On arcs, inflection points, and the record of presidents who say things plainly. As Biden has now done.
Ike asked James Bassett to come to DC from LA for all of 1954 and to work w Nixon on two tasks Ike assigned: putting an end to McCarthy and winning the midterms. Senate took care of the first task w/o much help from Nixon or Bassett - but definitely some help behind the scenes. Nixon couldn’t succeed at the second task. Interesting that Ike himself really didn’t lift a finger to help. Nixon, always suspicious, wondered if he’d been assigned the midterms so that he could be booted off the ticket in 1956 if he failed.
At this time back in the nixon era, the watergate committee spent the summer investigating, jailing, and ridding the Republic of corrupt politicians. Our timeline is different, and articles like yours are essential for teaching, Critical Thinking about the upcoming election and prosecution of the insurrectionists. Thank you and looking forward to many more great articles!
Also, let's not underestimate the huge force for positive change that James and Deb Fallows created through Our Towns, changing life for the better, every day, across the country and the world.
The Great IF Stone:
There must be renewed recognition that societies are kept stable and healthy by reform, not by thought police; this means there must be free play for so-called subversive ideas - every idea subverts the old to make way for the new. To shut off subversion is to shut off peaceful progress and to invite revolution and war.
* I.F. Stone's Weekly (1954-03-15)
I sought in political reporting what Galsworthy in another context had called "the significant trifle" — the bit of dialogue, the overlooked fact, the buried observation which illuminated the realities of the situation.
* The Haunted Fifties (1963)
“We simply find ourselves – as if trapped in a metaphysical maze – coming back century after century, though in a spiral of increasing sophistication and complexity, to the same half dozen basic answers worked out by the ancient Greek philosophers.”
― I.F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates
The fault I find with most American newspapers is not the absence of dissent. it is the absence of news. With a dozen or so honorable exceptions, most American newspapers carry very little news. Their main concern is advertising.
A certain moral imbecility marks all ethnocentric movements.
* I.F. Stone's Weekly (1967-08-03)
* Lifelong dissent has more than acclimated me cheerfully to defeat. It has made me suspicious of victory. I feel uneasy at the very idea of a Movement. I see every insight degenerating into a dogma, and fresh thoughts freezing into lifeless party line.
* I.F. Stone's Bi-Weekly (1969-05-19)
* I thought I might teach philosophy but the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me; the few islands of greatness seemed to be washed by seas of pettiness and mediocrity.
* I.F. Stone's Bi-Weekly (1971-12-14)
[" Isidor Feinstein Stone (better known as I.F. Stone or Izzy Stone) was an American investigative journalist.
" He is best remembered for his self-published newsletter, I.F. Stone's Weekly, which was ranked 16th in a poll of his fellow journalists of "The Top 100 Works of Journalism in the United States in the 20th Century." ] goodreads
I've read the FDR speech before, but had never listened to it in full. Absolutely remarkable rhetorical display from America's greatest president ever.
I agree with you re Afghanistan. The failure stems from Don R's refusal the accept the proposal of the Loya Jerga in about 2003 which wanted to restore what had been a successful monarchy. Had we accepted that idea we could have left then and the burden would have been on the Afghans themselves rather than taking the burden of trying to create a western democracy on a feudal, religious society. That decision and the military's can do attitude led to ultimate disaster.
I read the speech.
President Biden ought to have maintained the bluntness of calling out MAGA Republicans, those who continue to insist that Trump won the 2020 election and that our American governmental institutions are corrupt, as traitors to our American system. Our former President and his cult members are not simply ideological opponents. President Biden's speech would have been more impactful had he stuck to this theme. Instead, President Biden blunted this essential message by introducing elements of the usual political rally.
Trump and his cult members do represent a clear and present danger to our system of government as embodied in the two documents mentioned at the beginning of the President's speech: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. MAGA Republicans are not political opponents in the normal sense of partisan politics within our unique, ambiguous and sometimes messy American system. Our American system emphasizes limited but expansive individual sovereignty--liberty with a conscience and deference to the rule of law. MAGA Republicans, clearly and dangerously, would supplant this with some form of authoritarianism where "the people" are ruled by a clique and any say in public policy and America's direction in the world ought only to be echoes of the mindset of these rulers. This is not the American way and those who would make it so, especially using violence, are rebels and traitors.
Biden chose to introduce elements of the stock political rally and thereby blunted and cheapened this essential message that many of us have been patiently awaiting from responsible leaders.
Dear Jim, how refreshing to have such analysis to read over my breakfast. It’s almost as good as a conversation with you. Greetings from London, Bruce
I just listened to that FDR speech. What a barnburner of a talk that was! I'm ready to vote for him now. It's instructive to look at how clearly he frames his issues. And you have to love the way he repeatedly hammers "Of course!" before affirming each goal of his administration.
What I found ironic and sad was the way various GOP figures and pundits attacked Biden's rhetoric as "divisive"--as if they had never heard a single one of Trump's speeches calling Dems "enemies" or "traitors" or "pedophiles," let alone the ferocious discourse every hour on Fox news.
The sight of these foul-mouthed defamers clutching their pearls is mighty rich.
I voted for Biden and continue to think that Trump is perhaps the worst human being that has ever served as president. However, I am cannot understand how Biden can fail to see that opening our southern border to literally a million illegal immigrants at the very time we must be preparing to resettle millions of our current citizens to cooler, wetter areas to save them from the disastrous impacts of climate change is good public policy. In addition, as many European countries have recognized that the chemical and surgical intervention in children’s bodies as they approach puberty in the promotion of radical transgender beliefs needs to be seriously rethought, his administration presses forward mindlessly in full support of such actions. I thought he was a moderate but he is governing as an out of touch old man totally unaware of what those around him are actually doing. The sad fact is that in these two examples the policies of the ignorant Trump would probably be superior to Biden’s.
A terrific piece, Jim. I wish it was assigned reading in every newsroom and every editorial meeting.
An impressive history lesson, agree with virtually everything, except two things. One is the short discussion about arcs and inflection points. It's hard to look over the past 15 years and see any definable arc, rather a jagged mess leading to ? I wish I knew. On the Afghanistan withdrawal, count me a skeptic. The withdrawal started the meme that the administration wasn't competent, and its taken a year to partially reverse that impression. And I share with George Packer the horror over those we left stranded. And only history will tell us if leaving exposed us to future terrorist attacks. I know the other side, and expect you to make it well. But to me, the foreign policy and political verdict so far is negative. Who knows, history may judge it differently. Still, I always welcome your great insights, and your masterful ability to put current things -- as crazy as they are - in historical context. No wonder you had a past life as a presidential speech writer.
All good points. It’s a pity Biden will likely pass before the country recognizes how good a man and prescient an administrator he actually is. But if that arc bends in the proper direction, the country will someday. And old Joe probably doesn’t give much of a damn anymore.
Excellent piece. I agree with you on virtually all points.