Archive for the ‘United States’ Category

The Republican who could actually be president

First published Sept. 5, 2016

Billionaire David Koch, who bankrolls far-right candidates and causes, got a standing ovation in Columbus, Ohio, last month during Americans for Prosperity’s two-day tea party summit.

Jeb Bush was there, along with other Republican presidential hopefuls, Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All wanted to prove their conservative credentials by railing against the Affordable Care Act and, except for Bush, Common Core education standards.

Noticeably absent was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose office is less than a mile from the convention center. Kasich wasn’t invited because he isn’t one of them. Their mindset was reflected in the words of an activist who was heard to grumble, “If they’re a RINO, they may as well be on the other side.”

But it isn’t traditional conservatives like Kasich who are “Republicans in name only,” it’s the libertarian ideologues with their heads in the clouds and their hearts on ice who have strayed from the rich heritage of the party of Lincoln.

Kasich probably isn’t bothered by the snub. It will help him in the pivotal state of Ohio, where he won 86 of 88 counties in his last election.

Of the 27 or so candidates seeking the GOP nomination so far, Kasich is the one who could garner enough support from independents, centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans to win the White House.

The tougher challenge will be convincing voters in the primaries and caucuses that he’s their best hope, because the party activists and talk radio types who play an outsized role early in the process will try to persuade them to nominate somebody like Perry or Cruz, who will then lose swing voters in the general election.

That’s because they can’t do the math.

Republicans control the House because of gerrymandering, and they have more Senate seats because there are more red than blue states. But, except for Texas, the red states don’t have as many voters. If you can’t win some blue states like California and New York, and more importantly, purple toss-up states like Ohio and Florida, then you can’t win the White House. It’s simple, but then the early nominating process has been taken over by simpletons.

Republicans used to win because they chose candidates who were principled pragmatists like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan who could work in a bipartisan way to accomplish goals.

A few years after the Barry Goldwater catastrophe of 1964, the Republican Party made a comeback by moving back toward the middle, and dominated American politics for the next 40 years. But in five of the last six presidential races, they’ve lost the popular vote, and came close to losing it in 2004.

Moderate candidates like George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney pivoted to the right to prove they were “severely conservative” — which is what Jeb was doing in Columbus — then alienate many who would have been for them.

How many of us want a leader who is severe?

Does anyone really think the country is going to elect someone as extreme as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson?

Bloomberg reporter Margaret Carlson, in a recent column, outlined Kasich’s accomplishments as governor. In his two terms, Ohio has gone from 48th to eighth in job creation, income has grown by 9.8 percent and unemployment has fallen to 5.2. He inherited a nearly bankrupt state, which now has a budget surplus and higher debt rating. The poverty rate in Ohio has plummeted, thanks to a vibrant economy, the governor’s earned income tax credit and Medicaid expansion.

In Congress, Kasich was the House budget chairman when we had our last balanced federal budget. He understands defense and foreign affairs. He has more government experience than most of the other candidates combined.

Although he is a social conservative who is personally against abortion and gay marriage, he isn’t strident about it, and accepts the Supreme Court’s decisions as the law of the land.

He is also a devout Christian but doesn’t use religion as a cudgel, and his faith is the kinder, gentler sort. In the first debate, he said that of course he would love his children unconditionally if they were gay, and when a woman challenged him on increasing Medicaid eligibility, his response was, “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” He won’t have to answer for what he’s done for David Koch and his kind.

Kasich is no plaster saint, and he knows it. He’s tough, sometimes ill-tempered and doesn’t suffer fools easily — which could make him the answer to Trump in this summer of our discontent and the strongest adversary for the Democratic candidate next November.

Why I am no longer a Republican

First published April 9, 2016

When Ronald Reagan became a Republican in 1962, he explained his decision like this: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

I felt something similar when, several days ago, I went to the Nelson County Clerk’s Office and changed my voter registration from Republican to independent.

The party I joined when I turned 50 is not the same Republican Party we have today — although the transformation was already beginning with the birth of the tea party movement.

The Grand Old Party that attracted me as I became more conservative in my prime was one that balanced a belief in personal responsibility with a commitment to opportunity. It respected individual liberties, but also cherished community and traditional virtues. It practiced fiscal sobriety, but offered a hand to the disabled and disadvantaged. It had a rich heritage of racial equality going back to the time of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, when the Democrats were the party that elevated states’ rights above human rights.

The party’s compassionate conservatism was rooted in Judeo-Christian principles of justice. It can be summed up in these words from President George W. Bush’s first inaugural address: “Americans in need are not strangers, they are citizens, not problems, but priorities, and all of us are diminished when they are hopeless. … I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.”

That perspective has been evident in policies such as charter schools in inner cities to give poor children a chance at a better life, federal funding for faith-based initiatives that work because they address the root causes of poverty and addiction rather than money for big bureaucratic programs that don’t, enterprise zones that give businesses incentives to locate in depressed areas, and humanitarian and military aid to victims of brutality in other countries. It is based on the biblical belief that were are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

In the past seven years, this compassionate conservatism has been supplanted by radical libertarianism, which holds that our brothers and sisters are on their own and that selfishness is a virtue not a vice. It is rooted in the nihilistic philosophy of Ayn Rand rather than the traditional philosophy of her contemporary, Russell Kirk, the father of modern conservatism.

In the current election, though, we have seen something uglier than libertarianism at work. It is a populism that hearkens back to the Know-Nothing movement of the mid-19th century and the John Birch movement of the mid-20th. It stokes the fires of bigotry against anyone whose religion, skin color or country of origin is different than the majority’s, and it has an authoritarian attitude.

What other way is there to describe the faction of the party that wants a caudillo (strong man) like Donald Trump? He is someone who quotes the founding father of fascism, Benito Mussolini, who initially refused to reject the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, who incites his followers to acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and has said that if he becomes president, he will undermine the First Amendment freedom of the press.

The likeliest alternative to Trump in this year’s presidential race is Ted Cruz, a tea party ideologue whose idea of governing is to repudiate efforts at bipartisan compromise — even compromise with the mainstream of his own party — and shut down the government if he doesn’t get his way. He wants to eliminate the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education and Commerce, as well as the IRS, and he favors a flat tax that would reduce the responsibility of the rich and increase the burden of the poor. He would deport Hispanic immigrants who were brought to this country illegally as children. He would dismantle the law that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to sell policies to people with cancer and has added tens of millions of people to the rolls of the insured for the first time.

Health insurance has long been one of my concerns, and six years after the Affordable Care Act, I’m still waiting to see what “repeal and replace” means. The only specifics congressional Republicans offer would allow companies to sell policies across state lines — which sounds like a good idea, but means the policies won’t be regulated because the regulating is done by the states — and would replace guaranteed insurance with tax-free health savings accounts.

Really? That’s all they’ve got after six years?

The great irony is that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is a warmed-over Republican idea from the early 1990s that Republicans rejected en masse as soon as President Barack Obama accepted it.

I’m also embarrassed by Republicans’ embrace of absurd conspiracy theories, such as the notion that President Obama is not a natural-born American citizen or that he “hates America,” or that his wife ridiculed Old Glory — based on lip (mis)reading, or that fossil-fueled global warming is a hoax cooked up by the world’s climate scientists to keep government research money rolling in to pay their salaries. As one of my curmudgeonly college professors sometimes asked her students: How can you be so damned dumb?

I cannot return to the Democratic Party of my youth, because it now insists on a “right” to abort babies up until the moment of birth. It equates religious liberty with bigotry, and believes Christianity is something best practiced in private by consenting adults. It supports public sector unions that make it almost impossible to get rid of inept teachers. It seeks to confiscate the wealth of the nation’s wealth creators. But I can’t go back to the Republican Party — until it comes to its senses.

Hyperbole and hysteria in Indiana

First published Saturday, April 4, 2015

ABC 57 in South Bend, Ind., reported April 1 that a high school coach was suspended after she tweeted that she was going to burn down Memories Pizza in nearby Walkerton for refusing to cater gay weddings.

Walkerton’s police chief said his department had investigated the threat and informed prosecutors, and he asked that folks follow the law — no fooling.

Tuesday, the TV station aired an interview with Memories manager Crystal O’ Connor and her father, Kevin, about Gov. Mike Pence’s signing Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Crystal said that if the family were asked to provide pizza for a gay wedding, they would have to refuse based on their Christian beliefs.

Kevin O’ Connor said sexuality is a choice and that he chooses to be heterosexual.

To its credit, ABC 57 tacked on a footnote at the end of the story saying the family would not refuse a gay couple that came inside the restaurant to eat.

That’s a distinction most who are outraged about the law don’t make — between refusing to serve persons because of who they are and refusing to service events.

Some Christians believe that catering a same-sex wedding amounts to approval of, and participation in, something they consider sinful based on what the Bible says about homosexual acts.

Discrimination against persons is unconscionable and should be illegal. However, if the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion means anything, refusal to participate in events that violate one’s conscience should be lawful.

According to Pence, Indiana’s new law doesn’t give anyone a license to discriminate, and he wants the legislature to amend the law to make that clear.

Indiana’s law, which takes effect July1, is almost identical to those in 20 other states, including Kentucky, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It differs from the U.S. law by defining persons to include churches and corporations, and providing a defense in civil actions involving private parties.

Basically, Indiana’s states that “a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in furthering “a compelling governmental interest,” and if it must impose a burden, it must use “the least restrictive means.”

Secularists are outraged over the refusal of a religious minority to accept their redefinition of the sacrament of marriage and are willing to discriminate against anyone who does not adopt their view.

One state legislator in Oklahoma offered a bill to brand Christian businesses that want to opt out of promoting same-sex relationships so that others might shun them and destroy their livelihood.

It seems the only acceptable bigotry today is against traditional Christians.

One reason is that most don’t know what traditional Christianity is. Many think the free exercise of religion means only that people are free to worship inside their churches or synagogues on their own time, but should keep their religious beliefs to themselves. They want to force Christians into the closet.

Rod Dreher, senior editor of The American Conservative, wrote that orthodox Christians should retreat to a redoubt they can defend.

“If by ‘Christianity’ we mean the philosophical and cultural framework setting the broad terms for engagement in American public life, Christianity is dead, and we Christians have killed it,” he wrote. “We have allowed our children to be catechized by the culture and have produced an anesthetizing religion suited for little more than being a chaplaincy to the liberal individualistic order.”

I strongly disagree. Being a Christian is personal, but not private. It is a 24/7 thing, not something reserved for an hour on Sunday mornings. And if you believe in Christ’s Great Commission, as I do, then it isn’t something one keeps to oneself.

I also believe in the Great Commandment, which is that we should love God foremost and love our neighbors no less than ourselves. There is no caveat exempting gay or agnostic neighbors.

I wouldn’t discriminate against anyone, but I wouldn’t tell others they must participate in things they don’t feel right about.

In a pluralistic society, religious liberty must not only be tolerated but respected.

Sanders, last socialist, runs for the roses

If you ask the odds makers, they’ll tell you the Democratic presidential nomination contest is still a one-horse race, with Hillary Clinton sure to get the garland of roses.

But Bernie Sanders, who announced Thursday he’s in the running, reminds me of Mine That Bird, the 50-1 upstart that crashed the blue bloods’ party and made Bob Baffert choke on his mint julep by winning the Kentucky Derby in 2009.

Sanders certainly isn’t the candidate of the elite. Right out of the starting gate, he told the billionaires he didn’t want their filthy lucre. One of his main issues will be to change the rules so the Koch brothers and their ilk can’t buy elections and legislators anymore.

He wants to level the field to benefit the people who make two-dollar bets on long shots.

This recent post on his Facebook page is classic Sanders: “During the last two years, the wealthiest 14 Americans saw their wealth increase by $157 billion. This … is more wealth than is owned, collectively, by 130 million Americans. This country does not survive morally, economically or politically when so few have so much and so many have so little.”

Leave it to Bernie to bring up the topics one isn’t supposed to talk about in polite conversation.

Two things about the senator from Vermont make him an intriguing choice for the Democrats’ standard bearer. One is that he isn’t a Democrat. In fact, he’s the longest-serving independent (meaning a person who belongs to no political party) in the history of Congress. The other is that he’s a democratic socialist — the last of a dying breed. The only other socialist I know of who has served on Capitol Hill in my lifetime (I’m 54) was Ronald Dellums, the radical congressman from Berkeley who served 13 terms until 1998.

Democratic socialists believe in the ownership and control of the economy by the working class — not necessarily through the federal government, but by democratic means such as employee ownership of businesses, worker representation in corporate boardrooms, utility and farm cooperatives, although in some cases, such as single-payer health insurance, it is through government.

I’ve been fascinated by Sanders since the early 1980s, when he was the mayor of Burlington and Rolling Stone did an article on him called “Red Mayor in the Green Mountains.” In Professor Allen Singleton’s urban government and politics class at Eastern Kentucky University, I wrote a paper on how Sanders was able to become mayor of the biggest city in what was once a rock-ribbed Republican state by representing the poor and elderly and public servants such as police, firefighters and sanitation workers.

While working on the class project, I wrote to Sanders and he wrote back, answering my question about why he chose not to be a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington’s organization formed to work within the Democratic Party to move it to the left on labor and economic issues.

Full disclosure: In college I was briefly a member of the DSA and a disciple of Harrington, whose book “The Other America” was credited with inspiring the War on Poverty and the Great Society in the 1960s. But I’ve evolved over the past 30-some years so that I am today a Burkean conservative and a distributist (one who likes the free market and property ownership so much he thinks the healthiest society is one in which they are as widely distributed as possible). I’m also a registered Republican, although for most of the last decade I’ve been an independent.

But enough about me; this is about Bernie.

Sanders served as mayor of Burlington for a decade, successfully revitalizing its downtown and making the city the first in the country to have publicly funded community trust housing. In 1990, he was elected as Vermont’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and was re-elected seven times until going to the Senate in 2006.

With his unruly white hair, rumpled suit, wide glasses and acerbic manner, the senator, whom Vermonters affectionately call by his first name, has been enormously popular, though he lacks the charisma of a Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama.

He rages against colleagues who would privatize Social Security and cut funds for public education yet advocate more tax breaks for billionaires. Have they no shame?

His is a real-life “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” story. But can he make it all the way to the top?

The reason he’s running for the first time as a Democrat is that he doesn’t want to be a spoiler like Ralph Nader in 2000, when he ran as a third-party candidate and cost Al Gore the election.

Clinton and Jeb Bush are the favorites, but it enlivens the debate to have candidates like the militant socialist Sanders and hard-right libertarian Rand Paul in it.

And as Mine That Bird, Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul have proven, in horse races, anything can happen.

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In gratitude to the greatest generation

Published Nov. 15, 2014

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life.

Those words, sung by Ray Charles, played in an endless loop in my head on Veterans Day after I had listened to the song the night before.

In my pantheon of heroes, those I hold in highest regard are the old warriors. The “greatest generation.” The ones who saved the world.

They are men like Bill Coomes of Bardstown, whom I interviewed last week for our Veterans Day edition.

We’ve all seen the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific in World War II. But Bill, who landed on Iwo Jima on his 19th birthday, was there and saw it, although he was a few hundred yards away.

Bill fought the Japanese in one of the most ferocious battles of the war and lived to remember it. Many of his buddies didn’t. He told me about the last moments he spent with one of them, Calvin Moriarty, who “met his death with serenity and grace” after being hit by enemy fire.

Bill was reticent about discussing it when I brought it up at the library one day.

“This is the most I’ve talked about what I’ve done. I’m not trying to forget it because it was so horrible, but what good does it do to talk about it?” he told me toward the end of the interview. “If you were there, there’s no need to explain it. If you weren’t there, there’s no way you can explain what it was like. It would make no sense.”

Bill’s family has a long legacy of serving our country. His father fought in the trenches in World War I, his brother was wounded in the Korean Conflict, his son was in Vietnam, and his grandson is in the U.S. Air Force.

I never served in the military, and I regret that I didn’t. Nor did my father, who was 27 and had a wife and two children when the war in Vietnam was at its zenith.

Being a 27-year-old husband and father, however, didn’t keep my grandfather from being drafted, because in 1945, the Army needed every man. Fortunately for him, he didn’t have to go into the maelstrom. After he completed his training and was about to be shipped out, the war ended.

His brothers were not as fortunate. Otis, Lawson and James all served. Two of them came home. James didn’t. He gave his life liberating Europe and protecting America and the rest of the world from the Nazi menace.

My grandfather didn’t talk about it except to say his brother had died in the war. For years, I believed James had been killed in Italy, but one summer afternoon, I was traveling the back roads of Montgomery County with my family, and we stopped at a little roadside cemetery at Antioch and discovered my great-uncle’s grave. According to his headstone and a newspaper clipping Dad later found, Pvt. 1st Class James Edward Patrick had been killed in action in France on Aug. 12, 1944, only a few weeks after the Normandy Invasion. He had been in service since October 1942. His brothers, both corporals, had served more than two years.

The article said he was a member of the Assembly of God in Jeffersonville and who his relatives were, but not who he was.

So I asked my friend Mary, who knew him, and this is what she told me on Facebook.

James was a “quiet, handsome fellow” and “a good friend of all of us teenage girls,” she said. “But it was Bedford Brown’s sister Rachel, a petite little blonde and as shy as James was” that he adored. “They went together until James went into service. When he was killed, Rachel grieved for years, finally joined the (Women’s Army Corps) and stayed in Japan with the Army several years. She finally married when she was in her 30s, but I know she died loving James.”

The best Mary could recollect, James’ brother, Otis, was captured by the Germans in Italy. That may be why I was confused about where James had died.

I would like to have known him, but knowing more about him — who he was, whom he loved — gives me a deeper appreciation of what he and others like him sacrificed in those dark days to restore freedom’s light.

The first Thanksgiving

Nov. 25, 2014

(This is a shorter, edited version of an earlier post.)

Myles Standish wasn’t so upstanding, and the Puritans weren’t so pure. And inviting the Indians to dinner was just politics.

Schoolchildren know the sterile version of the story: In 1620, the Pilgrims sailed to America to escape a tyrannical king and gain religious freedom. They landed on Plymouth Rock and established the first settlement. The Indians, led by Squanto, befriended them, taught them how to fertilize corn with fish and saved them from starving. The grateful Pilgrims invited the Indians to join them for a big turkey dinner and offered prayers of thanks. But what if what we know about the first Thanksgiving is mostly wrong?

In his book, “A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving,” Godfrey Hodgson makes a convincing argument that the feast recorded in 1621 by Edward Winslow wasn’t a Puritan thanksgiving at all, but a harvest celebration that was interrupted by a force of Indians.

The Separatists (they weren’t called Pilgrims with a capital “P”) showed their gratitude to God by fasting, not feasting. Being strict Calvinists, they didn’t celebrate holy days (holidays) because they considered them superstitious relics of Catholicism. Being English, they did celebrate the medieval harvest festival with food, beer, wine and games.

These wanderers or “pilgrims” were called Separatists because they wanted to separate from the established Anglican Church, but were willing to deceive King James by swearing fealty to the established church in exchange for being granted a colony. They had been run out of England, and in liberal Amsterdam some of their women dressed provocatively, and there were charges of sexual misconduct. The Separatists then left Holland, sailed for Virginia and wound up in Massachusetts by mistake.

They did not land on a rock, which would have splintered their ship. It remained a mile offshore, and they landed in longboats.

As early as 1621, the English settlers of Plymouth had hostile encounters with the Indians, whom they stole from, kidnapped and sold into slavery. White men had been coming to New England since John Cabot established Newfoundland in 1497, and by the time the colonists arrived, “thousands of European sailors were accustomed to spending the summers fishing” on northern coast, according to Hodgson.

Squanto, who had been captured and enslaved, escaped from Europe and made his way back to America, where he became an English translator for the Wampanoag chief Massasoit.

Standish, no Puritan, was a soldier for hire who “thought nothing of cutting off an Indian’s head if he thought it was the right thing to do,” Hodgson wrote.

The Wampanoags were at war with the Narragansetts and Massachusetts, and 100 Wampanoag warriors showed up at the Separatists’ feast with freshly killed deer (not turkey) as a gesture of goodwill to enlist the English in their fight.

“It was a kind of backwoods diplomatic encounter,” Hodgson wrote.

The alliance didn’t last. Within a generation, Massaoit’s son, King Philip, united the tribes against the English, who were depleting their natural resources and spreading diseases such as syphilis. The English won King Philip’s War and had the chief beheaded and quartered to underscore their point.

American artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris portrayed the Pilgrims as gracious hosts to the Indians at the first Thanksgiving. Godfrey Hodgson says it was frontier diplomacy involving a power struggle with other tribes.

The Pilgrims were not rugged individualists at first, but were communists who, like the early Christians, held their property in common and provided for each other’s needs. But communism has never worked in practice, and when the families started providing for their own needs, the colony prospered.

The story of the first Thanksgiving is, according to Hodgson, an example of what historians call “the invention of tradition.” While it is fiction, however, it is not fraud. It is, as Hodgson described it, a story that has been shaped into a “powerful and virtuous symbol.” It has become a “domestic celebration of gratitude, humility and inclusiveness.” Those are qualities for which we need not apologize.

Regardless of how it began, Thanksgiving has become a celebration of all that is good about America. It is a tribute to faith, family and country, and generosity of spirit.

And that is why it is, in my opinion, it is the best of all American holidays.

Honestly, Abe Lincoln did not say that

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” — Abraham Lincoln

This satirical “quotation” is one I recently posted on Facebook for laughs.

It’s a tribute to the sagacity of America’s greatest president that many of us want to give Lincoln credit for things he didn’t say when did say so much that is worth repeating.

I’m usually careful about verifying the authenticity of anything I read on the Internet, but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t careful enough.

In my Nov. 9 column, I wrote about what it means to be a “Lincoln Republican.” I included this quote attributed to Lincoln about the dangers to democracy caused by the stratification of wealth:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

I attempted to verify its authenticity and learned it was included in a letter to a Col. William F. Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864.

It reflected Heather Cox Richardson’s description of Lincoln’s views in her history of the Republican Party, “To Make Men Free.” She describes the Kentucky of Lincoln’s youth as a place where the slaveholding aristocracy made it hard for men like his father to get ahead because the wealthy owned the best land and controlled the government and its laws.

In 1816, the Lincolns moved north of the Ohio River, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established a land of opportunity by prohibiting slavery and primogeniture, the tradition of a landowner bequeathing all of his property to the eldest son to keep large estates intact. The Republican Party was later founded there on such egalitarian ideals.

The quote also mirrored Lincoln’s speech of Dec. 1, 1861, in which he weighed the importance of labor and capital: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It turns out, however, that the wealth quote was a fabrication, though an old one.

Tom Hall, a history enthusiast, raised the red flag. In an email the day after my Sunday column, he said the quote seemed “a little too prescient, as if old Abe could see 30 or so years into the future to the day of the big railroads, Standard Oil and the Carnegie steel mills. In other words, this smells like the ‘quote’ is an Internet fraud, and you fell for it.”

Did I ever.

This is what Snopes.com, a website that researches information on the Internet to determine its veracity, said about the supposed letter of 1864: “These words did not originate with Abraham Lincoln … they appear in none of his collected writings or speeches, and they did not surface until more than 20 years after his death (and were immediately denounced as a ‘bold, unflushing forgery’ by John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary). This spurious Lincoln warning gained currency during the 1896 presidential election season (when economic policy, particularly the USA’s adherence to the gold standard, was the major campaign issue), and ever since then it has been cited and quoted by innumerable journalists, clergymen, congressmen, and compilers of encyclopedias.

So I’m not the first journalist who fell for it. But that doesn’t make it less inexcusable.

I owe you an apology for being so easily taken in, and will be more diligent next time.

Gov. Jerry Brown — 40 years on

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Before there was a tea party, before Bill Clinton declared the era of big government “over,” even before the Reagan Revolution, there was Jerry Brown.

The son of a 1960s California governor, Brown was elected governor himself in 1974. He was an enigma. A former Jesuit seminarian who practiced Zen meditation, he dated country rock music star Linda Ronstadt, slept on the floor of a rented room and drove himself to work in a Plymouth rather than live in the opulent governor’s mansion and ride in the back of a limo.

A Democrat like his father, Edmund G. Brown Sr., the young governor defied ideological labels. He stood with Cesar Chavez and Hispanic farm workers against California’s agribusiness interests, yet he was a small-is-beautiful candidate, preaching limited government and riding a wave of property tax revolt to victory.

He was far more frugal than his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who had signed into law the largest tax increase in the state’s history and nearly doubled spending despite his popular image as a fiscal conservative.

Jerry Brown was the first politician I idolized. I was 15 when he ran for president in 1976, winning primaries against Jimmy Carter, despite having entered the race at the 11th hour. I followed his career as he ran for the White House again in 1980, and in 1992 on a flat-tax, anti-establishment platform.

Brown served as a missionary with Mother Teresa in India, became the tough-as-nails mayor of one of America’s toughest cities, Oakland, and earned a reputation as a crime-fighting attorney general.

In 2010, Brown was elected again as governor at a time when the state was in fiscal crisis, following the market collapse, recession and the administration of liberal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that race, he beat billionaire eBay executive Meg Whitman. In one of the most bizarre commercials of the campaign, Whitman’s own words were used to endorse Brown. It quoted her as saying, “30 years ago, anything was possible in this state,” and that was why, Whitman explained, she came to California.

Then the commercial reminded voters it was Brown who was governor when Whitman went there, and he who had cut waste, balanced the budget, cut taxes by $4 billion and helped create 1.9 million new jobs.

Very clever, and very effective.

When he first ran for governor, Brown was 36 and a bachelor with movie-star good looks. Today he is bald, married and 76, making him both the oldest and youngest governor in the state’s history.

According to an Oct. 28 story on Politico, Brown, with a 58 percent approval rating in an era of anti-incumbent feeling, is almost certain to defeat his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, Tuesday — almost 40 years to the day of winning his first term.

According to Politico, during his current term, Brown has led his state in turning a $25 billion deficit into a $4 billion surplus, got voters to approve California’s first broad-based tax increase in 25 years, and presided over the creation of a million new jobs and a 4 percent drop in unemployment.

Jerry Brown, who was dubbed “Governor Moonbeam” by the late Mike Royko, the Chicago newspaper columnist, is a bit eccentric; that’s true, but so is California.

It may be that Brown’s strange mashup of hippie philosophy, Clint Eastwood frontier justice and budgetary austerity may be just what the Sunshine State needs now.

 

What would Abe, Teddy, Ike and Jack do?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Jack Kemp’s daughter Judith sat with me in the lobby of Berea College’s Boone Tavern for an interview about her father’s presidential campaign.

It was 1988 — 20 years after the ill-fated campaign of another New Yorker, Robert F. Kennedy, who reminded me of Judith’s father — so we talked about the similarities.

Jack Kemp (Politico.com)

Both appealed to blacks, blue collar workers and the poor, and cared about their interests. Both hated welfare dependency and preferred federal efforts to create opportunity. Kemp wanted to establish enterprise zones in depressed urban areas and foster public-private cooperation to give people in those neighborhoods a hand up. Kennedy had modeled the same approach in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant.

When I asked Judith why her father cared more about helping the disadvantaged than the affluent, she said it was because he remained true to the original principles of his party. Her father was, she explained, a “Lincoln Republican.”

If only there were more of them around today.

Kemp didn’t become president, but he became President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of housing and urban development and was able to put more emphasis on housing vouchers and home ownership than public housing projects. When I went to Washington, D.C., in October 1989 to cover a demonstration on behalf of the homeless, Kemp was one of the few in Washington who cared enough to speak to us. Almost everybody else had gone home.

Moderate, sensible, prudent approaches to helping the hurting appeal to some of us more than bureaucratic social engineering and throwing money at problems. There have been other examples, such as President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms and expansion of the earned income tax credit, and President George W. Bush’s emphasis on community and faith-based initiatives that work because they take a holistic approach to helping people help themselves.

It should be disconcerting to those who love our country when those on the right sneer at the Bushes for their “compassionate conservatism” and cheer when a debate moderator asks presidential candidates about pulling the plug on an uninsured man in a hospital.

There has been plenty of talk about the fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and after the GOP’s romp in last week’s general election, it’s a discussion worth having.

If future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP party bosses work with President Barack Obama to find common ground on issues such as reforming the Affordable Care Act, finding a reasonable solution to illegal immigration, cutting the corporate income tax and reducing college students’ debt, I think the party and the country will flourish. However, if they insist on taking away the health insurance of millions of Americans, lowering taxes for the rich and opposing higher wages for the working poor, deregulating finance, which caused the economic collapse and recession, and ignoring the growing stratification of wealth in this country, they will lose in 2016 as surely as Newt Gingrich’s revolutionaries of 1994 lost in 1996.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter to a colonel in the U.S. Army: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower made similar warnings about serving the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

After Barry Goldwater, the John Birch Society and other forerunners of today’s libertarians and tea partiers took control of the Republican Party in 1964 and led it to disaster, prudent Republicans such as William Scranton and John Sherman Cooper took it back and made it again a party capable of governing.

McConnell was part of that restoration, and although he has shown himself to be a chameleon in adapting to his political landscape, he’s also the one who worked with Joe Biden to save us from the insanity of the radical right and the intransigence of the radical left.

My hope is that McConnell and other Republican leaders will return the party and the country to the principles of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kemp, and not lead us down the primrose path that leads to destruction of the republic and everything America means to the world.

Once again to ‘the gates of hell’

Published Sept. 6, 2014

Americans and Britons are weary of war. Our nations have been a bulwark against jihadists since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And for a decade, we fought in Iraq against a rogue dictator and Al Qaeda. So soon after we withdrew our forces, it looks like we’re going back in again.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has taken control of large parts of Syria and northern Iraq and unleashed a reign of terror unlike anything we have seen in that region.

The rampaging warriors have committed mass murders of military prisoners and ethnic minorities, and their videos of the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff have outraged the world.

This week at a NATO meeting in Wales, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron said ISIS must be destroyed, and are trying to come up with a strategy that may again involve more boots on the ground.

American airstrikes were initially to prevent the annihilation a religious sect trapped on a mountain without food and water. Our military provided advisers to help the Kurds, who were successful in taking back the Mosul dam, so vital to the region’s infrastructure, and America and Britain have dropped humanitarian aid to besieged minorities. But it isn’t enough.

After the murder of Sotloff, Vice President Joe Biden said that when Americans are harmed, we will not retreat or forget.

“We take care of those who are grieving, and when that’s finished, they should know we will follow them to the gates of hell until they are brought to justice,” Biden said.

Those are strong words, but what is needed is strong action or we will appear weak and encourage the enemy. If we make that kind of promise, we have to keep it.

Father Andrew White, the “vicar of Baghdad,” is a peacemaker who has negotiated the release of 46 hostages. But in a recent BBC radio interview, he said there is no negotiating with ISIS.

“You cannot deal with this evil Islamic State group. They are impossible to engage with,” he said. “They are about death and destruction.”

John Quincy Adams said America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” After our deeply flawed policies in Iraq, I’m as wary as anyone of meddling in other people’s conflicts. But what if the monsters have vowed to destroy us? They’ve said they’re coming for us, and some of the Islamic State’s foreign fighters are Westerners, including Britons and Americans with passports that allow them easy entry into our countries in a matter of hours. The world of 2014 is a different place than that of Adams’ world of 1814. Isolation is not an option.

While the United States and the United Kingdom should lead, as we always have, this can’t be seen as the West against Islam, which is what ISIS wants — a return of the medieval caliphate and war with Christians and Jews.

Our leaders should follow the example of President George H.W. Bush in forging a coalition that includes Islamic nations. Secretary of State John Kerry is working to put one together. Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others that are threatened by jihadists must join us if we are to destroy this dark force.

The campaign must be better planned and coordinated than the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but if we wait many months, it will be too late. We must strike back soon.

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