Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Doug's Site Special Report: "Fears and Phantoms Work Well for Demagogues...For a Time

"Good evening Mr and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea, let's go to press",as the powerful and (for many) scary mid-20thcentury New York columnist , Walter Winchell, used to say on his national news and gossip radio show..

First a bit about old Walter, courtesy of the invaluable Wikipedia:

"His newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, and he was read by 50 million people a day from the 1920s until the early 1960s. His Sunday-night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people from 1930 to the late 1950s. (One example of his profile at his professional peak was being mentioned in Richard Rodgersand Lorenz Hart's 1937 song "The Lady Is a Tramp": "I follow Winchell, and read every line.")
"Winchell, who was Jewish, was one of the first commentators in America to attack Adolf Hitler and American pro-fascist and pro-Nazi organizations such as the German-American Bund. He was a staunch supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal throughout the Depression era, and frequently served as the Roosevelt Administration's mouthpiece in favor of interventionism as the European war crisis loomed in the late 1930s. Early on he denounced American isolationists as favoring appeasement of Hitler...Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Winchell was also an outspoken supporter of civil rights for African Americans, and frequently attacked the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups as supporting un-American, pro-Nazi goals. After World War II, Winchell began to denounce Communism as the main threat facing America.
"During World War II, he attacked the National Maritime Union, the labor organization for the civilian United States Merchant Marine, which he said was run by Communists.[6] In 1948 and 1949 he and the influential leftist columnist Drew Pearson "inaccurately and maliciously assaulted Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in columns and radio broadcasts."[7] Winchell also labeled African-American-French entertainer Josephine Baker as a communist after she took him to task for not questioning the racial-discriminatory policies of the Stork Club in New York. His relentless campaign against Baker prevented her from getting her visa to enter the US renewed.[citation needed]

"During the 1950s Winchell favored Senator Joseph McCarthy, but he became unpopular as the public turned against McCarthy. He also had a weekly radio broadcast which was simulcast on ABC television until he ended that employment because of a dispute with ABC executives in 1955.
"A dispute with Jack Paar effectively ended Winchell's career, signaling a shift in power from print to television.[9]
"During this time, NBC had given him the opportunity to host a variety show, which lasted only thirteen weeks. His readership gradually dropped, and when his home paper, the New York Daily Mirror, where he had worked for thirty-four years, closed in 1963, he faded from the public eye.
"The most controversial part of Winchell's career were his attempts, especially after World War II, to destroy the careers of personal or political enemies. A favorite tactic was to accuse them of being communists or of sexual impropriety.[10] Winchell was not above childish name-calling: An example is his feud with New York radio host Barry Gray, whom he described as "Borey Pink" and a "disk jerk". [11] When Winchell heard that Marlen Edwin Pew of the trade journal Editor & Publisher had criticized him as a bad influence on the American press, he thereafter referred to him as "Marlen Pee-you".[5]
"For most of his career his contract with his newspaper and radio employers required them to reimburse him for any damages he had to pay, should he be sued for slander or libel.[12] Whenever friends reproached him for betraying confidences, he responded, "I know — I'm just a son of a bitch."[5] By the mid-1950s he was widely believed to be arrogant, cruel, and ruthless.[13]"
Ron Paul--son of Rand,  and father of the Tea Party Fear Faction and Dissemblers, Ltd.

In other words, as he got older, Winchell more and more overplayed his hand and became narrow-minded and petty and cruel. He enjoyed being a maker and breaker of reputations in show business and politics for many years, until at last the public had enough of his bullying tactics and he fell out of favor.

Proving that justice does occasionally flow down like a mighty stream as Martin Luther King pointed out, Walter spent time in a  Las Vegas lounge act, reliving his former glories as a mover-and -shaker in the Nevada desert, witnessed by  an audience of bleary-eyed drunks, low-rent gamblers and curious types looking for a laugh at the once-mighty. Later the self-described Son of a Bitch  was saved from late-career obscurity by being hired to narrate  a popular ABC cops-and-crime show set in the 1920s called, ironically, "The Untouchables".  

As long as people are scared, men like Winchell and Cruz gain in popularity. But there comes a time when the timidity of the crowd leads to skepticism and a return to fair play and process building.  It might take a few years but the demagogues lost their appeal and we go forward as a nation, making up for the lost time we had when fear of "reds" or "socialized health care" fades away and people see things as they are, not what the angry and the grasping wish they were.

Bachmann of Minnesota, failed Presidential Candidate and one who predicts "mass killing of women and children" if Obamacare  is implemented.

There are more than a couple modern-day Walter Winchells around today, and not all in the media.  The most successful of which are currently Ted Cruz of Texas and all those who follow in his wake, as well as about two dozen Congresspeople of the tea party loony town including Ms. Michelle Bachman of Minnesota,  Louis Gomert  of Texas  and, of course,  Senator Rand (as in Ayn) Paul of Kentucky.   They do not care about the reputations of their colleagues or  about laws passed in other sessions or even vital government services for veterans and seniors and kids; these birds  want power and to play to the worst fears of the public about the public sector.  There is a market for such fear-mongering. The Winchells of today  have found their target (The Affordable Care Act) and are keen to use their microphones to spread lies faster than any reasoned argument can rebut.

Cruz of Texas---Next stop the White House? Or Federal Psychiatric Ward?

The US government shut down yesterday for the first time since 1995. This was the end result of a struggle between Republicans in the minority tea party faction to delay and essentially repeal the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which is now a law. There have been some 40 attempts to repeal this law, and none of them have been successful.  The problem is that whatever reservations the public has about such a major piece of legislation, which changes an industry that accounts for between 15-17 percent of the GDP of the country, most people find some elements of the program acceptable and approve it by the defacto  reelection of President Obama and VP Joe Biden in 2012.   The Senate is in Democratic hands by a handful of votes, the direct result I would argue of the tea party wind of the GOP endorsing too many far-right candidates (like Richard Murdock of Missouri, who suggested that a woman being raped was just God's Plan for bringing more  children into the world and other inanities.)  Far-rightists who won primaries in states such as  Indiana, Delaware (Christine O' Donnell in 2010)  and Missouri  proved unacceptable in a general election, allowing weakened Democratic incumbents to keep their seats.  Had the GOP chosen more moderate tribunes to carry the party forward, the Senate might look  different.  But such is the course of the Republican Party these days it is hard to moderate a viewpoint without being called out as a craven coward by billionaires and Fox News-enraged voters.

Michael Gerson of The Washington Post put it this way in part of his September 29th 2013 column:

 the development of an alternative establishment — including talk-radio personalities, a few vocal congressional leaders and organizations such as Freedom Works and Heritage Action— that creates a self-reinforcing impression of its power to reshape politics (while lacking much real connection to the views of the broader electorate)..

In other words, the big donors of the GOP  are afraid things will improve too much for too many.

Cruz  is apparently the de facto leader of the GOP right now, as the nominal leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, finds himself too afraid of the far-right base in the Bluegrass State to take him on.  Among other things, Cruz has already called a former Vietnam War veteran, former Senator of Republican Nebraska, Chuck Hagel, a possible agent of the North Koreans and urges GOP members of the House to avoid any compromise with the White House that would leave the Affordable Care Act standing, despite it being approved and passed by a previous Congresss, signed into law and found Constitutional by the Supreme Court.

  He is not in Washington to write or amend laws, but to serve his personal agenda which is to intimidate and insult his colleagues for the benefit of the tea-party crowd back home.

  To their credit, this has not stopped Senators John  McCain of Arizona and  Bob Corker of Tennessee from criticizing Canada-born Edward Cruz  for his his blustery and bullying tactics. Nor did it prevent New York GOP Congressmen Peter King (hardly a liberal) from referring to Cruz as a nut.

No one would suggest the Affordable Care Act (Or "Obamacare") is a perfect law. No law that effects such  a large number of people and had to pass muster with a sizable portion of the health insurance, hospital, doctor and pharmaceutical lobbying powers that ring  Capitol Hill and all of Washington could ever be anything more than a series of compromises between corporate profits and consumer affordability. But it will allow millions to get some health care (along with their children) and thus promote the general welfare of a nation that has lagged behind other comparable nations in reaching out to those who have suffered for want of care for too long.  A 2010 study by the Harvard Medical School revealed that upwards of 40,000 people, young and old, died due the lack of a better health system, many because they had to put off health care for too long and only went to the Emergency Room of a local public hospital as a last resort. Once there, they had to be sick enough to justify getting the care they needed, and many of which had developed advanced cases that could have been better addressed had they been able to access a primary care doctor weeks or months before.  So the ACA is not a law in search of a problem, as the voting restrictions in Florida and North Carolina are.  It is a case I would argue of the United States catching up with the rest of the developed world in treating health and the "right to life"  itself not as a privilege, or something only concerning the unborn, but as a human right.            

 It will still leave many Americans without insurance and it no doubt has flaws which will need to be amended as goes forward, which I can say has been true of EVERY major law that has passed in Washington in the last few decades,  no matter which party controlled the Senate or the White House.   But this tea party crusade is not about amending anything--it is about tearing a law apart even though the votes to do it do not exist in either part of the current Congress

Also factor in the problem the Republicans are having with engaging Latinos, women,  and independent voters of all races and genders and you have a party of purists who can hold seats in gerrymandered House districts in Texas and North Carolina and in ruby-red states in the "empty quarter" states like Wyoming and Idaho and Utah but who don't play as well in Florida, California, Illinois and New York.   The demographic changes in the nation do not bode well for the Grand Old Party which might go a long to explain why they have tried to make voting laws more restricted in many states, despite little evidence that voter fraud is as wide spread as the draconian changes that are being  put in place. .        

 The last time there was a federal shutdown it was in 1995, with a dispiriting  battle royal between Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his personal bete noire, President Bill Clinton. At that time Speaker Gingrich was laboring under the notion that he had created a special new office for himself--Prime Minister of the United States.  The success of the 1994 Congressional Elections for his party and the main-steam media focus had made him feel as if it was his inevitable role to lead the nation until such time as he could replace Clinton with himself or some hand-picked successor in the White House.

This did not come to pass.  Gingrich essentially took whatever success he had and plowed it into the ground by being constitutionally unwilling to see that the government had a role in the economy.  The shutdown lasted 28 days.  In the end Gingrich did not survive his own tactics. Now the stakes are higher than so long ago because there.are fewer moderate Republicans about to temper the hawks and the need to raise the ceiling on federal spending (funds already spent) will appear soon and with it the threat of a market downgrade by the real powers in the economy, the banking titans, which would slow the economy.  That many  members of the GOP seem unconcerned about this dark development only illustrates the desire to the "let-me-have-it-all, or nobody-gets-anything" mentality of the extremists among us.          

Jon Stewart  put this all rather well in a recent segment of his "Daily Show" on Comedy Central. The link is here below.


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