My father was a Democrat’s Democrat. The child of immigrants, he spent most of his childhood, working in some capacity, with scant schooling. From virtually the time he could talk, he was the communications’ link in a small, rural Southern community between his Austro-Sicilian parents and the local tradesmen. Once he’d finished the sixth grade, as a charity child at the local parochial school, he quit – not because he hated the school (he did), but, like a lot of working-class children in the Twenties and Thirties, he had to work to supplement the family income. At first, as a kid, that meant sometimes working for ten cents a day; later as a teenager, it meant working for the princely sum of ten cents an hour.
Somewhere along the line, in the Thirties of his teens and early manhood, he discovered two things, for which he held, thereafter, a lifetime of passionate love and devotion: the union movement and the Democratic Party, in the form of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Just 21, my father voted for Roosevelt’s second term in 1936, the Administration that laid the groundwork for Social Security, and he slotted easily into the populist, agrarian and quasi-socialist politics espoused by the Southern and midwestern branches of the Democratic party. These were the people who believed in cooperative as opposed to corporate philosophy – from Southern States’ cooperatives to credit unions which enabled people the proper banks eschewed to have a sustainable piece of life’s pie.
He made the natural progression from Roosevelt to Kennedy Democrat, with an admiring glance at Truman along the way. Truman really was the working man’s President; besides, any man born swearing in three languages the way my father was, held an ingrained admiration for a President who didn’t give a rat’s ass about calling out the high and mighty with a few well-chosen four-lettered words.
As I grew up, I watched my father from Administration to Administration in the White House. I could gauge the nature of a Presidency from his demeanor. As a nine year-old, I watched him somber at Kennedy’s untimely passing, watched him shake his head in sadness as LBJ became more and more mired in the dungheap that was VietNam, as my father thought of his six nephews seeing action in that part of the world. They all returned, one in a body bag.
The only time I ever heard him use the ‘F’ word in my mother’s presence came when he watched Nixon give his first State of the Union address. Richard Nixon was his particular nemesis. From him, I learned that Nixon was at best an asshole, at worst a crook. Pretty fair assessment, I’d say.
As we watched the 1976 Democratic Convention that selected Jimmy Carter as the Democratic candidate, I watched my dad openly cry at Hubert Humphrey’s keynote speech and the standing ovation which followed. He turned and looked at my then-boyfriend, a first-year law student from Alabama and a fervent Republican, and said, ‘God damn, boy, that man should have been President! Instead they took Nixon. God damn, people were crazy!’
My father died a year before Clinton sought election to his second term, but he didn’t vote for Clinton in the 1992 Virginia primary. Instead, he voted for Jesse Jackson, the only one in my family who did.
‘It doesn’t matter what colour Jesse is,’ my father reasoned, when asked about his vote. ‘What matters is that Jesse Jackson’s for the working man. That’s enough for me.’
My family’s first really Progressive voter was a man in his seventies.
His Democratic party was as eclectic in its own way, as the one I know today, but I wonder if it were as infuriating.
His Democrats were an exotic blend of Northeastern ueber liberals, with a sparse few West Coast Hollywood types who flirted briefly with Communism (Ronald Reagan, amongst them) and a horde of Southern sons and grandsons of Confederate veterans engulfed in what was, to them, an unholy alliance with the the old Northern enemy disguised as a Democrat. These people lost a war for states’ rights to a Republican White House which had freed their chattel and registered the former property as supporters of the Grand Old Party to vote against their former masters.
These former masters, agrarian Democrats to the core, became known as the Dixiecrats.
The Dixiecrats kept white sheets and hoods in their linen closets and liked to dress up like ghosts and scare and do terrible things to certain types of people.
There was irony in the fact that a great many of these so-called Dixiecrats locked in line in 1960 and supported a liberal, Northeastern and Catholic Senator for President of the United States. Probably many didn’t like him – after all the Klansmen targeted Catholics also, but at the end of the day, Kennedy was a Democrat, and that was all that mattered.
However, in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed into law the Civil Rights Act, the hardcore Dixiecrats, successors to those people who’d opposed the teaching of evolution in any public school since the 1920s as unChristian, did a bit of evolving themselves:-
I won’t say supporting the Democrats was always easy for my father. At times, I remember him literally tearing his hair out in frustration at their antics. He taught me, early on, the basic difference between Democrats and Republicans, especially in terms of governing:-
The Republicans fall in line, and the Democrats fall in love.
During his lifetime, the Democrats had, themselves, evolved. There were, as always, those Northeastern liberal intellectuals, working-class Union supporters, and those remaining Southerners and rural Midwesterners from flyover country, who eschewed the Dixiecrats and showed they had balls, the Hollywood elite. The Democrats now became the party of minorities, as many newly-enfranchised African Americans switched over to the Democratic Party.
It was the natural party for young people, with anti-war candidates like George McGovern, populists like Jimmy Carter and new age politicians like Jerry Brown. Out of power and in opposition, the Democrats leaned Left.
I often wonder what my father would have thought of Barack Obama. I know he would have supported him. I think he would have liked him immensely. I think Obama would have made him think of Kennedy, in his exceptionalism. I think he would have also reminded him of Roosevelt, in the clusterfuck he faced which was left him by the previous Administration. And whilst I know my father disliked Daddy Bush intensely, I feel certain he would have hated, loathed, detested and despised the son.
I’ve always voted Democratic too, and mostly for the losing side, ever since I voted in my first Presidential election in 1972 for George McGovern and Sargent Schriver, as a first-year student at the University of Virginia.
As free-thinking and liberal as that place was supposed to be, in the years immediately prior to it going co-ed, the student body had been taken over by khaki-clad, sockless, Docksider Republican prep types, who all resembled Lindsey Graham’s Alpha baby brothers. It was known as ‘the country club of the South.’ You knew who’d win big there. You were reminded of it everytime you went into the third cubicle on the left in the massive shower-room toilet on the third floor of Kent House dormitory.
Just as you situated yourself on the toilet seat to spend your penny, there on the back of the cubicle door, engraved for posterity was the election slogan:-
DON’T CHANGE DICKS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SCREW …
VOTE FOR NIXON IN ’72!
As we approach the one-year anniversary of Obama’s Administration, I wonder exactly what my father would make of everything that’s transpired during Obama’s first year, especially the reaction, on both sides of the political coin to his Presidency.
I have to be honest and say, I’ve never ever in my entire life of President-watching (and I was raised from an infant to do so) seen a President as beset by criticism from both sides of the political fence as this man has been. Some of the criticism from the Right has been silly but understandable.
The neocon Republicans, guided by strategy formed by the late Lee Atwater and honed by Karl Rove, played to the religious and uneducated base of the party, ignoring the moderates, with a view to establishing a Republican hegemony bordering on a Christian theocracy that would last well into the forseeable future. Coincidentally aided by the tragedy of 9/11, it preyed and played on people’s basic fear of the unknown in the wake of the terrorist attack, and used that occurrence to shred the Constitution and gun from the hip, in terms of governance.
The neocons opened up easy credit and created, not only a false facade of plastic wealth amongst the stretched middle-classes, but created a housing bubble, which encouraged people to buy property which was beyond their wildest dreams at prices these people were convinced they could afford.
In the meantime, these people led the nation into an illegal war on a bare-faced lie, merrily cutting taxes for the upper classes along the way.
It was a recipe for disaster.
The Republicans and all their incumbent creatures want their country back. For the Republican politicians, that means, if not their man in the Big Chair, then an emasculated Democrat – the latter achievable only if the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate. Bereft of ideas and lacking a viable voice in elected office, they took to heart the title ‘Loyal Opposition’ and effected a strategy of simply saying ‘no’ to everything the Democrats in power proposed, even if the majority party proposed something which formerly the Republicans had favoured.
Their creatures, ueber Rightwing activists in the Tea Party movement, founded by a former hedge fund broker-turned-television analyst, Rick Santelli, took to the streets and decried Obama in utterly ridiculous terms which masked the real reason they objected to his presence in the White House.
For ‘socialist’, read ‘black’.
For ‘communist’, read ‘black’.
For ‘nazi’, read ‘black’.
All of the above, taken on its own, is simply stupid; and all of the above, taken on its own, would eventually have led foreign journalists to conclude, and rightly so, that the Republican Party, as is, is a spent force before the newly galvinised Democratic party of traditional Democrats, along with Latinos, African-Americans, LGBTs and other minorities under its big tent.
But something strange happened during the last year, and I pinpoint this happening right around the end of June.
The Progressive base of the Democratic Party began grumbling, and during the ensuing summer, the grumbles got louder.
The main core of Progressive discontent centered around the proposed health insurance bill. And it was in this undercore of grumbling, that I came to realise something amazing: The base of the Left was just as ignorant, just as uneducated in many ways, as the base of the Right.
The extreme Right of the Republican Party, often called the Religious Right, eschews post-secondary education, especially that obtained in Ivy League or the upper echelon universities in the US, as elitist. In fact, ‘cultural elitism’ is a pejorative term for these people. These are the people, remember, who elected George Bush … because he was someone they felt they could have a beer with.
These are the same people who follow Sarah Palin’s every move, who listen to her every lie (not difficult to do, as she always opens her mouth), who buy her book, who read her Facebook page, who believe her notions about Democratic ‘Death Panels’ and who live for the day she occupies the White House because she’s ‘one of us.’
And now she’s got a Fox News platform, she’ll get all the exposure she needs to prepare her for a run for the Presidency in 2012, the poster girl for the Tea Partiers:-
The Left, on the other hand … the Left is supposed to be the moral and intellectual superior to the Right; and, indeed, they think they are. But the more I read and the more I see, I’m convinced that the Progressive base have their own demagogues who are proving to be just as unreliable and just as dangerous as the media demagogues followed by the Right.
I’m a huge fan of Bill Maher. I thought he was probably the one true voice of common sense and reason on the Progressive Left.
In his last Real Time of 2008, the week after the election, he discussed the incipient Obama administration with Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek. Maher opined that Obama, if he were smart, would govern from the centre – centre left, but from the centre. He acknowledged that Obama was an intellectual and a pragmatist, who’ll do what he has to do to get his agenda implemented.
Bill then finished off that episode and that season of Real Time with a rampant New Rules, which I consider, to this day, to be his best, especially the editorial at the end of the segment:-
When the new season of Real Time began last year, on February 20th, it came on the heels of the Inauguration and the bail-out vote. Bill took time from his monologue to admonish both the studio audience and his television viewers. What he said, made absolute sense to me, and of all the fundits and pundits, he was the only person with the chutzpah to address this.
Bill reminded us of the monumental task that Obama faced, and then he invoked the generation of our parents and grandparents, the so-called Greatest Generation, who’d lived through a crippling Great Depression and who’d then gone off to fight in a World War.
These people, Bill said, just got on with the game at hand. ‘You know,’ he mused, ‘I’m not so certain this generation can hack that though. This generation’s been handed everything too easily and they’ll want everything to be rectified here and now.’
He went on to admonish people not to expect President Obama to do everything for you, that people had to straighten up, tighten their belts, and begin to do things for themselves in support of the President.
I wanted to hug Bill Maher at that instant. It was good, old-fashioned common sense, in a nutshell.
In the broadcast of June 5th, Bill then attacked the Rightwing for what he perceived to be their petty complaints about the President’s constant presence in the news media, but the following week, something strange happened:-
In that editorial, Bill criticised the President for exactly the same things he called the Republicans down for doing the previous week.
What the fuck …?
In the ensuing week, Bill was literally everywhere promoting his new stance of Obama criticism – on Keith Olbermann, where the cringeworthy Olbermann, giggled with delight and almost wet his pants in his eagerness to agree with Bill’s every word … on Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room … and to such an extent that Rightwing pundits crowed that Bill had finally seen the light and come over to their side.
Or so he said.
But what he did do and what he subsequently boasted about, was to unleash the portals of Leftwing discontent at what the Progressive base saw as Obama’s abandonment of them.
(To Be Continued …)