Politics and pop, past and present.
George McGovern’s 1972 campaign against Nixon changed many lives, including John Lennons’s. Lennon had moved to New York City in 1971, and it was his support for McGovern—who died October 21 at age 90—that led the Nixon administration to try to deport the ex-Beatle.
The story begins with Jerry Rubin. 1972 was going to be the first election in which 18-year-olds were given the right to vote—before that it had been 21. Everyone assumed that young first-time voters were likely to be anti-war and thus pro-McGovern. But all politicos knew that young people were (and remain) the least likely to register and vote of all age groups. Thus the problem for McGovern supporters was clear: how to get young people, who had become disillusioned by mainstream politics, to register and vote.
Jerry Rubin’s solution: get John Lennon to headline a national concert tour that would coincide with the election season, a tour that would combine rock music with voter registration and anti-war organizing. None of the ex-Beatles had performed live in the US for six years, so it would have been a tremendous thing.
Lennon had been singing “Give Peace a Chance” at anti-war rallies, but he wanted to do more to use his power as a celebrity to end the war. He understood the logic of Jerry Rubin’s idea, and eagerly set to work, recruiting other rock stars to join him at different venues.
Lennon did the first of the planned concerts in Ann Arbor in December 1971. He was joined onstage by Stevie Wonder and by Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party. 20,000 people showed up. It was a memorable night, and a promising one.
But the Nixon White House understood the significance of Lennon’s effort and resolved to put an end to the planned tour. “If Lennon’s visa were terminated, it would be a strategic counter-measure,” a memo to Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell explained. (The memo came from Strom Thurmond, the segregationist Republican from South Carolina, not known to have been a Beatles fan.) Nixon’s Immigration Service promptly began deportation proceedings against Lennon, and his attorneys advised him that his case was not a strong one and he should not do anything to further antagonize the Nixon people. So Lennon’s plan for a Vote McGovern tour was canceled.
While McGovern campaigned for president, Lennon spent many days in immigration court, arguing that the deportation order was an attempt to silence him as a critic of the president. The Immigration Service attorneys said they were merely enforcing the then-existing law under which Lennon was inadmissible for a visa because of a misdemeanor conviction for possession of cannabis in London in 1969.
On election night in November 1972, Nixon won 60.7 percent of the vote, more than any Republican candidate in history up to that point. Lennon had thought McGovern might win, even though polls showed he didn’t’ have a chance. McGovern’s defeat meant not only that the war would continue but also that the INS would remain in Nixon’s hands and that Lennon’s deportation was now more likely.
I interviewed Jerry Rubin in 1982 about election night a decade before that. John and Yoko went to Rubin’s place to watch the returns, but when they arrived the facts of McGovern’s crushing defeat had become clear. “He came into the house screaming,” Rubin told me, “crazy with rage.”
“This is it?” Lennon shouted. “This is IT? I can’t believe this is fuckin’ IT. I mean, here we are… this is the fuckin’ middle-class bunch that’s gonna protect US from THEM!”
Somebody at the party replied, “You, John, you are gonna protect you from them. You and your friends. Organize your friends, organize your block, organize your neighborhood!” Somebody else said “Yeah, organize people. They’ll listen to you.”
“Listen to me?” Lennon shouted. “Man, where’ve you been? They haven’t been listening to me!”
That night marked the end of Lennon’s engagement with American politics. It also marked a turning point in his personal life: shortly afterwards, he separated from Yoko, left New York City and moved to Los Angeles for his “lost weekend” of alcohol and drugs.
A year earlier, when he arrived in New York City, he said he wanted to live in the home of the free. He had no idea at that point of the power of the American state, especially in the Nixon years, to silence critics and punish “enemies.”
The potential significance of Lennon’s support for McGovern can be measured by the severity of the measures the Nixon White House took to stop him. And of course the story didn’t end on election night 1972. Not long after, Nixon would be forced to resign in the face of evidence of his abuse of power—and when Nixon left the White House, Lennon got to stay in the USA.
Adapted from Come Together: John Lennon in His Time, by Jon Wiener.
For more on the legacy of George McGovern, check out Katrina vanden Heuvel's "George McGovern: American Patriot and Truth-Teller."
Gore Vidal was not just a novelist and essayist; he also ran for Congress in 1960 in upstate New York. In a 1988 interview I asked him whether there was any gay-baiting in that campaign.
"Even then it was considered bad karma to fuck around with old Gore," he told me. "But just to be safe I had something on every politician and publisher in the district. There was one old newspaper publisher up in Columbia County, the most conservative of the five counties. He was making some giggly hints about me, and he was also having an affair with his son's wife. So after he took one particular swipe at me, I went on the radio in Hudson, the county seat, and I was asked, "Are you getting any ideas for any novels while you're doing this?"
"I said, 'Well, every now and then I do get an idea. I thought of a funny one the other day. A father and a son. The son marries this woman who's very good looking and the father has an affair with her."
"The whole county burst into laughter, and I never heard another word from the Chatham Bee, I think it was called. Do that sort of thing once or twice and you don't have to worry.'"
Vidal lost the election, but ran 20,000 votes ahead of JFK in the district, carrying every town, starting with Poughkeepsie.
Gore Vidal died July 31 in Los Angeles at age 86.
Adapted from I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics—Interviews with Jon Wiener
We’re back in the old, weird America on this one.
Greil Marcus has been writing about Bob Dylan for more than forty years, and all those pieces were collected and published in the book Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. (He’s written more than a dozen other books, including Lipstick Traces and the classic Mystery Train.) I spoke with him recently on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles about Bob Dylan’s new album Tempest—it’s Dylan’s thirty-fifth studio album, released fifty years after his debut album in 1962.
Jon Wiener: How does Dylan sound to you on Tempest?
Greil Marcus: He sounds like himself. He sounds sly, as he’s always sounded. He sounds as if there’s a twinkle in his eye; as if there’s a joke he’s letting you in on, maybe halfway, and you’ll have to find your way to the end of the joke yourself. That’s pretty much been his mode all along. And he sounds utterly eager to keep exploring the unanswered questions of the music that has captivated him for a long time. Mostly that has been the old, old American folk music that first transformed him when he left behind Robert Zimmerman and became Bob Dylan in Minneapolis in the late fifties and very early sixties.
You’ve written about the music of what you call “the old, weird America,” the murder ballads and songs about disasters and floods. We’re back in the old, weird America on this one.
There are four or five songs on this album that don’t do anything for me, that seem very repetitious, songs with a kind of overblown emphasis that don’t give back what they pretend to contain. But there are more songs: there’s “Long and Wasted Years,” and “Scarlet Town,” and a hilarious song called “Early Roman Kings,” and “Tin Angel,” “Tempest,” and “Roll On John.” Most of these go back to old mountain ballads like “Gypsy Daisy,” “Mattie Groves,” “Barbara Allen” and also “The Titanic”—which is not a mountain ballad but a folk song that spread all over the country in 1912, that was sung and recorded by countless people in the 1920s, and today too. He’s looked at these songs, and said “these songs are unfinished. They’re all vague. They are all full of clues. That means there’s room to retell these stories, to burrow underneath the surface story that we know, and say, ‘Why did this happen? Why do people still care about it?’ ”
“Long and Wasted Years” is a song about a long-dead marriage.
It’s the song that got me into this record. I just love it. I have to tell you I haven’t listened to the words at all. I have no idea what story is being told. I love the way he speechifies through the song. He sounds like Luke the Drifter, Hank Williams’s religious alter-ego. He sounds like Elmer Gantry. He is a preacher, a con man; he is lying through his teeth. And he believes every word he’s saying. For me this is just a declamatory voice, and it breaks the mold of this record.
“Scarlet Town” begins “In Scarlet Town, where I was born/There’s ivy leaf and silver thorn.”
“Scarlet Town” is the song on this album that’s most remarkable for me, and most shocking. The old ballad “Barbara Allen,” probably the most widely disseminated and loved folk ballad in the English language, begins, “In Scarlet Town.” But here he’s not singing “Barbara Allen.” He’s not talking about the heartbroken young man and the woman who spurns him and then turns her face to the wall and wills her own death in a double suicide. He’s talking about what it would be like to grow up in a town where that horror overshadows absolutely everything. It has an allure, maybe a kind of beckoning toward your own annihilation, or an allure of romance that, along with the ugliness and fear and terror, makes it a place that’s impossible ever to forget.
What do you think of the band on this album?
The band that Bob Dylan works with now is not a strong band. They’re not a challenging band, except for Charlie Sexton, the lead guitar player. There’s no one with an individual sensibility, with his own grasp of a song and where to take it, to challenge Dylan as a singer. The music for the most part is backup. It’s often a repetitive figure played over and over again, so that all your focus is on the singing, on the voice. But Bob Dylan has always sung best, he’s always been most alive, combative and finding surprises in a song, when a band is challenging him, when the musicians are going somewhere he couldn’t have anticipated. I don’t think that’s happening here.
But then we have…“Tempest”—a fourteen-minute chronicle of the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, a 6/8 waltz with forty-five verses.
Yes. It doesn’t get boring, and that’s because his engagement with the story he’s telling is so complete. It’s a song that’s kind of like the album as a whole: for the first three or four minutes you might think, “Well, okay, I’ll be back in a minute.” Then it becomes a lot harder, a lot more dangerous, a lot uglier, and you begin to feel a sense of horror and dread at what’s going on. Characters that he’s introduced before are being disposed of, are being wiped out of the song. It becomes like a battle, like a war, rather than a sentimental “oh, it was sad when the great ship went down.”
Many critics have pointed to the violence and high death toll on this album; some have thought this has some kind of contemporary political relevance.
There’s been a streak of vengeance and carnage in all of Dylan’s records, except for the Christmas record, since 2001, since Love and Theft. Particularly on Modern Times in 2006. Listen to “Ain’t Talkin’,” one of the great songs of his career.
“Scarlet Town” reminded me of “Ain’t Talkin’.”
They are very much akin. As the singer goes on the road in “Ain’t Talkin’ ” in pursuit of his enemies, he comes upon them sleeping and slaughters them where they lay. I wouldn’t speculate about where this comes from or what it’s about. It’s a theme that has been there a long time. I think Bob Dylan really does go by his own clock, his own calendar. He talks in Chronicles about what was so wonderful about the folk milieu in Greenwich Village: you could ignore all the noise of the contemporary world, all of its self-importance, and if somebody said to you, “What’s new? What’s happening?” You could say “President Garfield was shot!” That mythic calendar was more real to Bob Dylan than the everyday calendar that most people were living by. I think that has got to be true here too.
David Rakoff, who died August 9 at age 47, was funny and smart about many things, including politics in America. “George W. Bush made me want to become an American,” he said in our radio interview in November 2005.
When I asked him why, he explained, “He frankly scared the hell out of me. I’d lived in New York City for twenty-three years, and I always felt pretty safe, having just a green card. I am a native of Canada. But with Bush things seemed scary”—especially for residents who were not citizens.
So he decided to apply to become a citizen. How hard was it? “You can download the application. Even I know how to do that. If you’re industrious, you can finish it in a day or two. It took me longer because two things held me up.
“One of the questions was ‘Are you a male who lived in the US at any time between your eighteenth and twenty-sixth birthdays in any status except as a lawful non-immigrant?’ It took me four months to parse the grammar of that. Then I realized the answer is ‘no.’
“Then I got held up on the question of whether I would bear arms for the United States. I have a problem with bearing arms for anybody. Ultimately I checked ‘yes.’ There are some instances where it is not inconceivable. But they’re never going to call me. I’m 41, I have to take a thyroid pill every day.”
His book Don’t Get Too Comfortable had just been published, where he had written about becoming a citizen.
Then came the citizenship interview: “The asked me four questions—one was ‘Who takes over when the president dies?’ I got a little wise-ass-y and answered ‘Dick Cheney, God help us,’ and that got a little bit of a smile from her—we were in New York City.”
Finally there was the swearing in ceremony. “A few weeks later I had to schlep out to Hempstead, Long Island, to a huge auditorium where hundreds of people were sworn in. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, and we sang the national anthem. And I cried.”
Why? “It felt like a big intense thing, like a severing of where I had come from. It made me feel a little sad and a little ungrateful that I had chosen to do this. I felt a little lonely and a little cut off from my family.”
I said “You were surrounded by people who had come from all over the world, people who now were full of hope.” “Yes,” he replied, “and none of them were crying. They were fine. It was just the drama queen who was crying.”
Then came voting. I asked him, “How’s that going?” (This was 2005, Bush had been elected to a second term.) “Not so well!” he said. “Everyone I vote for never wins. Welcome to America.”
“But I enjoy voting,” he added. “I had been paying taxes and going on demos, but now I was really participating. I comfort myself with the notion that this too shall pass. It’s not always going to be like this.”
The head of the UCLA hospital, Dr. David Feinberg, and twenty-one other academics are going unpunished despite their role in perpetrating a healthcare fraud that has resulted in the largest fine ever paid by a pharmaceutical company in US history.
On July 3 GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its bestselling antidepressants for unapproved uses. The heart of the case was an article in a medical journal purporting to document the safety and efficacy of Paxil in treating depression in children. The article listed more that twenty researchers as authors, including UCLA’s Feinberg, but the Department of Justice found that Glaxo had paid for the drafting of the fraudulent article to which the researchers had attached their names.
The study, which, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, had been criticized because it “dangerously misrepresented data” and had “hidden information indicating that the drug promoted suicidal behavior among teenagers,” was published in 2001 in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The lead “author” was Martin B. Keller, at the time a professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He retired this month. The article had been exposed as fraudulent in a 2007 BBC documentary and in the 2008 book Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial, by Alison Bass. Glaxo’s guilty plea, according to the Chronicle, included an admission that “the article constituted scientific fraud.”
Paxil went on sale in the US in 1993 and, according to Bass, prescriptions for children “soared” after the study appeared, even though research showed Paxil was not more effective than a placebo. But in 2004, the Chronicle reports, British regulators warned against prescribing Paxil to children, after a study reported that children taking Paxil were nearly three times more likely to consider or attempt suicide. Then the US FDA issued a similar warning. Paxil sales totaled more than $11 billion between 1997 and 2005.
Brown University officials said they had no plans to take action against Keller. At UCLA, Dale Triber Tate, a spokesperson for the medical center and Dr. Feinberg, had no comment. The journal that published the fraudulent research has failed to retract it, and editor-in-chief Andres S. Martin, a professor of psychiatry at Yale, told the Chronicle he had no comment on the options the journal might take.
Feinberg and Keller were among twenty-two people listed as “authors” on the fraudulent article. Others included Karen D. Wagner, now professor and vice chair of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; Boris Birmaher and Neal D. Ryan, professors of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh; Graham J. Emslie, professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; and Michael A. Strober, professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
Although Glaxo pled guilty and paid $3 billion in fines, none of the academics have been disciplined by their universities for their roles in perpetrating research fraud. Moreover, according to the Chronicle, several continue to receive federal grants from the National Institute of Health.
Gore Vidal. (AP Photo/file)
Victor Navasky tells one of the most revealing stories about Gore Vidal, who died July 31 in Los Angeles at age 86. In 1986, Gore wrote an essay for the magazine’s 120th anniversary issue. Shortly after it was published, Victor was invited to lunch by the publisher of Penthouse magazine, Bob Guccione, at his East Side townhouse, famous for its $200 million art collection. “We had barely consumed the amuse gueules when Bob asked me how much it cost to get Gore Vidal to write his essay,” Victor recalled. “When I told him we had paid each contributor to that issue $25 and Gore got the same $25 that everyone else got, he almost choked on his Chateau Margaux and told me he had offered Vidal $50,000 to write an article for Penthouse and Vidal declined.”
Gore, who had accepted Victor’s invitation to join the magazine in 1981 as a contributing editor, published forty-one articles in The Nation at those rates. Some of his most memorable quotes appeared in The Nation: “We are the United States of Amnesia,” he wrote in 2004. “We learn nothing because we remember nothing.” In that same essay he called the US a place where “the withered Bill of Rights, like a dead trumpet vine, clings to our pseudo-Roman columns.”
Gore was a great talker as well as a great writer, and I interviewed him many times—in front of live audiences, on the radio and for print—and in many places. The most memorable was at his legendary cliffside house in Ravello, on the Amalfi coast of Italy, where lots of people visited him. We arrived a few days after historian Eric Foner departed; he told me his daughter had played in Gore’s famous swimming pool with the children of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Gore sent my wife to sit by the pool with Howard Austen, his lifelong partner—she had a wonderful time with Howard—while Gore talked about his life and work in the deep shadows of his downstairs study.
In that interview, for the Radical History Review, Gore described his campaign to introduce the term “American empire” into the political discourse—and, later, the concept of “the national security state”—both of which were firmly rejected at the time by establishment thinkers. Indeed much of his writing for The Nation was devoted to elucidating those two ideas—and empire was also the theme with his six-volume series of historical novels “Narratives of Empire,” which included number-one bestsellers Burr (1973) and Lincoln (1984).
In that interview he also talked about his transformation from right to left, his path to The Nation. In the beginning he had opposed US entry into WWII. “My radicalization begins in 1948 with The City and the Pillar,” he said—one of the first American novels about a gay man—with the “rough” treatment it received in the New York Times. Next, he said, came the Hollywood blacklist—he was working in Hollywood, and although never a Party member, was “horrified” to see his friends banned from the industry. The third step came in 1968, when he published the wild sex farce Myra Breckinridge, debated Willliam F. Buckley Jr. on TV during the Democratic National Convention, and then helped found the anti-war New Party, and then the People’s Party, which he co-chaired with Benjamin Spock from ’68 to ’72. Then in 1980 Victor invited him to become a contributing editor, and he promptly accepted.
His first article in The Nation, in 1981, was “Some Jews & the Gays,” a caustic response to several anti-gay articles in Commentary, the conservative Jewish magazine edited by Norman Podhoretz. His first big cover story for The Nation, “Requiem for the American Empire,” was published in 1986 as Gorbachev was beginning to reform the Soviet system. Gore proposed that the US and the USSR—he called them “the white race”—should unite to fight off the economic threat from “one billion grimly efficient Asiatics.”
The Asiatics didn’t complain, but two months later, some Jews did, after Gore wrote that Norman Podhoretz’s “first loyalty would always be to Israel,” and that he and his wife Midge Decter therefore constituted “an Israeli Fifth Column Division" inside the United States.
Many of us took that as another satiric barb, but Podhoretz had his associate editor at Commentary write to thirty people on the Nation masthead who had Jewish-sounding names asking whether they had protested the magazine’s publication of “the most blatantly anti-Semitic outburst in an American periodical since the Second World War.” (Nobody on the masthead resigned.) Arthur Carter, the Wall Street figure who had recently become publisher of the magazine, told Victor that the head of the Anti-Defamation League had complained to him about Gore’s piece. Carter replied, “What do you think we are? It’s The Nation, not the Jewish Federation Newsletter.” Victor called that “passing the Gore test.”
Gore was glorious before live audiences. At the Los Angeles Times Book Festival at UCLA in 2007, Royce Hall was packed with two thousand of what can only be called “adoring fans.” Onstage, I asked him what he had said to Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins when they asked him to be the godfather of their son. His answer: “Always a godfather, never a god.” I concluded by noting that he had pretty much done it all—novels, essays, plays—and won every award; I asked, “What keeps you going? What gets you up in the morning?” He had a one word answer: “rage.”
In the late 1990s Gore named Christopher Hitchens as his official “successor, inheritor, dauphin or delfino.” But after 9/11, when Hitchens came out in support of the Iraq war and quit The Nation, Gore withdrew the nomination. Hitchens came back in 2010 with a Vanity Fair column titled “Vidal loco,” going after Gore for his endorsement of the “9/11 Truth” cause—which indeed dismayed many of us. (Gore held the milder version—that the Bush administration had advance warning, but let the attacks happen—rather than the view that the towers were blown up from the inside on Bush’s orders.)
One of Gore’s memorable quotes had special meaning for me--it came in his unexpected appearance in the 2006 documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, based on a book I wrote about Nixon’s attempt to deport Lennon in 1972 because of his anti-war activism. “Lennon was a born enemy of those who govern the United States,” Gore said with a twinkle in his eye. “He was everything they hated.… he represented life, and is admirable; and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death, and that is a bad thing.”
Gore Vidal wrote as a citizen of the republic and a critic of the empire. We won’t have another like him.
The news has been full of speculation about why Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns before 2010. People say maybe it’s because he paid zero taxes one year, or maybe he made a truly stupendous amount of money one year, or maybe they show he stayed at Bain Capital longer than he’s said.
I have a different theory: Romney won’t release his tax returns because they show he’s actually a Muslim born in Kenya.
Also, they show that his middle name isn't "Mitt," it's “Hussein”—he’s actually “Willard Hussein Romney.”
Another possibility: Romney’s tax returns show that he has apologized for America. A lot.
Or maybe they show that, after leaving Harvard, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago—which is sort of like being the mayor of a small town, expect that the mayor of a small town has actual responsibilities.
Or maybe they show that his book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness was ghostwritten by Bill Ayres—which means he’s been palling around with terrorists.
One final possibility: Romney’s unreleased tax returns show that his healthcare plan for Massachusetts was actually the model for “Obamacare.”
Some of the first investors in Mitt Romney’s firm Bain Capital, according to a report on the Los Angeles Times, were Salvadoran families living in Miami with members accused by the US government of funding death squads in the brutal civil war in El Salvador.
When Bain Capital was founded in 1984, Romney and his partners had trouble raising funds for their initial investments. “$9 million came from rich Latin Americans,” the Times reports, “including powerful Salvadoran families living in Miami.… At the time, U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador. Some family members of the first Bain Capital investors were later linked to groups responsible for killings.”
The civil war in El Salvador lasted from 1980 to 1992 and killed more than 70,000 Salvadorans. It started after Archbishop Óscar Romero was assassinated while giving a mass shortly after he published an open letter to President Carter asking him to cut off US military aid to the Salvadoran military regime.
The Times reporters found no direct evidence that the accused Salvadorans themselves “invested in Bain or benefited from it”—it was “family members” of Bain investors who were linked to the killings.
Romney himself made a trip to Miami in 1984 to raise money for Bain from the Salvadorans. “The group included some of El Salvador’s wealthiest people,” the Times reports, including coffee exporters Francisco R.R. de Sola and his cousin Herbert Arturo de Sola. His brother, Orlando de Sola, according to the Times, was “suspected by State Department officials and the CIA of backing the right-wing death squads, according to now-declassified documents.”
Orlando de Sola has denied supporting the death squads. He is now serving a four-year prison term for “unrelated fraud charges.” Reporters from the LA Times interviewed him at the prison in Metapan, El Salvador. He told them he “did not benefit from the family investment in Bain Capital.” He added that his family’s “relationship with Bain Capital was a step to diversify into foreign investments. But I insist to you, I was not part of it.”
The other Latin American investors declined or did not respond to requests from the Times for comment.
The Salvadorans hid their investment in Bain by working through shell companies set up in Panama, “then known for tax advantages and unusual banking secrecy.” The Times quoted Steven H. Hagen, a Miami lawyer who provides tax advice to offshore companies and international investors, describing Panama in the 1980s as “the country of choice for foreigners wanting to make investments on a confidential basis.”
The reporters on the story, Joseph Tanfani, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold, relied on Bain documents in Massachusetts corporate filings and other public records. The documents show that Bain Capital was “enmeshed in the largely opaque world of international high finance from its very inception.” The reporters added that “the documents don’t indicate any wrongdoing” by Bain or Romney.
For more, see Justin Elliot's January report at Salon.com.
Dear Mr. Romney, I was hoping you could tell me how to get more free stuff from the government, and I see that you took up that question after your speech to the NAACP last week. You were speaking to a group of white people in Hamilton, Montana, and you told them that, at the NAACP, you had said that you were “going to get rid of Obamacare.” You said that they “weren’t happy” about that. And you said that if people want “more free stuff” from “the government,” they should “go vote for the other guy.”
Well, I want more free stuff from the government, but, actually, if you want free stuff from Obama, you’d be better off as a banker than as a black person.
Maybe you heard that Obama’s TARP and stimulus programs already gave $4.5 trillion in bailout money to the big banks and investment houses on Wall Street. There’s a lot more if you count loan guarantees and emergency lending from the Federal Reserve.
If I had gotten any of that free stuff, like your friends on Wall Street did, I could have done what they did—use those public funds to pay myself really well.
Some of your friends are praising you for your “straight talk” to the NAACP, for having the courage of your convictions and letting the chips fall where they may. But actually you didn’t tell the black people they should vote for the other guy because they want free stuff. Instead, you told a white audience afterwards that’s what black people should do.
Some people, like Matt Taibbi at RollingStone.com, thought your post-NAACP remarks were “shockingly offensive” and “cynically furthering dangerous and irresponsible stereotypes in order to advance some harebrained electoral ploy involving white conservative voters.” I can see his point.
But at the Center for the Study of Mitt Romney, they found that this isn’t the first time you said that people who want “free stuff” from the government should “vote for the other guy.” (Actually it was Rachel Maddow who found this.)
A few months ago, Rachel reported, you responded to questions about contraception access by saying, “If you’re looking for free stuff you don’t have to pay for, vote for the other guy.” You also complained that Obama was trying to buy students’ political support by offering them “free stuff.”
Rachel thought she could see a pattern here: “If you’re a woman who wants access to preventive care you might not otherwise be able to afford, Romney sees you as wanting ‘free stuff.’ If you’re a young student who can’t afford higher-ed tuition, Romney assumes you expect ‘free stuff.’ And if you’re a black person who wants your family to have access to affordable healthcare, Romney thinks you too are just looking for “free stuff.”
Of course, there’s another way to look at all this. You could say we are taking on the responsibility to see that everyone gets decent medical care, whether or not they can afford it. We want our friends and family and neighbors and co-workers who are uninsured or underinsured to be able to go to the doctor when they’re sick. We want the same thing even for people we don’t know. That’s the way minister Leslie Watson Malachi of People for the American Way explained it.
One other thing—it’s not just black people who will benefit from Obamacare. Most of the beneficiaries will be white—just in case the white people Hamiltion, Montana, got the wrong impression from your speech.
From “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” to “A dream is a wish your heart makes”: Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney are together at last in an unprecedented Disney exhibit at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is the nation’s official repository for the memory of the man who, his supporters say, ended the cold war and defeated global communism. And for the next ten months the Reagan Library also is featuring the largest exhibition ever assembled of Walt Disney treasures, organized by the Official Disney Fan Club D23. It’s also the largest temporary exhibit in the history of the Reagan Library: 12,000 square feet, with 500 objects including drawings, costumes, models and other stuff, over half of which have never been seen by the public.
I had one question: why?
The National Archives operates the Reagan Library and Museum. The mission of the Archives is to “serve American democracy by safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government.” So why is it displaying drawings of Bambi and Cinderella and the actual car from The Absent-Minded Professor?
And what does any of this have to do with Ronald Reagan? The answer: not much.
Reagan and Disney did do some things together. On one memorable day, October 20, 1947, both testified before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, on the first day of its “investigation” into communist infiltration of the film industry. Both were friendly witnesses. The next day, ten other witnesses refused to testify and were sent to prison. The Hollywood blacklist had begun.
But the Hollywood blacklist is not mentioned in the Reagan Library Walt Disney exhibit.
The exhibit opens with the statement that “Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan were two eternal optimists who shared a belief in the essential goodness of the American way of life.” That’s a start, I guess.
Next, when Disneyland opened in 1955, “Mr. Reagan, who was then working in the new medium of television, was chosen as emcee for the historic event”—along with Art Linkletter and Robert Cummings. In the first gallery a continuous loop shows black-and white video of a very young Reagan in a bowtie reading from script in hand about how “our very historic past” is represented at Disneyland.
After that Reagan disappears, and instead we get some great stuff—for those who care: the original script for Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon; hand-drawn artwork for Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty; and then lots of objects from Disney live-action films, including dozens of costumes, along with a submarine model from the 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (where Kirk Douglas sang “Whale of a Tale”). Also, “a faithful recreation” of Walt’s office at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, including the baby grand piano played by Leopold Stokowski.
Although the exhibit is supposed to be about Walt Disney himself, it includes lots of stuff promoting Disney Studios’ current films, released more than forty years after Walt’s death, including The Avengers and the latest version of Pirates of the Caribbean. Note: promoting Disney Studios’ current films is not part of the mission of the National Archives.
Reagan doesn’t reappear until the last room, which focuses on the “Hall of the Presidents” exhibit at Disney World. It displays, among other things, ten Reagan documents dealing with Disney. But the point of the room is that all the presidents starting with FDR “reached out” to Disney, that Reagan was one among many. On display is a 1940 thank-you letter from Roosevelt acknowledging an original drawing of Mickey Mouse that Walt had sent him. There’s an even more unlikely letter from Eleanor Roosevelt, thanking Walt for the “many delightful evenings” his films had provided. She also described her husband as “one of the devotees of Mickey Mouse.” The room displays pictures of every president starting with Truman visiting Disneyland or Disney World—including Obama (with one exception: LBJ).
Reagan did have “a special relationship” with Disney, the wall text says, but the evidence here is weak. Reagan as governor endorsed a Walt Disney postage stamp, but that was after Walt died in 1966. Reagan as president issued a proclamation declaring a National Walt Disney Day (December 5, 1986), but he also issued proclamations declaring National Leif Erikson day, National Skiing Day and National Dairy Goat Awareness Week.
The exhibit closes by quoting a speech Reagan gave in 1990, on his last visit to Disneyland, on the park’s thirty-fifth anniversary. “They say that one man of vision can change the world,” Reagan said. “Well, maybe Walt Disney didn’t alter the globe, but he did make one small section of it a happier, friendlier, and more civilized place.” True enough—but that was twenty-five years after Walt died. It’s not evidence of a “unique friendship.”
So I return to the question, Why is the Reagan Library sponsoring a Walt Disney exhibit?
One clue: on the opening weekend for the Disney exhibit, the Museum’s attendance almost doubled. Melissa Giller of the Reagan Foundation reports that the typical weekend attendance is 1,200 on Saturday and 1,000 on Sunday. But for this weekend, “We had over 1,800 on each day!”
Apparently people are getting tired of hearing “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
That’s been evident for years, starting in 2005 when the museum opened the Air Force One pavilion in an earlier effort to boost attendance. That exhibit is completely apolitical. Conservative ideology is nowhere to be found in the 90,000 square feet, $30 million display. Reagan’s “Flying White House,” visitors learn, is the same plane used by all presidents from Nixon to George W. Bush, including Carter and Clinton—and thus is hardly a monument to Reagan’s unique role in winning the cold war. Indeed on the opening weekend of the Disney displays, lots of visitors also had their pictures taken waving from the front door of Air Force One.
Thus the Disney exhibit, like the Air Force one pavilion, suggests that the story of how Reagan personally ended the cold war is being greeted with increasing apathy. Or perhaps it’s skepticism.
There’s good reason for skepticism. Most historians now believe the Soviet Union collapsed not because of Reagan but because of its own internal dynamics, along with the efforts of Gorbachev to bring pluralist democracy. George H.W. Bush said pretty much the same thing on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead of praising Reagan, he gave credit to the Soviet leader. “We can never repay the debt we owe Mikhail Gorbachev,” Bush declared at a ceremony in Berlin in 1999. “History still hasn’t given him the credit he deserves, but it will.”
So maybe it’s not surprising that people would rather hear about the early days of Disneyland than about the last days of the Soviet Union. And if Reagan didn’t have much to do with either, that too is part of “our very historic past.”
Jon Wiener’s new book, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America, will be published in October.