What is a neoconf?

After reading W.E.B. Du Bois, Eric Foner, and Lawrence Goldstone, I’ve distilled decades of scholarship about the ways in which the Democratic Party looked the other way when the South defied the federal government and encouraged racist violence while maintaining a kind of apartheid. Starting in 1968, the two political parties switched its worst members. In January 1981 the acceleration took place and onward through Newt Gingrich, the equal protection claims of the Rehnquist majority on the Supreme Court, George W. Bush and his cabal, and Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan.

A neo-Confederate believes in:

1. Minority rule.
2. “States rights”
3. A return to constitutional norms before 1860, i.e. before the passage of the Civil War and Reconstruction amendments.
4. The inferiority of certain classes of people.
5. The imposition of federal taxes as an infringement on liberty.

I should point out that “states rights” is the portmanteau for every canon I’ve mentioned.

“Neoconf” looks ungainly, but so did “neocon” in 2003.

‘Perhaps in Iowa. Perhaps in fields of grain.’

Yesterday, Splinter News published Paul Blest, who wrote the best John McCain obit I’ve read to date. This afternoon, Splinter News published Peggy Noonan’s latest slash fiction: a masterpiece of unintended comedy, failed poesy, tolerance for sexism, and self-pity. Classic Noonan, but more. This is, after all, the writer who praised the beauty of Ronald Reagan’s foot. Well, Beaut Foot popped up in again, a resident of the Valhalla to which McCain’s unsullied soul traveled.

Reflections of a Political Man

Besides chastisement in front of the class, Alex wasn’t allowed to Go Out and Play, my fourth grade class’ term for recess. Drawing a mustache on the vice president was an act of disrespect; that the Groucho face drag appeared on a Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign poster turned the defilement into an act of treason as perfidious as Alger Hiss’. Continue reading

‘A freeze is not a fix’

I confess to having little experience with unions, but judged from a distance the developments in the West Virginia teachers strike are quite new in the modern history of organized labor. The teachers have ground the state to a halt and have gotten even the state senate to scramble for ways to yield to their demands while saving face:

On Thursday, one week into the statewide public school employee strike, which will continue Friday with public schools in all 55 counties closed, the West Virginia Senate pumped the brakes on a bill that would give teachers, school service personnel and the State Police a 5 percent raise.

Instead, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, sent the legislation (House Bill 4145) to the Senate Finance Committee to change it and create a long-term revenue source for Public Employees Insurance Agency health coverage.

tate school employee union leaders suggested Tuesday evening, when the 5 percent raise for school employees was proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, that workers return to schools Thursday. But with the strike now continuing two days beyond what the state union heads called for, it isn’t clear what effect the proposed alternative will have on ending the strike, and it isn’t clear if any end to the strike will be unified statewide.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to meet Friday afternoon.

Growing up in the aftermath of the 1981 PATCO strikes induced me to accept Ronald Reagan’s assertion, borrowed from idol Calvin Coolidge (who made his reputation when as governor of Massachusetts he fired striking cops), that public union employees couldn’t walk out of their jobs. To fuming parents who argue that their children’s educations are endangered, I respond: teachers who live paycheck to paycheck and face the possibility of deducting three hundred dollars from a $1300 biweekly check for health insurance can’t concentrate on the basic duties of education.

As far as I know, no Democrats with national profiles have breathed a word of support.

How presidential rankings can rankle and reek

The latest presidential rankings suggest #metoo and racial tumult have affected several reputations, notably Andrew Jackson (out of the top ten and tumbling, thank the lord or Jon Meacham) and Woodrow Wilson’s (same). Poppy Bush is solidly in the top twenty; expect him to rise when the obit writers eulogize him as the Last Sane Republican. Andrew Johnson remains as reviled as ever, perhaps more so as we re-examine the catastrophe of the abandonment of Reconstruction. Ron Chernow’s superb bio has rehabilitated Ulysses Grant’s reputation much as David McCullough’s did for John Adams seventeen years ago. But why Warren Harding gets more shit than the incorruptible Calvin Coolidge (who actually did sleep while the fires were set for the burning of Rome) I’ll never know;  he needs the Chernow-McCullough treatment, I suspect. But what the bloody hell is George W. Bush doing above Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison?

At the bottom, chewing on James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce while trapped in ice, is the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here is the aforementioned top ten:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Thomas Jefferson
6. Harry Truman
7. Dwight D. Eisenhower
8. Barack Obama
9. Ronald Reagan
10. Lyndon Baines Johnson

EDIT: A couple friends asked, so here is my brief history of infamous men:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. FDR
3. George Washington
4. Lyndon Baines Johnson
5. Barack Obama

I’m not interested in the empty signifier Did Important Things. I’m interested only in what they, in collaboration with Congress, pushed legislatively or alone by executive order that benefited the most Americans during moments of crisis. I’ve written thousands of words on FDR and Barack Obama; their legacies remain intact. And LBJ’s commitment to black Americans and the old and the sick must be weighted against his commitment to murdering thousands of young American men, mostly the poor and black, in Vietnam.

Responses to violence

Julia Azari reviews the history of presidential responses to acts of violence on black citizens:

In 1906, for example, a group of African-American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas, was accused of shooting multiple people. They were acquitted by a court and there was no real evidence of their guilt — but President Theodore Roosevelt issued a dishonorable discharge for all of the accused soldiers. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of placating the angry mob for political reasons, as Roosevelt’s Republican Party had long tried to make electoral progress in the South.

Later in the 20th century, several presidents struggled to respond to lynchings, the violent, extra-judicial killing of African-Americans accused of crimes. (Recent estimates suggest that nearly 4,000 people died this way in the South between 1877 and 1950.) The NAACP had to lobby both Democrat Woodrow Wilson (who held and acted on racist views) and his Republican successor Warren G. Harding. Wilson did eventually speak out against lynching, but it took several years of lobbying by the NAACP to convince him to do so. As political scientist Megan Francis has written, “Only through an unyielding onslaught of protest was [the NAACP] able to obtain support from Wilson.” Harding, meanwhile, made some initial statements about lynching, Francis found, but did not continue to pressure Congress to adopt anti-lynching legislation. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he was limited by his party’s ambitions in the South.

Including Wilson among them is a tonic. Readers may recall a time in the early Obama administration, sometime around 2010 and 2011, when the legacy of Wilson obsessed Glenn Beck and his ilk; in Barack Obama they saw the Wilson who signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve and approving a federal income tax. This segment of the right was more obsessed with Wilson the than the left. As the incarnation of early twentieth century Progressivism, Wilson was a complicated figure who should have lost his re-election bid (Charles Evans Hughes may not have kept us out of the Great War, but this is an argument for another time). The left hasn’t had trouble assessing his legacy. When National Review and its kind smugly confuse the Democratic Party and liberalism, their writers act as if they didn’t know the two weren’t synonymous and, more importantly, forget that the Republican Party was the more liberal party – the more Progressive party – between Reconstruction and 1920.

Democrats and leftists have long since come to terms with Woodrow Wilson. The GOP and conservatives have not come to terms with Ronald Wilson Reagan’s legacy.

Meanwhile a belief in progress continues to be a symptom of the economically secure. “The belief that America is somehow better than its white-supremacist history is sometimes an excuse masquerading as encouragement, and it’s part of the reason why the K.K.K. is back in business,” writes Jia Tolentino, a University of Virginia graduate, in a disturbing essay for The New Yorker.

The modern roots of Charlottesville

On Sunday, Aug. 3, 1980, the Republican candidate for president made the following remarks at the Neshoba County Fair:

Today, and I know from our own experience in California when we reformed welfare, I know that one of the great tragedies of welfare in America today, and I don’t believe stereotype after what we did, of people in need who are there simply because they prefer to be there. We found the overwhelming majority would like nothing better than to be out, with jobs for the future, and out here in the society with the rest of us. The trouble is, again, that bureaucracy has them so economically trapped that there is no way they can get away. And they’re trapped because that bureaucracy needs them as a clientele to preserve the jobs of the bureaucrats themselves.

I believe that there are programs like that, programs like education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

Conservative boilerplate perhaps, familiar to anyone following Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. The Neshoba County Fair took place, however, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Sixteen years earlier, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, arrested for a traffic stop in the same town, vanished from the earth. These members of CORE had also worked during the Freedom Summer registering black Americans to vote. Investigations later showed that local police had pulled them over, driven them to another location, shot them at point blank range, and dumped their bodies in a makeshift dam. A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan had collaborated with police.

Picking Philadelphia as a campaign stop was no accident. Making forthright statements about states rights, about federal overeach in “programs like education and others” was no accident.

A year after the murders, Everett Dirksen of Illinois delivered the Republican votes for the Voting Rights Act, completing the work started by Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. The minority leader, at best a “laggard” in the words of critics when it came to securing the civil right of black Americans, voted for cloture. By January 1969, a Republican once lauded for his own commitment to civil rights began the work of undoing Dirksen’s legacy.

The danger with the Mueller investigation

As readers know, Ronald Reagan is such a, uh, touchstone that his influence persists even in our contemporaneous scandals. What most dispirited me about Iran-Contra was the determination of the Tower Commission not to even whisper “impeachment,” despite abundant evidence from newly hired chief of staff Howard Baker and the remains of outgoing chief of staff Don Regan’s henchmen that Reagan was such a basket case that he wasn’t even reading memoranda.

Well, Scott Lemieux worries about the parallels between Iran-Contra and the Mueller investigation:

The discovery that officials within the administration had facilitated the sale of arms to Iran partly in order to illegally fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua and partly to secure the freedom of some hostages was a substantial embarrassment, and lower-level officials were implicated in illegal activity. But it was never proven that Reagan himself was involved, and he was never seriously threatened with impeachment. With partisan polarization having intensified, this is probably the more likely scenario even if Trump’s actions turn out to be more like Nixon’s than Reagan’s.

Iran-Contra didn’t lead to Reagan’s removal, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter. Reagan’s approval rating dropped by roughly 20 points after the illegal arms deal was revealed. This caused the Reagan administration to pivot in a more moderate direction. Most notably, the collapse of Reagan’s popularity helped contribute to the defeat of Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which in turn almost certainly saved Roe v. Wade from being overruled.

Let me point out that these events occurred in the seventh year of Reagan’s presidency; we haven’t even gotten to six months into Trump’s. Of course the GOP may rally; it has a talent for rallying while Dems struggle to coalesce behind a theoretical liberal base. But with the likes of Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp reluctant to confirm former senator Droopy Dawg as a potential FBI chief even putative Dems have reached a point at which challenges at home have turned against the president. Let’s see.

Trump’s America, Chapter 312

I reread the NYT’s 2004 obit for Ann Grusuch Buford. This paragraph struck me:

In appointing her administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Reagan made Ms. Burford a leader in his effort to bring economic discipline to environmental cleanup and to give the states greater enforcement powers on matters like clean air and water, policies she had earlier advocated on the state level. Critics contended that the policies weakened federal environmental enforcement to please polluting industries.

Mark Halperin might admire this masterpiece of discretion and euphemism, or, in plain English, cowardice and bullshit. To argue that Ronald Wilson Reagan wanted to “bring economic discipline” to the EPA is like arguing that a chef wants to bring gastronomical discipline to a slaughterhouse. The WaPo’s obit is more like it:

More than half of the federal regulations targeted for an early review by the Reagan administration’s regulatory reform team were EPA rules. Virtually all of her subordinates at the EPA came from the ranks of the industries they were charged with overseeing.


The list of rollbacks attempted by these administrators is as sweeping as those of the current administration. Gorsuch tried to gut the Clean Air Act with proposals to weaken pollution standards “on everything from automobiles to furniture manufacturers — efforts which took Congress two years to defeat,” according to Clapp. Moves to weaken the Clean Water Act were equally aggressive, crescendoing in 1987 when Reagan vetoed a strong reauthorization of the act only to have his veto overwhelmingly overridden by Congress. Assaults on Superfund were so hideous that Rita Lavelle, director of the program, was thrown in jail for lying to Congress under oath about corruption in her agency division.

The gutting of funds for environmental protection was another part of Reagan’s legacy. “EPA budget cuts during Reagan’s first term were worse than they are today,” said Frank O’Donnell, director of Clean Air Trust, who reported on environmental policy for The Washington Monthly during the Reagan era. “The administration tried to cut EPA funding by more than 25 percent in its first budget proposal,” he said. And massive cuts to Carter-era renewable-energy programs “set solar back a decade,” said Clapp.

When an administration cleans seven out of 546 Superfund sites, it is not being solicitous about the environment, let alone the health of an agency.

I post these excerpts for the sake of context, for history is about to play another trick on us. Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick to head the EPA, looks even worse than Gorsuch. For one, the Oklahoma attorney general protested the federal government’s environmental oversight using scripts written by Big Oil lobbyists. “Nothing new” is one thing; the scale is different. There will be no separation between the agency and the industry it’s regulating.

Your dad’s sane GOP


Notes on Donald Trump’s self-immolation:

* Actually, the Republican Party has had people like Donald Trump in it who impugned the patriotism of war heroes. In Georgia a man named Saxby Chambliss beat Democrat Max Cleland in a Senate race with this ad, released at the height of Saddam Hussein-induced hysteria in 2002. Cleland, who lost two legs in battle and won the Silver and Bronze stars, didn’t stand a chance.

* In 2004, a 527 political group named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry of fictionalizing his own war record.

* The Republican Party has boasted men who used Trump’s methods. In 1983, as approval for a federal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. looked secure, President Ronald Reagan quipped, “I guess we’ll know in about thiry-five years” whether King was a Communist.

The modern Republican Party emerged as an anti-New Deal coalition comprising wishy-washy isolationists like Robert Taft and Red baiters like Joseph McCarthy. It spooked the GOP enough for brave Dwight Eisenhower to keep his much vaunted prestige and political capital.

I have never known a Republican Party that didn’t appeal to nativism and jingos; that wouldn’t abandon “smaller government” if it meant losing the vote of a poor white who needed the Social Security check; that wasn’t insane.

Elie Wiesel — RIP

To others I will leave the responsibility of eulogizing one of the late twentieth century’s most searing novelists, for I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be; but my first acquaintance with Elie Wiesel was in 1985 when he accepted the Congressional Gold Medal and, to the astonishment of the crowd, admonished Ronald Reagan for insisting on visiting a graveyard in which SS men lay buried. This became known as the Bitburg controversy, the first indication of how troubled Reagan’s term would be — and another reminder of the depths of his ignorance. In a quiet, firm, gently pleading voice (“That place, Mr. President, is not your place“), Wiesel reminded the president of his responsibility to bear witness for the sake of the survivors. Only Elie Wiesel could have done it (Reagan, chastened, recovered with an excellent speech at the cemetery, in which for once the actor looked floored by the script and setting).