Friday, March 23, 2012


I don't think JFK walked on water, but I also believe the world was lucky the lowly PT Boat Lieutenant was there to call Air Force General Curtis LeMay's bluff in October of 1962, else the world would have faced Armageddon over the Cuban Missile Crises. But speaking politcally, it was also true that John Fitzgerald Kennedy played a crucial role in the formation of two American political myths. On the Democratic side, there is the myth of Camelot. And on the Republican side there is the myth of the bought election. To put it bluntly, J.F. K. did not steal the Presidental election of 1960 – no way, nadda, never happened.
The foundation of the “bought election” is the autobiography “Just Good Politics, the Life of Raymond Chafin, Appalachian Boss”, published in 1994 (but the story had been around for 30 years beforet that). In 1960 Chafin was Chairman of the Logan county (West Virginia) Democratic Party Executive Committee, and working for Presidential candidate Hurbert Humphrey. Chafin's story, as described by reviewer Joe Savage in the December 1994 Washington Monthly, was that Chafin “received $35,000 cash in two briefcases at the Logan County airport from Kennedy operatives the week before the primary. While he says the amount was "a mistake"--he'd only asked for $3,500--Chafin reassures his readers that he spent it all on election activity, including illegal vote-buying, and did not pocket any of the cash himself.” But the only way to believe that story, is to ignore reality.
It was clear four years in advance the battleground for Democratic Presidental want-a-be's would be the 16 scheduled primaries. In those ancient days, when politics was merely tainted with money, none of the five Democratic candidates could afford to compete in all the primaries, not even the two strongest candidates; the liberal junior Senator from Minnesota, Herbert Humphrey, and the conservative junior Senator from Massachusetts, John (Jack) Kennedy. As early as January 1957, the Jack Pack, as the Kennedy team was called, had decided on a startegy.
It was assumed by the pundits that Humphry would win the April 5 primary in his neighboring state of Wisconsin. But Wisconsin had a large Catholic population, and if the Catholic Kennedy came in a close second in the cheese state, he could count that as a win. Beyond Wiscconsin, the “Jack Pack” knew he would need a primary win in a strongly Protestant state. So early in 1958 pollester Louis Harris was hired to find a possible target.
His polls in West Virginia found Kennedy beating his probable Republican opponent Richard Nixon, by 14 points. And a full year before the primary, Kennedy had campaign chairmen in 39 of the state's 59 counties. Claude Ellis was named Kennedy chairman of Logan County. “First he sent (his) brother Ted and others - like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. - in here to try to help,” Ellis told a 2002 interviewer, adding that Teddy Kennedy, “spent several months traveling between Wisconsin and West Virginia campaigning...Logan people liked Teddy and (we) wanted to keep him here as long as he could stay.” A late 1959 Harris poll found JFK leading Humphery by forty points in West Virginia, and the Kennedy team began to shift resources to Wisconsin, which produced JFK's over-whelming victory in the April 5th , 1960 primary with 56% of the vote.
Humphrey (above, center) was now desperate to stop Kennedy in West Virginia, relying on his Logan county chairman, Raymomd Chafin, to use the party machinery to help. That help included a local poll (not a Harris poll) which claimed Humphrey had jumped out to a 20 point lead. No other polls hinted at such a shift, but with little questioning, the press attributed Humphrey's “surge” to local suspicision of Kennedy's Catholicism. Logan county was so poor, went the local joke, the schools only taught the three R's – Reading, R'writing and Route 23 to Columbus, Ohio”. Winning the support of those bigoted uneducated hillbillies could only be explained by a corrupt Kennedy machine.
Except...Chafin himself remembered the situation differently in a 1964 interview with William Young. Four years after the election Chafin recalled, “In my traveling around (and) over the county, I could see that the Kennedy forces were gaining strength, and they had more young people, and they had a good organization.” On April 25th, Kennedy himself made a well attended speech in Logan, followed by a crowded parade through the center of town. Dan Dahill, a local pol, remembered, “It was a carnival atmosphere. Everyone came together—except for Raymond Chafin’s faction, that is. Raymond and his candidates were all brooding up in their Aracoma Hotel headquarters that day,”
Now, Monday April 25, 1960 was two weeks before the primary, and one week before the alledged pay off. Why would Kennedy buy an election which every indicator, save for one errent poll, said he was already winning? Kennedy had invested three yeas of time, money and effort in West Virginia. And while cash payments to political bosses might buy a close election, Kennedy would win the West Virginia primary (May 10th) ) by 23 points – 61% to 39% for Humphrey. That was a landslide. And you don't buy those with one week's work.
We also have two versions in agreement of a phone converstation between Claude Ellis and Chafin in the first week of May, 1960, after the parade in Logan County and about the time of the alledged payoff. Both men agree on what was said, but Chafin's version – again from 1964 – was that Ellis asked, “Are we working on you, Chafin?” And I said, “Yeah, you’re working on us pretty rough. Looks like that some of our group would like to go along with you on this Kennedy thing.”
In other words, the experienced poltician Chafin had followed the public, once he was convinced they were not following him. And the story he manufactured thirty-four years later was another example of the same thing, giving the public of 1994 – the year of Newt Gingrich's Republican “Contract With America” - what they wanted – proof that a Kennedy conspiracy had stolen the West Virginia primary. In fact, that had not happened.
The general election on Tuesday, November 8, 1960 produced a Kennedy victory in the popular vote by 1/10 of 1%, - a margin so thin the news organizations did not confirm the results until Wednesday afternoon. Republican National Committee Chairman, Senator Thurston Morton of Kentucky, filed suits in eleven states on November the 11th. The most exstensive recount demanded was in Richard J. Daley's Cook County, Illinois. Kennedy had carried the state by just 9,000 votes out of 4,750,000 votes cast.
The results from the recount of 863 precints, reported on December 9, 1960, showed errors in almost every single precint.  But not a single outcome was changed. Over all Nixon gained just 943 votes, and in 40% of the precincts the recount showed errors had been made in favor of the Republicans. In other words, the recount uncovered not fraud but the mistakes you would expect to see when any large beaurocracy of well-meaning amatures periodically makes a maximum effort - every line on every ballot was another opportunity for error, rules were misinterpited and every confusion was magnified. And then there the mistakes made by the voters themselves.
Still the National Republican Party appealed to the Illinois State Board of Elections, chaired by two term Republican governor William “Billy the Kid” Startton. The four Republican and one Democratic board members rejected that appeal – unanimously. So the NRC filed a Federal lawsuit. The judge (a Democrat) ruled that based on the appeal filed, he did not have jurisdiction. The RNC could have refiled, choosing different legal grounds which might have given the judge grounds to consider the election, but they did not.
There were also issues in Texas, but Kennedy's margin of victory was even larger there, than in Illinos. And in Texas the political machinery even more heavily tilted toward the party in power, which in 1960 was the Democratic party. In short,  Kennedy won by a razor thin majority, winning legally and morally.  But the Republican Party stewed over the preceived injustice of the myth, and an entire generation of Republican politicians found their frustrattions to be ably expressed in the personality of their 1968 standard bearer, Richad Nixon again. And Nixon begat the 21st century voter supression I.D. Laws, created again to correct the myth of the stolen election of 1960.
If the Republican Party is to have a future in America, they need to surrender their myths, and begin reaching for the future, instead.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I am surprised most people think the Seventh Cavalry was wiped out at Little Big Horn by the Sioux and Cheyenne. In truth, of the 650 officers and men, scouts and civilians engaged on June 25, 1876 (on the Army’s side) only some 286 were killed: a devastating 44% loss, but hardly the entire command. Most of the men under Major Marcus Reno made it out alive. And where Reno was able to hold his command together over three horrible days of combat, the 210 men directly under the command of “General” George Armstrong Custer were dead within three hours of the first shot being fired. The results for the U.S. Army were even worse in the Second Battle of the Little Big Horn, when, for fifty-seven years, they were mercilessly attacked by a five foot four inch Victorian widow with blue-gray eyes and chestnut hair. Her name was Elizabeth Bacon Custer. And in this engagement she wiped the U.S. Army out, leaving no survivors.
Immediately after the battle the military judgments were fairly unanimous. President Grant, who had been elevated to the White House based on his record as a military commander, told a reporter, “I regard Custer’s massacre as a sacrifice of troops brought on by Custer himself,…(which) was wholly unnecessary – wholly unnecessary.” General Philip Sheridan, the man who had lobbied for Custer’s inclusion on the expedition considered the disaster primarily Custer’s fault. “Had the Seventh Cavalry been held together, it would have been able to handle the Indians on the Little Big Horn."
And finally, General Samuel Davis Sturgis, overall commander of the seventh, whose son, James, had died on the Little Big Horn, reacted negatively to the suggestion that a monument be dedicated to the memory of “The American Murat”, Custer; “For God’s sake let them hide it in some dark valley, or veil it, or put it anywhere the bleeding hearts of the widows, orphans, fathers and mothers of the men so uselessly sacrificed to Custer’s ambition, can never be wrung at the sight of it.”Having dismissed Custer, the army also dismissed his 34 year old widow. Barely a month after her husband had died amid the Montana scrub brush, “Libby” Custer was forced to leave Fort Abraham Lincoln. As a widow Libby had no right to quarters on the post, and so lost the social support of her Army life and friends. Her income was immediately reduced to the widow’s pension of $30 a month; her total assets were worth barely $8,000, while the claims against Custer’s estate exceeded $13,000. And then, in her hour of need, Libby received support from an unexpected source.His name was Frederick Whittaker, and he scratched out a living as a writer of pulp fiction and non-fiction for magazines of the day, “…about the best of its kind”. He had met Custer during the Civil War, and the General’s death inspired him to write a dramatic eulogy praising the fallen hero in Galaxy Magazine. Whittaker also mentioned Custer’s “natural recklessness and vanity”, but Libby immediately contacted him. Libby provided Whittaker with the couple’s personal letters, access to family and friends, war department correspondence and permission to use large sections from Custer’s own book, “My Life on the Plains.”
What emerged, just six months after Little Big Horn, was “A Complete Life of General George A. Custer”. It was pulp as well, filled with inaccuracies and excessive praise for Custer, but it was also a best seller. “So fell the brave caviler, the Christian soldier, surrounded by foes, but dying in harness amid the men he loved.” This time there was no hint of faults in Custer. Instead the blame was laid elsewhere. Of Custer, Whittaker wrote; “He could have run like Reno had he wished...It is clear, in the light of Custer’s previous character, that he held on to the last, expecting to be supported, as he had a right to expect. It was only when he clearly saw he had been betrayed, that he resolved to die game, as it was too late to retreat.” http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/History.Whittaker (Sheldon and Company, New York, 1876).All but a few professional soldiers admitted that Whittaker had gotten it wrong. In fact one of the most serious charges laid against Custer while he had been alive was that at the Washita he had, in fact, deserted a junior commander and his men. But those same officers now withheld their criticism of Whittaker to avoid being forced to also criticize Custer's widow. Reno (above) eventually was forced to ask for and received a Court of Inquiry (not a Court Martial) on his conduct at Little Big Horn, which cleared his name and revealed the character of the people Whittaker had relied on for his version of the battle. But it made little difference to the general public, which declared the Inquiry a whitewash.Elizabeth Custer went on to support herself comfortably by writing three books; “Tenting on the Plains”,"Following the Guidon” and “Boots and Saddles”. In each her husband was idolized and lionized. In 1901 she managed to squeeze out one more, a children’s book, “The Boy General. Story of the Life of Major-General George A. Custer”: “The true soldier asks no questions; he obeys, and Custer was a true soldier. He gave his life in carrying out the orders of his commanding general… He had trained and exhorted his men and officers to loyalty, and with one exception they stood true to their trust, as was shown by the order in which they fell.” By the time Libby died, in 1933, at the age of ninety-one, her vision of Little Big Horn was set in the concrete of the printed page.The first who endorsed Libby's view was Edward S. Godfrey, who had been a junior officer at the Little Big Horn and a Custer “fan” from before the battle. His 1892 “Custer’s Last Battle” was unequivocal. “...had Reno made his charge as ordered,…the Hostiles would have been so engaged… that Custer’s approach…would have broken the moral of the warriors….(Reno’s) faltering ...his halting, his falling back to the defensive position in the woods...; his conduct up to and during the siege…was not such as to inspire confidence or even respect,…” .” These attacks on Reno continued for most of the 20th century. The 1941 movie staring Errol Flynn as Custer displays Libby's view of Reno as well as any tome, echoed even by respected historians such as Robert Utley who in the 1980’s described Reno as "… a besotted, socially inept mediocrity, (who) commanded little respect in the regiment and was the antithesis of the electric Custer in almost every way.”So for over a century Marcus Reno was reviled and despised as the coward who did not charge as ordered, instead pleading weasel-like that Custer had not supported him as promised. It would not be until Ronald Nichols biography of Reno, “In Custer’s Shadow” (U. of Oklahoma Press, 1999) that Reno received a fair hearing.About the same time the Indian accounts of the fight began to finally be given a serious consideration by white historians, including the story told to photographer Edward Curtis in 1907 by three of Custer’s Indian scouts. The three men said they watched amazed as Custer stood on the bluffs overlooking Reno’s fight in the valley, a story supported by some soldiers in the valley fight who reported seeing Custer on the bluffs. (Most historians had always assumed they were imagining things.)
One of the scouts, White Man Runs Him (above), claimed to have scolded Custer; “Why don’t you cross the river and fight too?” To which the scouts say Custer replied, “It is early yet and plenty of time. Let them fight. Our turn will come.”And it did. But sure was a long time coming.
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Sunday, March 18, 2012


I contend that, politically speaking, Amos Kendall was one of our founding fathers. The fact that he was born a generation after the American revolution is irrelevant. This child of poor parents from Massachusetts, by dint of his intellectual brawn, guile and his drive to succeed, reshaped the political landscape in America and he helped create the Democratic Party in his own image. He is mostly forgotten today in part because, for the next one hundred years, his sins became the Democratic Party’s sins. He was a partisan in the extreme and his politics were always personal. He never forgot and he never forgave. He served two presidents, and one of his enemies, President John Quincy Adams, said that those two chief executives were merely, “…the tools of Amos Kendall, the ruling mind of their dominion.”
Amos was tall, thin, asthmatic and prematurely white haired. His photos remind me of a vulture, for some reason. He was also a puritanical workaholic and a hypochondriac with such a talent for venom that he carried a pistol for protection; although he was so nearsighted it is unlikely he could have hit anything. In the election of 1828 it was Amos’s talent for invective which made Andrew Jackson President.
Amos, working under the guiding hand of campaign manager Martin Van Buren, eviscerated the incumbent, John Quincy Adams (above), day after day on the pages of his newspaper, “The Argus of Western America.” According to Amos, Adams was effete and too European. (Sound familiar?) Adams had permitted the rape of an American servant girl by the Russian Czar (a complete fabrication). He was living lavishly while average Americans suffered (a gross exaggeration). Adams had even, charged Amos, brought gambling into the White House. (Adams had bought a pool table and a chess set). Thanks in large part to Amos’ constant attacks, Jackson easily won the election. And when Jackson moved into the White House, Amos came with him.
Officially, Amos was given a vague job in the Treasury Department. But it was just a cover for his real career in Washington. According to Virginia Whig Henry Wise, Amos was…”the President’s thinking machine and writing machine and his lying machine… Nothing was well done without him”. English journalist Harriet Martubeau, while visiting the United States in 1834, noted, “I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the invincible Amos Kendall, one of the most remarkable men in America. He is supposed to be the moving spring of the administration; the thinker, planner, and doer, but it is all in the dark.” And Virginia Democrat Colonel Augustine Clairborn described Amos as a “…little whippet of a man” who was “...the Atlas that bore on his shoulders the weight of Jackson's administration. He originated, or was consulted in advance, upon every great measure.”
Before Jackson (above), a President would look to his cabinet for advice. But cabinet members had to be approved by the Senate, and often saw themselves as the President’s heirs, if not future competitors. And Jackson did not intend on taking any advice from either his opponents or his competitors. This produced a situation in which, wrote Nicholas Biddle, “The kitchen predominates over the parlor”. There was bitterness in that description, since Jackson and Amos were intent upon dismantling the Bank of the United States and firing its president, who happened to be Mr. Biddle. And they succeeded. But, whatever the spirit, Amos was a member of the original “Kitchen Cabinet”, “the common reservoir of all the petty slanders which find a place in the most degraded prints in the Union”, according to Mississippi Whig George Poindexter.
During Jackson’s second term Amos was appointed the Postmaster General, and proceeded to empty the bureaucracy of every Wig sympathizer, replacing them with reliable Democrats. In addition, every Wig contractor had their mail contracts cancelled, unless they hired only Democrats (duplicated in Republican Tom Delay's 2000-2004 K Street Project). Amos had thus created the “Spoils System”. This politicizing of entire departments of government was justified by New York Democratic Senator William Learned Macy, this way; “If (a politician is) defeated, they expect to retire from office. If they are successful, they claim, as a matter of right, the advantages of success. They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” President Jackson himself argued, “In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people, no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another.” The President  innocuously described this conversion of government into plunder merely as the “rotation in office”. But the brain behind the argument was Amos Kendall, and there was nothing innocuous about Amos' thinking.
It was Amos who ran Martin Van Buren’s (above) successful Presidential campaign in 1836. And when the “Little Magician” took the oath of office in March of 1837, it looked as if the Democrats would rule Washington permanently. But the destruction of the Bank of the United States came back to bite the Jackson Democrats.
During the first three weeks of April 1837, 150 businesses failed in New York City alone, wiping out $100 million in wealth. By the end of that summer unemployment nationwide had topped 10%, and mobs were raiding food warehouses. Van Buren’s only response to the “Panic of 1837” was to cut government expenditures, so tightly that they even sold the tools used to construct roads and bridges. As Republicans today might note, this action only deepened the depression, and insured that in 1840 the Whigs elected William Henry Harrison President.
Amos tried to go back to running newspapers. But the economic depression inspired at least in part by the Democratic economic policies, had become too deep. His publishing ventures failed. Then, in 1845, Amos became Samuel F. B. Morse’s business manager. He helped Morse create and run the International Telegraph Company (it would later become International Telephone and Telegraph). This venture finally made Amos a wealthy man. He retired in 1860. But that did not last for long.
While Amos had been running the Post Office, he had decreed that local postmasters could refused any mail which they deemed to be either abolitionist or pro-slavery. That was a purely political decision, made because the Democrats in the 1830’s were pursuing a “Southern Strategy”, which sought to shore up their base of support in the South. The postmaster's decision was just one of the myriad of compromises which brought on the American Civil War, and certainly not the most important one. Still, it must be counted against Amos that while he never owned slaves, he did nothing to encourage slavery’s demise, when he had the chance to. It is to Amos’s credit that, when the war finally came, he publicly supported the Union cause, which, for a Democrat who was unending in his criticism of the Lincoln administration, was not an easy thing to do.
The amazing Amos Kendall died on November 12, 1869, at sixty years of age. An obituary writer tried to explain his extraordinary career by listing his fields of endeavor. Amos had been “a newspaper editor, party organizer, political propagandist, postmaster general, telegraph builder, and promoter of language for the deaf.” Amos had helped found, and had left most of his fortune to, Gallaudet University, the unofficial national school for the deaf. And that is to his credit as well. And while the Democratic Party that he founded has changed so much in the last 150 years as to be all but unrecognizable, still, he was a midwife at its birth, and that deserves to figured toward his credit, as well.


I have begun to wonder just how we can end will the war in Afghanistan. In this endeavor we are haunted by
the old dictum from American Civil War General,  U.S. Grant; "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender." But the reality was that when Grant demanded those terms at Fort Donaldson in 1862, they immediately were rejected by the Confederate commander, General Buckner. And Grant immediately modified his offer.  Despite this President Roosevelt issued the same demand in World War Two of Germany and Japan. And because Germany was crushed and occupied, the “Greatest Generation” and their children, still expects all American wars to end like World War Two in Europe did. But the truth is that even WWII did not end in "absolute and total victory".   Let me try to show the reality of how we ended World War Two in the Pacific, the most heartless bloodbath America has ever been caught up in.
Logically, America and Japan's war in the Pacific should have ended on Sunday, July 9th, 1944. On that day, at 16:15 hours (4:15pm local time), the American commander Admiral Richmond J. Turner declared the island of Saipan secured. The everyone agreed at the time the victory had been decisive. In the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, three Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk and 600 aircraft and pilots were destroyed. The United States lost just 123 planes, and 80 of those experienced air crews were rescued. On the ground, on Saipan  30,000 Japanese soldiers and 22,000 civilians had died for the emperor. The United States lost about 2,949 dead, and 10,364 wounded. That ratio of 10 Japanese dead for every one American dead, had been fairly constant through the war in the Pacific.  And even before Admiral Turner’s pronouncement, U.S. Navy Construction Battalions (the amazing C.B.’s) had begun turning the island into the world’s largest airport, from which, eventually, 2,000 B-29’s heavy bombers would turn Japanese factories and cities into torches.
The Japanese recognized it. Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, the architect of the war with America, and his entire cabinet resigned, nine days after Admiral Turner's pronouncement. This was unambiguous proof that every Japanese senior commander knew that the Japan had lost the war. But Japanese leadership now held onto the dream that if they could bleed America enough, if the Japanese could kill enough Americans in just one more big battle, they would win a more favorable peace from the Americans. In conquering Iwo Jima the United States suffered 8,621 dead and 19,189 wounded, and at Okinawa, on the threshold of Japan itself, America suffered 12,513 dead and 38,513 wounded But in those two invasions, Japan would lose 21,000 dead and 130,000 dead. The Americans still gave no hint of bending on terms. The Japanese strategy was not working..
But even after those bloodbaths, no Japanese leader even hinted in public that they might be willing to negotiate a peace with the Americans. In part this was because the Japanese saw no evidence that America was having any second thoughts about "Unconditional Surrender", and in part because the Japanese military was driven by its most radical leadership. Japan's public silence on the issue of a negotiations, amounted to the mass murder of their own citizens and soldiers,  of the U.S. forces closing in on them, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians from occupied nations (mostly China) caught between the avenging Americans and the silent fatalistic fanatics of Japan.
It takes only one nation  to start a war, but it takes two nations to make was peace. And there were a few,  mostly in Washington, D.C. and at Pearl Harbor, who realized it was no longer in either America or Japan's best interests, to continue this slaughter. How could these few find a way to convince the majority on both sides  to stop the killing?.
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