Heineman Blog Archive 10-13-02 to 12-4-02
DUTY & ENTITLEMENT 12-04-02
I recently read a few excerpts from a remarkable new work by author Frank Schaeffer and his son John. Their book, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps, describes how his one son decided to enlist in the Marines after graduating from an upper-middle-class high school. As Frank Schaeffer observes, through much of American history it would have been unremarkable for the children of the elite to enlist in the Armed Forces, especially during a time of war. For the children of privilege, it was a matter of duty, obligation, honor, and leading by example.
Theodore Roosevelt, for instance, feeling a little guilty about his father skipping out on the Civil War, fought in the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt’s sons in turn served gallantly in World War I, with one son dying on the Western Front. Indeed, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., not only fought in World War I, he landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944—the oldest American combatant on shore. He too performed heroically even as his overexertion led to his own demise. His surviving family received the Congressional Medal Honor from distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt.
During World War II it was not unusual to see such wealthy citizen soldiers as John F. Kennedy and George Bush. So too the sons of the professional class, like Western Pennsylvania native Robert Bork, enlisted in the Marines with the sure knowledge that their destination was Hell in the Pacific.
What happened, of course, since World War II and the Korean War was Vietnam. College student draft deferments, even with the opening up of higher education after 1945, were largely an entitlement of the middle and upper middle classes. Just 17 percent of all college students in the 1960s came from working- and lower-middle-class backgrounds while 80 percent of those serving in Vietnam came from the working class.
Schaeffer notes that the class divisions between those who serve in the Armed Forces and those who go to Harvard persist today. His description of family acquaintances and their critical, disbelieving reaction to the enlistment of his son reveal much about the continuing class and cultural divide in America.
It was a matter of sheer coincidence that I read some of Schaeffer’s musings within days of the most recent Ohio State football victory riot. From local and some national media coverage it emerged that rioters at Ohio State torched at least nine cars and assaulted police officers. A few dozen arrests were made while Ohio State flaks, as they typically do after a beer-soaked riot, insisted that few actual students were involved.
Ohio State is not atypical. Washington State had its football riot on the same day as Ohio State. It seems as if some students believe that rioting is an entitlement of sorts—a rite of passage into permanent adolescence. I have a difficult time chalking their attitudes up to their tender ages since 19 year-old boys from far less privileged backgrounds liberated Afghanistan and continue to risk their lives in the fight against international terrorism.
What interesting times we live in.
Numerous commentators have had no end of fun reacting to an anti-SUV campaign mounted by liberal clerics and laity. Taking a leaf from the ubiquitous bumper sticker, “What Would Jesus Do?” the question they have posed is, “What Would Jesus Drive?” Their answer to that question is more probably a Yugo than a Lincoln Navigator. In all fairness I wonder if the better question might be, “What Would the Money Changers in the Temple Drive?” It’s likely not a Yugo.
I have an old grad school friend who has followed this debate intently. He has become particularly heated about the discussion of “WWJD” on conservativenet—one of the best discussion lists on the Internet and ably edited by political historian Richard Jensen. I am including a snippet from a private discussion my friend and I had. He raises some interesting points:
”…My frustration with [conservatives] is that a good number of [them] seem to be stuck in [a] rut--it's as if they wait to see what the lefty liberals have to say on any given issue and then simply stake out a completely opposite position.”
”A case in point has been the recent flurry of [conservativenet] postings on whether SUVs are a good thing or a bad thing. Most of the conservatives were stepping all over themselves to mock the anti-SUV position without really thinking it through. It was as if, ‘Gee, anyone who opposes the idea of gas guzzling vehicles and the right of Americans to owe them must be some sort of liberal goof’--when, in fact, as [Ralph] Luker pointed out, profligate waste of fuel that such vehicles encourage should hardly be a ‘liberals only’" issue. I mean, if ‘conservatives’ are in the very least concerned with 1. Conservation in its most basic sense; 2. ‘Common decency’ as you describe it, or 3. More generally with the preservation of the old fashioned American ideal of self-reliance, SUVs, from whichever way you look at them, would represent the antithesis of conservatism as I define it and understand it.”
”SUVs, and the corporate world that sells and promotes them purely for the profits they generate, public safety and health be damned, represent all that middle Americans should find distasteful--a reliance on foreign oil, and worse still, corporate manipulation and collusion, which is at the heart of most noxious 20th century things in my mind.”
Although I do not agree with all my friend’s points, I have noticed some rather salient features about the values imparted in the selling of SUVs. Readers have no doubt seen the Lincoln Navigator commercials. The most recent one shows a BoBo bopping his Navigator back and forth, waggling his windows, and keeping time to the jazz music coming from an apartment above the street. (Having known a few jazz musicians, most seem to drive old, battered vehicles with--as we say in the Midwest-- “floorboard air conditioning.”) The young Bobo is interrupted by his mate who has brought him a latte from a nearby coffee shop. The look on his face during his “interlude” with the Navigator, and then when caught by his mate, cannot help but conjure up images of 13 year-old boys caught with their enthusiasm showing.
This Navigator commercial is actually an improvement on its predecessor. In the original Navigator spot we see two women, one a soccer mom and the other an Uberwoman Bobo. Both are leaving a specialty shop with groceries. Suddenly, a few raindrops fall. Who will make it to their vehicle before the downpour—-soccer mom in her minivan or Uberwoman with her Navigator? Uberwoman wins, of course, as she effortlessly zaps her remote control, causing the Navigator’s trunk to open and its side lift platforms to appear. Meanwhile the Untermenschen soccer mom is stuck in the downpour still trying to open her trunk. What a loser.
Granted these are just commercials. But don’t marketers conduct research, study consumer demographics, and interview prospective SUV buyers? Would Ford spend a fortune on such research and specifically targeted commercials if they did not think that themes of Social Darwinism and self-gratification resonated with the potential Navigator purchaser?
In the final analysis, of course, the free market, by virtue of being free, can appeal to consumers’ best angels or their most base desires. So I say to Navigator customers, enjoy your costly fuel pump bills and rejoice that your car—-whose cost would buy a house in some parts of the nation—-lost half its value when you drove it off the dealer’s lot. I will make sure not to be in the pedestrian crosswalk when you drive by.
PROFESSOR CONGENIALITY 11-24-02
The decision of the history department chair at Brooklyn College (CUNY) to deny tenure to Robert David Johnson continues to attract attention inside and outside academe. Professor Johnson alleges that he ran afoul of his department chair for insisting on hiring the best candidates for open positions—regardless of affirmative action considerations—and for criticizing the lack of balance in the school’s 9/11 (antiwar) commemorations. (For the record, Professor Johnson has insisted that he is no conservative, proudly wearing a Hillary for Senator button in 2000.) Johnson’s chair has in turn condemned one of his most accomplished junior scholars and popular teachers as collegially deficient.
Regardless of the facts in this particular case, I confess to being troubled by the abuses that can often flow from the notion of “collegiality.” My own experiences have led me to a few observations. First, who defines collegiality and exactly what is it? Second, stemming from the first point, there is a lot of room potentially given to senior faculty to abuse and intimidate junior faculty.
A few years ago at my own campus there was a situation in which some senior faculty were quick to affix the label “uncollegial” on probationary faculty who requested merit raises for excellence in scholarship, teaching, and campus/community service. This situation became progressively worse when a new Dean insisted that probationary faculty be engaged in their disciplines while an Old Guard dismissed professional growth as irrelevant to merit raises and tenure & promotion considerations. Probationary faculty were thus caught between two opposing forces, which had input on their tenure, promotion, and pay.
Although I was tenured and secure from attack, it was painful to watch some senior faculty scream at meetings that merit raises for scholarship and good teaching constituted “theft” from senior faculty. In turn, a few younger faculty would fire back demanding that some of the Old Guard reveal their publication records and teaching evaluation scores.
You can well imagine what a counterproductive, unpleasant campus environment grew from such confrontations. Ultimately, however, matters were resolved--the elevation of the Dean to overall administrative command of all regional campuses enshrining in principle that professional engagement would be rewarded, rather than cited as evidence of “uncollegial” behavior.
So what is collegiality? How about (as Jeff Foxworthy would say) you know you are collegial if: 1) you show up to committee meetings and help with the work load; 2) you do not denigrate colleagues in front of students; 3) you offer encouragement to co-workers in their teaching and scholarship; and 4) you never abuse the staff. If all else fails and you feel the need to vent with a friend, shut the office door. Once done venting, you let the matter drop.
If a probationary faculty member fails to do the above, does that mean he/she should be denied tenure? Rather than answer that question, allow me to shift the consequences to something a little more serious than academic unemployment. If you live a life of grudges and petty self-aggrandizement, you are only raising your blood pressure, undermining your immune system, and cutting short your retirement years. Does that help put collegiality in perspective?
UNDIRECTED READING 11-21-02
The Wall Street Journal for November 21, carried an interesting article by Robert Gavin entitled, “Fargo’s Unlikely Boom.” Gavin’s story dealt with the seemingly improbable success of Fargo, North Dakota, as a high-tech and manufacturing center. Fargo, Gavin reports, is the kind of place where the mayor proudly insists that the weather is not so bad and that, “We only get one week of 35 below.” The city’s resurrection, local businessmen contend, rests upon a well-educated, dedicated labor force. There is a lesson here for other communities far off the bi-coastal path.
Another Wall Street Journal article earlier this week also grabbed my attention. It seems that with worldwide coffee prices at the lowest levels in years, inferior beans from Vietnam and shoddy roasting processes are becoming the norm. The major thing to avoid—which I always have—is purchasing one’s coffee already ground up. It seems that twigs, burned beans, and gravel often makes its way into this brew. I am reminded of a lesson from my undergraduate nutrition class about the allowable levels of rat hair and fecal matter permitted in peanut butter. I usually recall that lesson after I have taken the first bite of a peanut butter sandwich.
In the aftermath of the midterm elections in Ohio—which I addressed in my November 7 Blog—an unidentified Democratic legislative staffer told Columbus’s alternative newspaper, The Other Paper , that his party had put forward as governor “Another sh—ty candidate from Cleveland.” It took me umpteen paragraphs to make the same point.
I have been catching up with John Patrick Diggins’s On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History (Yale, 2000). I was particularly hit by a passage on page 191:
”…narcissists like to read about themselves, and similarly, they like to write about themselves. When one examines the work of much of the new history, which deals with many nameless subjects, it is difficult to tell whether the historical subject is speaking or a politically frustrated generation is still chanting its own radical aspirations through the vanished voice of that subject, as though the historian ventriloquist observes his reflection in the mirror of history.”
Diggins spends a great deal of time debunking labor historians—a pastime I can appreciate but one which I am not sure is worth the effort. When was the last time anyone saw an advertisement posted for a labor historian? The field has been so cut up into racial and gender subcategories, and then deconstructed further, that I see labor history as less a professional vanguard and more as a Shaker remnant.
ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL 11-17-02
With all the ink recently spilt on accessing the 2002 mid-term elections and the return of the U.S. Senate to the GOP, it would be well to remember that what happens locally may eventually appear on the national stage.
I spent three years on the Village Council of Sugar Grove, Ohio, population 498. Now with a village of 180 households you may well ask what could possibly agitate folks politically? This is the kind of place where the local high school band, after winning a competition, or in honor of a victorious football team, assembles on Main Street (in front of my house) for a rousing marching session. These celebrations inevitably take place at 1 in the morning, but we have never complained since this is the sort of ritual one expected of small towns a generation ago.
In the Village, upon June graduation, the local police chief cheerfully watches as the senior class spreads toilet paper across the massive sugar maple trees lining Main Street. Better to supervise the kids and then do the clean up, than have them off drinking booze and getting into real trouble. Now this ritual does take some getting used to and I am always reminded of an episode of the original “Star Trek” series when Captain Kirk discovered a Puritan-like planet where, one day of the year, the people went berserk screaming, “Festival! Festival!”
What agitates folks and drives politics in Sugar Grove are: demographic change and aging infrastructure. It is a tribute to the long reach of the New Deal that the WPA discovered Sugar Grove in 1938. This was a real feat since before 1938 it was probable that not a single Ohio governor living forty miles away in Columbus could have located the Village on a map. So Sugar Grove got running water and state-of-the-art sewers. State-of-the-art 1938.
If central Ohio has a deep freeze in January, our sewer lines break. If someone goes through a closed off alley with a large truck, the sewer lines break. If everyone flushes their toilets or does their laundry at the same time… To complicate matters, though our sewer pipes never change, environmental law does. Several years ago the Village, in order to comply with state and federal EPA guidelines, had to build an entire new water treatment facility that would not reach capacity for at least a decade. Of course, almost as soon as the new facility went on line, it was operating at 95 percent of capacity. This is not magic. It is demographics. As soon as senior citizens, who in 1990 were more than half our population, departed, they were replaced by younger couples with children. Water demand soared well beyond EPA estimates.
And here is where this gets politicized. By the time I entered the Council the bills had come due. There had not been a fee adjustment for nine years, meaning that even given a modest 2 percent annual cost of living increase, we were running 18 percent behind actual operation costs—not including the additional expense of hiring someone to monitor the rather sophisticated water treatment facility. Put this together and the answer is: rate hike.
Normally two or three Village people might show up for a council meeting. On the evening we were to discuss the rate hike nearly 100 seniors turned out. The floor bracings of our 19th century council house groaned, though I hoped all the hot air I was seeing expended would keep us from crashing. Every now and then, between furious cries of “get grant money!” and “you thieves!”, I would look up at the oak-trimmed portrait of William Jennings Bryan hanging on the wall and think, “so much for populism.”
It was during this hour that I realized I had made the transition from a Jeffersonian to a Hamiltonian. Democracy requires, even demands, citizen participation. But what if the citizens are unwilling to inform themselves of the issues? What if they only become mobilized when they think it will require them to pay their fair share? (Especially if one considers all the tax abatements many seniors already receive.) Where do people get the idea that grant money grows on trees, not understanding that what goes into one pot must often be taken from another? Darth Vader, I am now convinced, turned to the Dark Side once he realized that the Jedi Council was not going to pay its utility bills.
OK. I have since re-affirmed my belief in democracy for all its messes, stalemates, and idiocies. You just have to be patient and work with people until they eventually realize that you cannot get something for nothing—unless you have enormous political clout, and we don’t. What we have are a couple of hundred voters, a $70,000 annual budget, and $2 million worth of needed infrastructure upgrades.
Other communities have resolved their infrastructure and income needs through annexation into the cornfields. In this area, every new dwelling is accessed a $2,000 “tapping fee” and a two-tier water rate is created. In reality, the tapping fee does not pay for the extension of water services to the new dwelling. That money goes back to the utility budget to pay for the upgrades required to extend the lines past the old city limits and to treat waste water coming from the additional households. The only way to stay ahead of this curve is to continue annexation and home building. If this sounds like a pyramid scheme, well most con men do not pay the salaries of their local police departments. As for the two-tiered system, one fast growing community in the county just voted to cease discriminating against newer residents. The problem with letting all those new rate and taxpayers in was that they could ultimately out-vote the original residents.
What I am describing here is, I believe, the current crisis of American public policy. Are voters mature enough to realize that everything they take for granted in terms of fire, police, water, and education come with a price tag? Do voters understand that if Sugar Grove gets a grant then some other town with even more pressing needs will likely go without? Can some subsets of people be given tax exemptions and rate breaks without thereby substantially increasing the financial burden on everyone else? Are there some services that we are just going to have to do without?
If all this seems remote, try substituting the term “Social Security,” or your pet peeve, in a few places above. It is time to make choices and live with the consequences--whether that means higher taxes or fewer services.
I read a few years ago that the “G.I. Generation” would soon be dying at rates not seen since the battles of Saipan and Anzio. Historians often speak of “the passing of an era.” This is cold phrasing. After all, an historical epoch is far more than an aggregation of statistics and events. The men and women who fought in World War II were ordinary people who struggled for their daily bread with varying degrees of success. And then, in one defining moment of their lives, they became quite extraordinary.
The landscape of the Toledo, Ohio, area has largely remained unchanged since 1919 when my father arrived as the last of 11 children born to an impoverished 60 year-old farmer and a German-immigrant mother. Eleven children and 20 acres of hardpan clay that had to be broken by pick, shovel, and, sometimes, sledge hammer. Grandfather Heineman, who died nearly 20 years before I was born, used to chide his children not to be so extravagant as to put both butter and jam on their sandwiches since they did not “own two farms.”
Standing in the farm fields of northern Ohio in the winter and early spring you can see forever, though forever is just another field ready for corn, sugar beets, or tomatoes. The larger landowners, having not yet learned that there was really, really cheap stoop labor to be found in Mexico, employed children like my father from sun-up to sunset. It was backbreaking labor but the pennies one earned were valued.
Sometimes the outside world intruded upon the farm. There was the “nutty” neighbor who had left Germany decades before. He never hesitated to warn my father that Hitler was going to cause trouble and that their tribal kinsman would have to be severely thrashed since they were a danger to the world. My father in his old age could still recall that crazy immigrant farmer ranting, “the writs ver on der vall!”
There was my father’s school principal, a veteran of the Great War. So shell-shocked was this gentlemen that whenever the class bells rang he would shout “incoming!” grab the first child within reach and leap into a storage closet. Sooner than later my father learned all too well what kinds of experiences led to this behavior.
Of course there was my father’s first experience at seeing a great deal of blood on the ground. Hitching up the horse and wagon for the monthly trip into Toledo, my father saw the aftermath of the 1934 Auto-Light Strike. Toledo officials seemed in no hurry to clean up the carnage--perhaps sending a message to labor organizers.
After dropping out of high school to support his parents—especially his father who was still waiting for Dr. Townsend to mail him his $200 pension check—my father discovered the Ohio National Guard. He did not give any thought as to what purpose the Guard had been put to in the 1930s labor struggles. Three meals a day, a pair of boots, and mechanical training were cards hard to trump. It was 1939.
After the fall of France in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt declared a state of emergency and Guard units were federalized. The Ohio National Guard became the 37th Division, Army combat infantry. It is doubtful that any man there, whether from cosmopolitan Cleveland or boondocks Toledo, whether “Hunkie” or German, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, anticipated their destiny.
English professor Paul Fussell, himself a World War II combat veteran, observed with no little grouchiness that the armed forces of the United States were 200,000 guys assigned to combat and 11 million others in logistical support positions. This was not the case for the Ohio National Guard. The men of the 37th Division did not, in General George Patton’s memorable phrasing, “shovel shit in Louisiana.”
Guadalcanal, Bougainville, New Georgia, the Philippines. The 37th spent their first two years in the Solomon Islands fighting alongside the Marines. They regarded the Marines as arrogant “glory hogs.” The Marines, among themselves, insisted that the only Guard unit they would ever trust to fight alongside them were the Buckeyes. Some Guard units broke in panic when the Japanese led attack after attack. Ohio did not retreat any more than Pennsylvania and Texas did in the European Theater of Operations.
My father talked little of what transpired in the Solomons. Years later I discovered why he persisted for over 50 years in judo flipping himself out of his bed at night. Sometimes it seems as if an entire lifetime can be encapsulated in a matter of weeks or even hours. For my father it was three days.
In those three days his company, foolishly ordered by an incompetent colonel to push deeper into the jungle, was cut off and besieged. For three days, badly out-numbered, with artillery and air support seemingly impossible given the thickness of the vegetation, my father’s company fought for their lives. Their water ran out and they drank coolant from their heavy caliber machine guns. Their food ran out and it was worth a man’s life to crawl out of a foxhole to forage for a coconut. And there were the attacks. Hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonet. Knife. At day, at night, unrelenting.
On the third day the United States Navy intervened. Their message to the radioman was simple: hunker down. From 10 miles offshore the Navy guns thundered, shells coming within yards of the encircled, depleted ranks of Ohio. And then there was silence. Where there was a jungle there were now vacant fields. Where there were the warriors of the Empire of Japan, there were guts, pink mist, and not a whole hell of a lot of anything else. When I was little I never understood why my father disliked Fourth of July fireworks displays but always seemed compelled to watch them nonetheless. I later understood.
By the end of the Solomons campaign the fighting effectiveness of the 37th Division had been greatly diminished. Most of the men were shipped to hospitals stateside. My father passed the fall of 1944 listening to “that senile idiot Franklin Roosevelt natter on the radio about his damn dog.” Historians rank Roosevelt’s campaign speech in which he ridiculed Republicans and mocked them with a story about his dog Fala as a classic in political tactics. So far as my father was concerned FDR did not pass muster.
My father was not in the greatest of moods in 1944 but he was lucky. Ohio’s remnant went to the Philippines and discovered that the soldiers of the Empire of Japan had still not learned the concept of surrender. Ohio liberated a POW camp populated with the survivors of Bataan. Ohio dodged snipers in Manilla and blasted their way to city hall one house at a time. There was the battle of the soccer stadium. And then there was Captain Sylvester Del Corso who presided over the greatest day in the history of the Ohio National Guard when he raised the American flag over the Governor-General’s residence. Twenty-five years later Del Corso, as Commandant-General, presided over the worst day in the history of the Ohio National Guard—at Kent State.
I never understood if my father felt grateful for missing the Philippine campaign, or if he felt guilty. Or if he felt grateful and guilty. He was not one to express too many emotions. What I know of his World War II experiences came from short snatches of conversation dribbled out over the years and from contemporary newspaper accounts and histories.
For what it’s worth, dad, I can understand that guilt, relief, joy, and more guilt are not so strange companions.
Gilbert D. Heineman, 1919-2002.
Dixie North? 11-07-02
While political analysts read the tealeaves of the 2002 midterm elections, there seems to be an emerging consensus that the South has solidified its position as the base of the Republican Party. Although the 1998 midterm elections, according to New York Times reporters David Halbfinger and Jim Yardley, had given Democrats great expectations that the GOP domination of Dixie might be reversed, upset senatorial and gubernatorial victories in Georgia and the rout of the Democrats in Texas brought a “crash of ruin.”
Several years ago journalist John Judis had predicted, with great horror, that what he saw as the retrograde conservatism and purported racism of the Republican South would infect the North. Judis’ fear was not all that novel since Wilbur Cash had warned of the Dixie-cation of the North back in the 1930s. Even though southerners of the New Deal era were ardent Democrats, their racial conservatism and hostility to organized labor were the nightmares of so-called northern progressives.
In all these discussions of the Dixie, whether recent or of an older vintage, I have been waiting for someone to discuss my favorite southern state: Ohio. Yes, Ohio. And I recommend a little more attention to this state not just because I live here, but also for what the developments over the past decade say about the future of the national GOP.
Why do I say Ohio is southern, other than the fact that if you were to extend the Mason-Dixon line westward a good chunk of the state would fall below it? For starters, Virginians settled southern Ohio and its founding political, commercial, and military leaders were southern. A Virginian founded Lancaster, Ohio, home of General William Sherman, in 1800. Lancaster’s state representative during the Civil War was an ardent antiwar Democrat who ended up in a federal prison for preaching draft resistance and opposition to the emancipation of slaves. During the 1863 gubernatorial election, the pro-southern Democratic candidate, Clement Vallandigham, who had been imprisoned and then exiled, carried Sherman’s home county and scored well in the southern tier of the state.
If one wanted to find abolitionist Republicans then a trip to northern Ohio and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) was necessary. Beyond abolitionists who thought Sherman was a wimp, visitors would have also discovered neatly laid out communities created by Yankees in New England style.
Although party allegiances between northern and southern Ohio switched by the era of the New Deal, the fundamental demographic, cultural, and ideological cleavages remained unchanged. Ohio’s New Deal Democrats built a bare majority largely on the basis of minorities in northern tier industrial centers.
At the very center of the Democratic Party stood Cuyahoga County and a population of working-class Roman Catholics, blacks, Jews, and union (CIO) stalwarts. To carry Ohio, Democratic statewide and presidential candidates usually had to capture at least 60 percent of Cleveland and pick up a few additional votes in Akron, Toledo, and Youngstown.
The Ohio Republican Party remained competitive throughout the 1930s and returned to statewide power by 1938, as symbolized by the elevation of “Mr. Republican,” Robert A. Taft of Cincinnati, to the U.S. Senate. Columbus, the state capital, was a growing city with a Republican majority overseen by Mayor (later Governor) James Rhodes. Columbus and Franklin County were not CIO bastions.
Moreover, Columbus, again in contrast to Cleveland, had not attracted a large Catholic, Jewish, and black population. Its residents came from the small towns of the state’s southern tier and from the conservative Protestant hamlets of Kentucky and West Virginia. Indeed, so strong were Franklin County’s ties to its southern neighbors, that Kentucky-born, Columbus-bred, singer Dwight Yokum wrote a ballad about this often overlooked internal migration to the Buckeye capital.
Being a majority made up of minorities, Ohio Democrats could not afford any voter defections in Cuyahoga County. If 40,000 Cleveland blacks failed to vote, Democrats risked losing U.S. Senate seats and the gubernatorial chair, and their presidential candidates might then fall short of the White House. Cleveland and its hinterland were all.
This longwinded back-story takes me to the present. In the decade of the 1990s something dramatic and mainly unnoticed happened in Ohio. Metro Cleveland lost hundreds of thousands of people and metro Columbus gained in equal proportion. The population gap between the two counties narrowed and the prospects of the state Democratic Party worsened.
What did Ohio Democrats do about the growing clout of central-southern Ohio? Instead of trying to reach out beyond the northern tier of the state and build upon a shrinking cadre of conservative southern Democrats, they attached themselves ever more tightly to their crumbling northern base. The past three unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidates have been men of the north.
Their most recent sacrifice—what with the lack of candidates holding state office--was a former Cuyahoga County commissioner, Tim Hagan. It was thought that Hagan’s chief asset was his wife, actress Kate Mulgrew, who starred in the least successful of the “Star Trek” television franchises. Surely she could bring in Hollywood money for her husband’s campaign. And yet, even running against one of the most colorless Republican politicians in decades, the Democrats could only score 39 percent of the gubernatorial vote against Bob Taft. (The grandson of Senator Robert Taft, Governor Taft does not use his given name. An old joke that might explain why this is goes like this: in an era when politicians became known by their initials—FDR, JFK, LBJ—no one named Robert A. Taft was going to win the White House.)
If this sounds incredible, it is not without precedent. The Gore-Lieberman campaign in 2000 spent little time in Columbus. I recalled Joseph Lieberman spending 45 minutes in Franklin County at a fundraiser. Some Central Ohio Democratic volunteers—a few of my students--complained that Gore was spending too much time in Cleveland. They understood that the locus of electoral power in Ohio had shifted. Gore narrowly lost Ohio. I expect a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004 will lose Ohio by a much wider margin. (But then, a lot could happen to wreck that prediction.)
Who are the Ohio Republicans? Of course, there is the base of Appalachian Protestants who remain suspicious of organized labor, resent welfare, and oppose tax hikes. But there is more at work here than just that. Ohio on closer inspection is not quite Dixie.
At one point in the mid-1990s if you looked around Columbus you could have found a Republican governor (from Cleveland!), a mayor, and a nationally known U.S. Representative (John Kasich), with glaringly Eastern European surnames and blue-collar origins that would have made them genetically Democratic 60 years ago. The Democratic base, even in its Cleveland bastion, was experiencing painful defections.
In 2002, Ohio Republicans marked their tenth year of control over the governor’s office, the state house, and the state senate. This year the GOP solidified its control of state’s congressional delegation 12 to 6 and the Ohio Supreme Court became Republican. (Youngstown Democratic congressman James Traficant is no longer with us. He was the last Democratic office holder in Ohio who had statewide name recognition. Bless him; it appears that even from an out-of-state prison Traficant still won 15 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate.)
Although feminists elsewhere might cheer that the majority of the state court’s members are women, they would be less joyful to hear that at least two of the new female judges are not “progressives.” Newly elected justice Maureen O’Connor, who had been the lieutenant governor, pledged that the era of “judicial activism” in the state was over. She was undoubtedly in part referring to an earlier state supreme court ruling that had thrown out the property tax funding basis of public schools and had mandated hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending. While the court had backed down a little from its ruling, I expect even the watered-down ruling to become a dead letter, especially with the state facing a $4 billion deficit.
I have not seen the bi-coastal media note that Ohio’s new Republican lieutenant governor is a black woman or that the black secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, is a GOP “movement activist” and protégé of Jack Kemp. Blackwell is well positioned to claim higher elective, though with complete domination of every single state office by Republicans, there are no shortage of rival claimants. And by the way, one of the nice things about Ohio is that no one made an issue about Lt. Governor-elect Jennette Bradley being black. I am thinking, of course, of what happened in Maryland where Democratic activists followed the black Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate around passing out Oreo cookies.
So, is Ohio southern? Yes, to the extent that the state has southern demographics and beliefs that certainly differentiates it from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Illinois where the Democrats recaptured their governorships. But there are also enough indications that Ohio Republicans have made serious inroads into the “northern” Democratic base.
Is Ohio a potential model for George W. Bush and a national GOP seeking a sturdy majority? Yes, and, no one pays me to make political strategy. My only concern is that whether on the state or national level, Republicans not forget those left behind by a changing economy. Very little news from the northern tier of Ohio penetrates into the central and southern portions of the state. Complaints about job-destroying steel imports and urban decay from Cleveland country seem otherworldly in this land of milk and honey. Some central Ohioans might rightly note that such complaints have been heard for the past 25 years; it is time for them to move on. Moving on, though, is not always as easy as it sounds. Northern Ohio Democrats need “compassionate conservative” intervention. Perhaps in that Ohio could become a model for the national and Dixie GOP.
SOMETHING ABOUT GEORGE 11-05-02
If nothing else about the 2002 midterm elections, a solid majority of the television and print media outlets are being more careful than the last time around in stressing the term “margin of error” in their poll reporting. What with the growing number of people refusing to be polled, the non-response rate is inevitably going to distort results—as was glaringly evident in 2000. I have, however, longed for the TV talking heads to look viewers straight in the eye and, after reporting a poll with a margin of error of 5+/- percent, say, “In other words, this is garbage that we’re using to fill up air time.”
My personal brush with national polling came in 1988 when I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh. It seemed that as a doctoral candidate holding down three jobs while earning $5,400 a year and eating one can of generic tuna fish daily—when not probing the couch cushions for beer money—I was a prime interview demographic.
In addition to the standard “who are you going to vote for questions,” I got to participate in the priceless feelings thermometer. The pollster wasted little time cutting to the chase: “Using of scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the coldest and 10 being the warmest, how would gauge your temperature regarding Michael Dukakis?”
I gave Dukakis a zero. “Can you explain why?” the earnest pollster asked. “Well,” I replied, “I believe that he represents all that is wrong with the Democratic Party. I’m dismayed at his stances on social issues and defense and resent his kow-towing to the most far-left constituencies of the Party.” Satisfied with that answer, the chirpy pollster than asked, “So you have warm feelings toward Vice President George Bush?” I responded, “Oh no, I wouldn’t vote for him—I’m supporting Dukakis.” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone though I thought I could hear her mental gears grinding violently.
Finally, ”Um, what temperature do you feel toward Bush?”
”Oh, probably about 3.”
”You’re marginally warmer toward Bush but you’re voting for Dukakis?”
”There is something about George Bush…”
Our interview ended for the day. Remarkably, she kept making return calls for the next few weeks hoping to chart any change in my temperature as the election grew closer. She was destined to be disappointed and in November I maintained my eight-year long presidential voting losing streak.
I should have asked for her phone number.
REVOLUTIONARY TELEVISION 10-31-02
Even the most dedicated parents discover that there are only so many children books they can read, so many play “classes” they can teach, and walking tours of historic districts and art galleries they can conduct, before relief is sought through television or video. Exhaustion inevitably overcomes guilt.
Fortunately my children never found much interesting about the Cloying Purple One and, so far as Big Bird is concerned, I always thought he should get off the public dole and find a job. That shouldn’t be too difficult for him given that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
Recently we came across a new cartoon series on PBS, “Liberty’s Kids.” Although I am no fan of PBS, this show is truly educational and entertaining. Set during the American Revolution, “Liberty’s Kids” introduces young viewers to the great events and historical figures of the era. The attention to historical detail, whether in the drawings or the dialogue, is excellent and the plots never dull.
My kindergartner was so enthralled with a recent episode that when the British flanked Washington at Philadelphia, she cried in righteous indignation, “That’s not fair! The British brought in more troops and came in from the side! That’s cheating!”
”Liberty’s Kids” has an enormous amount of star power behind it as well: Annette Bening portrays Abigail Adams, Michael Douglas plays Patrick Henry, and Dustin Hoffman—even in animated, disembodied form—eats considerable scenery as the flawed-hero-turned traitor, Benedict Arnold. General Norman Schwarzkopf is also featured and the “Terminator” shows up at Valley Forge as—well, you can guess that one.
Perhaps the only grating features of this otherwise fine series are the Liberty News Network (LNN) news broadcasts given by Benjamin Franklin (the sonorous-at-any-age Walter Cronkite). Rather than the CNN rip-off, I would have preferred the Fox News Channel—perhaps The O’Reilly Factor.
O’Reilly: “General Washington, let’s be blunt; when are you going to actually win a battle?”
Washington: “We have to build an army of disparate colonists, feed, arm, and train them to take on the greatest military in the world. As for your impertinence, sir—“
O’Reilly, “Now, general, this is a no-spin zone.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS AS ONE PASSES THROUGH AIRPORTS 10-28-02
Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma). Port Columbus (Ohio) featured the gentle Muzak tune “Happy Together.” The Great Pacific Northwest greeted sojourners with a full-throated rendition of “Purple Haze.” It was an apt selection given the cultural, political, and actual climate of the Puget Sound. There really was a Starbucks every five feet in the airport. After sampling the region’s varied coffee creations (like taste tasting quality motor oil), I figured everyone out here must be hyped up. I soon discovered they need that much bean-induced stimulation just to get out of bed and face the overcast day.
Atlanta. The local newspapers carry the story of historian Michael Bellesiles’ resignation from Emory University. The articles briefly state the charges—including that he had invented primary sources—but give over most of the ink to Bellesiles himself. He maintained his innocence and insisted that he was being unfairly condemned for omitting some irrelevant data from a single table in his award-winning book on American gun ownership. I predict he will land a fine tenured position, possibly as the Henry David Thoreau Chair of Military Studies at Swarthmore.
Port Columbus. Modern medicine has given even small, isolated county hospitals the ability to bring an 83 year-old stroke victim back from the brink of death. Unfortunately in the bargain the ability to go to the bathroom and eat without assistance is lost, along with two-thirds of the functioning brain. A very hard bargain. Bellesiles should count his blessings.
HISTORY RIP 10-18-02
The recent passing of Stephen Ambrose has occasioned much commentary—quite a bit of it venomous and dripping with envy. Many criticized Ambrose’s copyediting skills when it came to quoting other books, trying without much success to link his failings to the far more serious affronts committed by Doris Goodwin and Michael Bellesiles. As for the venom, well, really, that has been a constant over the past decade. How many American historians achieve top placement after placement on the national bestsellers’ lists and still get contemptuously dismissed in the Journal of American History? In death as in life…
In the October 17 issue of the Wall Street Journal writer Max Boot contends that Ambrose was resented precisely because he was able to reach an audience far beyond the few hundred students and specialists who read academic monographs. Boot, who has written a popular military history and who also comes across on television as extremely engaging, serves up a damning irony. Describing the lament of an Ivy League professor who told him even his bright students are historically ignorant, concludes, “This accords with the finding of surveys which show that college students can’t place the Civil War in the correct century. All this ignorance—at a time when we have more professional historians than ever before.”
Boot believes that many academic historians are boring and that students, lacking proper inspiration, remain uniformed—unless they stumble across the likes of Stephen Ambrose, Paul Johnson, and David McCullough on their own. I can’t argue with that observation, especially since I assign Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers in my upper-level course on Great Depression-World War II America. Ambrose had a flair for the gripping, fact-filled narrative.
As for McCullough, while I did not especially want to know Bess Truman’s selection of draperies for the White House, his Truman biography was a fine, otherwise useful, read. I cannot make the same observation about some other academic biographies of Truman.
I can even say a few kind words about Paul Johnson who is breathtaking in the scope of his historical vision. (And his book sales ain’t nothing to sneeze at either.) Of course, I may not care for Johnson’s contention that the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt turned a recession into a Great Depression—he was at it again in the October 17 issue of the Wall Street Journal--but the man knows how to set a scene. Johnson was also one of the few conservatives several years ago who argued that Tony Blair had a moral center and, if there were ever a great threat to civilization, he would stand resolute. That observation alone makes Johnson the most perceptive political historian of our time. Will either Johnson or Ambrose be receiving a Bancroft any time soon?
AMERICA OFF THE TURNPIKE 10-13-02
This weekend as we headed home from a research trip to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I had promised my children that we would get off the turnpike at Ligonier. Ten years ago B.K.—Before Kids—my wife and I had come across a wonderful Ligonier shop called The Toy Box. This was a real toy store, filled with puppets, handcrafted stuffed animals, and wooden games.
I had thought we would make a quick entrance and exit but, as we soon discovered, we had accidentally stumbled into the “Fort Ligonier Days” festival. Traffic was bumper to bumper, parking nearly impossible, and the MPs from the Pennsylvania National Guard seemingly did not want us to leave.
As we walked around picturesque Ligonier I at first thought we had stumbled into a sequel of Bill Murray’s “Ground Hog Day.” It just doesn’t get any more Western Pennsylvania than a mobile polka orchestra, hunters astride their steeds as they rode with the hounds, and enough Slavic food and Methodist chicken noodles to subdue hoards of Huns and Baptists.
While the saga of the battle of Fort Ligonier during the French and Indian War excites local Colonial Dames and Daughters of the American Revolution, the more interesting story I felt went parading by us.
Originally a bastion of Scotch-Irish settlement and, eventually, the pleasant residence of Richard King Mellon—the Pittsburgh baron of Mellon National Bank & Trust, Gulf Oil, ALCOA, to mention a few components of the family business—Ligonier and its environs had become the proverbial American melting pot. Fox hunters and polka players side by side? Four of the nine Quecreek coal miner survivors and kilt-clad bagpipers joining hands? A local high school “royal court” whose surnames originated from Poland, Italy, and Ulster?
And then there were the aging veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and World War II—applauded loudly and proceeded by the U.S. Marine Corps Marching Band. Why the U.S. Marines made the trip from Quantico, Virginia, to Ligonier became pretty obvious as Western Pennsylvania’s veterans strode—or rode—by. When the Japanese high command lamented after the fall of Saipan that “Hell is upon us,” the generals must have meant that the sons of Western Pennsylvania were going to be dropping by in their Marine uniforms.
Rich man, poor man, Scotch-Irish and Polish, accountant and coal miner, Harvard and Hard Knocks—they all were marching to the same tune in 1944. They were marching again in 2002. Semper Fi, yinz.
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