In the America That Time Forgot

There are places that time forgot, but San Francisco isn’t one of them. The 1967 Summer of Love isn’t even a memory there now – the city has been taken over by tech-billionaires, the only people who can afford to live there. The hippies moved out, and got real old, and ended up down here Venice Beach, where it’s always 1968 – for better or worse. These things happen. Those of us who grew up in Pittsburgh, when we return for a visit, find out it’s always 1953 in the old neighborhood – as it was in 1965, that summer when high school was over and it was off to college, elsewhere, where time flowed forward again.

There are places where time stands still. A decade ago it was a nephew’s wedding in Houma, a small odd city in the bayou far south of New Orleans – a flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte, then the hop down to New Orleans, then the rental car for a long drive through the pitch black thick night to the rehearsal dinner, arriving late and disoriented. What was this place? And there was the wedding the next day – the giant Catholic cathedral, surrounded by the extensive maze of one of those New Orleans graveyards, ornate crypts and mausoleums for generations who could not be buried in the perpetually saturated ground. They were all right there – in your face. That was spooky.

The wedding was fine, but the reception was strange – jambalaya and crayfish pie down on the bayou, just like in the song – which the band played over and over. Then they played Dixie and everyone put their hand over their heart and cried, and Sunday morning it was the long drive up to New Orleans – Zydeco music on the car radio and folks jabbering away in trailer-park French. Then it was Bourbon Street and all the rest. What was that high school marching band doing there, parading through the French Quarter at midnight, blaring out Sousa? It was oddly wonderful, and of course Monday morning it was chicory coffee and beignets at Café du Monde – one has to do that. And then it was back to Los Angeles.

And then it was all gone. Within a few months Hurricane Katrina had pretty much erased New Orleans – but of course the essence of the place wasn’t gone and never will be. Down there in Louisiana they’re still mad about what we call the Civil War and they call the War of Northern Aggression, and they’re still living in the Old South with its chivalry and old families and, they hope, those happy darkies. Those darkies aren’t happy – they never were – but down there the feeling in the air is that they ought to be. Margaret Mitchell wrote a famous book about how sad that is – and MGM made a pretty good movie from the book – but out here in Hollywood we called that a Period Piece. Down in Louisiana, that’s everyday life.

There are places that time forgot, or else people get stuck in time and the geography follows, and the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus notes that’s happening again:

The powerful film “Selma” is stirring audiences across the country with its compelling portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. and the heroism of ordinary African Americans as they demanded the right to vote a half century ago. But the movie has stirred controversy, too, for its portrait of President Lyndon B. Johnson as a leader whose commitment to civil rights was hesitant at best and duplicitous at worst. Some of his former aides and veterans of the civil rights movement, including one-time Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, have agreed that the movie is too harsh on LBJ, who wanted a voting rights law but didn’t think he had the political capital to push one through Congress quickly.

King’s marches, and the brutality of Alabama sheriffs’ deputies captured by the media, mobilized the public support Johnson needed. The president introduced a bill within days with a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, declaring: “We shall overcome.” He manhandled the bill to passage in a matter of months. And when he signed the Voting Rights Act with King at his side, LBJ gave the civil rights leader full credit.

That’s the controversy, such as it is. What really happened in 1965, and was LBJ an asshole and a villain, or was he a hero too? Suddenly it’s 1965 again, and McManus says it’s more than the movie:

That’s not as arbitrary a marker as it sounds. The year 1965 was, roughly speaking, the hinge between what historian Bernard von Bothmer has called the “good ’60s,” the early-decade era of John F. Kennedy and civil rights, and the “bad ’60s,” the late-decade slide into domestic chaos.

A long list of anniversaries lies in wait – many of them, like Selma, conspiring to revive old arguments and reopen old wounds.

The 2010 Bernard von Bothmer book is The Use and Abuse of a Decade from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush: How Presidents and Other Prominent Figures Have Shaped Public Memory of the Turbulent 1960s – and yes, the book is all about 1965, because that’s when things changed, as McManus notes:

The second half of the ’60s saw the escalation of the Vietnam War and the rise of the antiwar movement, mostly nonviolent but occasionally violent. It saw the triumph of the civil rights movement and the rise of Black Nationalism, but also the Watts riots of 1965 and disturbances in other cities. And in 1968, King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

The sweeping cultural revolution of those years is caricatured as sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but it also ushered in a new feminism (the National Organization for Women was founded in 1966) and a gay rights movement (New York’s Stonewall riots, 1969).

Well, the commencement speaker at that high school graduation in Pittsburgh in 1965 did tell us all that things would change for us now. They did. They changed for everyone, but as with the folks down in Louisiana, angry about the Civil War, some didn’t like the changes at all:

A large chunk of Republican politics since 1968 has been about denouncing the disorder of the late ’60s and ensuring that it never happens again. Richard M. Nixon ran against the demonstrators and rioters in 1968 and 1972, and so did Ronald Reagan in 1980. As recently as 2002, George W. Bush was still campaigning against the ’60s. “For too long, our culture has said, ‘if it feels good, do it,'” he said in his State of the Union address that year.

Democrats have treated the era more warily. At the time, it tore their party apart, and a generation of their leaders participated in its struggles. They’ve sought to embrace the positive parts of that legacy without being tarred as “counterculture McGoverniks” – which is what Newt Gingrich called Bill Clinton in 1992.

They won’t let it go:

That sort of talk could yet recur, if only because potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke out against the Vietnam War back in 1968, as a student leader at Wellesley College. Intriguingly, though, Republican Jeb Bush’s mother, Barbara Bush, was quoted in a 1984 interview as saying that he considered applying for conscientious objector status during Vietnam. In 2002, when he was running for governor of Florida, Bush said his mother’s comments had been misconstrued.

The other side won’t let it go either:

The counterculture has its defenders, such as David Harris, the onetime antiwar leader who spent three years in prison for resisting the draft. “We deserve far better treatment from the history books than we have received,” Harris told a recent reunion of antiwar activists at Stanford.

“The America that I grew up in in the 1950s,” he said, “was monochromatic in every sense of the word. It was a land without options…”

So we have more options now. What’s wrong with that? And life is no longer monochromatic – we have a black president, and one day we may have a Hispanic one, right after we have an Asian one, and one of them will probably be a woman. We will one day have an openly gay president. We’ve had a Catholic president, and Mitt Romney was a Mormon, and we’ll have a Jewish president one day, and what’s wrong with Buddhists? They’re cool. The only folks who need not apply for the job are Muslims and atheists – but you never know. Things changed in 1965, or started to change in a way that cannot be stopped. It may be 1953 in some Pittsburgh neighborhoods, and will be forever, but it’s not 1953 everywhere else.

The exception may be Louisiana, where there are guys like David Duke:

David Ernest Duke (born July 1, 1950) is an American white nationalist, conspiracy theorist, far-right politician, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a political writer. A former one-term Republican Louisiana State Representative, he was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries in 1988 and the Republican presidential primaries in 1992. Duke unsuccessfully ran for the Louisiana State Senate, United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, and Governor of Louisiana. Duke is a felon, pleading guilty to defrauding supporters by falsely claiming to have no money and in danger of losing his home in order to solicit emergency donations; at the time, Duke was financially secure, and used the donations for recreational gambling.

He’s not a charming fellow:

Duke describes himself as a “racial realist”, asserting that “all people have a basic human right to preserve their own heritage.” An advocate of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Duke speaks against what he considers to be Jewish control of the Federal Reserve, the federal government and the media. Duke supports the preservation of what he labels Western culture and traditionalist Christian “family values”, Constitutionalism, abolition of the Internal Revenue Service, voluntary racial segregation, anti-Communism and white separatism. He opposes what he considers to be “promotion of homosexuality” by Jews.

Yes, David Duke is a pre-1965 kind of guy, and he’s still quite popular in Louisiana, the land that time forgot, and now he’s in the news:

Republicans continued circling the wagons on Sunday around embattled House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, who came under fire this week after it was reported that he spoke at a white supremacist gathering in 2002.

Several incoming Republican congressmen offered words of support for Scalise, following the lead of other House leaders like Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who have previously defended the Louisiana Republican.

In 2002, Scalise, then a state legislator, gave a speech about taxes in September 2002 before the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), an organization founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

After the speech was reported this week, Scalise apologized, saying he was not aware of EURO’s platform when he spoke, and he certainly wouldn’t endorse the activities of such a “hate group.”

Republicans, thus far, seem inclined to give the latest member of their leadership team the benefit of the doubt.

He’s a good guy. He made a mistake, long ago – and it wasn’t his fault. His staffer at the time – he only had one – didn’t tell him about this David Duke fellow, one of the most popular guys in Louisiana at the time, and a guy who was all over the news at the time. There was no Google back then – or something – and anyway, he’s fine now:

“As far as I’m concerned, with Representative Scalise, he has been absolutely wonderful to work with. He’s been very helpful for me and he has had the support of his colleagues,” said Representative-elect Mia Love, R-Utah, the first black woman elected to Congress as a Republican, in an interview with ABC News on Sunday.

Love said she believes Scalise should remain in leadership, and she commended the “humility” he showed by apologizing for the incident.

Other incoming congressmen offered similar words of support. Rep.-elect Lee Zeldin, R-New York, blamed the controversy on the media “just trying to get a head start tearing down the Republican Party.”

“It’s unfortunate that so many news reports don’t even mention the fact that this was a dozen years ago,” Zeldin told “Fox News Sunday.”

Rep.-elect Martha McSally, R-Arizona, added on the same broadcast that she doesn’t worry the incident will hurt the GOP’s image, and she labeled the controversy a “distraction” from the real business of government.

That was Fox News, where the demographic trends very old and very white, the pre-1965 crowd, but there was this:

Fox News host Greta Van Susteren on Sunday said that Republican members of Congress should have put more pressure on House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) to step down following reports that he spoke at an event for a white nationalist group in 2002.

“If the Republican Party wants to send a message out there – and I don’t know whether it’s fair to Congressman Scalise or not fair to him, whatever – but associating with David Duke is grossly unwise,” she said during a roundtable discussion on ABC’s “This Week.”

“If you want to send a message to the American people, Republicans and Democrats, this would have been the opportunity to say he should step aside, whether it’s fair or not, and send a message that we’re not going to have this distraction,” Van Susteren continued.

She was, of course, speaking on ABC News, which Fox News viewers never watch, so no harm was done, but time didn’t stop sometime just before 1965 – she was just saying the Republicans will never win another national election shrugging at things like this. They’ll only win in Louisiana, the land that time forgot, and the other southern states still stuck in the past, but there was this:

Scalise’s most provocative defender came in the form of onetime House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who brushed aside concerns that Scalise is a racist and turned the question of guilt-by-association onto President Obama by invoking Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

“The president, who for years went to a church whose pastor said stunningly hateful things about America – the president explained he didn’t believe any of them, okay? And we all gave him a pass,” Gingrich argued. “He gave a great speech in Philadelphia, as a candidate. We said, ‘Okay, we got it.’ Now, he went to that church a long time and listened to Reverend Wright a long time.”

Fair is fair, right? Maybe so, but this may be the time for the other side to stick it to the Republicans, because this dust-up is leverage:

A Democratic senator agreed that actions will speak louder than words, pushing Republicans to move swiftly on issues of concern among minority communities.

“When always this kind of thing happens people disown it, they say it was wrong. What do they do about it? What are the actions? I will give you a few,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, told NBC News. “Move along on Loretta Lynch fast. She’s a U.S. attorney – the nominee for attorney general. She’s been vetted before. Get it done in a month. The Justice Department runs the civil rights enforcement in the country. Get the voting rights bill done. There’s Republicans in the House on it last year… leading it. Get that done. That’s action, not just words. And get immigration reform done. To me, that is what you do when you have a problem like this: you say you disown it, you say you want to move on civil rights, then do it.”

This is unpleasant for those who live in the pre-1965 monochromatic world. Now they can’t live there anymore, and Clarence Page sees their problem this way:

The controversy raises an intriguing question that haunts his party’s prospects nationwide: What does a Republican have to do to get elected in places like Louisiana, where David Duke’s conservatism sounds mainstream as long as Duke’s name isn’t mentioned?

Scalise has a long record of blasting Duke without condemning all of Duke’s views. In a quote widely recited in recent days. Stephanie Grace, a political reporter and columnist with The Advocate of Baton Rouge, recalls Scalise telling her that he was “like David Duke without the baggage,” meaning he supported the same policy ideas but didn’t share the same feelings about minorities.

Scalise took the same better-than-Duke pose in 1999 when both he and Duke were considering a race for Congress. “Duke has proved that he can’t get elected, and that’s the first and most important thing,” Scalise told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

That’s a bit Machiavellian, but politics can be a nasty business:

Ever since Duke ditched his Klan robes in the 1970s, tailored his rhetoric to play the white-victim card and switched from the Democrats to the Grand Old Party in 1988, mainstream Republicans have tried to lose Duke but not his voters.

The “Duke Factor” proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Duke successfully won a seat in the Louisiana Statehouse in 1989 and served until 1992, representing a district in the same area Scalise now represents. In a 1990 Senate race, Duke received 44 percent of the statewide vote, including a majority of the white vote.

After repudiations from establishment Republicans in 1991 he lost the governorship but picked up 55 percent of the white vote. “I won my constituency,” he declared.

That constituency matters:

Since then he has spent much of his time finding new audiences in which to stoke racial, ethnic, religious, and immigration anxieties overseas. In 2003 he served prison time after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return.

Yet, as much as he is denounced by some Republicans, others have purchased Duke’s mailing and phone lists, and even if they do not seek his open endorsement, they would rather not have him openly campaigning against them.

There are lots of votes in the land that time forgot, so one does what one must:

Consider the position in which this leaves Scalise. He comes from one of the most Republican districts in one of the country’s most conservative states. Yet the trust Scalise has generated with tea party conservatives in the House, while working cordially with other members, made him a top choice to win the whip post in June. He has been a valuable ally to help Boehner unify his GOP caucus and keep his own whip job safe, barring further embarrassing disclosures.

But the re-emergence of Duke in mainstream GOP news does nothing to help the party reach its larger goal of broadening its base to attract a more diverse electorate in presidential election years. So far the party has found it easier to rebuke Duke than to risk losing his voters.

That’s not to say that anyone is racist here, themselves. They just need the votes of racists to remain in office, in order to enact legislation that isn’t particularly racist, in and of itself of course – but of course if that legislation is too nice to the happy darkies, who stupidly refuse to be happy, then they’ll lose those votes. Nothing is easy.

As for Steve Scalise, he’s probably a fine fellow who means no harm, but he represents one of those places that time passed by, where it’s jambalaya and crayfish pie down on the bayou, where no one is buried in the perpetually saturated ground, and where the band plays Dixie and everyone cries. Go visit. It’s fascinating. And it’s a little scary.

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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 In the America That Time Forgot

  1. Rick says:

    Newt Gingrich has his own counterpoint to this Scalise story:

    “The president, who for years went to a church whose pastor said stunningly hateful things about America – the president explained he didn’t believe any of them, okay? And we all gave him a pass,” Gingrich argued. “He gave a great speech in Philadelphia, as a candidate. We said, ‘Okay, we got it.’ Now, he went to that church a long time and listened to Reverend Wright a long time.”

    Fair enough, maybe.

    Okay, first of all, I have a hard time getting too excited about this House Majority Whip Steve Scalise business. Yes, he obviously knew who David Duke was when he addressed Duke’s group back in 2002, since he’s been quoted as talking about him in the 1990s, just the other day, by Stephanie Grace of the Baton Rouge Advocate:

    “This is what I remember about the first time I met Steve Scalise nearly 20 years ago: He told me he was like David Duke without the baggage.”

    It’s the same old story — if Scalise really didn’t know he was addressing a white nationalist group founded by David Duke, he’s just too bone-headed to deserve to be elected to political office — but that, I guess, is a matter you have to take up with his bone-headed constituency.

    But here’s the thing: Republicans are conservatives, as are white nationalist groups, so it’s hard to feign shock that a conservative politician speaks before a conservative organization.

    And if anyone contests that statement, I challenge them to stand before a Klan rally and ask for a show of hands of all the liberals. (“Now, come on! Don’t be afraid! Let’s see those hands!”) And yes, I suppose you could pull that same trick before Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation, asking conservatives to raise their hands, but if you did — and this might surprise Gingrich — you might actually see some hands.

    Another way to look at that: While you can count on there being plenty of white supremacists in the Duke group, I doubt you’d find very many black supremacists in Wright’s church.

    Also significant is the subsequent histories of both these men since — that, while Scalise has publicly said he likes Duke’s message but just not Duke, the messenger, nobody has ever been able to find anything similar about Obama and Wright. As president, Barack Obama has shown that he thinks nothing but great things about his country, and anybody who thinks they’ve heard otherwise is just making stuff up.

    But still, it’s not hard to understand this dilemma the Republicans find themselves in, since until the civil rights and voting rights acts in the 1960s, which is about when all the Dixiecrats started their migration, it was us Democrats who were constantly being embarrassed by the conservatives amongst us. It’s the price you pay when you’re desperate for votes, no matter where you find them, but that’s a trap from which our party finally escaped.

    Rick

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