Archive for July, 2011

What Goes Around

A Communist Under Every Bed

It is often said in politics that “what goes around comes around.” This is such a story.

In the 1940’s and 1950’s Arthur Dean was a pillar of the old East Coast Republican establishment, a leading corporate lawyer, chairman of the white shoe New York firm Sullivan & Cromwell and law partner and friend of John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State under Dwight Eisenhower.

Dulles pressed his friend into service in the early 1950’s to negotiate an end to the Korean War. Ambassador Dean, unfortunately for him, agreed to take on that assignment where he ran headlong into the McCarthy era, and particularly Joe McCarthy’s Senate acolyte, Republican Herman Welker of Idaho.

Welker was a small-town Payette, Idaho lawyer and Idaho State Senator when he won a U.S. Senate seat in 1950. Welker arrived in the Senate at the dawn of McCarthy’s national political power and he devoted his one, six-year term to carrying McCarthy’s water, including suggesting that Arthur Dean, the very respectable and very Republican Wall Street lawyer, was “a pro-Red China” apologist.

Dean’s transgression, in the view of Herman Welker, was to suggest that the United States just might consider a more enlightened policy toward Communist China at a time when right wing, virulent anti-Communists in Congress were making almost daily headlines by demanding to know why the United States  “had lost” China to Mao Zedong.

During an interview with a Providence, Rhode Island newspaper reporter, Dean said this: “I think there is a possibility the Chinese Communists are more interested in developing themselves in China than they are in international Communism. If we could use that as a decisive method of putting a wedge between the Chinese Communists and the Soviet Union, I think we might try…”

In essence, Ambassador Dean, a Republican serving under a Republican president, was suggesting what Richard Nixon began to accomplish nearly 20 years later – a more nuanced, mature relationship with Communist China. But such talk in 1954, with Joe McCarthy identifying a Commie under ever bed and in every office at the State Department, was not only un-American, but dangerously close to displaying Communist sympathies. Welker pounced on Arthur Dean.

Dean was channeling, in Welker’s view, the views of pro-Communist elements in the U.S. State Department. As to the contention that the Chinese might be more focused on their own internal development than imposing Communism on the rest of the world, Welker dismissed the thought out of hand. “I can’t believe anything can be farther from the truth,” the Idaho Senator said.

Welker’s assault on Dean caused some weeks of discomfort for the Ambassador. He had to repeatedly deny any Communist leanings and justify what many at the time, and most today, would simply consider smart diplomacy. In short, Dean’s loyalty was questioned at a time when your blindly anti-Communist bonafides were the only litmus test for service to the American government.

The myths about “losing China” are deeply embedded in the DNA of American politics. The tangled belief that un-American activities at the highest levels of the United States government had conspired to abandon China to the Communists was the sort of political hot air that powered much of McCarthy’s demagoguery. Idaho’s Welker sang from the same song book.

But it has been Ambassador Dean’s view that has stood the test of time. With the Chinese now threatening U.S. economic leadership worldwide, China owning a huge chunk of our debt and manufacturing ship loads of the consumer goods exported to America, its very clear that the diplomat had a much better crystal ball than the Red Baiting Senator from Idaho.

It turns out the Chinese really were “more interested in developing themselves” in order to compete with us than in advancing world-wide Communism. The proof is all around. The numbers crunchers in Beijing must be sharpening their pencils in anticipation of the failure of our dysfunctional political system to find a solution to debt, spending and revenue so that they can take another great leap forward in cornering a bigger share of the world economy.

Herman Welker, McCarthy’s Senate friend and fellow Commie hunter, is mostly forgotten now; his one Senate term distinctive for nothing more than being on the wrong side of history. Welker’s attacks in the early 1950’s on Idaho Democrats like Frank Church and Glen Taylor for their alleged “radical” and “pink” politics read now like ancient, misguided history, yet some of the old myths and fears about the Communist Chinese continue even as the descendants of Mao eat our economic lunch.

Were Senators Church and Taylor still with us – both died in 1984 – they would no doubt appreciate the irony of the Idaho Republican Central Committee recently demanding an accounting of the state’s political and economic ties with China from Idaho’s Republican Gov. Butch Otter.

The Lewiston Tribune reports that the Idaho GOP resolution reads: “the stability of our form of government is being undermined by strategies used by the Chinese state-government-controlled entities through investments, corporate takeovers, intelligence operations and rare-Earth monopolization.”

Most members of the state central committee weren’t born when Herman Welker represented the state in the Senate, put they are channeling Joe McCarthy’s buddy all the same. What goes around.

The United States has rarely had a sane and sober policy when it comes to China. For years we maintained the fiction that Chiang Kai-shek and the government he established in Taiwan after losing a civil war constituted the real government of China. We squandered years on the fiction that State Department bureaucrats had “lost” China. We fought a senseless war in Southeast Asia, in part, to head off Chinese domination of Vietnam, countries that maintain an historic rivalry and have rarely made common cause.

So, perhaps the Red Chinese Scare of Joe McCarthy’s and Herman Welker’s day really is alive and well in Idaho. The only thing different now is that Republicans are questioning other Republicans about providing aid and comfort to the Communists.

By the way, Arthur Dean’s reputation has survived in substantially better shape than those of the men who blindly questioned his motives and loyalty in the 1950’s. Dean went on to served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, helped persuade Lyndon Johnson to end the bombing of North Vietnam in 1968, and donated a ton of money to Cornell University where he and his wife financed the acquisition of a remarkable collection of papers related to Lafayette and the American Revolution.

Senator Welker’s papers consist of a few large scrapbooks housed at the Idaho Historical Society and the University of Idaho. Most of the pages are covered with newspaper clippings of Welker’s 1950’s assault on Americans who had the audacity to think differently than he did about the world and its future. Some things never change.

 

End of Innocence

When Did it End for You?

Growing up and loving baseball, I remember having near complete admiration for the daring exploits of the Big Red Machine and particularly “Charlie Hustle” – Pete Rose. I still remember reading a story where Rose made a comment that showed why the guy was such a competitor.

Pete said that maybe a dozen or twenty times during the long major league season, he would come to bat late in a game with no chance that his appearance at the plate could help decide the game one way or the other. In effect, the contest was over. One team or the other – the Reds or their opponent – were too far ahead to think that a comeback was possible. Rose said in such situation he went to the plate determined not to go through the motions on the way to a shower and a steak, but he went to bat determined to get a hit. His logic was superb. The other team was going through the motions. The pitcher was running out the clock, not exerting himself and certainly not bringing his best stuff to the contest. It was a perfect time, in the mind of the hyper-competitive Pete Rose, to add another base hit. Over the course of a long season, Rose knew, a handful of hits can mean the difference between a .280 average and hitting .300. Rose never gave in. Every at bat mattered even if the game wasn’t on the line. I loved that.

Then came the betting, the suspension, the ban, the fact that the best singles hitter of all time, with the all-time record for base hits, won’t make the Hall of Fame because he committed the original sin of baseball – he bet on games. End of innocence. At that moment, I lost the sense that the game was pure. I lost the innocence of a real fan.

The New York Times writer Alan Schwarz had a great piece recently on his own loss of sports innocence – it involved a long-ago Mets trade – and then on Sunday the paper offered fans a chance to comment on when the innocence ended for them. Most, like my Pete Rose case, involved the recognition that things aren’t what they appeared to be, that loyalty knows no home field in sports, that greed, pride and even cheating are more common than we ever want to admit. Our innocence blinds us to reality until one telling moment when it doesn’t.

Now, cue Roger Clemens, Lenny Dykstra, the owners of the L.A. Dodgers, Tiger Woods (who can’t even dismiss his caddy with any class), Lance Armstrong, and you add your favorite pick(s).

My favorite from the fans who responded to the Times article was the guy who wrote this:  “I grew up in the Chicago area. It was when the Cubs traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. Who is Ernie Broglio you say? Exactly.”

Ernie Broglio, by the way, had a respectable 77-74 record as a pitcher in nine seasons, but, hey, he wasn’t Lou Brock. End of innocence.

OK, I know, most sports heroes aren’t. They are all  human. It’s not right to hold them to such high standards. There are few role models, few Henry Aarons or Harmon Killebrews. But, at its best, sport is about dreams and fantasy and hope that miracles can still happen. Maybe it’s naive innocence to believe it, but we do. I don’t want to dislike Pete Rose, but he had it all Charlie Hustle did, but it apparently wasn’t enough. I wanted to believe it was. We all do. We wanted to believe that innocence could triumph over greed and cheating. I wanted to believe that Pete was just what he seemed to be. Then couldn’t.

It’s human nature to have such beliefs. It’s human nature to hurt when they end. Baseball – and sports for that matter – in a messy, contentious, nasty, conflicted world, should be the proving ground for innocence, but it isn’t. There is always a Rose or an Ernie Broglio. Say it ain’t so, Joe. Get some class, Tiger, or at least some self awareness. Even baseball, the perfect game, can break your heart. Innocence can be thrown out stretching a double.

I didn’t suffer the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn or the Colts loading up the moving vans and vanishing in the night to Indianapolis, of all places, but Charlie Hustle snuffed out my innocence candle all the same. I still love baseball. I’m still in awe of the greatest players and the history of the game. I see a kid playing catch with a dad and think, this is the game. I just wish that kid, as he is bound to do, will never reach his moment when it changes. His innocence will end, it always does, and with it a little magic. Maybe that is as it must be with all things, even perfect games played in the sunshine on grass. I just wish Pete hadn’t made those silly bets and that I could get choked up watching him enter the Hall. It won’t ever – ever – happen and there is no innocence in that.

 

Pat Moynihan

The Sensible Center

The late, great Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was asked back in 1993, when Congress was debating an earlier federal budget deal, if there “would be a fight until death” over taxes.

Moynihan, intellect and wit in full flower, came back at NBC’s Tim Russert: “Fight until death over taxes? Oh no. Women, country, God, things like that. Taxes? No.”

We may see a grand deal struck this weekend in the long running Washington drama over taxes, spending and debt and it is a safe bet no one will fight until death, even if the rhetoric makes all of what has been going on in the nation’s capitol sound like Armageddon. A deal must be struck. The only Armageddon here would be the shape of national and world economy should the United States of America default on its debt, even for a little while.

No death, just some taxes.

The “big deal” in Washington has never been easy. Our tight system of checks and balances is designed to make it hard, messy and slow. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt proposed enlarging the U.S. Supreme Court. The morning he rolled out his plan, and FDR was at the very zenith of his popularity at the time, many fellow Democrats declared the plan DOA. It took months of hearings, speeches, efforts at compromise, fights and feuds before Roosevelt’s blunder was disposed of by the Congress. These things take time.

I’m going to guess that the final features of the deal now being hammered out will strike most of the participants as vaguely surreal when the deal is done. They may well ask themselves and each other: how was this possible?

The Oregonian’s Steve Duin talked over a year ago to former Sen. Bob Packwood who had a major role in engineering the historic 1986 tax reform deal. Ronald Reagan was in the White House then, Republicans ran the Senate and the House was Democratic. It’s worth reading the piece to see how a deal got done back then, admittedly when the Senate was a decidedly more civil place, but also to appreciate that the Washington deal always involves a lot of sausage making.

As Duin wrote: “While those [Finance] committee meetings were high theater, the true wheeling and dealing occurred behind closed doors. The standard deduction was increased, preferential treatment for capital gains eliminated. The deduction for state and local taxes ended, the corporate tax rate lowered.

“All of this,” Packwood reminds Duin, “we’re doing in the back room. We’re not doing this in the daylight at all.

“People are willing to give things up for the good of the country if they’re not going to be hauled over the rack right away.”

The Washington deal, as the late Pat Moynihan knew, as Bob Packwood knows, takes time and doesn’t involve threats of death. It does involve at least a few good people willing to give things up for the good of the country.

I think – I fervently hope – the Congress and the President get a deal done that really is good for the country. I have a sneaking hunch the great majority of Americans will embrace such a deal. They want our leaders to lead the country forward not into a fight until death.

 

A Little History

Idaho in the Age of McCarthy

Edward R. Murrow famously said of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy that he had not created the fear of Communism that swept the nation after World War II but that McCarthy “had merely exploited it, and rather successfully.” Joe McCarthy had lots of help in Idaho.

Next week the Idaho Humanities Council hosts its annual summer institute for teachers at the College of Idaho in Caldwell and Joe McCarthy is on the agenda. Nearly 40 Idaho teachers will spend the week in an intensive, multi-disciplinary look at the age that still carries the name of the junior senator from Wisconsin – McCarthyism. The Institute’s title: “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…Fear, Suspicion and Incivility in Cold War America.”

On Tuesday evening, July 26th, I’ll have the pleasure of presenting a talk on Idaho’s politics in the early 1950’s that will focus on McCarthy’s best friend in the Senate, Idaho Sen. Herman Welker, and the Idaho politician who most suffered the guilt by association and out-and-out smears that defined much of the age, Idaho Sen. Glen Taylor.

My talk – drawing upon the nicknames of both Idaho Senators – is entitled “The Singing Senator and Little Joe from Idaho.” The event is scheduled for 7:00 pm at the College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall. My talk is one of several during the week. You can check the full schedule at the IHC website.

I’m going to make the case that Welker and Taylor, a very conservative Republican and a very liberal Democrat, were the two most controversial political figures in the state’s history. They both came of age in the dawn of the Cold War and each flamed out as McCarthyism began to diminish as a political force. Between these two flamboyant men, one a rough, tough former University of Idaho athlete, the other a homespun, charismatic country music performer, the space was created that was necessary to allow the 32-year-old Frank Church to win a seat in the United States Senate and stay there for 24 years.

If you’re interested in Idaho political history and particularly how the McCarthy period in the early 1950’s influenced the political development of Idaho, you should plan to attend some of the events next week in Caldwell.

Other speakers include Nicholas Thompson, Senior editor of The New Yorker, who has written a fine book on his grandfather, Cold Warrior Paul Nitze a great foreign policy hawk, and George Kennan, one of the great figures in 20th Century American diplomacy. Thompson speaks Sunday night, July 24th.

Ellen Schrecker, Professor of History at Yeshiva University, speaks on Wednesday, July 27th. Professor Schrecker is one of the foremost historians of the Cold War period and has written extensively on McCarthy.

And Idaho native F. Ross Peterson speaks on Thursday, July 28th on McCarthy’s influence on politics across the Mountain West. Dr. Peterson is the author of a great book on Sen. Taylor.

One of the enduring lessons of the McCarthy period, a lesson we continue to struggle with as a nation, is the confusion, as Murrow so eloquently said in 1954, of dissent with disloyalty. Idaho was fertile ground for Red Baiting in the 1950’s. The charge of being “soft on Communism” or entertaining thoughts even slightly out of the mainstream could be enough to torpedo a political career. Making the charge against an opponent, on the other hand, was a proven strategy to advance a career.

The years when Joe McCarthy was a dominate figure in American politics are not among prettiest chapters of our history, but the period is one worth revisiting, understanding and evaluating in the never ending quest to create “a more perfect Union.”

 

 

A Job for DCI Tennison

Tabloid Scandal Gets Closer to the Top

I’m thinking as I read about each new revelation in the widening Rupert Murdoch/tabloid/police/political scandal in Britain that we really need Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison to unravel this mess.

Think of the Helen Mirren character from the long-running PBS series, Prime Suspect, putting the screws to Murdoch’s henchmen. Mirren’s character was herself deeply flawed; a failure at love, she drank way too much and smoked like a campfire, but at her core she was an honest cop determined to see the right thing done. This British scandal needs a Jane Tennison.

Already the Murdoch mess has claimed his lucrative tabloid, The New of the World, that paper’s top editor, Rebecca Brooks, who was arrested over the weekend, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, the top two cops at Scotland Yard and other assorted bit players in Murdoch’s world and that of Prime Minister David Cameron. The scandal is getting dangerously close to the top. Murdoch hardly has anyone else to fire. Well, his son, perhaps, or himself.

Count on this story continuing to unfold for a long time to come. As Carl Bernstein, who should know, suggested in a Newsweek piece, all of this could become Britain’s Watergate.

Bernstein quoted one observer as saying of Murdoch and his leadership in the steady dumbing down of what passes for journalism in his empire on both sides of the Atlantic, “In the end, what you sow is what you reap. Now Murdoch is a victim of the culture that he created. It is a logical conclusion, and it is his people at the top who encouraged lawbreaking and hacking phones and condoned it.”

As to the Watergate analogy, Bernstein says: “The circumstances of the alleged lawbreaking within News Corp. suggest more than a passing resemblance to Richard Nixon presiding over a criminal conspiracy in which he insulated himself from specific knowledge of numerous individual criminal acts while being himself responsible for and authorizing general policies that routinely resulted in lawbreaking and unconstitutional conduct. Not to mention his role in the cover-up.”

It’s always the cover-up.

Murdoch’s jettisoning of the last two people to preside over the newspaper that hacked the mobile phones of some 4,000 people and potentially blackmailed and bribed police to cover it up can be seen one of two ways. The media mogul is finally taking charge or, Nixon like, Murdoch has fired his Haldeman and Erlichman in an effort to keep his distance from the details of the scandal.

This much is true: Rupert Murdoch didn’t amass a vast, global communications empire by not paying attention to the details – and the troubles – that perplex any CEO and his organization. He’s played his game ruthlessly, with enormous political and economic resources at his disposal and now the fruits of that approach are becoming all-to-evident.

Soon British Members of Parliament will be asking, as the great Sen. Howard Baker once did of Watergate witnesses, “what did Rupert know and when did he know it?’ The prime minister will be answering the same question.

Someday, down the road, the BBC will make a drama series out of all of this that will be a big hit on both sides of the pond. It will literally be “ripped from the headlines” and too fantastic to be believed, but it will be true. I hope they find a role for DCI Tennison.

 

To End All Wars

No Beach Reading Here

Douglas Haig – that’s him done up to his bemedalled best – has become the most controversial general of the Great War. His career, including command of the British Army in France during much of the First World War, earned him a state funeral upon his death in 1928. But history has a way of re-evaluating reputations and Haig has now become a subject of much scholarship and critical analysis.

On his orders 60,000 British troops became casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. That is a sentence difficult to write let alone begin to comprehend. With the British and French facing the Germans across a no man’s land of barbed wire and muddy trenches, the war became a contest in mass murder. To some critics, Haig, a self-assured, duplicitous Scotsman – his family name still marks the bottles of a brand of Scotch whiskey – was the Murderer-in-Chief, or at the time simply “Butcher Haig.”

Haig replaced his one-time boss, Field Marshall John French, as commander of British forces in France early in the war. French was inept and out of his depth in thinking a new type of war featuring the machine gun could be won with heroic cavalry charges. Haig and French playing starring roles in a marvelous new book – To End All Wars - that is both a history of the defining event of the 20th Century and a chilling reminder that those who opposed the war may really have history on their side.

The book by Adam Hochschild is gripping history that captures the many absurdities of the war that did not end all wars, while focusing on those dissenters, like Bertrand Russell, who, at considerable risk to position and reputation, stood against the madness. Hochschild, as reviewer Jonathan F. Vance notes, also has a telling eye for the story within the story.

“One such story concerns Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton,” Vance wrote in the Globe and Mail, “who was beginning his epic journey to the South Pole when the war broke out. He offered to return to England and put his men and ship at the service of King and Empire, but the British government urged him to carry on. In 1916, Shackleton emerged from the polar wastes after a harrowing 18-month journey that saw his ship crushed by pack ice. His first question upon arriving at a Norwegian whaling station was, ‘When was the war over?’ The startled response: ‘The War is not over. Millions are being killed. Europe is mad. The world is mad.'”

The madness is fully captured in the story of the British Field Marshall Jack French and his sister Charlotte Despard. She was one of the great suffrage leaders of Britain and also one of the foremost opponents of the war that her brother was prosecuting across the English Channel. Charlotte led public protests in England against the war, while her brother led a whole generation to slaughter.

Above all Hochschild’s superb new book reminds us – again – that there is no such thing as a neat, tidy, quick war. Once begun, World War I spun wildly out of control beyond the worst nightmares 0f any of those, including the German Kaiser, the Russian Czar and the leaders of the British Empire, who thought the war, sparked by a political assassination in the Balkans in the summer of 1914, could be over by Christmas. It was over by Christmas, but the year was 1918 and millions were dead, the map of Europe and the Middle East remade and the world charged forever.

To End All Wars certainly isn’t light, summer beach reading, but rather is a reminder that, when it comes to war, we seem to keep making monumental miscalculations and tragic mistakes over and over again. It is likely the best book on the Great War you will ever read.