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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, March 04, 2011

THE PRICE OF GRATITUDE


I know it is popular to demonize Karl Rove as Bush’s brain, but in fact he is merely the latest in a profession that goes at least as far back as Democrat Amos Kendall, who was Andrew Jackson’s brain. And more directly, Rove’s take no prisoners style can be traced through Lee Atwater, (of “Willie Horton” ad fame) to one Murray Chotiner, who was Nixon's brain..
Murray Chotiner was probably the last political campaign manager who had a day job. As a political manipulator Murray claimed to have created Earl Warren, who was elected California Governor in 1942. But Murray’s tactics in that campaign so alienated Warren that the Governor refused Murray’s help for his 1946 re-election campaign. The politician Murray is usually credited with “creating” and the one who never broke trust with him was indeed Richard Nixon.Doctor John Lungren, personal physician to Richard Nixon, recalled a breakfast lecture he received from Murray Chotiner in 1952. Said Murray, “First, a basic truth – you must define your opponent, never let him define you. If he does you are through, pure and simple. Then you find your opponent’s weakness in his record or conduct – he’s too liberal, he’s soft on defense, he’s too weak on criminals, he’s got character problems – and you move in, hitting harder and harder – with no letup. And you never give voters more than they can handle. They have their own lives. Most people can’t absorb more than two or three issues during a campaign. So limit your themes, focus and refine the issues and drive them home again and again.” (Healing Richard Nixon; A Doctor’s Memoir 2003.)Murray was a “cigar chomping wheeler-dealer”, “…a chubby lawyer…(dressed in) monogrammed white-on-white dress shirts and silk ties with jeweled stickpins. The monograms said “MMC” because…he billed himself as Murray M. Chotiner, though, in reality, he lacked a middle name.” Murray was married four times, hung out with gangsters, and the L.A. Times described him as “…a brilliant, abrasive and passionate political strategist whose campaign instincts were so acute and effective that his opponents feared him as the “Machiavelli of California politics.” A friend described him as a “…a very aggressive, hard driving fellow… a mechanic, a nuts and bolts man”. And a future Nixon aid described Murray as “...a hardheaded exponent of the campaign philosophy that politics is war.”Murray’s first experience in politics came when he worked for Herbert Hoover in 1932. In 1938 he ran himself in the Republican primary for a California Assembly seat and lost. In 1942 came his work for Earl Warren, and in 1944 Murray was elected president of the California Republican Assembly. In ’46 he worked for Republican Senator William Knowland, under the slogan, “We Will Not Surrender” without ever identifying to whom the Senator would not surrender to. That same year he advised Richard Nixon’s first run for office against Democrat Congressman Jerry Voorhis. Both Nixon and Knowland won.Politics was still a “hobby” at this point for Murray. To earn a living he practiced law, sharing an office with his older brother, Jack. Their clients were, according to Murray, "unsavory, to say the least". Over four years - from 1949 to 1950 – the Chotiner brothers defended 249 mob clients, ranging from local bookmakers to New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello and L.A.’s mob boss Mickey Cohen. In fact Cohen donated $5,000 to Nixon’s 1946 campaign and provided free space for a “Nixon for Congress” office in one of his buildings”, again according to Chotiner.There are two pronouncements usually credited to Murray Chotiner. The first is “Chotiner’s Law”; "An incumbent forced to fight in a close primary election almost always loses the general election that follows.” (This was the origin of Ronald Reagen’s 11th Commandment – “Never speak ill of a fellow Republican”). And the second pronouncement was the professional code of conduct which Murray Chotiner lived by: “Victory is all that matters".In 1950 Murray took full control of Nixon’s U.S. Senate campaign, labeling his opponent, Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas, as “The Pink Lady”, alleging that she was a communist sympathizer – “Pink right down to her underwear,” said Murray.
Gangster Mickey Cohen threw another fund raiser for Nixon that year. Mickey later recalled, “Everyone from around here that was on the 'pad' naturally had to go. It was all gamblers from Vegas. There wasn't a legitimate person in the room.'' While introducing Nixon, Mickey announced the doors had been locked and no one could leave until $75,000 had been collected. Cohen also claimed that his support for Nixon had been ordered by “''…the proper persons from back East. '' It is assumed Mickey meant gangster kingpin Myer Lansky, but then Mickey often lied.It was Murray’s advice that lead Nixon to accept the vice-presidential post from Eisenhower in 1951. And when, during the campaign, Nixon was accused of influence peddling, it was Murray who tore up Nixon's resignation telegram to Ike, and pushed him to make his famous “Checkers speech; “We did get something, a gift," confessed Nixon. "It was a little cockier spaniel dog…and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers….and I just want to say this,…we are going to keep it.” Needless to say, even though Nixon never fully answered the questions about his favors for friends, the speech saved his career and propelled him into the vice-Presidency.Murray was there when Kennedy defeated Nixon in 1960, and when Nixon failed to win the Governorship of California in 1962. In 1968, when Nixon won the Presidency by a narrow margin, Murray was still there again, if now behind the scenes. In May of 1972, when the “Plumbers” were arrested planting "bugs" inside the Democratic Party National Headquarters in the Watergate complex, Murray Chotiner had an office directly above them. As the crises grew and began to engulf Richard Nixon’s Presidency, on Thursday, January 24, 1974, Murray’s Choitner’s car collided with a truck in suburban Washington, D.C. Curiously the accident happened directly behind the home of Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. In fact, Kennedy called for the ambulance. Murray was taken to the hospital with a broken leg and seemed on the way to a quick recovery when he developed a blood clot. A week after the accident, on Janurary 30th, he died.Nixon’s office released the following statement on February 3rd, 1974; “I am profoundly saddened by the death of Murray Chotiner. For more than a quarter of a century, he was an ally in political battles, a valued counselor, and a trusted colleague. But above all, Murray Chotiner was my friend. His friendship never wavered; in periods of adversity it grew stronger. While some recoil from the label "politician," Murray was rightly proud of it because he was a professional who had the respect and admiration of those who worked with him…he will forever have my gratitude”Effective at noon on August 8, 1974 Richard Nixon resigned as President. I suspect that Murray Chotiner would have called him a quiter.
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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

THE CAMDEN WONDER


I might have voted with the other members of the jury in the Perry trial, even though one of the defendants had been charged with being a witch, and I don't believe in witches. The evidence was so convincing. The accused witch was Joan Perry. She and her sons, John and Richard, were all hanged, but she was hanged first.  The authorities were hoping the older boy, Richard, if freed from his mother's witchcraft, would confess. But he did not. Which leaves me to wonder if being a witch was just an "eggcorn" for that other crime women are often accused of, the one that rhymes with witch. And then, to everyone's dismay, after Richard had strangled to death, the youngest boy, John, whose confession had just led to the execution of his family, recanted his confession. Still, rules are rules, and the jury had spoken, and so John was duly hanged as well. I like to think that if I had been on that jury, I would have had second  thoughts. Of course by that time it was a little too late.
(http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary/eggcorn.html)The story behind the trial takes place in Chipping Camden, the Cotswold, England. "Chipping" is an old Welsh word for market, and “wold” is Welsh for an upland meadow, so this was a market town amidst the rolling limestone hills and open fields which were once the property of the Saxon King, Harold. Under the Normans it became sheep country.In 1340, in Chipping Camden, the wool merchants were already so wealthy they built a hall on the High Street, using the honey-colored “Cotswold stone” as facing. Chipping Camden looks untouched since antiquity. In fact, this western corner of England was a violent incubator for the industrial revolution.It is human nature that wealth surrounded by poverty requires a human justification. It was no accident then that the Nuevo-rich Calvinist wool merchants in the Cotswold created a belief in predestination – the certainty that you are wealthy and successful because God has predestined you to be wealthy and successful before you had even been born. Thus the will of the successful was God’s will. Of this the Calvinists were certain. And they were certain that opposing them was to oppose God’s will.Thus, after seven years of civil war, these dead-certain Calvinists were comfortable in beheading their intransigent King, and suspected Catholic, Charles I, in 1649.The Calvinist experiment in government came to an end on January 1st, 1660 when soldiers under Colonel George Monck crossed the River Tweed at the village of Coldstream, thus earning his regiment the future title “The Coldstream Guards”. A month later they were in London, and in late April Charles Stuart, son of the last King of England, was crowned Charles II, the next King of England. But if anybody thought the restoration of the monarchy was going to return a certain stability to Britain, they were about to suffer a very rude awakening.Three months later, on Thursday, August 16th of that year, the estate manager for a wealthy Calvinist merchant left his home in Chipping Camden, intending to walk the two miles to the village of Charingworth. His name was William Harrison and he must have been an amazing fellow, as he was already 70 years old, and facing an eight mile hike to collect rents for his merchant master and return home by dark. He had made the trek many times before, except that this time, he did not return.At about 9 p.m. his servant, John Perry, was sent out to look for the old man in the villages of Charingworth and Paxford. The next morning Harrison’s son went out to search for them both. The son found John Perry, who explained he had been looking Mr. Harrison all night. Together they continued the search, and in the morning, on the road, found William Harrison’s hat, slashed by a knife, and his shirt, caked in blood.I don't know why suspicion settled on John Perry. But over several days of constant questioning, John told several stories. But he finally admitted he suspected his own mother and brother of murdering the old man and robbing him. And even though Joan and Richard both insisted on their innocence, the investigators felt certain that John had not lied, as he had implicated himself by admitting he had suggested the crime. Wells, ponds and streams were searched for poor Mr. Wilson’s body, or the rents he had collected. No trace of the old man or the money was found. The Perry family was held over the winter for trial.On Sunday, January 6th, 1661, fifty lunatics (most of them ex-soldiers from Oliver Cromwell’s army), calling themselves Fifth Monarchists, stormed into St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and started roughing people up. They shot one poor fellow who talked back to them. They were preparing the way, they said, for the return of Jesus Christ, whom they intended to crown the next King of England. It took an armed band of militia to chase the loonies out of the church.Three days later they stormed a prison and tried to free the prisoners. None of the criminals was insane enough to follow the fanatics. They stayed in their cells. This time it took the Coldstream guards to trap the loonies in a couple of taverns and through musket fire and the bayonet (above), finish them off. The leaders were captured, tried for treason, hanged, drawn and quartered. It seemed there was an air of uncertancy hanging over England, inspiring the citizens to begin to demand certainty.In April of 1661 the Perry family were brought to trial, convicted by a jury of their peers and duly hanged. And if there were second thoughts after John's gallows conversion to innocence, they were put aside. For even if Joan and Richard Perry had not killed poor Mr. Harrison, then John Perry, the self confessed murderer, certainly had. And it was certainly important that justice was seen to be done. Without the certain avenging hand of justice there would be no respect for the law, and English society would return to the rule of the beast, the rule of eat or be eaten. And then in 1662, wonder of wonders, the victim, William Harrison, walked back into to the village of Chipping Camden, certainly alive and allegedly well.When questioned the old man (he was now seventy-two) told a murkey tale of being set upon, stabbed, kidnapped, hustled aboard a ship, and sold in a Turkish slave market. He escaped, he said, when his master died. He then caught a ship back to England. As others have noted, “The story told by Harrison is conspicuously and childishly false.” And as a Mr. Paget noted, “much profit was not likely to arise from the sale of the old man as a slave…especially as the old man was delivered in a wounded and imperfect condition.”So where did Harrison disappear to in the summer of 1660? Given that transportation in that age was mostly limited to “shanks mare”, William Harrison could not have walked more than a few miles. He must have been close enough to Chipping Camden to have heard, in the eight months between his disappearance and the trial of his accused murderers. He must have heard of their impending deaths and of their executions.Still, the old man did not return for two years.  But why did he not return sooner? Why return at all? And why did John Perry tell such wild tales? Why did he send his own mother and brother to the gallows? Why did he not recant until the last moments of his life?It remains a mystery. It remains a wonder. It is the Camden Wonder. And all we know for certain is that John Perry, Richard Perry and Joan Perry slowly strangled at the end of a rope, as punishment for a crime they did not commit. Every thing else about this case is a mystery and a wonder. It is the Camden Wonder. It is a wonder that juries remain so certain they continue to take the lives of those accused, when they have no earthly reason to be so certain, and certainly no heavenly justification either.
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Sunday, February 27, 2011

AMERICAN ARCHTYPE: PART ONE


I don't want to call the lady a liar, but I don't believe any of the stories Priscilla Grinder told. Maybe she was exhausted from another day of drudgery and wallowing in filth. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe she spoke out of fear of her husband, Robert, or of someone else, or maybe she concocted the unbelievable stories to cover her own sins. But whatever the truth was, I simply do not believe this woman heard two gunshots shatter the early morning darkness, heard her only guest begging for help at her door and never investigated. In short I can not say exactly what occurred that pitiless night. But maybe it was murder.
Grinder's Stand, as it was called, stood along the ridge route called the Natchez Trace or “The Devil's Backbone”. The road - to give it a generous title - began where the first high ground above New Orleans, touched the Mississippi River, at a human den of inequity called Natchez. Following ancient buffalo trails "The Trace" then meandered through a dense macabre forests 445 miles, twenty days by horse and foot, to Nashville, Tennessee, where it joined Daniel Boone's Wilderness Road to the east. Under the progressive President Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Army was set to work clearing the trace to 8 feet wide and removing all tree stumps above 16 inches tall, so "The Trace" could be used by high riding Conestoga wagons. But each stream and river still had to be forded, even if the traveler could afford to pay a toll along those short parallel sections improved by local entrepreneurs
In 1802, when Louisiana was still French territory, the customs house in Natchez reported a million dollars worth of tobacco, flower, hemp, cider and whiskey on its way down the Mississippi to New Orleans. By 1803, after the Louisiana Purchase, "The Trace" saw as many as 1,000 travelers a year -  the crews of flatboats and rafts returning home on foot with their profits. And where there are profits, there are those who would steal. Each ominous river and stream crossing on "The Trace" was reputed to be the unmarked graves of boatmen who had been set upon by gangs of “Land Pirates”. There was no law on "The Trace". And while the level of violence never approached the legends, meeting a group of strangers at an isolated ford or forest clearing, could still be an unnerving experience.
Robert Evans Grinder and Priscilla Knight were both born within sight of Moore's knob (above), the 1,700 foot high granite mountain that looms over Stokes county, North Carolina. As teenagers they ran away together, and in 1799 were married in Nashville, about the time their daughter, Parthenia, was born. They were living examples of the new nation, young, illiterate, hard working and hungry to succeed.
So as the soldiers hacked and sawed their way south along "The Trace", the Grinder's followed. And in 1807 they came to the Tennessee “Barins”, high ground between the Duck and Tennessee Rivers, sixty miles southwest of Nashville. Here the Grinders enlarged and hacked out a couple of clearings amidst the oaks and dogwoods. Back in the woods they planted corn and rye, built a cabin, and a barn and a stable. In a clearing along "The Trace" they built three one-room structures. Two stood at right angles to each other, their front doors opening on "The Trace". The third building was a detached kitchen, and stood behind the first two. This was Grinder's Stand, one of seven such “Stands” along The Trace in 1807, where for thirty cents you could rent a bed or part of a bed or just a roof for the night. For a few cents more Priscilla could supply a bowl of warm gruel. But since the toll road by-pass had opened, the Grinder's income had dropped off. So the Grinders depended on their fall-back industry, selling corn mash whiskey to the Chickasaw Indians, whose nation's border lay just a few yards beyond the Stand's front doors.
It was into this wilderness oasis where a tall, gaunt man materialized out of a cold rainstorm, in the gathering darkness of October 10th, 1809. Priscilla Grinder must have greeted him warily. Why was this man in an expensive blue and white stripped duster traveling alone? Why had he not taken the bypass? According to Priscilla, he tried to set her mind at ease by telling her that his two servants should be arriving shortly with pack animals. But he could have given her even more comfort if he had told her that he was the Governor of Upper Louisiana Territory, and one of the most famous men in America.. But he did not tell her. Why not?
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