My Father and the Democrats

It’s father’s day tomorrow and I have taken to sharing little reminiscences on facebook about both my parents. It’s easier to write at length here so I’ve changed venues to stir the pot a little more.

My father was a lifelong Democrat after voting Socialist for Norman Thomas in 1932. He would have been exactly 21 and a sophomore or junior at Miami University of Ohio, which sported, among other claims to fame, the Alpha Chapter of the fraternity Sigma Chi. I am old enough to have heard, and have the personal connection to remember a ridiculous song called “The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi,” which, as it turns out, is the Number One all-time favorite college song and which was rhapsodized as follows by its author:

“The ‘Sweetheart’ is the symbol for the spiritual ingredient in brotherhood. It was the Sigma Chi Fraternity itself that inspired the song. I wrote the words not long after my initiation, and the magic of our Ritual with its poetic overtones and undertones was, I suppose, the source of my inspiration”.

I seem to have always known that my father was a member of that very Alpha chapter, and that he was disinvited from living in the actual frat house for — at least early on — unspecified shenanigans and wound up his college career living in a boarding house whose matron, naturally, he totally charmed to the point that they remained buddies 30 years later.

Maybe Norman Thomas was just another shenanigan, though I did find some college newspaper columns he wrote that mentioned Thomas, mostly in a sardonic way. But he was definitely flirting with radicalism.

Aside from stories my father’s politics were straight-ahead Democrat. That meant he supported Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. I was aware enough by the latter date to remember a picture of Stevenson wearing shoes with a hole in the sole: the common man’s intellectual.

The town I grew up in, Mattoon, Illinois, was pretty solidly Republican, as was the surrounding Congressional District, as was the owner of the newspaper my father worked for. Fortunately, that same owner had been a good drinking buddy of my father’s in the pre-war years of horsing around, so not only did he give my father a job when he was really down on his luck, he also tolerated his politics, maybe because by that point the guy was barely ever in the office and mostly paid attention to his show horses. My first job was cutting his massive five-acre grounds for a buck an hour.

As the main editorial guy it fell to my father on election night to oversee the gathering, collating and ultimately printing of the election results in Wednesday’s Journal-Gazette. This involved having the whole editorial staff (4-5 people or so) and other volunteers answer telephones when individual precincts would call in as ballots were counted (of course by hand). I was allowed to tag along and hang out and, nerd that I was, I thought it was the coolest thing ever and naturally everyone good-humoredly chatted with and joshed Dave McDonald’s kid staying up WAY past his bedtime (on a school night!) so I had all the attention I could stand. The room was full, phones rang constantly and news and rumors and speculation abounded. It was very noisy and purposeful. People would bring ballots with numbers written by the candidates’ names with the precinct on top and my father entered all the data onto a gigantic piece of posterboard. Today we would call it a flat file. When it was finished a photographer came in and shot it on 4×5 film and sent it off to Effingham to have a plate burned.

My father was a public Democrat and he did what he could to advance the party’s fortunes in essentially rural central Illinois through his newspaper editing, and so for various favors I know nothing of, he got the crackerjack prize of being an alternate delegate to the upcoming Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles simply by being nominated and unopposed. This cost the DP nothing and from it they got daily newspaper coverage of their convention written by a local guy and therefore of interest in sleepy Mattoon.

This was 1960. I had apprenticed on the 1956 Stevenson campaign so I was all about the 1960 presidential campaign as a spectacle with, for me, absolutely no political meaning, but a way into the adult world. I was as mindlessly Democratic as my father. My father had picked LBJ as his guy, not because he liked him better but because he thought Kennedy had no chance. So suddenly, as the convention unfolded, he turned into a JFK partisan and never budged from that view. Kennedy’s assassination unleashed all his Irish demons.

The DP 1960 Convention was in Los Angeles, so that provided an opportunity for a rare family vacation. All 5 of us piled into a Volkswagen bus — a very exotic vehicle choice in those days, you had to drive 40 miles to get the thing serviced — and rode US 99 all the way to LA. Swimming was my only sport and I was gobsmacked by the thought that we were staying at my godparent’s compound on Mulholland Drive which contained a private swimming pool you could just swim in anytime you wanted. I spent about 10 hours a day of that vacation in the pool. The only outing I remember was a trip to Disneyland but I didn’t care.

Much later, making a joke about his Kennedy jones, I gave my father a nice butane cigarette lighter inscribed “from JFK to DBM”. This backfired as my father morphed reality and later claimed JFK had actually given him the lighter, not so very different maybe from the ways that lots of our stories get better over time. I, however, was mortified every time I heard him make the claim.

The creation of the Election Night chart/spreadsheet for 1960 was epic. I was allowed to man one of the telephones taking data from the precincts. It was unbelievably cool and there was a lot of knowing talk about how long it was going to take the Democratic Party in Cook County to figure out how many ballots they had to steal to overwhelm the downstate Republicans and win the election for Kennedy. I spent a lot of time asking people what they meant when they said stuff, but I was not allowed to pull an all-nighter so I learned of Kennedy’s victory the next morning.

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The black bloc in 1969

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

In an online book titled “The Black Bloc Papers”, David Van Deusen of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective makes clear that the Weathermen were the forefathers of the people who staged a riot at Berkeley:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.

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Fordham SDS

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

In 1983 I saw the documentary “Seeing Red” that mixed interviews of former members of the Communist Party talking about their experiences with exciting film footage and photographs of the class battles they took part in. Among the highlights was Bill Bailey reminiscing about the day in 1935 when he tore the Nazi flag off the Bremen, a luxury liner docked in New York.

Bill was 25 when he carried out this protest and 72 when he was interviewed for “Seeing Red”. Over the past few years, I have toyed with the idea of making a film like “Seeing Red” but based on the experiences of veterans of the Socialist Workers Party, many of whom are about the same age today as Bill Bailey was in 1983—including me.

For us, there was nothing quite like the experience of fighting in the Spanish Civil War as Bill Bailey did, or being…

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Good one from Louis Proyect

COUNTERPUNCH JANUARY 27, 2017 The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc Unless you do not own a computer or have been in a coma for the past week, you are probably aware of alt-right leader Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by a man dressed in black bloc garb. For […]

via The Politics of a Punch: Richard Spencer and the Black Bloc — Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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The amulet on David Icke’s sweater

Good stuff from Louis Proyect

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such…

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Assadism: Haunted By Its Own Success

P U L S E

The task of defining Assadism is useful for specific purposes only—such as identifying arguments that legitimate or exonerate Assad’s iron fist rule and crimes. But to even gnaw at what Assadism exactly is, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach and thus move on to define what conservatism exactly is.

I wish to argue that Assadism is conservatism. It should be clear as day, but this argument should be elucidated. So what is conservatism? If we wish to define it narrowly: conservatism is the ideology of reaction to demands for egalitarianism. Historians of conservatism trace its progeny to the reaction to the events in Revolutionary France that began in 1789—all the way down to opposition to feminism and racial equality. Commonly thought to be conceived by Edmund Burke, conservatism has been embellished and re-produced by thinkers stretching from slaveholder intellectuals such John C. Calhoun to Ayn Rand and Ludwig Von Mises. One would reasonably ask: why would such an impulse—to…

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Russia Today and the post-truth virus

P U L S E

A video is circulating of a woman revealing “the truth” on Syria that is being withheld from us by “the mainstream media”. The woman is introduced as an “independent Canadian journalist”. She is said to be speaking  “at the UN”. The date is December 9, 2016. The video has become viral.

Eva Bartlett, the woman in the video, writes for various conspiracy sites including SOTT.net, The Duran, MintPress and Globalresearch.ca. But more recently she has emerged as a contributor to Russia Today. And though her wordpress blog is called “In Gaza”, and though she has a past in Palestine solidarity work, unlike the people of Gaza, she is a strong supporter of Assad and she uses language to describe Assad’s opponents that is a virtual echo of the language Israeli propagandists use against Gazans.

Bartlett was recently a guest of the Assad regime, attending a regime sponsored PR conference and going on a tour of regime-controlled areas herded no doubt by the ubiquitous…

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