“It’s possible to fight intolerance, stupidity and fanaticism when they come separately. When you get all three together it’s probably wiser to get out, if only to preserve your sanity.” ~ P. D. James

Infamous Image of Secret Service Agent Climbing President Kennedy’s Limousine

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” ~ Haile Selassie

Warning: Free-thinking female liberal on a rant . . .

While perusing Andrew Sullivan’s “Daily Dish,” one of my political blogs, I came across a reference to an article by Mark Warren of Esquire. I clicked on the link to the article, which deals with the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and certain parallels to today’s society.

President Kennedy's Dallas Motorcade

The article, entitled “On the Anniversary of Kennedy’s Death, Extremism Lives On,” is a wonderful commentary on “the toxic atmosphere that holds in our current politics” with cries of socialism and communism at very turn. Warren then explains how he came across the following letter while doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. Initially, I was going to include only selected parts of the letter, but after rereading it, I realized that the entire letter deserves to be read, so here it is.

The Letter:

Tyler, Texas
November 24, 1963
President Lyndon B Johnson
The White House
Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

In this time of mourning and appreciating how very busy you are, I still must write about existing conditions here in East Texas, even if you are too busy to read this, because I feel it is my duty to do so. I wanted to write President Kennedy’s staff and try to get them to persuade him not to go to Dallas but unfortunately didn’t do it for fear of being that crank or busy–body. This time I will risk that appellation. I am frightened at conditions that prevail in East Texas.

Flier Created by John Birch Society

Mr. President, the easy thing and what is desperately trying to be done [is] to convince a stunned nation and world that Mr. Kennedy’s murder was the work of some deranged crackpot, and while the trigger was pulled by such a one, perhaps the atmosphere that made it inevitable was the hatred of the people (I don’t mean every one of them but a big majority) who wanted Mr. Kennedy and any one connected with him out of the White House. A week ago this might have sounded ridiculous but subsequent events lend it credence, I believe. There is a virus of disrespect and hate spreading here very rapidly. And unless one lives right here with it, day in and day out, it is unbelievable how quickly and subtly it infects reasonably intelligent persons. This is not too hard to understand only if one recognizes the unremitting, deep, bitter religious and racial prejudice existing today in this section of our land — I don’t know if any of them are similarly infected in other sections, but I know personally of what I speak as regards East Texas. In fact, although nearly every one indignantly denies having any racial or religious prejudice to the point where he deceives even himself in this matter, after listening seriously to protestations of horror and shock one can almost hear a collective sigh in essence, “Too bad he had to die but after all a Catholic is no longer in the White House and this ought to set the ‘niggers’ back on their heels for awhile!” It is painful to some of us I know to give credence to such a condition so we blind ourselves and blame a mentally confused person — forgetting in our desire to remove the blame from ourselves that where religious and racial prejudice prevails, not just the killer but all are mentally confused. When this prejudice is played upon adroitly and exploited actively (as in our locality) by such groups as The American Fact-Finding Committee and many more [of] that ilk, for instance the John Birchers, etc., it soon fans into a situation as exists here, many, many citizens ridden by a vicious hate which inevitably erupts and expresses itself in violence — as in the case of Mr. Kennedy’s murder in Dallas.

A strong evidence of this was the recent demonstration of violence against Ambassador Stevenson in Dallas, and even more clearly by an article carried in the Dallas News (a 100% anti-Kennedy sheet) stating that Mr. Bruce Alger [then-congressman from Dallas, and the only Republican in the Texas delegation] advised the citizens of Dallas there was absolutely no need to feel apologetic about this incident — everyone being free to express his opinion. He neglected to specify the degree of violence of such expression. And the citizens vote for Bruce Alger! So what can one expect? I just heard the flash about Oswald being shot and also the theory that is was caused by mass hysteria. That is here, all night, but I think rather there are certain groups and individuals who wish to insure Oswald’s complete and continuing silence because, knowing the ‘temper’ of Dallas, I can’t believe a known police character of Ruby’s caliber would risk his neck through any feeling of patriotism or love for Mr. Kennedy — can you?

I don’t know if anything can be done about the festering sore of prejudice and hatred on our social structure here, but I doubt if you can know its deadliness unless you are in constant, daily touch, and I thought it my duty to mention it, in that case, even though you may consider I am an alarmist and am exaggerating. I only wish I were.

Respectfully,

Charlotte Essman

Barack Obama at Richmond, VA Rally

“You have been asking what you could do in the great events that are now stirring, and have found that you could do nothing. But that is because your suffering has caused you to phrase the question in the wrong way . . . Instead of asking what you could do, you ought to have been asking what needs to be done.” ~ Steven Brust

What an incredible find, not just for Warren but also for those of us who carry with us a deep-seated anxiety over the current state of politics in the U.S., those of us who wonder openly if President Obama has enough security, wonder if the Secret Service is doing enough, if they are taking seriously the hate-fueled threats against the sitting POTUS.

To be perfectly candid, the anxiety over Obama’s safety is something that has plagued me since the campaign. After attending on of candidate Obama’s rallies, and seeing how open he made himself, I was immediately reminded of another president who wanted to make himself open to the American people: John Kennedy.

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” ~ John F. Kennedy 

The other parallels between these two men have been discussed in just about every forum, but they bear noting: both men were accused of being communists because of their liberal politics. Both men were accused of dragging the country into socialism because of their desire to implement social change in a country that still treats part of its population as less than equal. Both men were questioned because of their ideologies, their backgrounds, their religious affiliations (or in the case of Obama, his supposed affiliations).

Fox Noise Phony Glenn Beck

And the most worrisome parallel between the two men rests not in the men themselves, but in the reactionaries who shout to the rafters about these two Presidents, separated by 46 years, generations, wars, and social change. In some of the more fanatical (and ignorant) quarters, President Obama’s plans for national healthcare are being compared to Nazi Germany. Take Rush Limbaugh: “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook . . . Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.”  Or how about former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey with her death panel lie:  “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” And then there is Louie Grohmert, a Republican representative from Tyler Texas, who claims that the president’s healthcare bill will “absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early.”

What is truly amazing is that people really believe this idiocy. Death panels? Killing senior citizens? Nazi Germany? What are these people putting on their Wheaties?

Then there are the comments that defy categorizing: “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, for the white culture . . . I’m not saying he hates white people (uh, you just did you moron). This guy has a problem. He has exposed himself as a racist,” this according to pompous ass Glenn Beck. Or how about John Boehner, the House minority leader, who declared that Obama’s stimulus package was, “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”

“No government can help the destinies of people who insist in putting sectional and class consciousness ahead of general weal.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin Roosevelt Signing Social Security Bill

Of course, President Obama is not the first president to be accused of being a socialist or a communist. Any president who goes in as a reformer, that is, someone who takes on the status quo to improve the lives of the majority, is usually labeled as such. Consider FDR: The American Liberty League called Roosevelt both a fascist and a  socialist (what?).  When JFK and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare—a system that has become a staple of American society—they were accused of trying to convert this country to socialism. The American Medical Association denounced proposed medicare, sending out a letter to its members,  “Doctor, now is the time for you and every other ethical physician in the United States to individually and voluntarily pledge nonparticipation in HR-6675, the socialized hospitalization and medical care program for the aged.”

In 1961, Ronald Regan made a ten-minute plea on an LP for the AMA, concluding by saying that if Medicare passed, “one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Barry Goldwater, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole—all fought against Medicare because it would cause the U.S. to become a socialist nation.

Unless I am seriously mistaken, the U.S. did not become socialist after the New Deal, or after Social Security, or after Medicare, or even after Earned Income Credit (thank Ronald Reagan for that on), all of which were supposed to take us on that long dark road to socialism and the end of our country as we know it.

“What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.” ~ George Wilhelm Hegel

But as usual, I digress. What first struck me when I began writing this post is how both JFK and Obama took office as reformers, and how both men really caused an upheaval in conservative parts of the nation with their supposed radical ideas for change. I won’t delve into a detailed analysis of how these two men differ or ar similar as that is not the point of this post.

Kennedy did not listen to his advisors and went to Dallas on November 22, 1963. Kennedy also made the fatal mistake of telling Secret Service agents that he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of his open convertible. We all know what happened on that fateful day. Even those of you who are not old enough to remember that day in November still know all about it. History also tells us that many in this country, politicians included, believed that Kennedy got what he deserved.

If ignorance is bliss, then this woman is one happy camper

What kind of climate fostered such animosity against the president 46 years ago? The same kind of climate in which we currently find our country: hate-filled speech, hyperbolic statements likening the POTUS with Adolf Hitler, calls to arms, bold statements by those in the public eye that perpetuate this climate of fear, hatred, racism, and paranoia.

But what we need to remember is what happened as a result of the pervasive unrest then could happen now. Those who are being churned into a collective frenzy in their hatred for the man who currently sits in the Oval Office include individuals who only need a push in the right direction to carry that hatred into an act of senseless violence.

It’s all well and good for me to include examples of extreme ignorance, such as the smiling woman with the stupid poster, because I know ignorance when I see it. I also know racism and hate when I see and hear them. But there are people out there who suck up this kind of thing like milk and honey. It nourishes and sustains the hatred that is already part of their make up, and it is precisely this segment of the population that scares the living crap out of me.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana’s quote is often repeated with variations, but the fact remains that Charlotte Essman’s letter could have been written yesterday.

More later. Peace.

Jann Arden and Jackson Browne singing “Unloved”

  

Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” ~ Dorothy Thompson

Barack Obama 10-2009

President Barack Obama, Winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Manners people, please! 

“Manners are of more importance than laws . . . Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt  or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.” ~ Edmund Burke

Sometimes, I really think that I must be living in some kind of fairy tale world, one in which individuals treat each other with respect, one in which the office of the President of the United States still commands respect, one in which the failures of a nation, as in the ability to secure hosting of the Olympics, would not be turned into a sabre-rattling challenge of President Obama’s abilities as Chief Executive.

I also believe that puppy dogs are cute, oatmeal is good for you, a flat tax is the only fair way in which to tax people, national healthcare is a good thing, Asian horror movies are better than English-language horror movies, cotton candy is only good for the first half of the cone, and you don’t yell out of turn on national television during a presidential address. You wait until a maroon from Fox News asks you what you think, and then you open your mouth and let the drivel pour forth.

I know, my liberal bias is showing. But not really. See, if by some strange stretch of the imagination W. had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I would have been amazed, dumbfounded even, but I still would have considered it one in the bonus slot for the country. That’s just how I am: I may not respect the man, but I do respect the office. And I’m pretty sure that I didn’t coin that phrase, that someone years ago came up with it first.

american_flag I would think, given that I consider myself to be pretty patriotic, that having the President of the United States win the Nobel Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration, elation, and a groundswell of that old proud to be an American feeling. But once again, I find myself to be hopelessly clueless in daring to consider such nonsense.

Apparently, there is a group of people out there—composed of both liberals and conservatives—who do not believe that President Obama deserves the much-honored prize because he “hasn’t really done anything.”

According to one article that I read, Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com contends that the President won in part because he is black:

“I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news,” Erickson wrote. “There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period.”

That is just a vile and ignorant thing to say, and I am not going to lower myself to respond because my blog might get censored.

Fortunately, some Republicans were more gracious. Senator John McCain commented in the same article, saying that while he “could not divine the Nobel committee’s intentions,” he did think that “part of their decision-making was expectations.”  McCain said that he was certain that the “the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.”

Look, I will admit, as I have done before, that Obama has failed his supporters on some promises. But at the same time, I try to remember that it is only his first year, not even a year actually, and it takes time to get things done in Washington, D.C. I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he follows through on more campaign promises than he lets fall by the wayside.

Having said that, I would like to point out that this is a pretty big deal, folks. Only two other sitting presidents have been awarded the very illustrious Nobel Peace Prize: Woodrow Wilson won in 1919, predominantly for the formation of the League of Nations, and before him, Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 for his role in helping to end the Russo-Japanese War.

peace-earthSince its inception in 1901, Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize has been awarded to 96 individuals and 23 organizations, including ex-secretaries of state, journalists, priests, writers, ambassadors, professors, the 14th Dalai Lama, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, to name but a few. All with differing backgrounds, viewpoints, countries of origin, and accomplishments.

President Obama may not be the man you cast your vote for in November, but he is the man who holds the Oval Office, and the naysayers should remember that regardless of their politics, the person in the Oval Office is due the respect of this country’s citizenry.  Winning a peace prize of the calier of the renowned Nobel brings with it a great history of tradition and enormous recognition. Not to mention that it could go a long way in enabling the POTUS to mend international fences after years of eroding relationships with many countries around the world.

No, he hasn’t ended any wars. No, he hasn’t brokered any peaces between nations as President Carter did between Egypt and Israel. But by awarding him this prize, the  Nobel committee gave President Obama a show of support for his policies, for his far-reaching vision regarding diplomacy, and for his hopes for a brighter future for the citizens of the world. 

Let us stop to consider those reasons for a moment, shall we? If the reasoning behind the award is the belief in a man for what he may be able to do for people, a desire to show support for this man’s values, then that is quite a statement. A reflection, if you will, of not just mine, or hers, or my friend’s  or sons’ desires, but a desire on the part of the world’s citizens to make tangible strides towards stopping the leaks before the entire ship Mother Earth has to be scuttled.

 I, for one, am still willing to believe.

“We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is a patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one’s country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others . . . Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognises justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with . . . the other nations of the world.” ~ Lord Baden-Powell

peace activist posterIn case you would like to know more about why, I have included the entire text of the committee’s announcement:

OSLO — Following is the text of the announcement Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee giving the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama taken from the National Post:

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

“For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Now, more than ever, Peace.

 

The End of an Era

ted-kennedy_SLAHv1-horizontal

A Young Senator Kennedy

 

“I hope for an America where we can all contend freely and vigorously, but where we will treasure and guard those standards of civility which alone make this nation safe for both democracy and diversity.” ~ Senator Ted Kennedy, On Truth and Tolerance (1983)

Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy died today at the age of 77 after working tirelessly for the American people for over 47 years. This son of privilege focused his energies on those without: the underprivileged, the homeless, the children, the aged and infirmed—the ignored, the under-served, the invisible.

Senator Kennedy’s name is connected with some of the most groundbreaking bills to come to the floor of the U.S. Senate. He was a staunch supporter of healthcare reform, civil rights, immigration, Medicare and Medicaid, health insurance for children of the working poor, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Meals on Wheels for the elderly, family leave, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

A Roman Catholic, Kennedy supported a woman’s right to choose, and was a powerful ally for the fight for abortion clinic access.

“Many in the scientific community are concerned that the president’s decision will delay development of cures for dread disease for many years, at the cost of countless lives and immeasurable suffering.”

Openly critical of former president Bush, especially over the war in Iraq, Kennedy still managed to work across party lines for the “No Child Left Behind” act, which increased funding for schools. And although the Senator stood behind former President Bush in the Rose Garden for photo ops, Kennedy never relented in pushing for those issues in which he so fervently believed.

Senator Kennedy lamented what he saw as the former administration’s short-sightedness in stem cell research and the issue of healthcare in general.

He decried the recklessness of the war, the waste of lives, the deception: “It’s now clear that from the very moment President Bush took office, Iraq was his highest priority as unfinished business from the first Bush Administration. His agenda was clear: find a rationale to get rid of Saddam.”

 “The Constitution does not just protect those whose views we share; it also protects those with whose views we disagree.”

A liberal’s liberal, Kennedy possessed a characteristic so lacking in most politicians of any party: He was willing to work both sides of the aisle, to fight, and most importantly, to compromise. Perhaps his death will help those involved in the current attempts at healthcare reform to regain focus, to move past the divisiveness, to move the spotlight back onto what really matters and away from the name-calling and inane comparisons to Nazis and genocide.

What Kennedy wanted most, and what he did not live to see, was a country that truly cared for its citizens, a country that embraced the idea of good healthcare for all, regardless of employment status, pre-existing conditions, age, race, or annual income. It was this fight above all that made me truly admire the Senator.

And my concerns over Senator Kennedy’s replacement stem from my strong desire to see actualized that which he fought for so vociferously, sometimes heatedly, always passionately.

“His voice roared as he battled for the poor and the victims of injustice yet he had a smile that could light a room, a laugh that would draw a crowd and a heart always ready to share your sorrow.” ~ Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

Petraeus testifying photo by Chip Somodevilla
Senator Ted Kennedy (Photograph by Chip Somodevilla)

Kennedy, the last of the original Joseph Kennedy dynasty, spent many years as a man plagued by personal demons. In 1991, after years of being lambasted by critics and lampooned by comedians, Kennedy admitted to his foibles in a speech at Harvard: 

“I recognize my own shortcomings, the faults and the conduct of my private life,” he said in the distinctive Kennedy accent. “I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them.”

After marrying Washington lawyer Vicki Reggie, his second wife  in 1992, Kennedy seemed to be able finally to grow into the mantle of the Kennedy legacy. He lost weight, started taking better care of himself, and stopped partying as if he still belonged to another generation.

Many political pundits agree that Ted Kennedy came into his own in the latter part of his life. His “salad days” long gone, the senior senator took to the political battlefields with renewed energy and dedication.

In 2008, Senator Kennedy was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, but he surprised everyone when he appeared at the Democratic National Convention and declared his firm support for then candidate Barack Obama. The Senator’s endorsement of Obama over Hillary Clinton surprised many, but Kennedy believed that President Obama would be the best change for the American people:

“With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. With Barack Obama we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group, and straight against gay.” ~ January 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama for president 

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” (Democratic National Convention 1980)

Ted Kennedy will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, a place he visited frequently to pay his respects not only to the two fallen brothers who preceded him, but also to the men and women who have served this nation, who are buried in this hallowed ground of lost heroes and remembered warriors.

Rest in peace, “Lion of the Senate.”

 

 

More later. Peace.