Books You Oughta Read: Fear Itself

One of the book’s little detours that I wish to spotlight, because it’s relevant to the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, is the bizarre fact that southern Democrats were easily the most gung ho about going to war with the Nazis. This despite Hitler’s open admiration of Jim Crow, slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, etc. Before the war, Nazi officials even came to the South to try to build rapport, but they were rebuffed. FDR’s war policies could not have passed without the uniform support of the South.


The Book

Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

The Author

Ira Katznelson, Ruggles professor of history and political science at Columbia

The Question I Should Have Previously Asked But Did Not Ask Until Reading This Book (QISHPABDNAURTB)

“Why, if FDR won reelection in 1936 with a landslide vote and even greater Democratic margins in Congress, was his second term so lacking in lasting New Deal legislation?”

The Review

Fear Itself is amazing, all 720 pages of it. It’s hard for me to do it justice in a review, which is why I’ve been unable to complete this two months after finishing the book and seven months after checking out the book (the library closed down in the interim). Plus, the book came out four years ago. You can read better reviews here, here and here. But recent events in Charlottesville make me want to share my piece.

Fear Itself explores just how much the solid South did to shape and control the achievements of the Roosevelt/Truman years. The imperfections this created in the crown jewel of the American welfare state linger today. This is a book centered on the legislative branch; those two great presidents are in the supporting cast.

Here is the basic story: With the ascension of FDR and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, the solid South saw the New Deal as an opportunity to finally catch up economically with the North. They only felt comfortable doing this because Jim Crow was so entrenched that they couldn’t fathom any serious challenge to the racial order. Plus, FDR was friendly to the South. His Cabinet and court picks were packed with Southerners. Laws could be shaped to exclude blacks, and regulators could be selected to exercise proper discretion. It’s no coincidence that so many New Deal programs were delegated to regional or state-based administrators — the South could continue to rule itself.

However, despite the best intentions of racist southern Democrats, the New Deal couldn’t help but help blacks as well as whites. Democratic majorities were elected all over the non-South with the fusion of labor and black voters, who defected from the Republican Party en masse. And with the influence of northern Dems and people like Eleanor Roosevelt, sometimes FDR couldn’t help but be egalitarian. Some regulations started to prohibit racial discrimination. Anti-lynching laws started to get votes in Congress. Jim Crow was not invincible, it turned out.

Therefore, southern Democrats, who, being senior, still controlled the pivotal committees of Congress, started to oppose FDR whenever he would interfere with the racial order. They would even vote with Republicans if necessary. And FDR needed their support if he wanted to get anything done. So the madcap pace of Roosevelt’s first four years gave way to relative stagnation until the largest war in human history. There is your answer to the QISHPABDNAURTB. Back in high school history class, they told us that the Supreme Court was the culprit, but that doesn’t explain the anemic response by the other branches of the government.

Essentially, the New Deal represents the last time the South welcomed rather than opposed direct federal intervention with the economy. It only let its guard down for a moment; as soon as the racial order was threatened, it closed ranks. But in that window of opportunity the American government forged the modern welfare state. It was a miraculous accomplishment.

I oversimplify, for the sake of a cleaner story. The book gets into a lot more. You can read about Mussolini and get a sense of how fragile democracy and capitalism seemed to be by the time FDR took office. You can read about World War II, when America became a planned economy. You can read about a bill to let overseas soldiers vote, seemingly noncontroversial but quashed by southern Democrats nonetheless. You can read about the decline of government planning and the rise of the budget as a more hands-off approach to managing the economy. It’s not a coincidence that that suited the South. It’s all there.

One of the book’s little detours that I wish to spotlight, because it’s relevant to the white supremacist march on Charlottesville, is the bizarre fact that southern Democrats were easily the most gung ho about going to war with the Nazis. This despite Hitler’s open admiration of Jim Crow, slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, etc. Before the war, Nazi officials even came to the South to try to build rapport, but they were rebuffed. FDR’s war policies could not have passed without the uniform support of the South.

How did that happen? Katznelson speculates on a few possibilities. Was it white-on-white racism, with Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish southerners rejecting the Teutonic hordes? Was it the economic setback that war in Europe would inflict on the South? Was it a defense mechanism to cope with the fact that they weren’t so different? The answer is unclear, but the fact that it happened is astounding.

Occasionally the book doesn’t hang together. You could write separate books on the New Deal, World War II, fascism, unions, the Manhattan Project, etc. Instead, they’re all jumbled together in one. But that is the fault less of the author than of the source material. We are an assemblage of contradictions and paradoxes bundled together into something we call “America.” To draw such a powerful and persuasive narrative from it is a magnificent feat by Katznelson. Fear Itself reshapes the way you view the world while leaving you hungry for more. You should read this book.


PSA: 10 Signs You May Be a Political Hack

#1 – Presidential Politics Are the Only Politics

Midterms? What midterms? The only thing that matters is one person that we’ll choose three years from now, and how we can prove that they’re actually evil. A subset of…

#2 – The Great Man Theory

Future historians will attribute the Republican victories of 2010 and 2014 to the inspirational leadership of Michael Steele and Reince Priebus. Now let me explain why Ellison v. Perez is the defining battle of our times. I watch too much Game of Thrones.

#3 – The Message Is the Medium

Why do research or talk to other human beings when you can zero in on a single ad or slogan and declare it completely representative of an entire campaign and political party? This lets you get away with “I AM THE COSMOS” projection. Related…

#4 – I Should Be in Charge

All that the ________ need to do for a permanent majority is embrace ________, which coincidentally is exactly what I believe. If I ran for president, I would get 100% of the vote.

#5 – Both Sides Do It

My revolutionary approach to politics has left me functionally aligned with David Brooks and Ron Fournier. I am OK with this.

#6 – Popularity Can’t Be Measured by Votes

A margin of three million votes is irrelevant. Let us ignore the clearest quantitative data we have on the preferences of the American people so I can keep extrapolating my beliefs onto the entire populace. Also I like hanging out in diners.

#7 – No Space for Race

People used it to justify slavery. It caused Americans to amass large armies and fight a four-year Civil War. It formed the basis for a police state that still endures. But that’s over and we must not talk about it, because reasons.

#8 – Don’t Hate the Game, Ignore the Game

Vote suppression? Gerrymandering? Shelby County v. Holder? What are those? You’re just trying to avoid taking FULL RESPONSIBILITY for everything bad that’s ever happened. Those factors will not stick around to screw us over in future elections because reasons.

#9 – The End of History

What was the Republican message in 2010? What was the Democratic message in 2006? Why did Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton win southern states while other Democrats failed? Why did Democrats start losing southern states after the Civil Rights Movement? The answers do not matter, because I say they don’t.

#10 – “I’ve Always Thought the Yankees Had Nothing to Do with It”

America, rather than being composed of different people with clashing philosophies and priorities, is really a uniform blob that yearns for socialism, but will settle for its complete opposite. The Democratic Party is the main obstacle to reform in the U.S.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is not too late for you! I myself have been a hack before and I’ll probably do it again. My recommendation is a hot toddy and a good history book, perhaps Fear Itself by Ira Katznelson.

That Global Warming Article

New York has an omnibus article up about the global warming catastrophe we find ourselves in. It’s not an uplifting read.

The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating.

Heat is just the start. We can expect famine, pandemics, pollution, war, economic collapse, acid oceans, etc. And it’ll get worse, because the effects of global warming reinforce each other. We’re in a death spiral of positive feedback.

I’m not optimistic. Climate change will create the greatest refugee crisis in the history of humanity. But refugees from just one country in the Middle East were enough to cause the good people of Britain and the U.S. to commit national seppuku. We’re drowning in the baby pool.

Actually addressing the ongoing apocalypse demands collaboration and a sense of self-sacrifice not seen in this country since the Second World War. And yet:

[More] than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades; since the end of World War II, the figure is 85 percent. Which means that, in the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe, and that the story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is also the story of a single lifetime.

The communal altruism that we need to save our planet is the same communal altruism that enabled us to build the modern age of peace and prosperity that doomed our planet. Irony will be our species’ most enduring legacy.

The Senate Democrats’ outreach chair thinks Democrats are the nation’s biggest obstacle to progressive reform


Goddammit I’m doing it again. For every Bernie story I post in 2017, retroactive to January 1, I’ll donate 5$ to the League of Women Voters.

Having said that, look at this quote from an interview he did with Larry Wilmore:

[…] there is an element of the Democratic establishment who may give lip service to those ideas, but that’s not really what is in their heart of hearts.

The cynicism is breathtaking. There are no outs. It would be one thing if he thought that these reluctant progressives could be brought on to the movement. But he doesn’t say that and he has never said anything to that effect.

If the Democrats are just liars who will sabotage progressivism given the chance, then there is no working with them. All this does is set up (er, prolong) a showdown with the rest of the Democratic Party that the Sanders wing cannot possibly win. And then his supporters will abandon politics again, more cynical and angrier than before. He’s doing them wrong as well. This is what will happen if he keeps poisoning the water. This is a narrative of decline.

Let us think about how President Obama might have said it:

Even many members of my own party may be wary of passing a law like this. Now let me be clear, change isn’t easy. When it comes time to put ideas into practice I understand the temptation to back down. But backing down is not what the moment calls for. Backing down is not what we came here to do. Backing down is not what got us Social Security, or the Voting Rights Act, or Medicare.

Now there’s a glimpse of a better world. If you want a successful political movement, you can start by making politics feel less miserable. You make it feel like something which can give a life meaning, and then you show them the results. You don’t start by agreeing with the contention that the Democratic Party is the greatest obstacle to progressive reform in the country. The only out there is firebombing.

Why the hell is he still outreach chair?

On Russia, On America

You know what really sucks? Suppose that it turns out that Russia didn’t intervene in the 2016 election. Suppose that Paul Manafort’s old business interests had nothing to do with his work for Trump. Suppose that Roger Stone knew about the Wikileaks emails before they released because he’s psychic. Suppose that Ambassador Kislyak is just a great guy to hang out with, but also horribly forgettable. Suppose that Trump changed the Republican platform to back down on Ukraine, not for some quid pro quo, but because he is a secret pacifist. Suppose that any hacks, had they happened, would not have affected the election outcome in the slightest. Suppose that Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are right. Suppose that you know all this because you are Vladimir Putin.

So you are Putin, sitting innocently in the Kremlin, stunned by these aspersions against your character, so hurt that you can’t even enjoy pistachio ice cream anymore. I feel bad for you, Hypothetical Vlad. But ask yourself this: WHY SHOULDN’T YOU INTERFERE IN U.S. ELECTIONS? What is to stop you from actually carrying out all these crazy actions that sore loser beta cucks have accused you of, in 2018, 2020 and beyond? Think for a second:

  1. The U.S. president isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he asked you to do it.
  2. The Speaker of the House isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he refused to sign a joint letter condemning it.
  3. The Senate Majority Leader isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he quashed the White House’s planned bipartisan announcement of your alleged hacking efforts.
  4. The House Intelligence committee chair isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he shares incoming intelligence with the president rather than his own committee.
  5. The House Oversight committee chair isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he doesn’t think rich people can be corrupt.
  6. The Republican National Committee chair (now White House Chief of Staff) isn’t bothered by it. In fact, if you hack him, he’ll deny that you did it!
  7. The Director of the FBI is bothered by it, but he would never, under any circumstances, insert himself into an ongoing investigation. No sirree.
  9. Segments of the left aren’t bothered by it, not when Russia is a DISTRACTION from the more important task of tarring-and-feathering the Clintons. In fact, some of them have even been your dinner guests.
  10. The Democratic Party is extremely bothered by it, but they are completely out of power in the federal government and only control the legislatures AND governor’s mansions of six states.

The Democratic Party is the only American institution willing to do something. Nobody else would stand in your way. You could do it. You could easily do it. Again, and again, and again.

That is why the Russia investigation is so important, even if nobody in America changed their vote because of the DNC emails. America’s institutions have failed to the extent that they will accept foreign intervention in America’s democratic process itself. The very lifeblood of our country. If Putin were abducted by aliens tomorrow we’d still be stuck with the assholes who allowed this to happen and will continue to allow this to happen. The rot goes deep. The only way to protect our democracy from foreign intervention is to fully investigate everything, and to punish whatever wrongdoing is revealed, through the justice system and through the ballot box. Otherwise, truly, we will have asked for it.

This is NOT Fine
By KC Green

Books You Oughta Read: March

March - John Lewis - Cover
Buy it on Amazon.

John Lewis is a Civil Rights hero. Do you know why he is a hero? Until recently, I couldn’t really answer that question. Thankfully, Congressman Lewis wrote a graphic novel: March, with help from aide Andrew Aydin and illustrator Nate Powell. The third and final volume was published last year. March primarily covers Lewis’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement from 1960 until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, with a framing story set on the day of President Obama’s first inauguration.

My biggest takeaway from the book was the sheer extent of Lewis’s participation. It seems like he had a hand in everything. A non-exhaustive list of his actions during the Civil Rights Movement:

  • Working to desegregate the lunch counters of Nashville as a 20-year-old college student in 1960
  • Riding with the first cohort of Freedom Riders in 1961, then organizing a continuation of the ride after the first bus was firebombed and destroyed
  • Directing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966
  • Speaking at the March on Washington (He was the youngest speaker and the only speaker still alive today.)
  • Organizing voter registration and community education in Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer
  • And of course, Selma

March: Book One opens in media res, showing Lewis’s march at the head of the first Selma march on March 7, 1965, a.k.a. Bloody Sunday, for which he got his skull cracked, after which March: Book One goes to the framing device, leaving the Selma story to be picked up not in March: Book Two, but in March: Book Three, which shows Martin Luther King’s march at the head  of the second march on March 9, a.k.a. Turnaround Tuesday, during which Lewis is still hospitalized for the injury he sustained during the first march, then the third march, for which Lewis had sufficiently recovered, allowing him to march in the front line of the third, successful, Selma-to-Montgomery march, the last significant Civil Rights action depicted in March, on March 21, March 22, March 23, March 24 and March 25.

The graphic novel doesn’t show anything after the ’60s other than Obama’s inauguration, but it resonates with current events as good books tend to do. Some of the things that struck me:

  • Just how fractured the Civil Rights Movement could be. Being composed of students and other youth, SNCC was frequently impatient with the slow pace of progress and relative conservatism of the NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even Lewis wasn’t safe — during March: Book Three in particular it feels like SNCC is breaking up from under him. He marched at Selma as a private citizen rather than a representative of SNCC. Lewis’s guiding lights were always MLK and nonviolence as a philosophy, rather than as a tactic. Many disagreed.
  • How John Lewis’s speech for the March on Washington had to be rewritten because the other march organizers thought it too harsh and combative. The original called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “too little too late,” questioned the Kennedy administration’s commitment to civil rights and threatened a march through the south “the way Sherman did.” The speech he delivered supported the Civil Rights Act “with great reservation” and left out the other inflammatory parts. Was it censorship, or was it good tactics? Or was it both? Or was it censorship and bad tactics?
  • How white allies in civil rights organizing spurred conflict as well. “N—-r lovers” were beaten up as badly as, or even worse than their black compatriots. But this violence against white people in the movement always received much more coverage than violence against black people, which naturally fostered resentment. SNCC debated at length about the role of white people, whether they should take visible leadership, whether they should be allowed in SNCC at all, etc. In the end, the coalition did not last long, though long enough.
  • And finally, the intensity of the training and preparation that organizers went through. Nonviolence requires that you refrain from the natural response to indignity and abuse. You say thank you when someone dumps garbage on you. You curl up when being attacked rather than fighting back, yet you still maintain eye contact. The organizers blew smoke in each other’s faces. They called each other “n—-r.” They practiced everything that might happen to them, in order to prepare themselves to resist, and to sift out the ones who could not handle that level of abuse. Those people still had a role in the movement, but they couldn’t be on the front lines. Contrast this with a deliberately improvisational movement like Occupy Wall Street.

Lewis is diligent in giving credit to the many people he worked with, and takes the time to depict events for which he wasn’t physically present, so the book also functions as a decent history of the Civil Rights Movement. The framing device is moving and the illustrations are great. The story really benefits from being a graphic novel. One “issue” is that the book is about real, realistically depicted people rather than weirdos in colorful costumes, so if you share my, er, talent for faces, sometimes you might have trouble remembering which characters are which.

Overall, March is a fantastic book, and it seems that people agree with me, because it’s won a boatload of awards. Buy it, or check it out from your local library.

Favorite Trump Nicknames?

Source: Some forum user

I’ve seen some that are real gold. Notable examples:

  • Agent Orange
  • Benedict Donald (watch this one!)
  • Cheeto Benito
  • Cheeto Caligula
  • Cockwork Orange
  • Dolt 45 (wunderbar)
  • Drumpf (not my favorite, but must be included)
  • Idiot Amin
  • Il Douche
  • Mango Mugabe
  • Mango Mussolini
  • Shitgibbon
  • Twitler
Anything to add?