Tilting at Windmills

September/ October 2013 Cashers in … Swat teams … And the new Enron

By Charles Peters

In one such raid described by Balko, Matthew David Stewart of Ogden, Utah, woke up one night to the sound of his front door being battered down. Thinking he must be under attack by criminals, he grabbed his gun. In the resulting exchange of shots, Stewart was hit twice, as were six officers, including one who was killed. The only evidence of dangerous crime that police found in Stewart’s home consisted of sixteen small marijuana plants. While Stewart was in jail awaiting trial, he hanged himself.

SWAT-ing flies

Just a day after I wrote the previous item, the latest issue of my hometown paper, the Charleston Gazette, arrived in the mail. It described how a West Virginia SWAT team had killed a disabled man named Richard Kohler, whose only alleged crime was “giving away pills prescribed to him in exchange for stolen items.” The police said that when they pried open his door at 6:05 in the morning, he aimed a rifle at them. The only problem with this explanation is that the outside of the door was riddled with bullet holes. The police did not even have an arrest warrant for Kohler. All they had was a search warrant. Kohler’s daughter described him as a nonviolent man with no criminal record, who required a cane to get around and needed help getting out of bed.

By the way, did you know that, according to Balko, police departments across the country compete for federal anti-drug grants? As a result, it’s in their financial interest to pursue the most aggressive drug arrests and seizures possible. No wonder they’re calling in the SWAT for small-time drug crimes.

Lifestyles of the rich and the chic

I try to keep you abreast of life among the 1 percent by faithfully following the Mansion section of the Journal and the Styles section of the Times. The latest Mansion section features “the rise of young buyers of high end real-estate.” One is Chelsea Clinton—she and her husband are paying $10 million for a “full-floor Manhattan condo.” The latest news from Styles concerns the recent menswear show in Milan. The story features a three-quarter-page photograph of a row of male models wearing “head to toe floral prints” from “Frida Giannini’s spring 2014 collection for Gucci.”

2013 narrowly averted in 1944

In 2005, I wrote a book about how the 1940 Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie’s support for the draft in 1940 and for Lend-Lease in 1941 was essential to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s effort to prepare the country for World War II and to enable Britain, and then Russia, to hold out until we could get in. I wrote the book because I had become frustrated that so few people knew this thrilling story of how two opposed political leaders had worked together at a crucial time in our history. Now I’m delighted to report that three books with a similar message have all appeared this summer. It’s good to know that more and more people will learn this story at a time when the country needs to hear it.

But there was one issue on which I thank providence Willkie refused to embrace Roosevelt’s position. In 1944, FDR wanted Willkie to join him, possibly as a vice presidential candidate, in a new party that would bring all liberals together and leave the conservatives on the other side. If Willkie had agreed, we would have had a vice presidential candidate who died just a month before the election, as Willkie did—and of course a president who would die, as Roosevelt did, seven months later. And more significantly, for many years to come, we would not have had several moderate conservatives among the Democrats and several moderate liberals among the Republicans to negotiate the compromises essential to making democracy work. In other words, we would have found ourselves, seventy years sooner, in the polarized mess we’re in today.

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.

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