War on the horizon: Will we repeat the Civil War?

Nothing like the juxtaposition of the split rail fences of the Manassas battlefields with the residential and retail sprawl of suburban D.C., to remind one that Americans are willing to kill each other to make a point.

A family wedding took me off the island last weekend with a flight from Key West to Washington, D.C., and then a rental car ride through the Civil War battlefields – or War of Northern Aggression, depending on one’s preferred American history book.

 Americans haven’t changed much in the 150 years since General Robert E. Lee ’s Appomattox, VA, surrender in April 1864 to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, ending a four-year kill-a-thon that destroyed at least three generations and scared our collective psyche in ways we still haven’t understood.

 American intransigence in the 1860s kept us from finding a collaborative path to do the right things without picking up guns. Unless we call a halt to American intransigence 2014 model, we will find ourselves once again killing to make a point.

There are fundamental similarities between the heels-dug-in culture of other of 1860 and today.

  • The economic, cultural and educational disparities between the haves and have nots put most Americans far below the power-wielding top 10 percent.
  • The visceral fear of losing “mine” pits color, culture, religion and economics against each other to prove we can maintain our status quo in which “we” – by whatever definition one selects – get to stay on top at whatever the cost.
  • The libertarian “don’t tread on me” isolation mistakenly revels in believing one can go it alone, the government and good-for-the-group be damned.
  • The calls to Christianity and preservation of “traditional family values” become the code words for if you don’t believe as I do, don’t look as I do, don’t do as I do, then you are dead wrong.
  • The gathering storm of sheer pig headedness results in scorched earth decisions that shut down government, shatter collaborative ventures that do good for the group and celebrate as heroes those who stand their ground on false principles and unenlightened rhetoric.

Americans are once again at the crisis catalyst. We can follow the split rail fences along Virginia’s Lee Highway straight into a killing field or we can find a path to do what’s right without bloodshed.

I’d like to think we can dispense with the “I’ve got mine,” isolationist, secession fear of change that drove us into the War Between the States. I fear we will not.


The Evangelicals, Tea Party and that Confederate flag: The morphing of the 1990s Neo-Cons

The nondescript, two-story, white bungalow at 928 N. Main St., in Rockford, IL, seems an illogical incubator for the 1990s neo-Confederate rhetoric that has shape-shifted into the Tea Party and Evangelical majority within the Republican Party.

Today, 928 N. Main is the home of the Rockford Institute, a 37-year-old, internationally recognized, very private, paleoconservative think tank. Its president writes the institute “has worked to preserve the institutions of the Christian West: the family, the Church, and the rule of law; private property, free enterprise, and moral discipline; high standards of learning, art, and literature. … (we) are just as proud to represent an organization that has given a voice to the Silent Majority.”

I spent countless conversational hours with Rockford Institute’s founder, Dr. John Howard, during the two decades I was editor of the Rockford Register Star. There was much on which we disagreed. We learned from each other; we occasionally found common ground. Dr. Howard is known, even among his ideological critics, as a gentleman.

This, though, is not John Howard’s story. Instead, it’s about a March 1998 newspaper story and the intersection of Neo-Confederates, the Tea Party and Evangelicals inside that nondescript bungalow a block and a half west of the Rock River. It’s a story about the 237-year-old struggle to define what we mean by “we, the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”

On March 15-16, 1998, the Register Star published a newspaper series tracing the connections among the Institute’s then-new president, Thomas Fleming, the League of the South and the Neo-Confederate movement. Fleming had been with the Institute since 1984 and has been editor of Chronicles, its publication arm, since 1985.

Fleming and co-author Michael Hill, both 1994 founders of the League of the South, pushed the Neo-Confederates to the national stage with their 1,800-word essay published in the Washington Post on Oct. 29, 1995. It was headlined “The New Dixie Manifesto: States’ Rights Shall Rise Again.”

Senior editor and political columnist Chuck Sweeny and senior writer and columnist Judy Emerson wove the connections in their project titled “New Confederates spark outrage in Rockford.” The backlash against the newspaper started before church that Sunday.

I can still hear the callers and remember the letter writers. Those were the days just barely before the web world replaced phone calls and letters to the editor as the methods of choice for disagreeing. “Neo-Con does not mean Neo-Confederate,” they said and wrote. “It means Neo-Conservative. You’re painting this like we’re a bunch of racists.”

The smooth, disdainful voice of Thomas Fleming felt as though it patted me ever so gently on the head as he explained to me the Anglo-Celtic, agrarian, hierarchical culture that made America strong and would keep her strong still if but she turned back to her roots. But, no, oh, no, he said, when I write Neo-Confederate, I mean confederate like the Scots and Welsh, the Lombards in Italy, the break-up of the Soviet Union. Not like Civil War confederates.

That Conservative-not-Confederate mantra was repeated by then-U.S. Congressman Don Manzullo, R-Egan. Never heard of such people, Manzullo said, distancing himself from any suggestion that his conservative, strict Constitutionalist positions in anyway paralleled the secessionist, slavery-defending, white, male rule of the states below the Mason Dixon line. Manzullo’s distancing may be disingenuous since he was a regular essay contributor to Chronicles, the Institute’s magazine. Manzullo was plenty angry that he’d been connected to the League of the South and the New Dixie Manifesto.

Ah, the League of the South. It is in the 1994 League of the South and that 1995 New Dixie Manifesto that my 1998 newspaper story and today’s Evangelicals and Tea Party begin.

Founded in 1994 in Killen, AL, the League of the South started with about 40 mostly academics, including Fleming and Hill. Fleming’s name disappeared from the league’s board of directors in 2002, as the league’s white supremacist points of view took center stage. As of Oct. 16, the league’s national website, DixieNet.org, doesn’t appear to be live and the domain name is for sale. A cached page from Oct. 8, 2013 and which is no longer available, appears to be all that was left of the original national site. The Facebook page remains active, as do individual state websites like Florida’s.

In 1995, a year after founding the League of the South, Fleming and Hill published their New Dixie Manifesto, many of its tenants taken from the League’s mission statement. The manifesto’s almost 20-year-old platform reads as though written by those who feel most disenfranchised today.

The Fleming-Hill manifesto makes its anti-nationalism and pro-state’s rights positions clear from its first sentences.

… there are all too many modern states that have tried to build artificial national identities out of the ruins of historic and traditional regions — the provinces, the sticks, the boondocks, the places where real people live, write poetry and pay their taxes … Far from wishing any ill to the rest of the nation, we believe that a renewed South will be an inspiration to other regions in search of their own identities and to all Americans who wish to lead their lives in peace … National uniformity is being imposed by the political class that runs Washington, the economic class that owns Wall Street and the cultural class in charge of Hollywood and the Ivy League … We believe it is time for the people of the Southern states to take control of their own governments, their own institutions, their own culture, their own communities and their own lives … This means an end, not only to federal interference, but to state interference in local government and local schools…”

That was written in 1995 and it echoes the journals, sermons and newspaper editorials of the 1860s and the web world of 2013. The Gadsden flag lives on with the Tea Party: Don’t tread on me.

The manifesto details the steps to restoring the world as it once was known — at least to free Southerners at the top of the hierarchy:

  • Wean ourselves from dependence on federal programs and provide for our own needs without the transfer of government wealth
  • Take our stand squarely within the tradition of Christianity
  • Repudiate the one-sided and hypocritical movement to demonize Southerners and their symbols
  • Leave black and white Southerners of good will alone to work out their destinies, avoiding … the urban hell that has been created by the lawyers, social engineers and imperial bureaucrats
  • Ensure us the right to be let (sic) alone to mind our own business, to rear our own children and to say our own prayers in the buildings built with our own money.

Those words resonate at the center of October’s government paralysis. These are the words with which Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Marco Rubio rally their Evangelical and Tea Party faithful. Though a majority are Southerners, assuming this is only a “South gone crazy” thing would be foolish. These are deeply held convictions founded in a sense of loss and disenfranchisement. It’s that which has made Jeff Foxworthy’s “You know you’re a redneck…” a continuing smash hit.

Foxworthy, Cruz, Lee or Rubio, finally, say the disillusioned, someone to give voice to the New Dixie Manifesto’s “real people” and take shots at the urban and Ivy League liberals.

Those who self-identify as Evangelical (Christian Right) or non-Evangelical Tea Party are the primary shapers of today’s Republican Party. Moderates — old school Republicans — make up a quarter of the party. On a national level, the political power of the Evangelicals and the Tea Party is disproportionate to their actual numbers, but that disruptive power cannot be overestimated.

In early October, The Democracy Corps released a detailed report on focus groups among Evangelical, Tea Party and moderate Republicans. Compare these demographic descriptions and core values with those in Fleming’s 1995 New Dixie Manifesto.

Evangelicals are a third of the Republican base; they are the biggest and most intense group: Four-in-five are “strong” Republicans and straight ticket voters. Over three quarters are married and well over 90 percent are white. Their demographics – white, married, religious, and older – sets up a feeling that they are losing. They talk about how the dominant politics and cultures have encroached on their small towns, schools, and churches. What troubles them when they talk with friends, family, and fellow believers is Obamacare, guns, government encroachment, gay marriage, and “culture rot.” They sense they are “pretty white” and “didn’t go to Harvard” – and “we’re just not [Obama]” – which means they are becoming a pretty “politically incorrect minority.” The so-called “tolerant” liberals just aren’t very tolerant when it comes to them. It used to be different … when describing their own towns.

Tea Party enthusiasts form just over a fifth of the base Republican voters –and are cheered on for the moment by the Evangelicals who are depending on their conservative backbone. These are straight ticket, anti-government, pro-business voters who are more confident that they can get America back to basics if they fight back. They are libertarian and not very concerned with homosexual encroachment, but the hot topics for their friends and family are Obama, gun control, Obamacare, taxes, and government spending. They have hope because they are trying to get America back to the Constitution, to American entrepreneurship, freedom,and personal responsibility … the phrase “back to basics” was repeated multiple times. What this means is they want to return to a time when they believe government was small, people lived largely free of the government, and Americans took responsibility for themselves. This is not those times. Government is catering to those who have not earned their benefits or the freedoms of this country. These groups are the most anti-immigrant, anti-food stamps, and anti-Obamacare and its potential beneficiaries of the Republican groups.

Back in March 1998, the Register Star’s series was little more than six pages of newsprint and weeks of conversation before the community moved on. Yet, of the thousands of stories published during my 20 years as editor, this one remains disturbing. Disturbing because it was predictive. Disturbing because it demonstrated so convincingly the unhealed legacy of the Civil War — in a community 29 miles from the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Disturbing because from that nondescript, white bungalow on North Main Street came the intersection of the cheer leading that would unravel a nation.

And, so what? Does it matter a whit that the core values of Thomas Fleming’s New Dixie Manifesto and League of the South have become the standing ovations of Americans who want no part of a federal union that encompasses 50 states? I think it does. The voices for disunion are strident; the disintegration of what was once an evolving collaborative endeavor is frighting.

The last time we argued as a collective people over whether we were one country or a confederation of states, we went to war.







has worked to preserve the institutions of the Christian West: the family, the Church, and the rule of law; private property, free enterprise, and moral discipline; high standards of learning, art, and literature. – See more at: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/rockford-institute/about-the-rockford-institute/#sthash.KUvfXpbj.dpuf
has worked to preserve the institutions of the Christian West: the family, the Church, and the rule of law; private property, free enterprise, and moral discipline; high standards of learning, art, and literature. – See more at: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/rockford-institute/about-the-rockford-institute/#sthash.KUvfXpbj.dpuf
has worked to preserve the institutions of the Christian West: the family, the Church, and the rule of law; private property, free enterprise, and moral discipline; high standards of learning, art, and literature. – See more at: http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/rockford-institute/about-the-rockford-institute/#sthash.KUvfXpbj.dpuf

Marco Rubio: Not the GOP star until he gets right on immigration, Creationism

Time for Rubio to “get right” on immigration, Creationism — or his Cuban surname won’t help

The national Republican Party, casting about for ways to mend its abysmal track record with Americans of Hispanic descent, ought not pin its hopes quite so naively on  Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

There’s no such thing as a Latino voting block in the United States, and if there were, it’s likely these days to be dominated by the surging immigration of Mexicans into the country’s West, Southwest and Midwest. Wooing and winning the future Mexican American voter demand the Republicans change up their immigration, economic and jobs policies. Success will be about policy — not last name.

Rubio ought to be allowed to rise or fall on his merits, not his parentage. Barack Obama ought to have been allowed the same, not because of, but despite of his skin color. And, as Hillary Clinton plays her cards for the 2016 presidential election, watch for web worlds filled with “first woman who …” headlines — and data-dumps of information about an imagined “block of women voters.”

Americans appear to understand that one white Alpha male doesn’t represent all men. We’re not so savvy about ethnicity, race and gender. We’re just aware enough not to say it aloud in polite company, but most of us haven’t moved too far past “some of my best friends are (feel free to fill in the blank.)

The Republican and mainstream media conversation about Rubio during and following the presidential campaign feels just too much like the “best friends,” pat ourselves on the back approach. The allure of Rubio’s Hispanic surname, his conservative credentials and his “rising star” moniker among the national media make him virtually irresistible to Republicans. One can hear them chortling in the backrooms: “We’ve got the trifecta here.”

There’s a problem with that. Three of them actually, and unless Republicans up-end their unsophisticated approach to America’s multinational Hispanic population, they’ll have little ballot box success.

Ruben Navarrette Jr., a long-time advocate and columnist for American Latinos, puts it this way in a column entitled “Why Marco Rubio can’t save the GOP”:

When you’re a Cuban-American politician who is being put forth by your party to help get votes from Latino voters — the majority of whom are Mexican or Mexican-American — things can get complicated.

First, let’s stop with the idea that any-Hispanic-surname will connect with potential voters.

Rubio is of Cuban descent, which may continue to play well in Cuban-dominated Florida, but that ethnic heritage is unlikely to appeal to the 63 percent of American Hispanics whose family trees are rooted in Mexico. Even in Key West with its 21 percent Cuban American population, Rubio fans are hard to come by. Why? Because as one multi-generational Cuban American told me: “Miami Cubans and Key West Cubans had different paths to the United States,” she said. “We’ve always lived here; we weren’t political refugees.”

If Rubio be disconnected from at least some Cuban-descent Key Westers, how much more so will he be disconnected from Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and Hispanics from South and Central America and the Dominican Republic?

Second, Republicans must get their immigration policies straightened out. Cubans and Mexicans simply don’t share the same immigration challenges, and the GOP’s current hardline policies — staunchly supported by Rubio — aren’t going to work.

Third, Rubio’s Creationist, hate-the-science, Tea Party approach to governing are simply out of touch with pretty much every voting block except the neo-cons. It’s time for a platform update.

Rubio can’t connect the GOP with the ill-defined, virtually unshaped Hispanic voting block. Not solely because he’s Cuban, but because his immigration and public policies are out of sync.


Americans are never going to elect a woman as president

By the time, Michele Bachmann pledged yesterday to rally round the eventual Republican nominee for president, I’d wearied of hoping she’d come front and center as a viable candidate. She just couldn’t do it.

There are a handful of analyses on the whys of Bachmann’s fall from the elephant, including an empathetic one from Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin. Most everyone has turned their attention to the “Santorum surge” — I am hating  that word, surge.

But before Bachmann is little more than a footnote, three things did her in:

(1) Americans are not about to elect a woman as president — and especially not a girly-girl woman. Hillary maybe, but cynical me doubts even our own Iron Lady could make the cut. Hillary Clinton should have been president today, followed by Barak Obama. The timelines were screwed up.

We just can’t get past a MAN looks presidential — and CEO and pastor and doctor and lawyer and judge; heck, and newspaper editor. I predicted a hundred years ago Americans would elect a black man before they elected a woman. Did. And, we’ll keep doing it because in America, women are, were and appear to always will be, second tier.

Full disclosure: I will campaign for Hillary Clinton next time around. Despite my cynicism about Americans and women, I think she’d be an outstanding president.

(2) The Tea Party extremists are just that, extreme, and for all America’s love affair with the bad boys and girls on the fringes, we don’t want them in the White House or at the family dinner.

So, Bachmann’s ouster in Iowa (along with the others, no matter how well Santorum and Whacko Paul polled) is indicative that America will play footsie with the Tea Party fringers, but they aren’t going to put them with their finger on the nuke button.

(3) Bachmann had no substance. On that her campaign mentor Ed Rollins is spot on. I got to the point listening to her that I wanted to stick a needle in my eye every time she opened her mouth.

She sounded like a wind-up toy, repeating the same 227 words ad naseum in that flat, nasal Midwestern twang. Someone clearly told her to make sure she hammered home her central themes, and heaven knows, she did. Problem was, she could never go off-script more than a sentence or two because she just didn’t have the juice.

Bachmann never had a chance. Too bad.

Tuesday’s ballot box: Out with fan-folks; back to the middle

Americans are Bell Curve people. We live happily along that 80 percent bulge in the middle of things, and we’re open to learning new things from the strident fan-folks farther down the curve and out to its edges.

For a while. Not forever. Just about the time fan-folks think the rest of us have become their true believers, we say “that’s far enough; time for a deep breath.”

The middle needs fan-folks to get us moving, to introduce us to new ideas and concepts, to keep us from staying too long in one place. We need those extreme points of view to make us sit up and take notice.

Whether it’s the whacked-out Carrie Nation with her anti-alcohol, women’s and  families’ rights messages, or the deranged John Brown with his anti-slavery screeds, the far left and far right of the Bell Curve are the ones who make things change.

Those revered “founding fathers” were terrorists bent on overthrowing the legitimate government. The idea that society (read that government) ought to take care of children and old people came from the fringes, resulting in the now-sacrosanct Social Security and Medicare entitlements.

So, we need the Tea Party, far-right Republicans, flaming liberal Democrats and, yes, the Jello-like Occupy Wall Street. We also need Barack Obama’s sense of hope and call for change. And, we need the predictable confrontational clash that has been the United States’ dissonant symphony for the past three years.

If Tuesday’s election results are any indicator, and I think they are, then Middle America has gotten the messages, absorbed them, and is sending a message of its own: Enough. Enough of the fan-folks, hardline, confrontational, I-win-you-lose. Back to the middle where we can get something constructive done.

The New York Times editorial today calls it “back to common sense.”

Douglas Schoen, a political strategist and Fox News commentator, was nowhere near as accommodating, positioning himself on Tuesday ahead of voting, to warn that these kinds of results did not, in fact, mean collaborative heads would prevail. But this paragraph is worth noting because it makes my point that the middle is reasserting its power:

“In fact, that will almost certainly be something of a misreading of the results, as voters in Ohio are strongly supportive of efforts to curb excessive state spending and high levels of taxation, but they are equally skeptical of efforts to reign in unions– particularly through the elimination of collective bargaining rights.”

Yes, the middle can hold both those positions at the same time and search for a middle ground solution. It’s that middle ground on which the fan-folks on all sides can’t walk.

We’re not going to miraculously join hands this afternoon and sing “We are the World.” It will take another decade to pick and choose from among the “extreme” ideas of the past 10 years and adapt them to something quintessentially American.

But, for those who wondered if we’d ever return to less strident, less destructive, less polarizing discussion, the answer was in Tuesday’s ballot box. Yes, we will. Middle America is back in charge.

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