Monday, August 18, 2014

Richard Nixon, Traitor

Via digby, a story that had long been suspected but not confirmed until now.

Richard Nixon was a traitor.

The new release of extended versions of Nixon’s papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.

Nixon’s newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams’s 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.

Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation approaches, Will’s column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a “plumbers unit” to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers’ later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.

Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault [sic] told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we are gonna win.”

As Will confirms, Vietnamese did “hold on,” the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.

Resigning was too good for the man.  He should have gone on trial and rotted away in jail.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Old Money

I went to the post office yesterday to help Mom mail some stuff, and I pulled out my wallet to pay for a stamp. Among the bills was a $1 silver certificate, one of the 1957 series that was replaced in 1963 by the Federal Reserve note that we all use today in the U.S. as regular currency.

??????????

I noticed what it was before I handed it to the clerk and replaced it with a newer bill. The bill is in rough shape, and even if it was in good condition it isn’t worth much more than its face value, but it was a real flashback; I don’t think I’ve seen one of them since I was a kid.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Little Night Music

Mixing Throwback Thursday with ALNM:

Mahoney Hall UM 07-24-14

This is Mahoney Hall at the University of Miami.  It was my freshman dorm 1971-1972.  Trust me, it didn’t look this good back then, and it didn’t have air conditioning, so anyone playing their stereo entertained the whole building, the sound echoing across campus.  This was one tune that stuck in my head that first year of college.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

On This Date

Ten years ago today Barack Obama walked onto the national stage at the Democratic convention in Boston.

For all his soaring rhetoric masterfully delivered, his statement that we are one America was woefully wishful.  In fact, you could make the case that he made it worse; not because of anything he did but simply because of who he is.  There is still a Red America and a Blue America and plenty of grifters and haters who depend on it being so.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Signs of Age

I guess you have to be of a certain generation that it makes you shiver just a little when you read about the president planning a two-day trip to Dallas.

And another generation probably wondered “what the…?” yesterday when social media exploded with “Hooray for Germany!”

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July — I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done. To create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917

This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.

The Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Little Night Music

Via commenter Ice, memories of Miami.  Even though I lived here from 1971 to 1974 and didn’t move back until 2001, a lot of the old places and names were around back then and bring back good times.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On This Date

Forty years ago today — June 9, 1974 — I started out on a National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness course through the Uinta Mountains of Utah.  It lasted six weeks.

Uinta Mountains 06-09-14

I learned a lot about wilderness camping and survival skills, things that came in handy two years later when I went to work at a Rocky Mountain summer camp.  I also kept a detailed diary in a little notepad that I bought at Stapleton Airport in Denver on my way to Lander, Wyoming, where the trip began.  That’s the only time in my life that I’ve kept a diary (unless you count this blog).  It came in handy in 1976 when I wrote my first produced play about a wilderness course gone horribly wrong.

But mine was mostly uneventful — no one died.  I learned how to climb up and then rappel down a cliff, how to ford a stream with a fully-loaded pack, how to do what bears do in the woods, saw some amazing scenery — the photo is of Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah, and we crossed by it through Gunsight Pass — and learned that freeze-dried food and mountain bluebells can make a pretty good dinner.

We emerged from the wilderness in mid-July just in time for Watergate to blow up, and I made it home in time to watch the impeachment hearings on TV and see Richard Nixon resign a few weeks later.

The only souvenirs I have of the trip are that diary, a walking stick that I carved out of a ponderosa pine branch, and my mustache.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Reading

Impossible Choices — David Rohde, a former Taliban captive explains why we’re demonizing the wrong people.

I’m biased about Bergdahl. Five years ago, I was kidnapped by the same Afghan Taliban faction along with two Afghan colleagues while I was on leave from The New York Times, researching a book in Afghanistan. An offer for an interview from a Taliban commander who had previously met twice with European journalists proved to be a ruse. We were abducted at the meeting point and then transported to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

My decision to go to the interview thrust my family and editors into a world where there are no good choices. Kidnapping cases vary, but they all center on the same tortuous questions. Was the kidnap victim innocent or somehow at fault—and does it matter? Is it right to pay a ransom that could encourage kidnappings or fund future terrorist attacks? When is it morally acceptable to let a captive die?

One brave Afghan and one brave Pakistani allowed me to avoid answering those questions. While our guards slept, the Afghan journalist and I managed to escape and reach a nearby Pakistani military compound. After we were nearly shot by sentries, a Pakistani Army captain allowed us to enter the base and saved our lives. (The other Afghan kidnapped with me returned home safely six weeks later.)

Ten days after our escape, Bergdahl was captured by the same Taliban group. Over the last four years, I have talked regularly with Bergdahl’s family and those of other kidnapped Americans. One of them is the family of Warren Weinstein, an aid worker abducted in Pakistan nearly three years ago. His family fears he will die in captivity. In July, he will be 73.

The Bergdahls, the Weinsteins, and every other family I have spoken with express the same sense of desperation, isolation, and crushing responsibility. They incessantly ask themselves if they are doing enough. The sad truth hanging over every conversation is that they do not have the power to save them.

Five years later, the situation has gotten worse.

In every case I know of, the U.S. government has refused to pay ransom and, until Bergdahl, refused to release prisoners. Over the last three years, however, European governments have paid $100 million in ransom to various al-Qaeda splinter groups across the Middle East and North Africa, according to British officials. Israel released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israel soldier.

[...]

During the Iraq war, security consultants began recommending that the abduction of journalists be kept secret. A media blackout, it was hoped, would reduce captors’ ransom demands. It would also, in theory, discourage would-be abductors from seeing kidnappings as a way to gain worldwide publicity for their cause.

When we were abducted in Afghanistan, my family and editors followed that advice. My captors also initially demanded that the case remain secret as well. As had occurred in a half-dozen previous instances, media outlets agreed not to report on our kidnapping.

We will never know the impact of the blackout on my captors, but throughout the seven months I was held captive, they remained convinced that I was a “big fish.” By the time we escaped, their price for my release included $7 million in cash and seven prisoners from Guantánamo—a drop from the $25 million and 15 Guantánamo prisoners they started with.

In the years since I’ve returned home, it’s become clear that one unintended consequence of this blackout strategy is that U.S. officials are under little pressure to address the problem. Anguished families say they regularly visit Washington only to be “patted on the head” by U.S. officials.

[...]

The outcry over the Bergdahl case could create the worst of both worlds. Jihadists will expect prisoner exchanges or large ransoms. U.S. officials will be ever more hesitant to act in kidnapping cases.

Both sides in the furor over the Bergdahl case offer simplistic answers to the growing problem of abductions. Those who say the release of the five prisoners sets no precedent are downplaying the scope of this propaganda coup for the Taliban. Other militants around the globe will likely emulate them.

[...]

The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand. We must unite in fighting the perpetrators of a craven crime—not each other.

A Simple Wedding — John Nichols at The Nation on why each marriage equality ruling is historic.

Shari Roll was clutching the marriage certificate. Renee Currie was clutching Shari Roll. And when their designated officiant, Mike Quieto, pronounced them married, they smiled so perfectly, so naturally, that it seemed as if this was just another wedding on the courthouse steps.

And, of course, it was.

The only distinction was that this was the first legally-recognized marriage of two women in Wisconsin, the first same-sex marriage in Madison, the one of the initial celebrations of the marriage equality ruling issued by a federal judge Friday afternoon. By the end of the night in Madison, 61 same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, while 68 had been issued by Milwaukee County Joe Czarnezki.

Together for years and very much in love, Roll and Currie could easily have driven to the neighboring state of Iowa, which has since 2009 recognized marriage equality. Thousands of Wisconsin couples, including Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and his husband, Phil Frank, married outside the state after a ban on same-sex marriages was enacted in 2006. But Roll and Currie decided to wait for a future when the state could no longer restrict the most basic rights of loving couples.

“We wanted to get married where we live,” explained Shari Roll.

I understand that. A lot of us who choose to marry in the place where we live, embraced by the people we know, grounded in the values and the unique interactions of the very different communities and states that make up America.

Madison’s uniqueness was evident Friday night, as dozens of couples got their licenses and married on the steps of the downtown building that serves both as the Madison City Hall and the Dane County Courthouse. Judges in robes waited on the steps, meeting couples and performing the marriages as cheers went up from the ever-expanding crowd of well-wishers. Children showed up, brimming with bouquets. I asked who the wedding flowers were for and they replied, “For everyone who is getting married today.” Then they starting handing flowers out to couples who had rushed to the courthouse without much preparation but suddenly felt quite special and very loved.

Then the cops showed up with the wedding cakes. Several Madison Police officers who had been assigned to keep an eye on the proceedings raced off to a nearby grocery store and bought three large cakes. Everyone was eating cake and cheering as the Klezmer band arrived and a fiddler played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” for a pair of women who waited 30 years to marry.

[...]

Today, polling shows Wisconsinites overwhelmingly support marriage equality – a May Marquette Law School poll found 55 percent of voters favor allowing same-sex marriage, while just 37 percent are opposed. Unfortunately, Governor Scott Walker and his Republican-controlled legislature have refused to allow the voters to revisit the issue. Walker was still backing efforts by Attorney General JB Van Hollen to block marriages, even as the clerks started issuing licenses.

So it was appropriate that a senior jurist with her own deep roots in Wisconsin, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb, would determine that, “Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.” In an 88-page decision that was hailed as one of the most though yet produced by a federal jurist ruling on the issue, Crabb explained that states cannot trump federal guarantees of equality and equal protection with their own discriminatory amendments. And, while Walker and Van Hollen will continue to cling to a past that has been rejected by the courts and the great mass of Wisconsinites and Americans, the future is fast arriving.

And that future allows people to marry the people they love in the places they love.

In their rush to get to the courthouse Friday afternoon, Shari Roll and Renee Currie forgot to bring any cash for the license fee. Roll handed her credit card to friend who ran off to a nearby bank machine and returned with the cash. It was no problem. Shari and Renee were getting married where they live, and everyone was helping out.

The Day the Giants Walked — Lt. Col. Robert Bateman on one soldier’s landing on D-Day.

In the smoke and dust kicked up by the massive pre-landing naval bombardment, the markers leading the way into the beach were missed by the men piloting the landing craft. Sure, they were heading ashore, but unbeknownst to them they were heading for the wrong section of the shore. The place they were supposed to land was more than a mile, some 2,000 yards, to the north. With confusion created by smoke, dust, noise, and fear, the landing craft were well off-target. But time and tide wait for no man, and so when they grounded on the gently sloping sands and the ramps dropped, the men of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, and the diminutive general accompanying them, stepped ashore.

Even today Utah Beach is unremarkable. This stretch of the coast is at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, and it is low, with just a single light sand dune abutting the beach. Go there off-season and you can walk these sands, alone, lost in the memories of 100,000 men. You can wander the beaches imagining the approach and the arrival all those decades ago, with not a single person in sight. If you have a vivid imagination, and know your history, it can border on the spiritual. There are no beachside cafes, nor bustling hotels or tourist shops selling kitschy D-Day schlock to interrupt you, as at some of the other landing sites. There is only the beach, where the first of the allies waded ashore, and the world started to change.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was the deputy division commander of the units that landed in the first wave. He had to pull strings to be allowed to land with the dogfaces, but when your cousin is the President of the United States, some of your “strings” can be quite substantial. Roosevelt only played that card, significantly, in order to get in to combat, not to avoid it. Eventually General Bradley caved, and so Roosevelt was there, in the first confusing moments. Confusing, of course, because the terrain did not match what the infantry was expecting. They had maps, but the ground did not match the maps they were issued. What to do?

Two battalions of American infantry were now ashore, and the battalion commanders were wondering, “what do we do now?” And this is the moment when that wizened little man who was not supposed to be there, using a walking stick, made his mark upon the history of the world.

[...]

Roosevelt was not long for this earth, and he probably knew it. I suspect that he did not care. What he cared about were the men, the mission, and the countless memories recorded by the men who served with or under him substantiate that. He was a worthy successor to his father, and might have left a mark known to more, had there been more time. He was not to have that time.

Less than 60 days later, having just been appointed as the commander of his own Division, he died of a heart attack. But on this day, this morning, 70 years ago, he made history. He gave an order, and the men followed, and the world began to change.

“We start…from here.”

Doonesbury — Pay attention.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day

Today marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy by the Allies during World War II.

It has been immortalized in American history through film (The Longest Day, Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan).  As Bryan notes, so many things could have gone wrong that it’s amazing that it was a success.

As I noted on Memorial Day, my great-uncle Cary G. Dunn served in the Army in the war and came ashore on that day.  Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed or injured during the invasion, but it was the beginning of the push to end the war in Europe.  Paris would be liberated in August 1944, and the war would end eleven months later with the surrender of Germany.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

On This Date

Forty years ago today — May 19, 1974 — I graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in drama.

UM Commencement Cover 05-19-74

A year later I was accepted at the University of Minnesota to begin my Masters degree.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Restoration Comedy

Over the last week or so there’s been an effort on the part of a couple of Beltway kids to restore the legacy of George W. Bush.  No, really.

First there was Ron Fournier with this wistful recollection:

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card – marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”

What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”

[...]

Bush’s note, a simple gesture, spoke volumes about his respect for the office of the presidency. He did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”

The same sense of dignity compelled Bush to forbid his staff to wear blue jeans in the White House. Male aides were required to wear jackets and ties in the Oval Office.

Then there was this love note from Matt Bai:

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

But as is the way in modern Washington, it was never enough for Bush’s political opponents that he was miscast or misguided. He had to be something worse than that — or, more precisely, a lot of things worse. He had to be the most catastrophic president ever, in the history of ever. He had to be a messianic war criminal. Or a corporate plant looking to trade blood for oil. Or a doofus barely able to construct a sentence.

That was the way Will Ferrell portrayed Bush in a one-man Broadway show that, for a while after Bush’s departure, thrilled the enlightened set. For a lot of urban Americans, the ones who bought little books of Bush’s mangled syntax at the Barnes & Noble checkout line, Ferrell’s comic version of Bush became more real than the man himself. You know something’s wrong when the most nuanced portrayal of a political figure comes from Oliver Stone.

So George W. Bush may have lied us into a war that killed 5,000 American soldiers and destabilized an entire region of the world, he may have initiated warrantless wiretapping on civilians and poisoned the Justice Department with political hacks, outed a CIA operative for political revenge, let a major U.S. city drown, blown a huge whole in the budget, and let Wall Street rob the nation blind, but he wrote thank-you notes and enforced a gentleman’s dress code in the White House.  So it’s all good.

Aside from the irrelevancy of whether or not the West Wing was a showplace for the Jos. A. Bank catalogue or the president was always punctual, these paeans to the legacy of the man who was arguably the worst president since Warren G. Harding make the point that other than what a nice guy Mr. Bush was as president, there is nothing else nice that anyone, regardless of political affiliation, can say about the history of his administration.  Handed a budget surplus, he demolished it and threw us into debt.  Warned about terrorists lurking even in our own country, he ignored them until it was too late, then exploited the nation’s fears and loathing to pass draconian laws that violate civil rights.  He used a devastating act of terror to go after a peripheral enemy who, aside from being a dictator, had nothing to do with the attack.  It was as if FDR, in retaliation for Pearl Harbor in 1941, invaded Italy.

Both of these articles smell of the sardonically laughable attempt to put a good face on a really bad legacy and try to humanize Mr. Bush in the same way some historians remind us that for all their faults certain figures in history had their lighter and genuine moments.  That’s done to give them dimension and perspective in contrast to the horrors and flaws they all too clearly demonstrated in office: Richard Nixon was paranoid and a crook but he got us the EPA and liked Elvis; LBJ lost Vietnam and 50,000 lives but gave us the Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and raised beagles; Ronald Reagan… well, there’s already a full-blown industry dedicated to turning him into a saint to the point that even he wouldn’t recognize himself, so putting a man on Mars and turning the Soviet Union into a model of Jeffersonian democracy will just have to stand on their own.

But held to the same measure, what did George W. Bush actually accomplish to counter all of his flaws, errors, and calculated political attacks on the people who didn’t vote for him?  Name one thing, one bill, one act that left the country better off, more cohesive, and more capable of leading the world by the example of America’s aspirations for peace and freedom that his administration gave us that rises above the pall of incompetence and revenge politics that forged a barely-disguised hatred on the part of the white Christian patriarchy that gave us the likes of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers.  Go ahead, we can wait.

About the only good thing that came out of eight years of George W. Bush in the White House was such a revulsion on the part of the American electorate for his politics of personal destruction that they voted twice to elect the first black man as president.  Mr. Bush can also lay claim to the demolition of whatever was left of the moderate and thoughtful wing of the Republican Party, finishing off the work started by Ronald Reagan.  Mission accomplished.

HT to DougJ and mistermix at Balloon Juice.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reagan’s Benghazi

Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:

Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.

In other words, Congress actually undertook a useful investigation and made helpful recommendations. The report’s findings, by the way, were bipartisan. (The Pentagon, too, launched an investigation, issuing a report that was widely accepted by both parties.)

In March of 1984, three months after Congress issued its report, militants struck American officials in Beirut again, this time kidnapping the C.I.A.’s station chief, Bill Buckley. Buckley was tortured and, eventually, murdered. Reagan, who was tormented by a tape of Buckley being tortured, blamed himself. Congress held no public hearings, and pointed fingers at the perpetrators, not at political rivals.

If you compare the costs of the Reagan Administration’s serial security lapses in Beirut to the costs of Benghazi, it’s clear what has really deteriorated in the intervening three decades. It’s not the security of American government personnel working abroad. It’s the behavior of American congressmen at home.

I fully expect the Republicans to blame the bombings in Beirut on Hillary Clinton.

HT to Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014