seeks the “Gray Champions” of honor and integrity from grandparent’s day. And we are suddenly seeing that today.
In the last nine months we have heard the voices of wise elders which seem to have been silenced for decades, particularly those of Sam Nunn and Henry Kissinger, who have called for a quieting of the political rhetoric and the end of the hubris that has punctuated foreign policy and threatened world stability here at the turning of the millennium.
In a recent essay in The Washington Post, Kissinger calls for a stabilization of relations with Russia, which the young and the restless of recent years have jeopardized with their naïve display of manlies.
“Ever since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, a succession of U.S. administrations has acted as if the creation of Russian democracy were a principal American task,” he writes. “Speeches denouncing Russian shortcomings and gestures drawn from the Cold War have occurred frequently. Proponents of such policies assert that the transformation of Russian society is the precondition of a more harmonious international order. They argue that if pressure is maintained on the current Russia, it, too, will eventually implode. Yet assertive intrusion into what Russians consider their own sense of self runs the risk of thwarting both geopolitical and moral goals.”
Sam Nunn, has joined Kissinger in calling for a return to sense and sensibility in foreign policy.
Not long ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Nunn, who retired from the Senate more than ten years ago, “ . . . has watched what's happened to the country, and he's more than a bit ticked — at the "fiasco" in Iraq, a federal budget spinning out of control, the lack of an honest energy policy, and a presidential contest that, he says, seems designed to thwart serious discussion of the looming crises.”
Kissinger and Nunn have been working together recently in calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. Obama expressed agreement with Nunn when Nunn held a bi-partisan conference on these issues last summer, which Bloomberg and David Boren of Oklahoma attended. Susan Eisenhower, who perhaps more than anyone has been steadfast in pushing for a new approach like Kissinger and Nunn are calling for, has also endorsed Obama.
Nunn has recently called attention to the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan and Obama has reflected these comments in his visit to the Middle East. Time magazine has already picked up on the new zeitgeist and on its cover this week calls the deployment in Afghanistan, “the right war.” It was announced recently that Nunn has been selected by Obama as a senior advisor on foreign policy. Nunn is almost certain to hold a foreign policy position in an Obama administration.
This is a good beginning at a contentious turning with high gas prices, amorphous economic woes, wonderful David Attenborough nature videos on PBS and urgent voices assuring us that the end is imminent; voices like Carl Sagan’s and Paul R. Ehrlich’s, whose professorial and earnest tome, The Population Bomb, assured us in the 1970s with all scientific credibility that we would certainly be long dead by now. This world today is much like that world of the later 1970s.
But back then things began again with Ronald Reagan. And things really got moving with the publication of a few books like Ezra Vogel’s Japan as Number One and Robert Christopher’s The Japanese Mind. America suddenly realized we had two oceans, one on each side, and the countries on the other side of the Pacific were rich and creative and getter better at what we did and in what we thought only we could do.
I hope the young ‘uns continue to bring forth warrior artists like Heath Ledger. And I hope Obama does look post-partisan as he claimed he would when he showed his enthusiasm for the Kissinger/Nunn principles. Here is a couple he might bring in as well: Winston Lord and Betty Bao Lord, American ambassadors and China hands at the time when the West first fully awakened to China as a rising culture and economy. Because whether we accept it or rebel from it, the century begins next month and not at the Democratic or Republican conventions. It begins on August 6, in China, the opening day of the 2008 Olympics.
The basic staples of life in this ascending world will not be onions and potatoes. They will be mastery and perfection because when it gets to the tipping point, and things always do, they will be the tools we need to survive and to flourish.
Monday, July 21, 2008
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill, 7/21/08
Here in northern New England we experience a kind of liberalism I would call detached. Or maybe a better word is unhinged. It is an organic product of changing demographics.
Not long ago – in my father’s day – it counted for something to be from these parts because most people lived in the northeast; Texas was a desert and California was a hinterland. New England, particularly its northern parts, was considered core to that sensibility which evolved into the American condition. So much flinty character we were imagined to have that when Governor Sherman Adams – Yankees used to have names like that – put his mind to it he would send Eisenhower to the Presidency, even though Eisenhower hadn’t even put his name on the ballot. Even nowadays that rugged individualist sensibility resonates on big and small screen; the fictional President in The West Wing was naturally reared in New Hampshire.
But since post-war demographics have shifted to the south, the southwest and just everywhere. The rise of dominant opinion and new American ideas, particularly in the south since Ronald Reagan, is a natural product of these shifting demographics. When the south became empowered economically it voiced its own opinions unbeholding to the northeast. In places like Tobaccoville, NC, were we happened to rear our kids, the change was dramatic. Over 80% of the people, having voted Democratic since 1865, changed their voter registration to Republican. They changed their religion too. It was a full cultural empowerment and it permanently shifted attitudes in America. As Newt Gingrich said, borrowing the ubiquitous Sixties refrain, the northeast was no longer relevant.
There does seem to be a sense of being left behind here in recent decades, and the further north you go from Boston, the more you feel it. Complaint has become loud and stringent; more a cry in the wilderness without conceivable objective than original thinking and considered plan of action. And right now it is going to get a lot worse because the 40-some million people exactly my age born all at the same time within a few months of war’s end are planning to retire this year and probably at least seven million of them are going to buy Subarus and put a bunch of bumper stickers on them and move up here to try to get the band back together that they left behind in high school.
So it gets stranger and stranger. And the public airwaves didn’t get the Gingrich memo, so anything we do up here – the crazier the better – will be fully reported in the press as somehow important and relevant, and will awaken or be amplified like a fire storm in some other far away place like California or the Pacific Northwest.
Robert Redford, the movie maker who always wanted to be a professor and plays one in his recent movie, Lions for Lambs, makes a salient point about the new unhinged. He plays a professor who, like Johnny Cash’s wanderer, is looking for one good man; a spirit who would not bend of break who would sit at his father’s right hand. He is looking for a warrior in a world of delusional liberal wimps. When discussing handing out clean needles to heroin users, the class, like a school of fish, universally embraces the idea and scorns the loner – Redford’s warrior – who compares this to assigning a separate highway lane for drunk drivers. Redford’s point seems to be that this kind of liberal dilettantism creates a psychological transference which sends the group aloft and detaches it from the key issues of the day, like the invasion of Iraq, torture, Gitmo.
Redford asks, how did we allow these things to happen? How did we deal the opposition a free hand? We did so by embracing the absurd and the irrelevant as ends in themselves; as substitutions for the real issues that needed to be confronted and the real work that needed to be done. We did so because we did not have the courage to face the political realities as they came to us and so we substituted fanciful issues in their place.
Here in the northern reaches of New Hampshire rugged individualism has saved us from this kind of thing, or so we have told ourselves. But this week we have entered the horde. This week New Hampshire has agreed to accept free oil from Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela. It is the kind of thing I would expect from our neighbors, but it was unimaginable in Sherman Adams’ day. I thought it was unimaginable here in New Hampshire until last week.
According to press reports, New Hampshire becomes the last state in the Northeast to embrace the offer.
"A lot of people have said, ’We need help and we value any help we can get,'" said Amy Ignatius, director of New Hampshire's office of energy and planning.
Chavez hates the United States. He hates George Bush. I don’t like Bush either, but I don’t hate him.
New Hampshire has signed on for the free oil just as Chavez visits Moscow so to spend up to a billion dollars on Russian weapons next week. Chavez's shopping list could include three "Varshavianka" class electric-diesel submarines and 20 Tor-M1 ground-to-air missile systems, sources say. According to a Venezuelan government statement Thursday, Chavez says Venezuela is looking to obtain new military hardware including Russian tanks. The president already has bought Russian weapons, including Sukhoi fighter jets and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles.
Incidentally, last week Chavez threatened to cut off oil to the U.S. if it "continues to try to hurt us.” Presumably that would be states other than New Hampshire which, as far as I understand it, has actually entered into a passive federalist accord with Venezuela in opposition to the United States. And this weekend diplomats speaking for Chavez’s Best Bud, President Lula da Silva of Brazil, said the United States deception in trade talks reminded him of tactics used by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.
Somebody tell these people: The Fifties called. They want their political parties back.
Chavez sees himself as the “new Castro” sticking it to the Americans by getting the Old Alliance back; the Russians and the Chinese in particular, and throwing in Iran, Syria and a few others; just anyone with a grudge against us. And here in the U.S. what Chavez is looking for is - in the language of the Fifties - fellow travelers like those in homage to The God that Failed, as Stalin-era communism was called in a famous book by that title. Stalin called them, the “useful idiots” – sympathizers and passive supporters of those who would despise us.
Doris Lessing wrote about subtle identification with one’s enemy and the path of political nihilism as a sick post-war soul in Europe and America; a kind of cultural possession which took her and her friends to the dark side well into the 1950s. They were useful tools to Stalin all during the gulag period, a time when tens of millions died, according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s first-hand account. But their influence came to an end when Arthur Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon and denounced them as collaborators and appeasers. Koestler was himself a fellow traveler. That book and his other writings became a major influence in American thinking in the 1950s.
Lessing wrote about her experiences again in a New York Times essay in 1992: “While we have seen the apparent death of Communism, ways of thinking that were either born under Communism or strengthened by Communism still govern our lives. Not all of them are as immediately evident as a legacy of Communism as political correctness.”
She won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year for writing about this. But apparently they didn’t get that memo at Concord’s office of energy and planning either.
I’m not surprised to see the surrounding states up here go along with Chavez but I’d like to see a county-by-county ballot referendum in New Hampshire on who wants free oil from Chavez and who doesn’t.
New Hampshire was until this week the most Jeffersonian of states. We wear independence on our license plates and when a foreign leader like the newly elected Nicolas Sarcozy, intent on changing France’s trajectory, wants to show a (fanciful) flinty independence, his first symbolic act is to come to our cold lakes to bask. We even had a movie recently with Bruce Willis busting thing up under the anthem of our state motto.
But this independence has yielded to demographics. The tax rate up here is an attraction to outsiders, some of whom are not particularly independent of spirit but simply want to avoid taxes and the everyday responsibilities of republican government. These people are generally from the industrial parts of Massachusetts and have just in recent times moved across the border.
The trouble is, they have brought Massachusetts with them. And they outnumber the rest of us in the mountains.
New Hampshire still has the right stuff which gave it its reputation, but now it is invariably overwhelmed by the mass market corporate culture which has moved across to the bottom of the state creating a kind of Massachusetts “pseudo state” just above the Massachusetts border.
We have clearly seen this new condition in voting patterns in recent elections and it was illustrated most vividly in the Democratic primary in ’04. At the frozen top of the state, Dixville Notch, which might be considered the gnarly essence of New Hampshire, Wes Clark won up to 80 percent of the vote. But at the end of the day it was all John Kerry, same as in Massachusetts. And in the Senate and House races today it is no surprise that some of the Democratic candidates seem to bear no relationship to the northern tradition of flinty independence but rather seem right off the rack at Filene’s basement in Boston.
It may have been a harbinger when the stone face fell off the mountain a few years back. It is still on the license plates and so is the slogan, Live Free or Die. But that time has passed and now the new culture dominates. The free and independent mountain spirit of New Hampshire is a God that Failed. We are now North Massachusetts.
Friday, July 18, 2008
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill, 7/17/08
There is a masterfully crafted scene in Carol Felsenthal’s Clinton in Exile that brings to mind the stillness and awe of Robert E. Lee signing surrender at Appomattox or Nelson’s funeral after Trafalgar. You feel as if you are waiting there for Lee to make his despondent comment on behalf of the heroic vanquished when Grant’s Indian guide responded, “We’re all Americans here.” You feel you are nervously waiting through a dead quiet in a side parlor for Wellington to arrive or perhaps the King’s entourage to enter and offer homage to the fallen warrior and god king of Trafalgar. You sense that the events which brought you to these pivotal passages in the river are larger than you are; larger than your family is and more important and people will look to this great moment as a turning for a 1,000 years to come. But it is not Nelson at Trafalgar or Lee at Appomattox. It is Bill Clinton entering a room of adoring supporters waiting for him to do a crossword puzzle.
And that captures the essence of this downward spiral which is the life and times of Bill Clinton starting on the day he left office. Trafalgar and Appomattox are indeed simply bends in the river of a tribal pre-history which brought us to this, the most important moment in “human history” as Clinton tends to describe the events which led up to this moment; to his moment, the Brahma point from which all past time descends and all future time ascends. He describes the Internet as “the fastest growing means of communication in human history” in 1998 as he so described the cloning of Dolly. Just as he described Hillary as co-winner of the Democratic primary last week while addressing a group of governors.
But he would be uncomfortable with the analogy of Lee and Nelson, even though, as Felsenthal points out, he wanted military medals added to his official White House portrait, although he dodged the draft and like much in this legacy, he lied about it. Likely he envisions himself as a kind of Gandhi or Bodhiharma who saved Africa – although one million Rwandans died on his watch and died by the knife – and cured AIDS, much as Elvis dreamed that he was Jesus later in his life.
This is an odyssey of gold watches and billionaire friends; bimbos, bling and a private airplane bigger than a doublewide; and cash-raising speeches, end on end – three in a day at up to $800,000 a pop, bringing in $46 million in just a few years. But at the center of this political theater nothing holds. There is no Trafalgar. There is no Appomattox. There is no center. In the center is a maze – a crossword puzzle; a maze much like the one Dedalus built to insulate the King and hide him from his obsession.
Felsenthal’s book brings to mind the great writing of Barbara Tuchman; great because Tuchman creates on her canvas a pastiche of such detail that the story which is history is revealed as if of its own initiative. Likewise, Felsenthal, without guile, rancor or interpretation, reveals critical details we need to know to understand what happened to put what we have heard so far into perspective; the conversation between Bill and Hillary when the Monica episode is sprung to the press was quiet and loving; that the Monica episode is characteristic of a life-long journey, and that the key enabler in this fairly squalid story is not Bill’s Hollywood hack producer friends or vain political panderers, but Hillary. Like the plain girl – as Bill’s mother, Virginia, who wore tube tops and played the ponies, described her – who married the fancy man, she seems to expect the controversy and maybe enjoy it, vicariously sharing in its shady celebrity. It is the source and means of her entire public life and persona.
When the subject of Bill’s continued philandering was raised with Hillary, she responded, says one man who knows both Clintons well. “Screw ‘em. If they want to go vote for a pro-life Republican, let ‘em.”
We need to hear these voices and the not so quiet and loving voices as well: Don Hewett recalls a 60 Minutes episode about Vernon Jordan, Bill’s golf pal, when Mike Wallace asked him, “What do you and Bill Clinton talk about on the golf course?” and Jordan answered, “Pussy.”
This is Bill’s story but it is also a generation’s story; or rather, the story of that part of a generation which came to identify with the Clintons. It is the story of that part of the generation born to adulthood on May 4, 1970, perhaps, the day of Kent State, of which hippie leader Jerry Rubin said, “After Kent State you couldn’t get a girl to type your term paper for you anymore.” Rubin declared the hippie movement dead then and said, “Wealth creation is the real American Revolution.” He moved on to Wall St. and that part of the generation which sees Clinton as its avatar followed like a horde.
Felsenthal’s book tells a story of liberalism as it began to take an unusual tack with this group, at a time when Lewis H. Lapham, the venerable Harper’s editor, said liberals began to enter a room in a way that seem to say look at my haircut.
And it is a story of plain people, Bill and Hillary, or people who started out plain and today face the daily terror that history will remember them as plain.
During his lowest moods, Felsenthal writes, Bill worried that the business, policy, and nonprofit worlds would reject him out of fear that their members would be offended by his very presence. “That fed into his biggest insecurity – “ she writes, “that he did not really belong in the elite circles in which he mixed, the he was, after all, just white trash.”
But Felsenthal’s detailed writing reveals an ambivalence; possibly an inherent, subliminal desire by Clinton to flaunt the low life and vindicate the lore and mores of the poor white folk of the agrarian South. In her subtle and skillful telling, the Clintons begin to suggest and original Bill and Hillary counterpart and a historic parallel which some historians have suggested came about in opposition to the hippies and the Sixties generation: The TV preachers Jim and Tammy Faye Baker.
Felsenthal writes: Today Bill Clinton collects high-end watches and wears a Rolex, or a Patek Philippe or a Cartier or an Audemars Piguet or a watch by the young German watchmaker Michael Kobold. These are watches that cost thousands of dollars; some reach to six figures. Clinton has about fifty watches in his collection . . . . In 2004, when Michael Kobold, German born and only twenty-seven, first met Clinton at a small private party, the former president was wearing an Audemars Piguet skeleton watch that was worth well over a hundred thousand dollars.
So many watches, so little time. She goes on and the passage brings to mind Jim Baker holding up his gold watch and joyfully shouting to the TV camera: See this gold watch? Jee-sus wants you to have this gold watch.
Felsenthal tells an important story; a story which took us to the end of the second millennium and to a continuing series of events by a Presidential couple which historians will see perhaps in time as a phenomenon rather than a political process, and possibly even as a millennialist phenomenon like UFO encounters, Wormwood, dreams of the Yellow Monk, Jerry Springer and visions of Armageddon.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Upending Torture: Start a Truth Commission
by Bernie Quigley
for The Hill, 7/13/08
Here in northern
But down the mountain; down there in the vast heartland, the actual torture buffs and advocates who wrote the stories before they went to the syndicates; the agents and fellow travelers who have breached the faith of the American fabric and condition as it has never been breached before have found their way out of what were once considered venerable journals like The National Review to the most important newspapers and magazines in the country. And just a few months back the discussion of torture in papers like The New York Times and the LA Times was as common as hep-B and herpes duplex and as American as apple pie. First question to these people: Who raised you?
Perhaps we will need reeducation centers or rehabilitation centers like those set up in Southeast Asia after the war in
Let’s go back to the beginning: Let’s have public discussion of ideas like those openly discussed – bragged about – throughout the media leading up to the war on Iraq when most all the major columnists and journalists in this country and about 90 Senators felt for sure early in 2001 that the war in Iraq would be a cake walk won in a week. It would be the key career move and anyone who didn’t participate would be left behind.
World War II in a week. Let’s go back to the Weekly Standard crew. One of its old school talked openly about frequently sitting around the office and the whole bunch just trying to decide which country to cajole the compliant, submissive and accommodating Congress to invade first.
Are there not War Crime laws against conspiring to invade foreign countries? Shouldn’t there be? Isn’t it, like, unconstitutional? Isn’t it unconstitutional to repeal habeas corpus? Why did the repeal of habeas corpus not ring with the urgency of a suddenly lost talisman to the majority in Congress and the press? And isn’t it therefore a RICO violation or a conspiracy to advocate overthrow of the established Constitutional proceedings? Doesn’t this in fact present a bloodless coup; the substitution of a false government for the true government? Isn’t this against the law?
Let’s begin to ask these questions and let’s have soldiers like Major Tammy Duckworth, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Senator Jim Webb, Admiral Joe Sestak and General Wesley Clark start to ask these questions.
Are the instigators of these illegal issues American war criminals and to what degree are they culpable? To what degree are their fellow travelers in press and politics culpable? Should they at least be purged from our presence? Can’t they be sent some place like the Penal Colony of French New Guinea or the
And let’s have some public and televised hearings and go way back to the beginning. Let’s bring in some of the old folkloric and vastly charming and creative radio preachers I used to listen to in the mountains of Appalachia starting in the early ‘90s and throughout who talked about the invasion of
Let’s talk about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ that our Appalachian free preachers told us we were going to help bring about by a war against Saddam. And let’s talk about how these mad millennialist visions of psychobilly preachers too long in the hollow got to be American foreign policy.
Was this war simply millennialist religious hysteria of the kind which classically comes about at the turning of millennia? A nation-wide Jonestown to which the Congress, the press and 75% of the American people who supported the invasion drank the kool aid?
Lets get the authors of the Left Behind books to explain to us again as they did to their 100 million readers how a war in the Middle East - something way like this one - was going to bring about the end of the world and bring back Jesus. How was that going to happen again? And let’s talk to the few
More questions arise: Why were so few others in big places like The New York Times and Congress unconcerned about this? How could they possibly claim not to know? One of the authors of the Left Behind books worked for one of our most prominent Representatives. Were they not curious? Was appeasement and accommodation of Bush and company the dominant survival strategy for those Senators who voted for the
And how did our allies not know a word about this?
Weeks before the invasion I’d lobbied members of the House of Commons like Glenda Jackson about the American religious zealots encouraging this war on
And how did the urban and urbane neocons connect so swiftly with this motley group of Free Church Christian preachers in the
Let’s go back to the tapes of The Newshour with Jim Lehrer weeks before the invasion and look a second time into the eyes and smiles the camaraderie and excitement that the country’s most prominent journalists shared with the most common of agitators, political propagandists and outright thugs, each egging on the other to their Great Moment which they were comparing to the invasion of Normandy.
Let’s go to the deeply involved journalists; the coat carriers at The New York Times who were raising the call to throw France off the UN Security Council and quickly stick India in there, so’s to use a few millions of its minions as American Ghurkhas to hold territory in its new wars abroad in a new America century; and the top Washington Post reporter who advocated invasion of Iraq on the front pages every day for her own agenda - to get the Muslim women to be rid of their burkas and dress like her – the Priestess who accompanied the Conquistador; let’s go to the most famous of TV reporters cheering them on into Baghdad from a Humvee and telling the camera " . . . I think they’re greeting us," while the Iraqi people were throwing him the finger.
Let’s get to the bottom. Who was promoted to the highest perches of newspaper and media posts on the phony Mission Accomplished day and why? How much experience did they have? Compare the backgrounds of these new and present editors to the tradition; to an old editor like, say, Wayne King long of the NYTs, who took 20 years in the trenches and a Pulitzer Prize won in Detroit riots to get to the same position. What kind of newspaper experience did these new people have besides supporting the invasion that led them to such high positions? And why are they still there?
Who early proposed torture in the press and why now have they advanced to major media? Are they not American terrorists? Can they not be imprisoned or exiled? And if we are going to suspend the Constitution, cannot Bob Dylan’s folkloric Mr. Jones, surmised to be the archetypal and anonymous cowardly journalist and editor with neither face nor character, storied in song and generational folk lore for knowing something is happening but not knowing what it is, cannot Mr. Jones be banished outright and purged from the village?
Who were, who are, the central advocates? Who are the American Ayatollahs? Let’s talk to them all. Let’s have everybody watch and hear their explanations.
And while we have them there let’s ask them why they made so little fuss at the dropping of habeas corpus. Let’s ask them why at each and every turn these past few years only so very few like the venerable Robert C. Byrd and that Gray Champion, Ted Kennedy, and a few others like Senator Russ Feingold and Barack Obama and Wes Clark spoke up.
Let’s ask the lawmakers why legislation to quit smoking or to ban transfats brings fire to their minds, but torture and habeas corpus don’t really light the fire for them.
But first of all let’s ask them this: Did you watch the Super Bowl? Did you rise and swell at the magnificent vision of the Declaration of Independence being read by Americans of every shape, contrast and color? Did you awaken to Russell Crowe’s primal American vision of perfection leading the artist’s heart, the troubadour’s intuition and the athlete’s gift - The Beatles and Jack Kennedy and Neil Armstrong and Jimi Hendrix and Satchmo and Randy Moss and Eli and Plaxico - to the moon and beyond?Do you share in this sacred trust? Do you consider yourself to be part of this participation mystique? Do you consider yourself to be one of us?
Friday, July 11, 2008
For The Hill on 7/11/08
If the Kennedy era came to be known as Camelot, what seems to be emerging in the awakening Obama period is a kind of Celesteville, the mythic
Caroline is Obama’s “little old lady.” Not gray and elderly like Babar’s, but wise and subtle and with a touch so deft and precise that it virtually turned history a few months back. Obama’s campaign turned and so did the generations when Caroline placed an op-ed in the NYTs endorsing him, trumping the NYTs own endorsement of Senator Clinton just days before. From then until now her presence has been felt. Like in the astonishing Oprah rally with Michelle Obama and Maria Shriver which ran on TV parallel to the Super Bowl (and turned Bill Clinton – watching at Bill Richardson’s house with the clicker in his hand – green). Caroline dots the Obama campaign like the puffs of white dog wood buds which awaken spring in the Appalachians; there she is with Uncle Teddy going into the Senate vote yesterday and there she is on the plane with Obama and Senator Clinton heading to
Obama will need her. Politics is Power. A look at the trajectory of politics in
In Obama’s short list of VP candidates Kathleen Sebelius and Ed Rendel have the management ballast to institutionalize whatever this rising spirit brings forth. But while they are in
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
In article below on Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch’s initiative to bring in students without SATs. As to advance and matriculate into the general culture those with economic need. Conversation with former students and a thoughtful letter from a Wake undergraduate asks where is the money going to come from.
A regional counsel might be considered for those states which make up the general sensibility for the
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Obama at Invesco Field; Clinton Somewhere Else
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill on 7/8/08
Senator Barack Obama will accept the Democratic nomination in Invesco Field at Mile High in
“On Thursday, August 28th, he’s scheduled to formally accept the Democratic nomination in a speech at the convention hall in front of assembled delegates,” David Plouffe, Campaign Manager for Obama, has written to supporters. “Instead, Barack will leave the convention hall and join more than 75,000 people for a huge, free, open-air event where he will deliver his acceptance speech to the American people.”
Another reason to move the speech is the need to upstage Senator Clinton, who is sure to use the convention as the setting for extended Clinton Theater, where she is certain to present herself as “co-winner” of the Democratic primary. Her husband, the Democrats own Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Love, is also likely to use the convention floor as a platform for an extended swansong.
This would be Elvis in Winter; an embarrassment in the god suit live on stage in
Associated Press notes that Obama will emulate John F. Kennedy, the last candidate in either party to deliver an acceptance speech in a large outdoor stadium before a crowd of tens of thousands. Kennedy spoke at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960.
Worth noting that Kennedy’s historic acceptance speech, written by Ted Sorensen, was the origin point of a new political age.
We stand on the frontier at a turning point in history, Kennedy said, with people who are not blinded by the old fears and hates and rivalries; but young people who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions.
“The American people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack . . . For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do,” Kennedy told a crowd of 80,000.
Words that resonated in a generation as an anthem in Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’ written shortly before Kennedy’s death.
Wake Forest’s Nathan O. Hatch Does the Right Thing
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill 7/6/08
First commentary was that it was a big mistake. But
A few schools in recent years have dropped mandatory SATs – Bowdoin, Bates, Hamilton, Sarah Lawrence, Middlebury – and on first impression
Another passing thought was that
Hatch recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post to explain his reasoning.
“For several years, a growing body of research has made clear that America’s top colleges and universities are doing a poor job of helping some young people realize a critical part of the American dream: That anyone, no matter where he or she begins in life, has the chance to rise to the top,” he wrote.
Students from the top quarter of the socioeconomic hierarchy are 25 times more likely to attend a “top tier” college than students for the bottom quarter, he says. And a study of 78,000 students in
I happen to have worked as a press person for a university alumni office in a previous millennium and it happens to have been
Every major college and university faced a dilemma between the 1960s and the 1990s. Economy was booming and so was social awareness. The Civil Rights Movement brought a responsible attempt by most schools including
It was not an easy task as the poor do not share the same values, attitudes and cultural leanings and yearnings as the better off. And they would not have the same SAT scores. So bringing them into the best universities would drop the general SAT scores for the school. And SAT scores were vitally important then to colleges and universities because it was a time of rising economy and there was a high demand and public need for highest quality education for a growing middle class. A drop in SAT scores would critically lower the school’s profile.
Black students from middle-class and wealthy backgrounds became highly sought after. They integrated nicely with the white kids of the same economic backgrounds. Increasingly, the original mandate began to drift and the poor became increasingly ignored.
Enter the age of diversity and globalization. When the word diversity became universally ingrained in the lexicon in the early 1990s, the original paradigm permanently shifted. The poverty part of the equation which; the economic element and the core issue of integration was almost universally abandoned. Suddenly, you could not talk to a college President whether from Harvard or a minor junior college in
The age of diversity and globalization can be seen from a marketing perspective as bringing a full shift in paradigm. It came fast on the heels of the age of leadership and excellence. Now we are entering a new age. It doesn’t have a name yet but it began January 4, 2008, the day after Barack Obama won the
President Hatch is now a gatekeeper to this age. He has proposed a new formula in which great colleges like Wake Forest and Middlebury and Harvard and Stanford can keep their SAT numbers and other data vital to marketing high, as they must do to bring in the best students they can get worldwide and properly educate them, and also bring in and fully include those deserving from economic backgrounds which had been previously excluded.
Hatch has brought us back to our first principles and to our full range of responsibilities. He has provided colleges with a new model and possibly a standard maxim for the new century and he has done the right thing.
Friday, July 04, 2008
The Way of the Warrior
By Bernie Quigley
For The Hill 7/4/08
The 1970s was a time of squalor. What had started in joy and awakening 10, 15 years before had peaked in 1968-69 and descended the stairs. We found then the vile and the menial; Charles Manson, Son of Sam and assassination attempts on the good and the harmless like the pope and John Lennon. Class status was determined then by drugs and the period was awash in drugs – stock brokers, politicians and bankers were openly snorting cocaine in the restaurants in NYC and bike messengers were injecting heroin in stair wells. Then it all changed swiftly.
As Gary Hart mentioned in a NYTs essay last week, a new political era began with the rise of Ronald Reagan. If anything, Reagan brought a change in overriding themes which affected everyone and everything. That era became identified with the word excellence. With the publication of In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr. in 1982, excellence became the mantra for new energy and a new and creative attitude in all aspects of the culture.
As the Sixties was said to have started when Bob Dylan, creator/monkey god of a generation, shifted from a wooden guitar to an electric guitar in Newport in 1965, the “age of excellence” might have found its monkey god in author Tom Wolfe, who wrote a book called The Right Stuff in 1979. And as the mage of the Sixties was a troubadour with a guitar, the avatar of excellence was the Korean and Vietnam-era fighter pilot.
From then until now it is worth reviewing the way of the warrior because once again we have fully descended the stairs.
As Wolfe described these pilots in The Right Stuff: “ . . . it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. The idea seemed to be that any fool could do that, if that was all that was required, just as any fool could throw away his life in the process.”
No, he writes, “The idea here seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment – and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day, even if the series should prove infinite . . . .”
They were men of few words, elite warriors far from the all-inclusive idiom of the times. They were in essence, ”Manliness, manhood, manly courage . . . there was something ancient, primordial, irresistible about the challenge of this stuff, no matter what a sophisticated and rational age one might think he lived in.”
And they bore no patience with the horde: “A fighter pilot soon found he wanted to associate only with other fighter pilots. Who else could understand the nature of the little proposition (right stuff/death) they were all dealing with?” And no patience with those even directly below: “There are no accidents and no fatal flaws in the machines; there are only pilots with the wrong stuff.”
When a colleague crashed and burned in a
By 1989, the age of excellence had reached denouement. Bill and Ted greeted celestials on their excellent journey with the phrase, “Be excellent to one another!” Reagan Chief James A. Baker had rigged White House computers so that they would freeze up when anyone typed the word excellence as it had become so clichéd, show worn and meaningless.
As Wolfe writes,
The idea of "hero" and it’s public and political persona changed at that very moment. Traditionally, a military hero would be considered exactly like a sports hero. Randy Moss or Derek Jeter; the elite – better than any other.
This is a dangerous slide because eventually this worship of the most pedestrian aspect of military service enters a "nostalgico" phase and it has now. Franco's
Rings a bell. In every case it is an attempt to stop time and is always fated to fail. The Ku Klux Klan was also awakened by nostalgico war veterans when
Today, foot draggers and even cowards are considered heroes provided that they wore the uniform. We regularly see politicians who spent their early years dodging the draft sporting baseball caps and jackets with military insignia while visiting troops. And the leading proponents of warfare today like Vice President Dick Cheney are serial offenders; draft dodgers of legendary proportion. We have entered a middle world; not good, not bad, but mid’lin – what author Curtis White calls the world of Middle Mind. It is a place where soldiers are not warriors, men of the clothe are not men of God but political hacks, it is the place of pedophile priests, apparatchik journalists and accommodating, appeasing politicians.
The general public has really never heard of the great ones; the samurai with abilities at the decimal level of Moss and Jeter. The mediocre and incompetent have ushered them off the stage. Colonel John Boyd, possibly the greatest pilot who ever lived; the pilot who changed the way of modern warfare, is known only to insiders. Colonel Jack Broughton, the legendary warrior who flew F-105’s out of Korat and was relieved of duty for his genius doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.
I happen to have been there when they still flew 105s out of Korat. By the early 1970s the 105’s were all gone. Shot down, their screech and roar never to be heard from again.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Gary Hart and the Cycles of History
For The Hill’s Pundit’s Blog – 7/2/2008
Gary Hart made the point in a New York Times op-ed last week that we enter a true new cycle in American history with the rise of Barack Obama. He cites Emerson. He cites Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. on the cycles of history. Henry Adams, he says, believed that “a period of about 12 years measured the beat of the pendulum.” Given the visceral level of political ping-pong going on these days it is surprising that in the week since, there has been no countervailing refutation of this thought.
“If we somewhat arbitrarily fix the age of Franklin D. Roosevelt as 1932 to 1968 and the era of Ronald Reagan as 1968 to 2008, a new cycle of American political history — a cycle of reform — is due,” writes Hart.
Historical cycles have gates and gatekeepers. If Hart is right, George W. Bush will be remembered as a Gatekeeper, but Gatekeepers close as well as open gates and Bush’s fate is to close the gate which Ronald Reagan opened. But big historical and cultural cycles contain smaller cycles and countervailing cycles which interweave together like the ceilings of the mosque at
The cycles of history theme is most accurately explained and followed today by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their recent books The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy and Millennials Rising : The Next Great Generation. The authors re-animated a theory of Roman historians which describes autonomous four-generation post-war periods called saecula. The culture breaks and turns at the beginning of the fourth post-war generation, which is now.
An example of cycles of history can be seen when W.J. Cash, from
We are at that point right now with WW II history and its afterglow, Cold War. The country is ready to move away from seeing
It is good that Hart cites Emerson, New England’s celestial bard, who saw us Americans born free in nature and urged us to leave the Euro-past behind and find ourselves again here, free and independent; going alone, refusing even the good models, and “ . . . even those which are sacred in the imagination of men,” - perched and united in a central meeting place between East and West. The “center of the world” to the world’s
“Once elected, Barack Obama would have a rare opportunity to define a new Democratic Party,” writes Hart. “He could preside over the beginning of a new political cycle that, if relevant to the times, would dominate American politics for three or four decades to come.”
The new gate, the new century and the new generation opens now with Obama. Interesting that Obama is the political avatar who comes here from the East (
Note to Obama: The cycles of history quite often end in what some in TQM management culture call the Merlin/Arthur Syndrome; the combination of a visionary politician and a master manager who executes and completes the visionary’s purpose. Merlin, the visionary, sees the world inside to its center but needs an agent to bring this vision to the outside world and that is Arthur. Arthur, has the ability to execute a historic master plan but requires the inner vision of the sage to find the plan; he cannot go there by himself. In real life, the executor, Arthur, is usually a military General and that is how the last three historical saecula in