Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Medieval Gay Marriage? Not quite

Headline at MSNBC: "Gay marriage goes way back: Historian says men wed as early as 600 years ago in medieval Europe". Well, not quite, but close. Let's strip out the rank advocacy and see what the historian is really saying. First, here's what the story highlights via paraphrase:
Civil unions between male couples existed around 600 years ago in medieval Europe, a historian now says.

Historical evidence, including legal documents and gravesites, can be interpreted as supporting the prevalence of homosexual relationships hundreds of years ago, said Allan Tulchin of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

If accurate, the results indicate socially sanctioned same-sex unions are nothing new, nor were they taboo in the past.
I've emphasized the caveats and qualifications, but notice how the story leads with an assertion-as-fact that "Civil unions between male couples existed around 600 years ago in medieval Europe..." OK, so what does Tulchin base his interpretation on:
[Tulchin] found legal contracts from late medieval France that referred to the term "affrèrement," roughly translated as brotherment. Similar contracts existed elsewhere in Mediterranean Europe, Tulchin said.

In the contract, the "brothers" pledged to live together sharing "un pain, un vin, et une bourse," (that's French for one bread, one wine and one purse). The "one purse" referred to the idea that all of the couple's goods became joint property. Like marriage contracts, the "brotherments" had to be sworn before a notary and witnesses, Tulchin explained.

The same type of legal contract of the time also could provide the foundation for a variety of non-nuclear households, including arrangements in which two or more biological brothers inherited the family home from their parents and would continue to live together, Tulchin said.
Medieval contracts aren't up my alley, but I'd bet that while affrèrement "contracts" can be likened to a marriage contract, there's a good chance they can be likened to other medieval legal documents. But setting them up as "like a marriage contract" is laying the groundwork for Tulchin's theory.
But non-relatives also used the contracts. In cases that involved single, unrelated men, Tulchin argues, these contracts provide “considerable evidence that the affrèrés were using affrèrements to formalize same-sex loving relationships."
The MSNBC story doesn't provide all of Tulchin's reasoning, for that we go to the press release (heh, imagine, promoting potentially controversial scholarship. Welp, it works!):
The effects of entering into an affrèrement were profound. As Tulchin explains: “All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other’s legal heir. They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés.”
This is a bit more solid. But it isn't clear if the "They" he's alluding to are those in agreements between blood brothers (or other relatives) or those between un-related men or both. It's also not clear to me how he knows that two men are unrelated. If they're cousins, would they have the same last name? What if one is a bastard? I don't think you can tell if they are un-related for sure by just looking at the documents. Again, it's an assumption.

Back to the MSNBC story:
The ins-and-outs of the medieval relationships are tricky at best to figure out.

"I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been," Tulchin said. "It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that.
Let's call it like it is: there are weasel words aplenty there. Tulchin admits there is no proof, he only "suspects". Worse, he then says proving his suspicion or not is irrelevant because "[t]hey loved each other, and the community accepted that." No, it is relevant because maybe the community accepted them because the "freres" weren't regarded as "married" homosexuals but as legally-bound "buds." It's possible that men could be affectionate of each other but not be lovers, even in the gory middle ages, right?

Again, though, this was clearly a contractual, not a spiritual arrangement. No mention is made of the clergy attending the "ceremony". Besides, if it was a recognized marriage, why not call it, well, marriage?

From what I can gather from the press release (the whole article is in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History), Tulchin is making some pretty big assumptions about human motivation based on written documents only. His facts appear to be right, but they don't support his suppositions. Yet historical accuracy--supported by facts, not conjecture--is less important to him than grounding a contemporary political agenda in a wished-for past.

Even if that is not his intent, it is clearly the result:
Opponents of gay marriage in the United States state that nuclear families have always been the standard household form. Turns out this may not be true. While gay marriage itself may not have happened in medieval times there is evidence that homosexual civil unions did and that could lend important historical insight to the debate.
Of course, insight = support. Maybe I'm being too hard on Tulchin, but scholars have to be aware that what they say--whatever they theorize--will be picked up, expanded, expounded and hyperbolized by those who seek to benefit or "lose" from a particular spin. In the particular case of history, it's dangerous to go too far down the path of unsupported conjecture as opinion becomes fact and history becomes an idealized past.

ADDENDUM: Tulchin mentioned similar arrangements and is probably talking about adelphopoiesis (via TMI), which historian John Boswell attempted to liken to same-sex marriage in his book Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe.
Boswell maintained that they were celebrating romantic, indeed sexual unions between two men, and thus a forerunner of gay marriage. Boswell comments on the lack of any equivalent in the Catholic church; however, the British historian Alan Bray in his book The Friend, gives a Latin text and translation of a similar Roman Catholic rite from Slovenia, entitled Ordo ad fratres faciendum, literally "Order for the making of brothers"...

Alternative views are that this rite was used in many ways, such as the formation of permanent pacts between leaders of nations or between religious brothers. This was a replacement for "blood brotherhood" which was forbidden by the church at the time. Others such as Brent Shaw have maintained also that these unions were more akin to "blood-brotherhood" and had no sexual connotation...

It is worth noting that Boswell himself (Same-sex Unions, pp. 298-299) denies that adelphopoiesis should be properly translated as "homosexual marriage". He decries such a translation as "tendentiously slanted". This, however, has not stopped many gay activists from claiming (incorrectly) that Boswell's book purports to demonstrate that "gay marriage" was in fact sanctioned by Christian churches in the past.

At the same time, Boswell claims that "brother-making" or "making of brothers" is an "anachronistically literal" translation and proposes "same-sex union" as the preferrable rendering. Boswell's preference, however, is not unproblematic. "Sex", for instance, while pointing to a seemingly "objective" characteristic of the participants involved in the rite, in fact draws attention to the physical condition or biological sex of the "brothers" -- whereas the rites for adelphopoiesis explicitly deny that the union itself is a "carnal" one.

"Union of spiritual siblings" is perhaps a more "neutral" translation than Boswell's "same-sex union."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Have Master's Degree, Will (Can)Teach

I like this idea from Victor Davis Hanson:
To encourage our best minds to become teachers, we should also change the qualifications for becoming one. Students should be able to pursue careers in teaching either by getting a standard teaching credential or by substituting a master’s degree in an academic subject. That way we will eventually end up with more instructors with real academic knowledge rather than prepped with theories about how to teach.
If I wanted to teach History in Rhode Island, I'd have to go back to one of the teacher mills to get all of the proper credentials over-and-above my MA. I'm sure the other facets of "doing my time" or "paying dues" wouldn't go away, but it would certainly save me a little money and time!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Anachronistic History: Ruth Simmons on George Washington

In a ProJo story about the annual reading of George Washington's Letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Brown University President Ruth Simmons is quoted thusly:
She touched upon the moral contradictions underlying the noble desires of past leaders who were eager to uphold freedom, despite an indifference to the injustice of slavery.

“We all know that these lofty and compelling ideals were largely omitted from discourse when it came to Africans and Native Americans.… In failing to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants, Washington compromised his legacy as a moral leader,” she said.
This is simplistic. Historians agree that Washington's views on slavery certainly evolved from his early manhood up until he freed many of his slaves in his last will. For Simmons to opine that he "fail[ed] to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants" betrays a blindered view of history. The fact is, Washington was hardly indifferent and fully recognized the evils of slavery.

In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on May 10, 1786, Washington wrote:
The benevolence of your heart my Dr. Marqs. is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set them afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by Legislative authority.
In September of that year, he wrote to John Mercer:
I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.
He wrote to Charles Pinckney on March 17, 1792:
I must say that I lament the decision of your legislature upon the question of importing Slaves after March 1793. I was in hopes that motives of policy, as well as other good reasons supported by the direful effects of Slavery which at this moment are presented, would have operated to produce a total prohibition of the importation of Slaves whenever the question came to be agitated in any State that might be interested in the measure.
Or Lawrence Lewis, in August of 1797, that:
I wish from my soul that the Legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery...
Yet, amidst this, he very clearly did equivocate with regards to his own slaves. For instance, in his letter to Tobias Lear on April 12, 1791, concerning the anti-slavery laws in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, as the capital then, would be Washington's home and he was concerned with how to maintain his own slaves without having them freed (As they would be if in Pennsylvania for over 6 months). And he went to secretive ends to assure his hold on them: case it shall be found that any of my Slaves may, or any for them shall attempt their freedom at the expiration of six months, it is my wish and desire that you would send the whole, or such part of them as Mrs. Washington may not chuse to keep, home, for although I do not think they would be benefitted by the change, yet the idea of freedom might be too great a temptation for them to resist. At any rate it might, if they conceived they had a right to it, make them insolent in a State of Slavery. As all except Hercules and Paris are dower negroes, it behoves me to prevent the emancipation of them, otherwise I shall not only loose the use of them, but may have them to pay for. If upon taking good advise it is found expedient to send them back to Virginia, I wish to have it accomplished under pretext that may deceive both them and the Public; and none I think would so effectually do this, as Mrs. Washington coming to Virginia next month (towards the middle or latter end of it, as she seemed to have a wish to do) if she can accomplish it by any convenient and agreeable means, with the assistance of the Stage Horses &c. This would naturally bring her maid and Austin, and Hercules under the idea of coming home to Cook whilst we remained there might be sent on in the Stage. Whether there is occasion for this or not according to the result of your enquiries, or issue the thing as it may, I request that these Sentiments and this advise may be known to none but yourself and Mrs. Washington . From the following expression in your letter "that those who were of age might follow the example of his (the Attorney's people) after a residence of six months", it would seem that none could apply before the end of May, and that the non age of Christopher, Richmond and Oney is a bar to them.
Clearly, Washington wasn't above subverting his ideals the closer the issue of slavery got to home. However, he also recognized the evils of slavery even if his actions failed to align with this recognition. One common defense of Washington's actions is encapsulated at the website:
Washington did not lead a public fight against slavery, however, because he believed it would tear the new nation apart. Abolition had many opponents, especially in the South. Washington seems to have feared that if he took such a public stand, the southern states would withdraw from the Union (something they would do seventy years later, leading to the Civil War). He had worked too hard to build the country to risk tearing it apart.
Historian Dorothy Twohig elaborates:
For Washington, as for most of the other founders, when the fate of the new republic was balanced against his own essentially conservative opposition to slavery, there was really no contest. And there was a widely held, if convenient, feeling among many opponents of slavery that if left alone, the institution would wither by itself. Ironically, the clause of the Constitution barring the importation of slaves after 1808 fostered this salve to the antislavery conscience by imparting the feeling that at least some progress had been made.
Further, Twohig explains that Washington, essentially an aristocrat, was nervous about the emotionalism of many abolitionists (particularly Quakers). To that end, she observes:
...given his accurate conception of his own great and pivotal role in the infant country and his fears for the survival of the Republic itself, it is far from likely that he was ever sorely tempted to open as a national issue the Pandora's box that the Constitutional Convention appeared to contemporaries to have closed for the next twenty years.
It is a tragedy that neither he nor the other Founders took action sooner, but their primary concern was with safeguarding a nascent nation, even if that meant sacrificing the central American ideals of freedom and liberty in the process.

However, it is last will and testament that probably indicates his final, and true, feelings on the matter of slavery.
Washington once told a visiting Englishman that slavery was neither a crime nor an absurdity, noting that the U.S. government did not assure liberty to madmen. "Until the mind of the slave has been educated to understand freedom, the gift of freedom would only assure its abuse," Washington explained.

His will, drafted a year later, said otherwise. He wrote that he wished he could free all the slaves at Mt. Vernon, but couldn't because some belonged to his wife's heirs, and he didn't want to divide families. Unless Martha or her heirs freed the Custis slaves as well, families would be broken up. [Henry] Wiencek [author of The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White] believes George was trying to persuade Martha to use her influence on her heirs to free the Custis slaves--but she did not. Washington also stipulated that the freed children be taught reading, writing and a trade.

"His will was a rebuke to his family, to his class, and to the country. He was well ahead of people of his time and place," Wiencek said. "This is George Washington's true legacy. He'd said the slaves weren't ready for freedom, but at last he said they must have it because of their humanity."
Yet, as historian Dennis Pogue comments:
Washington's will swiftly gained the public attention envisioned by its author, appearing in print almost immediately, with no less than 13 editions published in 10 different cities in 1800 alone. And yet, if Washington hoped that the decision to free his slaves would compel large numbers of his countrymen to follow his lead, he was sadly mistaken.
His final act, though noble, didn't inspire the sort of change that he foresaw. He tried--if only fitfully and sometimes half-heartedly--to end slavery. He could have done more. Yet, Simmons' critique that Washington "fail[ed] to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery" is clearly wrong. He knew it was immoral and that its existence ran counter to the claims of the American Revolution, but he felt his hands were tied by the practical politics of the day. Further, it is unfair of Simmons to expect that Washington could have had the Delphic vision to see "the immoral inequities that [slavery] was to create for generations of descendants." Like the other Founders, Washington believed that slavery would wither away. He was clearly wrong. Nonetheless, he recognized that to succeed, slaves (or former slaves) needed to be educated and prepared for a life of freedom before actually being set free.

Ultimately, Washington's failure was one that became more obvious as time went on. He and the other Founders kept the nascent Republic together by acceding to the political practicalities of the day. This meant acquiescing temporarily--as they truly believed--over the issue of slavery. Retrospectively, it is indeed a failure to uphold the American ideals of freedom and liberty for all.

Perhaps Simmons was trying to say that the failure to deal properly with the slavery issue shows that Washington and the other Founders weren't really as great as we should have hoped. Such an argument is hardly new, especially in academic circles. But Simmons has taken a now-common recognition of the acute failure of the Founders with regards to slavery--a critique that is deserved, if in context--and applied a layer of hyperbole that that results in skewing the perspective too much the other way. It is both undeserved and innaccurate. Washington's writings indicate he was at times rueful, at times hypocritical, and at times idealistic about the issue of slavery and its eventual end. Such conflicting thoughts and actions made him all the more human and make it all the more remarkable that he was able to do what he did.

Friday, August 17, 2007

President Madision, kinda

Ya know, if a school board can't get it's history right...
The Ogden School District needs a big eraser. After naming a new school "James A. Madison Elementary School" in May, a history teacher pointed out this month that the fourth president of the United States didn't have a middle initial.

"I'm blindsided," school board member John Gullo said. "I hate being embarrassed."

Gullo heads the American Dream Foundation, which donated a large painting of the former president to the school. An accompanying plaque does not have the mystery initial.

Word of the mistake reached superintendent Noel Zabriskie, who verified it and called the company that was making a sign for the new school. The call came in time for the error to be fixed on the sign. It is set to be installed Friday.

Some school letterheads will need to be replaced.

The board voted May 23 to approve the school name as "James A. Madison." The majority of board members chose Madison because the school borders Madison Avenue. Several board members also said they feel James Madison was a great president.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Maybe Someday....

Well, maybe someday-when the kids have grown and I can really think about making a career change (or I hit the lottery)--I'll be able to apply for a job such as this:
Medieval/Ancient World

The Department of History at Wheaton College (MA) seeks a tenure-track assistant professor with scholarly and teaching expertise in the fields of classical, late-antique, and/or medieval history. The History Department is especially interested in social or cultural historians whose thematic expertise includes gender, popular religion, material culture, cross-cultural contact, or the history of science or the environment. Geographic field open; preference for Celtic world, northwestern Europe, or southeastern Europe. Ph.D must be in hand at time of appointment. Send letter of interest, CV, and three letters of reference by November 26, 2007 to Alexander Bloom, Chair, Department of History, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, 02766. Preliminary interviews will be conducted at the 2008 AHA annual meeting. For more information, please contact AA/EOE. Wheaton College seeks educational excellence through diversity and strongly encourages applications from women and men from historically underrepresented groups.
Within an hour of my home. Possibility of working with a really interesting English professor. Damn the practical bent!!! Ok, vent over. Seriously, if I had the time and money to go for a PhD, I would. But I've got a couple kids to raise, and they come first! Besides, my engineering job ain't bad.

FOIA and Historians' Focus

Historians have been battling the Bush Administration over changes to the Freedom of Information Act (and rightly so) as it pertains to Presidential records for well nigh the current President' entire term. There have been calls to "free" records from the Johnson, Nixon and Reagan administrations as well as the current. Strangely, though, there really hasn't been much call from historians to "free" Clinton era docs (or for President Carter, for that matter). Hm. I wonder why?

Maybe that will change now that a certain former First Lady seems to be hiding behind FOIA...
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton cites her experience as a compelling reason voters should make her president, but nearly 2 million pages of documents covering her White House years are locked up in a building here, obscuring a large swath of her record as first lady.

Clinton's calendars, appointment logs and memos are stored at her husband's presidential library, in the custody of federal archivists who do not expect them to be released until after the 2008 presidential election.

A trove of records has been made public detailing the Clinton White House's attempts to remake the nation's healthcare system, following a request from Bill Clinton that those materials be released first. Hillary Clinton led the healthcare effort in 1993 and 1994.

But even in the healthcare documents, at least 1,000 pages involving her work has been censored by archives staff because they include confidential advice and must be kept secret under a federal law called the Presidential Records Act. Political consultants said that if Hillary Clinton's records were made public, rivals would mine them for scraps of information that might rattle her campaign.
I bet they would. Currently, it is political activists--and not are calling for the release of the Clinton papers.

I'm trying not to play to the historians-are-liberal stereotype, but it sure seems that the motivation for hammering the Bush Administration on this issue--while partly altruistic--also nicely coincides with an ideological desire to dig up dirt on the current Bush as well as the past Bush, Reagan and Nixon Administrations (Republicans all). Hey, I'm sure there's dirt to be found! But any similar desire to dig into Carter or Clinton Administration records seems muted in comparison. At least that's my impression. Maybe historians need to wake up and realize that their relative silence on Clinton and Carter records feeds into stereotypes and undercuts the profession. If nothing else, they should bring Carter and Clinton into their arguments for professional (and political) cover.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Post-Modern Conservatives

In the latest dead-tree version of National Review, Michael Potemra reviews Gerald J. Russello's The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk. (Russello is editor of the Russell Kirk Center's "The University Bookman"). Huh? A conservative post-modernist? Well, just hold on...According to Potemra:
Kirk, like the best of the postmodernists, is calling not for a radical relativism—i.e., an assertion that truth doesn’t exist—but for a humility of the intellect. The postmodernist challenges us to learn from the aspects of the truth presented by today’s less powerful voices; the traditionalist Kirk asks us to show the same respect for those who are less powerful because they are voices of the past. (This idea is echoed in Chesterton’s phrase “democracy of the dead.”) Modernity viewed the past as an oppressor whose shackles must be removed from thought, but postmodernism can view the past the way a healthy new republic treats its former king: He is no longer king, but he must not be denied the full rights of citizenship—for he, too, has much to teach us.

Like the postmodernists, Kirk presents us with what has been called a “romance of the marginal.” Gerald Russello’s fine book demonstrates how looking at the margins can give us directions to the moral and intellectual center; how Lyotard’s “crisis of narratives” can yield a vision of the permanent things.
In an interview with John J. Miller at NR, Russello explained:
Kirk’s conservatism is “postmodern” in the sense that it was never modern, and therefore is not burdened as liberalism is with the weaknesses of the Enlightenment worldview. Kirk’s emphasis on imagination, his concern for the imagery a society creates of what it admires or condemns, his treatment of tradition and history as not objective but one in which we participate and can change, and his devotion to what Burke called the “little platoons” of society all have parallels in postmodern thought. Moreover, Kirk himself saw this. In 1982, he wrote in National Review, that “the Post-Modern imagination stands ready to be captured. And the seemingly novel ideas and sentiments and modes may turn out, after all, to be received truths and institutions, well known to surviving conservatives.” With liberalism moribund, it “may be the conservative imagination which is to guide the Post-Modern Age.”
Looking at the historical margins for the moral constants exhibited by the silent majorities of the past could be--and has been--a worthwhile endeavor for conservatives.

But perhaps this bit--from an interview with James G. Poulos at the American Spectator--goes further in explaining Kirk's post-modern leanings:
Reviewers since the 1950s have noted the internal dilemma of conservatives: once they start articulating what it is to be conservative, the battle is already half lost. Bernard Crick, in a review of The Conservative Mind, thought that Kirk was in an intellectual quandary, because "[h]aving no significant conservative tradition, Americans are put to the unconservative task of inventing one." In order to defend what they thought was worth conserving, many mainstream conservatives once believed that they had to engage liberalism on its own terms, in a "dialectic" mode that is foreign to the rhetorical, didactic, and imaginative modes more amenable to conservative expression. Kirk tried to overcome that difficulty by wrapping his arguments in a protective covering of narrative imagination. To state outright the traditions one wishes to preserve, and the means to do so, succumbs to the liberal temptation of reducing to reason things that are not always rational. To cast the same lessons through stories and autobiography, however, can leave enough room for the creation and preservation of tradition to take root. I think this is what Kirk was trying to do in the overall body of his work.
Now we can see the allure of post-modernism for anti-modern traditionalists like Kirk and many other conservatives. (Admit it, most of us can at least be partially described this way). Yet, I don't doubt it'll still rub conservatives the wrong way to be lumped in with the contemporary--and satirized--post-modernist. But they, like the po-mo social and cultural historians, may discover important truths (heh) if they pay a visit to the heretofore ignored masses.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A New Movie about....Calvin Coolidge?

What would prompt someone to make a movie about Calvin Coolidge? Well, for starters, it had never been done! And, golly gee, he was an interesting guy, says filmmaker John Karol
When the idea was first suggested to me I barely could muster a yawn. As a "liberal" filmmaker, what little I knew of Coolidge came from New Deal historians who view him as a somnambulant "capitalist tool" whose presidency served only as a prelude to disaster.

"Why Coolidge?"

"Read his autobiography — 250 pages, large print."

I did, and was intrigued. I moved on to his speeches, all of which he wrote himself. A master at delegating duties, Coolidge was not one to delegate beliefs. His speeches read like lay sermons to the American public, revealing fundamental values and ideals any small "d" democrat should embrace. I was hooked.

What did Karol learn? Well, among other things:
Others may disagree, but I can't imagine Coolidge rising to political bait like flag burning, the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, or school prayer. In my opinion, he would have viewed these "hot-button" issues as inappropriate, having nothing to do with presidential business.
What's in the film and what conclusions are drawn?
"Things of the Spirit" takes a deeper than usual look at the personal and political life of our thirtieth President. We already have completed the research, preproduction, production and story edit. Among other things, "Things of the Spirit":
  • Is the first fully researched film that has ever been made on Calvin Coolidge and the political and economic issues of the 1920's.

  • Dispels the assumption of most American history textbooks that Coolidge was a small-minded materialist who served only as a handmaiden to business.

  • Establishes clearly and finally that the Coolidge-Mellon tax cuts of the 1920's generated increased revenue to the federal government; that Coolidge ran surpluses in all his annual budgets; and that by the time he left office he had cut the national debt by one-third.

  • Challenges the popular opinion of historians that the Coolidge Prosperity led inevitably to the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression of the 1930's.

  • Illustrates America's leadership in post World War I European recovery, and prominence in worldwide economic and cultural development during the 1920's.

  • Inspires viewers to give open minded consideration to the political beliefs, moral character and spiritual values of perhaps our most misunderstood President, Calvin Coolidge.
Regarding the Coolidge's economic record, Karol explains:

Harding, Coolidge, and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon sought to kick-start the economy by reducing the top marginal tax rate to 25%. They did. Revenues increased dramatically, presaging Arthur Laffer by half a century. Both presidents ran surpluses in all their annual budgets. By the time Coolidge left office, the national debt had been cut by one-third.

New Deal historians maintain that the tax cuts of the 1920s reversed the progressive tax policies of Woodrow Wilson. Far from it. Exemptions increased so much that by 1927 almost 98% of the American people paid no income tax whatsoever. When Coolidge left office in 1929, wealthy people paid 93% of the tax load. During Wilson's last year in office they had paid only 59%.

Less remembered, and less appreciated by contemporary politicians, was Coolidge's aversion to farm subsidies. At great political risk, Coolidge twice vetoed the popular McNary-Haugen farm subsidy bill. As Coolidge put it:

"If the government gets into business on any large scale, we soon find that the beneficiaries attempt to play a large part in the control … and those who are the most adroit get the larger part of it." Although some may wish otherwise, Coolidge was not one publicly to condemn private organizations. Rather than censure the Ku Klux Klan following its massive 1925 march in Washington, Coolidge chose to address the annual meeting of the American Legion in Omaha on "toleration and liberalism," concluding:

"I recognize the full and complete necessity of 100 percent Americanism, but 100 percent Americanism may be made up of many various elements … Whether one traces his Americanisms back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to the steerage … we are all now in the same boat … Let us cast off our hatreds."

I can't think of any other public figure who would have dared deliver that message to that audience at that time.

Maybe forgotten Cal will become "cool" again.

Via Powerblog.

Friday, August 03, 2007

House, Erases?...History on the Fly

According to the Politico:
Details remain fuzzy, but numerous Republicans argued afterward that they had secured a 215-213 win on their motion to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any federal funds apportioned in the agricultural spending bill for employment or rental assistance. Democrats, however, argued the measure was deadlocked at 214-214 and failed, members and aides on both sides of the aisle said afterward.

One GOP aide saw McNulty gavel the vote to a close after receiving a signal from his leaders – but before reading the official tally. And votes continued to shift even after he closed the roll call - a strange development in itself.


The official House website did not show a record of the vote as of 1 a.m. Friday.

Breitbart has video. Will historians get up in arms if the Congressional Record is allowed to be "revised" like this? Would they tolerate similar actions by a GOP controlled House?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Kennedy Assassination: Ideological Turning Point of Democratic Party

I missed the first round of interviews and reviews of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism by James Piereson. Rich Lowry has a new one up, though, which caught my eye:
[Kennedy's] kind of liberalism -- "tough and realistic," as Piereson puts it, in the tradition of FDR and Truman -- was carried away in the riptide of his death. In a crucial and counterintuitive interpretive act, the nation's opinion elite made JFK a martyr to civil rights instead of the Cold War. Kennedy had been killed by a communist, Lee Harvey Oswald, who a few years before had tried to defect to the Soviet Union. Liberals nonetheless blamed the assassination on, in the characteristic words of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, "the hatred and bitterness that has been injected into the life of our nation by bigots."

Thus, the assassination curdled into an indictment of American society: "Kennedy Victim of Violent Streak He Sought to Curb in Nation," read a New York Times headline. Until this point, 20th-century liberalism had tended to see history as a steady march of progress. Now, the march had been interrupted by the country's own pathologies. "Kennedy was mourned in a spirit of frustrated possibility and dashed hopes," Piereson argues, and that sense of loss came to define the new liberalism.
Fred Siegal disagrees:
Mr. Piereson's own argument is persuasive and well-presented, but liberalism was never as reasonable as he assumes. The irrationalism that exploded later in the 1960s had been a component of left-wing ideology well before. Herbert Croly, the liberal founder of the New Republic magazine, was drawn to mysticism. In the 1950s ex-Marxists fell over themselves in praise of Wilhelm Reich and "orgone box," hoping that sexual therapy might replace Marxist theory as the toga of the enlightened. And in the very early 1960s a veritable cult of Castro, informed by Franz Fanon's writings on the cleansing virtues of violence, emerged among intellectuals searching for an alternative to middle-class conventions.

It's not reason that is at the heart of modern-day liberalism but rather the claim to superior virtue and, even more important, to a special knowledge unavailable to the unwashed or unenlightened. Depending on the temper of the time, such virtue and knowledge can derive disproportionately from scientism or mysticism--or it can mix large dollops of both. "Camelot and the Cultural Revolution" lays bare the long-ignored failure of intellect that hastened the decline of American liberalism. If liberals can belatedly come to grips with their failure to acknowledge Oswald's political identity, they might be able to celebrate a revival that involves more than a Broadway show.

Ed Driscoll, too:

But the actual causes of liberal disorientation regarding Kennedy's death and the motives of his killer predate his assassination by several years. It was during the 1950s and early '60s that that liberal elites declared America's nascent and disparate conservative movements to be a greater threat to the nation than the Soviet Union, as illustrated by films of the day such as Dr. Strangelove and The Manchurian Candidate. And the subtext of those films was very much based upon "a vast literature that developed in the '50s and early '60s about the threat from the far right," Piereson says, specifically mentioning Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style In American Politics, and Daniel Bell's The Radical Right.

As Piereson writes, leading up to Kennedy's fateful trip to Dallas, there was a remarkable amount of violence in the south, caused by a backlash against the civil rights movement. In October of 1963, Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' presidential candidate in the 1950s who had been appointed the ambassador to the UN by Kennedy, traveled to Dallas for a speech on United Nations Day. Stevenson is heckled, booed, spat upon, and hit over the head with a cardboard sign. Stevenson says publicly, there's a "spirit of madness" in Texas. And Kennedy's White House staffers believe that he should cancel his already announced November visit to Dallas.

Thus, at the beginning of November 1963 a framework has been established that the far right is the threat to American democracy, "and that they've moved from heated rhetoric to violent act," Piereson says.

"So when the news spreads that Kennedy has been killed, the immediate response is that it must be a right winger who's done it," Piereson notes. And while the Birch-era right definitely had severe issues, JFK's assassin on November 22, 1963 had, of course, a polar opposite ideology. "When the word is now spread that Oswald has been captured, and that he has a communist past, and they start running film of him demonstrating for Castro in the previous summer, there is a tremendous disorientation at this."


The shock that Kennedy was in reality a victim of the Cold War simply did not compute on a national level.