Not Fade Away

Some things do fade away, like political campaign songs – in 1928, Al Smith’s campaign song was “Sidewalks of New York” (he lost) and in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt’s song was “Happy Days Are Here Again” (he won) – and of course in 1948 Harry Truman’s song was “I’m Just Wild About Harry” – as if there were any other choice. And then no one cared any longer. In 1960, John F. Kennedy used “High Hopes” – with modified lyrics sung by Frank Sinatra. The Kennedy campaign probably knew that was pretty cheesy and that most people by then saw Sinatra as an unpleasant thug, and by 1992 Bill Clinton was using Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (thinking about tomorrow)” only now and them, to fire up the troops, at large events and only at large events. The campaign song was no longer integral to anything, it just one of those things you did, or didn’t do – and there were legal issues when you used a cool popular song and the artist obtained a cease-and-desist order because he or she hated everything you stood for. Bruce Springsteen told the Reagan folks to stop using “Born in the USA” and in 2008 the band Heart asked the Sarah Palin campaign to stop playing its song “Barracuda” – “Sarah Barracuda” would have to find some other song. They hated her, and John McCain settled out of court with Jackson Browne for using his “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad without permission, which he was never going to get from Browne, who wanted to stay out of the whole thing.

One must be careful about these things, but the campaign song had become more trouble than it was worth, like those four-color fliers candidates mail to everyone’s home a few days before each election, which most folks just toss out, or use for coasters. Those might help, a very little, to get your people off their asses and to the polls, but those who were going to vote anyway do vote, and those who weren’t really were not ever going to vote don’t. It’s the same with campaign songs. They’re not even marginally useful. Now it’s best to get one of your outrageous web-only campaign ads to go viral, and then have all the cable news shows air it again and again and talk about how outrageous it is. That’s free and that works wonders. All publicity is good publicity.

That said, it would be cool for the Republicans to ask the Buddy Holly estate for permission to us his 1957 hit Not Fade Away in all their campaign ads, and also ask Mick Jagger for his permission to use the Rolling Stones’ far more aggressive 1964 cover of that Buddy Holly tune – to remind folks that they never let anything fade away. That was the case with Republicans and the Affordable Care Act. They didn’t have the votes to stop the thing from passing in 2010. They didn’t have the votes to repeal it in 2011. They didn’t have the votes to win the presidency and the Senate by campaigning against it in 2012, explicitly. The law was passed fair and square, long ago, by both houses of Congress, and survived a Supreme Court challenge too – and the Roberts court is the conservative dream-court they had always wanted and had worked so hard to put in place over decades. But the Republican House has voted over forty times now to repeal the Affordable Care Act, all of it, and this year every Republican running for anything says they’ll get it repealed, all of it, somehow.

They will? They scoffed at the thing as Obamacare, but it’s firmly in place now. Eight million people or more have signed up, the sky has not fallen… but they won’t let Obamacare fade away. Cue the Buddy Holly song – and it’s the same with Benghazi. There have been seven thorough investigations of what happened there, all the question have been asked and all of them answered, again and again, and there are no new documents to review, and now there’s an eighth investigation, by the new House Select Committee. Benghazi too shall not fade away, and if the public balks at such seemingly absurd nonsense, just play the Buddy Holly tune. There’s the party’s traditional symbol too. Elephants never forget.

There a general pattern to this too. Obama should not be president. He cannot be president, really. Obama won in 2008 and then again in 2012, but that is unacceptable. That can’t be so. The idea that Obama can be defeated and should be defeated and will be defeated will not fade away. They’ll win that 2008 election yet. You just wait. No, you don’t have to wait:

It was really only a matter of time before conservatives began invoking the “I-word” over President Obama’s decision to release five Taliban detainees from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

In the days following the prisoner swap that secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, some conservatives who have long fantasized about booting Obama from office believe they may finally have the goods for impeachment.

Andrew McCarthy, who’s written an entire book that builds a case for impeachment against Obama, said in an interview published Monday he would include the Bergdahl release as part of his “larger indictment” against the President.

McCarthy told the MailOnline that the release of “senior terrorists to the Taliban” represents a “high crime and misdemeanor.”

This was a story that was going to fade, but the opposite is happening:

Fox Business anchor Lou Dobbs liked the sound of that. On Monday, he cited McCarthy’s impeachment talk in blasting Obama’s “extraordinary knack for doing the utterly wrong thing in the wrong way at seemingly the worst moment.”

Judge Andrew Napolitano took it from there on Tuesday, telling the gang on “Fox & Friends” that Obama “may very well have committed a federal crime by giving material assistance to a terrorist organization.”

Napolitano said impeaching Obama over the prisoner swap is a “very valid argument that people are going to start talking about.”

They’re on a roll here. They can fix that 2008 thing, when the American people were so very stupid, which to Salon’s Joan Walsh sounds depressingly familiar:

The anti-Bergdahl hysteria plays into six years of scurrilous insinuation that Obama is a secret Muslim who either supports or sympathizes with our enemies. Even “moderate” Mitt Romney, you’ll recall, claimed the president’s “first response” to the 2012 Benghazi attack “was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” This is just the latest chapter.

The partisan opportunism over the Bergdahl deal shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, a little bit. This wasn’t some wild radical idea of the Obama administration; it was driven by the Defense Department and signed on to by intelligence agencies. Although Congress is claiming it wasn’t given the requisite 30 days’ notice of a prisoner transfer, this deal or something very much like it has been in the works for at least two years, with plenty of congressional consultation.

That doesn’t matter now:

In 2012 the late Michael Hastings reported that the White House was warned by congressional Republicans that a possible deal for the five Taliban fighters would be political suicide in an election year – a “Willie Horton moment,” in the words of an official responsible for working with Congress on the deal. In the end, though, Hastings reported that even Sen. John McCain ultimately approved the deal; it fell apart when the Taliban balked.

Two years later, the right’s official talking points are mixed: Some critics focus on rumors (buttressed by Hastings’ own sympathetic reporting on Bergdahl) that he was a soldier disillusioned by the Afghan war who deserted his post. Wrong-way Bill Kristol has dismissed him as a deserter not worth rescuing, while Kristol’s most prominent contribution to politics, Sarah Palin, has been screeching on her Facebook wall about Bergdahl’s “horrid anti-American beliefs.”

But missing and captured soldiers have never had to undergo a character check before being rescued by their government. Should they now face trial by Bill Kristol before we decide whether to rescue them? Is Sarah Palin going to preside over a military death panel for captured soldiers suspected of inadequate dedication to the war effort?

Well, yes, if they can reverse that 2008 thing, even if it makes no sense:

Other Republicans accuse the president of breaking the long-standing rule against “negotiating with terrorists” to free hostages. They’re wrong on two counts: The U.S. has frequently negotiated with “terrorists,” to free hostages and for other reasons. President Carter negotiated with the Iranians who held Americans in the Tehran embassy in 1979, unsuccessfully. President Reagan famously traded arms to Iran for hostages. The entire surge in Iraq was predicated on negotiating with Sunni “terrorists” who had killed American soldiers to bring them into the government and stop sectarian violence.

Besides, this isn’t a terrorist-hostage situation, it’s a prisoner of war swap, and those are even more common: President Nixon freed some North Vietnamese prisoners at the same time former POW Sen. John McCain came home from Hanoi.

Walsh also adds this:

It’s true that Bergdahl was never officially categorized as a “prisoner of war,” since the Pentagon apparently stopped using that designation years ago. But he was defined as “missing/captured,” which is essentially the same thing. And while the Taliban fighters who were released were likewise not formally designated prisoners of war, either, because of the odd, formally undeclared status of the war with Afghanistan, that’s what they were. As President Obama said Tuesday morning, “This is what happens at the end of wars.” Imagine the outrage if the president brought the troops home from Afghanistan but left Bergdahl behind.

It’s shocking to see conservatives argue that the Taliban should have the final word on an American soldier’s fate, even if he’s accused of desertion. There’s already an Army inquiry into the conditions of Bergdahl’s disappearance. “Our army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred,” the Joint Chiefs chair Martin Dempsey said Monday night. Would John McCain, for instance, deny Bergdahl the right to military justice and leave his punishment to the Taliban?

Salon’s Elias Isquith carries this further:

For Bergdahl and his family, the move is a blessing. For those who doubt the administration’s commitment to ending the war, it is a reassurance. And for the loudest members of the far right, it is a mistake, a capitulation, a disgrace.

Their argument, in brief: By agreeing to trade prisoners of war with the Taliban, Obama made the U.S. look – what else? Weak! “You blew it again, Barack Obama, by negotiating away any leverage against the bad guys,” wrote the perpetually enraged Sarah Palin on her Facebook page. The deal, argued Palin, had “destroyed troop morale” while causing “Osama Bin Laden’s partners in evil crime” to “joyfully celebrate.” What really infuriated the half-term governor and former vice presidential candidate, though, wasn’t so much Obama’s actions as Bergdahl’s. The price the administration paid for liberating him, Palin intimated, was simply too high. He didn’t deserve it. How come? Because he expressed “horrid anti-American beliefs” and deserted his fellow soldiers prior to his capture…

As you might expect from any Palin story, there are some issues. For one, whether Bergdahl found himself under Taliban control because of bad luck, as the administration claims, or because he decided to abandon his post is up for debate.

No one knows that yet, so deciding, that even if an American soldier and an American citizen, he should be left there to die in captivity, may be premature, but Isquith sees other issues:

We’re all familiar with how conservatives – but especially extreme ones like Palin – deify, romanticize and claim ownership of the men and women in the armed forces. We all remember the 2004 Republican National Convention, when President Bush all but dusted off that iconic green “Mission Impossible” flight suit in order to portray himself and his party as the sole guardians and stewards of the military. We all remember the countless times during the Bush years when a Republican or a conservative would ask an antiwar Democrat or liberal why they so hate the troops. We expect to see right-wingers genuflect before the Platonic ideal of an American warrior. …

Less understood is that when a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right’s rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers like Palin come down on them like a ton of bricks – where they once were heroes of almost mythic proportion, now they become charlatans – or maybe even traitors.

They cease to be Real Americans, the folks Palin talked about in the 2008 campaign, and she’s at it again, but it’s not just her:

Think about how much the far right loathes John Kerry, how ruthless and vitriolic was its campaign to discredit him in 2004. That had much to do with base tribalism, of course; Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president and thus, to some degree, inevitably the temporary locus of all evil. But it also had much to do with the fact that Kerry first made a name for himself as perhaps the ultimate apostate soldier of the modern era, the man who showed that you didn’t have to be a draft-dodging longhair to consider the war in Vietnam a sinful mistake. John Kerry was a soldier, a decorated soldier, and yet he didn’t consider (the draft-dodging) John Wayne the exemplar of American virtue. His comeuppance for that transgression was a long time coming, but when it came, it was, even for politics, remarkably nasty.

But if you think this might all have more to do with partisan politics and believe, perhaps, that the far right’s hatred for Bergdahl and Kerry says more about the current president and secretary of state than anything else, there are plenty of other, less prominent examples. There’s the veteran who was publicly accosted by gun fetishists for having the audacity to be a military man who nevertheless thinks there’s a right and a wrong way to own a gun. There’s the soldier who failed to live up to the far right’s definition of warrior sexuality and was booed in response. There are the parents and brother of Pat Tillman who, once they stopped being useful props for a story of noble martial sacrifice and started asking justifiably angry questions, transformed into “graceless” and clueless pawns of anti-American filmmakers. There’s Cindy Sheehan.

Taken together, the far right’s dehumanization of the American soldier is clear. If he or she is willing to promote the Sarah Palin version of patriotism, honor and masculinity (or at least allow themselves to be used for that purpose), they are not human beings but rather legends and gods. And if they refuse, they lose their humanity once more, now becoming contemptible beyond all measure.

This may be one way to look at it:

Either way, they are not individuals – complex and mysterious and sacred – but rather means to an end that is, fundamentally, about their self-styled defenders’ ideological satisfaction. This, it seems to me, is an exceedingly twisted way to support our troops.

Maybe so, but Bergdahl wasn’t a Real American:

Growing up in the mountain town of Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl was as likely to be found inside, poring over a book at a local library, as he was to be spotted outside, riding his bicycle through the hills that border the small town.

Home-schooled, Bergdahl performed in a ballet. He joined a fencing club, dabbled in foreign languages, including working his way through tomes written in Russian, and he even crewed on a sailboat trip from South Carolina to California.

It may have been that curiosity, combined with his tendency to gravitate toward disciplines like martial arts, that led him to join the military in June 2008, recalled his former ballet teacher, Sherry Horton.

“I think Bowe would have liked the rigor – that’s what he liked about ballet,” she said.

He was a fucking ballet dancer! A fag! Let him die! Everyone even described as a nice guy!

And then it got even more interesting:

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly on Monday night joined the chorus of conservatives criticizing the father of released captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for his actions and appearance during the five years his son was in captivity.

“But it is Robert Bergdahl, the father, who is also engendering some controversy. He has learned to speak Pashto, the language of the Taliban, and looks like a Muslim,” O’Reilly said on his show. “He is also somewhat sympathetic to Islam, actually thanking Allah right in front of the president.”

Bob Bergdahl has said that he taught himself Pashto so that he could better understand his son’s captors and that he grew his beard to mark the time his son was held prisoner. Some conservatives have also criticized him for his tweets, particularly one he allegedly published saying that he was “working to free all Guantanamo prisoners.”

“Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade attacked Bob Bergdahl and his beard on Tuesday morning.

“I mean, he says he was growing his beard because his son was in captivity. Well, your son’s out now. So if you really don’t – no longer look like a member of the Taliban, you don’t have to look like a member of the Taliban,” Kilmeade said. “Are you out of razors?”

Next it will be the kid’s mother – those who aren’t Real Americans should be outed, and Andrew Sullivan sees this going on here:

The Benghazi and Bergdahl “scandals”, after all, are both rooted in the assumption that the president is in some way anti-American, that his loyalty is somehow not to the United States, but to some other abstract but foreign authority, and so he would obviously be happy to leave Americans to perish in an undefended consulate and lie about it afterwards to cover his negligence up … or be content to deal with the Taliban on behalf of another “anti-American”.

Some things will never fade away, even if they make no sense at all:

Beneath the intricacies and easy emotional manipulation, this McCarthy era paranoia is what drives both obsessions. The contradictions are, of course, bleeding obvious. Obama is to be excoriated for abandoning Americans in the line of fire in Benghazi and then excoriated for rescuing a service member in enemy captivity in the matter of Bowe Bergdahl. You’ll see that, not for the first time, the president cannot win. You’ll also note that one of the American right’s heroes, Bibi Netanyahu, released more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, some of whom had actually murdered Israeli civilians, in order to retrieve Gilad Shalit. Somehow Netanyahu is not regarded as a terrorist-sympathizer by the Tea Party.

And it is an outright calumny, of course, to impugn this president’s patriotism, the kind instinctually propagated by Palin and her spittle-flecked confreres. Barack Obama is – au contraire – a uniquely and proudly American story. He has been relentless in pursuing the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his period in office. He killed bin Laden and Anwar al -Awlaki. His emergence as a biracial president would give any sane American a reason to be proud, not squeamish. And what he did, in the case of Bergdahl, requires no further explanation than that a commander-in-chief’s task is to leave no service member behind enemy lines, especially as a war comes to a close.

This isn’t complicated:

Whether Bergdahl was a deserter or not, whether he was “anti-American” or not, whether he may have cooperated with his captors under duress or not: these questions should be dealt with by the regular process of military justice and investigation. But none of that can truly happen without Bergdahl himself to question and interrogate. And if we are going to rescue a service-member depending on our assessment of his politics or character, we have undermined a key principle of military justice and discipline. You wear the uniform you get rescued if captured – period. No other questions need to be asked or answered until after you’re safe and in US custody.

Yes, but some things, like that 2008 election that is somehow still in doubt, will not fade away. That couldn’t have happened. That really didn’t happen. Obama is not the president, really, and as Sullivan says, “they will use any weapon at hand, even if they have to trash some of the most important military principles to indict him.” Nothing will fade away.

That’s not what Buddy Holly had in mind. That 1957 ditty he wrote was a love song to his honey, a bit of teenage nonsense about how his teenage crush was true love and would not fade away, ever – and we all know how teenage crushes work out. But then maybe the current folks on the right are no more than goofy teenagers, who cannot believe that most everything fades away. Everyone else grew up. Someone should tell them. And really, there was the day the music died, February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper too, died in that plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. Had he lived, Buddy Holly would be a seventy-eight-year-old grumpy old man now, and whatever he once felt for whoever she was would have faded away long ago. Still, he’d probably sell limited performance rights to the old song to the Republican Party. Cash is cool, and there’s a sucker born every minute.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Not Fade Away

  1. Rick says:

    Two things, both from Joan Walsh:

    “President Carter negotiated with the Iranians who held Americans in the Tehran embassy in 1979, unsuccessfully.”

    What does she mean by “unsuccessfully”? It worked! And it worked well!

    Too many people, especially those who want to heap still more abuse on the historical legacy of Jimmy Carter’s presidency (although I doubt Walsh is one of those), tend to forget that Iran gained pretty much absolutely nothing from the Algiers Accords, the final agreement between America and Iran to release the hostages. Essentially, our side got our people returned, along with the $2.5-billion in debts that Iran owed us, along with Iran having to pay money to “satisfy claims” to “American businesses that had lost assets after the hostage takeover.”

    And what did Iran get? They got us to un-freeze those assets that we froze in response to them taking the hostages in the first place — and okay, yes, also a promise on our part to not interfere in Iranian internal affairs. In other words, they got bupkis.

    The upshot, according to Wikipedia:

    “The hostage taking was unsuccessful for the Islamic Republic in some respects. Iran lost international support for its war against Iraq, and the settlement was considered almost wholly favorable to the United States since it did not meet any of Iran’s original demands.”

    And by the way, something else surprising (to me), also from Walsh:

    “John Kerry was a soldier, a decorated soldier, and yet he didn’t consider (the draft-dodging) John Wayne the exemplar of American virtue.”

    John Wayne, a draft-dodger? Geez, I never heard that one before!

    But sure enough, I googled it, and found this on “The Straight Dope” from 1998. (The nutshell version is, Wayne sort of pulled a Dick Cheney in the sense of when Cheney claimed that, back then, he “had other priorities … than military service” — specifically in Cheney’s case, he had to stay in school longer than usual, “owing”, to what has been claimed, was “sub-par academic performance”. In Wayne’s case, his career was taking off at the beginning of the war, and he thought the time spent fighting would nip that in the bud.)

    But the Duke, the guy who famously said in Stagecoach, “Well, there’s some things a man just can’t run away from”? Who knew!

    I still find absolutely baffling the idea that military-loving conservative Republicans get away with holding in contempt Democrats like Al Gore and John Kerry, guys who actually served our country in a war zone, but give a free pass to Republican war-avoiders such as Cheney and George W. Bush, and even that all-out right-wing “exemplar of American virtue”, John Wayne. In fact, I keep wondering if our puzzlement on the left over the conservative thought process that shamelessly champions “chicken-hawks” might be mirrored on the right by bunches of people absolutely astounded that we lefties so shamelessly don’t seem to get their big deal about Benghazi.

    Maybe the further we all get away from the political center, the more blinded we are to truths that seem so obvious to the other side.

    Rick

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