Thursday, September 29, 2011


I finished Nixonland, a couple hours ago.  Good read; I recommend it.  The author, Rick Perlstein, set out to ascertain how we had come to be such a divided country, in which the two political sides not only disagreed with each other but saw each other as mortal enemies.

Earlier I posted the first paragraph of the book's preface.  Here it is again:

In 1964, the Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won practically the biggest landslide in American history, with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and 486 of 538 electoral college votes.  In 1972, the Republican presidential candidate won a strikingly similar landslide--60.67 percent and 520 electoral college votes.  In the eight years in between, the battle lines that define our culture and politics were forged in blood and fire.  This is a book about how that happened, and why.

The "why" he traces to the period between that 1964 election and the subsequent one in 1968.  Ronald Reagan  is mentioned prominently, he won the Governor's race in California in 1966, but the book focuses on Richard Milhous Nixon (hence the title).  Nixon's the one, Perlstein tells us, who identified the developing trend, rising out of the Civil Rights Movement and the ant-war protests, that middle America, whom Nixon would eventually refer to as The Silent Majority, did not like the direction in which the country was heading.  There was a perception, Nixon felt, that the "liberals" and "elites" were leading in a direction that that Silent Majority weren't willing to follow.  What they needed was someone to give voice to the resentments they were feeling.

Nixon was himself full of resentments: at the snobs who kept him out of the Universities he wanted to attend, at the big shots who wouldn't hire him to one of the top-tier Wall Street law firms, at the Kennedys, at the media, at the fat cat political donors who made him abase himself on national TV (the famous Checkers Speech).  So he would show them all!

The second half of the 1960s was an easy time to find divides in America; Nixon exploited them expertly.  And people like Abby Hoffman and Huey Newton stepped willingly up to personify everything Nixon told America it had to be afraid of.  Bobby Seale exhorted African-Americans to buy "a gun a week," Jerry Rubin offered that it was the duty of the young to kill their parents.  Peaceful protests gave way to violent confrontations, the Democratic Party was almost torn asunder; all of it played right into Dick Nixon's hands.  

Nixon won in '68 but had to work with a Democratic-controlled Congress.  Consequently a lot of progressive legislation passed over Nixon's signature and it can be argued that our 37th President did more for the environment than any predecessor or successor.  He also signed into law the 26th amendment, granting 18 year olds the right to vote (though he privately feared that they would use it to defeat him). 

Vietnam bedeviled him as it had LBJ before him.  Nixon had actually used Vietnam as a club against Johnson, promising that his new policies would bring peace.  Upon election, however, his new policies were to double down on the bombing while scaling back on ground forces in an act of political legerdemain.  Not everyone was fooled by Nixon's "Vietnamization" policy and the war protests reached new heights, culminating in the Kent State Massacre.  Nixon had done his work well and he actually gained in popularity as a result of Kent State.  America had become an Us vs. Them nation.

Nixon's obsessions eventually led to his demise.  Perlstein takes us through the whole menu of dirty tricks and presidential politicking that led to Nixon's crushing victory over McGovern and subsequent resignation in disgrace as the whole sordid story gradually was revealed.  We read of Nixon's inability to enjoy his victory in '72, even on election night as it became evident that he was winning a historic landslide.  He lamented not winning that 50th state (Massachusetts).  He was miserable over not "coattailing" Republicans into majorities in Congress (in fact they lost two Senate seats.)  And as always he was certain that the media were out to get him.  In a way he was right.     

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Last

I have to share this part, yet.  It's related to last night's post.  Quoting, again:

The actress's trip marked the emergence of a new narrative about Vietnam: that people like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon weren't responsible for the disaster, but people like Fonda, stabbing America's soldiers and South Vietnamese allies in the back, were.  It was the most convenient possible development for Richard Nixon--who was, exactly then, planning to stab America's soldiers and South Vietnamese allies in the back.

The ostensible aim of the war was to preserve an anticommunist government in Saigon absent the United States propping it up.  Nixon had privately been maintaining since 1966 that this was impossible, and that the only question was the garb in which America would eventually cloak its withdrawal.  Sometimes he imagined a politically satisfactory denouement might come of a knockout blow--as in his scuttled plans for Operation Duck Hook in 1969, or Operation Linebacker that spring.  Other times he counted on his "madman" theory, with its threat of nuclear annihilation.  Either way the point was to scare the enemy to sufficient concessions at the bargaining table that it would look as if the enemy had capitulated.  Secret and intentional bombing of North Vietnamese dams and earthworks, if it was happening--and the president's "madman" signal on July 27 that if he wanted to decimate North Vietnamese agriculture he could do it in a week--was consistent with this logic.  Massive bombing, enough to keep the Communists from overrunning Saigon until after his reelection, was the only way to preserve what he had started calling, stealing a phrase from the Democratic platform of 1952, "peace with honor."  

But what he was working on now was neither honorable nor peace.  His main concern was political timing.  As the president put it to Kissinger on August 3rd, as the battered and bruised McGovern cast about desperately for a new running mate, "I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway. I'm just being perfectly candid."  The problem, he went on, was the presidential election: "It's terribly important this year."

Kissinger put two and two together.  He and Nixon had been reading each other's mind for some time now.  Kissinger noted, "If a year or two years from now North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam, we can have a viable foreign policy if it looks as if it's the result of South Vietnamese incompetence."  They could come up with peace agreement language--could "sell it in such a way," some transcribed Kissinger's words; others rendered it, just as pregnantly, "sell out in such a way"--that convinced South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu that America would stick with him until the end and get it agreed to in time for November.  After which they could regrettably let "South Vietnam" evaporate and move on to other foreign policy problems.  

For now they had to keep up military pressure, mining harbors, intimating wholesale dike-bombing, whatever it took to hold back the deluge during what diplomatic historians would later call a "decent interval": to "find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which--after a year, Mr. President--Vietnam will be a backwater."  Then they could announce peace with honor.  Only they would know they'd just stabbed South Vietnam in the back.  "If we settle it, say, this October, by January '74 no one will give a damn."  

But they couldn't settle it before October.  They needed the war to keep going through the election.  That way they could blame the continuation of war on the Democrats: their line could be, Haldeman wrote in a memo, that the sustained fighting proved the Communists were "absolutely at the end of their rope," their only chance of victory "to stagger through to November hoping that President Nixon will lose and they can get a good deal from the next administration."

Back in February, Nixon had said antiwar Democrats "might give the enemy an incentive to prolong the war until after the election."  Actually, that was what he was doing, just as he had in 1968.  Twenty years later, a superannuated Richard Nixon met with a group of young reporters just before the 1992 New Hampshire primary and copped to it.  He explained that the incumbent Republican president would have been able to guarantee his reelection, but that it was too late: he ended the Iraq war when he should have kept it going at least until the election.  "We had a lot of success with that in 1972," he told the assembled scribes.  

But it was George S. McGovern's campaign that was "Mafia-like."  Time magazine had said so.             

From Nixonland Tonight

In 1972 Jane Fonda traveled to North Vietnam to see the POWs and to determine if the Air Force was in fact bombing dikes in an attempt to flood the rice crop and starve the population (Nixon's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding).  Quoting now,

Fonda arrived in Hanoi alone, a woman armed with only cameras, hobbling on a fractured foot.  The day before, Jean Thorval of Agence France-Presse had been standing on one of the earthen dikes when bombs struck another nearby.  It seemed, he reported in Le Monde, "the attack was aimed at a whole system of dikes."  Fonda gave a speech over Radio Hanoi, hoping it would reach the pilots, describing, in case they didn't know, how the antipersonnel bombs beneath their wings functioned:

"They cannot destroy bridges or factories.  They cannot pierce steel or cement.  Their only target is unprotected human flesh."  They "now contain rough-edged plastic pellets, and your bosses, whose minds think in terms of statistics, not human lives, are proud of this new perfection.  The plastic pellets don't show up on X-rays and cannot be removed.  The hospitals here are filled with babies and women and old people who will live for the rest of their lives in agony with these pellets embedded in them. . . . Tonight, when you are alone, ask yourselves: what are you doing?  Accept no ready answers fed to you by rote from basic training on up, but as men, as human beings.  Can you justify what you are doing?"       
This while Nixon claimed to be "winding down" the war.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More From Nixonland

As Perlstein is describing the 1972 Democratic National Convention, in Miami:

The new politics reformers had fantasized a pure politics, a politics of unyielding principle--an antipolitics.  But in the real world politics without equivocation or compromse is impossible.  Thus an unintended consequence for the would-be antipolitician.  Announcing one's inflexibility sabotages him in advance.  Every time he makes a political decision, he looks like a sellout.  The reformers fantasized an open politics, in which all points of view had time to be heard.  That meant that the Tuesday session adjourned eleven hours after it began, at 6:15 a.m.--a fortunate thing, cool-headed democratic strategists decided, terrified over what this all looked like on TV.

Sound familiar? 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nixon's The One

Well I'm not going to be finished by tomorrow (as per my prediction), I just finished page 538.  210 to go.  In this concluding page to Book III Nixon has just seen the 1970 elections go against him.

He began seeing 1972 in apocalyptic terms: if he lost the presidency, America might end.  Any imaginable Democratic nominee was "irresponsible domestically" and "extremely dangerous internationally."  He had come to understand something profound in his two years as president, in all those lonely afternoons brooding alone in his hideaway office in the Executive office Building--the kind of profundity too deep to share with the mere public: "America has only two more years as the number one power."  America had either to "make the best deals we can between now and 1975 or increase our conventional strength.  No Democrat can sell this to the country."

So it was that the Old and New Nixon, serpent and sage, collided in a single astonishing insight: in order to responsibly steward the American people through the coming crisis, he first had to bluff America into believing in its own invincibility.  

Indeed, to keep from losing another election, he was willing to consider just about anything.  This time around he would leave nothing, nothing, nothing to chance.

I can't wait to find out what happens.  ;  )

Monday, September 12, 2011


I'm reading Rick Perlstein's Nixonland.  It's the front-runner for book-of-the-year on my book list.  Here's the first paragraph of the preface:

In 1964, the Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson won practically the biggest landslide in American history, with 61.05 percent of the popular vote and 486 of 538 electoral college votes.  In 1972, the Republican presidential candidate won a strikingly similar landslide--60.67 percent and 520 electoral college votes.  In the eight years in between, the battle lines that define our culture and politics were forged in blood and fire.  This is a book about how that happened, and why.

You can expect an after-action report in about another week. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After

So what are the lessons to be learned from 9/11?  And did we learn them?  Did some of us?  Did all of us learn some of them?  Did different people take away different things?  Certainly yes to that last one.

The first lesson I take away is, leadership makes a difference.  What if we had had different leadership during that time?  I really don't know enough about Al Gore to speculate on how his administration might have responded, so I will suggest JFK.  Imagine how JFK would have handled it.  The man who kept his head during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when everyone around him was urging him to escalate, at the very height of cold war tension.

JFK was the man who launched the Green Berets.  I suggest a very measured response would have followed.  I don't believe there would have been a war in Afghanistan, much less Iraq.  I believe he would have accepted the offer of OBL to be handed over to a third party for an internationally observed trial.  Show the world that America really does believe in law and order.

Instead, of course, we showed the world that we can be angry and vengeful.  We're going to war!  And you're either with us or you're against us!  And you don't want to be against us!  The sad part is virtually everybody was with us, and would have stayed with us if we would have been less bellicose.

Also, I think we did learn that not everybody views us as wonderful old America.  Everybody's best friend.  Envy of the world.  I think that was news to way too many people.  It can be very hard to view oneself from another perspective and I will grant you that the perspective of Al Qaeda is not one I would have thought of.  But still, was/is some examination of our role in the world called for?  Yes!  We need to stop assuming that we know it all, already.  Let's try to find out what the rest of the world thinks and actually consider that they might have a point.  Again, not Al Qaeda.  They have no validity.  But let's ask ourselves why anybody would even listen to them.  Why do they get any support at all?  Sometimes if you want to win friends and influence people you have to work at it, and not just assume that everyone will love you because you love yourself so much.

Finally, I think the biggest lesson to learn, and we've been told before and we'll be told again, is that life goes on.  The world didn't stop turning that day.  Whatever happens we have to deal with it.  And a big, fat temper tantrum is always a poor way of dealing with anything.  Look what it got us.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Obama Speech

OK, I watched the whole thing.  Didn't know if I would or not.  I liked what I heard.  I certainly wasn't expecting much, I was actually expecting more caving toward the whole Republican agenda.  Now this was the guy I voted for.  What I need to see next is some fire.  Insist on this!  All of it!  Daily!  If they delay, protest and obfuscate and drag this out into the general election campaign, of course, you bludgeon their moron tea party candidate to death with that. 

It's time to start being a partisan, Mr. President, on behalf of the American people.  Make it so!

Packers Win!

Well I hope they don't give up 34 points every game but Yeah Baby!  I'll take it.  Next!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Here's The Other One

Confused by what I'm doing here? I told a facebook friend I would post these on my blog, so he could see them.

University of Wisconsin, Madison                                                                                           Autumn 2009

Bascom Hall, room 55                                                                                                                                        T/R  4-5.15 p.m.

Radical political theory.

Instructor:  Jimmy Casas Klausen                                                                                              Consultation:   T  1.45-3.45 p.m.
Office:  North Hall 409                                                                                                                      E-mail:  

Political Science 513                                                                                                            

Overview.  There are many strands of radical political theory in the Euroatlantic West.  This course engages only two of them—namely, Marxism and anarchism—and we will pay particular attention to the fraught relationship between the two at the levels of both political theory and political praxis.  Specifically, we will explore Marxist and anarchist arguments about the status and centrality of the state, the relation between national and international struggle, the “nature” of the human, party organization and the role of vanguard parties, the techniques and pitfalls of centralizing or decentralizing power, and the character of revolution.  We end the course by examining a handful of post-1968 thinkers who seem critically to synthesize (heavily reconstructed?) Marxian and anarchist perspectives.

Course format.  The course will be conducted as a seminar.  We will cover between one hundred twenty-five and one hundred fifty pages per week and puzzle over, interpret, and analyze the texts’ arguments and themes in the context of rigorous, critical discussion together.  Please note that I will lecture only briefly and occasionally. 

Requirements.   All requirements, except for the assigned readings (our basic framework), are negotiable and to be determined collectively.  This will constitute our attempt at autonomous, decentered self-governance.  Freedom as a practice, however, is not reducible simply to “negative freedom,” that is, freedom from requirements or impediments.  Rather, freedom is an active and open-ended process that necessitates limits, techniques of self-mastery, and reciprocal challenge (between self as subject and self as object, as well as intersubjectively among peers).  Hence, as the facilitator of your instruction, I do want to suggest that we consider seriously the value of consistent attendance and participation for the ultimate quality of our discussions; I ask also that we entertain the important role writing can assume in the refinement of our understanding of difficult arguments and concepts.

·         Max Stirner, The Ego and Its Own (Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521450164).
·         Michael Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy (Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521369732).
·         Robert C. Tucker, editor, Marx-Engels Reader, second ed. (Norton, ISBN 978-0393090406).
·         Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (International Publishers, ISBN 071780397X).
·         Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1:  An Introduction (Vintage, ISBN 978-0679724698).
·         Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (Verso, ISBN 978-1859841693).

In addition to these texts, which are available for purchase at the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative (426 W. Gilman), you will be asked to consult a handful of writings online.  The URLs for online documents appear after the assignments.
Copies of these books are also available at College Library Reserves.

Reading schedule.

3 September 2009.

8 September 2009.
                Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What Is Property?, Chapter III, §§1-2; Chapter V.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 3-6, 9-11, 26-52.

10 September 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 53-109.

15 September 2009.
                Max Stirner, The Ego & Its Own, 1-18, 137-98.

17 September 2009.
                Stirner, Ego & Its Own, 198-254.

22 September 2009.
                Stirner, Ego & Its Own, 254-324.
24 September 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 133-75.

29 September 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 176-200, 203-17, 469-500.

1 October 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 586-617, 653-64.

6 October 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 221-76, 291-93, 294-98, 302-12.

8 October 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 312-64.

13 October 2009.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 373-88, 397-99, 417-38, 512-19, 522-41.

15 October 2009.
                Michael Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, 1-51.

20 October 2009.
                Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, 103-68.

22 October 2009.
                Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy, 168-97.
                Marx-Engels Reader, 542-48.
                V. I. Lenin, What Is to Be Done?, chapter III.

27 October 2009.
Rosa Luxemburg, Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy (also published as Leninism or Marxism?).
                Luxemburg, “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.”
                Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, chapters 1-4, 8, 10.
                Lenin, State and Revolution, chapter 1.

29 October 2009.
                Lenin, State and Revolution, chapters, 2, 3, 5.

3 November 2009.
                Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 5-23, 52-55, 125-75.

5 November 2009.
                Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 175-205, 210-23, 228-38.

10 November 2009.
Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, 238-43, 245-46, 257-70, 323-43, 347-61, 364-67, 375-77.
12 November 2009.
                Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, chapters 19-22.

17 November 2009.
                Vaneigem, Revolution of Everyday Life, chapters 23-25.
                Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, chapters 1-3.

19 November 2009.
                Debord, Society of the Spectacle, chapters 4-5.

24 November 2009.
                Debord, Society of the Spectacle, chapters 6-9.
                Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1-27.   

26 November 2009.
                Class will not meet.

1 December 2009.
                Debord, Comments on the Society of the Specatcle, 27-89.

3 December 2009.
                Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1:  An Introduction, 3-50.

8 December 2009.
                Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, 51-114.

10 December 2009.
                Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, 114-159.
                Foucault, “Truth and Power,” in Power/Knowledge, ed. Colin Gordon, 109-34.  [To be distributed.]

15 December 2009.
Hakim Bey, “Black Crown & Black Rose:  Anarcho-Monarchism & Anarcho-Mysticism,” “Nietzsche & the Dervishes,” “Resolution for the 1990’s:  Boycott Cop Culture,” The Temporary Autonomous Zone (entire).
Bey, “Permanent Autonomous Zone,” “The NoGoZone,” “The Periodic Autonomous Zone,” “Primitives and Extropians.”

For the Record

I actually had this course in the fall of 2007. Seems like the same shit, though.  ;  )  Sharpless is a character.


Department of History
Fall, 2004
The History of the United States, 1620-1865

Professor John Sharpless 4110 Mosse Humanities Building

The intent of History 101 is to provide an overview of economic, political and social trends from early European discovery and settlement (1620) to the American Civil War (1865). Naturally, the course will draw heavily on other social science disciplines (economics, political science and sociology) for much of its material. However, we will attempt to chart ecological, cultural and artistic trends as well.

Attendance at both lectures and discussion section is required. To “test” for attendance at lectures, there will be occasional surprise quizzes. Although the points allotted to the lecture quizzes are few, they could make the difference at the end of the course. Discussion points will be awarded to students who attend discussion sections regularly. There will also be occasional short assignments to encourage reading and discussion on a weekly basis.

There will be an “in class” mid-term examination and a “take-home” essay examination, in addition to the final examination. The contribution of each component of the course will be weighted roughly by the following percentages:
Discussion Section Points 23%
Lecture Quizzes 2%
Mid-term Exam (in class) 25%
Take-Home Essay Problem 25%
Final Examination 25%

Students are warned that the reading requirements for the course are considerable.
In addition to the books on order at the bookstores, there will be photocopied materials
and/or some reserve readings (some of these reading may be “down-loaded” from the library server).
The books listed below may be purchased at the University Bookstore, the Underground Textbook Exchange or “on line” at various web vendors. They are also on reserve at H.C. White Reserve Room.
Required Reading:

David E. Shi, George B. Tindall, America: A Narrative History (Vol. 1) W.W. Norton & Company; 5th edition (January, 1999) ISBN: 0393973492 Paperback

Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Dover Thrift Edition) Dover Pubns; (July 1996) ISBN: 0486290735 Paperback

Joseph Martin (Thomas Fleming, ed.), A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin Signet Classic ( 2001) ISBN: 0451528115 Paperback

Gunthur Barth (ed.), The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Selections from the Journals, Arranged by Topic Bedford/St. Martin's; (June, 1998) ISBN: 0312111185 Paperback

Alexis De Tocqueville, (Richard D. Heffner, ed) Democracy in America (September 2001) Signet Classic; (September, 2001) ISBN: 0451528123 Paperback

Roger F. Nichols, Black Hawk and the Warrior's Path Harlan Davidson, American Biographical History Series (December 1992) ISBN: 0882958844 Paperback

Frederick Douglass (David Blight, ed.), Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave Bedford/St. Martin's; 2nd edition (December 2002) ISBN: 0312257376 Paperback

Recommended Readings:
[It is unnecessary to buy these books unless you are particularly interested in a special topic or period of history. With the exception of the “constitution book,” I have not asked the book stores to order these books. They are on reserve at H. C. White Library.]

Ray Raphael, A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence New Press; (April 2001) ISBN: 1565846532 Paperback

Robert F. Tedeschi, Jr, The U.S. Constitution & Fascinating Facts About It Oak Hill Pub (1996) ISBN: 188147321X Paperback

Harry Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America Noonday Press; (February 1990) ISBN: 0374521964 Paperback

David Potter, Impending Crisis Perennial Press; (April 1977) ISBN: 0061319295 Paperback

Unfortunately, it appears necessary to comment on plagiarism and cheating. Obviously, it is expected that examinations and assignments will reflect your own original efforts. We do not discourage studying together; however, in the final analysis your essays, assignments and answers to the questions on the examinations must represent your ideas and be written in your own words.

If it is shown that your work in the course does not represent your own efforts, the consequences can be serious. Cheating could cost you your college career or, at the very least, it could mean an “F” in this course. But equally important, even if you are not caught, cheating is a sign of a serious lack of respect for the people teaching the class, your fellow students and yourself.
Enough said. If you make a sincere effort to meet the demands of the course, we will make a sincere effort to help you pass the course. Cheating is quite unnecessary.