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Member since: Wed Oct 13, 2004, 05:42 PM
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Rachel Maddow's talk in Kansas City Sunday

I was part of the sellout crowd to hear Rachel Maddow's talk in Kansas City Sunday, April 22. I'd already bought a ticket, so I stayed outside with volunteers for the KC Move to Amend petition drive until shortly before Rachel's appearance.

Rachel was introduced by Vivian Jennings of Rainy Day books, the Kansas City independent bookstore that brought Rachel to KC to promote her book: Drift: The Unmooring of America's Military Power. The presentation was a back and forth, Q&A session between Ms. Jennings and Rachel.

Rachel of course was brilliant, informed, insightful and wonderfully witty. The subject of her book was American military power and its misuse and that was the major theme of her talk.

Rachel was careful to emphasize that: "Liberals care about national security," as much as conservatives, even if the conservatives have dominated the dialogue for the last 30 or 40 years. She was also careful to emphasize that we should not make the mistake of: "conflating opinions on the war with support for the troops." As Rachel pointed out, PEW center surveys of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans show a majority thought the wars were unnecessary.

She went back to the founding of our country to discuss the traditional American reluctance to allow one individual to take us to war. The Constitution reserved the power to declare war to the Congress, not the president. This was long before "The Imperial Presidency" and "The Unitary Executive." Sadly, "Congress has never successfully stopped a president from going to war."

Rachel spent a lot of her talk discussing the ways that we have gotten away from the doctrine that only Congress can take us to war, from Vietnam to Iran-Contra to Dick Cheney and Iraq. She avoided calling any of this a "conspiracy theory;" although, as she explained, conspiracy theories are sort of a hobby with her; she just doesn't resort to them as an explanation for our recent history.

She made some very insightful comments about the role of national security think tanks, such as The Committee on the Present Danger, in managing public perception of the need for military action. According to Rachel, conservatives invented the idea of defense think tanks and, when Liberals try to set up similar think tanks: "They are playing on someone else's field!" The same thing goes for talk radio.

Ms. Jennings asked Rachel to comment on Kansas and Missouri politics. Rachel replied (and I'm paraphrasing) that the Democratic Party has not really moved in recent decades; but the Republican party just keeps shifting rightward. She described watching Republican conservative politics as being like watching "ping-pong on fast-forward."

She says Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is one of the "top 3 most radical governors" in the nation; but, nobody nationally pays much attention because Kansas "has always been this way," as opposed to Wisconsin, where Scott Walker represents a major political shift. Rachel remarked on Brownback's comments that he wanted to "take the tax code behind the wood shed and kill it with a dull axe," always said with a big grin. She was a little stunned by this idea that he not only wanted to kill something; but, to prolong the agony and the dying process.

As for Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, she described him as "Kansas Chief Republican export," for his role in helping to frame the debate on immigration laws.

Rachel made an off-the-cuff remark about the question she's frequently asked about which RW talking head she'd least like to be "stuck on an elevator for 4 hourse with:" Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh. Her comment was that, instead of viewing this as 4 hours that she'd have to endure, she views it as her opportunity to make them endure her. As for who, she says Rush Limbaugh, so she could ask him how he invented talk radio and what she could learn - to help liberals replicate his success.

What's really at stake in this election?

There are a number of themes to this year's election cycle: The Republican war on women's rights; their war on the poor (from raising taxes on the poorest while cutting for the richest and denying them the benefits they need to survive!), to the very survival of Social Security and Medicare. Here's another issue that's rarely stated: The Republican need to crush, absolutely and ruthlessly, any vestige of dissent and any form of social revolution.

One of my old journal pieces linked the 1886 Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Supreme Court Decision (which gifted us with the concept of 'corporate personhood) to the ruthless crushing of the Paris Commune of 1871:

The Paris Commune was the first international incident followed daily in the United States. While President Barack Obama complains about the 24-hour news cycle today, its roots stretch back to Cyrus Field's transcontinental telegraph cable, which allowed the elites of America to focus intently on the two-month uprising and ultimate slaughter of thousands of Parisians. Cyrus Field's brother and his family were in Paris at the time, and a third brother, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, obsessively tracked the news back in the states. It was the Paris uprising that transformed Stephen Field from a mundanely corrupt judge in the paid service of the railroads to a zealous crusader for all corporations, with the aim of suppressing what he and other leaders saw as the threat of democracy from below.

The Paris Commune was an attempt to impose economic democracy on Paris, nearly 80 years after the original French Revolution. It was, of course, ruthlessly crushed, just as the Revolutions of 1848 were. But, the fact of the Paris Communal uprising frightened the elites in the United States (just as the original French Revolution had!). The Supreme Court's decision in Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad was a preemptive strike at any revolt in the US.

That's been a theme in Republican politics since Richard Nixon. For those old enough to remember, Nixon was elected by appealing to the 'Silent Majority' frightened by the civil rights movement, the women's liberation movement, the anti-war and the general youth revolt of the 1960s. The October Surprise of 1968, when Nixon's operatives convinced the North Vietnamese to walk away from the peace talks until after the election, played a part; but, generally Nixon appealed to a large segment of the populace, largely older, rural and white who were frightened by the upheavals of the 60s. This is, of course, largely the group that makes up the Tea Party.

Nixon and his GOP supporters in Congress defunded the Great Society programs from the JFK/LBJ years. Nixon used vice-president Spiro Agnew as his attack dog against the young demonstrators and the left in general. Anti-war demonstrators increasingly found themselves facing brutal attacks by police and sometimes soldiers, as in the Kent State massacre.

I'm old enough to remember the reactions of the older generation to this; they generally cheered on the National Guard. The consensus seemed to be that: "the students got what was coming to them." There were reports of parents telling their children: "If you were there, they should have shot you too!"

This counterrevolution was a continuing theme through the Reagan and Bush (both Bushes) administrations. John Ashcroft made the elimination of any vestige of the 60s revolution a theme throughout his senate campaigns, his bid for the Presidency and his term as Attorney General of the United States.

Now, we have a younger generation that wants change, when Mr. Obama, by and large, failed to deliver on the revolutionary change he promised, they took to the streets. They occupied Wall Street and the public parks in major cities around the country, even here in Kansas City. They've already faced brutal attacks from police in Oakland and elsewhere.

The GOP agenda now includes the destruction of a century of progressive progress; having crushed the Great Society, they're openly targeting the New Deal. The Ryan Budget revives 19th Century laissez faire and social darwinism. They can't accomplish this extremist agenda without crushing any movement calling for economic fairness and democracy, and Occupy is the most visible and effective movement out there.

Mitt Romney hasn't openly said: "Elect me and I'll get those dirty hippies!" But, we know that's part of his agenda, especially if his election brings in a new crop of Congressional Tea Party Republicans, as it probably would. He can't carry out that regressive agenda without ruthlessly crushing any opposition.

Admittedly, the Democratic party has often been a disappointment to those of us on the left; but, they're far better than the current regressive incarnation of the GOP. We may not accomplish much in the way of progress in this election (Although I have hopes for Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson); but, we must stop the rightward, regressive movement that threatens to crush any hope of change in this country.
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