Friday, August 31, 2012

Eastwood's Gestalt

Despite my avoidance of the Republican National Convention, I found descriptions of Clint Eastwood's extemporaneous address last night too irresistible. I had to watch. And what a good thing I did.

I had no idea what was going to happen. And there Eastwood was, talking to an invisible Obama in a chair. It was like Eastwood giving a demonstration of Gestalt therapy for the masses out there: This is how you deal with your anger at Obama, people. You imagine him there and tell him what you want him to hear. You'll feel better.

The real awkwardness, though, was not the chair-talk. It was Eastwood's mild comments about Democrats:

There are a lot of conservative people, a lot of moderate people, Republicans, Democrats, in Hollywood. It is just that the conservative people by the nature of the word itself play closer to the vest. They do not go around hot dogging it.

And his even milder endorsement of Romney:

[T]his administration hasn’t done enough to cure that [unemployment]. Whatever interest they have is not strong enough, and I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.

Yes, "possibly." And what to make of his admission that he cried when Obama became president:

I remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was watching that night when he was having that thing and they were talking about hope and change and they were talking about, yes we can, and it was dark outdoors, and it was nice, and people were lighting candles. They were saying, I just thought, this was great. Everybody is crying, Oprah was crying...(LAUGHTER)...I was even crying.

Not "a big supporter"? That's not red meat for a rabid Obama-hating crowd! And I was stunned when the floor erupted in applause for Eastwood's rebuke to Imaginary Obama for continuing the doomed war in Afghanistan:

I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean — you thought that was something worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did it — they did it there for 10 years.

Clint Eastwood is actually sounding like the only sane voice at the convention. But of course, Mitt "Janus" Romney is cravenly disavowing Eastwood's appearance. I always knew Romney was a cold one.

UPDATE 09/01/12: The memers on the Internets and the good people over at Dangerous Minds have it wrong, methinks, to call Eastwood "senile" or suffering from "dementia" for his performance. I watched it and saw an octogenarian man thinking on his feet. Nothing more, but nothing less. Of course a man in his 80s might think more in fits and starts than us younger folk. Have you ever spoken to anyone over 80?

But there was a structure to his ad-libbed performance, and as you can see above, ideas that are decidedly more tempered than the wild Republican mainstream. It was the rest of the falsehood-filled RNC that exhibited dementia, methinks, not Eastwood.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My Favorite Republicans, Part 3: Robert M. LaFollette, Sr.

This is the third and, for now, final part in my blog mini-series, "My Favorite Republicans." Click here for my prior post on Jeannette Rankin. Click here for Robert G. Ingersoll. Is that Republican National Convention over, yet?


These days, to see the name of that state conjures up an image of union-loathing Governor Scott "Sad Sack" Walker or Representative Paul "Lying Sack" Ryan. Those two Republicans have so sullied the current political image of Wisconsin that it's easy to forget another famous Republican from the Badger State who presented a wholly different vision of America. That Republican is, of course, Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette, Sr.

LaFollette's political career spanned over 40 years, from 1880 when he was first elected district attorney to 1924 when he unsuccessfully ran on the Progressive Party presidential ticket against Republican Calvin Coolidge. He was also a U.S. Representative, governor of Wisconsin, and a U.S. senator. (Incidentally, these 40 plus years overlapped with the life and work of both Ingersoll and Rankin.)

Key to La Follette's political vision was his staunch resistance to corporate influence in the political process. Early in his career, a Republican senator's attempt to bribe him motivated him to publicly speak out against the robber barons who sought control of the state. After being elected governor in 1900, he instituted a new wave of political reform. He ardently supported workers' rights, women's suffrage, a minimum wage, higher taxes on the wealthy railroads, and an end to the system of political patronage, among other progressive causes.

By 1906, his fighting spirit (perfectly symbolized by his wild, Beethoven-like hairstyle) won him the popularity to be elected to the U.S. Senate, where he remained until his death in 1925. While there, he championed the same progressive causes on a national scale that he fought for in Wisconsin. Most memorably, he opposed the U.S. entry into World War I and suffered accusations of disloyalty and treason for it.

While not a socialist, he emphatically supported trade unionism and vehemently opposed the criminal prosecution of Eugene V. Debs. Could you imagine any Republican senator today standing up for a socialist's free speech rights? Oh yeah, those amnesiacs actually think Obama is a socialist. But free speech was LaFollette's mission. I'll let his potent words speak for themselves. In this excerpt from his October 1917 speech in the Senate, he had to defend himself from charges of disloyalty for his anti-war activism (yes, activism):

Mr. President, our Government, above all others, is founded on the right of the people freely to discuss all matters pertaining to their Government, in war not less than in peace, for in this Government the people are the rulers in war no less than in peace. It is true, sir, that Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two years, the President for four years, and the Members of the Senate for six years, and during their temporary official terms these officers constitute what is called the Government. But back of them always is the controlling sovereign power of the people, and when the people can make their will known, the faithful officer will obey that will. Though the right of the people to express their will by ballot is suspended during the term of office of the elected official, nevertheless the duty of the official to obey the popular will continues throughout this entire term of office. How can that popular will express itself between elections except by meetings, by speeches, by publications, by petitions, and by addresses to the representatives of the people? Any man who seeks to set a limit upon those rights, whether in war or peace, aims a blow at the most vital part of our Government. And then as the time for election approaches and the official is called to account for his stewardship--not a day, not a week, not a month, before the election, but a year or more before it, if the people choose--they must have the right to the freest possible discussion of every question upon which their representative has acted, of the merits of every measure he has supported or opposed, of every vote he has cast and every speech that he has made. And before this great fundamental right every other must, if necessary, give way, for in no other manner can representative government be preserved. [Source]


The Wisconsin Historical Society has a good page with links to historical artifacts and primary sources. The U.S. Senate has a page about an official portrait of Fighting Bob, with a brief biographical essay. To see what work is carried on in Fighting Bob's spirit, you'll have to bypass the Republican Party entirely. Go to Russ Feingold's Progressives United instead.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Favorite Republicans, Part 2: Jeannette Rankin

This is the second installment in my brief series of posts, "My Favorite Republicans," in honor of the Republican National Convention. By the way, I would blog about that event, but that would, you know, require me to pay attention to it. Let TPM's stitched-together highlights tell you all you need to know.

See Part 1 of this brief series on Robert G. Ingersoll here. And, yes, when I write my "favorite Republicans," I mean it.

Jeannette Rankin first appeared on my intellectual radar about twenty years ago, when I read a profile of her in the back pages of the Nonviolent Activist, the periodical of the far-left War Resisters League. Here was a woman who broke my every stereotype of what a Republican was supposed to stand for. She was the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the first woman in either house of Congress. (That is a historical prize the Democratic Party should envy.) She was elected in 1917, by the way, before the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Moreover, she was a pacifist, through and through. "If they are going to have a war," she said during her 1916 campaign, "they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race."

She represented Montana in Congress, the same state where she was born. In her early adulthood, she campaigned for women's suffrage. She studied to be a social worker in New York, worked with Jane Addams, was a social worker in Seattle, and did a stint in New Zealand as a seamstress. Her goal there? To live and breathe the actual conditions of the workers she, as a progressive, hoped to aid in her professional life. Hmmm... she almost sounds like... some kind of community organizer! Today's Republicans should raise their arms in an ecstasy of gratitude that they are in Rankin's political lineage. Instead they're so rapt with praise for "job creating" billionaires that they couldn't recognize a true hero--or heroine--in their midst if you slapped a giant-sized, dayglo portrait of Rankin on the RNC stage with the word "hero" emblazoned on it and a John Williams soundtrack blaring in Dolby stereo.

Rankin made a very unpopular decision in 1917. It was the first vote she had to make in Congress. When the call came for representatives to vote on whether the U.S. should enter World War I, one of the most grotesque follies humans have ever instigated, she voted simply "present." Moved by a war-resisting feminism, she decided popularity was no competitor for integrity. She was in a tiny minority in Congress, and as a woman, she was vilified for her bold decision. She served only until 1918 when her bid for the Senate failed.

Amazingly, she was re-elected again in 1940. In 1941, she voted against the U.S. declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor. She opposed even the Good War. While I don't think I could have done that, knowing what a threat the Nazis were, I respect her resolve to adhere to her progressive convictions. Neither was this a popular decision on her part. She was hissed and booed when she voted no. "As a woman I can't go to war," she said, "and I refuse to send anyone else." She was not a candidate for re-election in 1942. True to her ethos, she publicly opposed the Vietnam War in the 1960s, too. Incidentally, she never attributed her lifelong pacifism to religion. Was she, too, a freethinker?

Jeannette Rankin: pacifist, dissenter, progressive, feminist, Republican.



NPR's "The First Woman in Congress: A Crusader for Peace" is a good place to start here. The U.S. House of Representatives Women in Congress site has a very good biographical essay on Rankin here. The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Montana continues her tradition of anti-war activism and social-welfare progressivism.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Favorite Republicans, Part 1: Robert G. Ingersoll

In honor of the Republican National Convention that started yesterday today in Tampa, Florida, I am going to profile three of my favorite Republicans of all time. And, no, I'm not being sarcastic.

Top of the list is Robert Green Ingersoll, aka "The Great Agnostic." In the late 19th century, Ingersoll traveled the nation, speaking about his disbelief in God, the Bible, and in the supposed goodness of religion itself. He was a Union colonel in the Civil War, and even though he never held elected office (largely due to his atheist ways), he was a force of nature in bringing the ideas of freethought to thousands.

A comprehensive list of his speeches, writings, and sundry orations can be found on The Secular Web. Spend some time there. Please.

Otherwise, I recommend buying What's God Got to Do With It?, edited by Tim Page. It's a slim volume and gives you an excellent introduction to the thinking and eloquence of this most reasonable and compassionate of American freethinkers. The Republican Party was a whole different animal back in Ingersoll's day. Pray it becomes again what it once was. I mean, hope it becomes that.

Somewhat recently, I came across Ingersoll's "vow." It was in the foreward of Victor Stenger's The New Atheists. Somehow, in all my readings of Ingersoll's works, I seem to have barely scratched the surface. The words are stirring. The emphasis on freedom is what every freethinker should consider when confronted with the questions from religionists: What do you get out of atheism? What's the point of not believing?

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural--that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world--not even in infinite space. I was free--free to think, to express my thoughts--free to live to my own ideal--free to live for myself and those I loved--free to use all my faculties, all my senses--free to spread imagination's wings--free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope--free to judge and determine for myself--free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past--free from popes and priests--free from all the "called" and "set apart"--free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies--free from the fear of eternal pain--free from the winged monsters of the night--free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought--no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings--no chains for my limbs--no lashes for my back--no fires for my flesh--no master's frown or threat--no following another's steps--no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. 
And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain--for the freedom of labor and thought--to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains--to those who proudly mounted scaffold's stairs--to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn--to those by fire consumed--to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still. [Source]
(Updated 8/28/12)