Tag Archives: Frank Rich

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother

Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

A few weeks after the Lincoln Center gala, the advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation—an organization that David Koch started, in 2004—held a different kind of gathering. Over the July 4th weekend, a summit called Texas Defending the American Dream took place in a chilly hotel ballroom in Austin. Though Koch freely promotes his philanthropic ventures, he did not attend the summit, and his name was not in evidence. And on this occasion the audience was roused not by a dance performance but by a series of speakers denouncing President Barack Obama. Peggy Venable, the organizer of the summit, warned that Administration officials “have a socialist vision for this country.”

Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests,” it said. “But you can do something about it.” The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, said, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

Obama’s coordinated character assassination campaign against anyone who disagrees with him strikes of Soviet style politics. Saul Allinsky would be proud.

For perspective, the Koch brothers have been funding right-of-center and largely libertarian causes since the 1970’s. David Koch was the Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee in 1980. That’s right — against Reagan. This is nothing new for the Koch family. Through Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush the Koch’s have been politically engaged, sometimes even against Republican Presidents.

But Barack Obama is so used to demagoguing and is the first Democratic President to really believe the rich are evil, and not just preach it for the base, he needs an enemy. The Koch family will be that enemy.

The New Yorker has an eleven page, 6,000 word article on David and Charles Koch, who own Koch Industries. The article, “Covert Operations,” appears in the August 30, 2010 copy of the magazine. In other words, this article was being manufactured well before Mr. Obama launched the opening salvo on August 9, 2010.

Writing in yesterday’s Playbook, Mike Allen referenced the article, highlighting a passage that David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s advisor, is concerned about the Koch brothers. Mike Allen has more today.

Most troubling, the New Yorker cites as objective sources both the Center for American Progress and Media Matters without ever bothering to mention they are left-wing sources with biases and competing interests against those of the Koch brothers.

As the same time, Mother Jones is attacking the Smithsonian for taking Koch money, the Center for American Progress that the New Yorker relied on as an objective source, is attacking the Kochs in the Boston Globe, they are also attacking David Koch directly, and even Greenpeace is getting in on the act.

This is a coordinated character assassination against Koch Industries and the Koch brothers for daring to use their money to prevent the destruction of the American economy at the hand of a bunch of effete socialists in the White House.

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

I’m not sure about Erickson’s speculation, but it’s hard not to notice that Mayer’s article paints an grim portrait of the Koch brothers without actually reporting anything objectionable that they might have done. For instance, here is how the article (headline: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama”) describes the Kochs’ efforts to promote libertarianism:

In Washington, [David H.] Koch is best known as part of a family that has repeatedly funded stealth attacks on the federal government, and on the Obama Administration in particular.

If that is how you describe peaceful, lawful activism, then what words are left to describe, for instance, the actions of al Qaeda, which funded an actual stealth attack on the federal government?

Later in the article, Mayer writes that “the Mercatus Center released a report claiming that stimulus funds had been directed disproportionately toward Democratic districts; eventually, the author was forced to correct the report, but not before Rush Limbaugh, citing the paper, had labelled Obama’s program ‘a slush fund…'”

Mayer is referring to Veronique de Rugy’s working paper. It is not accurate to claim that de Rugy was “forced to correct” the paper. A better description would be that she “voluntarily, in the spirit of transparency, improved the paper and found that her initial results still obtained.” You can read a less tendentious account of that episode here or de Rugy’s own explanation here.

Matt Welch at Reason:

I am a big admirer of Jane Mayer, and her article is worth reading for anyone who’s interested in the topic, but is seems a clear case of describing two apples with different adjectives because one smells funny (the George Soros paragraph in the article is a classic of the form). Whether the piece amounts to a kind of opening White House legal salvo against some of its biggest critics is something worth monitoring closely over the next two-plus months (and two-plus years). Given President Obama’s increasingly hysterical (and hypocritical) attacks against “the influence wielded by corporations and foreign entities,” it’s clear that the campaign will have rhetorical legs at the least.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Exactly how are the Koch brothers under the radar or underground? They show up every year in the Forbes super-rich lists. Charles Koch wrote a best-selling business book a year or two ago and makes no secret of his belief in free markets and limited government. David Koch ran for vice president of these United States on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980 (where he helped Ed Clark pull over 900,000 votes, by far the highest total gained by the LP). Both are known for a wide range of philanthropic giving, whether to arts and medical outfits or think tanks or political action groups.

Full disclosure: David Koch has been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the publisher of this website, for decades, and his name appears in the masthead of Reason magazine; I have also taught at various programs for the Institute for Humane Studies, which the Kochs fund, and will speak at an Americans for Prosperity event later this week. While I have never had more than brief interaction with either brother, I am perhaps overdue in thanking them on this blog for supporting my career at Reason, where I have argued in favor of gay marriage, drug legalization, non-interventionist foreign policy, open borders, sales in human organs, an end to corporate welfare, and a wide variety of other shamelessly libertarian policies.

While the Kochs are not publicity hounds, they certainly don’t hide their giving or their political agenda under a bushel basket. They are consistently in favor of smaller government (even if Koch Industries gave 15 percent of its political donations to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle). They may in fact be “out to destroy progessivism” but they are hardly using secret means to combat the growth and reach of government. You can argue whether The New Yorker story is “shameful,” but there’s no question that it is a great example of the demonization of opposing points of view (this happens on the right, too, where way too many liberals are labeled socialists or communists or whatever). It’s not enough that opponents believe different things, they must be cast as underhanded and duplicitous, acting out of only the most vulgar or awful of motives.

Frank Rich at The New York Times:

There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today.

Last week the Kochs were shoved unwillingly into the spotlight by the most comprehensive journalistic portrait of them yet, written by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker. Her article caused a stir among those in Manhattan’s liberal elite who didn’t know that David Koch, widely celebrated for his cultural philanthropy, is not merely another rich conservative Republican but the founder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which, as Mayer writes with some understatement, “has worked closely with the Tea Party since the movement’s inception.” To New Yorkers who associate the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with the New York City Ballet, it’s startling to learn that the Texas branch of that foundation’s political arm, known simply as Americans for Prosperity, gave its Blogger of the Year Award to an activist who had called President Obama “cokehead in chief.”

Warner Todd Huston at Big Government:

First of all most of what Rich wrote was but rehashed words from Jane Mayer’s slam against the Koch Brothers of New York. Three quarters of what Rich penned really came from Mayer’s New Yorker piece on the philanthropists. So, big demerits for Frank Rich for simply appropriating Mayer’s piece.

But the real point of Rich’s piece was to pile onto Mayer’s slanted attack piece with some echoed slams against the Tea Party movement in order to discredit it all. Rich is desperate to make the movement seem like a marionette show with rich “sugar daddies” funding it and controlling it from the top.

“There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising,” Rich says of the Tea Party events, “the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the ‘death panel’ warm-up acts of last summer.”

Rich then rehashes Mayer’s examples of where the Koch brothers put their money in the form of Americans For Prosperity and Freedom Works, two nationwide, very active, and successful conservative advocacy groups.

Now, it is absolutely true that both AFP and Freedom Works have had the cash to put on large events in Washington D.C. and other cities. But it is not true that either of these groups controls and runs “the Tea Party” movement from above.

In fact, both AFP and Freedom Works were sort of caught unawares when the Tea Parties started forming spontaneously all across the nation in early 2009. Both had to rush to try and tap into that passion. Neither was initially prepared for the amazing energy that the Tea Party has unleashed.

Yes, these two organizations have held many events. But the number of evens that they have held, funded and had a hand in operating are but a small number compared to the hundreds if not thousands of Tea Party groups that started up all on their own, all with their own funding and members, all without the bankrolling of a “sugar daddy” named Koch.

To say that the Koch brothers, or Dick Armey, or Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips control the Tea Party movement is simply a lie. In fact, these advocacy groups are like the 80-pound child taking his 200-pound dog for a walk. The kid may seem like the owner, but it is the big dog in control of where the walk ends up heading! The Tea Party is the 200-pound dog that neither AFP, nor Freedom Woks can control. These groups are the 80-pound kid holding on for dear life, trying to stay relevant in the minds of the Tea Party movement.

And Rich makes a second mistake — or calculation — in addressing the Tea Party movement. He keeps saying “the Tea Party” as if it is a single entity. It is not. I have been interacting with, writing about, and attending rallies with various Tea Party groups since the first days of the movement. There is one thing that holds true throughout. They are not connected one to the other in any meaningful way.

But you see, if Rich and his anti-traditional American ideologues can make it appear as if “the Tea Party” is run from the back pocket of the Koch brothers, it is easier to discredit as a false front set up by secretive, shadowy forces. If it were all a Koch enterprise, now that is a strawman that Frank Rich could knock down. But if the Tea Party is understood as millions of individual Americans following their patriotic hearts, that is an impossible image to discredit.

So you can see why Rich and his cohorts are desperate to make it “the Tea Party” instead of revealing the truth.

David Weigel:

Here’s more on the story I published this morning — a letter that the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation is sending around arguing that Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile treated the Kochs unfairly.

“The New Yorker article, and those pieces that have echoed it, rely heavily on innuendo and unsubstantiated assertions,” writes foundation president Richard Fink, who is the public face of the brothers’ ideological work. “Unnamed sources and those with a strong philosophical opposition to the Kochs – many of whom have no current or first-hand knowledge of Koch Industries, Koch Family Foundations, Charles Koch or David Koch – go unchallenged. Supporters of the Kochs are largely ignored (as evidenced by the fact that the reporter chose not to include the vast majority of supportive comments made by a number of people familiar with the Kochs and the organizations they support). On the other hand, those who reinforce the reporter’s preconceptions are given a free pass.”

Fink argues that Mayer treated the Kochs unfairly despite the access she received, but Mayer reports that she didn’t get face time with David or Charles. That’s the point I’m making — these attempts to keep the brothers out of the political fray just don’t work anymore.

Reihan Salam:

All this is to say that I’m very comfortable with critiques of the rise of the right, including left-of-center critiques. Let’s just say I don’t think Rich is an authority on this subject. That said, I would never question his knowledge of the history of Broadway, Vaudeville, or theater more broadly.

I don’t doubt that a talented reporter could illuminate the worldview of the Kochs and the extent of their reach. But Mayer might be the most talented reporter writing today, and she’s written a piece that relies heavily on Gus diZerega, incendiary quotes from a wide range of scrupulously non-partisan but decidedly left-of-center think tanks, a credulous statement from a Soros spokesperson, a conversation with Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, references to Andrew Goldman’s article in New York and Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, and something else I’m sure I’m missing. One possibility is that Mayer’s editors pressed for early publication of the Koch story, spurred by the fact that New York had published its piece in late July and the prospect of more articles on the Kochs in other magazines. If that is indeed the case, I think Mayer’s editors have done her a disservice.

As someone who has benefited from left-of-center and right-of-center foundations, I definitely have a bias here: I don’t think it’s a bad thing for rich people to devote some of their money to spreading ideas, including bad ideas. The U.S. economy is vast enough that I can’t imagine even the largest fortunes holding undue sway over our national political life, which could be Pollyannaish on my part. I’m not even all that threatened by the influence of the Ford Foundation, which, as David Bernstein observes, is considerable:

According to Mayer, the Kochs have spent “more than a hundred million dollars” on “right-wing” foundations since 1980. Let’s be aggressive, and assume arguendo the figure, adjusted for inflation, is four hundred million dollars. That’s a whole $13 million or so a year since 1980. By contrast, the Ford Foundation, one of many well-endowed “mainstream” liberal foundations, spends over $500 million a year, a decent fraction of which goes to left-wing organizations and causes. Any given major American university employs far more liberal academics in the social sciences annually than can possibly be employed on a $13 million budget. Soros’ Open Society Institute annually spends over $150 million to “support individuals and organizations advancing a more open, just, and equal society in the United States.”

I am definitely open to strong arguments that suggest the Ford Foundation or the Kochs are a danger to our democratic freedoms. I’m still waiting for them.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias and Matt Welch on Bloggingheads

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“That These United Colonies Are, And Of Right Ought To Be Free And Independent States”

Michelle Malkin:


Photo source: Defense.gov

God bless the U.S.A. We remain the land of the free because of the brave. The above photo of more than 500 veterans with American flags lining a procession route at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter, Iowa (the veterans were providing a motorcycle escort for the unclaimed remains of seven Iowan troops) was taken by Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Gary Ward. Keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers as we celebrate in the comfort of our homes surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Ed Morrissey:

It was the ultimate act of defiance of its time, a statement to a presumably divinely-appointed monarch from his supposed subjects that they had decided to reject his authority.  The world had seen rebellions against monarchy before, but usually on the basis of rival claims to the throne, or on religious principles more than political.

On July 4th, 1776, Great Britain’s colonies united not to depose a king but to declare him irrelevant to their land, and to make the clearest declaration in history of the right of a people to self-governance.  It not only argued that the abuses declared in the document gave the 13 colonies the right to cut ties to their mother country and its monarch, but also made an argument against all monarchies and dictatorships in its explicit reliance on the natural rights of all people for freedom.  Indeed, the Declaration of Independence made the point almost immediately that the entire notion of divine appointment to hereditary rule had no basis, as all men are created equal. And not just monarchs either, but also tyrants, despots, and those who put any class of people above another without the consent of the governed.

While many of the founders of the new nation that affixed their names to this document failed to consistently live up to that ideal, they lit a flame that burns to this day — and that still makes tyrants quake with the implication of these 1300 words from the 13 colonies.

Happy birthday, America.  May these words continue to ring in all the corners of the world with the same force.

James Joyner:

This post was originally published July 4, 2006.

Today marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jim Lynch sent out an email to several of us asking us to blog the event as if we were there. Thus, the following Fisking of the Declaration.

Declaration of Independence Photo 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.

Jefferson has buried an obviously untrue assertion after a rather longwinded series of unsubstantiated premises. [And what’s with the capitalization? Is Course a proper noun now?-ed.] Is it really necessary to dissolve our political bonds? Really? Does the earth have powers? [And why isn’t “earth” capitalized? Surely, it’s closer to being a proper noun than “course.”-ed.]

Regardless, Jefferson provides no proof that there’s a “Creator,” much less that he’s endowed us with any rights, inalienable or otherwise. And, rather obviously, that’s untrue. One has to know very little history to realize that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is hardly Man’s natural condition. And the idea that “all men are created equal” is simply laughable on its face. For example, I’d have a lot more difficulty impinging on people’s “inalienable” “rights” than, say, King George III.

–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.

This contract theory of government is interesting but hardly comports with reality. Governments are generally created by brute force, with precious little consultation with “the governed.” And, even if we grant that premise for the sake of argument, how exactly are we to ascertain that the masses think the government–let alone its “Form”–is destructive to the Big Three rights that are simultaneously inalienable and about to be destroyed? Presumably, such a government would not have elections that would include ordinary landholders, let alone serfs and indentured servants. (Perhaps Ben Franklin could invent a communications device utilizing “electricity” and people could be randomly sampled?-ed.]

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.

Shorter Tom Jefferson: Treason is bad.

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.

What whiny nonsense. The King has just sent the best army in the history of the planet over to defend his subjects from armed Indians–banded with the bloody French, no less. All he’s asking for in return is that we pay a tax on newspapers, tea, and whatnot. That hardly seems unreasonable. It’s so typical of the Left to undervalue security and to expect it to be provided without trade-offs.

Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal:

Jefferson had, in his bill of particulars against the king, taken a moment to incriminate the English people themselves—”our British brethren”—for allowing their king and Parliament to send over to America not only “soldiers of our own blood” but “foreign Mercenaries to invade and destroy us.” This, he said, was at the heart of the tragedy of separation. “These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us renounce forever” our old friends and brothers. “We must endeavor to forget our former love for them.”

Well. Talk of love was a little much for the delegates. Love was not on their mind. The entire section was removed.

And so were the words that came next. But they should not have been, for they are the tenderest words.

Poignantly, with a plaintive sound, Jefferson addresses and gives voice to the human pain of parting: “We might have been a free and great people together.”

What loss there is in those words, what humanity, and what realism, too.

“To write is to think, and to write well is to think well,” David McCullough once said in conversation. Jefferson was thinking of the abrupt end of old ties, of self-defining ties, and, I suspect, that the pain of this had to be acknowledged. It is one thing to declare the case for freedom, and to make a fiery denunciation of abusive, autocratic and high-handed governance. But it is another thing, and an equally important one, to acknowledge the human implications of the break. These were our friends, our old relations; we were leaving them, ending the particular facts of our long relationship forever. We would feel it. Seventeen seventy-six was the beginning of a dream. But it was the end of one too. “We might have been a free and great people together.”

It hurt Thomas Jefferson to see these words removed from his great document. And we know something about how he viewed his life, his own essence and meaning, from the words he directed that would, a half-century after 1776, be cut onto his tombstone. The first word after his name is “Author.”

America and Britain did become great and free peoples together, and apart, bound by a special relationship our political leaders don’t often speak of and should never let fade. You can’t have enough old friends. There was the strange war of 1812, declared by America and waged here by England, which reinvaded, and burned our White House and Capitol. That was rude of them. But they got their heads handed to them in New Orleans and left, never to return as an army.

Even 1812 gave us something beautiful and tender. There was a bombardment at Fort McHenry. A young lawyer and writer was watching, Francis Scott Key. He knew his country was imperiled. He watched the long night in hopes the fort had not fallen. And he saw it—the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

And so to all writers (would-be, occasional and professional) and all editors too, down through our history: Happy 234th Independence Day. And to our British cousins: Nice growing old with you.

Frank Rich in the New York Times:

ALL men may be created equal, but slavery, America’s original sin of inequality, was left unaddressed in the Declaration of Independence signed 234 years ago today. Of all the countless attempts to dispel that shadow over the nation’s birth, few were more ambitious than the hard-fought bill Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law just in time for another Fourth of July, 46 summers ago.

With the holiday weekend approaching, Johnson summoned the television networks for the signing ceremony on Thursday evening, July 2. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, first proposed more than a year earlier by John F. Kennedy, banished the Jim Crow laws that denied black Americans access to voting booths, public schools and public accommodations. Johnson told the nation we could “eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country” with the help of a newly formed “Community Relations Service” and its “advisory committee of distinguished Americans.” Talk about an age of innocence!

Still, there were some heartening reports of America’s first full day under the new law. A front-page photo in The Times on July 4 showed 13-year-old Gene Young of Kansas City being shorn by a white barber at the Muehlebach Hotel shop “formerly closed to Negroes.” But that Norman Rockwell-like tableau was paired with the image of a white businessman, Lester Maddox, and a teenage accomplice respectively wielding a pistol and an ax handle as they turned away blacks from Maddox’s restaurant in Atlanta. The summer of 1964, which had begun with the lynching of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Miss., would soon erupt in a bloody wave of terrorism, marked by dozens of bombings of black churches, homes and businesses.

Andrew Sullivan:

The Dish is actually going to take a brief breather this holiday weekend. But one small program note on this day, given the media debates of the last few weeks.

I believe the blogosphere first truly gained traction in America for a good reason. There is something about blogging’s freedom from the constraints of conventional journalism that captures an American ideal: civic engagement totally free of anyone else’s influence. It is an ideal of a fourth estate hostile to authorities public and private, suspicious of conventional wisdom, and, above all, confident, even when confidence seems absurd, in the power of the word and the argument to make a difference … in the end. The rise of this type of citizen journalism has, in my view, increasingly exposed some of the laziness and corruption in the professional version – even as there is still a huge amount to treasure and value in the legacy media, and a huge amount of partisan, mendacious claptrap on the blogs.

But what distinguishes the best of the new media is what could still be recaptured by the old: the mischievous spirit of journalism and free, unfettered inquiry. Journalism has gotten too pompous, too affluent, too self-loving, and too entwined with the establishment of both wings of American politics to be what we need it to be.

We need it to be fearless and obnoxious, out of a conviction that more speech, however much vulgarity and nonsense it creates, is always better than less speech. In America, this is a liberal spirit in the grandest sense of that word – but also a conservative one, since retaining that rebelliousness is tending to an ancient American tradition, from the Founders onward.

James Poulos at Ricochet:

After many years of considering what role the Declaration of Independence plays in our Founding, and pondering the nature of the American creed, I’ve come to a simple answer. Essential to understanding the American creed are the rights the Declaration proclaims inherent in all human beings — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (and property! shouts a voice). But the foundation of those rights is even more essential to our understanding.

They’re founded in our nature as human individuals. Each of us is created, by our Creator, equally human and equally uniquely individual. Or, as Philip Rieff put it in his final lectures, there is only one God and one You. (Here is a new paper of mine [pdf] on that line.) The Declaration adds a momentous footnote: this foundational truth may be confirmed by every human being in the exercise of his or her reason.

That’s a powerful recipe for free republican government. Ultimately, I judge it to be the only one. Happy Independence Day.

UPDATE: Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive

Will Wilkinson and Jonah Goldberg on Bloggingheads

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Yet Again, We Plunge Into The Murky, Distant Waters Of The Sixties, Only To Find A Shattered Martini Glass And A Couple Lost Souls

mad_men

Third season premiere was last night.

Slate’s TV round table, TV Club: Talking Television

James Wolcott, here and here. Wolcott:

Monday morning afterthoughts: Upon reflection, I realize how little there is to reflect upon re last night’s episode. No delayed resonances, no psychic residue, only the ray of sunlight in knowing there’s a new Nurse Jackie on tonight. I understand that the mission of a season premiere after a sizable layoff is to reimmerse the viewer in the show’s designer ambiance and cloistral atmosphere (since nearly everything is shot on sets, hermetically sealed in a Sixties container) and to get storylines rolling, but Mad Men tends to get autointoxicated on its darkling moods and the Brit takeover of Sterling Cooper strikes me as a strategic error, adding clutter to the cast and trafficking in transatlantic cliches. What’s the point of even having Robert Morse’s elder sage around now? And why is Peggy dressing as if she’s leading an Easter egg hunt?

I suppose these and other mysteries will go unsolved for several episodes, when more minor mysteries will be introduced, which will also go unsolved.

Rod Dreher

Doug J.

Scott Locklin at Taki’s Magazine:

Mad Men makes the obligatory genuflection at the false god of the counterculture; making dumb nihilist beatniks appear to be somehow in on a secret that the ad men like Draper can’t fathom, when in reality, all they really have on Draper is an inferior drug stash. Booze and smokes, after all, were the background relaxants and cerebral stimulants of America’s greatest years. Booze and smokes split the atom and conquered the moon. Beatnik drugs are responsible for cultural innovations such as teaching second graders how to put a condom on a banana. Real beatniks made the imaginary misogyny of “Mad Men” seem like small beer. One would be hard pressed to find a mainstream 1960s novel as appallingly misogynistic as Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, which more or less treats women as if they were animated cadavers for the pleasure of the grubbins heroes of that sordid tale. That sort of irony is one of the unspoken tragedies of the mainstreaming of the counter culture. While the cultural revolution of the 1960s claims to have freed women from the sexist chains of their evil white male overlords, women are now “free” … well, to work unpleasant office jobs and to be chased down like pieces of meat. Rather like the situationportrayed in Mad Men, except modern pants-suit-chasing executives aren’t as well dressed as Don Draper, and work isn’t as much fun.  The writer for the series admitted to using countercultural writers of the era: Kerouac, Cheever, and Gurley-Brown as historical source material, apparently in absence of actually knowing anyone who was alive in those days. This isn’t much different from using Father Coughlin broadcasts to learn about the cultural norms of 1930s era Reform Judaism.

Of course, people didn’t behave in the “made for TV” way. For example, while I’m sure there was plenty of sexism and seducing of coworkers in the early 1960s, the extremes portrayed “Mad Men” are historical fiction. I’m pretty sure people were less interested in passing themselves around like trays of tea biscuits in the old days. It seems obvious to me on a number of levels. The practical issues immediately come to mind: birth control pills, widespread social disapproval, the fact that abortion was a serious crime, the fact that adultery was still considered a crime, the fact that family law was completely different in those days: no fault divorce was not granted in any state in America until 1969. Divorce was virtually impossible in many civilized parts of the world of 1961. As for the casual sexism portrayed in the era; why is it I am able to think of dozens of famous scientists, writers and political figures from this era who happened to be women?

Clark Stooksbury at TAC responds to Locklin:

The only episode I remember featuring beatniks for any length of time, they seemed like jerks. How he equates “beatnik drugs” with putting condoms on Bananas for second graders; instead of say, Dylan’s Bringing it all Back Home or early Saturday Night Live episodes, is beyond me.

He continues in this vein while employing the sort of rightwing special pleading I’ve come to expect from sites such as Big Hollywood, while offering no genuine insight on an excellent program. He is under the mistaken impression that the viewer is expected to look down upon the characters and feel superior.

Latoya Peterson at Double X:

Although Draper has a gift for engaging and seeing through marginalized types—the unwed mother, the Jewish heiress, the closeted gay man—in the case of the black characters, the relationship never goes beyond shallow conversation. Mad Men takes on a number of cultural controversies, yet race is treated with politeness, distance, restraint, and a heavy dose of sentimentality. For a show that takes place in the early ’60s, as race riots are breaking out, this is a glaring omission.

//

Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to Peterson:

Mad Men is a show told from the perspective of a particular world. The people in that world barely see black people. They’re there all the time–Hollis in the elevator, women working in the powder-room, the Draper’s maid, the janitors, the black guy hired at Leo Burnett–but they’re never quite seen. I think this is an incredible statement on how privilege, at it’s most insidious, really works.

I was never one of those people who wanted to see more black people on, say, Friends, or felt that Seinfeld was too white, any more than I wanted to see more white people on The Bernie Mac Show. I think we have to careful. I don’t watch Mad Men to get a lesson on gender–though I sometimes do–I watch to see a good story. I understand, given the times, the desire to have the show take on race. But I don’t want to see Mad Men “take on” anything. That’s for bloggers, and historians to do.

Ann Friedman at Feministing:

And indeed, I love how the show paints an unvarnished picture of ’50s gender roles and how the female characters are so three-dimensional. They don’t easily map onto the sorts of stereotypes prevalent in TV shows and movies set in all decades. The bookish achiever (Peggy) is also kind of a slut. The slut (Joan) is also kind of a bookish achiever. And the devoted wife (Betty) is primed for a feminist awakening. (I’ve often wondered if the character was named after Betty Friedan.)

Amanda Marcotte:

If we can set aside our concerns about the willfully ignorant asshole population’s relentless inability to catch a hint, I would argue that “Mad Men” actually has done a remarkable job of getting its political points across in a way that could create profound change in some audience members.  Certainly, I’ve heard plenty of people, men especially, talk about how much they feel their eyes are opened by the unvarnished portrayal of 60s sexism.  And that really wakes people up to the way that sexism still works in our culture, because the show dispenses with the myth that it was one way before second wave feminism, and then everything completely changed.  You see that women had jobs, and that women had a lot of rights and autonomy in the early 60s, but that didn’t mean that sexism was over by a long shot.  You see that women in the early 60s had “choices”, but that wasn’t the end of the story, nor did it mean that men didn’t have power over them.  And you can see how, if those narratives were stupid in the 60s, they’re stupid now.

And let’s face it—the only reason it feels subtle sometimes is because the dialogue is so rooted in character. Last night, the single male secretary in Sterling Cooper complained that he works in a “gynocracy”.  What he means, of course, is that having female peers in the secretarial pool emasculates him, and unless he gets special privileges for being male, he’s being oppressed.  It’s the same line sexists use now, pointing to places where they feel that men are getting unduly fair treatment, and suggesting that nothing less than being held above women means that men are being oppressed.  I’d argue that what they were doing there wasn’t very subtle, and nor was it particularly subtle when Betty joked that her daughter Sally was acting like a lesbian because she likes to bang a hammer around.

The MadMen Yourself avatar creator. Rachel Syme at Daily Beast on the website.

Rachel Sklar at HuffPo sees Morning Joe as Mad Men.

Frank Rich‘s column from Sunday:

That the early ’60s of “Mad Men” seems more contemporary than the late ’60s of Woodstock has little to do with the earlier period’s style or culture in any case (however superior the clothes). The rock giants of Woodstock remain exponentially more popular than Vic Damone and Perry Como, the forgotten crooners heard in “Mad Men.” The repressive racial and sexual order of Sterling Cooper, the show’s fictional ad agency, is also a relic, in part because of the revolutions that accelerated in the Woodstock era. The misogyny, racism and homophobia practiced in the executive suites of “Mad Men” are hardly extinct — and neither are the cigarettes that most of the characters chain-smoke — but they are in various stages of remission.

What makes the show powerful is not nostalgia for an America that few want to bring back — where women were most valued as sex objects or subservient housewives, where blacks were, at best, second-class citizens, and where the hedonistic guzzling of gas and gin went unquestioned. Rather, it’s our identification with an America that, for all its serious differences with our own, shares our growing anxiety about the prospect of cataclysmic change. “Mad Men” is about the dawn of a new era, and we, too, are at such a dawn. And we are uncertain and worried about what comes next.

UPDATE: Peter Suderman at Sully’s place.

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Filed under Feminism, History, New Media, Race, TV

It Happened One Night On Christopher Street

Stonewall_Inn_1969On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots occurred and gave birth to the gay rights movement.

Frank Rich in the NYT:

LIKE all students caught up in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, I was riveted by the violent confrontations between the police and protestors in Selma, 1965, and Chicago, 1968. But I never heard about the several days of riots that rocked Greenwich Village after the police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in the wee hours of June 28, 1969 — 40 years ago today.

Then again, I didn’t know a single person, student or teacher, male or female, in my entire Ivy League university who was openly identified as gay. And though my friends and I were obsessed with every iteration of the era’s political tumult, we somehow missed the Stonewall story. Not hard to do, really. The Times — which would not even permit the use of the word gay until 1987 — covered the riots in tiny, bowdlerized articles, one of them but three paragraphs long, buried successively on pages 33, 22 and 19.

But if we had read them, would we have cared? It was typical of my generation, like others before and after, that the issue of gay civil rights wasn’t on our radar screen. Not least because gay people, fearful of harassment, violence and arrest, were often forced into the shadows. As David Carter writes in his book “Stonewall,” at the end of the 1960s homosexual sex was still illegal in every state but Illinois. It was a crime punishable by castration in seven states. No laws — federal, state or local — protected gay people from being denied jobs or housing. If a homosexual character appeared in a movie, his life ended with either murder or suicide.

The younger gay men — and scattered women — who acted up at the Stonewall on those early summer nights in 1969 had little in common with their contemporaries in the front-page political movements of the time. They often lived on the streets, having been thrown out of their blue-collar homes by their families before they finished high school. They migrated to the Village because they’d heard it was one American neighborhood where it was safe to be who they were.

Stonewall “wasn’t a 1960s student riot,” wrote one of them, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, in a poignant handwritten flier on display at the New York Public Library in the exhibition “1969: The Year of Gay Liberation.” They had “no nice dorms for sleeping,” “no school cafeteria for certain food” and “no affluent parents” to send checks. They had no powerful allies of any kind, no rights, no future. But they were brave. They risked their necks to prove, as Lanigan-Schmidt put it, that “the mystery of history” could happen “in the least likely of places.”

Video from Salon

Round-up of posts and articles Towleroad

Tjlabs at Daily Kos:

I was ordained a deacon in 1972 and served in two different parishes until the Church and I came to a mutual parting of the ways. During that time, I baptized dozens of babies, preached dozens of homilies and distributed hundreds of communions. But deep down I knew the real reason for becoming a priest. The Church was the safest place for a gay man to hide undetected by cloaking himself in the mantle of holiness and celibacy. I had gay classmates and knew gay priests but the straight clergy vastly outnumbered the gay clergy contrary to recent events and scandals within the Church. And the gay clergy were gay, not pedophiles. That was a whole other issue. And those we knew about were widely shunned by the rest of us.

It wasn’t until some years later after I had left the Church that I realized that the gay revolution which began 40 years ago tonight in a Mafia-run bar for gays and transvestites was also the catalyst for my personal revolution. I knew that I didn’t want to live a lie and that I didn’t want to live alone, surviving on one night stands and furtive trysts. So when I got out in 1973, I came out. But it was still early days for the gay movement for equality, rights and acceptance. You could still get fired from your job for being gay. You could still be refused an apartment for rent for being gay. And you still had to endure the verbal taunts and sometimes the threats of actual physical violence.

Teacherken at Daily Kos

Detroit Mark at Daily Kos:

But I just thought there would be something terribly wrong to let June 28th, the Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, to go by without at least trying to pin my own personal celebratory card on the wall for my sisters and brothers to remember and celebrate.

So here’s to my Forequeers.  Thank you girls, some of you adults with a full head of political activism who fought with years of preparation, and some innocent young kids left homeless on the benches of Christopher Park who stood up just out of the innate sense that something wrong needed to stop, all of whom made that night the night gay people would never go back into the closet without a fight.

Queerty:

But what if the cops never came? We’ll never know how that scenario would’ve gone down, but when you quiz an 89-year-old former cop who was part of the raid that night, it’s clear the Stonewall riots were destined to happen. And Seymour Pine, then the NYPD’s deputy inspector, has no regrets: “Yes, of course” the police did the right thing, Pine said in an interview with The Brian Lehrer Show. “When we took the action that we took that night, we were on the side of right. We never would have done something without supervision from the federal authorities and the state authorities. They were involved with this just as well as we were.” Insists Pine: “I don’t think not liking gay people had anything to do with it.”

James Ford

The Colbert Report

Jaclyn Friedman in The American Prospect

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Filed under History, LGBT

“Stuff Happens” -Rumsfeld 412:2003

05.12.28.Rumsfeld

Robert Draper‘s GQ article on Donald Rumsfeld and accompanying art.

Frank Rich‘s op-ed in The New York Times referencing the article.

Steve Benen notes the Katrina parts of the story:

I’m reluctant to highlight just one anecdote from Robert Draper’s GQ piece on Donald Rumsfeld, because there’s an awful lot of information in the article that deserves to be read, but the story about Rumsfeld during the Hurricane Katrina crisis is remarkable.

As Draper explained, there were search-and-rescue helicopters available for New Orleans, but Rumsfeld refused to approve their deployment, despite the belief from the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina that they were needed.

Allah Pundit has doubts:

That’s the jumping-off point for a long, gossipy, engrossing analysis of how Rumsfeld (almost) ruined everything, from Iraq to U.S./Russia relations to even the feds’ Katrina response. So damning is it that it’s almost self-discrediting: He simply couldn’t have been that bad for that long and stayed on the job, Bush’s famous reputation for loyalty notwithstanding, so we’re left to puzzle out how much of the dish is simple scapegoating by other anonymous Bush officials eager to push blame onto the media’s favorite whipping boy.

But most commentary thus far has focused on the Bible Quotes in the pictures.

Hilzoy

Michael Scherer

Taegan Goddard

Doug J.

John Schwenkler

More as the story develops, which I’m sure it will.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

UPDATE #2:  More from Hilzoy

ABC’s The Note

UPDATE #3: Kevin Drum‘s quote of the day post in full:

From Fran Townsend, George Bush’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, when White House chief of staff Andy Card called during Hurricane Rita to ask her what she needed:

“I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is.”

Probably not.  But plenty of other people did.  Robert Draper’s full story is here.

UPDATE #4: A summery of the story in Daily Beast.

UPDATE #5: Paul Krugman

UPDATE #6: David Frum, who notes the silence on the conservative side about this article, the fascination with the Bible quotes, and says:

Conservatives should be focused instead on a very different question – an unpleasant one, but one absolutely essential to our indispensable, inevitable but still postponed reckoning with the legacy of the Bush administration. The question is: Why did Iraq go so very badly wrong – and why, having gone wrong, did it take so ruinously wrong for the administration to shift to a more successful course? Conservatives rightly take pride and comfort in the achievements of the surge. But the surge does not banish all the antecedent questions about Iraq. The surge may have rescued the American position in Iraq from total disaster, but nobody would describe the present situation in Iraq as anything like satisfactory.

Many, many writers have reported on this history. No definitive answer has ever been reached. Definitiveness has eluded writers in part because there is so much blame to go around. Yet there is something else too, a special factor: the mysterious personality of Donald Rumsfeld. More than any other figure in the administration, Rumsfeld is elusive, his decision-making opaque, his motives inaccessible.

K-Lo has Rumsfeld’s office’s statement.

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