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Holy War in West Virginia: A Fight Over America’s Future

Charleston, W. Va. — The turbulent textbook controversy that has crippled schools here is more than a simple fight over the adoption of 325 first through 12th grade supplementary English textbooks. For the 229,000 people who live in the coal and petrochemical-rich Kanawha Valley it is not an isolated battle, not some rustic re-run of the Scopes trial, but a microcosm of a basic conflict in our culture. It is nothing less than a fight over America’s future. 

This fight has taken place in many different localities, over many different issues. Its themes are the same as those that were echoed in New York City’s fight over community-controlled schools, in Boston’s battle over busing, in the black militant attempt to establish a New Africa in Mississippi, and in the Chicanos’ attempt to drive most Anglos from administrative jobs in Crystal City, Texas. Can America’s mainstream culture, made pervasive by the electronic media, absorb all the diverse groups that live here, that are passionate about maintaining their identity? 

To me, the protests here are a fresh sign that the melting pot — with its dream of a single, unified American culture — is largely a myth. I don’t believe we have ever been united except during times of national crisis like wars and assassinations — and as consumers. I think that, to an unrecognized extent, we are a collection of religious, ethnic, and generational tribes who maintain an uneasy truce. We had to conquer this continent in order to exploit its vast resources. But we were never able to conquer our own atavistic hatreds and loyalties, to live comfortably as a single people. 

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The battle in Kanawha is a cultural revolution, in the strictest sense of the term: an effort by the rural working class to wrest schools — the means of production of their children — away from the permissive technocrats who now control them. 

It is a holy war between people who depend on books and people who depend on the Book. 

And it may be a harbinger of fights that will flare up during the next few years as the Depression, the Mideast war, and the rise of conservative Christianity cause people to lash back at the cosmopolitan elite (the “educated fools” or “upper-class Communists,” as they’re called down here) they blame for their problems. If the textbook controversy is a harbinger, then education is likely to be a more important battleground than the media or pornography, though those issues kindle the same profound wrath. You can turn off your TV set, avoid movies or massage parlors, but you must send your kids to school. 

Most of the people who Live in Kanawha County’s hollers see the textbooks as a collection of skeptical comments about God, of four­-letter words and salacious stories, of subversive essays by black revolutionaries like Eldridge Cleaver and Malcolm X. The books symbolize the horrifying 1960’s culture which the schools are inflicting on their young; the infection that began on liberal campuses has spread to Kanawha County and now threatens to turn their kids into sex maniacs, drug addicts, and Manson-like killers. So they want to cleanse America of its filth if they’re strong enough; seal themselves off from the plague if that’s their only alternative. For the moment, that means they’ve turned their backs on upward mobility. They feel that if their children establish any friendly contact with the corrupt forces that run the nation’s institutions, their characters are certain to be corrupted. 

Here the fight is between the “hillers” and the “creekers.” The “hillers” tend to support the textbooks: They are the doctors, lawyers, mine managers, and petrochemical engineers who live on Charleston’s luxurious South Hills. They read the Times and The Wall Street Journal just as avidly as the Charleston Daily Mail or Gazette. Many take the United Airlines flight to New York City so often that it’s almost like a commuter trip. They make regular vacation trips to Atlanta or Miami or, if they’re genuinely rich, to Europe. They regard the books as crucial ingredients of the kind of contemporary school system that will let their kids keep up with their peers across the country — that will help them get into Harvard or Haverford instead of Morris Harvey or West Virginia Tech. 

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The “creekers” live in the rural towns and hollers — Big Chimney, Cabin Creek, Cross Lanes — that dot this sprawling, windy, moun­tainous county. They work in the mines, or in fetid factories like the duPont plant in Balle, or, if they’re lucky, as truck drivers or construction workers. Most of them have never been on an airplane in their lives. Many went to cities like Chicago, Dayton, or Cleveland during the Appalachian migration of the 1960’s, but they found those places alien and hostile and returned to their own tight-knit communities. Their reminiscences are laced with the same bitterness they display toward the textbooks. 

In September, the books were introduced into the schools. There was so much violence in the county that the board of education decided to withdraw the books from the schools for a thirty-day review period. During that time, there were exchanges of gunfire, school rooms were dynamited, school buses shot at, cars and homes firebombed. One night, someone put fifteen sticks of dynamite under Charleston’s board of education building and demolished part of it. It was clear that most of the county felt some sympathy for the protestors. In November, a Charleston Gazette poll showed that just 19 percent of the community wanted all the books returned to the schools. Nevertheless, in mid-November, the board of education voted 4-1 to return most of the controversial materials to the schools, though they ruled that some of the most controversial grade school books would remain in the library. The sporadic violence continued. And, as in any war, attitudes kept hardening. 

Susan Bean, 35, who lives in South Hills, was a member of the committee that reviewed all the textbooks. She’s the wife of a landscape architect, the mother of three grade school kids. She was born in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, where her father was a member of the John Birch Society. In his small construction business, he sys­tematically underpaid all the blacks who worked for him. He whipped Susan whenever he caught her reading unorthodox books, whenever she disagreed with him. At 17, she ran away from home, got a job as a typist at Sears, and worked her way through the University of Georgia, where she was an English major. 

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Interestingly, it is Susan Bean’s conservative background that has made her a fierce supporter of the books. Indeed, she is glad that her children will study the religious unorthodoxies that her father despised. One day, I told her I thought we were witnessing a class struggle, and she responded, quite tartly, “Sure it’s a class struggle, but not in the way you outsiders think. You come from a liberal background. You can’t imagine how much the opportunity to give my kids unlimited freedom means to me. It’s a way of making sure that I, and my kids, rise above my past.” 

Nell Wood, fortyish, the English teacher who selected the text­books, is the daughter of a Fundamentalist railroad engineer from a rural county in West Virginia. Now she teaches an honors English class for seniors at the prestigious George Washington High School, nestled in the midst of South Hills. Though most of her students come from wealthy, sophisticated families, she is still a practicing fundamentalist. She never smokes or drinks, feels uncomfortable when people take the Lord’s name in vain, and has to ask her team teachers to read whatever four-letter words crop up. 

It’s possible that her support of the textbooks comes from her special classroom experience. There are teachers who argue that if she had to face a classroom full of rural work­ing class kids each day she might feel more ambivalent about the issue. But she is a woman who loves books and wants to share that pas­sion with her students. She refuses to weed out stones and attitudes that other fundamentalists consider blas­phemous because I can’t  bear the thought of standing in front of a group of kids and telling lies by omitting ideas I know exist.” Just as many protestors have quotations from the Bible 1n their homes she has a quotation from the Areopagitica in her spare. tiny cubicle behind the George Washington High School Li­brary. “Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature. God’s image: but who kills a book kills reason it­self.”

But thousands of people here say they’d die fighting the blasphemy that Nell Wood believes is freedom. Emmett Thompson, 55, a riverboat engineer from Nitro, West Virginia, lives quite comfortably in a neat red brick house which is larger than Susan Bean’s white frame house on South Hills. His oldest son is a trim, impeccably dressed short-haired man who has just graduated from the Lynchburg Bible College. Thompson, whose bushy cinnamon­colored moustache makes him look a little more dashing than his boy, is what people here call a “Wednesday nighter” — so devoted to the local Calvary Baptist Church that he at­tends it twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday. He considers the intro­duction of the books “moral geno­cide.”

“It’s an insidious attempt to re­place our periods with their question marks,” he says, and he thinks it has to he fought. In a county where coal miners are experts with dynamite, where every rnan and boy is a hunter and every house 1n every holler has plenty· of guns and plenty of ammu­nition. he longs for a “return to the spirit of the Boston Tea Party,” “revolution of righteousness.”

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Skeeter Dodd. the manager of radio station WKLC, is the sort of person who might help lead that revolution. A chunky, sturdy man in his mid-40s. Skeeter is an early morning disk jockey. whose taste in country music, in syndicated jokes from the “Funny Wire,” and in imaginary dialogues with the fic­tional hillbilly “grandad” has made him a favorite with “creekers” throughout the county.

“If they don’t wake up to me. they ain’t gonna wake up that day,” he says in his exaggerated West Virgin­ia accent, his genuinely hearty laugh.

Though KLC is Charleston’s third largest station, Skeeter spends much of his time worrying about collecting bills from advertisers and finding new sponsors who will keep his sta­tion afloat. But he is also a patriot who, like Emmett Thompson, sees the textbook struggle as a salvo in a war to “restore the faith of our fathers. Look at it this way, friend. They tax us for the schools, but the schools don’t represent us. Isn’t that what them dumb hillbillies and creekers was fighting about 200 years ago?”

He not only despises the books, he believes that they are part of a communist plot hatched in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1917 to destroy democracy. He showed me a replica of this curious document which proposed, to corrupt the people. get them away from religion. Make­ them superficial. Destroy their rug­gedness.” And, like thousands of people here, he believes in the existence of an upper-class conspiracy to bring Communism to America. Most people equate Communism with de­cadence. and argue that because rich people want to legalize drugs. legitimize pre-marital sex. porno­ graphic movies and massage par­lors, they are subversive. But Skeeter’s reasons are more person­al. His dad worked on an assembly line, he says. “Neighbor, you better believe that under a system like socialism this old creeker’d still be back there.”

He’d been in Navy intelligence during the Korean War. and now saw himself combating Communism in Kanawha County. He carried a citizens band radio in his car so that other movement leaders could alert him if there was trouble. He was “Boots” in a cb network that includ­ed “Kojack,” “Blue Flag,” and “Money Man.” Late on a chilly fall night, wearing his battered black overcoat as he slumped over his mike and exchanged information on the small radio. he looked like a weary, dedicated member of a nascent band of freedom fighters, the nucleus of an army which wants to cleanse America, to restore it to the paths of righteousness.

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From the Holler to the Space Age
In a sense, this is the story of an idea whose time never quite came. The idea was that educational planners could reach into America’s ghettos, its hollers, and its tradition-­bound ethnic communities, like Can­arsie and South Boston, and coax people there into the “melting pot.” That was the principal rationale be­hind bussing. It was also the reason that states like West Virginia mandated “multi-cultural, multi-ethnic” programs in their classrooms.

The theory is clearly stated in a funding proposal for the training of teachers, dated 1970, signed by West Virginia’s Superintendant of Schools. According to the document, teachers are supposed to be trained to “induce changes … in the behavior of the ‘culturally lost’ of Appalachia … The setting of the public school should he the testing ground. the diagnostic basis, the experimental center, and the core of this design … The most important ingredient of social change is the change agent” — the teacher.

You have only to look at the textbooks to see how they fit in with that theory. Though I personally found many of them quite appealing — the sorts of books I would like my two children to study —I  could also see how their sheer physical appearance would shock parents who had been brought up on Dick and Jane stories, on the six point type of the King James Bible, and on the rigid belief that education meant rote memori­zation. Now their children are using post-linear paper-backs where car­toons, photos, and gaudily colored pages dominate the print; where you don’t read about Evangeline or the Courtship of Miles Standish but about sports heroes, rock stars, and street gangs, where achievement doesn’t rest in a child’s ability to repeat a lesson accurately, but in her capacity to answer the provocative, questions at the end of each sec­tion.

And the stories do, as Emmett Thompson said, “attempt to replace our periods with question marks.” Reading them I could see, for the first time, how a theist, who was still embittered because the Supreme Court had outlawed school prayer, could believe that the relativism and humanism that I have always cherished as the highest kind of open-mindedness represents a dogma of its own whose very skepti­cism embodied religious values.

For example, there is one exercise which asks students to compare the biblical story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den with the tale of Androcles and the Lion. To conservative Chris­tians the question itself is blasphemy since it suggests that something they take to be revelations is nothing more than myth. Similarly, the books include writings like Mark Twain’s “Adam’s Diary,” which shows God’s first offspring as a bumbling upstate New York house­holder and includes a New Yorker-­style cartoon of a naked Adam and Eve peeping out over some bushes. The books invite students to invent their own gods, an exercise which suggests that God himself might be an invention.

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The idea behind the books is the classic liberal assumption that a child who learns to question himself and his surroundings will grow beyond the confines of his culture. But, apart from the religious heresies, that means the books are also filled with a set of assumptions that many West Virginians regard as secular blasphemy. For example, some of the exercises encourage kids to tell each other about their dis- agreements with their parents, their reservations about authority. They ask whether it is ever legitimate to steal. They contain a great many four-letter words (whose use, in many Appalachian households, would condemn kids to severe beatings. ) They suggest that standard English may be one of many dialects spoken in this country, that rules of English are relative, that ghetto English might be a legitimate form of speech. Some of the high school textbooks include writings by revo­lutionaries like Eldridge Cleaver.

Now, it’s easy to see how a profes­sional educator, who has learned, almost as a matter of dogma, that schools were always the vehicles by which working-class kids achieved a level of success that was beyond the wildest dreams of their parents, could have thought that “multi-cul­tural. multi-ethnic” textbooks could bring kids into the “melting pot.”

But it’s probably too much to de­mand that a countyful of people make the spiritual journey from the holler to the Space Age in less than five years, especially when the trip forces them beyond the furthest barrier of their belief. It makes them the victim of a sort of psychic overload. Sometimes they submit in confusion. But in Kanawha County they found leaders who could articulate their fury at the annihilation of every value they revered. They fought back.

Alice Moore is the lone dissenter on the school board. Her husband, a Church of Christ minister, had parishes in Tennessee and Meridian Mississippi before he was station­ed in the lower-middle class town of after St. Alban’s. In 1970, two years after her arrival in Kanawha County, Alice Moore decided that she’d run for the board to symbolize her opposition to sex education in the schools. She was elected.

She is a stunningly beautiful, intelligent woman who adopts a Southern belle’s flirtatious style when she argues with the four male school board members.

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But it’s clear that when Alice speaks thousands of people in the creeks and hollers listen. She’s in the newspapers nearly every day now, on TV nearly every night: a Joan of Arc, witty and resolute in her battle against the male “hiller” majority of the school committee. Whenever she appears at board meetings or at public rallies she is greeted with jubilant standing ovations, with cheerful choruses of “we love you, Alice, oh, yes, we do,” with clusters of flowers and placards that read “Alice Moore for President.” In place like Big Chimney and Kelly’s Creek — towns the hillers can barely find on their maps, let alone in their cars — her name inspires the same kind of glisteningly popular response as Huey Long’s did in the back­-country parishes of Louisiana.

When the textbooks came up for only adoption last spring, she was the only school board member who read them thoroughly. She was enraged by their emphasis on she calls “situational ethics” — the heathen creed that encorages kids to believe that any set of actions can be jus­tified by sociological conditions.

I could see her anger during a long interview one afternoon when she told me about a teacher training program she’d attended. her tone alternated between Andy Griffith­-like wonder and fundamentalist wrath. She was particularly amused by an instructor who’d tried to show how the concept of camouflage could be conveyed by hiding some green toothpicks in grass. He failed because the grass was so brights that the toothpicks were visible at once. Then, angering quickly, she talked about another education expert who sought to prove there was a cultural justification for Eskimo mothers who put their babies outside to freeze. “You know,” she said, “I was the only only person there who argued she was wrong.”

With my longish hair, my credentials from an urban liberal newspaper, I must have suddenly seemed like the enemy. She was courteous, and her lovely southern voice never lost its slight hint of conspiratorial laughter. But: “You just don’t understand what you’re doing to us,” she said. “How can any school board force me to send my kids to a school that teaches God is a myth, that justifies mothers who kill their young?” 

“But how could I send my kids to schools that outlawed those textbooks?” I asked. “I bate censorship as much as you hate blas­phemy.” “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe there’s no school system in this country that can provide for your kids and mine. Maybe we Americans have come to a parting of the ways.”

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The Parting of the Ways: “Don’t Educate Them Above Their Rearing”
Maybe the parting of the ways has already come, and the only question is how many people are on each side. Certainly many conservative Christians in Kanawha County feel the frustration, the sense of isolation, that Alice Moore describes. They are so appalled by the America the textbooks represent that they’d rather forego the idea of college altogether, the dream of upward mobility, than risk the infection of relativism. 

Many young people are as passionate about the holy war as their parents. I spent a great deal of time interviewing the elite students at George Washington High and the working-class kids from Campbell’s Creek who attend duPont and East Bank. There is no communication between them-only mutual stereotypes, mutual contempt. 

Many students from George Washington are aware that their wealth spawns resentment, that the fact that they go to GW creates an almost insurmountable barrier of resentment. And some wish, wistfully, that the gap could be bridged. But even though there are many “creekers” at GW, not a single one of the fifteen “hiller” kids I interviewed had ever visited them or invited them home. And, though they’re theoretically aware that “those kids are angry because they think our parents have money,” it never occurred to them that their freedom to leave school in their family car, to gather at Gino’s Pizza for a pleasant lunch, rankled the kids from the hollers, who had to stay in school all day and eat their meals in the cafeteria. 

During an interview, one girl asked me, sharply, “why anybody would want to visit people like those coal miners.” When I asked some other students to describe the textbook protesters, they used phrases like “closed-minded and violent” people “who want to protest corrup­tion, but don’t even know how to use the word,” “Wednesday nighters who carry clubs.” Three students gave me an issue of The George Washington Pride, the school’s underground newspaper, which con­tained a long satire about the conflict in which the protest leader’s name is “the Rev. Rodney Necc, but my friends call me Red,” who has come to a demonstration sponsored by “the Christian and Righteous Association of Parents … to show my deep dedication to upholding CRAP.” 

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I felt completely at ease with the kids from George Washington. But many “creekers,” and their children, were quite suspicious of me as an outsider, particularly because I was a reporter. At one of their rallies they had beaten up CBS’s Jed Duval. When I went to the “anti­-textbook headquarters” in Campbell’s Creek, two separate groups of people insisted on frisking me, on examining the documents in my wallet. A woman who saw that I had a pocket-sized Sony tape-recorder accused me of bugging them all. After a while, many of them became friendly, but they still warned that “they’d come looking for me” if I wrote an unfavorable story about them. 

That afternoon, at a small white Baptist Church, off a windy dirt road in Campbell’s Creek, I met with about 10 teenaged children of coal miners, truck drivers, construction workers, and ministers. They didn’t feel as free with me as the kids from GW had, so their comments were more cramped and restrained. Still, some were scornful of the hillers. They talked about their wild, dope-filled orgies where maids had to lock themselves in their rooms for fear of being beaten; of their rich, reckless parents, who were too busy to take care of their kids; of the ease with which they could bribe the police when they got in trouble. And of their hedonistic atheism. “They’re rich people who think they know everything,” said a coal miner’s daughter. “But they haven’t been taught right. They don’t have any common sense. They don’t really care about God.” 

Other kids sounded genuinely wounded by the “hillers'” insen­sitivity. “I can expect someone who doesn’t believe in God not to see anything wrong with the textbooks,” said one minister’s daughter. “But they can at least respect our rights, since it does say something about our God. We’re not asking that they teach Christianity in the schools. We’re just asking that they don’t insult our faith.” 

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The truck driver’s son had a more practical objection. He was afraid that the books would hurt his chances of earning a living. He wanted to go to West Virginia Tech, to be an engineer, and felt he needed a “good basic education.” 

“I mean, they could teach English in school without going to this ghetto language or some of this slang,” he said. “lf they drop that standard, then society’s just going to go down. Until now, we’ve always been taught to make speeches in front of class, to write letters with correct punctuation. But in this new set of textbooks, they say, whatever sort of speech is common in your area, well, that’s all right. But if you move out of state, it will be just like going to a foreign country. How will you know what other people’s meaning is? And, I know from my father”s experience-if you look for a job and can’t talk the right English, they won’t hire you.” 

Of course, for many protestors the issues are far more general and ominous than the practical questions of grammar and employment. Many students from duPont and East Bank arc already into rock music and dope: the parents-and more chaste kids-are scared that the heretical ideas in the school-sanctioned textbooks will rid them of their last vestiges of social control. 

At meeting after meeting, I heard complaints about kids from Kanawha County who’d gone to college and come home acting like aliens. The conclusions? “Don’t let them be educated above their rearing.” “I was going to send my boy to college,” said the wife of a food salesman from St. Alban’s. “But I’ve changed my mind. It was a difficult decision. In my husband’s profession, now, you need a college degree. But I’d rather see him become a coal miner or a construction worker than know he was risking his soul.” 

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If the Christians Fight Back
Of course, religious controversy is not new in these parts. Nor is separatism. The ancestors of the miners and teamsters who live in Cabin Creek and Big Chimney were Anglo-Saxon yeomen who settled here 200 years ago because they were dissatisfied with Virginia’s upper-­class Tidewater planters and their moribund Anglican church. They were inspired by the first Great Awakening, the national fit of religious ecstasy which, with its stress on holy fervor and personal salvation, swept westward from New England in the eighteenth century. Even now, in the small Baptist and Pentecostal churches that dot the landscape, thousands of Baptists and Pentecostals scourge themselves by listening to sermons that sound Like replicas of Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” 

For generations, the Fundamentalists were sure that some version of their creed was America’s dominant faith. Then, without warning, they found themselves waging a defensive war against the heathen idea of evolution. The Scopes trial was a watershed: Between Clarence Darrow’s courtroom tactics and H. L. Mencken’s scathing prose, they suddenly ceased to be America’s conscience and became its laugh­ingstock. Though they clung to their faith, sometimes defiantly, many of them felt a private, lingering shame. It took decades for that shame to vanish. Now, their church is likely to become militant again. 

If Kanawha County’s army of Christian soldiers ever decides to wage all-out war, life here will be unbearable. This fall’s rash of dynamiting, firebombing, and shooting has terrified educators all over the county. Protest leaders deny responsibility for most incidents, blaming some on stoned-out kids, others on the books’ supporters. Still, the violence has merged with the Fundamentalists’ ardent support of censorship to make each teacher feel like a potential target. For example, during the weeks the books were out of the schools, English teachers all over the county were scared to teach anything but grammar in case any work of literature, even Shakespeare, goaded some hotheads to bomb their buildings. 

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Late one Wednesday afternoon, someone threw three sticks of dynamite into a first-grade classroom at the Midway School in Campbell’s Creek. The teacher whose room was bombed had spent a decade collecting books and toys for kids whose families couldn’t afford them. Now, all that was destroyed. The room itself was littered with the debris from a waist-high partition-bookshelf that had been shat­tered by the blast. Hundreds of books were scattered on the floor. From the outside, all you could see was four shattered windows, the traces of some tables and chairs, a brightly lettered alphabet attached to the blackboard, and an American flag that still perched above the whole room. 

The Wet Bridge Elementary School in Cabin Creek, the most rural part of the sprawling county, is even more threatened than Midway. In October, someone tossed two sticks of dynamite into the building. The afternoon I visited it, just eight of 300 enrolled students showed up for classes. “Each day seems like it’s two million hours long,” said one teacher. 

One of the older teachers at the school has taught most of the parents of the boycotting children. The fact that they won’t trust her to use the books responsibly has robbed her of her self-confidence. In a community where hundreds of people are functionally illiterate, where they are ignorant of the rudiments of personal and sexual hygiene, she is now afraid to offend them by instructing them. 

“Soon we won’t be able to teach anything,” she says. “It’s as if those parents and ministers are staring over our shoulders, waiting to get us for saying anything that sounds immoral. I’m afraid that if this boycott ever ends, I won’t see the children as students. I’ll see them as spies in the classroom.”

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So We Are Two Nations…
I have rarely covered a story that left me feeling as emotionally conflicted as this one has. For it seems to me that some of the pro­-textbook people — the northern educators and bureaucrats who devised them, not the local people who adopted them — are involved in a kind of cultural imperialism. But some of the protestors, who may be able to gain control of the county through the courts, through elections, and through threats of violence, are capable of outright totalitarianism. 

I know that the people who designed the textbooks believe that the children of Fundamentalists (and, to a lesser extent, of the white working class in general) have to be freed from the narrow-minded influence of their parents in order to become functioning members of twenty-first century America. But is it ethical or prudent to confront them with textbooks they regard as blasphemous, to use their class­rooms as “testing grounds,” to train their teachers to be “change agents”? To me, that is, quite literally, a way of telling kids “we have to destroy your culture in order to save you.” I’ve interviewed some curriculum reformers and textbook authors, and it’s clear that they see the “creekers” in the same derisive terms H. L. Mencken used during the Scopes trial. They regard the objections of people like Alice Moore as problems to be dealt with, not opinions to be respected. 

Their intentions are probably benign, but isn’t their policy a fresh example of the arrogance of power? You can invite a person into your culture. But I don’t believe you can impose your culture on another person without risking unforseeable psychological harm.

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If the trip is voluntary, as Susan Bean’s was, then the person is likely to maintain a sense of identity and pride. But if it’s an imposed journey to a totally unknown destination — as it would be for many children in Kanawha County — then it could produce considerable psychological harm. It could set them adrift, with no reliable traditions, no moral compass, in an agnostic, post-linear, multicultural, multi­ethnic Space Age world which bas no connection at all to their familiar hollers.

You cannot outlaw, school prayer and still pretend that secular humanism — momentarily our national creed — does not carry its own deep assumptions about religion. Why not recognize that both attitudes are dogmas, and try to develop an educational system that’s flexible enough to furnish federal funds to schools that base their curriculum on theism as well as to those that base their curriculum on relativism? 

Most outside journalists who have come here to cover the textbook controversy have become fascinated by the relatively novel kinds of injustices I’ve been describing. As a result, many have tended to glorify the protestors a little, to explain their excesses by arguing that they are victims of a class struggle. But I think they are sentimentalizing a potentially dangerous movement. 

The last scene I witnessed in Charleston is the one that grates most painfully on my imagination. It was a protest rally the day after the textbooks were restored to the schools. It wasn’t in any of the rural churches or parks where the movement was nurtured, but in the cavernous c1v1c center, one of the most modern buildings in Charleston. 

The audience of 2,500 was in a fervent mood. Most of them wore large stickers which asserted “Jesus Wouldn’t Have Read Them.” As they sang “Amazing Grace,” “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and “God Bless America,” more than half of them swayed back and forth, waving their right hands in the air to show that they were born-again Christians. The podium was bathed in lights from the TV cameras. On the right side, a stern, trim youth held the American flag aloft through the two-hour program. On the left side, an equally rigid young man bore a Christian flag, with a silky white field and a blood-purple cross as its emblem. The flags, and their martial bearers, framed each speaker.

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The main speaker was the Rev. Marvin Horan, who is supposed to be one of the more moderate protest leaders — more moderate, say, than the Rev. Charles Quigley, who wore army fatigues that day and who’d shocked the county a few weeks earlier by issuing a public prayer that God would strike the pro-textbook school-board members dead.

As Horan spoke, his voice rolled with righteousness; the audience applauded nearly every sentence. He held a Bible in his right hand, two textbooks in his left and, shaking both arms angrily, he cried, “Which are we going to stand for, the word of God or the filth in these books?” Then he threatened his audience — “the Bible says not to use the Lord’s name in vain or the person who does so will not be held guiltless at the seat of judgment” — and read several blasphemous sentences from Catcher in the Rye, a text which he, at least, had clearly studied quite carefully. For he told his audience that “out of all this book, almost three hundred pages, there’s only twenty pages that don’t use the Lord’s name in vain.” Then, waving Catcher in the Rye aloft, he asked, “Do we surrender or do we fight?” 

Behind me someone yelled “burn ’em,” and hundreds of people began to applaud. 

Now Horan was talking about the importance of maintaining the school boycott. “The board of education may think we’re yellow, but our real colors are red, white, and blue … If we stand unified, we can rid Kanawha County of these filthy books and the people who put them there.” 

It wasn’t just platform rhetoric. Though the school boycott wasn’t nearly as successful as Horan had hoped, and the county became outwardly calm after another week of sporadic violence, the influence of the anti-textbook movement has spread to other states. The series of textbooks that started the controversy here has been rejected in Georgia and Texas. There are similar disputes in Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Indiana. The League of Decency, an antipornography organization from California, attaches enough impor­tance to the fight here to let its chief spokesman. a former TV personality named Robert Dornan who’s paid $42,000 a year, spend most of his time in Charleston. 

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The school board’s decision to put most of the books back in the classrooms has been a Pyrrhic victory for the county’s liberals. Last week, the board adopted a set of guidelines — most of them proposed by Alice Moore — which would probably have caused this English series to be rejected if it had existed a year ago. From now on, Kanawha County textbooks can’t contain profanity; they can’t intrude on a student’s privacy by asking personal questions about his family or his inner feelings; they must encourage loyalty to the United States; they can’t defame any of America’s heroes; they must teach that traditional rules of grammar are essential for effective communications. 

It’s still possible that the English books will be withdrawn from the schools. Last week, some protesters filed a lawsuit charging that the adoption might have been illegal because the school board first voted for the books on April 11, instead of the state deadline of April 1. If that doesn’t reopen the issue, then the adoption of a new set of social studies textbooks, slated for next April, could kindle an even more disruptive set of skirmishes. 

Meanwhile, protestors from rural Kanawha County, which includes towns like Cabin Creek and Campbell’s Creek, are urging people in their region to secede from the rest of the county. 

Maybe the prominence of the Christian flag at Reverend Horan’s rally awakened my own tribal Jewish fears, but the experience left me deeply unsettled. The Reverend Horan, and the countless conservative Christians who identify with him, are absolutists. My question marks are sacred to me. Each attitude is a dogma, but the difference between them is vast. I would like to think that there is plenty of room for people like Marvin Horan in my America. But I don’t believe there’s room for me in his. ❖

Categories
FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Sanctifying the Evangelical Vote

Pulpit Politics

The major political event of 1986 has been the emergence of the Christian right as a disciplined voting bloc within the Republican party. While television evangelist Pat Robertson may be its initial beneficiary, the ride of these white fundamentalist Christians could help push the Republicans further along the road towards majority party status. And in the process it broadens the ideological base for the right, some of whose leaders have been identified with fundamentalism and who have been the stalwarts of the Reagan Revolution.

Inspired by Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority (recently renamed the Liberty Federation), and unscathed by derisory press, the Christian right has shown itself to be a disciplined political machine this spring. Recently, Christian candidates in Michigan loyal to Pat Robertson outnumbered those pledged to George Bush and Jack Kemp in precinct caucuses. The caucuses are the first step in picking delegates to the Republican national convention in 1988. After the Michigan vote, Robertson and Bush were roughly even in delegate strength — about 35 to 40 percent, which Jack Kemp had 20-30 per cent. Robertson campaigned as if he were in the final stage of a presidential election, making half a dozen personal appearances and spending $100,000 to stage a political rally that was televised across the state. Overall, Robertson’s supporters spent far more than his rivals.

Right-wing Christian candidates also dominated last month’s Republican Party delegate and platform process in Des Moines, Iowa. In two Indiana House districts, avowedly Christian candidates recently scored upsets to gain Republican nominations, and in Oregon a fundamentalist Baptist minister drew 43 percent of the vote in the GOP primary against Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood. Robertson has hosted fund-raisers for Christian Republican candidates in Tennessee and New Mexico. And fundamentalists in Minnesota are battling to win the Republican gubernatorial candidacy.

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The term evangelical encompasses Protestant individuals and groups with different political views who share a belief in the authority of the Scriptures. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats. There are significant groups of evangelicals in the South and Midwest. And within these communities, right-wing, white Christian fundamentalists of the Robertson stripe account for a small but active bloc.

If it could ever be organized, the so-far amorphous and conflicted evangelical vote could be an important factor in politics. Twenty years ago the Gallup poll, which probes evangelism, found that 20 percent of the public claimed to have had a born-again experience (the gauge of evangelism used by Gallup). In 1984, the figure rose to 39 percent. If accurate, this means there are more than 65 million adult evangelicals and potential voters. And while these figures often are dismissed as too high, they may actually underplay the strength of the evangelical movement. Two-thirds or more Americans side with Christian fundamentalists in favor of tougher pornography laws, against homosexuals teaching in public schools, and in the belief that prayer is important, according to Gallup. Over 50 percent were opposed to abortion. All of these have been hotly debated issues on the campaign trail this spring.

Pat Robertson’s victory in Michigan last week makes it all the more likely that he will run for president. He now is a real threat to Jack Kemp, whose natural constituency he is attracting, and a serious obstacle to George Bush. Like Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party, Robertson could become a major, if not decisive, factor in who gets the nomination and in the setting of party priorities.

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The Christian right poses a severe problem for George Bush, who in 1980 was widely portrayed on the right as an East Coast establishment figure who was both ineffective and soft on communism. Bush has since gained grudging respect from the right. But Robertson, like Reagan, is charismatic, and his right-wing credentials are unquestionable. Whatever the result of the presidential campaign, Robertson has and will act as a corrective influence on Bush, moving debate within the party further right.

When Bush’s advisers warned him recently that Robertson was moving up fast in Michigan and could wipe him out, the vice-president brushed them aside. Since the vote, Bush agents have been attempting to put their best face forward, insisting that the vice-president and Robertson equally split the vote. Privately, one Bush operative acknowledged that Robertson “got it all.”

Robertson is all the more powerful in these early stages because Bush has no real strategy for winning the evangelical vote. Jerry Falwell’s early support of Bush, once thought to be an asset, has turned into a hindrance. “There’s not one single plus in Falwell,” says a Bush adviser, who argues the Moral Majority leader has been discredited among fundamentalists because of his inflexibility (i.e., his unyielding defense of apartheid). Bush still has supporters among fundamentalists — TV evangelist Jim Bakker, for one. And he has good friends, including TV evangelist Billy Graham and Robert Schuller. In an effort to remedy his diminished stature among evangelicals, Bush will soon distribute a videotape in which he explains his position on various matters of faith. Some advisers hope Bush will ingratiate himself with evangelicals by making the protection of their political rights a campaign issue. But after Michigan, the vice-president’s advisers are glum. They acknowledge that Bush must move fast or face a cohesive fundamentalist bloc of Roberson supporters.

The rise of the Christian right within the Republican Party could be the galvanizing event that organizes the evangelical vote. Or, if the Democrats have their way, it could tar the GOP as the party of Jesus freaks. “The religious right is now institutionalized in the Republican Party … they have gained more influence over hitherto moderate candidates,” says Kevin Phillips, the political analyst. Having to address the interests of a fringe within the party, he says, “is likely to cause trouble for the Republicans rather than being an almost unmitigated plus.”

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Up the hill from sterile downtown Des Moines lies the political redoubt of the new Christian right — the large complex that houses the First Federated Church, its offices, and its Christian school. A few blocks away stands the equally impressive First Assembly of God Church. Within these buildings, fundamentalist churchmen preach both the Bible and politics. First Federated, which has a Sunday television worship program and a congregation of over 2000, has contacts with Falwell’s Moral Majority and Robertson’s Freedom Council. The church is active in voter registration and issues report cards on how politicians stand on issues that matter to its members. Recently, officials of the churches and members of their congregations have begun to organize the priorities of the city’s Republican Party apparatus.

Iowa is in the news these days because of the farm crisis. But it may turn out that religious conservatism will play a stronger role in the state’s politics than the demise of the family farm. The social issues of the Christian right have had a thorough airing in Iowa. The state, for example, has been the center of a fight to win equal time for creationism in the public schools.

The center of the Christian movement is in Des Moines (Polk County) and its suburbs (Dallas County). In mid-January, some two dozen fundamentalists in Dallas County met to organize for precinct caucuses. Both Republicans and Democrats were scheduled to hold 22 caucuses where they would elect delegates for county conventions and begin work for political platforms.

“God is giving us one last chance to get our act together,” Steve Scheffler told the group of fundamentalists in Dallas County last January. Scheffler is the state coordinator for the Freedom Council, the Virginia Beach-based organization, founded by Pat Robertson and dedicated to restoring “traditional” American values in government. The Freedom Council is a tax-exempt organization and refrains from overt political endorsement. Scheffler never mentioned Robertson’s campaign; instead, he encouraged the group to form a Christian caucus to plan for the precinct meetings.

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Scheffler himself has little experience in political organizing. He previously ran unsuccessfully for state office in Iowa; then last summer he took a training course in political organizing at the Freedom Council’s headquarters. This past winter in Des Moines, Scheffler became the catalyst for fundamentalist organizing.

“So many times we holler, but we don’t take a stand,” Scheffler told the Dallas County group. “If we want those Christian values returned, we have to get out of the pew.”

Two weeks later, 50 fundamentalists caucused informally at the Dallas Country Christian School and, taking Scheffler at his word, broke into 22 groups, one for each precinct in the county, decided who to nominate at the upcoming caucuses, and discussed possible platforms. Having shown their strength at the precinct caucuses, the Christians moved on to the county conventions and, in Dallas County, easily established dominance. Marc Stiles, a reporter for the Dallas County News who covered the event, gave a description of the debate: Moderate Republican attempts to water down a plank against abortion were easily beaten; an effort to weaken a plank supporting stronger laws against pornography, on grounds that such a law would infringe on the First Amendment, was quickly silenced. “Pornography,” said one fundamentalist delegate, “is stench on the nostrils of the holy God.”

A motion to strike the word “prayer” from a plank supporting a return to prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance in the public school system drew the ire of the Christians. “Removing prayer from the public school system was the same as removing God,” said one. The motion was decisively beaten. Next was a platform supporting the rights of business people and landlords not to accommodate gays. “Everyone thinks it’s cute to see two men kiss,” said another Christian delegate. “I think it’s sick.” The plank that labeled homosexual acts as “perverted sexual deviations not socially acceptable by American society” easily passed over objections by a man who said it was against the law in the U.S. to discriminate against people on the basis of race, religion, and lifestyle.

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Don Morris, the associate pastor of the First Federated Church in Des Moines, began to preach politics during the presidential campaign in 1984. This year he was a delegate to the Republican district convention. Morris says he was drawn to politics by other fundamentalist ministers he admires, and by the examples of Falwell and Robertson. Like many of the fundamentalists I spoke with in Des Moines in late April, Morris voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, then, realizing the error of his ways, supported Reagan. Morris now supports Bush for president in 1988, as do, he says, many members of his church. In Morris’s view, Bush has been a loyal Reagan-supporter, and he is a more realistic candidate than Robertson.

“For the longest time we blamed the politicians for stealing our rights,” he says. “Then we finally woke up and realized that we hadn’t spoken out when we should have, and said instead of complaining, let’s do what is right as citizens and use our God to bring back to America the Judeo-Christian ethics it was founded on.” Morris is especially concerned with social values. In a pamphlet, “The Battle for Our Children,” he attacks Smurf dolls, whose magical games make them agents of Satan. “If the pulpit does a good job,” Morris says,”the Christian community will always be involved in having a voice in government and legislating morality.”

At the county convention in Des Moines in March, Christian activists distributed a set of principles that revealed how thoroughly they had thought out the political situation. “When you have control of a party,” read one, “it might not be wise to place ‘our’ people into any and every position. Get the counsel of wise Christian politicians when in doubt.”

As the Christian right’s organizing drive in Iowa picked up steam, it made allies among nonreligious conservatives. Among them is Ian Binnie, a fiscal conservative, former member of the Des Moines school board, and secretary of the Polk County Republican Party. “There is an evangelical vote in this area, and it is based on some very clear-cut issues,” Binnie says. “I am not a religious conservative by any means, but I consider them natural allies … I diverge with them on the abortion issue. I wish it would just go away. I concede them the high moral ground.” On prayer in schools: “I’m not sure it did me any good, but it didn’t do me any harm. I can’t get excited about the idea of a minute of silence.”

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“Robertson is a real force, but I don’t see him as a viable candidate,” Binnie says. “Kemp is not as strong here as theoretically he should be. These people are all for Reagan now, and Bush has a loyalty to Reagan. Bush is very powerful here.”

Having successfully gained control of precincts in both counties, then asserting themselves at the county conventions, the alliance of newly active Christian fundamentalists and fiscal conservatives went on to easily dominate the district convention. By margins of two-thirds, they adopted social policy planks attacking abortion and pornography and endorsing family values. The Des Moines Register said the coalition fielded 400 of 450 delegates and attributed the large attendance to the evangelical turnout. Operating with the precision of a political machine, the fundamentalists sought to widen their coalition, supporting moderate Republicans for the party central committee and voting down audacious amendments from their own ranks (i.e., proposals to make committing an abortion a capital crime.)

Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader from Kansas, who is unofficially campaigning for president in 1988, was in Iowa during the county conventions last month. Seeking support from where he could find it, he embraced the Christian right; “the evangelical movement in the GOP is welcome,” Dole said. “There is lots of room in the party … If we want to be the big national party, then we have to be diverse.”

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Christian fundamentalists around Des Moines believe their ideas are misrepresented by the press, which often depicts them as intolerant kooks. So it was with some uneasiness that Jim and Kathy Michael agreed to sit down with me over breakfast in their DeSoto home one recent Saturday morning. We sat in the kitchen over coffee and doughnuts and talked about politics, AIDS, communism, and Christian rock as an antidote for rock ‘n’ roll.

Kathy was brought up in the Baptist Church and, as a child, Jim attended Methodist Church. He left the church early, but became religious as an adult. Jim Michael works for the Des Moines power company. Kathy is a housewife, bringing up their five children — four boys and a girl. Both are fundamentalists and are active in Republican Party politics. Jim has served as a member of the DeSoto planning and zoning commission and most recently spent a four-year stint on the town council. Last year, he ran for mayor and came in third. Over the last four years, Kathy has been a poll-watcher at local elections. Both Michaels were active in previous precinct caucuses, but this year they ran as delegates and won. When asked who they’d support for the presidency, both said they hadn’t made up their minds. “If they were running tomorrow, I’d be in trouble.”

On abortion their views were similar to those of most Christian fundamentalists: “We recognize the amoeba as a primitive form of life,” says Jim. “If scientists can do that, then what is their problem in recognizing that two cells are tying into one and creating life.” Unlike some pro-lifers who oppose the death penalty as inconsistent with their support for sanctity of all life, Kathy Michael was adamant in her support: “An eye for an eye,” she says. “I don’t mean that if someone kills my child I should go out and take his life. I feel that we have laws and that people should abide by them.”

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AIDS has intensified the Michaels’ fear of homosexuals. Both Michaels believe the population at large should be tested for AIDS antibodies, and, “until we know” more, Kathy is for a quarantine. “It even crossed my mind when one of my children had something,” says Kathy. “He kept getting sick. I don’t know how in the world he would have gotten such a thing, but once in a while the thought will cross your mind.”

“I am against homosexuality because God says ‘no.’ But I am not against the homosexual, and there is a difference,” Kathy says. “It’s just like when I tell my children I love them very much, but I do not love everything they do.”

Should homosexuals be denied certain jobs? Should they be permitted to teach in public schools? “I have a hard time with that,” Kathy says. “How do I know if this person keeps his private life to himself. If a person chooses to be a homosexual, that is his right. Does he have the right to molest small children? Many of them do. I’m not saying all of them do.”

“It’s hard to say these people don’t have the right to teach,” says Jim. Kathy disagreed: “My instincts would tell me no because of fear for the children.”

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In the Des Moines area, fundamentalists increasingly have turned to Christian schools, and there is considerable support for teaching children at home. The Michaels support the trend. “I am 100 percent behind it,” Kathy says. “We have to be careful of the textbooks being used today … [they] have socialism in them — material on Russia versus our own country and Marx versus George Washington.”

The Michaels are opposed to communism, not only because they are fearful of aggressive war launched by the Soviet Union, but also because it runs counter to their Christian values. Jim wants to roll back communism.

“I’m not saying we should go into every place with guns,” Jim says. “I’m just saying that they [anti-Communists] may need help and we should aid them. But Communist nations mostly don’t go in and take over militarily. They go in and start educating people. They take their own agents in and begin to cause turmoil. I believe this is happening on our campuses today, that there is a certain amount of turmoil and unrest that is being bred on our campuses. They are putting a lot of questionable doubt in the minds of these future parents and leaders.”

Because they have teenage kids, rock ‘n’ roll music presents a real problem for the Michaels.

“I don’t want rock music in this house,” says Kathy. “I don’t even like this Christian rock music, but we have compromised on that. But now you’ve got backmasking. You can take records and play them backward. They’ve got hidden messages … The new thing is political rock with Bruce Springsteen. I like the music, I just don’t like the words. I think he’s teaching rebellion across the country.”

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Behind the politics of the Christian right lies the powerful engine of Armageddon theology, which lends an emotional intensity to the movement. Numerous fundamentalist leaders — Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to name but two — preach the doctrine of “premillennialism,” which holds that the world is entering a period of indescribable devastation and suffering. Its climax will be the battle of Armageddon and the return of Christ.

Premillennialists have been wrong in prophesying Armageddon at various points in history. Under President Reagan such prophecies have gained new currency. The president himself speculated on the subject in a 1981 interview with People magazine: “Never, in the time between the ancient prophecies up until now has there been a time in which so many of the prophecies are coming together. There have been times in the past when people thought the end of the world was coming, and so forth, but never like this.”

Jerry Falwell told the Los Angeles Times in 1981, “All of history is reaching a climax, and I do not think we have 50 years left.” And when Falwell was asked whether Reagan agreed with him on such matters, he replied, “Yes he does. He told me, ‘Jerry, I sometimes believe we’re heading very fast for Armageddon right now.'”

The right often pictures the farm crisis in the Midwest as a sign of the end times. Pornography, homosexuality, and AIDS are all viewed as signs of God’s judgment on sinners. The increasing conflagration in the Middle East, Libya’s threatening acts, and Communist aggression in the third world are all seen by some fundamentalists as part of an Armageddon countdown.

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In the story of Armageddon, the Middle East becomes the world’s last battleground, with God saving Israel from destruction by invading armies. In The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, Hal Lindsey, by far the most popular writer on the meaning of the end times, unaccountably concludes that, although he believes the U.S. will decline in power, it can still survive. “If some critical and difficult choices are made by the American people right now,” he writes, “it will be possible to see the U.S. remain a world power.” The choices Lindsey has in mind amount to embracing a right-wing political program.

Tim LaHaye, self-proclaimed “Christian ambassador to Washington, D.C.,” is president of the American Coalition for Traditional Values, which supports fundamentalist politics. He says he represents 45 million “born-again, Bible-believing Christians.” LaHaye argues that God will rout the Communists: “Some Bible teachers say when God rains fire and brimstone on the armies around Israel, gathered to destroy this nation, he is also going to send a similar fire on the coastlands. Now these coastlands could be the nations of the Western Empire, so that wherever the Marxist spies are entrenched they will suddenly drop dead … That would mean in a practical sense that the Marxist spies in America, on the university campus, in the State Department, wherever they are moled out, and in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, where they are doing their devious work—suddenly they will be eliminated by fire.”

Other fundamentalist writers counsel that survivalist techniques can help true believers make it through Armageddon until God rescues them in the Rapture. “We are considering the time when Christians will not be able to buy and sell, and will want to be independent of the utility system,” writes Jim McKeever, who says he is a computer expert, consulting economist, and Bible teacher. “You must do whatever God tells you to do at the moment.” McKeever’s brand of survivalism is popular in Christian circles. Pat Robertson wrote the forward to one of his books, and the 700 Club, Robertson’s television show, has promoted the stockpiling of food and other survivalist preparations.

Survivalism is also the connecting link between Christian fundamentalism and far-right anarchism. Some fundamentalists fear that the Antichrist will take over the world economy. National identification cards will be a warning of such an eventuality. Mary Stewart Relfe in When Your Money Fails proposes that Christians should avoid as many financial transactions as possible. They should work hard, remain free of debt, buy land in the country, and learn to live independent of city conveniences. Liquid assets should be turned into gold and silver. All this, according to Relfe, should help Christians fend off Armageddon until God can save them.

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It’s too soon to tell whether the Christian right can organize the evangelical vote and help assure the GOP majority party status. In all likelihood, the Christians will be most successful in exerting their influence within the narrow boundaries of precinct caucuses and party primaries, where small numbers of activists can have a substantial impact. On a larger scale, their influence may be more circumscribed. Though they have pushed debate over party priorities further right, forcing the presidential candidates to heed their interests, they, in turn, will be pulled by the political process toward the middle. If what happened in Iowa is any gauge of the future, the Christians themselves will moderate their program to gain power and eventually form coalitions with fiscal conservatives and even moderates. The ultimate question for Robertson and the Christian politicians is whether they can maintain their ideological program while playing electoral politics. ❖

Research: Marcia Ogrodnik; Andrew Lang at the Christic Institute. See Timothy Weber’s Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming for more on the politics of Armageddon.

1986 Village Voice article by James Ridgeway on evangelical Christians and the Republican party

1986 Village Voice article by James Ridgeway on evangelical Christians and the Republican party

1986 Village Voice article by James Ridgeway on evangelical Christians and the Republican party

1986 Village Voice article by James Ridgeway on evangelical Christians and the Republican party

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES Security THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze

Rees, Reagan, and the Digest Smear: The Spy Who Came Down on the Freeze
August 16, 1983

“Certainly, while he was campaigning, and in the years before he was president, he had my material, and he made use of my material in his radio programs. And that goes back years. That goes back to the time he was governor of California.”

The man describing his intelligence gathering for the president is John Herbert Rees, right-hand man to John Birch Society chairman and Georgia con­gressman Larry McDonald. Rees has been dogged for years by charges that he is a con man, police informant, and agent pro­vocateur.

Rees may be boasting a bit. But ob­servers on both the left and the right have credited his articles as the primary source for the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last fall as gospel “evidence” that the Soviets had “inspired” and were “ma­nipulating” the U.S. nuclear freeze move­ment. Digest author and senior editor John Barron assured reporters that the president “made very extensive inquiries, before he spoke, on the facts in that arti­cle.” FBI assistant, director Roger S. Young told The New York Times the same day that Reagan’s comments were “persistently consistent with what we have learned.” And in an Oval Office press conference, Reagan himself claimed he had verified the Digest piece.

Since then, FBI director William Webster has retreated from the allega­tions. But as surely as The White House stands by its charges, with the freeze reso­lutions now coming before the Senate, John Rees denies he was ever more or less than a journalist. However, documents released under the Freedom of Informa­tion Act, and recently produced in a Na­tional Lawyers Guild lawsuit charging unconstitutional government surveillance, prove that Rees made informing on politi­cal groups “a profession”; moreover, a 1968 FBI memo concludes, “Rees is an unscrupulous, unethical individual… Information from him cannot be con­sidered reliable.”

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Given current political realities, it’s no great surprise that the president echoed charges which first appeared in print under Rees’s byline. Rees, 57, plays a central if largely unseen role among the coterie of ultraconservative commentators and courtiers influential with Reagan, a group whose legitimacy Reagan’s presidency has boosted enormously. Reagan, after all, chaired the unsuccessful senatorial cam­paign of arch-conservative Birch sup­porter Loyd Wright in the 1962 California GOP primary. Such are the connections that lie at the heart of the smears against the U.S. freeze movement.

It is Rees’s job, within this clique, to “document” the charges of “subversion” often used in right-wing attacks on the left. Besides covering Washington for var­ious Birch periodicals, Rees publishes the closely circulated Information Digest (subscription price: $500 a year), which purports to focus on “the background … operations and real capabilities of social movements and political groups.” ID reports have been distributed mostly among intelligence units and conservative politicians such as former governor Meldrim Thomson of New Hampshire and Reagan.

Rees is also listed as editor at the curious Western Goals Foundation, founded in 1979 by Larry McDonald in Alexandria, Virginia, to “rebuild and strengthen the political, economic and so­cial structure of the U.S. and Western Civilization so as to make any merger with totalitarians impossible.” To this end, Rees produces foundation tracts such as “The War Called Peace — The Soviet Peace Offensive,” and oversees the com­puterization of what McDonald claims are 100 file cabinets of data on “terrorism and subversion.” (In an outgrowth of an ACLU lawsuit charging Los Angeles po­lice with improper intelligence activity, the department recently investigated whether one of its detectives improperly supplied confidential police files to West­ern Goals. According to Stern magazine, staff members of the German-based Western Goals Europe have been linked to the CIA and its German equivalent, the BND.)

The New Right’s leading lights have shined warmly on Rees. Robert Moss, co­author of The Spike, who in the summer of 1981 testified as an “expert on terror­ism” at Senator Jeremiah Denton’s hear­ings on “Terrorism: The Role of Moscow and Its Subcontractors,” says Information Digest is “the most important public source available in this country on the activities of the radical left … ” Allan Ryskind, an editor at Human Events, which Reagan has called “must reading,” says he has reprinted articles from Information Digest “directly,” and lauds “Rees’s enterprising journalism and credibility.” Heritage Foundation pundit Sam Francis cites Rees as “authoritative.” Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Media con­fidently quotes “John Reese (sic) … a well-known investigative journalist.”

Such endorsements may help explain the striking similarities between Rees’s Birch and Western Goals screeds and the Reader’s Digest piece Reagan cited last October. In the February 1982 issue of American Opinion, Rees concluded that “the Soviet Union is running the current worldwide disarmament campaign through the KGB and front organizations … ” Eight months later, Barron averred in The Reader’s Digest that the U.S. freeze campaign “has been penetrated, manipulated and distorted to an amazing degree by people who have but one aim — to promote communist tyranny by weak­ening the U.S.”

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In the Atlanta Constitution last No­vember, Ann Woolner and Jerry Nesmith said Barron told them he had seen the Western Goals report, but that it was one of over 200 sources. Woolner and Nesmith listed numerous instances in which Bar­ron cites the same meetings, excerpts the same quotes, and uses paraphrasing simi­lar to Rees’s. For example:

In March, in his Western Goals report, “The Soviet Peace Offensive,” Rees wrote: “Mel King, active with both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, gave a militant speech, saying, ‘We’ve been too damn nice … (and) al­ways on the defensive … It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started get­ting even.’ ”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Mel King, a Massachusetts state legislator active in both the World Peace Council and the U.S. Peace Council, demanded a more militant spirit. ‘We’ve been too damn nice,’ he declared. ‘It’s time we stopped just getting mad and started getting even.’ ”

In March, for Western Goals, Rees wrote: “Rep. Gus Savage (D-Il.) stressed the need to bring black and other minority groups into the disarmament move­ment.”

In October, in Reader’s Digest, Barron wrote: “Congressman Savage spoke about how to induct blacks and other minorities into the disarmament drive.”

In March, Rees wrote: “… U.S. Peace Council executive director Mike Myerson, who has been a Communist Party U.S.A. functionary since his student days some twenty years ago, emphasized the U.S. Peace Council and World Peace Council’s unique responsibility of merging the fight for Western disarmament with pro­vision of support to … revolutionary groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, South Africa and the PLO … ”

In October, Barron wrote: “The execu­tive director of the U.S. Peace Council, Michael Myerson, a longtime communist functionary, asserted that the U.S. Peace Council had a unique responsibility to fuse the cause of disarmament with that of the Palestine Liberation Organization and guerrillas in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and South Africa.”

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“John Rees is simply a good journalist who has done a valuable service in alerting the American people and the American government to the threats against our se­curity from terrorists, subversive, total­itarian and extremist organizations,” said Larry McDonald in the Congressional Record in 1981. “John Rees deserves com­mendations and accolades from the Amer­ican people.” Law enforcement agencies, however, have not always agreed with Rees’s boss.

The FBI first took note of Rees in the early 1960s in his native England. He worked in a minor business position for the London Daily Mirror. According to an FBI memo released under the FOIA, Rees misused his personal accounts, and was fired by the Mirror. Agents in the FBI office at the London U.S. Embassy dis­covered that during 1962 Rees had been “keeping the company” of a bureau steno­grapher. “Rees’s background and the fact that he was married and had five children were confidentially furnished to this stenographer, who was visibly shaken by this news inasmuch as she had planned to marry Rees,” the memo notes. Humil­iated, the secretary resigned from the FBI.

Leaving his family behind, Rees came to America in 1963 to take a reporting job. The job fell through. But when Rees was introduced that fall to Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, he presented himself as a writer for a Boston daily, and talked her into letting him do a “profile” on her. Metalious had been ruined by her own success, writes Emily Toth in Inside Peyton Place. She was recently divorced, isolated, and a chronic alcoholic.

The promised profile never appeared. But Rees soon became Metalious’s lover and business manager, and by December had moved into her Gilmanton, New Hampshire, estate. According to Toth’s book, Rees often kept family and friends away from her as Metalious sank deeper into alcoholism. On a rare visit, Metalious’s daughter Marsha found the house strewn with garbage and empty liq­uor bottles.

During a trip to Boston shortly there­after, Metalious collapsed, and died on February 25, 1964, of cirrhosis of the liver and massive cerebral hemorrhaging. Her deathbed will left her entire estate to Rees and nothing to her three children. She had known Rees less than six months. After the will was contested on behalf of the children, Rees relinquished his claim for what he called moral reasons. The FBI reached a different conclusion: “Rees subsequently renounced all claim to the estate when it was determined that the liabilities exceeded the assets.”

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By 1968 Rees had relocated in riot-stricken Newark where he worked as a research director in a Great Society job­-training program until he was forced to resign. Auditors discovered that while col­lecting his federal pay, Rees was often out of town for his own company, National Goals, Inc., a “non-profit organization spe­cializing in areas of education, training and law enforcement.”

In a plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department, National Goals proposed the creation of “community peace patrols” to quell “the summer months and threats of violence and disorder.” Rees wanted to use federal funds to equip Anthony Imperiale’s North Ward Citizen’s Commit­tee, a white militant group, and Kamiel Wadud’s United Brothers of Newark, a black militant group, with uniforms, helmets, walkie-talkies, tape-recorders, cameras, patrol cars, four offices, and two warehouses. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and New Jersey governor Richard Hughes denounced it as a vigilante scheme.

Meanwhile, Rees and an investigator for the House Committee on Un-Ameri­can Activites (HUAC) quietly visited the Newark FBI office to cut a deal. “He stated he had information of a racial and criminal nature which he and the in­vestigator from HUAC believed was of an interest to the FBI,” agents observed in a report. “He attempted to sell himself and his services to the FBI.”

But like the Justice Department, the FBI wasn’t buying — at least. not yet. “Rees talked in generalities … and furnished no information of value,” the memo concludes. “The interviewing agents believed his interests were self­-serving and that he came to the FBI thinking this would enhance his creden­tials in contacting other potential clients.”

Rees remained undaunted. In Septem­ber 1968, according to FBI documents, he was undercover in Chicago, covertly tap­ing lawful political meetings for secret testimony he would later give before HUAC. Again a HUAC investigator of­fered the FBI the fruits of Rees’s labors. Again agents shied away. “We should not initiate any interview with this un­scrupulous, unethical individual concern­ing his knowledge of the disturbances in Chicago,” wrote an agent, “as to do so would be a waste of time.”

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Yet Rees had found his niche. He’d made several cameo appearances before HUAC, peddled his information to vari­ous police departments, and by now, ac­cording to Rees, Information Digest was finding its way onto the desks of Reagan gubernatorial aides beset by campus pro­tests. Frank Donner charged in The Age of Surveillance that “Rees used a familiar scam: he would hawk information to one department (typically a lurid tale of a violent plot) and in the course of this transaction pick up information that he in turn would peddle to a unit in another city. In the same way, he enlarged his sources for Information Digest.”

He also found a spouse. John Rees and Sheila Louise O’Connor arrived in Wash­ington, D.C., just before the 1971 May Day protests and quickly assimilated themselves into left circles.

Rotund, bearded, and longhaired, Rees was an articulate pamphleteer who often sported an Anglican priest’s collar. Sheila, big-boned and over six feet tall, was a whiz at office work. They came complete with then-rare commodities: an IBM Selectric and Gestetner mimeograph ma­chine.

In July Secret Service agents spotted Rees in a demonstration at the South Vietnamese Embassy. Running a com­puter check on him, they received several interesting reports. According to a Secret Service memo obtained by the National Lawyers Guild, the Washington Metro­politan Police Department disclosed that it employed Rees as an informant. The Chicago Police Department reported “subject is unreliable and is known to make a profession of providing intelli­gence to police departments.” The Secret Service memo also stated that the IRS had revealed “subject was a known con man in England.”

The agents also learned that Rees “possibly carries a gun” and used a string of aliases, including John Sealy, S. L. O’Connor, and Jonathan Goldstein. Besides his work as an informant, agents found, he had no known employment.

Yet at about the same time, FBI docu­ments indicate, the FBI designated Rees Potential Security Informant (PSI) No. WF-3796. (Sheila would later become a PSI too.) Like full-fledged informants, PSIs are paid for their information.

Former FBI agents and congressional staff familiar with intelligence matters said the government’s negative evalua­tions of Rees should have disqualified him from working for the FBI. But they noted that, as with Mel Weinberg in the Abscam case and Gary Thomas Rowe in the Ku Klux Klan, the bureau has used less-than-­credible informants in attempting to get convictions or discredit a target. The FBI will use “anybody they can,” explained a former agent. “But I wouldn’t touch Rees with a 10-foot pole … all you’re going to do is get yourself in trouble.”

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Rees and O’Connor moved into a left collective at 1616 Longfellow Street, N. W. Friction quickly developed. One day while searching for a packet of checks she be­lieved the Reeses had taken from her, a housemate stumbled upon a bizarre cache in their usually locked room. Pat Richartz, now a West Coast legal assistant, recalled finding “several guns, boxes of bullets,” and “a large black suitcase con­taining everything to wiretap a house.”

In the midst of Richartz’s discovery, the Reeses returned. According to Rich­artz’s signed affidavit, Sheila beat her “unmercifully” while John held her two young daughters. Stew Albert, then a D.C. activist and now a California-based writer, saw Richartz shortly after the al­leged attack. “She came up to my apart­ment looking very messed up,” he said. “She said John and Sheila did it to her.” Richartz claims she still takes daily medi­cation for migraine headaches stemming from the assault.

Richartz accused the Reeses of being informants, but no one believed her at the time. She was seen as an outsider; the Reeses were valuable volunteers. Richartz left for California. In researching this arti­cle, Sheila Rees could not be reached for comment on the charges.

When in July 1972 the National Law­yer’s Guild opened a Washington chapter and became rapidly involved in represent­ing activists and antiwar groups in Wash­ington, Sheila volunteered to be office manager. Soon she became the office’s key administrator and a member of the Guild’s national executive board; mean­while, John supplied the FBI a steady stream of internal Guild documents.

During the Guild’s 1973 national con­vention in Austin, Texas, for example, Rees provided the bureau with “ex­tensive” information, according to FBI memos, noting who spoke, what they said, the names of petition signers, and amounts of chapter contributions to the national office. He also supplied a letter concerning the Guild’s anti-surveillance project.

The Guild’s worst fears were not con­firmed until 1975, however, when New York State Assembly staff investigating Information Digest contacted them. The Reeses, now living in Baltimore, soon be­came central figures in anti-surveillance lawsuits brought by the Guild, the In­stitute for Policy Studies, and the Social­ist Workers Party. Shortly thereafter, ac­cording to a deposition Rees gave IPS attorneys, he transferred Information Digest‘s materials to McDonald’s office. McDonald brought O’Connor onto his congressional staff, and made Rees editor at Western Goals.

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When enough time had passed after the Reader’s Digest article to form a fat political cushion, FBI director Webster told Face the Nation in April that “the overall freeze effort does not seem to us to have been dominated … or successfully manipulated” by the Soviets. Yet those most vocal about alleged dissemblance in the freeze movement were most reticent about government reports on Rees’s shady past.

Reader’s Digest prides itself on its ac­curacy. It touts Barron, a former naval intelligence officer, as an expert on Soviet spying. But while Digest staff assured me that he’d picked up my messages, Barron returned none of my calls.

Last September, Jeremiah Denton en­tered some of Rees’s work into the Con­gressional Record to back up his claim that freeze supporters were commie dupes. Denton’s press aide said he was too busy for an interview during the next two weeks. But questioned briefly on his way to a Subcommittee on Security and Ter­rorism meeting, Denton said he was un­aware that the FBI had evaluated Rees as “unreliable,” or that the IRS had reported he was a “con man.” Asked if he did consider Rees reliable, Denton explained, “I was handed that stuff, that’s it, just to get information into the record on that matter … I didn’t get to see it … ”

McDonald refused requests for an in­terview. When shown a copy of an FBI memo on Rees outside an elevator, he summoned a nearby officer. “This reporter is bothering me,” he told the cop.

Rees himself, in an abruptly termi­nated interview, said he was merely a reporter with a unique philosophy. He said he favors stories that focus on “what I like to call the further shores of political thought, which range from Marc Raskin at IPS to Gus Hall of the Communist Party to the people who run Posse Com­itatus and the Minutemen and the Klan. And I see no difference between Marc Raskin and the Grand Dragon of the Klan because they’re both fuckheads … who want to control the world. I don’t like that.”

Rees claimed that similarities between his stories and the piece by Barron, whom he has described as a friend, were “coincidence.” He said Reagan had used his information during the 1980 campaign, and that while he was governor “members of his staff were getting Information Digest.”

He challenged charges that he or his wife had ever worked as government in­formants. “You just have to do one thing,” he said. “Find me proof that we have been paid informants … ”

Faced with such documents, however, Rees refused to comment and halted the interview. He and his assistant left our table at a congressional cafeteria, went directly to McDonald’s office, and slammed the door.

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In his suite at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI assistant director Roger Young and two assistants sat at the op­posite end of a huge coffee table, on chairs about a foot higher than the long, low couch where I sat alone.

Young said the FBI was familiar with the Barron article, but could recall no White House requests to verify it. He shrugged off questions about Rees. “We cannot be involved in evaluating some­body’s factual situation,” he said. “Our job is not to evaluate one journalist’s statements.”

The agent who escorted me out suggested, “It would probably be better if you went through the White House.”

White House deputy press secretary Lyndon Allin spoke with me several times over the phone, carefully evading my questions.

“When the president said he verified the Reader’s Digest article, did he mean it was examined as to its factual content?”

Allin: “Well, I think the term ‘ex­amined’ is a little harsh …. ”

“Who would have actually checked it?”

“I have no idea … There was no for­mal investigation — we don’t do that with the free press in this country for crying out loud!”

“Can you tell me who, if not an agency, verified the Digest piece?”

“No. We don’t get into process around here. That isn’t the way you run a govern­ment.”

“Was the president aware that one of the main sources for the Digest story was John Herbert Rees, a former police informant whom the FBI once called an ‘unscrupulous, unethical individual’ and an ‘opportunist,’ whom the IRS once described as a ‘con man’?”

“I just told you I wasn’t going to go any further … ”

“Rees claims he sent materials to Mr. Reagan and his staff during the presidential campaign, and that tbe president used them. Is that true?”

“I have absolutely no idea.”

“The FBI seems to contradict the pres­ident’s assertion that the KGB is manipu­lating the U.S. freeze movement. They say they’ve attempted — and failed — to manipulate it.”

“No. I think they say they’ve at­tempted to control it … But the fact of the matter is that the definition of ‘ma­nipulation’ is, ah, I think, subject to some discussion … Look — I’m not Noah or Daniel or whatever his name was that wrote the dictionary. And I’m not gonna get into that. The president’s word stands. And that’s that.” ■

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rogue Police Union: Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine

Nassau’s GOP Affirmative Action Machine
December 7, 1988

NASSAU COUNTY abounds in poor role models, and Richard Hartman, a lawyer on the make, found more than his fair share. Take his first two bosses, for instance.

Fresh out of law school, Hartman clerked for Judge Floyd Sarisohn. A few years after Hartman left that job, Sarisohn was removed from office for improperly handling a speeding ticket and for giving a prostitute tips on how to deceive her pro­bation officer. Between 1965 and 1968, Hartman worked for Nassau district attor­ney William Cahn, who would go to jail for padding his expenses and for mail fraud. In 1968 Hartman entered private practice and, like Judge Sarisohn, special­ized in traffic matters. His first partner, Jack Solerwitz, would later, after separat­ing from Hartman, be convicted of steal­ing $5 million from clients.

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Hartman cultivated a reputation for helping influential people beat their raps, often at no charge. “If I had friends who got tickets, I sent them to Richie,” said a former city official in Nassau. “If Richie was your attorney, the cop who handled the ticket didn’t show up to testify.”

Meanwhile, as Hartman became famous for getting things done, lawyer Harold Foner was deciding he had too much to do. Foner represented two police unions, the Nassau and New York City PBAs. In 1969, weighed down by his New York City responsibilities, he resigned his Nas­sau position. As his successor, Foner sug­gested the up-and-comer Hartman, who had strong connections to the county’s Republican machine. Foner was neverthe­less surprised when Hartman consented, since the young man’s practice was yield­ing far more than Foner’s salary, which approximated the pay of a police captain. But Hartman correctly bet that handling police labor relations and legal matters could be spectacularly lucrative.

Police officials had taken note of Hart­man. “He lit up the courtroom,” said Wil­liam Rupp, a former state police officer (and later president of the Metropolitan Police Conference) who helped introduce Hartman to police unions. “I thought he could help us with our plight.” And he did. “Before him,” Rupp said, “we used to go to Albany or City Hall on bended knee and beg.”

Thanks to concessions won by Hart­man, within a few years Long Island cops would take it for granted that they earned more than FBI agents. After the Nassau police, Hartman added the Long Island State Parkway Police, then the Suffolk County police, and soon was the super­-lawyer for practically every cop in every city, town, and village on Long Island and in Westchester. At one point, by Hart­man’s own count, he represented 300 unions, mostly in law enforcement.

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A mystique built up. If you called Hart­man at 3 p.m., he might return the call at 3 a.m. and act like there was nothing unusual about doing so. People said he slept in his car; indeed, he was rumpled, his shirttails always hanging out. “I don’t think he hit his bed three times a week,” recalled Bob Pick, formerly of New York City’s Office of Labor Relations.

The marathon must have taken its toll, because one night in 1973 Hartman’s car jumped a divider, flipped, and landed on another car. Hartman suffered massive in­ternal injuries, and concerned cops mobbed the hospital. After that, Hartman had himself chauffeured around in a Cad­illac limousine. Always in a hurry, going 90 miles an hour, the limo would hit a bump, scattering his papers about the pas­senger compartment. The car got pulled over on numerous occasions, but was nev­er ticketed, unless it was in New Jersey, where troopers didn’t recognize him.

The high-speed legal practice, mean­while, didn’t stop with cops. Hartman vir­tually locked up the Nassau justice system, representing clerks and court officers, throwing Christmas parties for judges. Hartman’s generosity helped him prevail; aides routinely delivered gifts, ranging over the years from apple-shaped gold baubles to booze, VCRs, and a big­screen TV.

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Hartman’s New Year’s party guest list was a Long Island who’s who. One table was invariably heaped with honorary PBA shields, which could be pinned in a wallet and flashed if an officer asked to see a license. “Richie was great at networking,” recalled Daniel Guido, a Nassau police commissioner in the ’70s and now a crim­inal justice professor at John Jay College. “He had the judges in his hip pocket.”

Apparently, there were not enough cops and clerks to keep Hartman busy. He built a long list of criminal clients, which bothered some people, among them Guido: “I suggested to Hartman that it was inappro­priate for him to be repping our 4000 police officers while also … representing people his clients were arresting.”

But no mere police commissioner was going to tell Hartman what to do. The lawyer hit Guido with two $10 million lawsuits accusing him of slander. Hartman eventually withdrew the suit, yet he won the war. Nassau County supervisors did not renew Guido’s contract.

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

BESIDES HIS ENERGY and his open wal­let, Hartman had deep roots in the Repub­lican organization that ran and still runs Nassau County. So did two brothers, Ar­mand and Alfonse D’Amato. All grew up in the same time, the D’Amato household a few miles from Hartman’s. During the 1960s, Hartman’s father, Bill, nominally a grocer but more significantly a GOP committee man, worked for Joseph Carlino, then the powerful assembly speaker and former law partner of Armand. Early in his career, a young Richard passed the machine’s admissions test, offering himself as the sacrificial lamb for the GOP in a futile 1969 city council race in Demo­cratic-controlled Long Beach.

These connections would become useful to Hartman when he began to negotiate police contracts. His bargaining table suc­cess, insiders said, was not just a matter of caffeine and number-crunching. “The un­spoken thing was that Hartman had such a friendship with [longtime supervisor] Al D’Amato,” a Nassau political operative explained, “that D’Amato went out of his way to get him good contracts.”

Small wonder. D’Amato and fellow su­pervisors — even a Democrat or two — won their seats with the Nassau PBA endorsement and contributions rounded up by Hartman. “Almost anybody from either political party could ask Richie for a contribution,” said John Matthews, until re­cently the Nassau Democratic chairman.

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So staunch was that solidarity that even independent-thinking Republicans were banished. Ralph Caso, a Nassau county executive until 1978, told the Voice that when finances tightened and he began op­posing big police wage increases, fellow Republicans, including D’Amato, turned against him and ensured his defeat.

It often seemed many figures in the la­bor-bargaining process, from negotiators to the county executive, were either politi­cal allies or accepting Hartman’s gifts. Hartman began bargaining sessions by sending out for lavish spreads of food and drink, even beer, for both sides of the table. Then he went to work, putting on the appearance of sweating out the details. One observer recalled the lawyer’s tactical devices, as demonstrated at a late-’70s bargaining session. Hartman was leafing through a thick book, and gesticulating: “Now if you look at page 1385, subsection C, paragraph 4, you’ll see that it says, ‘Differential, blah, blah, blah.’ Now if you’ll go back to page 943, you’ll see in subsection … blah, blah, blah.”

“The poor suckers across from him,” the observer said, “just couldn’t keep up.”

Another Hartman tactic was to make excessive demands at the table, which would put the decision into the hands of presumably neutral arbitrators, such as Jo­seph French. In a 1978 settlement, French awarded Hartman’s client, the Nassau PBA, interest on retroactive pay increases, a highly unusual concession. He also doled out a three-year, 24.5 per cent raise. “There were strange aspects of the deci­sion, a strange rationale,” said Bruce Lambert, who covered the talks for News­day. It was noted that French had a few conflicts of interest. He was not only a police buff (a brother and brother-in-law were cops who would benefit from the settlement), but his divorce had been han­dled by Hartman’s firm. (French did not respond to messages left by the Voice.)

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In 1979, Al D’Amato himself inter­vened directly in favor of a record salary increase for Nassau Community College’s adjunct faculty, which was represented by Richard Hartman. The lawyer won ex­traordinary labor gains for the adjunct faculty. The contract was written in such a way that it allowed a high percentage of new teaching positions to be filled via the Nassau GOP patronage network — run by the very people negotiating police contracts.

The agreements were so exceptional that they infuriated the full-time faculty, which would reap outsize gains as well. The faculty, whose salaries currently aver­age $72,918, includes D’Amato’s wife Pe­nelope (math) and Hartman’s brother El­liott (math). In turn, the faculty unions gave cash and material support to the campaign of Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta, whose wife Elizabeth teaches biology at the school. The most recent faculty contract, in the words of college trustee Richard Kessel, a Demo­crat, “is one of richest municipal labor contracts I’ve ever seen.”

When Al D’Amato intervened in the Nassau Community College negotiations, the math department was headed by Abe Weinstein, a close D’Amato and Hartman pal who has since become a vice-president at the school. Al D’Amato himself has been a Nassau Community College trust­ee, as has Jeffrey Forchelli. Until recently, Forchelli was a law partner of Armand D’Amato — sentenced in November to five months house arrest and 19 months of supervised release (with disbarment proceedings pending) for mail fraud. John Cornachio, who monitors the college’s construction contracts, is the brother of a former Hartman law associate who now represents the Nassau PBA. In 1966 and 1971, Richard Hartman himself taught math classes at Nassau.

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The relationship of the college to police labor negotiations is critical to under­standing the quid pro quo nature of Nas­sau County contracts. Regional officials who got themselves or their relatives ad­junct teaching positions at the college were in many cases the same people approving nice contracts for Hartman’s oth­er clients, like the Nassau Police union.

The Nassau County cops became the highest-paid police in the country; their base pay is currently $52,229. With over­time, some officers earn as much as $90,000 annually. Nassau police also re­ceive the best benefits ± days off and va­cation account for half the calendar year. And though police routinely cite the dan­gerous nature of their work as a basis for raises, Nassau officers have a relatively low casualty rate.

When Hartman moved on to New York City, he did not do nearly so well for its police officers, who have a far more peril­ous job. But the concessions he won proved incredibly lucrative to executives at the PBA, its staff, and its small circle of service providers. ■

1993 Village Voice article by Russ Baker about corruption in the NYPD's Patrolman's Benevolent Association

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Anarchy in the U.S.A.: The GOP Plays a Dangerous Game With It’s Far-Right Fringe

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Behind the Waco and the Whitewater hearings lies a concerted effort on the part of Republican right “revolutionar­ies” to make use of its anarchist fringes.

Ever since Newt Gingrich turned self-hate into a campaign manifesto last November, the GOP has been conducting a risky affair with the far right. Now, though, this “we’re crazier than the crazies” stance seems to be backfiring. As the Waco hear­ings have demonstrated, it helps to know a little about the cause you’re supporting. Far from martyring David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and hence elevating the Christian right above law and order, the testimony of one Davidian survivor last week only reinforced the government’s accusations that Koresh was a child abuser.

No doubt Republicans, and their NRA sponsors, will have better luck beating up on the ATF and FBI once hearings begin into the 1992 Ruby Ridge raid on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver, but for the moment they are split on how to play their far right wing.

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Gingrich continues to indulge the anarchists, just last week weighing in on the favorite wacko topic of who killed Vince Foster. Meanwhile, Helen Chenoweth in the House and Larry Craig in the Senate continue to run wild, attacking the effrontery of federal agents and invoking the specter of the dreaded black helicopters.

But last week mainstream con­servatives regained their voice. In the Washington Times, Peter King, Republican congressman from Long Island, wrote in an op-ed, “Why now are some conservatives so willing to turn the presumption against federal law enforcement agen­cies such as the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Why was it wrong to call cops ‘pigs’ in the ’60s, but acceptable to call federal agents ‘Nazis’ and ‘jack-booted thugs’ in the ’90s? If it is because gun own­ers are considered to have a status different from blacks and left wing demonstrators, that would be unac­ceptable since principles are immutable and cannot be altered to suit the situation.

1995_Village Voice Thomas Goetz chart covering killings by the government from 1969 - 1993

“Nothing that happened at Waco and Ruby Ridge justifies citizens arm­ing themselves for some eventual struggle with the government. That is not what we do in a democratic society where we have the means to control government abuses at the voting booth and through the courts. Militia supporters talk of the ‘spirit of the Founding Fathers,’ but it was George Washington, the Father of our country, who denounced Shay’s Militia and the Whiskey Rebel­lion as threats to ‘republican gov­ernment.’ Any armed force with a political agenda in a democratic society is a threat to republican government.”

The Waco hearings have provided little substance. Unlike Watergate, or even the Iran-contra inves­tigation, there has been little or no effort by the Republican chairmen to figure out why the raid was staged, and the hearings have largely omitted the ludicrous attempts of the ATF to woo the press that played a major role in the timing of the first raid. From start to finish, the hearings have been a PR move, basically an effort to publicly attack the ATF in order to revoke the assault-weapon ban. More sub­tly, the hearings have played to the Christian right, key supporters of the Republican majority, and an entity everyone in Congress fears. But more than anything, the hearings have provided a dazzling display of farce and hypocrisy. Repub­licans who had been slashing away at the Fourth Amendment on the House floor earlier this spring in their determination to pass a tough crime bill have now been portray­ing themselves as feel-good liberals, invoking the rights of the Constitu­tion on behalf of Koresh and the other “individualistic” Christians within the compound.

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Aside from the desire to pander to Christian conservatives and the gun lobby, the Waco hearings are also an attempt to play to the lib­ertarian-anarchist wing of the party. Behind the attack on the ATF is anarchist frothing for the role of county sheriff in govern­ment. In Waco, the sheriff was on friendly terms with Koresh and clearly had no intention of challenging the Davidians, despite the accusa­tions made against the group. Indeed, various Republicans at the hearings came awfully close to suggesting that the sanctity of pri­vate property should have acted as a barrier against any federal intrusion. The argument that what Koresh was doing was his business and nobody else’s will get any politician, Christian right or other, firmly clobbered in the polls.

At first look, the new love affair with the role of county sher­iff might seem to go well with the overall Republican effort to decentralize govern­ment, removing power from Washington and spreading it out to the states — whose gov­ernors Republicans see as natural allies in the revolution to remake the federal government within the frame­work of states’ rights. But states’ rights is not county rights, and invariably states are opposed to county rights, siding again and again with the federal government against efforts to wrest control of land and water from the feds. State governments, especially in the West, where county rights is a much-publicized movement, are generally dri­ven by their urban citizenry, who stand to lose power should rural, often sparsely populated, counties suddenly grab more political power.

Western revolutionaries, such as the Wise Use and county movements, have gained national prominence, and a degree of legitimacy, over the last year, but just how the Republican right, centered around the followers of former interior secretary James Watt, intends to rope in these loos­er-than-loose cannons is unclear. Whipping up emotions over the sovereign rights of the county sher­iff may be good as a Gingrichian sound bite, but is a card no serious Republican politician who wants to stay in office is apt to play.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714416″ /]

Why, to cite but one example, would any serious Republican (or Democ­ratic politician) in Nevada want to put rural Nye County, the hotbed of the county secession movement, on an equal footing with Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in the nation?

And playing to anarchist Repub­licans almost inevitably opens an attack on the whole structure of local government. In Oklahoma, for instance, the Oklahoma Tax Com­mission revoked Woodward County agent June Griffith’s appointment after she filed what she called her “sovereignty papers.” According to the Enid News & Eagle, “similar papers show up in courthouses across Northwest Oklahoma, with only the filing party’s name changed, rejecting Social Security numbers, birth certificates and marriage licenses and renouncing U.S. citizenship.”

In northwestern Oklahoma this movement, which threatens to play havoc with the local Republi­can organization, “appears to be little more than a loosely orga­nized collection of disgruntled property owners who have lost their land in foreclosure actions and who hold forth on farms and in homes across Northwest Oklahoma to redress their grievances against the system.” The result is clogged court filings with false judgments against banks, bogus liens, phony subpoenas for state prosecutors, lawsuits against federal, state, and county governments.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714267″ /]

Through the Wise Use, county, and property rights movements, the GOP has built a supercharged engine of conservative politicking. This attack group leads the fight against environmentalists and is the driving force of every move­ment aimed at tax reduction. It is an angry and highly motivated group that Republican politicians have actively encouraged, and one that they can scarcely afford to have split and turn on itself.

That, though, as Democrats have learned over years of internal rift, is always a danger when mobilizing angry constituencies. The Waco hear­ings exposed one more time that the fragile coalition that makes up the Republican right is itself riven with contradictions.

It is seldom understood, for example, that the Christian right is not made up of anarchists. As a group, it believes in strong federal government that can institute and enforce the repressive codes of social conduct in birth control and education that they advocate. Unlike the racist survivalist faction, the Christian fringe has no interest in retiring to some wilderness tract in the Northwest. It wants to take power in Washington and then exercise it.

[related_posts post_id_1=”714924″ /]

When you strip down the revolutionary rhetoric coming from Congress, it isn’t hard to see what a dangerous game the GOP is playing.

If the Republican majority were seriously interested in addressing the Waco raid, then, turning to the Treasury Department’s excellent indictment of its own handling of the matter, it could seek to prose­cute the leaders of the department for dereliction of their duty. Top of the list is former Treasury head Lloyd Bentsen, a conservative Republican in all but name, whose han­dling of the raid points to a clear case of incompetence and derelic­tion, leading up to direct violation of constitutional rights.

Also, the Treasury’s report makes a powerful case against the ATF as an institution. Add to that the bureau’s recent history of sex­ual harassment cases, not to men­tion its racist “good ol’ boys” reunion. Here, sunset legislation to abolish this agency, turning its duties over to other existing law enforcement agencies, would be a welcome and most constructive step forward.

[related_posts post_id_1=”720671″ /]

Why not abolish the ATF? That would definitely play to the anar­chist crowd, and to the money bags at the NRA. It would help carry on the sense of revolution infused by Gingrich. But it would also run the powerful risk of opening its spon­sors to charges they are soft on crime — a charge that right-wing Democrats showered on the hear­ings from the beginning. Most importantly, it would turn over the duties of the ATF to other law enforce­ment agencies, i.e., the Secret Ser­vice, something the NRA would fight hard to avoid.

Sooner or later the Republican anarchists will get the message that they are being played with by the Republican right, and bolt off into the gullies and under the rocks from which they only lately have emerged. They will especially get the message when the Republican right sides with the government in wiping them out, which can’t be far from happening. ■

Additional reporting by Julian Foley, Pat McDonald, Vinita Srivatava

1995_Village Voice article by James Ridgeway about the paranoid far right

1995_Village Voice Thomas Goetz chart covering killings by the government from 1969 - 1993

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Republican Nation: The New Poor Laws

The New Poor Laws: How Mr. Gingrich Brought Back Tiny Tim
January 10, 1995

THE PUSH TO END WELFARE is more than just another front in the war on big govern­ment and high taxes. In the name of reform, America is about to cross a gigantic social fron­tier.

What’s at stake today is not whether the dependent poor will shiver in unheated apart­ments and sink slowly into malnutrition. That was the ’80s, when the real value of welfare grants dropped nationally by an average of 25 per cent. And city governments cut costs fur­ther by “churning” — arbitrarily lopping welfare recipients off the rolls and making them reapply.

In the ’90s, a bipartisan consensus has emerged to take us beyond administrative harass­ment and immiserating budget cuts. In this national movement, there are no hawks and doves — only Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The Republicans are the tough, unyielding Bolsheviks, uncompromising in their zeal to abolish the exploitation of the taxpayer by the indigent. The Democrats are the Hamlet-like Mensheviks, tortured by moral scruples, concerned that the pace of change is too fast. But neither party disagrees on principle: Both insist that the old order is cor­rupt and must be eliminated. And since no one opposes it, the revolution accelerates.

The latest proposals from the Republican-led House Finance Committee contain provisions that make the Contract With America seem like the New Deal. Not just because of 50 per cent cuts in the value of some grants. Or because more than half the children who now qualify for aid would be ren­dered ineligible because they were born out of wedlock. More funda­mentally, the new measures strip the indigent of their right to receive public assistance based on need.

As in the last century, when the urban gentry — chiefly property owners and their allies in bank­ing — passed sweeping legislation against the poor, the current plan for welfare reform will produce not just a decline in the standard of liv­ing but a change in the civil status of the poor, stripping them of rights they have had for more than 50 years. Taken together with legislation passed in state houses and city halls across the country, these federal proposals amount to a new set of poor laws — that 19th-century term for regulating the underclass.

The inspiration for enacting poor laws in America came from Britain, where, in 1834, a parliamentary commission met to rectify the damage done to the incentive structure of the poor by well-meaning 18th-century Tories — the ’60s liberals of their day. The result of the commission’s deliber­ations was to privatize state charitable institutions, crimi­nalize begging, set up private “mendicancy police,” jail va­grants, roust the homeless from public shelters, and abolish what Victorians called “outdoor relief.” The urban elites insisted as a condition of receiving assistance that poor peo­ple live and perform hard labor in a workhouse.

What makes us willing to step again into this same river of urban misery and calculated cruelty? Why are we willing to reconsider social Darwinist notions that poverty has a ba­sis in biology? And that, as an hereditary pariah group, the poor no longer qualify for basic human rights?

THAT THE POOR have any rights at all in this coun­try is largely due to the passage, in 1935, of the So­cial Security Act. At the time, all across America, state and local relief programs had gone bankrupt. New York City didn’t even have such a program. The 1897 City Charter forbade it.

Essentially, Roosevelt’s New Deal and Tru­man’s Fair Deal created two primary entitlements. First, the Social Security Act gave states access to unlimited matching federal funds. And then, in 1950, the federal government granted in­dividuals entitlement status, depriv­ing states and cities of the power to deny the needy.

The Social Security Act contained deep flaws. It allowed localities to establish different benefit levels, which could never be standardized by the federal government. This crazy-quilt pattern kept the U.S. from mandating welfare as a national program, the way European nations do. And the provisions for unemployment compensation — at the urging of Southern congressmen — left out blacks by ex­empting maids and farm workers. But for all its defects, the Social Security Act did grant poor people entitlement sta­tus. Local governments can’t simply turn them away with the explanation, “That’s all folks, the money’s run out.” If that happens, officials are obligated to raise more.

But in the new welfare consensus, state and individual entitlements disappear. Automatic matching funds are transformed into “block grants” administered by the states. Spending caps are imposed on programs for the poor. Even legal immigrants become ineligible for aid. Cities and states will again be able to dump the indigent by a competitive lowering of benefits. The few states — like New York — whose constitutions guarantee the right to aid will be threatened with inundation: Elsewhere, local officials will need only a shrug and a show of empty hands to fend off the importunate poor.

The real issue looming today is whether America will once again draw the line against the growing millions of its urban poor, turning a deprived economic class into a de­spised social caste, propelling the poor into the presumptive criminal status they enjoyed throughout most of the 19th century. The new poor laws could create just such an outcome. In this respect, they are exactly like the old poor laws — even down to small particulars.

Last fall, fusion mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared war on soup kitchens. He demanded that the City Council close ranks behind his decision to deny funds for those who would feed the hungry. In the 1890s, fusion mayor William L. Strong led a similar crusade against permissive soup dispensers. These philanthropists helped the deserv­ing and undeserving indiscrimi­nately, leaving them more money “for gin palaces and low public houses.”

“Workfare,” invented by the Ford Foundation in the mid 1970s, doesn’t mean work at fair wages. It means working off the value of your welfare check, which in some states can mean a wage of less than $1.25 an hour. It revives the 19th-century work test, a key element in the orig­inal poor laws. Before allowing the indigent to eat, the New York Char­ity Organization Society took male applicants down to their West 28th Street wood yard. If they chopped vigorously enough, they might get fed. (Or, if an interviewer discovered a pattern of dependency, they might be sent to jail.) Female paupers were taken to the COS laundry to see if they could really scrub. Such measures rehearse the small humiliations and petty irritants the 19th century inflicted on the poor.

Rudolph Giuliani’s criminaliza­tion of squeegee men and beggars outside the ATMs ominously repris­es the furious campaigns against begging and vagrancy that began in the 1870s. The battle reached a peak in 1911, when the state legislature, at the behest of the New York City COS, passed a law that created upstate prison camps for city beggars.

The idea that the dependent poor could be transformed once again into quasi-criminals hardly seems far-fetched any­more. The punitive and ascetic 1990s already resemble the 1890s more than the comparatively liberal 1970s, when the dominant idea of welfare reform was to give every Ameri­can a guaranteed income. That was Richard Nixon’s plan!

What happened? One easy explanation is that “Reagan’s the one.” For the left these days, Reagan still serves as in­tellectual Hamburger Helper to pad out our understand­ing of painful changes we can’t quite yet grasp — from the fall of the Soviet Union to the decline of the U.S. labor move­ment. But we need to get past our fixation on Ronnie. A Democrat is chief executive now.

Those who prize simple explanations could far more plau­sibly blame Clinton for rekindling the spirit of poorhouse America. As New York Times welfare writer Jason De Parle observes, “Clinton has taken a tougher stance on welfare than any other president.” It was he who literally took a page from Murray’s book. It was Clinton, not Reagan, who insisted on the two-year cutoff; Clinton, not Reagan or Bush, who campaigned to “end welfare as we know it.”

But Clinton’s responsibility for America’s rightward shift on welfare ought not to be stretched too far. To advert to the postmodern idiom, “Clinton” is not a subject. As a signifier, he simply expresses a certain malaise of the Democratic Par­ty. He’s a vector of various polling results, not an agent of so­cial change. If the welfare reform parade hadn’t been com­ing down the street, if the Ford and Rockefeller foundations hadn’t already agreed to pay for the band and the uniforms, Clinton wouldn’t have stepped off the curb to lead it.

Nor can the feminization of poverty explain the resump­tion of America’s class war against the poor. In 1984, Bar­bara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven predicted that by the year 2000, the poverty population would consist entirely of women and dependent children. Feminists argued that the whole binary structure of wel­fare — “male” programs like unem­ployment don’t have the built-in surveillance requirements of AFDC — as well as the growing hostility to welfare expressed nothing less than a patriar­chal backlash.

But the welfare recipients under the most severe attack are those drawing General Assistance (“Home Relief” in New York). These are poor people in need of emergency aid who can’t qual­ify under any other program. They’re not blind, old, disabled, or caring for dependent children. In New York, their number has grown to nearly a quarter of a million — at a rate 10 times faster than the growth of the AFDC caseload. Reformers don’t just want to discourage or cut back on Home Re­lief. They simply want to abolish the program. But the point is that Home Relief recipients are overwhelmingly male. The angry focus on this program has fiscal not patriarchal roots: AFDC, SSI, and food stamps are chiefly fund­ed by the feds, but every dollar of Home Relief comes from local taxes.

What about the power of ideas? Is the ground burning under the feet of the dependent poor because Charles Murray and his fellow neocons developed powerful proposals for welfare reform? Whatever one says about Murray, no one can accuse him of having an original thought. Not a single one of Murray’s claims, not a single criterion for handling the poor, would have surprised Thomas Malthus. In fact, Murray’s main rant — that welfare causes black girls to have extra kids — is a false coin handed down directly from Parson Malthus, whose 18th-century Law of Population was specifically designed to afflict poor welfare recipients and comfort rural landlords.

Most of the remaining items in Murray’s policy invento­ry consist of variations on Jeremy Bentham’s “less eligibil­ity principle.” As Bentham’s disciples put it in 1834, in the famous Chadwick Commission Report that inspired the Vic­torian poor laws, the pauper’s “situation on the whole shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent laborer of the lowest classes.” Translat­ed from 19th-century policyspeak, the idea was to keep workers from applying for relief and to prevent paupers from staying on the dole. Conditions have to be made worse for the pauper than anything likely to be experienced by the poorest worker. Very simply, if the worker’s conditions are terrible, the pauper’s must be made revolting.

Without a whole network of foundations, think tanks, grants, and conservative publishing houses amplifying the low wattage of his contribution, it’s unlikely that so many Americans would have paid attention to Mr. Murray or his fellows. These people brought us welfare reform in the same sense that the Budweiser Clydesdales bring us beer. Some­one hitched them to the wagon. Who is that? And why now?

WERE YOU AWARE that the real estate project most associated with the Rockefeller family­ — Rockefeller Center — is going down the toilet? The New York Times business pages suggest they and their Japanese partners, Mitsubishi Estates, will renege this year on the mortgage payments they owe and simply walk away from Rockefeller Center, Christmas tree and all. That’s on Fifth Avenue. The downtown real estate situation is much worse. Vacancy rates in the area approach 30 percent, and rents continue to fall.

That’s why the Downtown Lower Manhattan Association, headed by a vice chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, came up with a massive bailout plan called the “Low­er Manhattan Project.” The Wall Street area stands as prob­ably the most subsidized square mile of real estate in the world. Battery Park City alone last year got a $127.8 million subsidy. But aggressive Wall Street panhandlers want more aid. They want the money to convert their office buildings to luxury rentals, to lower property taxes, and simply to wreck some of their superannuated buildings at taxpayer ex­pense. Promoters of the Lower Manhattan Project appear to have worked out a deal with Giuliani to get upwards of $234 million for these projects. At least that’s the bill for the first three years.

On the same day Mayor Giuliani announced the $234 million sub­sidy plan for the real estate rich, he proposed cutting public assistance payments by another $300 million. The mayor, of course, insists that Wall Street subsidies don’t take money out of the budget that could go to the poor. His plan provides seed for eco­nomic growth. Welfare for the real es­tate rich will produce jobs. But Nelson Rockefeller was just the first of many to promise the same thing billions of dol­lars ago, and downtown has fewer jobs now than in the ’60s. Downtown real­tors are simply shoving their way to the front of the municipal soup kitchen, elbowing aside the poor.

The same struggle drives welfare re­form at the national level. The Contract With America seeks to have welfare cut­backs finance capital-gains tax cuts and increased military expenditure. This­ — and not more diffuse cultural anxieties — ­is why it’s Murray Time again.

Welfare reform has an added urgency because poverty has grown to 19th-cen­tury proportions. The numbers of peo­ple on relief are far larger than the pub­lished figures reveal. In New York City, the official tally of 1.1 million is dwarfed by the number of people who actually receive aid from the basic means-tested programs. AFDC, SSI, Home Relief, and “Medicaid only” recipients total 1.8 million people. One out of four New Yorkers.

Naturally, welfare reformers, whose political base is in the suburbs and the white neighborhoods in the outer bor­oughs, focus their attacks on inner-city welfare moms. But they also want to take money away from disabled men. And from elderly ladies too. Cutting off old and disabled SSI recipients is all part of the Contract With America’s Personal Responsibility Act. Denying nurs­ing-home care figures heavily in Giuliani’s plan to cut Med­icaid by one-third.

Our modern elites need some higher justification for their calculated cruelty than Christianity and Judaism can provide. This is why social Darwinism is back. “What do the social classes owe each other?” asked America’s most famous 19th-­century social scientist, Yalie William Graham Sumner, in a bestselling book by that title. “Nothing,” he answered.

People chatter about “the right to existence,” complained Sumner. But where do we find this “right to existence”? Not in nature. There, he explained, all we see is a pitiless struggle between individuals. Go ahead, says Sumner, leg­islate such a right. What will happen? “It is plain,” he says, “that we shall not abolish the struggle for existence; we shall only bring it about that some men must fight that struggle for others.” Some people’s taxes will support others’ right to existence. What a waste!

Look at the poor drunkard in the gutter, exclaims Sumn­er. You want someone to help him, but your pity is perverse. “A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be. Na­ture is working away at him to get him out of the way. Nine-­tenths of our measures for preventing vice are really protec­tive towards it, because they ward off the penalty.”

If we map the social-policy landscape over the 150 years since America began rapid urbanization, what we find are jagged cycles of meanness and relative liberality. Permitting “public outdoor relief” and then angrily taking it away. These swings in mood and policy correspond roughly to the business cycle. And more particularly in big cities to the real estate cycle.

The meanness phase of the cycle begins when the real estate rich start to feel pinched. In the boom phase, they’re too busy speculating to worry about the bur­den of the poor. But when the real estate crunch comes, their incomes fall. They find themselves struggling to pay the banks. At the same time, as the hard times intensify, welfare rolls soar, putting pressure on the budget. Politicians seek to raise taxes. Real estate responds with a crusade against the poor and the urban machine that coddles the undeserving.

Today’s elites react not to the “feminization of poverty” or because blacks get AFDC checks disproportionately. They act because they are acted upon. They want to get rid of welfare because, with real estate revenues being squeezed, they want to appropriate the public revenue spent on the poor.

Social historians have misunderstood the 19th-century charity reformers. They weren’t just rich. They were rich real estate developers. As such they were city shapers and planners. They saw welfare expenses not just in terms of the tax burden, but in terms of lost opportunities.

The president of COS, Robert DeFor­est, who successfully led the battle to get rid of public outdoor relief in New York, was the principal developer of Forest Hills, Queens. He was financed by his co-reformer, Otto Bannard, vice president of New York Life Insurance. In their 1897 crusade against outdoor relief, DeForest and Bannard were following in the footsteps of Seth Low, who’d gotten rid of out­door relief as far back as 1870 when he was mayor of Brooklyn. Low, who inherited millions from his father in the opium trade, was the largest landowner in Brooklyn. He’d founded Brooklyn Charities with oth­er developers who’d invested heavily in what were then outlying areas of Brooklyn. What united these charity reformers were their speculations. They needed the city to invest heavily in streets, gas, and lights, as well as transportation, to make their in­vestments pay off.

The whole reason for the creation of Greater New York in 1898 was to grab hold of the Manhattan tax base to finance these projects. Developers insisted on pro­ductive, not unproductive, expenditure. Roads, not relief.

In New York City, in the aftermath of the great depres­sion of ’93, sleeping in the police station remained the last resort for the homeless. These lodging houses served as shel­ters for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Until, that is, the election of the fusion administration of William Strong in 1896. Strong appointed Teddy Roosevelt to lead the New York police board. And Roosevelt persuaded the Charter Revision Commission “to remove from the organic law of the city the clause giving to the police the care of vagrants.”

In 1897, Strong also succeeded in get­ting the Raines Law passed. This meant, literally, no more free lunches. Bars could no longer serve them. Welfare reformers argued they attracted the homeless.

Next, New York’s welfare reformers turned to suppressing street begging and vagrancy. The COS campaign compiled an exhaustive list of street beggars. Based on this information, the COS’s own squadron of “mendicancy police” was able to round up beggars and turn them over to the police.

In 1896, the organiza­tion turned to Teddy Roosevelt. They asked him to establish a mendi­cancy police unit inside the department. Teddy was the scion of one of New York’s richest fami­lies. An uncle, James Roosevelt, had founded the Chemical Bank. The fam­ily led the redevelopment of Park Avenue after the New York Central de­pressed its tracks beneath street level. Theodore Sr. was president of the New York State Charities Aid Association. James was a member of the COS. So when Teddy was ap­proached by the COS, ac­cording to one witness, he “listened attentively for the few moments it took for him to grasp the idea,” and then ordered it done.

SCHOLARS ARGUE over whether it was Stalin or Hit­ler who invented labor camps. In fact, labor-camp proposals predate both the Soviet and Nazi regimes. As ear­ly as the turn of the centu­ry, New York charitable authorities promoted camps as a solution to the vagrancy problem.

Having been rousted from shelters and driven out of bars, vagrants were more underfoot than ever. Especially after the very sharp depression of 1907. As usual, questions of economy drove policy discussions. The State Charities Aid Association counted up the number of vagrants in peniten­tiaries, jails, workhouses, and almshouses in 1908. Authorities estimated the cost at more than $2 million. The vagrancy prob­lem could be more cheap­ly handled by the creation of a state labor colony.

At the prodding of the reformers, state legislators passed a bill in 1911 that called for the “detention, humane discipline, in­struction, and reformation of male adults committed therefore as tramps or vagrants.” A 900-acre tract in Dutchess County was set aside for the camp. But the next incoming governor, William Sulzer refused to appropriate the funds. Reformers howled. Sulzer was actually impeached a few months later. But the camp was nev­er built.

Flash forward to 1994: House Speaker Newt shook up not only or­dinary folks but some hard­line welfare reformers with his insistence that kids born out of wedlock be sent straight to orphanages. “Horrifying!” exclaimed the American Enterprise Insti­tute’s Douglas Besharov, who performed a careful cost-benefit analysis of the proposal. Outrageously expensive! It turns out orphanages cost $15,000 a year per child. At present il­legitimacy rates, it would cost $70 billion a year to put all the kids born out of wedlock in these new Boys Towns. The entire AFDC program costs only $21 bil­lion. Besharov concludes orphanages would have a powerful deterring effect on young girls thinking about getting pregnant. But not one worth $50 billion.

Naturally there were sensitive moral thinkers like Be­sharov around in the 19th century. Their logic remains our logic. To see what choic­es present-day child-welfare reformers will embrace, we only have to examine the preferences of their 19th­-century counterparts.

The ordinal costs of child­-welfare alternatives haven’t changed since then. Or­phanages are the most cost­ly. Payments to single mother are less costly. And sheer indifference is least costly. Naturally, number three was the optimal choice for those dealing with the problem of homeless children in New York. But they faced a threat.

In 1898, while charity re­formers relaxed their customary vigilance, the legislature passed the Ahern Bill. It allowed public support for the children of widowed mothers. The measure would have used public funds to get these children out of orphanages and reunite them ­with their mothers.

Charity-movement repre­sentatives thundered against the bill. They had just ren­dered outdoor relief illegal; now the legislators were sneaking public outdoor re­lief in through the back door. Outdoor relief, argued a lobbyist from the State Charities Aid Association, was “a system which, in large cities, has always been found to promote pauperism, to discourage self-reliance and thrift, and to be especially li­able to flagrant abuses.” The welfare reformers convinced Mayor Strong. He persuaded the governor, who vetoed the bill that had been passed by the state house.

It had been official New York welfare policy since the 1870s to encourage family integrity. State orphanages didn’t even exist. But with child abandonment becom­ing an ever more serious problem, local officials began to resort to placing orphans in private orphanages — which received per capita funds from state institutions.

In an 1896 investigation, the State Charities Aid Association demonstrated terrible child abuse. One state supported orphanage, the Ladies’ Deborah Nursery, spent a total of 27 cents a day on its charges. Even in the 1890s that wasn’t a lot of money. Reformers argued that “the worst family home is better than the best institution.” They moved to empty out New York’s orphanages.

But as bad as many orphanages were, charity reformers encouraged even worse al­ternatives. The New York branch of the Na­tional Children’s Home Society, headed by the Reverend W. Jarvis Maybee, offered $100 a head for homeless children. He promised to find places for them: Many children wound up placed as prostitutes. Thousands of others were sent out West to become indentured servants. Farmers in­ particular sent in their orders for strong, healthy boys.

A whole pattern of cost-driven child dis­posal emerged, involving public authori­ties too. State investigators discovered that local officials in many counties “placed the child in any home obtainable, where it will cease to be a county charge.” They con­cluded that less cost to the taxpayer “seems to be the main consideration.”

UNLIKE INDIA with its Untouch­ables, or Japan and its Burakumins, the rationalistic West has no tradition of religiously sanctioned pari­ah groups. When competition for resources becomes intolerable, the “in group” (Sumner’s term) sanc­tions the creation of out groups by means of science. In the Great Depression, the Germans turned to racial science to justify stripping Jews of their civil rights and separating them from the rest of society. “Science” explained that the Jews were a parasitic growth on Germany. The 1935 Nuremburg Laws were offered as a step towards racial sanity. They also validated the eventual distribution of Jewish property among German businessmen.

It’s true that nothing today, or even in 19th-century America, compares with what the Nazis eventually did to the Jews. But in fact, the Nuremburg Laws didn’t establish death camps. They only caused the Jews to revert to their medieval status. Just as today the poor laws merely send our indigent back to their 19th-century semicriminal status.

The Germans made the Jews wear yellow badges. Until the mid 19th century in Bal­timore, the poor had to wear badges too. In colonial New York, paupers had the letter P sewed in red or blue on their clothes. Inspectors of the poor were directed, in the language of the time, “to See the Letter P: Sett on there garment as a Token of there Being Supported by ye Town.”

Similar economic conditions, filtering through similar institutions, provoke re­sponses that need to be examined for simi­larity. This isn’t the Great Depression, but never before in American history, not even in the ’30s, has the U.S. seen such a pro­tracted fall in wages. The twin pillars of U.S. business strategy — capital export and labor import — mean that workers can’t raise their wages. The only hope they have of pre­venting their incomes from falling further is to cut government spending and lower taxes. That’s why there is such a broad con­stituency for tax cuts and welfare cutbacks.

But the existence of an eager audience doesn’t tell us who’s producing the show. The Ford and Rockefeller Brothers foun­dations have been promoting radical welfare reform since the ’70s. That’s when the fiscal crisis ended the confident mood of the ’60s. In the wake of the real estate collapse of that decade, foundations began to pro­mote neighborhood “self-help” economic strategies in ghetto areas. Ford discovered the “underclass.” It funded experimental groups like Wildcat that put AFDC recipi­ents into unionized public-sector jobs. Workfare was born.

The urgency with which these measures were pressed seemed to fade with the sur­prising real estate revival of the ’80s. But fol­lowing the ’87 crash, the greatest real estate downturn in American history began to work its way through the budgets of cities and states. The fight for public revenues that began then is still going on. Local real es­tate elites need the cash now, not for any great projects, but just to stay afloat. They need Rudy. Just as the defense industry and the capital-gains seekers need Newt.

Of course, Speaker Gingrich is not a Nazi. He is a liberal. A 19th-century liberal, of the Manchester School. And Mayor Giuliani is no Gauleiter. He is simply another liberal admirer of the night-watchman state. And that is why Tiny Tim is back. ❖

Categories
From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Republican Nation: Bill Clinton’s Unrequited Affair

Love in Vain: Bill Clinton’s Unrequited Affair
January 10, 1995

WELCOME TO REPUBLICAN NATION, where men are men and President Bill Clinton is a skirt-chasing, draft-dodging, pot-smoking, non-inhaling, pussy-whipped, pussy-eating, pussycat-owning, homo-loving, touchie-feelie, yellow-bellied peacenik wuss.

Back in 1992, the American electorate (or 43 per cent of it, anyway) voted for a lover, not a fighter. A would-be Elvis defeated a John Wayne wannabe. Woodstock eclipsed Pearl Harbor as a generational metaphor. Now, as the New Dole dawns, we peer into our Kristol ball and see two years in Limbaugh with our Newtered president making ever more feeble attempts to recast himself as an old-fashioned TruMan.

What’s Clinton’s problem? Like his similarly suspect predecessor Jimmy Carter at the midpoint of his single term, Clinton is widely regarded as an incompetent — despite a growing economy and the fact that, on his so-called watch, almost no American blood has been shed on foreign soil. So why the widespread perception that there is something frighteningly unpresidential about our maximum leader?

[related_posts post_id_1=”720727″ /]

REPUBLICAN NATION was eagerly inaugurated moments after the November election with the spectacle of Speaker-to-be Gingrich’s quasi-presi­dential treatment in the media. It was as if televi­sion had discovered in Newt a shining new star: Bill Clinton’s evil twin.

Fawned upon by Ted Koppel, attacked daily by the op-ed pundits of the Eastern liberal press, his peccadillos fruitlessly “exposed” by New York tabloids, his coffers swelled by a $4 million advance from Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house, the architect of Republican vic­tory stormed the zeitgeist machine — su­perseding even O.J. Simpson as the object of The New Yorker’s fasci­nation.

Yes, only six years after the show closed, it was time again for a man’s­-man’s-man’s-man’s world: Reaganism redux. Back to the sci-fi future of Star Wars in cyberspace, and maybe even a new adventure with Indiana Jones. But first, some necessary chastisement. For, Newt (like Ronbo) gives every promise of being a man who can smile broadly while wielding a large and bloody ax.

So, will Bill Clinton feel Republican pain? Is the pope Time maga­zine’s Man of the Year?

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THREE CARTOON images might be conjured by the Democratic de­feat. One is of a blubbering, defenseless fat boy being taunted by a vicious crowd of schoolyard bullies. The second, even more pa­thetic, is of that same hapless fat boy chasing frantically after his tor­mentors, huffing and puffing and hoping the gang will let him join in their game. The third and creepiest has the fat boy turning his aggres­sion on some smaller, weaker playmate.

Three years ago, Bill Clinton won a Democratic nomination very few politicians wanted largely by defining himself as an anti-Democrat Democrat. Now, in his grotesque attempt to crash the Republican party, the pres­ident can barely wait to endorse a constitutional amend­ment on school prayer, propose an additional $25 billion for defense spending, dangle again the prospect of a middle-class tax cut, offer to shut down an entire federal agency (or three), and humiliate an uppity black woman who — in keeping with his previous pattern — was also something of a personal friend.

Bill Clinton just wants everyone to love him. So why does America, defined in the received wisdom of the last election as a land of white males, hate him so much?

Last month’s drive-by shooting, which left four nine­-millimeter slugs in and around the White House, is just the most blatant evidence that it’s open season on the president — an idea coyly endorsed by Jesse Helms in the elec­tion’s heady aftermath. Did the Maryland kamikaze who crashed his light plane onto the White House lawn hear voices in his brain? Or was he just monitoring Rush on the headset? What about Martin Duran, the 26-year-old ex-­GI with a prior history of racial and homophobic violence, who — less than a week before the election — sprayed the White House and its press room with a 29-shot round from an automatic assault rife. What was his frequency, Kenneth?

Suddenly, it’s Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue, as real killers stalk the nation’s dreams. One might assume that the final disintegration of the Soviet Evil Empire would be cause for a national feelgood bacchanal. Wrong!!!! Instead, there is emptiness, lack of purpose, con­fused self-definition, the depression that (Oprah could tell us) is rage turned inward. No time for pleasure now.

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The Great Satan is dead, but nature abhors a vacu­um — hence the “culture war” Pat Buchanan declared at the 1992 Republican convention (seconded by two oth­er would-be presidents, Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm). “There is no ‘after the Cold War,’ ” neocon godfather Irving Kristol recently ranted in The Public Interest. “So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in in­tensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos.… Now that the other ‘Cold War’ is over, the real cold war has be­gun.” In other words, the battle against the Soviets was only a rehearsal. The true jihad is the post–Cold War cleanup that demonizes liberals, rappers, feminazis, ille­gal aliens, counterculture McGoverniks, welfare moth­ers, secular humanists, homosexuals, performance artists, and Democrats.

Clinton, to his credit, has proven stubbornly disin­clined to designate the devils. But isn’t that exactly why we need a president? The leader is delegated to identify our enemies and thereby allow us to define ourselves­ — and this is something Bill Clinton seems temperamental­ly unable to do. He has difficulty with boundary issues, as Oprah might say. To the rage of Republicans, despair of Democrats, and contempt of all, he’s conflict-averse, a hopeless “people pleaser.”

Clinton’s failure to name the new national threat (let alone identify a threat to himself) has been compounded by his equally perverse refusal to cut and whack and there­by bind the nation to his cause. Nor has Clinton (yet) brought himself to kick wog ass in Bosnia or Haiti, Iraq or North Korea, demonstrating for the world to hear the clank of his — and our — big brass balls.

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THE LAST ELECTION was almost univer­sally explained as the white man’s re­venge — specifically, the Southern white man’s revenge. The Wall Street Journal’s postmortem inter­view with a 33-year-old unemployed Mem­phisite is typical. Mes­merized by the spectacle of women driving to work each morning, the Journal’s jobless every­man told the reporter, “You just know that has got to emasculate a die­hard, big-ego, male chauvinist. Men have got to have a scapegoat… and Clinton is just perfect for everybody’s ailment.”

Fuckin’ A! But what exactly ails us? Call it reg­is flaccidosis. It is precise­ly because men invest the nation’s leader with some sense of their own po­tency that they are so mortified by a president whose idea of human sacrifice is dumping Joycelyn Elders. Then, too, the fear and loathing occasioned by Bill Clin­ton’s “unmanliness” is further amplified in his generational association with the lost Vietnam War. As a commander-in­-chief who not only did not fight and kill for America, but openly op­posed the war and even sought to evade the draft, our Führer Bill is a griev­ous affront to that which the Germans call the Männerstaat — the state as an expression of mas­culine authority.

His scepter wilted, Clinton must wear the jester’s cap. In editorial cartoons, the president appears stripped to his heart-patterned boxer shorts, or cowering under the bed covers with a shrewish Hillary; he’s reduced to a fuzzy Easter Bunny or blown up as a bulb-nosed buf­foon. The New York Post routinely represents Clinton in the company of angst-ridden plucked chickens. The Dayton Daily News caricatures him in drag as a dowdy, befuddled “Mrs. Don’tfire.”

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Dazedly clinging to a severed, useless missile so that even her oversize pocketbook is unavailable as a weapon, Mrs. Don’tfire offers the fattest of targets for the slings and spitballs of mischievous Newt. But the negative images attached to our leader may have less to do with him than with us. So, too, the current projection on the iconically perfect yet politically blank screen that is General Colin Powell. (Won’t he please play Lou Gossett to Bill’s Richard Gere in a 1996 release of An Officer and a Gentle­man II?)

Even as the president’s endlessly reit­erated worst crime was his attempt to pan­sify the nation’s armed forces, his own ab­sent war record revived repressed feelings of Vietnam impotence, at the precise moment when the possibility of a re­duced defense budget had sent the military into a panic of perceived emasculation. (Thus, the peace dividend must be spent­ preferably on Star Wars, to defend ourselves from a nonexistent threat.)

Underlying the Reagan-era’s repression of a historical truth — that the Vietnam War was pro­foundly unpopular — is a tacit recognition that those sacrificed there were suckers. Rage at Clinton covers the survivor guilt of the millions — including Newt, Rush, and Quayle — who, no less than the president, scampered across an unleveled playing field and success­fully dodged the bullet.

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CLINTON’S MASCULINITY is suspect in other, less mar­tial ways. The 1984 and 1988 elections were widely reported and experienced as victories by manly Re­publicans over feminized Democrats. The 1992 contest, actually dubbed by the media “The Year of the Woman,” was more like the battle of the wimps.

Significantly more evolved than Mondale or Dukakis, Clinton actively promoted the idea of his spouse as an intelligent be­ing and full partner: “Buy one, get one free.” Now, Time imagines that Clinton is unable to persuade anyone to run his reelec­tion campaign because so “few believe [he] can pre­vent his wife… from tak­ing over.” Having ceded a small portion of his actual power to Hillary, Clinton is constantly being called upon to defend her hon­or, even as he himself is besieged by the other women in his life. Either way, it signifies an absence of male control.

Clinton is at once a lustful sexual harasser, swinging his dick at Paula Jones (instead of Saddam Hussein), and a hapless pawn in his wife’s mega­lomaniacal game. These contradictory images of our polymorphously perverse pander-bear, as well as the leadership style he is thought to exemplify, are conflat­ed in a recent Louisville Courier-Journal car­toon, which visualized a bloated Clinton (no Demi Moore) engulfing a terrified white man in the unwanted warmth of his smoochy embrace: “Bill Clinton & the American Middle Class in Disclosure.”

Inadvertent self-disclosure is more like it. America thinks that America doesn’t need to be hugged. America believes that, like a delinquent in Singapore, America heeds to be caned! Down with Mrs. Don’tfire! Dump Bill! As suggested by the current “mean sex” chic (featured on New York’s cover shortly after the election), what Ameri­ca craves is not therapy but discipline. And in the new Washington power equa­tion, there’s no doubt who’s the top and who’s the bottom. Left to his own devices, Clinton would surely abuse himself.

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The president doesn’t even have the courage of his skirt-chasing, draft-­dodging, pot-smoking, pussy-eating, homo-loving, peacenik convictions­ — which is why we can’t stand him either.

Out with the bleeding heart Democrats. In with the chop-and-slash Re­publicans. Failing that, there is always the Ulti­mate Weapon. As Newt told the Heritage Founda­tion a month before the election: “I do have a vi­sion of an America in which a belief in the Creator is once again at the center of defining being an American.” Forget Jesus; the Creator whom Gin­grich envisions is a punitive proponent of tough love. Or so it has been revealed to us by His prophet’s representation on successive covers of Time and Newsweek as those hard-hearted Christmasphobes, Scrooge and the Grinch.

What is the renewed insistence on prayer in public school if not a state-sanctioned return of the Great White Father? It must be time for the bloodthirsty patriarch William Blake named “Old Nobodaddy”: the cosmic bully who demands uncritical obedience from his priggish followers. They typically express their devotion through persecution and heresy-hunting. Nobodaddy has no use for sex or fun — or even National Public Radio: “Damn praying & singing/Unless they will bring in/The blood of ten thousand by fighting or swinging.”

Pleasure is the enemy. Hence the fascinated hor­ror of homosexual orgies in marine shower stalls. Hence the significance of Joycelyn Elders’s terminal transgres­sion. Masturbation priva­tizes sex, and sex without the possibility of procre­ation channels vital resources away from the production of potential workers and soldiers for the Männerstaat.

Republican Nation may hate govern­ment but it worships authority. Bill Clinton is despised because he is perceived to em­body one without projecting the other. ❖

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SCHOOL PRAYERS FOR CHRISTIAN CHILDREN
From the Right Reverend Michael Feingold, D.D.

I. LORD JESUS FULFILL THY ETERNAL PROMISE. Suffer the enemies of thy kingdom to be cast into the furnace of fire, with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Disfigure Newt Gingrich with leprosy, that he may be humbled. Send ravens to peck out Jesse Helms’s eyes, that his sight may be improved. Strip Pat Robertson naked, rend his flesh, and desolate his house, for he is as a whited sepulchre, full of hypocrisy and iniquity within. Lord, show these men no mercy, for they have dealt arrogantly with thee; they have strained at the gnats of thy law, and omitted the weightier matters of judgment, mercy, and faith; they proclaim the outside of the cup and the platter clean, while within they are full of extortion and excess. We shall endure their iniquity, Lord, because thou hast commanded it, but we pray that the great tribulation may be brought upon them soon, and that we who have suffered under the lash of their evil may see thee in thy glory, Amen.

II. LORD JESUS RESTORE OUR WELFARE SYSTEM, that it may feed the starving among us. For though hast said, “Give to him that asketh thee,” yet our wealthy refuse to give, and call judg­ment down upon the poor where thou hast said, “Judge not.” Knowing that thou lovest charity above all earthly deeds, we pray for the greedy and the selfish of our Republican party, that they may learn to see by thy light, which so many of them falsely claim to be their guide. “It is not meet,” thou teachest us, “to take children’s bread, and cast it unto the dogs,” yet these men take the bread away from children like ourselves, and cast it unto the dogs of affluence. Restore their sense of mercy, Lord, that they may feed us and our prayer to be given our daily bread may not go unanswered, in thy name, Amen.

III. LORD JESUS FREE ME FROM MY FAMILY. For thou hast come to set father against son and daughter against mother, and my father and mother are already sore set against me, for their ways are not my ways. I search, Lord, for the best way to live my life, and I know that, trusting in thee, I shall find it, given time, prayer, and patience. But my parents would compel me into their ways, without time or thought, even while their own bond is become a bitter yoke, and they cleave not to one another. Lord, free them from their bond for as in thy kingdom there is no taking nor giving in marriage, so all mortals should be free of these burdens on earth. Let us all live as we wish, men with men and women with women if we so choose, but that they be bonds of love, with couples cleaving unto one another, that these unions may be worthy by thy light, and the kingdom of heaven may be granted them, no matter how they are despised by the unrighteous here on earth. For the last shall be first and the meek shall inherit, as thou hast said it. Amen.

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Republican Nation: The Rise

They’re They’re: The Rise of Republican Nation
January 10, 1995

THERE HE WAS on television again. But this time, Newt Gingrich wasn’t lecturing us on the evil of our countercultural ways. He was introducing Boys Town, as if to reassure us that what he has in mind for the dispos­sessed is no worse than the tough love Father Flanagan dispensed on the silver screen. But wasn’t Gingrich hosting the wrong movie? Shouldn’t it have been Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Isn’t his vision of America what that film is all about?

THE REPUBLICAN REVOLUTION isn’t just a shift in the way government does business. It’s a transformation in the way peo­ple feel. It begins with permission to be indifferent to the needy. It proceeds to venting rage on the transgressors. And it ends in blind devotion to the order, represented as free­dom. The real power is invisible — something out there in the galactic recesses of big capital. Those who detect the change in their neighbors are soon replaced. The rest are invited to fall into a soft slumber. Not only will they feel better, but the whole place will work better. Why, even the helpless ones will awake improved.

IN THIS SPECIAL ISSUE, five Voice writers refuse to shut their eyes. J. Hoberman probes beneath the surface of politics to where the American dreamlife re­sides. There he finds a president whose failure to meet the people’s need for punishment has created Newt Gingrich, Clinton’s evil twin. James Ridgeway describes the real agenda behind the Republican Contract: Curb regulators, cut back Congress, humiliate the president — and in the process, cripple the federal government. Robert Fitch shows how the current consensus on welfare reform echoes 19th-century campaigns to criminalize the poor: At its root, then and now, is the business cycle. Ann Powers takes on the left’s critique of itself, focusing on the much maligned practice of symbolic politics that, she maintains, is the key to survival in hard times. And Michael Feingold of­fers prayers for Christian children unlikely to be recited in the teacher’s presence.

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AFTER 20 YEARS of backlash and stagnation, the pods that were so diligently planted are be­ginning to sprout. It’s hard to be a humanist in Republican Nation. Just to express pity is to risk humiliation. That’s how subtle, and how rational, the transformation seems. And that’s why an ominous sense of the possible is so important now.

THIS IS NO TIME to go gentle into that Newt night. Better to stand out on the highway, flagging down cars if you must, to shout out a warning. Even at the risk of seeming ridiculous, or dangerous, or deviant. Stand up and say, “They’re heeeere!”

***

 

[Editor’s note: When we first re-posted this article, prior to the 2018 midterm elections, we thought it would be helpful for voters to remember just how far back Trumpism goes in the GOP. Below, find the cover key we wrote at that time.]

Rush Limbaugh’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Key to Cover Collage

1) Pat Robertson: Elfin evangelical demagogue; now a vocal Trump supporter

2) George Pataki: Callous “Empty Suit” governor of New York, 1995–2006. In 2016 he said, “I think Donald Trump would drive the Republicans off a cliff if he’s our nominee.” Was floated as possible ambassador to Hungary; still awaiting call from his president.

3) William Bennett: Pedantic, anti–public education secretary of education. In 1993 he wrote The Book of Virtues; in 2016 he threw it out to support Trump.

4 & 5) Two Hollywood actors from long ago — starred in an idealized movie the GOP views as template for the handling of unruly children

6) Oliver North: Bagman for murderous South American counterrevolutionaries; now president of the National Rifle Association

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7) Marilyn Quayle: The brains of the family (see #23)

8) Rush Limbaugh: Rotund forefather of Infowars. On-air bloviator since he was 16, in 1967.

9) Pat Buchanan: Onetime Nixon speechwriter, political godfather of Trumpism; vocal supporter of the POTUS

10) Arnold Schwarzenegger: Muscles-for-brains governor of California (2003–11); married into Kennedy clan — it didn’t work out. Likens GOP under Trump to the Titanic, though rest of his party is hell-bent on melting all the world’s icebergs.

11) VJ Kennedy (no relation): Used to be on MTV; now on Fox Business Network

12) Clarence Thomas: Supreme Court justice who mocks Thurgood Marshall’s soaring achievements every time he gets out of bed

13) Tom Foley: Former Democratic Speaker of the House; drowned in 1994 Red Wave, first Speaker to lose re-election bid in more than a century. Died 2013.

14) Mario Cuomo: Vacillating Democratic New York governor (1983–94) who died in 2015, and is best remembered now for having a bridge named after him

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15) Bill Clinton: Democratic POTUS who was at least better than having George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, or Bob Dole as president from 1993 to 2001

16) Dan Rostenkowski: Democratic virtuoso of the pork barrel. In 1996 was sentenced to seventeen months in prison after involvement in a mail fraud scandal; pardoned by #15 in 2000.

17) Jesse Helms: Unabashed racist senator from North Carolina who fought against voting rights for minorities at every turn; cultural warrior who decried Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic pictures: “The news media’s intellectual dishonesty in calling this perverse, filthy, and revolting garbage, calling it art does not make it art.” Died 2008.

18) Bob Dole: Wounded vet, U.S. senator from Kansas; last Republican on national scene with genuine sense of humor. Supported current president by saying, in 2016, “What am I going to do? I can’t vote for George Washington.”

19) Newt Gingrich: GOP Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, apparently named for an ingredient in a witch’s brew — his policy proposals were unrelentingly toxic. Now a rabid Trump booster.

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20) Al D’Amato: Republican senator from New York (1981–99) known for fixing potholes and putting the fix into any progressive legislation. Supports Trump, but lightly admonishes the POTUS to “think, don’t tweet.”

21) Mary Matalin: Republican operative famously married to Democratic operative James Carville. Claims they never talk politics at home. Changed her party registration to Libertarian in 2016.

22) Arianna Huffington: Wealthy former wife of former Republican congressman. Proof that people can change for the better.

23) Dan Quayle: Handsome trust fund–supported Indiana senator 1981–89, vice president 1989–93; very poor speller

24) Calvin Coolidge: President from 1923 to 1929. Forget ideals and compassion — America’s raison d’être is turning a profit. —R.C. Baker

 

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Debate the Merits of Single-Hopped Beer With 2xONE

The first official debate of the 2016 presidential election is just hours away! Are you excited yet? While the ten Republican candidates argue over who will be the most effective at alienating women and minorities in the general election, common blue-collar folk have far more pressing issues to consider: How will I keep a roof over my head as the rent keeps getting higher?, Why do I keep going to Whole Foods for groceries even after I know they rip me off?, and What are the relative merits of a single-hopped IPA?

OK, that last one might be a bit of a stretch. But I’ve definitely heard the argument before. And with the seasonal release of upstate New York’s Southern Tier Brewing Company’s newest 2xONE IPA, it’s time to have that conversation again. Now that it’s on the shelf in time for debate season, I contend it should be our beer of the week.

Most beers, particularly IPAs, contain several types of hops — they add some complexity to the bitterness profile of the resulting beer, but it can also muddle the defining characteristics of each constituent varietal. Most people, it turns out, want nothing more than a beer that tastes good on the tongue. But to the advanced beer-drinker, who’s seeking to single out what a particular type of hops brings to a beer, nothing more edifying exists than a single-hopped brew. 

To that end, Southern Tier created a seasonal series of single-hopped IPAs. Their 2xONE, released once a year around this time, incorporates only one breed of hops and one single malt into every unique batch, so it never tastes the same from year to year. In the 2015 rendition, the brewers have built their beer around Equinox hops, a relatively new breed that delivers an alluring, tropical aroma and a zesty finish. And since this 8.1% offering is technically a double IPA, there are ample amounts of Equinox to be discovered in every sip. 

When it comes to preferred hops in craft beer today, there are far more candidates than even the G.O.P. could manage. Centennial, Citra, Simcoe, and Columbus are early favorites. If you want to weigh in and support a specific contender, it’s imperative to make yourself informed. Start today by getting to know Equinox. Pick up a six-pack of 2xONE at a local package store in time for tonight’s debacle. To sit through over an hour of that, you’re clearly going to need as much high-ABV beer as you can stomach anyway. Then be sure to seek out other single-hopped expressions in the future, as you prepare to enter your own debate. As for my choice? My money is on Centennial 2016!

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Paul Weyrich, religious-right icon, dies

Paul Weyrich, called by some the founding father of the religious right, is dead at the age of 66.

America is fortunate that Weyrich was born too late, because what he could have done with the Internet, oh Jesus!

The D.C.-based Weyrich has been out of the mainstream news for years now, but he was a very big deal before and during the Reagan era’s Great Leap Backward. In those glory days, he was a combination of cruise director and mailroom supervisor for the religious right, a behind-the-scenes guy who liked to think of himself as a thinker.

Energetic and argumentative, Weyrich was known, especially to himself, as someone who was right about every issue. He spent his whole life networking with others to prove it.

Before everybody went web-mad, Weyrich was exploring every opportunity to fight God’s battles electronically. Take a look at my February 1994 story “Passing on the Right: Conservative strategists gear up for the information highway.” Miraculously, you can find the long, long ago piece online. (You can tell how old the story is by my incessant use of the phrase “information highway,” for which I apologize.)

Writing at the time for the Denver alt weekly Westword, I stumbled upon a coven of religious-right folk having some embryonic satellite broadcasts beamed into their brains by one of Weyrich’s creations: an electronic conservative video/TV network.

I talked with Weyrich at some length about his new network — it sounded staggeringly boring and wonky. Here’s how I started the piece, which was only slightly less so:

The information highway begins with a sharp right turn just outside Windsor. From the roof of the Windsor Center, a small office building on the edge of this farm town fifty miles north of Denver, your brain will board a parabolic dish paid for by beer prince Jeffrey Coors and travel 23,000 miles above the planet to an orbiting satellite.

An instant later you will beam back down to Earth and the Washington, D.C., studios of National Empowerment Television, the newborn brainchild of former Denver newsman Paul M. Weyrich, who years ago coined the term “Moral Majority” for Jerry Falwell.

Many people will remember Weyrich for his having founded — with millions in beer money from Coors — the Heritage Foundation.

I’ll remember him for producing some really bad TV.