Monday, September 29, 2008

Bull Moose & Squirrel

Dear Senator McCain,

I was taken aback the other day when I heard you declare that Theodore Roosevelt was your hero. This makes perfect sense for a little boy in the Canal Zone -- no TR, no Panama Canal (and probably no Panama). But you're all grown up and running for president on a platform of "I've suffered for my country, now it's your turn," and Americans are entitled to ask which Theodore Roosevelt you mean. Is it the bellicose TR (notice how I don't call him "Teddy" -- he hated that) who pushed for a huge navy and promoted the Spanish-American War? Or the TR who won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a settlement to the Russo-Japanese War of 1906, the only American president to be accorded that honor besides your fellow midshipman Jimmy Carter? I know you admire the TR who loved to hunt wild animals, and no doubt would have employed a helicopter for that purpose if he could. What about the TR who added 194 million acres to the National Park system, established the first National Bird Preserve in 1903 and the U.S. Forestry Service in 1905? That's pretty green, isn't it?

As I'm sure you know, TR was such a progressive nuisance as governor of New York that his party put him on the national ticket in 1900 to get him out of the way in the ceremonial office of Vice President; but Presidents sometimes die in office. Succeeding McKinley, TR used the power of his office to dissolve 40 illegal monopolies, regulate railroad rates which were gouging farmers, pass the Pure Food and Drug Act which established the FDA, and advocate -- wait for it -- a system of national health insurance. Do you think your new (and rather skittish) friends on the religious right know that your Roosevelt opposed putting "In God We Trust" on our coinage? A believer himself, he considered it sacrilegious, while insisting on the separation of church and state. I'm beginning to wonder if you ever thought about Theodore Roosevelt before Time magazine put him on the cover two years ago.

No doubt about it, he was a maverick. Disgusted by the rightward drift of the Republican Party, he helped form the Progressives and became their candidate for president in 1912 (and did better than any third-party candidate in history -- Taft was a dismal third). He must have known it would split the party, but he thought Woodrow Wilson was preferable to four more years of Big Bill. It's called principle. Look it up.

In the next generation, TR's progressive program was carried on by his niece Eleanor, who is almost as despised by your party as her husband. But this may not be the wrong time to point out that, as in 1932, the American financial system is hanging by a thread. This time, however, it's the thread spun by the New Deal. When Washington Mutual failed last week, millions of people did not lose everything because their accounts are insured by the FDIC up to $100,000. I know this is hardly significant to someone who thinks middle class starts at three million, but most of us get along on a lot less. The brokerage giants would not have failed had they been properly regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, another New Deal project rendered impotent by the Cheney-Bush regime. And the only reason millions more Americans are not destitute is that the regime failed in its efforts to "privatize" Social Security, i.e., turn its assets over to the financial wise guys at Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, et al. All these safeguards are the work of Democrats. Not just Democrats, liberal Democrats. If the Obama campaign doesn't remind people of that every ten minutes, I pity us all.

Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to take up residence in the White House. You want to be the oldest. There's absolutely nothing wrong with living for 72 years as long as you learn something along the way. American history would be a good place to start.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pretty slick

"Suspending the campaign" because bailing out incompetently run brokerage houses and insurance companies is just too important to be left to people who actually know something about the financial system. And canceling the debate because his handlers met at four in the morning and concluded there's no way John McCain could credibly debate a B-average high school sophomore, much less Barack Obama. After all, some questions can't be answered, "For five years, I didn't even have a black and white television." But weren't two more debates scheduled? The Ministry of Fatherland Security can finesse one of them by declaring a Super Purple Alert, but what about the third? Fire, flood, false alarm about the Rapture? Is this a campaign or a Preston Sturges movie? When does Biden debate Betty Hutton...I mean Sarah Palin?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Missouri False

If a major earthquake occurs along the New Madrid fault in the next several weeks, I predict that the epicenter will be Independence, Missouri, specifically, the grave of Harry S Truman. Right-wing extremists simply cannot go on identifying themselves with that famously irascible man without provoking a seismic response. First it was George Bush labeling his hodgepodge of foreign policy blunders the "Bush Doctrine," a clear attempt to co-opt the Truman Doctrine of containing the spread of Communism. I imagine he liked the vaguely liturgical sound of "doctrine," too. The Bush Doctrine goes something like "I'm the decider and I'll do whatever I want to the world and the law doesn't matter and neither does the truth because I'm the decider." Where I come from, we call this the Hitler Doctrine.

Bush clings to Truman's shadow because Truman also had remarkably low approval ratings, yet has been proved mostly right in the judgment of history. In the magical Bush worldview, he too will be proved right, even admired by the historians who now label him the worst president of all time. Of course, it isn't just a matter of popularity polls. Truman ended racial segregation in the armed forces even though it enraged the racists in his own party. Bush never met a racist he didn't like (now that they're in his party); he actually handicapped the military by ordering the firing of desperately needed Arabic translators who happened to be gay. Truman dismissed General MacArthur for gross insubordination in Korea; Bush dismissed General Shinseki for being right about the size of the force needed to occupy Iraq. Both failed in business, but Truman didn't have a rich father to bail him out again and again -- and again -- and thus earn his undying contempt. And how's this for a bit of symbolic populism: Truman liked to start the day with a brisk walk through the streets of Washington. Bush jogs on a treadmill so he needn't worry about encountering a citizen who might say something critical before being beaten to the ground, tased, and dragged off to jail -- if he's lucky.

If that's not bad enough, now we have Sarah Palin praising Truman in -- wait for it -- the words of Westbrook Pegler. In fairness to Shotgun Sadie, she probably never heard of Pegler. She just doesn't strike me as intellectually curious, and Peg is almost certainly not on the Republican required reading list. This implacable enemy of Truman wrote in the pre-code days, that is, the days before the right learned to encode its racism and hate ("community organizers?"), and his un-PC comments about certain groups might wilt delicate posies like David Brooks and Joe Lieberman. But quoting Pegler in praise of Truman is like quoting Christopher Hitchens in praise of Bill Clinton: You'd do it if you could because Hitchens is the best stylist among the Clinton haters, but you'd have to yank his words out of context with a torque wrench.

We get it. John McCain, whose idea of middle class is people -- I mean folks -- making five million a year or less, is the regular-guy populist, and Barack Obama is the Ivy League elitist who knows a salad fork from a demitasse spoon. If that's your play, then send it in, but leave poor Mr. Truman out of it. For that matter, leave Mr. Pegler at rest, too. He was a pretty good sportswriter.