Category Archives: Uncategorized

One Curse at a Time

It’s a gorgeous, sun-kissed day here in Chicago and Wildbilly has a big day ahead of him. At 3:10 he’ll be sitting up the right field line at beautiful Wrigley Field watching his suprisingly resurgent Cubs take on their hated rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals and their omnipotent slugger, Albert Pujols. The Cubs floundered in April and early May despite playing the weakest schedule in baseball. Despair and resignation reigned on the North Side as the Cubs looked at their upcoming schedule stacked with excellent clubs: Dodgers, Rangers, Rockies and Phillies. Leading into yesterday’s game, the boys in blue were a surprising 7-3 during this stretch, including two shutout victories over Los Angeles, who entered the series as the hottest hitting team in the National League. Yesterday’s loss to the Cardinals was more depressing than usual, with our starting pitcher failing to register a single out before being pulled from the game. Here’s hoping they raise the “W” flag over Wrigley today.

As the Cubs try to wrench their way back to respectiblity, another Chicago team stands on the precipice of greatness. Like their counterparts on the North Side, the Chicago Blackhawks are the dubious owners of the longest streak in their sport without a championship (1961). Tonight they begin their quest for the Stanley Cup against the Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers. Hawks-mania has gripped the city and it’s virtually impossible to turn on a radio or walk by a bar without hearing the campy, 1960’s Blackhawk Theme song:

If they manage to exorcise their championship demons, could the Cubs…dare I say…be far behind? While it won’t approach the magnitude of a Cubs’ Series victory, seeing the boys skate around the United Center ice with Stanley Cup in hand would be a welcome sight to these eyes. They’ve even outfitted Michael Jordan to commemorate the occassion.

Stuck in the Middle With You

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

Earlier this week, Peashoot posted an interesting article by Vijay Prashad entitled “Tea Party and Taxes”.  Prashad, using Richard Hofstadter’s influential “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” as a launching pad, asserts the Tea Party Movement represents a modern day equivalent – in origin and style – of the rise of Goldwater conservatism in the early 1960’s.  Prashad endorses Hofstadter’s indictment of  Goldwater conservatism as the germination of  paranoid seeds of anti-communism, racism and a generalized aversion to government/taxes sowed by the likes of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society.  He sees Sarah Palin and the Tea Party replacing Goldwater and the Birchers in the paranoid garden and presumably, though not directly stated, terrorism replacing communism.  The dementias of anti-statism and racism retain their status in his analysis.

Hofstadter’s Theory on Goldwater

Hofstadter’s apriorism of a “paranoid style” is a valid conclusion.  However, it is neither uniquely American nor solely a phenomenon of the right.  In fairness, Hofstadter made no such claims, he merely sought to document the style in Goldwater’s rise to prominence.  Being the President or a candidate for that office, regardless of political affiliation, inherently invites some percentage of the fringe viewing him (or her – someday) as a villian of cartoonish proportions; the old Snidely Whiplash cartoons wherein he nefariously twirls his moustache whilst devising villainous plots is a constant meme in American politics.  The larger question at play with the paranoid sects is the amount of traction and credibility they gain with the electorate.

Hofstadter opines Goldwater’s nomination reflected the ascendancy of one of these sects into dominance of a major party; himself a self-professed communist, he may have been more sensitive to such a rise.  Following closely on the heels of both McCarthy and the genesis of the John Birch Society, he concludes these hysterical anti-communist movements were the powers behind the throne of Goldwater conservatism.  He was wrong both generally and factually.

The post-war era, fueled by fears of nuclear warfare, created rabid anti-communist sentiment throughout the country and in both political parties.  The era’s politicians were united in their belief of an international communist menace.  What distinguished Goldwater from his contemporaries was a greater willingness to confront the challenge, though everyone agreed it must be at least contained within its current borders.  JFK famously moved to Nixon’s right in the 1960 campaign, first by proclaiming a “missle gap” existed between the US and USSR, which he promised to eliminate (the charge proved false).  Kennedy further prodded Nixon’s flank by criticizing the administration’s failure to bolster and support the expatriated Cubans in their opposition to Castro.  Nixon, unable to respond due to the secrecy of the planning, dismissed the idea publicly and tarnished his anti-communist credibility.  The enterprise became the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.

The debacle at the Bay of Pigs only furthered the Kennedy adminstration’s anti-communist zeal.  RFK, at his brother’s behest, spearheaded Operation Mongoose which authorized CIA assassinations, sabotage and generalized subterfuge.  The extent of these deeds shocked Lyndon Johnson when he assumed office after JFK’s death and he remarked to an aide, “we were running a damn Murder Incorporated, in the Carribean.”  (Source for quote:  Beschloss, Taking Charge). The Kennedy brothers also feared home-grown communists and authorized the FBI to wiretap Martin Luther King, Jr., whom they feared was either a communist or susceptible to Soviet influence.   These facts go overlooked today, lost in the chimera of “Camelot”.

While McCarthy’s tactics had long been discredited by the 1960’s, the general fear of communism had not been allayed in the public.  RFK worked on McCarthy’s committee and JFK was the only Democrat who did not vote to censure him and instead abstained.  Anti-communist fervor reached an absurd peak with the Birchers who saw Soviet plotters everywhere, including in heros such as Gen. George Marshall, architect of the Marshall plan that saved Western Europe, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and former President.

The John Birch Society’s certifiably lunatic views justifiably concerned Goldwater who feared being tagged a member, if not leader, of their sect.  In 1962, two years before the publication of Hoftstadter’s essay, Goldwater convened a secret meeting in Palm Beach with other members of the conservative intelligentsia to brainstorm about methods for discrediting the Society.  William F. Buckley, Jr., present at the meeting and responsible for their ultimate plan, recounted the meeting in an essay published in Commentary magazine. The group implemented the strategy in mid-1962 with Goldwater publicly castigating the group, insisting “[w]e cannot allow the emblem of irresponsibility to attach to the conservative banner.”  Hofstedter is guilty of either poor research or willful blindness to this fact which damages his thesis regarding Goldwater, though not the general contention of a “paranoid style”.

The charges of Goldwater as racist or willing to capatilize on the disharmony of the times are equally disingenuous.  These charges stem solely from his no vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but ignore the broader history.  He desegregated the Arizona National Guard two years before Truman desegregated the US armed forces, was a member of the Phoenix NAACP and Urban League since the 1950’s and participated in the desegregation of Phoenix lunch counters.  As a statesman, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1960.  His opposition to the 1964 Act stemmed from his belief that two provisions in it were unconstitutional and thereby voided the entire Act, which he otherwise supported.  (He later confessed regretting this vote).  His colleague, Senator Robert Byrd – a former KKK Grand Cyclops and co-author of the “reconciliation” process so much in the news today – unsuccessfully tried to filibuster the bill.  Johnson, with epic duplicity, ran ads in the north highlighting his opponent’s vote on the Civil Rights Act and ads in the south emphasizing Goldwater’s desegregation credentials.  In spite of this evidence, Goldwater’s alleged racism continues to be asserted and Byrd’s actual racism deemed irrelevant.

Prashad and the Paranoid Sect of the Tea Party

Prashad concedes the “main base” of the Tea Party movement coalesce around economic issues.  Included within their ranks, however, he points out “birthers”, the radical religious right and racists.  The “birthers” – an odious conspiratorial sect – remains statistically insignificant and the movement never gained any of the respectibility or numbers associated with the early version of the John Birch Society.   They are also not exclusively right-wing.   The “Original Birther” is Phillip Berg, a former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania who filed suit in Federal Court seeking an injunction preventing Mr. Obama’s nomination as the Democratic candidate based on this nonsense.  Berg, a Hillary supporter (though not endorsed by her) previously filed a RICO suit against President Bush alleging he orchestrated the 9/11 attacks and in 2000 actively sought the disbarment of the 5 Supreme Court Justices who ruled in in Mr. Bush’s favor regarding the contested election.

Prashad similarly links the “Obama as Muslim” with the Tea Party, but rumors persist the Clinton campaign first circulated the false story of the President receiving his early education in a madrassa during the heated primaries.  Not having followed the Tea Party Convention, I confess that I learned of the presence of birthers from Prashad’s essay.  What he left out, however, was that it wasn’t necessarily well received by the attendees ( ).  That elements within the Tea Party, or anywhere else for that matter, continue to push these demonstrably false “issues” matters less than the fact that they gain no absorption into the public consciousness.  Palin allegedly “hit the right notes” when she spoke and “pondered” whether “Obama is really an American.”  If Palin embraced birtherism in her address (which I did not watch or read), the New York Times failed to report it.

Prashad spills less ink on Judge Roy Moore, the jurist who gained fame by putting a Ten Commandments Statue in his courtroom.  While I remember that controversy, I did not remember his name until Prashad pointed him out.  Again, since I do not closely follow the Tea Party movement, I must express surprise that this guy received an invitation to address a movement focused on issues of taxation, bailouts and entitlement programs.  I’ll concede this point to Prashad and suggest he might be surprised to learn his ally in this arena is none other than Sen. Goldwater who once said (quoting from memory) that it was the duty of all good Christians to kick Jerry Falwell in the ass.

As usual, the charges of racism are the most incendiary aspect of the piece.  Citing no direct evidence of racism at the convention, Prashad’s case is wholly circumstantial.  He begins by alluding to the “strong antipathy to having a black man be President” amongst Republicans, yet cites no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to substantiate the claim.  Overlooked is the GOP’s desperate groveling to Colin Powell to run against Clinton in 1996 (and again in 2000) and the dramatic drop in the President’s support among the independents who voted for him.  He subsequently depicts “extreme Right” opposition to welfare programs which force “white Americans” to “pay for services of non-whites” as certification of his view that opposition to Health Care, Cap and Trade, bailouts and the stimulus derive from the same racial animus.  This ignores the fact that most people on welfare are white.

Moreover, the argument is neither provable nor disprovable because it assumes the stated reason for voting against a social justice agenda is not the real reason.  And since no one would publicly state a racial motivation, one cannot discern the merit of Prashad’s contention.  Elements of the right use their own variant of this argument when they accuse Democrats of intending the creation of a socialist state, which they deny.  As with Prashad’s charge, no Democrat would publicly admit such a basis for their proposals.  Arguing in this style betrays a core a refusal to accept the other party is acting in good faith; it also allows the hurler of such a charge to walk away from the debate without having to deconstruct the other side’s case.

The first call for a “tea party” eminated not from any social entitlements but in opposition to corporate bailouts.  Ironically, Prashad shares their disdain for corporate welfare. He then takes a bit of a snarky swipe at the very name “Tea Party” given that the original one in colonial Boston concerned taxation without representation not simply taxation.  The Whiskey Rebellion, which concerned only taxation, might be more appropriate, though not as recognizable to the general public.  But Prashad misses the fact that the “teabaggers” — as they are oft referred — feel unrepresented because legislators are simply ignoring the wishes of the electorate.  Public support for the health care legislation has gradually eroded and this time the insurance and pharmaceutical companies can’t be wholly blamed since they largely endorse the bill they helped author.  The buyout of recalcitrant legislators — the “Louisiana Purchase”, the “Cornhusker kickback” — along with specially tailored deals in exchange for support like the tax exemption for unions on the so-called Cadillac health care plans fuel a general distrust in the electorate.  To be sure, the movement has attracted its fair share of kooks, but it remains, from what I see, a primarily economic movement opposed to corporate welfare and the expansion of entitlements it deems unsustainable – Friedrich Hayek on a more common-man scale.

Blast from the Past

Hofstadter, in a different discourse, once likened third parties in America to bees: they sting once and die.   I hesitatingly use the word “platform” when describing the Tea Party’s tenets, but inasmuch as it has one it bears a striking resemblence to Ross Perot’s schtick in the 1992 Presidential campaign.  The historical parallels are somewhat preternatural: recession grips the country, massive bailouts of financial institutions (the Savings & Loan industry in 1992), the controversial NAFTA proposal and the promises of then candidate Clinton to overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Perot sent shock waves through the political establishment of both parties.  Shrewdly appearing on Larry King and advising America he’d run if people organized and got his name on the ballot in all 50 states, he set off a firestorm of grass roots activity which met his precondition for candidacy.  He not only ran but actually led the race for a short time!  He finished with a record percentage of the votes for a third party and arguably cost Pappy Bush the election.  The Tea Party movement, to this observer, looks like the second sting of Ross Perot’s Reform Party.  It also explains why the GOP is doing everything it can to bring it into the fold.

Prashad’s Advice for the President

The essay urges President Obama to ignore his detractors and resist the temptation of Clintonian triangulation.  Prashad’s Wikipedia biography describes him as a Marxist, so presumably he sees a certain “social justice” element in the President’s agenda.  The Goldwater quote he uses in his article (“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice”) is actually only half of what Goldwater said at the convention.  The complete quote is, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  Prashad’s article champions the latter part of the quote as a template for the President’s strategy for dealing with his opponents.


Hofstadter’s essay is not solely applicable to politcs and can be used to analyze varying aspects of the human condition.  The “paranoid style” is inherent to humanity, but only becomes dangerous when those in power discard rationality.  The old cliche — just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you — seems true in the case of Soviet influence in American politics.  Though certainly not on the scale that the Birchers or McCarthy imagined, recently disclosed documents since the fall of the Iron Curtain demonstrated greater infiltration into the US government than was previously believed.  Finally, I noted in Prashad’s biography he identifies himself as an anti-Zionist; I’d suggest if he’s interested in documenting the “paranoid style” there could be no better place than to start with that group, of which he is a member.

The assinity of the “paranoid style” in both the left and right is something to be ferreted out and, quite frankly, destroyed.  Whether it requires a coordinated, high-level campaign of destruction such as Goldwater convened to deal with the Birchers is something that must be decided on a case by case basis.  Until then, centrists will simply have to stroll along singing the old Stealer’s Wheel tune:

Trying to make some sense of it all

But I can see that it makes no sense at all

Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor

‘Cause I don’t think I can take any more

Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

Why do I feel like Mr. Pink?

As a rule, I’m a generous tipper.  Mediocre service at a restaurant garners the server a twenty percent tip and if booze is included in the final bill, I tip on that as well (some folks tip on food only); bad service still gets 15 to 18 percent from me.  I’m generous with my barber, taxi drivers, shoe shine guys, valets, doormen and, most importantly, my bartender or the vendor selling beers at Wrigley Field.  I bring this up not to thump my chest, but to serve as context for my current moral dilema.

My office is pleasantly situated between a Lavazza Coffee Shop and a little restaurant that offers sandwiches, salads, sushi and other fine products.  Twice this week I stopped at Lavazza on my way into work.  I’m a black coffee guy.  I’m not against lattes, cappucinos or espressos, I simply prefer a nice cup of joe.  On each of my visits to Lavazza this week the same young lady served me.  (A bit more context:  I was wearing my work uniform both times — suit and tie).   In order to meet the demands of my order, this young lady took a cup, put it under the coffee thermos, flipped the switch, filled it up, put a lid on it and handed it to me. 

I paid and received my $2.83 in change, which I promptly put in my pocket.  Now of course, there is a huge tip jar right there in front of me to which I contributed nothing.  I sensed (I’m not sure about this) that she was a bit put off that I did not contribute to the tip jar.  I concede some of those coffee drinks require much skill and labor worthy of a tip, but pouring cup of coffee? 

I also visited the restaurant this week.   Upon checking out, I noticed the cashier had a tip jar!  Mind you, there are no servers at this restaurant: there’s a salad bar, a buffet and a short order cook in the back.  The short order cook has his own tip jar (to which I do contribute) but how does a cashier figure ringing up my order constitutes tip-worthy labor? 

Because I customarily tip generously, I almost feel shamed into putting my change into the cashier/coffee pourer’s tip jar but I vowed not to appease the tip bullies.  All this leaves me feeling like Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs.

Beating Dead Horses on the New Frontier

This week brought the surprise retirement of JFK’s nephew, Patrick Kennedy, from Congress.  I’ve always been mildly fascinated with the Kennedy clan, and the absence of a Kennedy in the Federal Government for the first time since 1946 strummed the chords of nostalgia.  Included in that chorus was a recollection of my lone trip to the Bay State to visit the Family C on Cape Cod.  During my visit, I treated my hosts to my venerable JFK impression incessantly on an unsolicited basis.  Alas, my audience dubbed my parody with less than glowing reviews and criticized it as sounding like a “Robot JFK”. 

The unenthusiastic, though slightly bemused, feedback left me undeterred and my “Robot JFK” could be heard frequently throughout the visit, reaching it’s zenith in Hyannis Port as we searched in vain for the famed Kennedy compound.  My family, brother and sisters all, but most prominently my father, own a genetic quirk which prevents us from walking away from a joke, even after it’s long dead.  This led me to suggest that our family crest should be that of a man beating a dead horse.  Two and a half years after “Robot JFK” should have died a less than honorable death, I’m here to beat that horse one last time in the name of family honor.  This link by two history professors — collectively referred to as “the Professor Brothers” definitively establishes that JFK was, in fact, a robot.  That’s right: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America was a robot.  The proof of JFK’s android origins appears toward the end of this very funny video (language warning).