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Monday, July 16, 2018
Home Authors Posts by Andy Schmookler

Andy Schmookler


Would You Want to Know? A Question for Republican Supporters

The following op/ed by me has appeared in newspapers in my part of Virginia.

I want to speak to the conservatives in this area.

I know from experience that you are good neighbors, and that you make a local society in many ways is admirable. But I am concerned about what's happened with you in the larger political world.

It's not about your conservative values, which on the whole I think are valuable to America. It's about what's happened over the past generation regarding the things you think to be factually true. I ask you this question: If a lot of what you believe to be true were actually false, would you want to know?

At this point, I imagine many of you angrily dismissing my question. After all, am I not the guy who ran for Congress as a Democrat, and aren't Democrats the enemy and not worth listening to?

Setting aside this demonization of the "other side," I hope you will recognize that I speak to you not as a Democrat but as a person with a lifelong passion for truth.  

I’m Betting on Obenshain Acting Honorably

The following piece has run in several Virginia newspapers, including today in the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Earlier this month, an alarm about Virginia's razor-close Attorney General's race sounded in some Democratic circles. Adam Swerver, in an article posted on the MSNBC website, declared that even if the defeat of Republican candidate Mark Obenshain is confirmed in a recount, he might still be able to have himself declared the winner by the Virginia state legislature, which is dominated by Republicans.

Swerver's article quoted University of Kentucky law Professor Joshua Douglas describing the plausibility of such a move. Swerver concluded that "the only thing stopping Republicans from ordering a new election or declaring him (Obershain) the winner would be fear of a political backlash or their own self-restraint."

When reported on the Democratic website Blue Virginia, this article generated many responses. Opinions differed about the chances of Republicans succeeding with such a gambit, but there was little faith that scruples would hold them back from stealing the election. One response: "The va GOP will do ANYTHING to win cheat or steal an election."

I don't know whether state Senator Obenshain can gain the office through such a power-grab. But I bet he won't.

A Half Century Ago Today: Here’s My Story. What’s Yours?

November 22, 1963 was bound to be an important day for me. On that day, as a college freshman, I was to travel down to New Haven, Connecticut, for Harvard-Yale weekend. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have gone to an away game, but I was the quarterback of an undefeated intramural touch football team that was scheduled to play Yale's undefeated intramural champions.

When we got to the playing field at Yale, people were strangely clumped around cars with their radios on, and the doors open. We asked what was going on, and we were told, "The president has been shot in Dallas." It was of course unbelievable.

I had felt especially connected with JFK, having seen him only a few weeks before, when he unexpectedly showed up at the Columbia game. Sitting there in the stadium, surrounded by his Secret Service retinue, even at a distance the beauty of the man was visible, his auburn hair radiating life in the sun. How could someone look so extraordinary even across a whole football field?

And now he'd been shot.

Was he OK, we wanted to know? Would he live? Nobody knew. Only that he'd been rushed to the hospital in Dallas.

We were supposed to start our game, and no one was there to tell us differently. So we played the game. We won, using a trick play I still like to remember. But the whole game happened under a cloud of uncertainty and gloom.

When the game was over, it was known. President Kennedy was dead. The president had been assassinated.

Private Opulence, Public Poverty

A little item in THE WEEK magazine (11/15/13):

Public investment is at its lowest level since World War II, dropping to just 3.6 percent of U.S. output, compared to the postwar average of 5 percent. The decrease is largely thanks to 'Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama's push for more spending on infrastructure, science, and education.'
What a shame. And what a shame the Obamacare launch has gone so badly, as it provides ammunition for those who work to sell the public the idea that the government is never the solution but always the problem.

Not only is there a problem with the "keep your government hands off my Medicare kinds of ignorance," but most Americans don't know how important a role has been played, in the development of American affluence, by "public investment"-- including the canals and bridges that the Federalists and Whigs sought in the early 19th century, and the railroads in which government played an important role, as well as things like the interstate highway system and the Internet (in which actually Al Gore did play a constructive role).

The whole challenge is to find the right mix between the public and the private in our economy, not to idolize the one and demonize the other.

Obamacare’s Difficulties Are Disheartening, But Consider This

Our nation's greatest achievements did not come without failures along the way. When I think of such achievements, winning World War II and landing a man on the moon come quickly to mind.

What the United States accomplished between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and V-J Day is astonishing. But the early months of that war were a string of defeats and set-backs. The Japanese rolled across the Philippines, taking numerous American soldiers prisoner. In North Africa, the inexperienced American troops were no match for Rommel's forces. Those days were dark indeed.

By the end of the 1960s, the United States had landed men on the moon --"one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind"-- and won the admiration of the world. However, a decade before that, I recall, the pictures from Cape Canaveral were anything but inspiring. Missiles would go through a countdown only to topple and explode when ignition time came, or lift off but fail to go into orbit.

America worked its way through those failures, however, and went on to do great things.

Of course, in those times, we did not have a major political party that was not just hoping for failure, but actively working for failure.

Against that, too, we must persevere.

Is There a Single Republican Today Who Might Have Been Played by John Wayne...

I don't think so. Not straight-shooting enough for a John Wayne character. Not decent enough for Jimmy Stewart. Not enough integrity for either of the kinds of characters they played.

It is the pervasive dishonesty of the whole thrust of today's Republican Party that precludes any of them from being cast as a hero.

These are the guys who embezzle the money from their bank, or who are hired to beat up the farmers who get in the way of the cattle baron.

Hearing Clinton Speak Is, by Itself, Worth Going Out of One’s Way For

There are good political reasons to attend the Clinton-McAuliffe campaign events. But even if there weren't....

Toward the close of last year's campaign, at a rally in Roanoke, I heard Bill Clinton speak. I was extremely impressed. Really impressed. Even more than I'd been by his speech to the Democratic convention-- a speech that (with the possible exception of Michele Obama's) was the high-point of the convention.

Bill Clinton is not only likely the most gifted politician of our times, but he is also a great teacher. He spoke for about an hour on that occasion in Roanoke, and he was engaging and clear and persuasive, and he laid out with unusual clarity a whole host of issues-- all done in a way that strengthened the candidate in whose support he had come, Barack Obama.

In the coming days, Clinton will be speaking around Virginia in support of his friend, Terry McAuliffe. Since the candidate himself will be there, unlike in Roanoke, and Clinton will be the endorser and not the surrogate, there will be doubtless less of Clinton than at the event last year. But Bill Clinton will not be short-changed, and I think Terry McAuliffe is too smart to worry about being upstaged when he's got someone like Clinton to rally the troops for him. So those who attend these rallies will almost certainly get to witness a worthwhile and memorable Clinton performance.

Besides which, as I learned at the Virginia Democratic state convention in June, 2012, Terry McAuliffe is himself capable of giving a very powerful, very effective political speech. Indeed, in terms of the stem-winder variety of political oratory, McAuliffe may be the stronger of the two. His speech at the state convention last year was one of the most rousing political speeches I've ever heard, in person or otherwise.

So I encourage y'awl to consider attendance at the following events as worth your while. It's worth doing for the usual political reasons-- to support the Democratic ticket in this campaign home-stretch. But even if there were no election, just hearing Bill Clinton speak, in person, in the context of the political battles of our times, would be reason enough.

Here's what an email I got says is the schedule (I think this list is incomplete, and I hope that those with additional information will provide it, below, in the comments):

Thrilled by the Transformation I Perceived in President Obama this Morning

I was a huge fan of Obama's for the year before his inauguration. Much of the time since the first few months of his presidency, I've been intensely frustrated and disappointed by what I see as his weakness in dealing with an opposition determined to make him fail, regardless of the damage to the nation. Today, I believe I saw something that says he's undergone a real and basic transformation, a movement into a place of deep strength.

The way he stood his ground during the recent standoff with the Republicans in Congress showed he'd learned a lesson. That's important, but it doesn't necessarily show a transformation: the idea that "this time we don't pay ransom to hostage-takers" can represent a decision, undertaken at a level of conscious strategy, and does not necessarily show a deeper movement of heart and soul away from weakness and into a place of strength.

But here the President was, talking about his signature accomplishment precisely because of the problems that have beset its launch, and the President seemed to be strong in a way that comes from the core, strong in a way that I've not seen much in the past.

In the past, I've often thought that he was good at ACTING as if he was strong, but that he didn't really own that strength. Today I felt that here was a man who had settled into the fact that he is President of the United States, that he can prevail over his enemies, that he can make good things happen, that he is comfortable in the possession of not only the power of his office but also his inner power.

The Dog that Refuses to Bark: A Stunning Clue about the Problem with American...

You probably have heard about the book from a little while back, It's Even Worse Than It Looks. It was written by two very centrist, perhaps even conservative, interpreters of the Washington scene: Norm Ornstein (of the American Enterprise Institute) and Thomas Mann (of the Brookings Institution).

One of the main quotations from that book describes the Republican Party as "an insurgent outlier...ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

When I heard first heard that passage, back in 2012, my thought was: it's about time you noticed that. To me, that's been blatantly, disturbingly obvious for years.

But here's the kicker. When Ornstein and Mann came out with their book --belatedly in my view, as I said-- they were subject to a kind of ostracism, a loss of their high media status. Here's how Raw Story put it:  

Ted Cruz as Mad Hatter (But Cruz Isn’t Mad, He’s a Sociopath)

Sociopaths make the Kool-Aid. The Crazies are the ones who drink it.

Sociopathy and craziness have this in common: they are both forms of human "brokenness."

Sociopaths are broken in their not being connected with the rest of humanity by bonds of empathy. They serve only themselves, using and exploiting others, caring nothing about the consequences for others or the greater good. This captures well what Ted Cruz has been doing, and before him, on the right, the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove.

The Crazies, such as we see on the right, are broken in the fundamental disconnect between what they believe about the world they're living in and the realities of that world. Sociopaths can manipulate them into obsessing about non-existent threats, and into ignoring the genuine threats to their well-being, their liberties, and the prospects for their children.

Both sociopathy and craziness create channels for the advancement in the world of a force that could appropriately be called "Evil." Evil can be understood as a pattern of brokenness that works to spread itself, and that imparts its brokenness --does damage-- to everything that it touches.

This "Evil" not only creates brokenness, but it also exploits brokenness as it works to increase its power in the human world.

There are always some sociopaths in a population, but Evil succeeds by enabling sociopaths to rise to positions of power in a socio-cultural system. That a voice like Limbaugh's wields such power in America, that a politician like Ted Cruz can be mentioned as a presidential contender, is a sign of how far the force of brokenness has advanced in our times.

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