Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2011 The Monkey Wrench Gang… All the take that’s fit to print… Corporate jetting to the Hamptons

By Charles Peters

Still, I should make clear that though I want front-page news stories to emphasize the news and not the “take,” I do think there should be room on the front page for opinion and analysis pieces, if so labeled, as the Washington Post does occasionally with a “Take” heading. I have often felt that the New York Times editorial page was making important points the average reader of its front page alone would not be aware of or understand. For instance, the Times’s editorials would leave no doubt that the single greatest obstacle to a reasonable budget deal was Eric Cantor’s gang. I don’t think the front page made that clear, but it could have been done in a properly labeled sidebar to news stories on the deficit. Indeed, reporting what the facts mean is an essential role of journalism that should not be confined to the ghetto of the editorial pages. Just don’t try to do it by imparting a snarky, wiseguy tone to the only stories that tell what the president and other leaders are saying.

Tactical disenfranchisement

If you had any doubt about the motivations of all those Republicancontrolled legislatures that have been making it more difficult for minorities to vote, Karl Rove should have removed it through his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, by pointing out that “even a small drop in the share of black voters would wipe out [Obama’s] winning margin in North Carolina.”

Showing they can do it

I’m delighted to report that the District of Columbia’s public schools are now auditioning prospective new teachers. This may seem like common sense, but I can assure you that it has been rare in this country. It at least gives a clue as to whether the applicant can perform in a classroom, bringing life to the raw materials of education. Paper credentials alone can result in the hiring of too many boring teachers.

Warfare state

I urge you to read Warfare State by James Sparrow, an important, if flawed, new book. It corrects conventional history by showing that big government was more the child of World War II than of the New Deal. You can, by the way, see how this happened in the 1943 comedy The More the Merrier, which plays from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and shows the overcrowding that the war brought to Washington.

Sparrow points out that many of the attitudes and values that persisted after the war had their roots back then. The patriotic willingness to pay taxes at much higher rates than we do today lasted through the 1970s. And the assertion of rights encouraged by Roosevelt’s embrace of the four freedoms—of speech and religion and from fear and want—combined with wartime agencies like the Fair Employment Practices Commission exploded in the 1950s and ’60s, first as the civil rights movement and later as the ones for women and homosexuals.

A major factor in Washington’s amazing growth during World War II, Sparrow believes, was the rapid expansion of what has become today’s enormous national security bureaucracy. I agree. But I do not share his belief that antisubversive hysteria had its origins in this period. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover launched his career overseeing the “Red Scare” deportation cases in 1919 for Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, a man who makes Joseph Mc- Carthy seem like a civil libertarian. Anti-red sentiment was so extreme at the time that the socialist leader Eugene Debs was imprisoned simply for opposing American involvement in World War I.

Sparrow suffers from not having been there. He says, for example, that the soldiers and sailors of World War II had a “sense of entitlement” to the G.I. Bill. I was one of them and, like most, had only the vaguest awareness of the bill’s provisions until after the war when I was both surprised and grateful to find out how generous they were. Sparrow also gives undue significance to what he calls “the Army mutiny of 1946,” which his publisher’s press release says belies “the widespread assumption ‘the greatest generation’ was braver and more stoic than today’s youth.”

These were peaceful demonstrations, not mutinies in which officers were shot, overthrown, or set adrift like Captain Bligh. They had absolutely nothing to do with bravery. They happened in 1946, after the battles were fought and the war was over. They were simply an assertion by soldiers, who had done their duty and won the war, that they wanted to go home and were upset by the Army’s constant changing of the rules governing discharge.

Civil society

When Susan Ford Bales asked Cokie Roberts to deliver the eulogy at her late mother’s funeral, she told the Washington journalist, “Mother wants you to talk about the way things used to be.” What the Fords meant, Roberts explained to the Washington Post, was a time when Republicans and Democrats were friends, “when their families were all friends.” Roberts’s father, Congressman Hale Boggs, a Democrat, was one of Republican Gerald Ford’s pals. Both were willing to really listen to one another. That’s why Susan used the words “the way things used to be.”

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.


  • POed Lib on September 22, 2011 9:28 PM:

    OK, they would have impeached him. And, so? In many ways, that would be the very best thing that could happen. There is nothing more clarifying than when the Repukeliscum pull the velvet glove off and just do the naked power play. They would have lost HUGE for 2012.

    Don't throw Obama into that briar patch, you repukeliscum!!

  • Steve on September 26, 2011 4:10 PM:

    I'm with @POed Lib here.

    What we have is nothing more than a slow-motion impeachment circus anyhow. I find it hard to believe that thing could get any more stupid.

  • Craigie on October 05, 2011 11:41 PM:

    Since the federal Grad PLUS loan was introduced in July 2006, law schools have had no incentive to restrain annual increases in their gross sticker price. Unlike with Stafford loans, the Grad PLUS loan has no annual maximum borrowing limit, except cost of attendance minus any other financial aid (generally zero at law schools).

  • Reference Librarian on October 10, 2011 9:16 AM:

    Impeachment? On what grounds? The Constitution is quite clear: "The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Obama should have said "Look if the House thinks protecting the full faith and credit of the United States and insuring that laws requiring spending are duly executed is a "high crime" they're welcome to bring their case to the country."