JFK: “We’re really in ‘nut county’ now.”

You can say that again.

“I shouldn’t read the obituaries,” wrote friend and Former Neighbor Bob, as he pointed me to a recent New York Times obit (“Warren Leslie Dies at 84; Wrote Book That Rankled Dallas“).

Warren was a former reporter who wrote his book following the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas.

Bob noted today’s political context:

Tea Party takes on Boehner
” . . .GOP backers of the plan will be targeted at the polls. . .”

Then, quoting from the obituary:

“It is an extraordinary thing when an American city does not trust itself to receive the president of the United States in dignity,” Mr. Leslie wrote. “Dallas did not so trust itself — and with reason.”

The reason, he posited, was the stridency and dominance of right-wing politics bolstered by the city’s insular business elite. “Almost without exception, these are people who feel that their greatest enemy is not the Soviet Union or Communist China, but the government of the United States,” Mr. Leslie wrote.

“They feel their worst enemies are other Americans who disagree with them. They are not equipped to deal with contradictory evidence; when it appears, they boo it and hiss it to make it go away.”

The Kennedy quote in the title to this post came from a book by Ted Sorenson, also quoted in the obit.

So the sickness of Dallas and Texas has now been spread to hot spots across the country, and embraced by another generation of Republicans.

Read this obit. It’s quite a relevant bit of political history.

3 responses to “JFK: “We’re really in ‘nut county’ now.”

  1. For a good understanding of what is going on in the Republican Party, read Rick Pearlstein’s “Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the unmaking of the American consensus”. Here’s a summary by Publisher’s Weekly:

    “In the 1964 presidential campaign, LBJ ate Barry Goldwater for lunch and thereby, according to the pundits, stuck a fork in the heart of American conservatism. But Goldwater’s politics were vindicated, Perlstein argues, by subsequent elections, especially Reagan’s in 1980, and his tenets are championed today on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps. What’s more important about Perlstein’s argument is its subtext. By casting the senator as the long-term winner, Perlstein’s chronicle vindicates what appears to have been Goldwater’s magnificently ham-handed campaign. Conservative readers will cringe at the missed opportunities and wrongheaded tactics; the scattered and mismanaged themes, including Goldwater’s crippling clarion call for extremism; the extremists who embraced him; and the backroom machinations and supporters that in many ways created Goldwater. Certainly they’ll see Nixon and Reagan in an unlikely light: using the deck of the sinking ship Goldwater as a platform for their own careers. Liberal readers, on the other hand, will approach the pinnacle of schadenfreude. And they’ll either be peeved or amused by Perlstein’s unabashed partisanship, perhaps best shown in his observation that LBJ’s deputy Bill Moyers pioneered dirty campaign tactics: “the full-time-espionage, sabotage, and mudslinging unit.” Aptly casting conservativism as the triumphant underdog, Perlstein observes that “in 1995 Bill Clinton paid Reagan tribute by adopting many of his political positions. Which had also been Barry Goldwater’s positions. Here is one time, at least, in which history was written by the losers.” With Republicans again in the ascendancy, this account of their fall and subsequent rise should interest readers of all political stripes.”

    This summary can be misleading. First, Pearlstein is a Marxist, a critic of both Democrats and Republicans. Second, this book has received praise from across the political spectrum.

    Pearlstein’s thesis is that the New Deal was a truly grand alliance that included just about everybody (the working class, minorities, Southerners, corporate interests, etc.) — except for the small town elite, personified by Barry Goldwater (whose distant ancestor was a Jewish merchant who settled in Arizona territory to trade with American Indians). The labor policies of the New Deal and the New Deal in general were pragmatic (FDR was a free market conservative as governor of NY), and things like mandatory government arbitration of labor disputes was meant simply to create stability, not primarily for social justice (this is a big difference between FDR and his wife, although they might have agreed on policy). Of course, massive government projects had a bias toward benefiting massive corporations, and the rise of unions also hurt small business. By the time of the prosperity of the 1950s, the prosperity that the New Deal helped to foster no longer directly benefited small town America in general, not just local elites. By the 1960s, the South — once the foundation of the Democratic Party — was no longer being favored by the domestic policies of that party. Pearlstein argues that the anti-establishment left-wing protest movement of the 1960s therefore finds its counterpart in the anti-government sentiment found in much of the hardcore right wing that revved up in the 1950s.

    But there is an important distinction to be made here between this right-wing movement that culminated in Reagan (and later in the neo-conservative movement of the 2000s) and traditional ‘paleo-conservatives’.

    First, a lot of these neo-con types have a liberal or even radical leftist background. So, while traditional conservatives favor balanced budgets via fiscal discipline (budget cuts and tax hikes), the likes of Reagan display a kind of mania for tax cuts as a cure all — a policy that derived from the Keynesian economics of the New Deal.

    Second, traditional conservatives in the US tend toward an isolationism that goes back to George Washington’s dictum that Americans should pray for freedom around the world, but nevertheless those foreigners need to liberate themselves. The kind of ‘liberal internationalism’ that rejected this isolationism and that lay behind Woodrow Wilson’s push for US involvement in WWI and became a cornerstone of Democratic Party foreign policy carries on in the neo-con agenda. As young leftists, many neo-cons accused the US of imperialism; later, they openly affirmed US imperialism as global liberation.

    Third, traditional conservatives in the US are typically white Protestants, while the neo-con camp is intellectually dominated by Catholics and Jews. They hate affirmative action because, as they claim, “no one ever gave me a hand out”. At the same time, they genuinely hate the racism that traditional conservatives unconsciously engage in.

    So there is a big irony that traditional Republicans just don’t like this very noisy faction that rose up since the 1950s, although they need them politically. It took the Republican Party 50 years to digest this right-wing populist movement which finally fizzled with the invasion of Iraq and the financial meltdown.

    But now we have the Tea Party movement, which Republicans are dealing with carefully. Sarah Palin, for instance, is anti-government, but she was just as popular in Alaska among Democrats as she was with Republicans because she was also anti-corporate. As the Tea Party movement gets absorbed into the Republic Party, the movement is losing that anti-corporate agenda, but the Party is taking on a new populist stridency. (Hence the resistance to compromise on the budget.) But make no mistake, most Republican politicians, like their Democratic counterparts, are in practice pro-corporation and pro-government. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s politics.

  2. thanks Kali — “But make no mistake, most Republican politicians, like their Democratic counterparts, are in practice pro-corporation and pro-government. It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s politics.”

    Assange states a similar viewpoint but breaks it out further….

    “The Western world is slowly being Putinized. It has progressed the most in the United States. But there is a rivalry with the banking sector, and it’s not clear who is going to win. It’s not even clear, as time goes by, that these will even be two separate, rival systems. Rather, the privatization of the national security sector means that, as time goes by, the connections between Wall Street and the national security sector are starting to disappear, because you have shared ownership of, say, Lockheed Martin or Boeing. And then you have cross investments and portfolios and credit default swaps, and so forth, on the functions of these intelligence contractors and military contractors. So, they are actually starting to merge at critical points. But, looking at the behavior of the White House, it’s clear that still within the White House—and in influences upon the White House—that there are still some distinctive differences between these two groups. Obama’s backers are from Wall Street. They are from his banking sector, his big money. And he does not actually have a handle on the intelligence and military patronage network. So it’s like he’s sitting on some cake mix, which is this military intelligence patronage network.”

    And the following quote appears to fit nicely with some previous discussions in this blog…

    “And it’s very easy to understand, because the national security, government, and private sector in the United States flourishes from its lack of accountability, from its secrecy. That’s how it’s able to gradually increase its power.”


  3. The trend toward privatizing the US military is partly motivated by an ideologically grounded belief that business is more efficient and cost effective than government, a belief held in particular by former VP Cheney, who was in deep with the likes of Bechtel. That is a peculiar belief in the face of the fact that private contractors get paid several times the salaries of soldiers, and that sometimes they simply refuse to do dangerous jobs (as opposed to, say, the Army Corp of Engineers). And the recklessness of the private contractors does not exactly win the support of the local population.

    However, despite the impracticality of privatizing the US military, the motivation to privatize the military is not primarily to build up a secret military and intelligence force that would be used against American citizens, as Assange seems to state above. Privatization of the military reduces the number of fatalities on paper.

    So about 4,500 American troops have died in Iraq, for example. But almost 1,500 private contractors have died there doing the jobs that soldiers would otherwise do.


    That keeps the casualty rate lower, considerably. Also, many of the contractors are not US citizens.

    Now, support of a war that is perceived to be a “war of choice” by the citizenry rises and falls on fatality reports. In fact, correlating fatalities and diminishing support, one finds a mathematical algorithm where at a certain point, every doubling of the fatality rate leads to a ten percent rise in disapproval of the war. The mathematical formula did not apply to WWII, where high casualty rates actually led to a stiffening of resolve (also, showing horrific battle scenes in movie theaters during that war did not lead to diminished support of the war the way televised footage of Vietnam seemed to affect Americans), but it did apply in the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

    In a sense, the US is building the equivalent of the French foreign legion so that the US citizenry will not care about sending troops to who knows where. In fact, two weeks after the US invaded Iraq, the French sent in their Legionaires to topple some government in Africa; the French are constantly intervening militarily in Africa. The French people love it — and they love the fact that nice French boys will not die in these adventures.

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