The Old World Now Gone

Life is full of changes. Sometimes you end up in Rochester, New York. That was the first job after graduate school – teaching English at prep school there – the wife’s home town. It would be fine. This was the city that Kodak built. Xerox was there too, at the time. There was the famous Eastman School of Music. David Zinman was music director of the Rochester Philharmonic. This wasn’t a backwater. This was an enlightened place, and a good sign was that the night we rolled into town and sat down to dinner with the folks, on the family farm west of the city, we watched Richard Nixon resign, on the little television out on the porch. It was a fine August evening. Things were getting better – and we eventually built a house on that farm. With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything was easy. Things were fine.

The politics were fine too. Our congressman was a Republican, but he was Barber Conable – voted by his colleagues the “most respected” member of Congress. He refused to accept personal contributions larger than fifty dollars. He invented the 401(k) – sort of a favor to Kodak and Xerox management, being buried by their pension costs, but not a bad idea. He had been a long-time ally of Richard Nixon, but he broke with Nixon over Watergate. He was disgusted. He was the one who came up with the term “smoking gun” back in the day. He knew his stuff and wanted to get things done. Nixon got in the way. Nixon was soon gone, and Conable served ten full terms. When he retired, in 1984, Ronald Reagan appointed Conable president of the World Bank. He was more than qualified. He was just fine. They don’t make Republicans like that anymore. He was a Rochester Republican – west of the city.

But he’s gone now, and Kodak is pretty much gone, and the marriage ended, and it was off to California in 1981 – the year that Ronald Reagan was sworn in – the year when Republicans got back to race-baiting and sneering. His talk of “welfare queens” and whatnot was unpleasant. Republicans got unpleasant again.

Voters in Rochester must have known that would happen. Barber Conable, in that congressional district just west of the city, was the exception, not the rule. In their congressional district they kept reelecting a decent and thoughtful – and joyful and compassionate – liberal Democrat. They kept reelecting Louise Slaughter, but now she’s gone too:

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, a folksy New York liberal who championed women’s rights and American manufacturing for more than three decades as a Democratic congresswoman, and who became a top lieutenant for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the first and only woman to lead the powerful Rules Committee, died March 16 at a hospital in Washington. She was 88 and the oldest sitting member of Congress.

But she was a pip:

The daughter of a blacksmith in a Kentucky coal mine, Rep. Slaughter traced her lineage to Daniel Boone and attacked her political opponents with a marksman’s accuracy and, not infrequently, a disarming grin.

“She’s sort of a combination of Southern charm and backroom politics, a Southern belle with a cigar in her mouth,” Jane Danowitz, executive director of the Women’s Campaign Fund, told the Washington Post in 1992.

She was a Southern belle, who got over it:

A microbiologist with a master’s degree in public health, Rep. Slaughter moved to western New York with her husband in the 1950s and entered politics two decades later, after fighting to preserve a stand of beech-maple forest near their home in the Rochester suburbs.

She served in the Monroe County Legislature and New York State Assembly before being elected to Congress in 1986 and soon established herself as a defender of blue-collar constituents who worked for Xerox or Kodak.

Breaking with Democratic Party leaders, she argued that international trade agreements did little more than drain the United States of manufacturing jobs. When President Bill Clinton asked her to support the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to the Almanac of American Politics, she replied, “Why are you carrying George Bush’s trash?”

She was a bit blunt, but for a purpose:

Initially one of just 29 women in the House of Representatives, Rep. Slaughter was a flinty advocate of women’s access to health care and abortion.

She was a co-author of the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark 1994 law aimed at curbing domestic abuse and aiding its victims. In 1991, she was part of a group of seven Democratic congresswomen who marched to the Senate to demand a delay in the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

In a legislative assault she later likened to the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, she and her fellow legislators prevailed on their Senate colleagues to hear testimony from Anita Hill, a former Thomas aide who had accused him of sexual harassment.

“There’s no monolithic way that women respond to this,” she said at the time, referring to the harassment allegations. “But we are the people who write the laws of the land. Good lord, she should have some recourse here.”

Someone had to say it, and even if no one would listen to Anita Hill, and Clarence Thomas’ nomination sailed through – it was a man’s world back then – Slaughter did get things done:

Rep. Slaughter was the ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, which determines when and how bills reach the House floor, and, in 2007, served as chairman for four years after Pelosi became the first female House speaker. She successfully marshaled legislation that included an ethics bill to tighten lobbying rules and later spearheaded a bill banning insider trading by lawmakers and their staff that became law in 2012. Slaughter also introduced co-legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of genetic information. The measure, which passed in 2008, was designed to prevent insurance providers from rejecting coverage for healthy people predisposed to cancer and other diseases.

And there’s this:

Among her greatest achievements was helping shepherd the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, during which she said she received a death threat and her district office window was smashed with a rock.

She remained nonchalant, however, even while inspiring Republican rage over a short-lived proposal known as “the Slaughter Strategy,” in which she considered passing the Senate version of Obamacare without an up-or-down vote – a tactic, she noted, her Republican colleagues had sometimes used themselves.

“We are about to unleash a cultural war in this country!” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) told her at the time. Using an idiom she may have drawn from her upbringing in Kentucky, she replied calmly, “I appreciate that you’re the bluebird of happiness.”

Now THAT is how it’s done, and she somehow made no enemies:

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), chairman of the Rules Committee, said Slaughter “was a force to be reckoned with, who always brought her spunk, fire and dynamic leadership to every meeting.”

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) ordered flags above the Capitol to be lowered to half-staff in memory of Slaughter.

“@LouiseSlaughter was tough, unfailingly gracious, and unrelenting in fighting for her ideas. She was simply great,” Ryan tweeted.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Slaughter loved “the debate and was an outspoken advocate,” but always showed respect for those on the other side of the issue – “an example for all Americans that we can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Humor helps, and this same item notes she was also a former blues and jazz singer – so a bit of jazz helps too.

Vivian Kane has more:

She fought against the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act and was one of only 67 members of Congress to vote against DOMA in 1996. She held a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology and a Master’s in Public Health. According to her House biography, she was the only microbiologist in Congress. She authored the Genetic Information and Non-Discrimination Act, which was described by Ted Kennedy as the “first civil rights legislation of the 21st Century.” She also secured the first $500 million in federal funding for breast cancer research at the National Institute of Health.

Slaughter famously co-authored the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which not only changed our national conversation around issues of domestic violence, but saw a 67% drop in domestic violence after its passage. She later fought to expand the law’s protection of Native Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ people. On the 20th anniversary of the law’s passing, she said, “Almost two million Americans are still physically assaulted, sexually assaulted, or stalked by an intimate partner every year. I won’t stop fighting until that number is zero.”

Slaughter was the kind of person we wish all politicians could be. A fighter for the public good committed to her constituents, who entered politics to make a real difference, and was never corrupted away from that goal.

She wasn’t the hesitant Hillary Clinton, and now she’s gone. Barber Conable is gone too. Life is full of changes. Lots of good people are gone.

Bobby Kennedy is gone – shot dead fifty years ago at the old Ambassador Hotel down on Wilshire Boulevard here is Los Angeles – now a brand new giant public school with a small pocket park honoring him. Donald Trump is still pissed about that – he wanted a build a giant Trump Tower here in Los Angeles. The city told him they wanted a school, and they had the power and legal right to build that school. He fought them, hard, and he lost, and lost a lot of money in that fight. There are many reasons Donald Trump hates Los Angeles, and California. That’s one of them too. And he obviously had no respect for Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy had been just another liberal fool. He hates liberal fools. His base hates liberal fools. But he had to settle for a golf course down in Palos Verdes, in an earthquake zone.

He didn’t get it. Bobby Kennedy was much like Louise Slaughter. He too could make his point without rancor, and bring everyone along. Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, writes about that in The Inclusive Populism of Robert Kennedy and in the New York Times, offers a shorter version of how Bobby Kennedy offered liberalism without elitism and populism without racism:

In a remarkable 82-day campaign, Senator Robert F. Kennedy ran in several Democratic presidential primaries and was able to forge a powerful coalition of working-class whites and blacks, even as race riots were raging across the country, and at a time when whites were far more bigoted than they are today.

A passionate supporter of minority empowerment and a critic of the Vietnam War, Kennedy faced an uphill battle in appealing to working-class whites, who were increasingly hostile to civil rights and remained hawkish on the war. By 1968, as David Halberstam wrote in a book at the time, “The easy old coalition between labor and Negroes was no longer so easy; it barely existed. The two were among the American forces most in conflict.”

But Kennedy waited to enter the race until March 16, 1968, only after the peace candidate Eugene McCarthy had challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson and locked up the support of many young people and highly educated whites, who were pro-civil rights and skeptical of the war.

As a result, Kennedy had to try to appeal simultaneously to minority voters and white working-class constituencies who were part of the backlash against racial progress and the peace movement. This was especially true in Kennedy’s first primary state, Indiana, where Gov. George Wallace of Alabama had shocked observers four years earlier by getting strong support from white ethnic precincts when he challenged Johnson for the Democratic nomination.

But he pulled it off, and it wasn’t that hard:

Kennedy sought to build his unlikely coalition in part by running an economically populist campaign that vilified wealthy tax cheats and earned him the enmity of business leaders. “We have to convince the Negroes and the poor whites that they have common interests,” he told the journalist Jack Newfield.

But Kennedy knew that a populist economic message would not get through to working-class whites unless it was accompanied by a respect for their beliefs on issues like crime, welfare and patriotism. Gerard Doherty, one of his aides, recalled speaking to Kennedy: “I said if he was going to win, he has to conduct a campaign for sheriff of Indiana. And he did.” Coupled with strong support for civil rights, Kennedy’s message about punishing looters got through. At one point during the campaign, Richard Nixon remarked to the reporter Theodore White, “Do you know a lot of these people think Bobby is more a law-and-order man than I am!”

And there’s more:

Kennedy also campaigned on the dignity of work over welfare. In a TV commercial, he declared, “I think welfare is demeaning and destructive of the human being and of his family.” He didn’t blame “welfare queens” for cheating the system, as Ronald Reagan later would, but said he envisioned a policy of full employment in which a person could say to himself: “I helped build this country. I am a participant in its greatest public venture.”

On issues of national security, Kennedy took a principled position in opposition to the Vietnam War – whose very morality he questioned – but threaded the needle in a way that also made clear to working-class voters that he differed sharply from upper-middle-class white college students who avoided service or even sympathized with the North Vietnamese Communists. At Notre Dame, Kennedy was booed for saying college draft deferments should be abolished. “You’re getting the unfair advantage while poor people are being drafted,” he said. Remarkably, in Indiana he polled as well among those who favored Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War as he did among those who opposed it.

Kennedy’s campaign to woo working-class voters across racial lines worked. The candidate most identified with advancing civil rights did well not only with black and Hispanic voters but also among working-class whites, some of whom had supported Wallace’s segregationist candidacy in 1964.

Even with Louise Slaughter gone, Kahlenberg thinks that sort of thing is still possible:

Kennedy’s appeal was based in part on being the brother of a revered and martyred president, of course, and the most salient issues were different in 1968 than they are today. But Kennedy stressed fundamental themes that travel across time and transcend specific policy issues.

First, to appeal to a sizable number of white working-class voters in 1968, Kennedy did not forfeit his basic principles or change his positions on civil rights, or war and peace – and neither should progressives today. Ignoring the rights of women, gay people and people of color is both morally wrong and politically stupid if your aspiration is an inclusive populism.

And there’s this:

Second, progressives should fight for economic justice in a manner that is relentless rather than episodic. On the campaign trail, Kennedy consistently hit themes of economic inequality and named the names of wealthy individuals, like the oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, who paid little in taxes. By contrast, in the final weeks leading up to the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton de-emphasized economic issues in favor of attacks on Mr. Trump’s qualifications, according to research by Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute, and his support among white non-college voters rose considerably. Progressives also need to vigorously punish Wall Street malfeasance. It is difficult to imagine that Kennedy, a tough prosecutor, would have argued, as some members of the Obama administration did, that some companies are “too big to jail.”

And this:

Third, progressives should explicitly signal the inclusion of working-class whites in their vision for change by applying civil rights laws to issues of class inequality, consistent with Kennedy’s view that “poverty is closer to the root of the problem than color.” I have long argued that we should extend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against workers of all races engaged in labor organizing; integrate elementary and secondary schools not only by race but also by socioeconomic status; combat discrimination in housing by economic status as well as race; and adopt affirmative action programs in higher education for economically disadvantaged students of every color.

And this:

Fourth, progressives could adopt policies that respect the values of working-class people under the banner of patriotic populism, as Kennedy did. They should unapologetically champion a strong American identity around the shared values espoused in the Declaration of Independence as an antidote to exclusionary white nationalism.

Louise Slaughter is no longer here, but this could work:

If Robert Kennedy, the civil rights champion, could attract Wallace voters at a time of national chaos, surely the right progressive candidate with the right message could bring a significant portion of the Obama-Trump-voters back home.

Louise Slaughter could pull that off – with humor and respect and kindness. She’d never talk about that “basket of deplorables” – but of course she’s gone. She’ll be missed.

But there might be another Barber Conable:

As Republicans face a potential Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake argued Thursday that his party “might not deserve to lead” given its support for President Donald Trump.

“If we are going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in a world that everyone else lives in then my party might not deserve to lead,” the Arizona senator said in a speech at the National Press Club.

Flake argued that “as we are discovering there is no damage like the damage that a president can do.” He repeated a call he’s been making for months to restore civility to politics during the Trump era, using lofty rhetoric to describe what he hopes will one day be a reckoning for American politics.

“If one voice can do such profound damage to our values and to our civic life,” he said, “then one voice can also repair the damage, one voice can call us to a higher idea of America, one voice can act as a beacon to help us find ourselves once again after this terrible fever breaks – and it will break.”

Conable turned on Nixon and Flake turned on Trump:

His stunning rebuke of a president from his own party has many speculating that Flake may launch a GOP primary challenge against Trump in 2020 – an idea further fueled by the fact that Flake will stop in New Hampshire on Friday. Flake has repeatedly said he’s not ruling out the idea of a presidential run, though it’s not in his current plans.

“Those who vote in Republican primaries are overwhelmingly supportive of the President,” he said Thursday. “I think that could turn and will turn and must turn…”

Life is full of changes. Sometimes you do end up in Rochester, New York.


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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1 Response to The Old World Now Gone

  1. She was the BEST. There is no replacing her. & that seat could easily flip to GOP. More money than brains in that district right now.

    BTW, I graduated from Fairport High School, class of 1978.

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