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Steve Scalise Among 4 Shot at Baseball Field; Suspect Is Dead - The New York Times Wednesday June 14, 2017

Partisan politics commentary where people of a differing political stance have chosen to call each other “selfish,” “stupid,” “insane” or worse. Much worse. It's difficult not to see the above event as possibly a result of such responses. And it's something we have to address.

If we are to understand where the United States is, politically, we have to go back in time and examine where we were. Let’s turn back the clock and go for a trip to a previous USA, all the way back to the mid twentieth century!


The world of politics during the Eisenhower era is not at all the same landscape as today. Sure, the press and the politicians did have an adversarial relationship, as they always have had (it serves to remember, when the country first began, many politicians WERE the press, more or less committing what today would be considered libel against their competitors in newspapers, by using pseudonyms, writing scathing essays and trying to win the favor of public opinion), but in the twentieth century, the relationship between these two bodies was relatively friendly. Everyone knew why they were there, and all involved understood and respected the roles that each played.

When examining the crucial Presidential Election of 1960, a few things should be noted. The first is that the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard Nixon had, to some degree, bought his popularity. That fact takes us even further back in time, to 1952, when then Senator Nixon made his infamous “Checkers” speech.



Full video of the “Checkers” Speech – dated September 23, 1952


(You do not have to view the speech in its entirety; I just posted it here as reference. But notable is Nixon’s stumble over the word “integrity” in the very first seconds of the speech – in the game of Poker, that would be considered a “tell”)

The concern by many at the time was that Nixon could be on the hook for “paying back” special favors because of the donations he received to reimburse his coffers. Imagine a topic like THAT being relevant today!

Dwight Eisenhower didn’t have much good to say for Ol’ Dick, towards the end of his term, either. The thirty-fourth president was asked if he could give an example of a major idea of Vice President Nixon’s that was adopted by the Administration.




His reply: “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” And the press conference where that exchange was made occurred on August 24, 1960, just some seventy-six days before the election. That’s why that comment became a paid political announcement for the JFK campaign!

The reason we need to look at the Richard Nixon of 1960, here and now, is that this was the start, the tiniest snowball at the top of what seemed to be a molehill at that moment, that would eventually avalanche down to where our political “sensibilities” have come.

That “Checkers” speech, for better or worse, likely saved Nixon’s career as a politician. By going on television and pleading for kindness and understanding about his circumstances in 1952, to talk about a little dog for his children, Nixon used television to appeal to the masses. It worked! The candidate was forgiven for whatever negative actions people perceived, and he went on to become Vice President for eight years during Eisenhower’s administration.

But the 1960 Presidential election was another animal altogether. Instead of Nixon simply discussing an issue, face to camera with viewers, he was forced to be measured, side by side, against John F. Kennedy on the screen. For Nixon, the comparisons were odious. Kennedy looked like a president. Nixon in his plain grey suit simply blended into the background, a sweaty and sad little guy.



Though the popular vote was very close and Nixon won twenty-six states, JFK carried the day and Camelot came into being on January 20, 1961.

Then came Oswald.

Lee Harvey Oswald, a guy who wanted to defect to Russia. Oswald, a guy who purchased a rifle by mail order. Oswald, a guy who attempted to kill General Edwin Walker, a military man Oswald saw as a “right wing Hitler” for wanting to march in and take over Cuba. Oswald, a guy who just happened to get a job working at the Texas Book Depository a few weeks before, who then heard that the president was coming to Dallas and that his motorcade would pass right by his place of business.



Lee Harvey Oswald's Mug Shot



Oswald wanted fame. He wanted glory. He wanted to be remembered. He had his opportunity with the arrival of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

This is where the next great shift in our collective politics occurred.

After the assassination, after Oswald killed officer J.D. Tippit in his attempt to escape, after Jack Ruby stepped in and killed the suspect before he could even be thoroughly questioned or put on trial, after examining a film captured by Abraham Zapruder, a local dressmaker, and after President Johnson assigned a special commission, led by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren, the results of the investigation were revealed in the wake of a grueling and extensive examination of the facts.



The Warren Commission, handing their tome of a report to President Johnson in the Oval Office


In short, the Commission said the following: Lee Harvey Oswald killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but there was no conspiracy, no involvement with a foreign agent or government. Oswald acted alone.

The trouble was that almost immediately, there were people who doubted the facts of the Warren Report.

A likely part of the reason for this doubt was that the Commission paneled to do their work, investigated in almost complete secrecy. There were no press briefings, no reveals about what was discovered as it happened. Just a long ten-month silence followed by an almost three-hundred-thousand-word document describing their findings.

Then came the conspiracy theorists. Mark Lane, a lawyer who would eventually represent James Earl Ray, the man who stood accused of killing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote one of the first books contradicting the findings of the Warren Commission. “Rush to Judgment” was not just a book, but became a documentary film, displaying what he considered holes in the report.




Rush to Judgment: the full-length film based on the book of the same name by Mark Lane.


Lane presented perhaps the most compelling case against the Warren Report. But Lane wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of books. Some of these authors were sincere, and trying to get more information out to the public. Others were, in fact, opportunists, out to gain fame and fortune by selling their non-reality based theories to a public searching for answers. Never mind that most, if not all of the Warren Report deniers didn’t have all of the facts the Commission sifted through. There must be a government cover up and a conspiracy, came the cry.

That cry became very convincing. After so many books, films, television examinations, forensic reports, news specials, thought pieces, and discussions with friends, relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and total strangers, sharing all of the above, the American Public had to start believing in a conspiracy, simply because so many “experts” said there had to be. And it was easy to want to believe in a conspiracy, rooted in the disbelief that a non-entity like Oswald could kill the Leader of the Free World all by himself. The charismatic, charming, affable and young president, done in by some rat, some weasely nobody who probably should have been permitted to remain in Russia when he asked to stay.

No matter what you personally believe happened on that day in Dallas, this was, in a very substantial way, the first time for many Americans to doubt the message their government gave them. That's important.

The 1960s went on to provide a lot of political fodder for everyone to engage. Between the war in Vietnam, a war that President Johnson felt he had to win, at the cost of so many young American troops, and the Civil Rights issue, that threatened to create a new Civil War within our own borders, politics was very much a matter of life and death.

This is where partisan politics got raised to a whole new level. As President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964, a whole group of Americans who thought that black American citizens did not deserve the same rights and privileges of their white counterparts, changed parties. The so-called “Dixiecrats” of old, people like Strom Thurmond, switched their allegiance to Republican, which set the tone for the modern day version of the GOP.

The Vietnam conflict was a huge issue. With the draft being up and running, any son from any family, rich, poor, white or black could be called to serve. This is why protests against the war overwhelmed the nation at that time.

What most people don’t think about, when they consider President Johnson’s stance on Vietnam, was that his top General in the region, William Westmoreland, did not give his Commander-in-Chief the full scope of the details of what was happening in the war, and how that was making for a difficult, if not impossible, circumstance for the United States to win.



General William Westmoreland


It’s interesting to note that Westmoreland eventually went on to run for Governor of South Carolina on the Republican ticket. Could that difference of political opinion have had an effect on his openness about the situation with the president? It’s impossible to know, but it’s interesting to consider. Johnson’s intention to win in Vietnam was a major reason for his unpopularity, and he chose not to run for re-election in 1968, again changing the course of our history. But it was a general whose politics disagreed with his president, that we might say greatly shaped the choices and the results of that action.

Richard Nixon back again.



Richard M. Nixon appearing on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" The famed line: "Sock It To Me?"


Watergate. The name itself has come to mean “scandal,” as many Americans attach the final four letters of the word to anything that could be considered a corruption. Most recently, the bold face lie of “Pizzagate” as an example of its usage.

But Watergate and Nixon are a touchstone, and a big cause of the bitterness of Republicans toward Democrats.

The situation was that a corrupt group of Nixon’s associates wanted a job and decided to break in to the Watergate complex and determine what the Democrats had planned for the 1972 election.

The irony is that Nixon won the White House by a landslide, defeating George McGovern who only won the District of Columbia and his home state of Massachusetts.



The 1972 US Presidential Election Electoral College Map


But the action was done, the elements were illegal and the coverup brought him down. But before Nixon could be formally impeached, he resigned. And before the investigation could continue, his self-appointed Veep, Gerald Ford, gave him a presidential pardon, effectively ending everything!

All hell broke loose because, in a manner similar to President Kennedy’s end, there was no definitive result, no clear understanding of what actually happened, despite a couple of years’ worth of testimony. Another failed ending. Even Nixon’s staunchest supporters had to find this unsatisfactory. Their guy had to leave office and he left under a cloud of suspicion that remains to this very day.

Let’s briefly touch on Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the Moscow 1980 Summer Olympics, after the USSR invaded Afghanistan, clearly an act of aggression. People suggested that we did not boycott the Berlin 1936 Summer Olympics, sometimes referred to as the “Nazi Olympics” with Chancellor Adolf Hitler in power. Why couldn’t these athletes, who trained so hard for this moment be denied their opportunity to shine on the world stage? But Hitler hadn’t gotten to the atrocities that were going to plunge the world in to a second global conflict at that point. Ultimately, history tells us that the Moscow boycott was both a brave and a correct thing to do.

And there was Reagan’s Iran-Contra circumstance. It was simply a case of “do as I say, not as I do.” The policy: do not give enemies of the state weapons under any circumstance. The action: Giving weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages being held in Lebanon. It was all done behind the back of Congress, a unilateral move by the Executive branch that broke all policy.



Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North got to be a household name for all the wrong reasons during the Iran-Contra Hearings


But the element that links directly to our 2016 election was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and it explains the anger and the frustration many conservatives feel when they talk about what they believe is “right.”



White House Intern Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton


Clinton clearly committed perjury when he claimed he did not have sexual relations with his intern, Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. And GOP people were having a field day with all of the antics that were going on surrounding this. They wanted Clinton arrested.

And while they got their impeachment, they didn’t get the punishment they were hoping to have. Compare this to Nixon. Tricky Dick lost his job because of his scandal. Slick Willie got to serve out the remainder of his term. The resentment about that cannot be underestimated. People on the right were apoplectic! If twitter had existed back in 1996, there might still be some tweets about it, today.

Again, briefly, George W. Bush’s presidency was characterized by September 11, 2001 and the war he began with Iraq as a response, and by Hurricane Katrina, and how bungled the efforts to care for the Gulf Coast region in the wake of that natural disaster made many Americans believe they didn’t matter.



The New Yorker Magazine cover dated September 19, 2005 featuring George W. Bush and his chief cabinet members, swamped


So when Barack Obama took office, the atmosphere was changing, and people were being more positive, even in the wake of a economic collapse that threatened to become a global depression. But even as President Obama began, the Republicans worked to figure out how they could diminish and reduce his effectiveness. That’s where the “Tea Party” began, just shortly after President Obama took the oath in 2009. And that’s where the Republicans in Congress decided to not do anything if it was something President Obama wished to accomplish.



Barack Hussein Obama and Michelle Obama, Inauguration Day, 2009


Finally, the issue of Hillary Clinton’s campaign is the element that especially angered the folks on the right. During the Lewinsky scandal, many people at the time were upset that Hillary chose not to leave her husband, despite the actions of a philanderer. It was all a part of the narrative that said that Bill didn’t get punished properly for his actions, and this recalled JFK’s White House, where folks like Marilyn Monroe and other, lesser known women, were a part of a syndicate of sexual partners, something that was known, possibly hinted at, but never discussed openly in the press during that era.

But the thought that Bill Clinton could be back in the White House, and this time with no important responsibilities? That point alone was enough for many to make sure that Hillary would not win.



Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton


Of course, there were other issues, like the fact that we still have not had a proper discussion on the topic of sexism, and many folks especially in the more rural parts of middle America, do not see a woman as a “proper” Commander-in-Chief. There were the hacked emails, revealing that the DNC didn’t want Bernie Sanders to have a “fair” chance at the nomination, angering many of Bernie’s supporters and making them vote for another candidate. And there was then FBI Director James Comey, who came out with a statement a week before the election, that he found new emails that may be incriminating against Hillary.

So, here we are. A collection of Americans who are diametrically opposed to how the other group sees the world, to the point where we might want to kill each other because of it. How we see each other and what we want to happen requires that we actually listen to each other and be a bit more understanding about our fellow humans. What we choose to do next is going to help determine how our country will progress for the next ten, twenty, maybe even fifty years. And, why not? It took us over a half century to get us here. Let's hope we act, and not react.

//

This thinkpost was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt: Current Events

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
adoptedwriter
Jun. 15th, 2017 04:23 am (UTC)
Bravo!
penpusher
Jun. 15th, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Definitely an essay I hadn't thought I'd be writing, but it was the only choice for me.
i_17bingo
Jun. 15th, 2017 08:28 pm (UTC)
Nice greatest hits of partisanship. I know you were focusing on presidents, but I feel like you left out Newt Gingrich, who caused more damage to political civility than just about anyone.
penpusher
Jun. 15th, 2017 09:44 pm (UTC)
Certainly if I expanded this to a longer form piece Gingrich probably could take at least a chapter all to himself! It was a struggle to keep it this short, and I wanted to try to touch on all the administrations from Kennedy onward! They all definitely had a hand in our current view.

Thanks for reading and your thoughts!
bleodswean
Jun. 15th, 2017 11:02 pm (UTC)
What a wonderfully clear and concise overview of the past fifty presidential years! You could be penning history books!

I'm not saying YOUR piece is simplistic, but I don't believe that politics and cultural upheaval, partisan shifts and party affiliations have much to do with presidents, per se.

Also, I live in the thick of hillbillies and hicks, hippies and pot growers and sexism didn't have a thing to do with how they voted last November.
penpusher
Jun. 16th, 2017 02:18 am (UTC)
Thanks for your read and for some very thoughtful comments about it.

I've stated this previously, but to me the thing that a president does best is set a tone for the country. It's the "scoutmaster" element - the president gives guidance to the nation, shows how things should be and encourages others to behave in that manner. We certainly saw that in effect during the Obama administration, and we're seeing a different effect during this one.

You live in California though, right? The real issue are the midwest and southern states. That's mostly what I'm talking about when discussing how sexism could have played a part, and not near college towns or larger cities. Those are the places that went for Trump.

The element of sexism is something I heard about firsthand. I was a caller for the DNC and for Hillary's campaign when it first began during the summer of 2015, and Democrats were telling me they were not confident that we should have a woman president. Maybe I projected incorrectly, but if liberal minds are stating that, I have to think a lot of folks, for various reasons, do have a bias against a female leader. I still think that we need a national conversation about sexism, just as we need one about racism...

Thanks for a great compliment!
bleodswean
Jun. 16th, 2017 03:23 pm (UTC)
It's always interesting to hear first-hand stories down in the political trenches! And although anecdotal, I do believe you can get a sense of a larger attitude.

Yes, I'm in California which went almost entirely for Clinton in this round but the village I live in is pretty split and I did hear a lot of opining on the candidates. I think America is ready for a female president, I'm just not sure that Clinton embodied that readiness. Where are all our young politicians?
penpusher
Jun. 16th, 2017 08:00 pm (UTC)
This is where it really appeared to me as if sexism was a contributor, and perhaps a major contributor to the outcome. Both candidates were problematic, to say the least. But if you were choosing, of these two, the person you think had the better skill set to handle the job (and I'm talking before we knew what we're seeing now), the choice would have been Hillary, if we were just looking at the abilities.

Hillary's baggage definitely weighed, and her campaign blithely ignored the fact that a percentage of people (men AND women) do have an issue with a female president. They did nothing to even attempt to counteract that element, which I guess was because they didn't want to focus on it, much as Barack Obama did not focus on the African-American elements. But if they had bothered listening to the intel they should have been getting about fundraising, they would know they needed to do something to address it.

Granted, each time there has been a woman on the ticket, the results have been better for her. 1984, 2008, 2016. But let's remember that 35 is the youngest you can be to become president. In order for there to be a woman candidate, we would need a woman who has been a Rep, Senator or Governor, more than likely. I mean Oprah has floated the idea that she might run, but I don't know how serious she is or how serious anyone would take her in that element. Elizabeth Warren seems to be the highest profile woman on the Democratic side, and even she has some issues that would make her less than perfect...

And it's likely going to require a PERFECT woman to get elected, under perfect conditions, because that's how sexism works. Who that would be and what the word "perfect" actually means? I don't have a clue.
halfshellvenus
Jun. 18th, 2017 03:18 am (UTC)
And it's likely going to require a PERFECT woman to get elected, under perfect conditions, because that's how sexism works.
No kidding. She'll need to be perfect to overcome the presumption of competence given to male candidates, and to make sure there isn't one single doubt left about her past. :(
messygorgeous
Jun. 16th, 2017 02:07 pm (UTC)

Really interesting. I have a journalism degree and we spent some time in one of my courses dissecting how deeply television has influenced politics and how Americans view and choose their leaders. Nixon, Vietnam, Clinton...and all the public reactions to them.


The loss of civility in our society distresses me - I think social media has played a big part there too. I often wonder, where do we go from here?

penpusher
Jun. 16th, 2017 08:05 pm (UTC)
Television is the through line that connects everything in this essay. I guess the internet has been handed the baton at this point, but TV still matters.

I'll tell you where we go. We need to go to the people perpetrating these kinds of acts and tell them that's not right. That even though we disagree with how we see things, we are still Americans, still on the same side, and still need to protect and care for each other, not attack, berate or demean each other. I do a bit of that when I visit some conservative minded chat rooms and respond to people there. It's a slow go, trying to reach one person at a time, but sometimes I actually do!
murielle
Jun. 16th, 2017 09:47 pm (UTC)
A very thoughtful, balanced, and supported article. Brava!
penpusher
Jun. 16th, 2017 11:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and your lovely compliment!
rayaso
Jun. 16th, 2017 11:43 pm (UTC)
This was a nice, very well-told look at some critical events. We have survived worse times, and we'll survive this one as well, but no end seems in sight. It took a long time to get to our present state, as you say, and it will take a long time to sort things out.
penpusher
Jun. 17th, 2017 05:06 am (UTC)
Thanks for giving this a look.

I'm of the thought that things like sexism and racism could end instantly, if we all agreed they should. But too many are benefiting from those elements which is why there has been little, if any, movement on either of those fronts, despite our "progressive" stance.

The truth is it will take a long time. Hopefully not as long as it has already taken, but I'm not going to hold my breath!
halfshellvenus
Jun. 18th, 2017 05:30 am (UTC)
This provided a terrific context for the evolution of some of our worst political infighting and of the public's increased distrust of our elected officials. I had hoped we would be seeing a slow pull toward increased sanity this past election year, instead of an instantaneous derailing into corruption and into economic and environmental downfall.

I can't help but think that the conclusion here is that voters are not as smart as we would like them to be, and that overall... we do not learn. :(
penpusher
Jun. 18th, 2017 01:39 pm (UTC)
If this issue were as simple as voters not being smart, I wouldn't be so concerned. If you're uninformed, you can learn. The question is why is the learning not happening, and that comes back to the point that certain people are benefiting from the Status Quo. And THAT means, that there is an agenda to keep that in place, by those at the top of the Wheel of Fortune. So, that's keeping people from learning what is useful to themselves in place of what they think is helping them, but is really only helping the people at the top.

But that's yet another essay! Thanks for your compliment and for feeling compelled enough to share an important and valuable view.
beeker121
Jun. 18th, 2017 11:13 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating. I remember reading somewhere that in the 60's politicians would argue their points all day, but still go out to dinner together in the evenings or their families would hang out. but since then it's been steadily polarizing to this epic us vs. them where the other side isn't just wrong but evil, doesn't just have different goals but is out to destroy us. It feels like that polarization is going to be our undoing, more so than any of the beliefs involved.

I have a friend who for moral reasons could not vote for Hilary, after everything that happened with Bill and Monica she simply didn't like the Clintons at all. I'm pretty sure she ended up not casting a vote in the presidential election at all, because she also realized that Trump is a mess - but I think Hilary had a lot more baggage than anyone in her organization was willing to acknowledge.
penpusher
Jun. 19th, 2017 02:12 am (UTC)
One way sexism manifests is by holding a woman to a much higher standard than a man. So, yes Hillary had problems, but Trump was extremely problematic as well, but beyond his issues, also he had no experience in government, making him an even sketchier choice.

The problem that happens, when you start to examine an issue like sexism, is that what you think are "appropriate criticisms" about the female candidate don't always look like "sexism" until you start to examine them in relation to criticisms of the male candidate. If you look at all the very questionable things that people just let slide about Trump compared to the commentary about Hillary, it's hard to claim that sexism had no role in what happened.

It's difficult to want to punish Hillary for the Bill and Monica stuff. But clearly people wanted to do that.

But you're right, in the 1960s, 70s, even 1980s politicians would argue tooth and nail against each other, then leave that at the office. But, I think what has happened is that the folks at the lower end of the economy, who also happen to be white, have no economic power - this is a direct result of Citizens United, that allows big money donors, even corporations to give money to candidates at will. It literally takes the vote away from the people who need it the most.

Thanks for commenting and giving some very good thoughts about the circumstances we must face!
eternal_ot
Jun. 19th, 2017 11:13 am (UTC)
Amazing take! It summed everything up very well. You did a great job here. Kudos!
penpusher
Jun. 19th, 2017 07:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I don't know how much you know about American History... it's not something I think everyone follows around the world. Even some Americans either don't know or don't care about the names and dates of previous events, maybe that's true for every country?

But the future is always rooted in the past, so we need to keep looking back occasionally to remember where we were, because it will help keep us on track for where we want to go.

So glad you liked it!
tonithegreat
Jun. 21st, 2017 02:33 am (UTC)
Wow, you really dove in and went for it with current events! Bravo.

Last week I attended a council meeting for a group tasked with making decisions about grants to be awarded to create greenways and blueways and trails in Florida. I bring it up because over lunch I ended up having a great unrelated conversation with three ladies that spanned the political spectrum and while two of them were unafraid to put their own views out for discussion despite vehemently disagreeing on some basics, all four of us at the table agreed that we've got to bring civility back into discourse on tough topics. And the two Tallahassee folks at the table were proud to describe a relatively new club we have going called the Village Square which really is bringing the two poles together for some good civil discussions. It was a hopeful and progressive kind of conversation (no political implications intended with those words) and a breath of fresh air. So I just wanted to share that example with you after your call for civility. I feel like there's really hope for more of that on the horizon. Thanks for writing a post that made me think about all that.
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