Category Archives: Current Politics & Media

Robert Brown Elliott: Original Birther?

This month I finished reading two books about African-American Congressmen in the US Senate and House during the Reconstruction period. One, The Glorious Failure, was unexpected as I’d never heard of it and I only was barely aware of South Carolina Representative Robert Brown Elliott.  However, in the more recent Capitol Men Dray mentions author Peggy Lamson having done the most thorough research on Elliott’s mysterious past and childhood and I was intrigued.  Lamson’s book was long out of print but luckily for me, Seattle Public Library was able to get me a loaner that was at Evergreen State College in Olympia!

—Picture of the first African-Americans serving in the US Congress: 1869-1872. Robert Brown Elliott is on the far right.

Elliott claimed to be born in Boston, MA but no record of proof can be found of that.  He also claimed to have been educated primarily in the UK, including his law degree from Eaton.  Yet, no record can be found of that either although there is quite a bit of evidence of his time spent in Liverpool just prior to emigrating (or “returning”) to the US.  Lawson speculates that he may very well have been Liverpool-born (Liverpool had been the center of the UK slave trade and had a not insubstantial African descended population from that period) and hadn’t had his citizenship the required eight years to be a US member of the House of Representatives.  Thus, an invented a Boston birth, followed by years of education in the UK.  When campaigning and visiting Boston Elliott strangely never made reference to his childhood or places of significance there, he only spoke of his Boston childhood when in South Carolina. Some speculate that Elliott may have actually been South Carolina born and raised, but that seems less likely.  Yet, references to a British accent are curiously absent from contemporary reports as well. What’s interesting is that at the time of his service in Congress he was often referred to as the first “African” US congressman, as most of the other African-Americans serving were of mixed-race. What a strange postscript to history if the first “African” United State Congressman was actually a British subject.

Lincoln, the Civil War & a 1956 “Human Wormhole”

An amazing short clip has surfaced on YouTube of a 1956 episode of CBS’s I’ve Got a Secret game show where they brought on the last surviving witness to Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 assassination by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater.  Watch it Here! This kind of historical human wormhole (during the Age of Television there was someone alive who saw Lincoln!?!) is always fascinating! There were at least two or three women who were drawing state Confederate Widow’s pensions as of a couple years ago. Teenaged girls who married ninety-something men during the Great Depression precisely for that reason: to collect that pension. During the Depression before any safety net for the elderly or Social Security this was a win-win for the girl and the dying veteran. He got someone to care for him in his final days, she was guaranteed a check for life. Back to this game show. What struck me (aside from all the cigarette shilling) is at the 2:30 mark where the program host says the secret-to-guess (Lincoln’s murder) “had not to do with the Civil War”. He then sort of awkwardly backtracks and adds “well, uh, let’s say indirectly“. The idea that you’d even need to hesitate over that question is remarkable to me! Yet, this is a very typical response concerning the Lincoln assassination both in the 1950s and today.  Keeping Lincoln’s assassination in a neat little box of national tragedy: completely removed from the bloodiest 4 years in American history.

Photograph of Lincoln’s body as he was embalmed.

Its unfortunate that the Civil War in popular memory has been so separated off into this bizarre, isolated, collective place of battlefields, generals, flags, and cannons.  Slavery? Oh that’s a separate box.  Voting rights for African-Americans? Different box. Lincoln’s assassination? Work of a deranged madman like John Hinkley. The adjectives used to describe the Civil War are invariably “tragic”, “sad”, or “heroic”.

Imagine switching on the television tonight and discovering that President Obama was just shot in the head, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been hacked with a knife while sleeping in her bed, and a person-of-interest has been taken into custody confessing he was under instructions to kill Joe Biden. Would we hesitate to call that Domestic Terrorism? Would we separate it from the world events happening around us? John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices were pro-Confederacy conspirators who hatched this plot in order to create terrorism in the truest sense of the word. The idea was that the Top 3 in line of succession to the US Presidency being slaughtered on the same night would plunge the federal government, Union Army, and general populace into such chaos that it would create an opening for some or all of the Southern states to re-establish home control. What was the tipping point for Booth to justify this plot? In John Wilkes Booth’s own words following Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural speech: “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.” Lincoln’s assassination was a last-ditch act of war. The Civil War. The Civil War was about slavery. Lincoln’s assassination was in response to citizenship for African-Americans. There is no “indirectly” here.

Spectators watch the hanging of Mary Surratt & Lewis Powell. July 7th, 1865. Both were convicted of being part of John Wilkes Booth’s terrorism plot to kill the President, VP, and Secretary of State on April 14th.

Charlotte & Unabashed Patriotism

I didn’t manage to catch as many speeches as I would have liked at the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte (other than the Big Four: Barack, Michelle, Bill and Biden).  However I am now convinced that the era–of my lifetime–of Democrats being vaguely apologetic for overt patriotism and flag-waving? Over.  It’s done.  In fact, comparing it to the GOP’s party in Tampa a week earlier, not only have the Democrats gotten out of their defensive crouch, they have succeeded at being the stronger party at conveying American optimism and unabashed patriotism.

The first Republican convention I can (sketchily) remember watching on television was George HW Bush’s nomination in 1988.  I remember the surprising Quayle VP pick and the brouhaha over it.  I remember the ridiculing of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and his campaign blunders.  I also remember a speech (if anyone can tell me who it was or where I can find a clip–MUCH OBLIGED!) in which a Republican orator gave a dripping-with-mockery speech about how the other team (Dems) requested flags and bunting that were less solid colors, in order to come across better on camera at their convention. The speaker then went into a tirade about how of COURSE the Republicans would never do that! The RED standing for the blood of our soldiers who died in battle! The BLUE of the great American sky….well, maybe not that…I’m sketchy on the details.  Looking back I wonder if the “let’s use toned-down flags” really happened or it was just rhetorical flourish from the Republicans.  What I do remember is the takeaway message: Democrats are namby-pamby and weak; Republicans are patriotic and strong.

We all know it wasn’t always like this. Nixon’s use of flag label pins to indicate the “Silent Majority” who supported US action in Vietnam, Baby Boomers and flag-burning as protests to it, and other more subtle cultural side-taking nuances spawned in the 1960s and 1970s.  I grew up in the aftermath of that period but the narrative had been set: Republicans are the party of God, Guns, & Guts (I think I saw that on a bumper sticker).  The reaction to that extreme rhetoric is that suddenly the US flag (in some quarters, not all) became shorthand for a certain type of politics: uncomplicated and blindly nationalistic.  Some would demure from flying an American flag too often (or at all) because they didn’t want others to think they were either of those things.  It’s a vicious circle: they (right-wingers) believe they are the patriotic ones because they are in-your-face about it, they (left-wingers) are not overly in-your-face about it because they don’t want to come across as jingoistic.  By the 1990s a sort of snide elitism had set in on the Left: we don’t need that excessive flag-waving because we know love-of-country means so much more than that.  Or worse, it was perceived as somewhat declasse or tacky: like a rusting car on cinder locks right in the front yard.

I felt I was immunized against falling for either partisan stereotype until I had a conversation with some Canadians while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta.  Go to any gay beach where there are a lot of Canadian travellers (and that’s most) and you’ll be bound to see a few muscled arms or torso imprinted with that instantly recognizable Maple Leaf.  Since I assumed that most gay guys would veer at least center-left in their politics, I thought there must be an element of post-modern irony contained in a flag tattoo.  Or a military connection.  Nope.  At least to those I talked with, it was fairly straight-forward: “I’m Canadian. I’m proud of it” (and presumably also favor tattoos).  No political messaging was going on there.  Also, no Seattle/Portland irony-of-the-ink which flows thicker than coffee where I live.  I got it wrong.

This past Memorial Day a reader wrote to Andrew Sullivan with this:

Here’s my story about liberals and the flag; or: “What my father taught me about patriotism.” We are Jewish, from Brooklyn, and very liberal.  My parents were New Deal Democrats, and worshipped FDR, JFK, and the Great Society.  In 1968 and beyond, we opposed the war in Vietnam and supported anti-war candidates.  During the Moratoriums and other anti-war protests in 1969, Nixon (whom we all despised – rightly, as it turned out) called upon the “Silent Majority” of Americans who supported him and the War to fly the flag on the upcoming holiday (I think it was Memorial Day, actually).  Come Memorial Day, my liberal father hung out his American flag.

“But Dad,” my then-teenaged sister, brother and I protested, “How can you do that?  You’re showing support for Nixon and the War!”  “Let me tell you something,” my father – who immigrated from Poland in 1929 at the age of 11, and had fought for the U.S. in North Africa, Italy and France – replied: “That’s MY flag, too;  and that bastard isn’t going to take it away from me!”

I blame conservatives for politicizing the flag.  I blame liberals for letting them.  And I credit the lesson of my father, unabashed liberal, critic – and patriot.

In Charlotte the Democrats clearly have taken a page from this man’s father’s book.  The chanting of U-S-A, the flag-waving, the thanking of the troops, never seemed like a pale imitation of when Republicans do it.  I think the tide has turned over the last few years and progressives–like those of the FDR generation–are comfortable with a little loud and traditional patriotism again.

Delegate ticket to the 1936 Democratic Convention to re-nominate President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a second term. It was a landslide, FDR won every state except Maine and Vermont.

Pennsylvania & Voter Suppression

It looks like Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law will be in place during the 2012 election.  A judicial appeal was unsuccessful. This law is problematic for many reasons (not the least of which is the judge who made the ruling even admitted there is little-to-no evidence of in-person voter fraud in the state) and I have thrown around the terms “Jim Crow”, “poll tax” “literacy tests” and the like repeatedly.  I’d like to think it’s my own hyper-sensitivity because I’ve spent the summer steeped in US Reconstruction and LBJ (yes, I’ve taken on the Caro book!) but you cannot deny that this reeks of political mischief.

Studies show that two groups are most likely to be affected by this: the very elderly (80+) and African-Americans.  Those who are crying foul point out that these are two groups who overwhelmingly vote Democratic and–not coincidentally–a Republican dominated state congress enacted this law despite no evidence of voter fraud in the state.  It is also before an election where Pennsylvania is likely to be a swing state where a win either way is by the most razor-thin of margins. Even 1% of the electorate being disenfranchised of their right to vote could make a difference (much less 9%!).  It is perhaps apropos that the challenge to the law is coming from 93 year old Viviette Applewhite: someone who has cast a ballot in every presidential election since her first when she voted for FDR.  Suddenly, according to the state of Pennsylvania, she is a suspicious fraud risk.

That said, the more I think about it the more I’ve come to the conclusion it is probably not motivated only by pure partisanship (or, worse yet, racism) although the end result of this law certainly is.  Rather, I think it is a symbol of how segmented and different our lives have become in terms of urban/rural divides as well as we-could-be-in-different-countries lifestyle/class divides. Those who support the law (and likely the GOP legislators who passed it) are probably think “what’s the problem? you must have an ID to do anything these days! Just go get one! Who the hell doesn’t have a driver’s license”.  The mainstay of Republican districts these days tend to be in the suburbs and exurbs: areas when a car is a necessity to even pick up a gallon of milk.  The concept of forgoing a car and using public transportation for them is completely foreign.  Again, urban dwellers who live that lifestyle are more likely to vote Democrat (for a variety of reasons).  However, most of them would still keep a state-issued ID for a variety of other reasons, not to mention a passport (studies also show urban Blue State dwellers have passports in high percentages).  So they too may likely scoff at the idea of someone without a license or passport.

Yet, someone in their 90s who let their license expire years ago?  Their whole life may revolve around 5 city blocks.  Social Security checks are auto-deposit.  While voting stations are required to be somewhat close and nearby, most DMV’s are in drive-to-only areas of urban sprawl.  This affects the poor, urban African-Americans, non-car owners, and the elderly disproportionately.  Sure, in theory you could catch a cab–on the certain days they are open, many in PA only issue IDs 2 days a week–wait, and then pay a small fee for a state-issued picture ID.  Yet this is placing an undo burden on certain segments of the population.  It’s a de-facto poll tax.  There should be no lifestyle requirement to cast a ballot: even if that is the predominant lifestyle in your state.

As a friend recently pointed out to me the USA in particular should want to avoid any reminders of the creative shenanigans that were employed to keep legal voters  from the ballot given our shameful history with poll taxes, literacy tests, and poll placements.  All things that were commonplace in Viviette Applewhite’s memory.

Forget the current “Great Recession”: the US Middle Class never left the “Carter Recession”

This Diane Rehm interview deals directly with a historical thesis I’ve been ruminating on for some time (and at least four abortive blog posts!). The jist of my theory is that the American Middle Class has actually never gotten out of the late 70s/early 80s Recession.  That they’ve merely employed various coping mechanisms to create the appearance of on-going growth and prosperity (the “each generation does better than its parents” mantra) but that in the reality of working wages and upward mobility the American Middle Class hit their glass ceiling about 1979.

Since this blog post has been delayed and procrastinated for so long what I am going to do is break it into pieces. Here is what I believe are the various successful (and often creative) bandages, delusions, and coping mechanisms American Middle Class households have used–since 1978/1979-ish–to fool themselves that they’ve been still climbing the American post-war wealth ladder.  Then, through the rest of the summer, I’m going to devote a blog post to each:

  • US Middle Class women solidifying their place in the workforce in large numbers. We associate this move of Middle Class women into the paid workforce with the 1960s and 1970s but the full effect really didn’t take hold until the Reagan years.  This made household incomes rise, even as individual living wages stagnated and certain professions saw their pay grades lower as it became associated more with women (bank tellers, for instance).
  • Reaganite and Clintonian misguided deregulation of Wall Street and the rise of (1920s style) Middle Americans feeling “rich on paper”.
  • Easy credit.  In the 1980s and 1990s Middle Class Americans suddenly had access to credit at levels that hadn’t been seen since–you guessed it: the 1920s.
  • The post-1995 Real Estate Bubble.  People are often shocked that from 1890 to 1990 years the idea that “housing values always go up” would have been considering very Pollyanna-ish. Getting rich on real estate meant owning warehouses and property to rent out: not feeling a sense of wealth based on your own home’s equity.
  • The Reagan Revolution and its impact on the psyche of the American Middle Class: both good and bad.
  • The passing of the GI Generation (and older) and the loss from living, day-to-day memory of those who could remember when government WAS the solution and the vehicle–not the barrier–to assisting Middle Class expansion.

These books have really influenced my thinking as of late, and Charles Murray’s hypothesis has been one of the most influential ones I’ve read this year. I went into it a bit skeptical, too.

Charles Murray: Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010

Jeff Faux: The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class

Frederick Lewis Allen: Only Yesterday

Paul Krugman: End This Depression Now

Robert D. Putman: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: The Right Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy

June 13th

Today marks the 146th anniversary of the passing of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.  This is the amendment that clarified the citizenship and protection of the civil liberties of freed people: no state can deny or abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, deprive anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to anyone within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  As many of you know, Reconstruction is one of the eras in US History I find the most fascinating and this amendment was a product of that unequalled period in attempting true nonracial democracy.

This amendment will the be crucial one within the next year or two when it comes to marriage equality cases going before the Supreme Court.  Personally, I want to see the DOMA case come to the SCOTUS first—it can be struck down on the narrower basis that in 1996 Congress overstepped by needlessly meddling into state marriage law.  I could see Justice Thomas getting behind that (from a states’ rights perspective alone) as well as Kennedy and Roberts.  However, the broader Prop 8 challenge would evoke the 14th Amendment’s equal protection argument and I believe that would be a closer ruling since it could potentially nullify state same-sex marriage bans across the nation.  I believe this ruling could very well come down to a 5/4 split hinging on Justice Kennedy’s opinion alone.  Perhaps I’m too leery, but I’d ideally prefer to have DOMA-free, almost-full-gay-marriage nation for a couple of years (and perhaps a new Obama-appointed justice or two on the bench) before risking a civil rights set-back of this magnitude.

By July 9, 1868, three-fourths of the states (28 of 37) ratified the amendment and it became enshrined in the Constitution. In this political cartoon an African-American casts a ballot under the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights to the new citizens created under the 14th. The flies pestering him represent the states opposed to the passage of the 15th…

An apology to Elizabeth Cady Stanton

“…but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see “Sambo” walk into the kingdom first. . . .

“Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence . . . making laws for Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble.”

I can’t remember exactly when I first read these quotes from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I think it was my last year at college.  I knew there are many far worse racial quotes from 19th Century American feminists (actually, they got nastier in the early 20th Century), so I didn’t exactly fixate on them, nor was I shocked by them.  However, I never really felt drawn to the US Women’s Suffrage Movement as a topic of close or in-depth study.  These quotes, as well as hazy ideas of figures like Ma Ferguson, Lurlene Wallace, et. al. always made me view American 19th Century Feminism as well….American.  Politics once again tainted with race.  I dismissed Elizabeth Cady Stanton (who I knew very little about, really) as another prejudiced product of her time.  I also own up to possessing a weird American Exceptionalism bias when it comes to American racial history (those little only-in-America moments like Robert Byrd endorsing Obama in 2008, etc).  The woman’s struggle for the vote? Interesting and important to be sure, but how different to the same struggle in the UK? Or Australia? Or Canada? If anything the US state-to-state battles were more uniquely American to me, as the Western states adopted suffrage before the “civilized” east.

Four or five months ago I had the chance to read Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s quotes Elizabeth-Cady-Stantonverbatim.  They stuck with me.  Why? I had long known their racial jist, why were they making me ponder so much now.  Then I realized: I owe Elizabeth Cady Stanton an apology. Her statements–misguided for sure–were not crude race-baiting.  What she was engaging in is not praise-worthy, but it’s a debate technique I’ve used myself.  She’s trying to make a point about the ridiculousness of a position (allowing no woman to vote as the nation debates the suffrage of freed male slaves) by evoking imagery she assumes will play to the other side’s own prejudices on other issues. Those who know me know that I am a bit of a political message board junky. One time circa 2005 (not long after President Bush called for a Constitutional Amendment to deny marriage or marriage-like benefits to gays) I was debating same-sex marriage with someone online.  This person was not a rabid fundamentalist but seemed conservative and a bit jingoistic if I recall right, he had problems with (of all things!) the immigration implications of gay marriage.  To me this argument made absolutely NO sense and so I shared my own situation to make a point.  I can’t recall exactly how I worded it, but it was something along the lines of “my partner is a British citizen, here on a work visa, and pays thousands of dollars to this country in taxes! We have been in a committed relationship for years. How is it fair a college student who gets wasted drunk in Mexico and marries a local girl he’s known for all of 3 days has more legal standing for spouse immigration than us?”

Let’s face it, I was getting in a cheap shot about “good immigrants” (professional, English-speaking) vs. “bad immigrants” (Mexican) as a tool to make a point about the absurdity of being against gay spousal rights for US immigration policy.   While I certainly don’t actually possess any animosity toward Mexican immigrants (or alcohol as a mating lubricator whilst on vacation!) part of me assumed that someone who was anti-gay marriage probably would.  So, I strategically made an argument tailored to their (assumed) prejudices.

Back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton: when I re-read her quotes this year I saw she was obviously using the same technique.  She knew the post-Civil War population–North and South–was uncertain and apprehensive about the new amendments which would give full citizenship (14th) and voting rights (15th) to freed (male) slaves and African-Americans in those northern states that still didn’t have the vote (some didn’t yet).  Her quotes about “Sambo” not knowing the difference between a monarchy and republic were not to disparage African-Americans as a whole (she supported black suffrage 100%), but to shine a light on the absurdity of passing over this once-in-a-century opportunity to define citizenship to include women.  She was tailoring her argument to wider assumed prejudices….just like I did.

One might be tempted to say “oh but Jason, you didn’t say “dirty spics from Mexico” Elizabeth Cady Stanton actually called blacks SAMBO!”.  “Sambo” is an offensive racial slur, make no bones about it.  However, linguistically it would not have carried the same offensive punch in 1870 as it does now.  Little Black Sambo was not published until 1899, and the American restaurant chain was not around until the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1870 “Sambo” was not the outright derogatory slur as we understand it, but it certainly was a lazy racial short-hand for “black”.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) has a minor character named Sambo and that probably contributed to its ubiquity. The equivalent today would be something like “So Shaniqua from Detroit gets a scholarship….”.  Is there anything intrinsically wrong with the name Shaniqua? Or Detroit? No. However the source and context is everything.  If Rush Limbaugh were to make a crack about “Shaniqua from Detroit” or “Jose from El Paso” benefitting from Affirmative Action we’d all know what snide racial implication he is making.  From the second quote above it’s also clear that Stanton used this dubious technique with other

Frederick Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts and daughter Eva.

Frederick Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts and daughter Eva.

ethnicities too: Hans (German), Patrick (Irish) and Yung Tung (Chinese).  She was writing about extending the vote in a period when many Americans were concerned about immigrants who didn’t speak English–or were illiterate–voting en masse.  Stanton is playing to that too: calling out the irony of the men of the USA debating the implications of illiterate Irishmen and freed slaves voting when there were already millions of educated, American-born adults waiting to cast that ballot: women. Was that an admirable debate technique? Probably not. However it also isn’t the potent racism I read it as 10-odd years ago.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton not only supported votes for African-American men and women, she approved of interracial marriage.  In 1884 she wrote a congratulatory letter to Frederick Douglass upon his marriage to Helen Pitts, a white woman.  Again, this is in 1884. Other feminists at the time pleaded with her not to publicly admit to endorsing interracial marriage, as they felt it would taint their cause with radicalism and sexual deviancy.

We can read the arguments, discussions and speculations about suffrage between Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and other intellectuals during Reconstruction.  I can only imagine the debates among the ordinary thinkers (people like me) during the 1870s. The US was attempting a true non-racial democracy while simultaneously back-burnering women’s’ suffrage as a national issue for another 50 years. In the future I suspect the historians will view the timeline when the debate on same-sex marriage was the most dynamic as February 25th, 2004 through May 9th, 2012.  On the first date a sitting American president called on Congress to amend a 200 year old document to deny something to a group of Americans, and on the latter date a sitting American president said he believed said group of Americans deserve equality.  The issue certainly hasn’t been settled completely (and there was some debate pre-2004) but it’s my belief that this period will be viewed as America’s era of national dialogue on this issue: politicians using it as a wedge-issue, coworkers hashing out arguments over the water cooler, families arguing at the dinner table….and a gay guy in Seattle having an online debate on a message board.  In the midst of national debates people make sweeping overstatements, desperate slippery-slope arguments, and misguided juxtapositions aimed at others’ prejudices.

So, Elizabeth Cady Stanton–142 years after you wrote your comment, 110 years after your death, and 17 years after I arrogantly and flippantly dismissed you–I apologize!

Arizona “show me your papers” immigration law & the SCOTUS

I obviously had a pretty strong case of insomnia last night because I was pondering how the arguments over Arizona’s draconian immigration law were going before the Supreme Court.  I suspect it will probably be upheld, at least in part. My issues with the law are many but my 3:00am epiphany wasn’t about that.  It occurred to me, that there is not a single WASP on the current Supreme Court.  The irony of Gov. Jan Brewer appearing before a 100% non-WASP Supreme Court is one of those little “only in America” moments I love.  Pretty much every surname on the current bench would have at least raised an eyebrow of curiosity in the days of the Know-Nothing Party.  In its heyday there was serious concern that the USA was losing its identity as an Anglo-Saxon Protestant country. Kennedy? Breyer? Ginsburg? Kagan? These surnames would have all had a vaguely alien-sounding tone circa 1845 when the Germans and Irish were only just beginning to come en masse (too much “Native US” consternation).  No Roman Catholic was appointed to the Supreme Court until Taney in 1836, to say nothing of Jews who currently number three on the highest bench.  Scalia? Alito? An Italian surname in American government would have seemed very exotic and foreign and, again, the Catholic thing would have been suspect.  Roberts? Okay, his name would not have been odd or noteworthy to Millard Fillmore, but he is a Roman Catholic so still not truly within the WASP fold.  Sotomayor? Hehe. Which leaves us with Justice Clarence Thomas, and that one goes without saying!  Although I’m sure Fillmore would have found comfort in finding a perfectly respectable English name there amongst all those exotic “foreigners”.

Verbal Gaffe vs. Accidental Reveal

Mitt Romney is going to be saddled with the Etch-A-Sketch moniker for the rest of this campaign, but the fact that it was said by his own communications director (!) Eric Fehrnstrom is telling.  It’s being described as a verbal gaffe, but to me a verbal gaffe is more when the candidate themself makes an obvious verbal flub (like Obama stumbling and saying he’s visited 57 states when he meant 47 in 2008).  When another person from within uses a metaphor like this it’s much more telling.  The term Etch-A-Sketch doesn’t just organically off the tongue in 2012 American lexicon.  I’ll bet my bottom dollar that Fehrnstorm has used that analogy before, behind the scenes, when assuring other Romney insiders that no matter how far to the crazy right they have had to veer in order to fight off Gingrich and Santorum at the primary level, they can always give Mitt a shake and create the picture of an economy-first moderate in the general election.  This label will not be going away soon and I think having it come from his own camp makes it sting all the harder.  Ask Richard Nixon in 1960. OUCH! Yet it revealed what I think a lot of high-powered Nixon supporters knew and were whispering behind the scenes: Nixon had been chosen as VP to boost the Ike tickets’s anti-communist bona fides among the GOP, but once elected had little influence in the White House as VP, particularly on domestic issues.

Alaskan politics, Super Tuesday, and Ron Paul

A few weeks ago when I was thinking about Republican Super Tuesday 2012 I was of the same line of thought as Robert O’Brien: that Libertarian-laden Alaska and Maine could be the two states Ron Paul wins (possibly North Dakota as well). While there is still some controversy about the Maine results, I want to talk about Alaska’s caucus today:

Alaska’s electorate is notorious for challenging the Republican Establishment (if I can borrow an overused term from this year), and has shown on numerous occasions since 1959 statehood its voters love to think outside the box (if I can borrow an overused term from this decade). With a cast of characters like Mike Gravel, Jay Hammond, Nick Begich, Ted Stevens, and Ernest Gruening I always cringe a little bit when Alaska is dismissively viewed as the ultimate Western Red State. This is too simplistic: Alaska has a ban on capital punishment, for instance, and abortion was legal there before Roe vs Wade.  Alaska had liberal/Libertarian marijuana laws even during the height of Reagan-era war on drugs.  In 1992 Alaska had the largest Ross Perot vote in the union: 29%  My alma mater is the University of Alaska–Fairbanks and on two occasions I had the opportunity to meet Gov. Walter Hickel. He was elected Alaska’s first Republican governor in 1966 and then again won a successful second term over 25 years later running on the Alaska Independence Party ticket (more on this strange party later).  More recently, Lisa Murkowski made history with her successful write-in US Senate candidacy defying and defeating the Tea Party candidate (Miller) when the Republican climate elsewhere during the 2010 midterms was pure Tea Party.  And then of course there is the strange and curious career of a certain former Miss Alaska first runner-up from Wasilla you may have heard of.  It’s hard to remember now that she actually ousted a sitting Republican governor (Lisa’s father Frank–yes Alaskan politics can get rather incestuous) with bi-partisan support.

Alaska has more card-carrying Libertarians (proportionally) than any other US State and it goes without saying a huge proportion of Paul’s support comes from Libertarians and Libertarian-leaning independents.  Yet, this “out and proud” Libertarian faction in Alaska could actually prove harmful at Paul at the caucus level: Alaska is a closed-caucus state, meaning only registered Republicans can caucus.  This will skew things to a GOP caucus that more resembles other Red States–the “Wasilla faction” having a disproportionate (for Alaska) influence since the Indies, Libertarians, (and mischief-making Democrats) are barred from participating today.  Still, I expect Paul to do very well in Alaska like he does in most caucus states but if I was a betting man I’d say Romney will take it, but by just a smidge.  If it was an open-primary state I have no doubt Paul would handily win an easy majority of Alaska’s 27 delegates and be able to claim 1st place.  As it is, though, I expect him to pick up a good number of delegates in the Last Frontier and make his time spent there (the only candidate of the remaining four) worth the trip.

Thanks to UAF here is a vintage television ad for US Senator Ernest Gruening’s write-in campaign in 1968.  The former territorial governor and US senator was not as successful as Lisa Murkowski would be in 2010, however.