by Joseph Ellis
Joseph Ellis’ book, AMERICAN CREATION, is a fitting sequel to his Pulitzer Prize winners, FOUNDING BROTHERS and HIS EXCELLENCY.
It sets forth more clearly, than I have ever before seen, just what our nation’s founders did achieve in the face of specific difficulties, and what the difficulties were that they failed to overcome. Essentially, they exceeded amazingly well at turning colonies into an independent, large, and free republic that proved to be both durable and expandable. They failed to resolve two huge problems, native rights and racial freedoms.
Ellis is easy to read and especially reasonable. He is specific about assigning both credits and failures to individuals, most of whom he obviously admires. He attributes much of their greatness to their pursuit of lasting fame rather than immediate popularity. They were, along with some fortunate circumstances and coincidences, creators of the United States. I.W. Parkins
Who Is Great?
I am referring to Christopher Hitchens' book, God is Not Great; I haven't read it and do not expect to. I have read the Bible, all of it plus some Apocrypha and some sacred writings from other religions. Most of that was in the 1930's, when I was a teenager. I have not been a religious person by the usual standards.
During my graduate work, philosophy and political science, plus thirty-four years of teaching, I did acquire some bits of what is usually considered to be culture. And, the Hitchens book calls to mind one interesting experience that I had on three separate occasions.
Three colleagues with whom I had more than average personal contact (a fishing companion, a fellow-member of several committees, and a residential neighbor) all in different institutions, and states, made nearly identical remarks to me. Each volunteered that there is one intellectual discipline that is more profound than any other; it is literary criticism. Need I add that they all taught modern literature?
I may have encountered more obvious and aggressive proselytizing, but I can't recall it. And, I married into a family of Methodist ministers, in rural Georgia - where I soon felt welcome.
It is now clear that this planet, the species that inhabit it, and the universe surrounding are far more complex than our ancestors had means to envision. Unfortunately, too many of the special class who study and earn livings by rationalizing the varieties and interrelationships of things, living and dead, are more interested in defining their own personal and class status than in shaping more catholic and mutually satisfying visions of the whole.
Confession of Michael Straight
By Ivan Parkins
World War II was significant in terms of domestic politics for the unusual degree of unity that accompanied it. Soon afterward, as the Cold War emerged, the unity eroded. One aspect was growing charges of Soviet spying in America, and counter charges that the security measures being imposed or considered were excessive. Much anti-Nixon and McCarthyism rhetoric originated then. Much of the real evidence, held secret by the FBI and other agencies could not be released prior to prosecutions or to exhaustion of intelligence sources.
“Confession of Michael Straight” Opinion column 05/03/84, The Morning Sun
Thirteen pages in the March issue of Harper’s describe Communist penetration of America more concisely than any other account that I have seen. Michael Straight’s confessions are from the forthcoming autobiography, After Long Silence. Since reading the Straight article, I have plowed through the 800 pages of Whittaker Chambers’ Witness. And, after that, I reread Mr. Straight. The two works reinforce one another far more than they conflict.
Apparently, Communists vary widely in the nature of their party affiliations, and the degree to which they accept party assignments and controls. That, no doubt, is part of why they have been difficult to identify precisely.
Mr. Straight, for instance, says of his student day’s in Britain, “we carried no little green cards in our pockets; we took no party assignments with us when we left Cambridge….” Some other students (including “moles”) were, he says , even less visibly affiliated, while a third group did carry cards and report to party headquarters.
Mr. Chambers describes both open party members and underground members, connected through layers of bureaucratic organization to Soviet intelligence on the one hand, and to ideological Communists on the other. Mr. Chambers belonged at various times to both the open and the underground party. Mr. Straight was an ideological Communist.
Mr. Straight’s account adds much to that of Mr. Chambers regarding Communist penetration into high literary and government circles. When Mr. Straight returned to America to seek a job, he began at the top. His family connections were such that he was able to approach, in person, both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
(The christening of Mr. Straight’s mother, Dorothy Whitney, had been attended by President Cleveland, cabinet members and Supreme Court Justices.) Dorothy Whitney Straight financed the establishment of the “New Republic”, and for a while, Michael edited that periodical. Michael’s years of hesitancy about confessing to his Communist past ended when President Kennedy nominated him to chair a new Advisory Council on the Arts, a position requiring FBI clearance. After his confession to the FBI in 1963, he served for eight years (1969- 1977) as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Communist apparatus upon which Mr. Chambers reported struggled to develop contacts at higher levels of government. Mr. Straight, however, began with such social and educational advantages that contacts at the highest levels were immediately available to him. And that contributes to our dilemma of how to deal with the intellectual Communist, i.e. with the person who is a Communist in his loyalty and beliefs, but whose connection to specific violent acts is remote.
The liberal majority of American intellectuals and the U.S. Supreme Court have both drawn a virtually absolute distinction between belief and action. Legally, the intellectual Communist is almost untouchable. Unfortunately, such people are not harmless.
A revealing example of how the intellectual communist approaches situations is to be found in the Straight article. By his own account, the author could not bring himself to expose promptly a communist friend, Guy Burgess, who had endangered thousands of American lives in Korea—and that was 10 years after Mr. Straight began separating himself from the party.
Also, by his own account, and after the Korean War episode, Mr. Straight responded immediately to the mistake of an anti-Communist informer who named him. He endeavored not merely to clear himself, but also to discredit both the informer and the investigation—Mr. Straight had not been a Communist in American at the time charged; he was in Britain.
“It was typical of the era that the Communist issue was handled by unreliable men…”, he said. Indeed, just how unreliable the Communist hunters of the early 1950’s were, is a matter difficult to comprehend, until we have considered the implications of their failure to expose Mr. Straight.
Now the lack of public response to illumination of Mr. Straight’s past may be significant.
In spite of the extended HARPER’S review, Michael Straight’s book did not get wide public attention. THE HAUNTED WOOD, by Weinstein and Vassiliev (a former Soviet intelligence officer), tells of some of the spying disclosed by the Venona Files (transcripts of coded Soviet messages made public in 1995). Chapter 4 is devoted to Michael Straight; a spy controller, Yuri Modin, is quoted on reasons for Straight’s breakaway from the Communist party in 1942 and confession in 1963.
Besides Guy Burgess (mentioned above), Straight knew Anthony Blunt, Donald MacLean, and Kim Philby. Blunt, Queen Elizabeth’s art advisor, was “outed” by Straight’s confession to the FBI. Philby, who had been liaison with American intelligence and chief of British counter-intelligence, fled to Moscow, where he was decorated and given the rank of colonel All were top level Soviet spies.
Why are these matters, now, so little known to the American public? Could the answer be that most "liberals" of the earlier era were unwilling to face the new evidence; and more importantly that they have since, held many of the key communications positions through which such evidence would normally flow to the public?
FOR LIBERTY AND GLORY
One joy of reading history is noting the parallels of past and present politics. In James R. Gaines' FOR LIBERTY AND GLORY, I've just encountered how Lafayette, 225 years ago, sought to convince his king that freer trade laws vis-ŕ-vis America would benefit France. If that reminds you of some things now being said by President Bush, please keep in mind that the response of Louis XVI's ministers was about as "progressive" as that of present day Democrats.
A REVIEW AND COMMENTARY
OF NEWT GINGRICH’S NEW BOOK, REAL CHANGE
Ivan W. Parkins
REAL CHANGE is the title of Newt Gingrich’s new book. I agree with most of the policies that he proposes; I also agreed with most of what he did as Speaker of the House. But, I have grave doubts about the means by which he expects to accomplish so much.
Mr. Gingrich himself cites an old axiom of Albert Einstein’s that doing more by the same methods that have failed repeatedly and expecting a different result is a sign of insanity. Except for some other quotes that he cites, I might think Gingrich insane. He also cites Eisenhower and Peter Drucker to the effect that often the answer to tough problems is to consider them as mere symptoms and attack the underlying cause. That, I believe, is the way to real change in the performance of our government.
Electing some other persons as Senators and Representatives and discarding a few dilatory rules of congressional procedure will only suppress a few symptoms. The cancer has grown slowly and from causes that were largely obvious. Huge growth in the population of the United States, even greater increase in our worldly economic and military power, and a transformation in the locus and focus of our information system have made Congress, especially the House of Representatives, dysfunctional.
A growing separation between Representatives and the people whom they are expected to represent is obvious. There is no way that a Representative can be “close” to more people than there are minutes in a year. The almost year-around sessions allow congress persons fewer and fewer minutes to spend with constituents. They have little practical choice but to cater to those who have the most to contribute to their reelections.
Meanwhile, there is more public notice to be had by defying presidential leadership and partisan compromises than by cooperation in service to the nation. That is especially damaging to national morale and to long-term policy formation. Also more often than not destructive are numerous sensational investigations of the past, and often no longer significant, actions of the Executive and Judicial Branches.
The necessary solution will be difficult, and its personal or partisan rewards will be remote. Failing to take the hard course will assure that events will control us more and that we will control the events less. I.W. Parkins/70808
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On the Inside
A commentary on
Karl Rove’s new book
By Ivan W. Parkins
Karl Rove’s book, title above, was for me both heartening and discouraging. It reassured me that my views of recent politics have not been far off, and it deepened my concern for America.
Rove’s picture of his early life is one of perseverance under less than desirable circumstances. Early on, in high school, he became addicted to political history and campaign management. He pursued those things in a variety of ways, including as an aide to G.H.W. Bush, then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and as owner of a direct mail firm that served many individuals, of both parties, nationwide.
Rove’s real importance begins with his managing of George W. Bush’s 1994 campaign to unseat popular Democrat Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. One measure of that unlikely success was that soon afterwards the Democrat chairman of a powerful legislative committee remarked that he had just spent more time discussing Texas problems with the Governor-elect than he had spent in four years with the out-going Democrat governor.
The presidential election of 2000 is one that I believe I remember well, and Rove’s account reassures me besides adding details. Among those details were the several calls by major news media of a Gore victory before polls had closed. Rove contends that they cut Republican turnout, and popular vote totals. He also reminds us that all actual counts, including later reviews by major media, ended in Bush victories, albeit narrow ones.
The unusual role of the U.S. Supreme Court, often derided and characterized by Democrats as 5-4, was actually 9-0 to begin. The nation’s top court merely asked the Florida Supreme Court for the basis of that court’s jurisdiction. There was none, and the Florida court did not respond. Then, more specifically and by 7-2, the U.S. Supreme Court informed the Florida court that neither U.S. nor Florida law provided such jurisdiction. When the Florida court persisted, the United States Supreme Court ordered it, by 5-4, to get out of the election controversy. Only the gross bias of much of our major media could have enabled the Democrats to sustain a hate Bush campaign on that issue.
Among statistical facts that Rove offers is the calculation that between 2000 and 2008 the American economy grew by 4.5 trillion, and amount larger than the entire Japanese economy (page 236). He also quotes balloting authorizing the war in Iraq; at more than 2-1 in our House, 3-1 in our Senate, and 15-0 in the UN Security council (pages 303-4). He refers to the charge that Bush lied about WMDs as “a bald-faced lie” (page332), and he offers a detailed account.
What shocked me most in Rove’s account was not the lie or the Wilson/Plame hoax to prolong it, but Rove’s details of the three year long battle and financial burden imposed upon himself by Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald’s demands that he answer repeated and innumerable questions, several times before grand juries, about details selected from his thousands of conversations with hundreds of officials and journalists. Rove was cleared in the end; another Bush Administration aide, Libby, was not. And there was no original crime, only some failure to respond properly to a meaningless investigation.
Rove dedicates his book’s title, Courage and Consequences, to George W. Bush. It seems to me that it applies no less appropriately to Rove himself. And, I believe that it is likely to become an American historical classic, hedging only on the bet that we continue to have such things.