Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Movie Review-Band of Brothers

I know it seems I have been writing alot about movies but I want to write a review of one of my Christmas presents. My wife surprised me with the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. I have commented on this movie before in passing but after having just finished then entire series again I just wanted to make a few comments. If you are not familiar with the movie it was taken from a book by the same name and written by the excellent historian Stephen Ambrose. The book and the movie detail Company E (Easy Company) of the 101 Airborne division in WW II as they train, jump out of plains on D-Day, fight the Battle of the Bulge, make their way into Germany, and capture the Eagles nest. As a historian, I believe this is by far the best version of WWII on film. There are many great WWII movies, I could make a list, but none can capture the essence of B of B. The main thing Band of Brothers has over most movies is its length. The movie is almost 12 hours long allowing for excellent character development and detail. Most films only have time to show isolated incidents. Saving Private Ryan gave an excellent portrayal of D-Day, but only had half an hour to do so, B of B has over two hours to cover the same event. Do not let the length of the movie overwhelm you; it is broken down into ten self-contained segments. In our experience the biggest problem is not finishing the 12 hour epic, but instead the difficulty is not putting your life on hold and finishing it all in one day. The first time we watched this we thought it would take several weekends, but instead we made several trips to the video store the same weekend to get more episodes.

The Movie begins almost two years before D-Day. The men of Easy Company had all volunteered for the elite airborne corps. The training was extremely difficult, but as one man said, they volunteered so that they knew that the men fighting on either side were the best. Airborne was a new concept in the warfare. Instead of taking on the enemy head on, the army would have men parachute behind enemy lines, meaning they would be surrounded by the enemy and if the operation failed then they would be trapped. The best example was D-Day. If the Allied troops were not successful in taking Normandy, then all the airborne divisions would be caught behind German lines. With such a difficult task, extended training was necessary and the level of training was brutal. The first episode dealt with Easy’s time both in America and England as they trained to make the jump into France on D-Day. The C.O. of Easy was Herbert Sobel (surprisingly well played by David Schimmer or more famously Ross from NBC’s Friends) Sobel was a tyrant for discipline and training but incompetent in the field. Much of the first episode was Easy’s dealing with Sobel.

Also in the first episode we are introduced to the men of Easy Company. They were a rough bunch of men from all over the US, but as the movie progressed they would form into an elite group of men, and more importantly a family. Because this movie was historically accurate, many of these men would die or have to leave from injury, but many you will come to know and even feel for. The most important character introduced is Lt. Richard Winters played perfectly by Damian Lewis. Lewis is currently playing Cruise on the TV drama Life. I am a big fan of Life, not so much because of the show itself, but because I loved Lewis’s portrayal of Winters so much (I will write a blog about Life in the near future). I do not have the time or space to discuss each man in Easy Company, I would love to do so and they are all deserving, but I will limit myself to two. One is Winters. Winters will find himself Company commander on D-Day after all his superiors were killed. Much of the movie is about Winters and the way he led his men. There is no way you can watch this movie and not have great respect for this man. I love sports but am not one who wants to meet sports stars or celebrities but I think if I was to make a list of the 5 men living today who I would like to shake their hand and talk to for a few minutes, I am sure Dick Winters would be one of them. The other actor who I am now a huge fan of, may surprise some, it still surprises me. It is Donny Wahlburg who plays 1st Seg Carwood Lipton. Yes the same Wahlburg from the New Kids on the Block, but his acting skills are good and the man he portrays is a real hero. One of my favorite episodes was the one that focuses on Lipton while they fought the bloodiest battle in World history, the battle of the Bulge. I do not want to give it away, but the praise he receives from Lt. Spears at the end of the episode is touching.

As I said there are so many other characters I could talk about, but do not have room. This is a touching story about ordinary men who were put into extraordinary situations. They had to deal with all the horrors of war, especially the horror of losing the men that stood next to them, the men that came to be their brothers. The last episode they were listening to a German General talk to his men. He said they formed a bond that could only be forged in Battle. While this must have been true from the Germans, it surly was by the men of Easy Company. By the end you also felt part of them, and felt for them as they suffered loss. They were asked to do things that no one should be asked to do, but they came through every time. These men were and are true heroes. Before and after each episode they would play interviews of some of the real men of Easy. After the last episode one of the men interviewed brought up a letter in which he said that his grandchild asked him if he was a hero in the War, he said no, but that he served in a company of heroes. I would like to second that statement these men were heroes.

This was a violent film and the language can be harsh at times. I had watched it on TV and had not realized how bad the language was at times. But this is still a film that I would recommend to everyone old enough. These men volunteered several years of their lives and at time their very lives to help others. Watching movies like this adds weight to this generations claim as the greatest generation. There are lots of movies about war, but few do as well as B of B. It does not celebrate death and violence as some war movies do, but instead shows the humanity in war. Instead of focusing on the big wigs or famous men like Patton, it focuses on the regular men, one company and their extraordinary true-life deeds. This movie is a must see and after you are done, I think you will agree with me that these men and those serving now deserve a great amount of respect and gratitude from all of us.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tis the Season to Watch Christmas Movies-Part II

My wife and I were trying to remember what movies we wanted to get in before Christmas or on Christmas day. You know those movies, ones that you are required to watch before it is officially Christmas. Since I enjoy making lists, I figured this would be a perfect blog, so I decided to write my top ten favorite Christmas movies.
Hope you enjoyed the first installment of my top ten best Christmas movies. Now for my top ten.
5. The Christmas Carol. My favorite version is from 1984 staring George C. Scott. Charles Dickens is a master storyteller and this is one of his most beloved stories. There have been dozens of spin offs of this story, two have made this list, but the original story is still worth watching. It is enjoyable to see Scrooge’s excitement when he realizes he had not missed Christmas and goes about trying to correct all his mistakes in the past.

4. The Christmas Story. I will always remember my entire family (I think around 22 of us) going into a theater one Christmas season to watch this movie. I do not think we knew much about it, but by the time we left the theater Christmas would never be the same again, or I guess anyone’s Christmas. Movies like Christmas Vacation, Scrooged, or Elf are great movies, but this is now a classic on the level of White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street. I could spend a page writing about all the lines or scenes that have become movie icons at the highest level. I can say things “I double dog dare you” and we all automatically think of a tongue stuck to a pole. Goose for dinner, you’ll shoot your eye out, the lamp, or F-U-D-G-E are just a couple other examples. I love this movie because it depicts such an interesting time. I use this in my class when we discuss the 20s and 30 and the cultural importance of the radio. One an inside joke, one thing I will always remember from the theater is when the bully first showed up and my Uncle Doug shouted its Jared (Jared Patton was his best friend and looked just like him).

3. The Muppets Christmas Carol. This is the last of my Christmas Carol trilogy and my personal favorite, hence the number three ranking. I love the Muppets and I enjoy the Christmas Carol, put them together and you get a fun movie for the entire family. It is the same classic tale, with the same morals and story, but with a funny Muppets twist. It is also a musical and with very memorable songs. There is something about this movie that makes me happy, it must bring back memories of being a kid at Christmas time. And you cannot help but have a good movie when Jacob Marley and his brother are played by the Muppet hecklers.

2. White Christmas. Irving Berlin is an inspirational story. A Russian Jewish immigrant, Berlin had to face the intolerance that came with his religion and immigrant status, yet overcame it all to write some of our most beloved songs including God Bless America. One of his classic films was Holiday Inn where he wrote the song White Christmas. Based on the popularity of this song he wrote an entire movie around it with the same name. I know I keep using the word classic a lot, but I cannot think of a better term, this is such a classic movie, with an amazingly classic cast, Bing Crosby, Danny Kay, and Rosemary Clooney. There are other familiar songs that come from White Christmas other than the title song, Sister, I Wish I Was Back in the Army, and Count Your Blessings. This movie, like so many of the others, has the ability to make you feel good. It does not matter the mood you are in when the start it, you will be joyful when it is over.

1. Mr. Kruger’s Christmas. This movie is one of the reasons I love Jimmy Stewart. I could make an entire blog about Stewart movies, but he once said that this was one of his favorites because he was able to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This is the movie I like to watch on Christmas Eve. The first nine movies on this list are all great to bring in the spirit of the season, but only this one reminds us the true reason we have this holiday. This was an LDS production and directed by the Oscar award winning Keith Merrill (his daughter was the little girl in the film and I had a crush on her when I was little). This is about a building custodian who had to spend another Christmas alone. During the story he would daydream and put himself into situations, one of which was conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There are some funny parts, but the most touching was when he imagined he was in the stables when Christ was born. His love for the Savior was so strong as he asked for forgiveness and pledged to live his life the way the baby Jesus would want him too. This is a heart touching story that tells the true meaning of Christmas. If you are reading this blog and are not LDS you probably have never heard of his movie, if that is the case I suggest ordering it. You can buy it on Amazon. It is not a message about Mormonism, but about Christ, and can be enjoyed by all Christians during this season. As a child I did not know Stewart was famous, I only knew him as Mr. Kruger and his performance was so excellent that I think much of it was not acting, but he was expressing his actual testimony of Jesus

Well these are my favorite Christmas movies, I would suggest if you have not seen any of them to correct that wrong. There are other favorites that we enjoy, like classic cartoons, but that will be for another time or blog. I hope you enjoy these and if I am missing an important one or have my order wrong, please let me know. I hope you all have a merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tis the Season to Watch Christmas Movies

My wife and I were trying to remember what movies we wanted to get in before Christmas or on Christmas day. You know those movies, ones that you are required to watch before it is officially Christmas. Since I enjoy making lists, I figured this would be a perfect blog, so I decided to write my top ten favorite Christmas movies.

1o. Miracle on 34th street. I mean the 1947 Natalie Woods version not the new one. This is still a classic about a little girl, Natalie Woods, who was raised not to believe in Santa Claus, and in fact not to believe in anything. However with the help of a new neighbor and Mr. Claus himself they help her lean to believe in miracles.

9. It’s a Wonderful Life. This is only one of two of my favorites staring one of my favorite actors Jimmy Stewart. I am sure everyone has seen this movie, but if you have been living in a cave, this is about a man who makes a wish that he was never born. An angle appears to him and shows him what his loved ones lives would be like had he not been born. This is a feel good movie at its best, and like most Frank Capra movies it just makes you feel good.

8. Scrooged. This has become a modern Christmas classic and one of Bill Murray’s best. This is a modern version of Charles Dickens’s novel Christmas Carol. Murray’s character is a TV executive putting on a Christmas show but has no idea of what Christmas is all about. Just as in the original book after being visited by the three ghosts he comes to understand the spirit of the season

7. Elf. This is the most recent of the Christmas classics and stars the very funny Will Ferrell. Ferrell plays a human adopted by elfs who leaves the North Pole to find his family. Like so many Christmas movies, Ferrell must teach his new family what Christmas means, mostly how it is about family. This is a very funny movie that the entire family will enjoy.

6. Christmas Vacation. This movie, like the two above it, is a slapstick funny Christmas movies., This one is a sequel to the Chevy Chase Vacation movies. Not only is the Griswold family back, but so are their hillbilly cousins led by Randy Quaid in his greatest role ever. Clark, Chevy Chase, is the ultimate dysfunctional father who loves his family so much and wants to make a perfect Christmas but seems to fail at every step. Yet as you expect in the end of a Christmas story, everything works out in a funny way.

I hope y ou enjoy watching these films. Check back later for numbers 1 to 5.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Auto Bailout and Do You Think We Chose the Wrong Man.

If only the presidential primaries went a month longer, maybe we would be better off. Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a few weeks ago that I think is dead on (you can read it yourself at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/19romney.html?hp). When we picked the Republican nominee the economy was sound and so McCain won on his national security, then the economy tanked and we nominated a man who had admitted he was week on economic issues. Right now most of you are aware that Congress is debating an economic bailout for the big three automakers. Most thought it would pass with just some minor debate, but luckily some Senators are trying to stop it. I have had a problem with the bail out all along, even though I saw why it was important. But the car bailouts are a bit different. What Romney basically said was that if we bail out the car companies we will just have to do it again in a few years because we are not fixing the problem. The biggest issue is the unions. There are autoworkers that are making over 100,000 because they have put in 30 or more years. I do not begrudge anyone making as much as they can, but many college grads do not make that kind of money. Detroit is even paying people who are not working, because the unions have so much power to demand such conditions. Romney’s point is the car companies cannot succeed with such overhead, and cannot compete with other companies who do not have such strict union demands. Romney wants to help, he is a Michigan man and does not want to see Americans lose jobs, but believes the best way to ultimately help is to allow the companies to declare bankruptcy then help them restructure and bring them back stronger then before. This would include a new deal with the unions. This is fixing the problems not just covering up the stink for a few years. If the automakers do not change how they do business, including their relationship with the unions, they will never progress.

This is the kind of thinking we need in government. Romney was never my first choice, but when he has the guts to say let them fail, I have come over to his side. This is the kind of government we need. This is not the easy way out, but in the long run the better. This type of governing takes courage. I am not saying Obama does not have courage, he may come up with a similar plan, I just fear from his rhetoric that he favors government fixing everything. One of my fears of nominating a Chicago machine politician is already coming true, I am sure that instead of focusing on the bailout right now President-elect Obama is having to wonder how the corruption scandal in Illinois will effect him. Obama may have nothing to do with the governor, but is it not great that that he still has two months before he is already sworn in and there is a possible corruption charge. With Romney’s head for the economy, the Republican party might want to lift him to the forefront and put his ideas out there. The economy may not be much better in four years and he may just be the man we need.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another BCS Blunder

I usually write about history and politics, but I want to veer off today and talk about sports, so many of you can stop reading now. I like so many others are disgruntled about events happening in the sports landscape, today I only have room to discuss one. However before I do I want to give a big Yea for my Va Tech Hokies. I knew this would be a difficult season for them; they lost their entire team last year. I had no expectations of the Hokies, but to my surprise they won the ACC championship this past Saturday with a victory over BC. This is their second ACC championship in two years and their third overall. Tech has dominated the ACC since they came into the league a few years ago with three titles. They will be facing Cincinnati on New Years day in the Orange Bowl, GO HOKIES!!!!

Now for my big complaint, the BCS. Once again the idiots in college football have screwed it all up. The national title game will be between Oklahoma and Florida, two great teams that will play an exciting game, but it should not be for the title. Unless you do not pay attention to college football at all, than you know the biggest complaint: how can 1 loss Oklahoma jump ahead of 1 loss Texas when Oklahoma’s 1 loss was to Texas. In the week that Ok jumped Texas, Texas even won its own game, yes granted to an inferior team, but that should not matter. I do not understand why it is more important when you win or lose than it does to who you played. My big issue is that most who support the BCS system (John Saunders) have a good argument: a playoff will take away the importance of the regular season games. It is a good argument; big games would not matter as much if both teams will then make the playoffs anyway. But this year their argument is hurt because the regular season Red River Rivalry in the end did not matter at all, Texas won yet Oklahoma is playing in the big game. This year makes the regular season seem worthless. Take another example, the SEC championship. Alabama was ranked number 1 during most of their undefeated regular season. Their only loss came in the SEC championship game where they lost to Florida. So Alabama and Florida were both 1 loss teams, so how do you decide who should go to the BCS final, Florida because they beat Alabama head on. Why did not the same model apply to Texas?

I understand why it is hard to decide who should play in the championship game, there are no undefeated teams (O yea, Utah and Boise, but they don’t count-more on that later) and a bunch of 1 loss teams (Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, USC, Penn State, not to mention Ball State). You would think looking at who they lost to would make a difference. Why has powerful USC been out of the question, well they lost to Oregon State. Yet Florida lost to Old Miss and they are playing for the big game. It should matter who you lost to more than when you lost. All the teams are deserving, but Florida lost to Old Miss, USC to Oregon State, Penn State to Iowa, the more deserving teams are Texas who lost to Texas Tech, but if we go by this model then why is not Alabama playing Texas Tech. Bama lost to Florida and Tech to Oklahoma, the two teams that most consider the best in the nation. It seems to me that Bama should have a shot, they were number one for the second half of the year, and lost to the current number 2 team. Why because they lost to Florida head to head, then what about Texas. Can you say double standard? The other reason of coarse is that Bama lost late. There is no way to say that every game in the regular season means more, when later games mean much more than earlier games.

My last issue is Utah and Boise. Both teams went undefeated, yet are being left out. Utah did make a BCS game, but with their performance this year, not to mention the past few years, they deserve a shot at the title. Could they beat either team, probably not, but have they earned the right to try. As for Boise, they were left out completely, even being undefeated, and had one of the best few years in football including one of the best bowl wins in recent history when they beat Oklahoma, proving the little guys can beat the big boys. There is not way the BCS can justify putting a 2 loss Ohio State into the BCS and leaving Boise out, except for money. Colleges who want to be all high and mighty are making football decisions based on money and nothing else.

The only solution to this mess is an 8 game playoff, but not the playoff most are proposing. It should not be the top ranked teams, allowing the BCS conferences to continue to control things. Each of the 6 BCS teams should send their champion. Make the regular season games matter. I agree with pro-BCS people to say that this years Texas Oklahoma game would not have matter as much if both Texas and Oklahoma made the playoff. Only take one team per conference. Leave the last two spots for the next two highest ranked non-BCS conference teams, this year Utah and Boise. What makes March Madness so fun is that George Mason can make it to the final four. Let Utah or Ball State have a chance to prove they can beat someone, they may just surprise everyone. By the way keep the bowls, just make the four BCS bowls the first round of an eight team playoff and the other schools still go to other bowls. Would not this year be so much better if we saw this instead:

Jan 1
Rose: #1. Florida v. #21 Virginia Tech (go Hokies)
Orange: #6 Penn State V. #7 Utah
Sugar: #5 USC v. #9 Boise State
Fiesta: ##3 Texas (they should be going) v. #12 Cincinnati

Jan 8: Semi-final game

Jan 15: National Championship
Hokies Win!!!!
I can dream.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


We had the opportunity this past week to be the guests of my in-laws at Orlando (thank you again Steve and Sharon). We had a very enjoyable time. It took two long days to make the drive, but we drove along the gulf coast which I had never seen before so it made it enjoyable. We took part in several activities. On Sunday we ate at Medieval Times and enjoyed the food and the show. The kids loved cheering on their Knight and at the end Savannah even got to keep the ribbon presented to her by the Blue Knight. On Monday we visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Magic Kingdom. The Kids agreed their favorite part was the Lion King show and Savannah got to have a meet and greet with the princesses (she was in heaven). We were out to midnight and so the next day we were so tired that we took a day off. We did take a boat ride on an air boat in a semi-swampy area. This was one of my highlights, I have never been on an airboat before, but now I want one. We did see a couple gators; they were small, but still fun to see in the wild. On Wed we went to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood studios. I am not a big fan of rides (I get very sick) so I enjoy Epcot where we can walk around the different nations and eat good food. The kids and I left early to get a head start on the Hollywood studios were we saw Beauty and the Beast and the Indiana Jones show, both of which were favorites of the kids. Jake also enjoyed Star tours. We were then joined by the rest of the family for their night show called Fantasmic. Outside of getting a bit wet it was quite a performance. Thursday again we took the day off to relax and enjoy Thanksgiving. We did have an epic game of mini-golf, I won the first 18, but was crushed by Steve on the back 18 where he had several holes in one and began the course with a seven. Finally on Friday we went to Universal Studios. Jake said by far his favorite ride of the week was the Simpson’s ride (Jake has begun to love watching the Simpsons, I knew he would have good taste). The kids also enjoyed the Sinbad show and the ET ride. Once again thank you to the Edwards for giving us such an enjoyable week.

My review of the parks is of course positive. But I want to give extra praise to Disney World and one negative remark about Universal Studios. When you go to Disney you expect to wait in long lines, it is very popular after all. But Disney has what is called fast pass. The rides with the longest lines you can get a fast pass that tells you when to come back and skip most of the line. This allows you to enjoy other things at the part and spend all your time in line. You can only have one fast pass at a time, so once you ride the ride you can go get the next one. However at Universal they have a different version of the fast pass. If you want to double the price of you ticket you can buy the fast pass for all rides. This is why I joked about Lenin, I see Universal as class warfare at its best. Every time you wanted to ride a ride there were two lines, the haves and the have nots. And not being in the fast lane you felt like a second class citizen as they would fill up the rides with everyone from the fast lanes. I began to feel annoyed as I waited in the ET line for over an hour watching the bikes fill up with the elite while us peasants sat and watched. I never felt the same way at Disney, even though when I was in the slow line and people with fast pass got on first. The difference was at Disney I could have gotten a fast pass their, but chose not to. Disney was the great equalizer, while Universal separated everyone in classes like the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Yes I could have bought a fast pass at Universal, but they were not cheap. It already cost a family a fortune to make it to Orlando, but Universal saw another way to squeeze more cash out of hard working families, by making them feel like lesser citizens. Obviously Disney is not perfect, it is not like they are giving away tickets (well maybe on your birthday), but they could have done the same thing, and who knows maybe they will, but for now it is just another reason why Disney is the happiest place on earth.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Funniest Show No One is Watching

I just have one question. What is so funny about the Office? I have tried several times to watch it, I know everyone thinks it is the funniest show in TV, but I do not find it funny at all.

On the other hand one show that I do not hear anyone talking about is The Big Bang Theory. In my opinion this is the funniest show right now. I still enjoy How I Met Your Mother, but I find that I can not stop belly laughing at Big Bang. The character of Sheldon played by Jim Parsons is a classic, I wonder who the writer is who is smart enough to write his part. If you have not seen the show, it is about four very intelligent but nerdy guys and their dealings with the normal world. Maybe by admitting how much I like this show I am exposing my own inner nerd, that I try to hide, but I can not help it. I cannot understand why The Office get so much attention, and the Big Bang Theory gets so little. If you have never watched Big Bang, do your self a favor and give it a chance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Letter to President Bush

I have been thinking for a while about writing a post about President Bush, but then I thought I might as well write him a letter. I have no idea if he ever reads any of the letters sent to him, but he has been ripped on for so long, I thought I might as well as try and say something nice. I know he is not popular right now, but for one, I still have some respect for him and for keeping us safe. I thought instead of writing a separate post, I will just post the letter here:

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
At the conclusion of your tenure in office I want to write to express my appreciation for the work you have done in the service of our nation. I know these last few years have been trying ones, but you handled a difficult situation with the dignity and grace that your office deserves. I am an American history professor and as such I believe one day history will tell a different story about the presidency of George W. Bush, one much different than what is being told now. After this generation passes away, I believe your administration will be looked upon as one of character and courage. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has been asked to endure so much: the attacks on 9/11, the worst natural disaster in American history, and the collapse of our economy. The difference was that the Americans alive in Roosevelt’s time, rightfully referred to as the “Greatest Generation” rallied around the President, while my own self engrossed generation looked to find fault. Today we praise Roosevelt for steering the ship during harsh waters and my hope and belief is that someday we as a people will recognize your leadership in waters just as rough.

I am not so na├»ve as to believe things were always perfect, as I am sure you have some regrets. Yet, I respect the fact that you could have improved your approval rating if you were willing to compromise your character, which you never did. I can only guess how you must have felt in the days following 9/11, knowing that so many died on your watch, and I listened as you promised to do everything in your power to make sure it never happened again, and that you would never forget. I believe you lived up to that promise, even to the sacrifice of your popularity. You fought an unpopular war, knowing that it would make us safer. I believe you could have made excuses to pull out of Iraq by now; lesser men may have done so to save their reputation. Yet you always stayed on course. I just wanted you to know that you have my respect and my gratitude. Thank you for keeping us safe and for doing what you thought was right. I know Presidents care about their legacy, and just so you know there will always be at least one college history class where your legacy is protected. I am just beginning my career, but for the last few years I spend my last day of class lecturing on terrorism, I feel it is an appropriate end to the semester, and introduces the students to the crisis we are and will be facing for some time. We end the class with the attacks on 9/11 and then I play for them your speech on September 20, what I believe to be the highlight of your tenure, and then I emphasize the line in which you say, “I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” I then close the class with, “and I believe he may be the only one in power today who has kept his promise.”

So once again Mr. President, on behalf of myself and my family, I want to thank you for your service, and may God continue to bless you and your family, and may God always bless America.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Revolution Book List

Today’s blog is a request. I have a friend, who like many of you was inspired during this last election to become more involved and informed about politics. I think that was the best part about the election, to see so many care about the political system. My friend wanted to do some reading about the founding of our country and so has asked for a book list, and I thought it would make a good blog.

The first few books about the revolution can be very tedious, but have the best information. One of the big questions when it comes to the American Revolution is: was it a revolution? The French Revolution came quickly after the American one, and with the French there is no doubt it was a revolution. For one, America’s lack of bloodshed (not armies, but overthrowing and killing the old establishment), have led many to claim a revolution never happened. Some well respected historians have even made these arguments. Charles Beard claimed that the revolution was fought by the wealthy to maintain and improve their wealth. Others such as Arthur Schlesinger have argued that the rich and powerful Americans kicked out the rich and powerful British only to set themselves up in power, and how can that be a revolution?

One of the first to challenge this perspective and one of the books I would suggest is Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 1967. Bailyn claims that the revolution was in how Americans saw themselves. Before the Revolution the colonists were embarrassed by their low status, their lack of social hierarchy and established religion. Yet over time the colonists realized these were positive traits and fought to preserve them.

One of Bailyn’s students wrote the other great piece, Gordon Wood’s The Radicalism of the American Revolution, 1991. Wood said the lack of blood should not stop us from seeing the radicalism of our Revolution. If we focus on the events directly after the revolution then we are missing the larger picture. We need to look down the road a bit. Before the Revolution we were ruled by a King in England and the local aristocracy. We had a large division between rich and poor and an understood social hierarchy. Yet after the Revolution the constitution replaced the King with a republic were we were ruled by our betters (our own elite). However, Wood’s argument is that once freedom was unleashed the framers could not stop democratic forces, and in fact many of them were very upset with the direction of our nation as we entered mass democracy during the Jacksonian period. If we keep going we eventually freed the slaves and gave women the right to vote, all of which would have been radical to the framers.

As for the why we fought the Revolution, my favorite book is Pauline Maier’s, From Resistance to Revolution, 1972. I think she gives the best account of how the colonists went from resisting the British to deciding to revolt. She explains how the colonists really did not want to break from Britain, but were fighting for their rights as Englishmen until they were pushed too far. What most do not understand was that we were into the Revolutionary War about a year before we decided to declare our freedom. Up till then we were still hoping our resistance would bring the British to their senses and give into our demands.

A few other books that are a bit easier to understand and much more interesting to read have come out lately. They deal more with what actually happened and less with theory of why. I loved David McCullough’s John Adams, not only do you learn about a very important man, but he explains the thinking behind the revolution and the Constitution. McCullough also wrote 1776 which I would suggest. Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers does an excellent job explaining the relationship between the founders, one that is not always very positive. If you want more from the military side, I would recommend David Hacket Fisher’s Washington’s Crossing or Paul Revere’s Ride. Right now I am reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I will write a full review of this when I am finished, but so far it gives excellent detail into the Revolution, but more importantly detail into the founding of your government. As I have said in earlier blogs, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were the most important for our independence, but Hamilton may be the most influential in the shaping of our government.

If you truly want to understand the Constitution, by far the best reading is The Federalists Papers. These can be difficult to read, but they were written by the men themselves who wrote the Constitution (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay). Just because the framers wrote the Constitution, did not mean that the American people were going to accept this new government (the Articles of Confederation had been our government for a few years and many were happy with it). When it looked as though the Constitution was not going to be approved, Hamilton, along with the other two, wrote a series of pieces published in newspapers that explained why the Constitution was important, spelled out what they were thinking, and answered any question they thought the peoples might have. So I would suggest that anyone who truly wants to understand the Constitution must first read the Constitution, then read the Federalist Papers to get the background as to why they did what they did (you can buy it on Amazon for under $10).

So I hope these books can help your study of the Revolution and its outcome. I am glad to see peoples interest in such important topics. I would love to discuss any of these if you would like to have a virtual book club. I hope this does not sound arrogant, but I would love any other recommendations for blog topics, I find this fun.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Racism Over?

With the election of our new president, I think it is time for an interesting debate: is racism over? I do not mean are there still racists, yes of course there will always be, but can we still call our nation a racist one. The charge of racism has been leveled against the US for years, and has picked up steam over the last eight years. Men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have made a living calling the US racists. The best example of accusing the US of racism came from hurricane Katrina. I am sure no one has forgotten Kanye West’s statement at an event to raise money, when he said on national TV, “George Bush Hates Black People.” I for one never blamed Bush for Katrina (I truly believe some think he created the storm and sicked it on New Orleans). It was a storm like we have never seen and it caught us unprepared. No other president could have done better. When disasters hit, it is always the poor who get hurt the worst. The ones who could afford it got out early. And much of the poor tend to be minorities, it is just a fact for now. So the question is, if another tragedy occurs over the next four year (and once again it will be the poor that suffer) can be blame the president? Will West show up again and say President Obama hates black people. When the black Americans are upset at their lot in life can they blame “the Man” for keeping them down, even when “the Man” is black? I think this is a discussion we need to have, even though many will be scared to have it. When I asked my classes what they thought (95% of my students are Hispanic) they were mixed and it led to interesting discussions. I do not think men like Jackson and Sharpton will ever stop, if they do they would be obsolete, but what approach will they take? Will they accuse Obama of not being black enough or an Uncle Tom for selling out to “the Man,” oh, but wait, the “the Man” is black. With 75% of Obama’s supporters being white, I think it is time to consider claiming the civil rights movement has achieved its victory, that Dr. King’s dream has come true. Yet I do not believe this debate is over, it is just beginning. So the question is, Is Racism Over? I would love to hear what you have to say.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What Would the Founding Fathers Say about President Obama

I think if the founding fathers could speak, they would express their shock and disappointment at our new president, and for the most part it would not be because of his race. Yes it is true, the idea of a black man winning the presidency would be shocking to most of the men who wrote the Constitution. Many of the men at the convention were anti-slavery (most notably Alexander Hamilton) but that did not mean that they saw blacks as equal to them. I think this is the most positive aspect of Obama’s win. Two hundred years ago blacks were considered in no way equal to whites, in fact the Constitution only considers a black man 3/5s of a white man when it comes to population to determine how many representatives from each state. Yet now we have a black president, what a great accomplishment.

But even if Obama were white, the most disappointing part of his victory, I believe for the founders, is that Obama is what they would have referred to as a demigod. To understand what I mean you must understand the men who framed the Constitution and why they created what they created. To understand the Constitution, you must understand that the men who made a strong federal government, were scared of a strong federal government, or at least the American people who had to approve of it were scared of a strong central government. America had just fought a war to break away from a strong government that was ordering them around, now the individual states worried that if they created a central government they would just be replacing a British despot with an American one. So as you read the Constitution, it helps to understand it by understanding they were trying to make a government that was strong enough to keep peace and order yet not too strong to take away our rights. This idea is clearly seen in the three bodies that would be elected under the Constitution: The House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President. The founders wanted to make sure that neither of the three were elected by the same group of people, at the same time, or for the same length of time. This would guarantee that the masses did not run the country. Remember we are a republic not a democracy, in fact the framers feared democracy as can be seen in our Constitution. One of the framers, Fisher Ames, once said the biggest problems we face in this nation come from too much democracy.

First they wanted to make sure elected officials were elected at different times. The House of Representative are voted on every two years, the Senate every six, but only 1/3 of the Senators are up at any given election. The reason for this is clear this year. If we had elected all 100 Senators this election, the major issue that would have given them victories would have been the economy. Now say in two years the economy is running great and we have some other pressing issue, our Congress might be full of economists who would not know how to handle the new issue. Secondly with only 1/3 of the Senate seats open, some new political whim would not allow for the entire Senate to be cleared out. Just think if all 100 Senators were up this year, there may by 95 Democrats and only 5 Republicans. Even if you are a Democrat I hope you see how a government made up of all Democrats can be dangerous. The founders understood this and did not want every new fad (ideology or person) that came along right before the election to decide the fate of our nation.

Secondly the framers wanted to make sure all three were elected for different lengths. As we have already seen the House is elected for two years, the Senate for six and the president for four. Again this was done to guarantee fads would not ruin the nation. They also made sure the one group with the closet tie to the masses were only in for two years, and this is where a demigod come into play. The framers feared that if the people had too much power they would vote in a person solely on this appeal to masses, which appeal tended to be for all the wrong reason. They wanted to guarantee that someone would not rise up quickly from no where without any experience and capture the peoples attention simply for reasons of his charisma, speaking ability, or promises to the people. So if this did happen they would be out in two years.

Lastly, and most important for his argument, is that all three were elected by different groups. To guarantee the masses did not have too much power the framers set up a system where the people only voted for one of the three, the House of Representatives. This was the only group under the original Constitution where the people had a direct vote. According to the Constitution, Senators were elected originally by the state legislatures. In other words, the people elected legislators to their state government and those legislators voted for the Senators to the federal government. The 17th Amendment in 1913 changed this to our current system of direct election of Senators. As most know after an election, the people themselves do not vote for the president, but instead the Electoral College makes the decision. So each state is assigned a certain number of electors whose job it is to vote for the president (just for information, the number of electors is decided by the states number of congressman plus the number of Senators). The point of the Electoral College was not to confuse us today, but was created to take away the vote from the masses in order to avoid a demigod from winning the highest office. They feared someone like Obama who was unheard of two years ago by most people and that over night could rise to fame with no experience and win the presidency based on nothing but popularity and not because he was the best for the nation. I am not suggesting Obama will be bad for the nation, lets see what he can do, but I am suggesting his rise and popularity is for all the wrong reasons. Most still do not know exactly what he stands for, or even his background. He has made a lot of promises without explaining how he is going to accomplish anything, which would lead the framers to see that he cared more about winning the election and less about the nation.

So I believe that the framers would not approve of Obama as president, which does not mean he should not be the president. They would not approve of a black man, which now should not bother us. As for him being a demigod, that is a personal choice. He will not be the first demigod to be elected. Andrew Jackson was the first to base his presidency not on issues but solely on personality. Jackson was a good president, but had to go against much of what he believed in when he ran. He ran as a small government Republican but ended up making the power of the president stronger than any president to that point. I believe Obama will have to follow suit in order to be successful. Like Jackson, to protect our nation and keep us together, he will have to do things that are unpopular. And this is the problem of a demigod, when you get all your support from being popular, doing unpopular things will be hard. Yet having our nation hurt during his watch will not help his political success in four years either. It looks like the founders not wanting a demigod might have been a smart ideology; we need a leader who will make tough decisions, even when those decisions are unpopular. Lets just pray Obama can live up to the office and care more about nation than his ratings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Depressing Night

I have to say I was much more depressed last night than I thought I would be as the returns came in. I thought I was better prepared for the inevitable, knowing months ago that a Republican victory was slim, no matter who ran. History is very clear that when a president is as unpopular as President Bush, the other party can coast into the White House. My only hope was that the Democrats would do something stupid and run someone so bad that they could not possibly win. I guess I got my hopes up that the Democrats seemed to do just that, for surely Americans were smart enough to realize the emperor was not wearing any clothes, but I guess I was wrong. As I spoke to my classes I realized at least the young were hypnotized by his speaking and cited that as the major reason they supported him. Imagine that, vote for a man because he sounds good. He always said the right thing, even if his record did not back his words. Well there is nothing that can be done about it now. I just hope the old adage is not true: be care what you wish for, you just might get it.

The funny part about my depression is that I would have been sad with a McCain victory, and in the long run I have tried to convince myself a McCain victory would be even worse. I disagree with McCain in so many areas, and do not believe he has the answers to change things, so a McCain victory would just be more grounds for criticism against Republicans. At least now, if any problems happen, and they will happen, then the Democrats will have to take responsibility for it (more on this in a bit). Now the Democrats have to put up or shut up, and if they fail, than a better candidate can take over in four years.

Now all we can do is wait. I do want to remain positive, lets see what Obama can do. If he turns out to be an effective president then great, lets bring him back for four more years. I am just struggling with my optimism. One of the reasons I have doubts comes from his acceptance speech. Last night, or more like this morning, as he addressed the crowd he already began to make excuses as to why he will not make all the changes he promised. He has begun to run for reelection telling his supporters that it may take more than one term to do all that he has promised and that they should be patient if not everything works out. I just wonder how long he will continue to use Bush as his scapegoat. He is now the president, and will quickly have to learn that it is on his shoulders. He is the president and the Congress is controlled by the Democrats, so if things go wrong, he is the only one to blame. Lets see if he is more like Truman who had a sign on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Here” and lived up to it, or will be more like Clinton who blamed everyone else (even a great right wing conspiracy) for everything bad in his administration, I pray for the former.

I believe in this country, and I still believe in the American people. I know it will take more than one man or even one president to really hurt us. As a strong Christian, I believe God had a hand in creating this nation and that he watches over us today. As long as at least some Americans still believe we are one nation under God, and still strive to follow his commandments, than this nation will continue to be strong. I still have strong fears about attack from outside forces and believe our enemies will challenge this new young president. I have already written a comparison between Obama and JFK challenges here, so will not dwell on them again. I just pray that God will give Obama wisdom and strength, and that God will continue to bless and protect us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#1, 1800

#1. 1800 Election, Thomas Jefferson (R) v. Aaron Burr (R) v. John Adams (Federalists) v. John Jay (Federalists) v. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (Federalists).

I believe the 1800 election easily has the title of our most important election. First to understand why there were so many men running you must know that before the passage of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution in 1804, the president and VP did not run on the same ticket as they do today with McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden. The founders detested the ideas of factions (parties) and so did not for see the need for a party ticket. The way it worked was each member of the Electoral College cast two votes, the man with the most votes became president and the second most votes was VP. You can imagine why this had to change or today we would have President Bush and Vice-President Kerry. However as early as 1796, the first year Washington did not run, parties had developed and so both parties ran two men hoping their first choice would win and their second choice was VP.

In 1800 the incumbent president was John Adams who was finishing his first term and planned on a second. Adams was not an entirely popular or effective president leaving him on an uphill battle, especially because he was feuding with Alexander Hamilton who controlled the Federalists party to which Adams belonged. With Adams not falling in line with Hamilton’s views, Hamilton had decided to block Adams from a second term and so encouraged Cotesworth to also run. In 1800 there were two clear-cut distinct choices to pick from, represented in the Federalists and the Republicans (note, this is a different Republican party than the one formed in 1854 and is still around today). The difference was what course should the young nation take to guarantee its survival and make us great. Jefferson, who embodies the Republican point of view, envisioned a nation of small yeoman farmers, with everyone owning their own small farm. He believed this was the only way to make us great. You must understand that freedom today means something different today than in 1800. The founders put property restrictions on who was free enough to vote. This was before the secret ballot, and so when it came to voting, if your relied on anyone else for income than you may be forced to vote the way they wanted. The only way to be truly free and to care enough about the future of this nation was to own your own means of production (farm, shop, tavern). This is how we justified not allowing women, slaves, or children to vote, they were not smart enough or in control enough to make these important decisions on their own. Lastly Jefferson and the Republicans believe the best kind of government was the kind that did very little and left the real power to the states.

The leader of the Federalists, Hamilton, had a completely different point of view. Hamilton believed that in order to become a great nation, we needed to be more like the nation we just broke from, England. And what made England great was its order and industry. Hamilton wanted us to become self-sufficient and in order to do that we needed to industrialize. He pushed for high tariffs to help support American industry and he ultimately wanted a large strong federal government that could support our industrial power and to keep law and order. He also wanted to tie the wealthy to the government. This is an aspect of government we all hate, yet if smart realize its importance. In 1800 the US was still an experiment, no one knew if we would survive another ten years. Hamilton believed that if you made the wealthy dependent on the survival of the nation they would do all in their power (money, influence) to keep it going. If the masses wanted the government to survive and yet the rich did not, what chance would we have had? The masses are important, but the wealthy have the power. This is why today both parties claim to be the party of Jefferson, but no one wants to be the party of Hamilton (he was not a big fan of democracy). Jefferson feared Hamilton’s view of industrialization, because under his plan we would have a nation of owners of production and a majority of workers who worked in factories and had no freedom. What makes this election so interesting is unlike today; both parties honestly thought if the other won, the nation would be over. Today we may not like the other party and say brash statements to how the other guy will ruin this nation, but in the end after all the threats, no one is really going to move to Canada. We know the nation will continue to function. Back then, they did not have 200 years of experience under them, they really did not know we would last this long.

So the first reason this is the most important election is that the very nature of what we will become and our survival was at stake, which made it a very vicious campaign. Adams and Jefferson did not hold back, even though Jefferson himself got pretty dirty Adams stayed out of it, but his supporters did not. Interesting enough, back in the Revolutionary War, these two were very close friends, and both essential to our freedom. The problem with our revolution was that the founders did not decided on what kind of nation we would become after the revolution, before we decided to revolt. So in the process of nation building, Jefferson and Adams had strong disagreements leading these once great friends to become bitter rivals.

On the day of the election, things did not turn out the way everyone was hoping. With the problems in the Federalists party, the Republicans easily won the day. However when the votes were counted Jefferson and Burr were tied with both having 73. Who ever was supposed to not vote for Burr once making sure Jefferson would win, must have forgotten, leaving the Republicans in a awkward situation. Everyone knew what was supposed to happen, Jefferson led the party and Burr was supposed to step aside. Yet I guess Burr must have decided he liked the sound of President Burr and remained in the race. With a tie in the Electoral College, the decision was up to the lame duck congress that was still controlled by the Federalists. Once left to the Congress the Federalists realized they could win some sort of victory by at least blocking Jefferson, their principle rival, from the Presidency. The states voted as a block, so the Federalists states decided to vote for Burr while the Republicans voted for their champion, Jefferson. However, in order to elect the next president a majority must be reached, so nine states must approve and for the first 35 ballots case, neither side could achieve a majority.

The man responsible for breaking the stalemate was Hamilton. As much as Hamilton disagreed with Jefferson, he believed he was at least honorable. Burr was a different story. Burr and Hamilton were both from New York, and over the years had developed into a bitter ugly feud. Hamilton thought Jefferson truly wanted to help the nation, but was misdirected, where as Burr was a power hungry man who would destroy the country. With the deadlock, Hamilton began pushing for his party to support Jefferson. On the 36th ballot, two federalists states changed to Jefferson. Jefferson would become the 3rd president. The influence of Hamilton to help Jefferson win is one of the issues that led to the duel between Hamilton and Burr causing Hamilton’s death.

So Hamilton helped Jefferson to win, the man who disagree with all Hamilton’s views of the course of the nation. Yet one thing that is most fascinating is that in the end Hamilton won. Jefferson may have won the presidency, but we quickly turned into one of world’s leading industrial powers. We all praise Jefferson, but Hamilton may be the most influential man when it comes to our country. Adams and Jefferson were the most important to us become a free nation, but Hamilton decided what kind of nation we would be.

However, none of this is the major reason why the election of 1800 is the most important. What clearly set this at number one is that for the first 12 years of our government the Federalists were in change under Washington and Adams. Then in 1800 we switched control of the government, and what is most important is nobody died (well maybe Hamilton). I would argue that even in the world today, there are few times that nations switch powers peacefully. Take much of the third world, and for one group to take over power it requires revolutions, chaos, and bloodshed. In 1800, I would argue the US was the only place in the world where there could be a peaceful change of power. In a world full of Kings and Queens, even in England, bloodshed was required to overthrow the ruler and bring in a new one. And in only a few years after the election of 1800, France would switch powers several times beginning with the French Revolution, and every time a new group took over in France, many people would die. Yet in America, when Jefferson won and the Federalists lost, Adams and the Federalists did not raise and army to keep control, they peacefully turned over power. Yes, they thought the Republicans would destroy everything the revolution created; yet they did not stop it. Every four years we as Americans need to understand just how impressive this is. We not only have the right to pick our leaders, we constantly have a peaceful transition between the two sides. On Nov 4 we may have a Democrat come to power, and once again it will be peaceful. As you watch the returns come in, take a moment to realize how exceptional we are to live in such a great nation. The precedent set by our leaders in 1800 of not resisting the change of power, is my reason the election of 1800 is the most important in our history.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#2, 1860

1860 Election. Abraham Lincoln (R) v. John C. Breckinridge (D) v. Stephen Douglas (D) v. John Bell (Constitutionalists Unionists).

The 1860 election is, I believe, the second most important election, even though it happens to be my favorite. The first two chapters of my book (hopefully out next year) deal with this election. In 1860 the incumbent president was James Buchanan (D), but he had no plans of running for a second term. One thing that sets this election apart from most is that there were four viable candidates running. Over the previous 40 years before this election, politically the country was divided between Democrats and Whigs. However in the ten years leading up to 1860 these two parties were breaking down leading to political chaos. By 1860 the Whig party had fallen away and the Democratic party had split into southern and northern wings over the issue of slavery. In 1854 a new party was created, the Republicans, which differed from any other political party before this time in that its membership was comprised solely from the north. The major plank in their platform was to stop the expansion of slavery.

So in 1860 the Northern Democrats ran Stephen Douglas. His major issue was called popular sovereignty, or in other words he believed that new states themselves could choose whether they wanted to enter the Union as free states or slave states. The southern Democrats disagreed with popular sovereignty, claiming it went against their constitutional right to private property and that the Supreme Court had ruled in Dred Scott that slave owners could bring their slaves into any state. The Southern Democrat’s main issue was that they wanted a Constitutional guarantee for slavery. The New Republican party ran Abraham Lincoln and pushed to keep slavery out of all new states. Most Republicans did not want to outlaw slavery everywhere, just not allow it to spread. Normally with the Republicans only supported in the north and the Democrats in both north and south, the Republicans would not stand a chance. However the fear was that with the Democratic party split, it gave the Republicans a good chance for victory. Since there was no way of bringing the two wings of the Democrats together and since the old southern Whigs could not bring themselves to either support the Democrats or Republicans they formed a new party called the Constitutional Unionists. They had one major plank on their platform: A Lincoln victory would lead to Civil War, so everyone should vote for John Bell and the Constitutional Unionists as the compromise candidate and keep the peace.

On the day of the election Lincoln won 18 states including every northern state where the majority of the population lived giving him a surprising 118 electoral votes. Breckinridge came in second capturing all the lower south and Maryland but only giving him 11 states and 72 Electoral College votes. Bell came in third after winning the border states of VA, TN, and KN. Douglas was last with only Missouri.

What makes the 1860 election the second most important was the consequences of Lincoln’s victory. Before the election the southern states had threatened that a Lincoln victory would mean the end of the Union and the creation of separate southern nation. Since the creation of the US the two sides had been at odds over the issue of slavery, however in the years after the Mexican war and addition of new territory preparing to become new states, the differences between the two sections had come to an impasse. Events such as Bleeding Kansas, Dred Scott, and John Brown’s raid had gotten each side so worked up that they had convinced themselves that they could no longer live together. Lincoln and the Republican had had become a particular thorn to the South. In 1858 Lincoln gave his “House Divided Speech” in which he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.” The South took this speech to mean that if elected, Lincoln would try to free the slaves. The other problem the South had with the Republican party was that it did not represent the views of the south, in fact Lincoln had not even been on most ballots in the South, so if he won, the South could expect him to only support wishes from the North. So the election of Lincoln was the final insult to the south and beginning with South Carolina seven southern states broke from the Union and created the Confederate States of America. A few months later in April of 1861 Lincoln order the Union to Fort Sumter, located in Charleston harbor, to be re-supplied. Before the Fort could be replenished, the new CSA opened fire on Sumter beginning the American Civil War. After Lincoln called for 75.000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, the states of VA, TN, AR, and NC all broke their ties with the Union and joined the Confederacy.

1860 is the second most important election, in that it led to America’s most tragic and bloody war. Because of this political crisis, 600,000 Americans lost their lives. What made it so tragic was both sides were fighting for freedom.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#3, 1896

3. 1896 Election. William McKinley (R) v. William Jennings Bryan (D)

In my opinion the 1896 election is the third most important election. In 1896 Grover Cleveland was the incumbent president finishing his second term. McKinley would run on the Republican ticket and was expected to win considering the Republicans had been in power since 1860 with one exception. Like most of his predecessors, McKinley was a Civil War veteran, which was an important aspect in winning elections in the period after the Civil War known politically as the Gilded Age. More importantly for this story, McKinley was an old school Gilded Age politician. It is difficult to see many differences between the Republicans and Democrats in the Gilded Age, mainly because neither party did much. The idea of government actually helping the people was a foreign concept; Gilded Age politicians would be shocked and confused to hear about our recent economic bailout. The biggest difference between the two parties was Republicans believed in a high tariff, while Democrats wanted to keep the tariff low. I challenge anyone today to tell me what the current tariff rate is, but in 1896 bringing up the tariff was bound to get you into a fight. For those who may not know, tariffs are taxes placed on imported goods. One benefit is to make money, but the more important reason is to support American business. If we tax items that America also makes it forces foreign competitors to charge more for their goods and we can under sell them. The other minor difference was that the Republicans believed in big government (just the opposite from today), but high tariffs were about as big as they got. The only other thing the federal did to help people was sell cheap land and give Union soldiers pensions. Most of the support for the Republicans came from New England and mostly Protestants who wanted moral reform (anti-drinking leagues). The Democratic party wanted a government that did nothing, hence low tariffs. White Southerners who wanted the federal government to leave them alone so they could continue to build on white supremacy mostly supported them. In the North their support came from catholic immigrants who did not think the government should have a say in their personal lives, but insisted that was the job of the church. So voters in the Gilded Age did have a choice in parties, if not in major ideology.

All that began to change in the 1890s when farmers (who made up the majority of the population) came to the realization that neither party cared much about their welfare. In states like Kansas, Texas, and Nebraska farmers began to come together to create a third party to assist the plight of farmers known as the Populists party. The Populists party is by far the most powerful third party in American history; they elected US Senators and Governors. What makes the Populists stand out from the other mainstream parties was that they believed that the government had a responsibility to help them, they would cheer the economic bailout. They wanted the government to give them low interests loans, build them warehouses to store their crops, and even tell railroads how much they could charge to ship crops. The Populists number one issue was called free silver. We were still on the gold standard in the 1890s, and the Populists were hopeful to add silver to the currency to allow for more money into the system to cause inflation which would weaken the dollar and make it easier for debt ridden farmers to pay back their loans. Ideas like the government telling private business how much to charge and government interfering with the economy were extremely radical ideas, but from their growth in such a short time, must have been appealing.

In 1892 the Populists ran their first presidential candidate, James Weaver. He came in third place but did carry a respectable five states, which is good for a first time party. If nothing else they made the other parties take notice. Over the next 4 years the party continued to grow and put their trust behind their newly appointed leader: William Jennings Bryant. Bryant was the ultimate politician. He was an extremely capable leader and was dripping with charisma, kind of cross between Clinton, Kennedy, and Lincoln when it came to giving speeches.

In 1896 the Democrats were at a loss. In every election they had been close to victory but would always fall a bit short. The Democratic leaders decided they needed to do something radical to win. They realized if they could capture the Populist voters they could win, but in order to win over Populists they had to make drastic changes to their party beliefs. Remember Democrats were the party of small government, but in 1896 they ran a platform of government involvement. To guarantee that Populists took them seriously, they asked William Jennings Bryan to run on their ticket, to which he agreed. Following Bryan’s beliefs, the principle issue for the Democrats in the election was free silver. The reason why this is the third most important election is that for the first time a major party would decide it had a responsibility to help the American people, and we have never looked back. The Democrats would lose this election, but their Populists influence will not wear down. In fact even the Republicans would be forced to move over closer to the Democratic point of view, and just a few years later the Republicans would elect Teddy Roosevelt in 1804 who will do more to increase the size and power of government more than any other president.

To finish this election story, the 1896 race was between three parties but only two men. The Republicans ran McKinley, the Democrats ran Bryan, and not to be left out the Populists also ran Bryan but with a different VP. Bryan will do a good job at winning over some Populists to the Democratic party and will win the rural vote but could never make head way into the massive northern industrial cities where they saw him as a back water hick with too much of a religion attitude (catholic immigrants in the cities, though religion, still did not want the government meddling with morality). As for the Populists party, this was their last election, as they will fuse with the Democrats changing the latter forever. As for Bryan he will run for president two more times, but is probably most well known as the guest prosecuting attorney for the Scopes trial that convicted John Scopes for teaching evolution in the 1920s. He will die a couple days after the trial. McKinley will win a second term only to be assassinated by anarchists at the Buffalo Worlds Fair in 1901.

Though McKinley wins the election and quickly passes the Gold Standard Act keeping American on the Gold Standard, the real importance of this election is the change from Government believing it should do the very minimum to the government believing today it should be involved in every aspect of our lives.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections--#4, 1968

4. 1968 Election. Hubert Humphrey (D) v. Richard Nixon (R)
In the 1968 election Johnson was the incumbent president, and had only served one term, but by 1968 Johnson was also a very unpopular president and had decided not to seek reelection. For those not alive in 1968 it would be like if Bush could run for another term. With his unpopularity over the war, there would be no way he would stand a chance of winning. The same thing was happening with Johnson and the Vietnam War. The Democratic primary came down to three candidates, Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Robert Kennedy. One thing that makes this an important election was that McCarthy and Kennedy represented what is known as the New Left. 1968 is when the modern Democratic party was created from a coalition of liberals, minorities, women’s rights activists, and in 1968 the student movement. The hopes and dreams of the new left were tied to McCarthy and Kennedy. They were not only going to take us out of Vietnam, but launch us into a new world order of liberal reform. Unfortunately for the New Left, right after Kennedy gave a speech in California he was shot and killed. With the death of Kennedy, McCarthy all but stopped campaigning allowing for the more traditional Democrat, Humphrey, to capture the party. Knowing that Humphrey was going to be given the Democratic nomination, thousands of disgruntled students came to Chicago to protest at the Democratic national convention. What occurred in Chicago was a violent mob scene as police clashed with the protestors. All the events were captured on TV, leaving an ugly image for most Americans.

The events in Chicago played right into the hands of the Republican nominee. One of the elements of Nixon’s campaign was having a plan to get out of Vietnam with honor. His plan was similar to plans today of leaving Iraq, turning over control of the safety of Vietnam to the Vietnamese. Even more importantly he ran on a platform of law and order. By 1968 many Americans had become disenchanted with the protests, drugs, sex, hippies, and basic lack of morals and lawlessness. Nixon played up people’s fears and promised to crack down and reestablish morality (I hope you see the humor in this). Just like the new Democratic party, 1968 marked the beginning of the new Republican party. Nixon built a coalition of conservative thinkers, blue-collar workers who were tired of liberal issues like affirmative action, and what then was called the silent majority (today we are calling these people soccer moms and NASCAR dads). The idea behind the silent majority is that these are regular folks who don’t protest, or shout out their support, but they show up and vote. I had a student in 2004 ask how Bush won a second term where all she heard on TV was that everyone hated him. My answer to her was the silent majority.

1968 was the first election with our current constituted parties, in other words the Democratic and Republican parties we know today. Bush, and McCain if he wins, both owe Nixon thanks for putting together a strong party. Nixon’s win and new Republican coalition will once again reverse the political trend. Since 1932 the Democrats had controlled the White House with only one Republican president in the 64 years of Democratic control. But starting in 1968 the Republicans would reclaim the top prize and dominate with only 2 Democratic presidents for the next 44 years. I believe what makes this years election is we might be seeing the next shift. Johnson’s unpopularity and the problems with the Vietnam war helped give power to the Republicans, we will see if the war in Iraq can do the same for the Democrats.

One of the major shifts that occurred in 1968 was a demographic shift. Since the Civil War all southern states always voted Democratic, giving us the term the Solid South. The major reason for white southerners voting Democratic was that the party represented white supremacy (blacks were not voting in the south). 1948 was the first year that any southern state voted against the Democrats. Southerners upset that their party seemed to be moving away from their long time belief of white supremacy created a new party called the Dixiecrats that would continue to support their beliefs. But with the failure of the Dixiecrats, in 1952 southerners could not bring themselves to vote Republican, so went back to their party and voted Democratic. Then in 1964 southerners broke rank again and voted for Goldwater after Kennedy pushed for civil rights laws. 1968 was the first year that no southern state, except Texas, voted for the Democratic party (the deep south voted for George Wallace). Then beginning after 1968 the south would return to the solid south, just this time voting Republican. The only times that any southern state would vote Democratic again was for Carter and Clinton, both southern governors.

To me 1968 is the 4th most important election because it was the first election with our current Republican and Democratic elections. It marked a major shift in ideology in both parties. It redrew the modern demographics with the south now voting for the Republican party. Lastly it marked the end of Democratic control and swung the power back to the Republicans until today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Top Five Most Important Elections-#5, 1932

I think the upcoming election may become one of the most important elections in American history, and no matter what it will be historical. So with only five days until the election I thought I would do a top five count down of the most important elections we have had so far. So starting today and for the next 5 days I will highlight the top five elections

5. 1932 Election-Herbert Hoover (R) v. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D). In 1932 Hoover was the incumbent president, but more importantly America was in the grips of the Great Depression. This is a time when 25% of American families were without a wage earner and those who were employed were limited in hours and pay. Families struggled more that ever before for basic securities like food and shelter and families had to come together and share one house or apartment with several other families. During this time, some looked to the government for help, but found nothing. For one, unlike today, most never expected the Government to help. Why should it when it never had before. Hoover has taken some undue criticism for his approach to solving the economic issue. Hoover, based on advice from all his economic advisors, did nothing. Hoover’s advisors believed the best way to help the economy was to allow the free market system to fix the problems. This had been sound economic policy since Adam Smith first wrote about the invisible hand’s ability to solve market issues. The idea was that the business cycle was a pattern of peeks and valleys, with sometimes the valleys being very low. However, the business cycle had always rallied and fixed its own problems . What Hoover’s advisors told the president was that if the government inserted itself into the market they might break it or make it worse. In many ways this is similar to the Republican approach to today’s crisis. Some conservative thinkers have disagreed with the bailout, stating that market forces should be allowed to work without government interference. So I do not blame Hoover for the depression, he honestly did what he thought was best, yet at the same time he did not do things to help himself. Hoover made statements like, “nobody is actually starving,” and our hobos have never been better off. The problem was people were actually starving. Hoover just kept asking people to be patient and just around the corner things would get better, yet they never seemed to.

But in 1932 Roosevelt ran for the presidency promising that the government would do everything in its power to fix the problem. Like Obama, Roosevelt ran on a platform of hope, and hope was something the nation desperately needed by 1932. Between 1860 and 1932 the Republicans dominated the White House with only two Democratic presidents over the 72 years. This 1932 election and Roosevelt’s promise of a “New Deal” was the turning point that would allow the Democrats to began their long run of presidential control that would last until 1968 with only one Republican president during the 36 years. With Roosevelt’s popularity, many people that had traditionally voted Republican had switched their votes during FDR’s four terms as president, but later many would switch back. The most important switch in 1931 was a racial one. Beginning with the 15th Amendment when blacks were given the right to vote, blacks voted something like 95% for the Republican party, after all it was the party of Lincoln. But beginning in 1932 black Americans for the first time began voting Democratic and would never again abandon the party. FDR was not a champion of civil rights, but he did believe in helping the poor, and blacks were some of the poorest people in the nation (as a side note Mrs. Roosevelt was a supporter of civil rights and did help in her husbands popularity amongst black voters). The capturing of the minority vote has become a staple in the Democratic party and was one of the reasons for their long run beginning in 1932, and will be a major reason for Obama winning if he does next week.

FDR will go on to change politics forever; our recent bailout can be traced to FDR’s influence. Roosevelt will build up the size and power of the federal government and will create a government that would put thousands of people to work on government programs, as well as create systems like social security that was meant as a government cradle to the grave protection. Our modern ideas of a welfare state can trace back to FDR’s influence. So with the change from Republican to Democratic control, with the switch of black voters to the Democratic party, and change from Laissez Faire government to a welfare state are all the reasons the 1932 is the 5th most important election in American history.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Gas Prices and the benifits of living here

It has come to my attention this past week that we have one great advantage living here in south Texas. We are right now only paying $1.95 for gas. I know the economy is hard on people right now, but the way I see it for us, as long as we remain employed, the down turn in the economy is good for us. When the economy was good we could not afford food or gas, now we are paying gas prices from years ago.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Movie Review-"W"

This will sound strange but I want to write a quick movie review of the movie W. The strange part of this review is that I have not seen the movie and have no intention of ever seeing it. I have two major problems with this movie. The first is the subject matter. I know I may be in the minority here, but I do not see a negative movie about our sitting president as appropriate. I understand our first amendment rights, and I am not suggesting we censor this movie, I just think it is classless and would go as far as unpatriotic. I am not one of those conservatives that go around calling liberals unpatriotic for everything they do, but in this case I believe the label fits. It is not unpatriotic to criticize the president, but making this movie crosses a line for me. I am of the opinion that if you do not like the man, fine, but respect the office he holds. Stone is not making a movie about Bush, he is making a movie about my President. I did not have a problem several years ago when Stone made Nixon, I disagreed with the context, but not the idea. If this movie came out in ten years I would not even have a problem with the idea of it, but Bush is our sitting president. I am not preaching a double standard here, with all the controversy surrounding the Clinton presidency; I would have disagreed with a movie being made about him (as if Hollywood would make a negative movie about Clinton). Even as a conservative, I encouraged my students here to go see both Obama and Hilary Clinton when they visited our campus during the primaries. I said one may become our next president, and you may never again have a chance to see and listen to a president. When Ex-President Clinton came to the University of Arkansas while I attended there, I went to hear him, not because I am a Clinton fan, but because he was my president. We may not like the man running our country, but he was voted in fairly and deserves some level of respect

The fact that this movie is based on real events is my other concern. Based on real events is Hollywood code for completely fiction. This movie is an Oliver Stone film, and Stone has a proven tract record when it comes to historical films, he does not let little things like facts or truth get in the way of him telling a story. Every historical movie Stone has ever made are full of falsehoods. I dread every year teaching about the Kennedy assassination, because at least one student wants to challenge me on the facts that they got from Stone’s JFK. What I have to explain is that the facts that are presented in the movie are not facts. Stone used creative license to make up facts to make his story better or to make the conspiracy bigger. Stone’s purpose of making historical film is not to educate but to entertain. “W” is not a biography of the life and presidency of Bush meant to educate the public, but just another partisan bash of a president that Stone does not like because he disagrees with his conservative policies. It is even more an attempt to make lots of money playing up on peoples dislike for Bush and in the process put one last nail in our president’s coffin. If Stone thinks it’s important to inform the public about the problems in the White House, where was his movie about the Clintons? Have we forgotten scandal after scandal occurring in the Clinton administration? This is a partisan attempt at defaming, and I for one find it appalling. I just hope more Americans agree with me, and do not give Stone your money so he can continue to attack an already wounded president and nation.

Monday, October 20, 2008

No Encouragement From Recent Debates—And What Can JFK Tell Us About Future Difficulties

Now that the debates are finally over, it is very discouraging to know that we will not have a good leader to help us through these troubling times. I was so unimpressed with the three presidential debates. They said a lot without saying anything. This has been a difficult election for me, because I am a conservative, yet I am not impressed by the Republican choice. I am not a basher of President Bush, but under his leadership things have not gone the way they should. I do not blame the President for all the problems, I do not have a problem with the war, but feel his leadership in the financial crisis has been lacking. Again not all his problems were his fault, but he could have done more. As a strong conservative, this is difficult to say, but I was fine with a Democrat winning. I think things are bad right now and maybe a shake up in the White House might be the answer. We need to do things like fix health care, it is a joke that we can not afford. I have insurance from work, but still can not afford to go to the doctor or dentist. I do not believe the Democrats are capable of fixing the problems, but the Republicans have not succeeded so far, so I believe let the Democrats try. If they fix the economy, fix the war, than great. My little family is far from rich, but work hard, so if the Democrats have something that can help us, while keeping taxes low and not hurting small business then all the power to them. What I mean is if they can fix things then the Democrats should be in power for awhile, if not than the American people can see that the problems are not the Republicans fault. The Democrats have claimed they have all the answers, let them put their money where their mouth is, and then shut up when they fail.

The problem is I do not trust Obama. If Joe Biden was running as the president, I might even vote for him. I was impressed with him in the debate. I do not agree with everything he believes in, but he is trustworthy and will not get us into trouble. Obama’s extreme liberal views are scary and dangerous. Mostly I am scared of his foreign policy beliefs. If you read my post a few weeks ago, it is not his lack of experience that bothers me, he has as much as Reagan, it is his rhetoric of defeat. I believe things will be very calm in the Middle East for the next month, the terrorists do not want to help McCain. They will wait until Obama becomes the president and then all hell will let break loose in Iraq in hopes of Obama labeling it a failure and pulling out our troops. The terrorists will push Obama, it is in their best interest. What has made Obama so popular is this promise to end the war and bring our boys home. With Obama as president, nations like Iran are bound to test his strength. They know if they get a bomb now, we will attack. But they have to think Obama will be slow to act, if he acts at all. Escalating any kind of war in the Middle East will look very bad for Obama.

Historically I see Obama’s situation similar to when JFK took over. Under the Ike regime the Russians were held in check. The Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev knew Ike was a warrior and was not a man to play with. In fact Ike had threatened to use nukes in the next engagement. Then in 1960 a very young and inexperienced man took over and Khrushchev felt he had a president he could take advantage of, and for the first year Khrushchev was right. Kennedy had some growing pains to work out. In April of 1861 Kennedy launched the ill fated Bay of Pigs invasion in which 2,000 anti-Castro Cubans wadded ashore the island of Cuba with the intent of removing Castro from power. Kennedy had been told that the Cuban people hated Castro and would join the invaders in overthrowing their leader. Instead the invasion was a disaster from the start. First there was no popular uprising, and second Castro’s troops were seasoned soldiers from years of fighting and cut our men down. All that Kennedy accomplished was pushing the Cubans closer to the Russians. Kennedy did the stand up thing and took all the blame and apologized to the American people (I have always felt like Bush should have followed his example, Americans forgave Kennedy because they felt like he was honest with them, this mistake and apology helped Kennedy’s popularity.)

Following Kennedy’s failure in Cuba, Khrushchev agreed to meet the young President at Vienna for a summit. The Russian leader decided to take a hard line with this new young inexperienced President. Kennedy found himself outwitted by the politically savvy Khrushchev. In private he tongue tied Kennedy and in public treated him like a nice little boy. It was right after the summit that the Russians resumed nuclear testing and closed down the border between East and West Berlin. The Russians built the most lasting symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall. Kennedy critics wanted the President to stop the wall, bulldoze it if necessary, but Kennedy did nothing. It was looking as if Russia was gaining the edge over the Americans

By October 1862 Khrushchev felt he could do anything he wanted and made one more aggressive move. The Russians built installations in Cuba to hold nuclear missiles. When the Americans became aware of the weapons being sent to Cuba, we panicked. Some Kennedy advisors wanted to order a strike against Cuba, but Kennedy followed the advice of his brother and ordered a naval blockade of the island. Kennedy told the Russians that if they attempted to breach the blockade, he would see it as an act of war. This was a tense several days for the President and the American people as we waited to see what the Russians would do and if we might have a nuclear war. One of Kennedy’s advisors, Dean Rusk, said “we’re eyeball to eyeball … I think the other fellow just blinked.” The Russians turned their ships around and war was avoided.

Kennedy was successful in stopping the Russian aggression; the question will be can Obama follow? Kennedy ran his campaign as a cold warrior saying, “Freedom and Communism are in deadly embrace; the World cannot exist half slave and half free.” Obama has run his campaign on American was wrong getting involved in Iraq. Like Kennedy, Obama will be tested. The terrorists have to know that Obama has promised to take troops out of Iraq, and that he has very little experience in national security. Our enemies need to take our threats seriously for them to have any effect. I am not saying Obama will fail, I am just saying I am fearful of what may happen while Obama is learning. Also the learning curve may be much more difficult for Obama, Khrushchev was a cold hard man, but not crazy, he did not want war any more than we did. Islamic terrorist will not have the same reservations as the Russians. If they get a bomb, they will use it. I just hope Obama is able to remain strong and rely on advice of others, like Biden, who hopefully will guide him properly, that American needs to be strong. Peace is the best, but sometimes we need to act.