Sunday, February 12, 2012

Déjà Vu All Over Again: A Flashback to Another Fiery & Bizarre Michigan GOP Primary

As this year's Michigan Republican Presidential primary 'cynical circus' approaches next month (March) it might be a good time to take a look back at a little history. Many of the same feats were performed in the past that can be observed in this cycle's 'circus'. What is to be learned from that history? Let's take a look and see how it informs us and applies today.

Harold Meyerson's classic print piece takes us down memory lane with a master provocateur and raconteur. It was candidate Pat Buchanan on the stump in southeast Michigan vamping for populist support to underpin and boost his fading bid to be President of the U.S. It was St. Pat playing to the workers of Michigan like a virtuoso strummer on a two string guitar with a silver tongued pick.


It’s the Michigan GOP silly season of primary voting as wackos escalate. That short  period when the more and more radicalized Four Horsemen of the Rad-Right Apocalypse will gallop about the state in full Crusader armor/regalia.  They will loudly pontificate with unholy god-speak, aggrandizing/dangerous hyperbole, and “drown the government” psyco-talk.


Let’s step back and take the long view, the common sense inhale, and consider the history of social /cultural warfare in Michigan the home of Father Charles E. Coughlin and the dusty bramble of George Wallace and Patrick Buchanan on the hustings.

We’ve seen it before, it’s happened over and over and this ride is but one more plunge into the muck of racism, despair, corporate disinformation, and wild media ads and blitz. Stay in control of your disbelief.

(Ted Soqui Metro Times) Original Caption -
"Bully Pulpit: A tremendous performer on the stump, Pat Buchanan
holds rallies that are like nothing else in American politics today."

In 1996, any sensational, shocking cord Pat could hit, he would, he did !

Writer and Opinionator Harold Meyerson penned "St. Pat's Day" in the Mar. 21-27, 1996, Metro Times Detroit a concise clip: "Pat Buchanan, avenging angel of the white working class, guns for the conservative elite."  Meyerson's assessment:
"Buchanan himself is uncomfortable with his leftward march--"We're moving onto terra nova here," he tells me early on. Mainstream American conservatism has always been more capitalist than traditionalist, placing a higher value on corporate freedom than on the claims of community.

With the globalization of once-American corporations, though, Buchanan has shifted himself onto the community side. "This libertarian strain of conservatism has really gone too far," he tells me. "The worship of the great god Efficiency has gone too far. And the indifference to the impact on communities and families and towns of this rapid, turbo-charged global economy and accelerated change--you just want to say, 'Stop! What is it we are celebrating?'"

Pat Buchanan: "Maximum efficiency and the tremendous change that capitalism engenders is having a devastating impact on the other values we're supposed to cherish."

"Buchanan talks the language of class warfare more bluntly than any other American politician--emphatically including Democrats. For Buchanan, it's the ability of corporations to pay 10 cents an hour in China for work that Americans used to perform that's at the heart of the brave new world economy. "That's why middle-class incomes are stagnating while profits soar. They're pocketing the difference!"


"We need an equalization tax with some countries," he told me, "especially some countries that have very able labor forces but very, very low pay. You know, many of the countries in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Latin America."


Buchanan's lunch with UAW members (1996) in LaPeer, just outside Flint--site of the 1937 sit-in where workers won their first contract with GM, and in some sense, then, the birthplace of both the CIO and of America's middle-class majority--is a LESS THAN OVERWHELMING AFFAIR. ONLY 40 AUTO WORKERS ARE PRESENT, NONE OF THEM SO MUCH AS A LOCAL SHOP STEWARD.


Buchanan's union supporters are invariably two-fers: they're also drawn to him because they loathe gun control, or favor home schooling, or dread affirmative action, or believe abortion is a sin.

The gap that has opened between Buchanan and (Newt) Gingrich, say, on economics is huge. No public figure is more committed to the agenda of America's multinationals than the Speaker. No public official is less committed to that agenda than Buchanan, even though he still favors a Gingrich-like deregulatory agenda here at home.


How much room there is for compromise is another question. The Republican Party cannot easily repudiate free trade, nor Buchanan embrace it. At the level of fundamental ideology, Buchanan is not likely to transform the GOP from Gingrich's hypercapitalism to his own ASSERTIVE NATIONALISM.

Like Coughlin, Long and Wallace, Buchanan has become a distinct third force in American politics, outside the camp of either party. What's distressing is that there doesn't seem to be a first force."(emphasis added)

Concluded Meyerson:
"In the mid-1930s, historian Steven Fraser has written, German- and Polish- and slavic-Americans could turn on the radio and choose between the social conservatism of Father Coughlin and the social democracy of John L. Lewis, father of the CIO. In the mid-'90s, when the economic crisis takes the form not of unemployment but of declining incomes, the heir to Father Coughlin is alive and well, tromping through California all this week. (That candidate was cultural warrior, Patrick Buchanan)

The heirs of John L. Lewis have a ways to go yet: the new leadership of the union movement is just embarking on a long journey of reconstruction, while the Democratic president (Bill Clinton) prescribes only more training to restore the living standards of America's workers.


Buchanan's answer...resonates...deeply in some pockets of working-class America. And as the world market continues to wreak havoc among American workers, as the potential for xenophobia continues to mount, Buchananism may grow stronger yet. Defeated in the primaries, he is not yet done cashing in on the promise of Coughlin and Wallace."

In the 2012 Primaries - GOP Paranoia Spreading like Kudzu

On the eve of the traveling cynical circus, media mash (made up of the four remaining major GOP presidential primary candidates) begins its sweep across Michigan in search of delegates, Meyerson's throw back to the era of Pat Buchanan (with its: rabble rousing, stoking the fires of anger & fear, blames-laying and hyperbole) strikes a baseline for such Michigan based political events.

Buchanan's fictional exaggerations are both a guide, a stern warning, an archetypical example of the extremes emanating from the drive to defeat an opponent and rally that netherworld of dangerous provocation believed to be needed to harvest votes-regardless of fact or civic virtue.

Application to this cycle's Michigan’s GOP Primary
Just as George Wallace's shocking Michigan primary victory was able to garner the angst of Michigan workers and appeal to their racial and religious distrust and fear, and as Father Coughlin’s tirades and bombast.  He was the fiery broadcast  Catholic priest (leader of a huge populist following out of Michigan's Royal Oak) who could stir men to radicalism; moving from one "enemy," one strawman to another, moving as a powerful negative yet compelling religio-political voice.

There's warning and prophetic meaning here in Meyerson's report; enough to temper and shape the impact of this ongoing campaign characterized by James Marshall Crotty (as published by Forbes Magazine) in "Why Do Republicans Gleefully Embrace Idiots as Presidential Candidates?":

"The question naturally begs a larger question: How can a country, with the world's highest national GDP, and absurdly complex systems regulating everything from credit default swaps to nuclear missile safety, possibly allow onto its national stage men and women of such transparently inferior intellect?

"The easy answer is that there has always been a long, pathetic history of anti-intellectual paranoia in American politics, as Richard Hofstadter documented in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). It is like kudzu. You just can't kill it. No matter how advanced the U.S. becomes in technology, biomedicine, and weaponry, it not only attracts, but promotes, under the rubric of equal opportunity, a confederacy of dunces as Presidential candidates."

Michigan must learn not to suffer fools.

This is PART 1 of 2: 
See also Déjà Vu (Part 2): Buchanan's Pitch of Racial Undertones - "Suicide of a Superpower" a GOP Dog Whistle

Recommended Reading:
More on Hofstadter and anti-intellectualism recently - an interesting review and contrast of Richard Hofstadter’s 'Anti-intellectualism in American Life' and Susan Jacoby’s 'The Age of  American Unreason' and a Jacoby interview with Bill Moyers. Also,listen to Michigan's 1930's firebrand Father Coughlin in "Somebody Must be Blamed".

On the Reader:
More on Pat Buchanan and the candidates in the 2012 GOP Presidential Primary on the Gazette.


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