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Father Charles Edward Coughlin, an ordained Catholic priest, hosts what may be the first politically oriented national radio broadcast in US history. Coughlin, who started his political involvement as a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, quickly becomes a virulent Roosevelt critic, calling Roosevelt’s economic policies “socialism.” By 1930, CBS broadcasts Coughlin’s weekly radio show nationwide. Coughlin’s harsh criticism of communist and socialist governments, such as the Soviet Union, widens to encompass the US government and many aspects of American life. He accuses the citizenry of “scorn[ing] the basic family and national doctrine of Jesus Christ,” citing divorce statistics as “proof” of his assertions. He does not spare the corporations, blasting them for treating working families unfairly and warning of the dangers of the “concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” Coughlin begins claiming that American communists have infiltrated many levels of government and corporate leadership, and lashes out at what he calls the “Bolshevism of America.” In April 1931, CBS refuses to renew his contract, and Coughlin organizes his own radio network which eventually claims over 30 radio stations and some 30 million listeners. In 1936, Coughlin, who has grown disillusioned with Roosevelt over his administration’s failure to take over the nation’s banking system and other of Coughlin’s suggested reforms, forms a hardline anti-Communist, isolationist organization called the “Christian Front.” When the US begins publicly opposing the German Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Coughlin turns on Roosevelt entirely, accusing him of advocating “international socialism or Sovietism,” and praising Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini as “anti-Communist fighters.” By 1940, according to playwright Arthur Miller, Coughlin is “confiding to his 10 million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that 20 years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution.… He was arguing… that Hitlerism was the German nation’s innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against ‘bad Jews,’ especially those born outside Germany.” Coughlin echoes Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels in claiming that Marxist atheism in Europe is a Jewish plot. He claims that America is overrun by “Jewry,” resulting in critics labeling him a “fascist.” Boston police discover that for several years Jewish youths in the city have been beaten and terrorized by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “Coughlinites and the Christian Front”; other assaults on American Jews are later found to have been carried out by people who support Coughlin, often with the complicity of local law enforcement and Catholic officials. The Christian Front collapses in January 1940 when the FBI raids its New York branch and finds a cache of weapons; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells the press that the organization is planning the assassinations of a number of prominent Jews, communists, and “a dozen Congressmen.” Coughlin’s influence is badly damaged by the FBI’s claims, and Coughlin’s rhetoric continues to move to the extreme. By September 1940, he is calling Roosevelt “the world’s chief warmonger,” and in 1941 says that the US, not Germany or the Soviet Union, is the biggest threat to impose its domination on the world. “Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most,” he says, “the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.” When the US enters World War II at the end of 1941, the National Association of Broadcasters arranges for Coughlin’s broadcasts to be terminated. At Roosevelt’s behest, the US Post Office refuses to deliver his weekly newspapers. And in May 1942, Coughlin is ordered by Archbishop Francis Mooney to cease his political activities or be defrocked. Although Coughlin will continue to write pamphlets about the dangers of communism until his death in 1979, his influence on American political thought ends in the first months of the war. (New York Times 1/21/1940; Dinnerstein 1995, pp. 132-133; Spartacus Schoolnet 2010)
Franklin D. Roosevelt ushers in a massive expansion and reorganization of the federal government under his “New Deal,” in an attempt to counter the lasting effects of the Great Depression that began in 1929. Passed by Congress, the New Deal legislation greatly expands the federal bureaucracy (see September 8, 1939), and gives sweeping new powers over domestic issues to agencies contained within the executive branch and not always subject to Congressional oversight. The Supreme Court rules that many of these actions are unconstitutional, but when Roosevelt threatens to “pack” the Court by expanding its size and then appointing sympathizers to vote his way, the Court capitulates and upholds the New Deal legislation. In 2009, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that the Court’s decision “enabl[ed] the rise of the modern administrative state inside the executive branch.” (Savage 2007, pp. 18)
White supremacist and ardent Nazi follower William Dudley Pelley, a New England native of what he calls “uncontaminated English stock,” founds the Silver Shirts, a neo-Nazi organization, in Asheville, North Carolina, the same day that Adolf Hitler ascends to power in Germany. Apparently Pelley funds the organization through the proceeds of a best-selling book, Seven Minutes in Eternity, in which he claimed to have died and gone to “the beyond” for a seven-minute period. Pelley and his followers, including Henry Lamont “Mike” Beach (see 1969), dress themselves in silver shirts emblazoned with a large cursive “L,” blue corduroy knickers, and gold stockings. Pelley considers himself a Republican, though he is not politically active in the usual sense.
Anti-Semitic, Anti-Government - His efforts attract members from pro-Nazi groups, Ku Klux Klan chapters, and others sympathetic to his anti-Semitic views. In August 1933, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) will warn: “The Silver Shirts came into existence the early part of this year. They are enrolling white Protestant Christians as members of a Christian militia, through a plan of State encampments that are reported to extend into various states of the Union, with posts in every community.” According to Silver Shirt documents obtained by the AJC, the group intends to bring about the establishment of a strictly Christian government in the US; accuses President Roosevelt of being a “dictator” and “set[ting] aside the Constitution, which they desire to restore”; intends to “save [the] United States from a state of Sovietism into which… the Jews are leading the country”; accuses Jews of being a “money power” bent on destroying the nation’s economy via their “control” of the Federal Reserve; and says that “a people who constitute only 2.5 per cent of the population [Jews] to be held down to a 2.5 per cent influence in the American government, and we propose to see that it is brought about, race prejudice or no!” The group also advocates a form of direct democracy, in which citizens mail in their votes for or against pending legislation, and proposes the reorganization of America into what it calls a “colossus corporation,” where “[e]very citizen shall be both a common and a preferred stockholder.”
Psychic Messages - Pelley claims to receive psychic messages from “the vastness of cosmos,” including two sets of documents, the “Esoteric Doctrines of the Liberation Enlightenment” and the “Liberation Scripts,” which set forth the “Christ government” he intends to establish. In a Silver Shirt newsletter, Pelley writes: “It is the order of things that those wicked and malignant spirits who have incarnated in certain sections of the Hebrew race trying to bring the downfall of the Christ Peoples, should meet a fearful fate in this closing of the Cycle of Cosmic Event. That contest is on-the-make and Hitler’s job it has been to do the advance work. But Hitler is not going to finish that work. THE FINISH OF IT COMES RIGHT HERE IN AMERICA!” Pelley writes that “the Jew” is possessed of a “nomadic character, making him an internationalist whose ultimate objectives may well mean the destruction and disappearance of the United States.” (American Jewish Committee 8/24/1933; Ian Geldard 2/19/1995; David Neiwert 6/17/2003)
Spike in Membership Will Dwindle - Pelley’s group will enjoy its largest membership of some 15,000 in 1934; four years later, the group will dwindle to around 5,000 members. (The Holocaust Chronicle 2009) Pelley will be convicted of sedition in 1942, and by the time he emerges from prison in 1950, his Silver Shirts will have long since disappeared.
'Christian Fascist' - In the early 1980s, graduate student Karen Hoppes will write extensively about Pelley. She will write of his Christian fundamentalism: “[T]he link with fundamental Christianity establishes the uniqueness of American fascism. The majority of fascist groups justified their existence by their desire to change the United States into a Christian society.… The relationship between the religious identity of these groups and their political demands can be shown by a careful survey of their rhetoric. The Christian fascist does not distinguish between the application of the terms anti-Christ, Jew, and Communist. Neither does he distinguish between Gentile and Christian.” (David Neiwert 6/17/2003)
Newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers his Inaugural Address in Washington immediately after being sworn into office. To a country reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, Roosevelt offers a ringing promise of economic change—the first hints of what will become his “New Deal” economic policies. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he tells the crowd, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Acknowledges Economic Calamity - He continues: “Our common difficulties concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce: the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”
'Rulers of the Exchange,' 'Money Lenders' Stand Responsible - “Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure and abdicated,” Roosevelt says. “Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted. True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. There must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance.”
Call to Action - He continues: “This nation asks for action, and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war.… It can never be helped by merely talking about it. We must act, and act quickly. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency. These are the lines of attack.” (Time 3/13/1933)
US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs an agreement with Haiti for a US withdrawal the following year. (Rogozinski 1992, pp. 241)
Prominent Democrats and Republicans join together to form the American Liberty League (ALL). The organization, according to the founders, exists “to combat radicalism, preserve property rights, uphold and preserve the Constitution.” ALL spokesman Jouett Shouse says ALL will fight to preserve “traditional American political values.” According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, ALL was organized by “disgruntled business conservatives, Wall Street financiers, right-wing opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and defeated rivals within Roosevelt’s Democratic Party.” ALL is financed by, among others, industrialists Pierre, Irenee, and Lammot du Pont; former Democratic Party chairman John J. Raskob; financier E.F. Hutton; and executive Sewell Avery of the department store chain Montgomery Ward. Most of the politicians in the organization are Republicans, but these are joined by anti-Roosevelt Democrats such as Alfred E. Smith, who ran for president in 1928. Many ALL members were once part of the Association against the Prohibition Amendment, which fought to re-legalize the US liquor industry. ALL unsuccessfully fights to block federal regulations and additional taxes on business, the creation of public power utilities, pro-labor barganing rights, agricultural production controls and subsidies, New Deal relief and public jobs programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Social Security, and other Roosevelt-era programs and initiatives. According to the Encyclopedia, “critics effectively lampooned league members as champions of privilege, ungrateful critics of an administration that had saved capitalism, and vindictive and selfish individuals seeking revenge on a president for betraying his social class.” ALL works diligently, but unsuccessfully, to unseat Roosevelt in 1936, backing Republican contender Alfred M. Landon. After Landon loses in a landslide to Roosevelt, the organization fades in prominence. The Encyclopedia concludes that ALL’s “legacy of fund-raising tactics, ideology-driven issues research and public education, and coordination with partisan legislative and electoral campaigns foreshadowed today’s political action committees and independent-expenditure organizations.” (New York Times 8/23/1934; Encyclopedia of the Great Depression 1/1/2004) In 2003, columnist Ralph De Toledano will write, “The Liberty League was laughed out of existence by New Yorker cartoonists, who depicted its members looking out over Fifth Avenue and snorting that doomsday was here and Josef Stalin lurked in the bushes.” (De Toledano 9/2/2003) In 2010, writer Kevin Drum will compare the American Liberty League to the tea party movement (see September 2010). (Drum 9/2010)
Congress passes the Public Utilities Holding Act, which bars public utility companies from making federal campaign contributions. Essentially, the act extends the ban on corporate contributions (see 1925) to utility companies, as they are not covered under existing law, and, under the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt, are growing rapidly in power and influence. Roosevelt had been elected to office in 1932 on a platform of “good government,” a longtime staple of Democratic Party platforms. The message played particularly well with voters after the economic policies and political corruption of the administration of President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, were widely blamed for the Great Depression. Republicans, stung by the failures of the Hoover administration, also declare their support for campaign finance reform, and the act passes with little resistance. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999)
The philosophy that becomes known as “neoconservativism” traces its roots to leftist ideologues in New York City who, before World War II, begin sorting themselves into two camps: those who support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic “New Deal” policies, and more radical individuals who consider themselves followers of Soviet communism. Many of these radical leftists are Jews who, staunchly opposed to Nazi-style fascism, find themselves finding more and more fault with Stalinist Russia. In their eyes, Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union has betrayed the ideals of the original Russian Revolution, and has instead created a monstrous regime that is as bad towards Jews and other ethnic and cultural minorities as Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini. The betrayal they feel towards the Soviet Union, author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, cannot be overestimated. Seminal movement figures such as Irving Kristol (see 1965) lead a small cadre of academics and intellectuals far away from their former leftist-Communist ideology, instead embracing what Scoblic will call “an ardent nationalism” that they see as “the only feasible counterweight to the Soviet monster.” The USSR is as evil as Nazi Germany, they believe, and as committed to world domination as the Nazis. Therefore, the USSR cannot be negotiated with in any form or fashion, only opposed, and, hopefully, destroyed. During the 1950s, Scoblic will write, “these intellectuals adopted a strict good-versus-evil outlook—and a scorn for radical elements of the American Left—that was not unlike that of the ex-communists… who were defining modern conservatism.” But unlike their conservative counterparts, Kristol’s neoconservatives either espouse a more liberal social construct similar to Roosevelt’s New Deal, or care little one way or the other about the entire skein of issues surrounding economic and social policy. The neoconservatives will drive themselves even farther right during the social upheaval of the 1960s, and, according to Scoblic, will hold leftist leaders in contempt in part because they remind the neoconservatives of their Stalinist compatriots of thirty years ago, colleagues whom they have long since abandoned and held in scorn. The fact that some antiwar New Left figures will support Soviet, Chinese, and Vietnamese communism will further enrage the neoconservatives. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 83-85)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8248, reorganizing the Executive Office of the President. According to the order, “There shall be within the Executive Office of the President the following principal divisions, namely: (1) The White House Office, (2) the Bureau of the Budget, (3) the National Resources Planning Board, (4) the Liaison Office for Personnel Management, (5) the Office of Government Reports, and (6) in the event of a national emergency, or threat of a national emergency, such office for emergency management as the President shall determine.” The order creates the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), a civil defense unit responsible for protecting government functions in the event of a disaster. The President’s Secretary declares that in times of national emergency, “it has always been necessary to establish administrative machinery in addition to that required for normal work of the government.… Although these management facilities need be brought into action only when an emergency or serious threat of emergency exists, they must function in an integral relationship to the regular management arms of the President.” (Executive Order 8248 9/8/1939; Belair 9/10/1939; New York Times 3/28/1941; New York Times 4/20/1941)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks that Congress amend the Neutrality Acts to allow the US to send military aid to European countries locked in battle against Nazi Germany. Roosevelt tells Congress that America’s neutrality laws might actually be giving passive “aid to an aggressor” while denying help to friendly nations victimized by the Nazis. Roosevelt has already overseen the shipment of arms and other materiel in violation of the Neutrality Acts, but, unlike some of his successors, he does not claim he has an inherent right as commander in chief to violate or ignore laws. In November, Congress will agree to Roosevelt’s request. (Savage 2007, pp. 18; History (.com) 2008)
President Roosevelt orders the establishment of the US Biological Warfare program. (US Department of the Army 2/26/2004)
President Roosevelt, recognizing that Congress has the Constitutional authority to declare war (see 1787 and 1793), asks the legislature for a declaration of war against Japan in retaliation for the Japanese air attack against US naval forces at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt calls the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, December 7, 1941, “a day which will live in infamy.” He says, “I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.” With a single exception—Representative Jeannette Rankin (R-MT)—every member of the House and Senate votes to authorize war against Japan. The next day, the US will declare war against Germany and Italy as well. (Savage 2007, pp. 18; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum 2/10/2008)
President Roosevelt, using what he calls his inherent power as commander in chief, creates a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs captured inside the US in the case of Ex parte Quirin. The eight are quickly found guilty and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court later backs Roosevelt’s authority to have them tried by a commission. The Court’s decision is unusually hasty, and several of the justices who voted in Roosevelt’s favor later express regret for their approval. Roosevelt himself is unsure of the procedure’s legality, the Court’s decision and his own powers as president notwithstanding. When more Nazi saboteurs are captured later in the war, they are tried in criminal courts. (Savage 2007, pp. 136)
The US Supreme Court upholds by a 6-3 vote the legitimacy of Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that mandated all Americans of Japanese heritage to report to internment camps during World War II. Writing for the Court in the case of Korematsu v. United States, Justice Hugo Black finds that an executive order based on race is “suspect,” but says that the “emergency circumstances” of wartime make the order necessary and constitutional. Forty-four years later, in 1988, Congress will formally apologize and issue monetary reparations to Japanese-American families who had been forced into the camps. (PBS 12/2006; Savage 5/24/2011) In 2011, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will state that his predecessor during the case, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid evidence from the Court that concluded Japanese-Americans posed no security or military threat. The report from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found that no evidence of Japanese-American disloyalty existed, and that no Japanese-Americans had acted as spies or had signaled enemy submarines, as some at the time believed. Katyal will say that he has a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the Court.” Katyal will say that two government lawyers informed Fahy he was engaging in “suppression of evidence,” but Fahy refused to give the report to the Court. Instead, Fahy told the Court that the forced internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity.” Fahy’s arguments swayed the Court’s opinion, Katyal will state. “It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal will say. (Savage 5/24/2011)
The first “political action committee,” or PAC, is formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a powerful labor union, on behalf of the efforts to re-elect President Franklin D. Roosevelt. PAC donations come from voluntary contributions and not labor dues, and therefore the donations are not prohibited (see June 25, 1943). (Center for Responsive Politics 2002 ; National Public Radio 2012)
Ho Chi Minh is leading the Vietminh—a popular movement of Catholics, Buddhists, small businessmen, communists and farmers—in their fight for Vietnam’s independence from the French. He makes a dozen appeals to US President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee for help, insisting he is not a communist and suggesting that Indochina could be a “fertile field for American capital and enterprise.” He even mentions the possibility of allowing a US base in Camranh Bay. Likewise, US diplomats in Vietnam in their communications to Washington note that he has no direct ties to the Soviet Union and that he is a “symbol of nationalism and the struggle for freedom to the overwhelming majority of the population.” Major Archimedes L. A. Patti of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) later writes that Ho “pleaded not for military or economic aid,… but for understanding, for moral support, for a voice in the forum of western democracies. But the United States would not read his mail because, as I was informed, the DRV Government was not recognized by the United States and it would be ‘improper’ for the president or anyone in authority to acknowledge such correspondence.” Instead, the US will help the French—even offering them two atomic bombs. Ho Chi Minh is eventually forced in 1950 to look to the USSR and China for support. (Herring 1986, pp. 10; Pilger 1986, pp. 188)
The Geneva Accords temporarily divide Vietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh’s forces in the north and Bao Dai’s regime in the south. The accords also call for elections to be held in all of Vietnam within two years to reunify the country. (Geneva Accords: Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam 7/29/1954) The US opposes the unifying elections, fearing a likely victory by Ho Chi Minh, and refuses to sign the Geneva accords. “If the scheduled national elections are held in July 1956, and if the Viet Minh does not prejudice its political prospects, the Viet Minh will almost certainly win,L the CIA notes. (Kolko 1985, pp. 84) And US President Dwight Eisenhower admits, “I have never talked or corresponded with a person knowledgeable in Indochinese affairs who did not agree that had elections been held as of the time of the fighting, a possible 80 per cent of the population would have voted for the communist Ho Chi Minh as their leader.” (Eisenhower 1994, pp. 372)
During a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jerald terHorst is grilled about the fate of the thousands of hours of recordings made by former President Richard Nixon, recordings clandestinely made by Nixon of conversations with his aides, staffers, advisers, and visitors (see February 1971 and July 13-16, 1973). The practice of secretly recording White House conversations began with Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Nixon had gone far beyond the simple recording systems made by his predecessors. He had hidden microphones in the lamps and room fixtures in the Oval Office, his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB), the Cabinet Room, and in the Aspen Lodge at Camp David. In all, he made over 3,700 hours of recordings between July 1971 and July 1973. The tapes are loaded with evidence of criminal conspiracies and deeds involving Nixon and dozens of his closest advisers and aides, and are of intense interest to reporters and the Watergate prosecutors. TerHorst causes a stir when he tells listeners that the tapes are currently being guarded by Secret Service personnel, and “they have been ruled to be the personal property” of Nixon. Ruled by whom? reporters demand. The “ruling” is based on a “formal,” albeit unwritten, legal opinion by White House lawyers Fred Buzhardt and James St. Clair, who had helped frame Nixon’s Watergate defense. TerHorst is unaware of the legal dispute over the tapes brewing in the White House and in the office of Leon Jaworski, the Watergate special prosecutor. Ford was not involved in the decision to turn the materials over to Nixon, says terHorst, but concurs in it. TerHorst is speculating far more than the reporters realize; he has been given little information and only scanty guidance from Buzhardt. When asked if the decision to give the documents and tapes to Nixon comes from “an agreement among the different staffs, the special prosecutor, the Justice Department, and the White House legal staff,” terHorst replies unsteadily, “I assume there would be because I’m sure neither one would just take unilateral action.” (Werth 2006, pp. 71-75)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales tells reporters that “the framers of the Constitution, I think, intended there to be a strong presidency in order to carry out certain functions, and [President Bush] feels an obligation to leave the office in better shape than when he came in.” Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will sharply disagree with Gonzales in 2004. Dean will write, “In fact, the framers intended the exact opposite, and the president did not even have a staff until 1857, and what has become the modern presidency (beyond anything contemplated by the founders) occurred during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with the creation of the Executive Office of the President.” (Dean 2004, pp. 179)
Playwright Arthur Miller has written about the level of “acting” in the White House, and given the best marks to Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He is not so impressed with George W. Bush’s performances. “To me it is all puffery,” Miller will write on May 11 in regard to Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” presentation (see May 1, 2003). “He is strutting about like the bad actor he is, but film and theatre are full of bad actors who find a public. The crowning moment of his presentation was his having emerged from an airplane that he did not land, in a pilot’s get-up with the helmet gallantly under one arm, as if he had passed through heavy enemy fire. At long last some commentators caught on to this, but I’m afraid the yahoos may have fallen for it.” (Dean 2004, pp. 74)
Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume and Fox analyst William Bennett both make the false claim that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to replace Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt, who implemented Social Security, was in favor of “voluntary contributory annunities” to supplement Social Security benefits, but never proposed replacing Social Security with private money. Hume and Bennett both support President Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security; Bush himself has asserted, equally falsely, that Roosevelt supported privatization. On Fox’s political talk show Hannity and Colmes, Bennett tells viewers: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the guy who established Social Security, said that it would be good to have it replaced by private investment over time. Private investment would be the way to really carry this thing through.” That same evening, Hume tells his audience: “In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, quote, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’” Hume fails to point out that Roosevelt was not talking about “supplant[ing]” Social Security with any “self-supporting annuity plans,” but instead was talking about a different fund that provided pension benefits to Americans too old (in 1935) to contribute payroll taxes to Social Security. In 1935, Edwin Witte, the director of the Committee on Economic Security, told Congress flatly that voluntary accounts were intended as a “separate undertaking” meant to “supplement” the compulsory system, not replace it. (Media Matters 2/4/2005) Days before the Fox broadcasts, Roosevelt’s grandson James Roosevelt Jr., a former Social Security associate commissioner, noted that “Bush invoked the name of my grandfather… as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security,” and added, “The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.” (Roosevelt 1/31/2005) Liberal pundit Al Franken calls on Hume to resign over his historical distortions; MSNBC host Keith Olbermann calls Hume’s statements “premeditated, historical fraud,” and Roosevelt Jr. says that “outrageous distortion… calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.” (Fosor 2/18/2005) Influential conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds will acknowledge that Roosevelt was not advocating for the privatization of Social Security, instead noting that Roosevelt’s plan “would have involved, essentially, a sort of government-supplied 401k plan.” (Glenn Reynolds 2/4/2005)
Author and historian Sean Wilentz argues that George W. Bush is perhaps the worst president in US history. (Princeton University 4/21/2006; Wilentz 11/21/2007) While Wilentz addresses several topics, he is particularly concerned with the Bush record on civil liberties in what Bush repeatedly calls “a time of war.” Wilentz writes: “No previous president appears to have squandered the public’s trust more than Bush has.… No other president—Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War—faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonized the Democrats.… History may ultimately hold Bush in the greatest contempt for expanding the powers of the presidency beyond the limits laid down by the US Constitution.…[T]he Bush administration—in seeking to restore what [Vice President] Cheney, a Nixon administration veteran, has called ‘the legitimate authority of the presidency’—threatens to overturn the Framers’ healthy tension in favor of presidential absolutism. Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president’s powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. No previous wartime president has come close to making so grandiose a claim.” (Wilentz 11/21/2007)
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from October 2003 through June 2004, is publishing a new book, The Terror Presidency, in which he details many of the controversies in which he found himself mired during his brief and stormy tenure. Goldsmith was viewed, along with his friend and fellow law professor John Yoo, as two of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars; the two were called the “New Sovereigntists” by the prestigious political journal Foreign Affairs. But instead of adding his voice to others in the Bush administration who supported the expanding powers of the presidency at the cost of civil liberties, Goldsmith found himself at odds with Yoo, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other White House and Justice Department officials. The OLC advises the president on the limits of executive power (and finds legal justifications for its actions as well), and Goldsmith became embattled in disputes with the White House over the Bush administration’s systematic attempts to push the boundaries of executive power almost from the onset of his term as OLC chief, especially in light of the administration’s responses to 9/11 and the threat of Islamist terrorism (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith disagreed with the White House over issues surrounding the use of torture against terrorist suspects (see December 2003-June 2004), the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see June 17, 2004), the extra-constitutional detention and trial of enemy combatants (see January-June 2004), and other issues.
'Behind-the-Scenes Revolt' - After nine contentious months leading a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith resigned. He says of his mindset at the end of his term, “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted.” Goldsmith chose to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence was widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even felt that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith recalls. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Not a Whistleblower - Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, does not regard himself as a whistleblower. “This book is not about whistle blowing,” he says. “It’s about trying to explain to the public the enormous pressures and tensions inside the executive branch to keep Americans safe and about how that pressure bumps into the wall, and about the difficulties that everyone in the administration has and the pressure to do everything possible to keep Americans safe, and the intense pressure to comply with the law. And it’s an attempt to give a fair-minded and deeply sympathetic description of that tension, and I actually think there’s a structural problem in the presidency because of this, and I’m trying to explain the pressure the administration is under and why it did the things it did, and why it did things correctly in some circumstances and why it made mistakes.” He says he has learned some difficult lessons from his tenure in Washington: “I came away from my time in government thinking, as many people do, that there’s too much secrecy. Both too much secrecy inside the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress. There’s obviously a trade-off and it’s hard to know when to draw the line. If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
Bush, Administration Officials Going Too Far in Placing Politics Above Law - Goldsmith believes that Bush and his officials are their own worst enemies in their attempts to expand presidential power. Goldsmith, like his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, regards the law as secondary to political leadership. Bush’s indifference and even contempt for the political process has weakened his abilities as a wartime leader, in direct contrast to Lincoln and Roosevelt. “I don’t know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making,” Goldsmith says. Since Bush is not a lawyer, “[i]t’s hard to know how he would know.” Bush’s refusal to work with Congress is in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s approaches, and that refusal has damaged his administration’s ability to combat terrorism and achieve its agenda. Goldsmith writes that Bush has willfully ignored the axiom that the strongest presidential power is the power to persuade. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith writes. “This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” While Goldsmith agrees with the administration that the terrorist threat is extremely serious, and that the US must counter it aggressively, he quotes his conservative Harvard colleague Charles Fried that Bush “badly overplayed a winning hand.” Bush “could have achieved all that he wanted to achieve, and put it on a firmer foundation, if he had been willing to reach out to other institutions of government.” Instead, he says, Bush weakened the presidency he was so determined to strengthen. “I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it. The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Adding to Presidential Power - He adds, “Basically, the administration has the conception of executive power that suggests they clearly have a public agenda item of wanting to leave the presidency more powerful than they found it. Vice President Cheney was in the Ford White House at the dawn of the resurgent Congress after Watergate and Vietnam and he believed then that the 1970s restrictions put on the executive branch by Congress related to war and intelligence harm the presidency. So one of their agenda items before 9/11 was to keep the power of presidency and expand the power of the presidency to put it back to its rightful place.… They’ve certainly lost a lot of trust of Congress. And the Supreme Court really, I think, cut back on certain presidential prerogatives.… Future presidencies will face a culture of distrust and worry, I believe, because of the actions taken by the Bush administration. A lot of it was unnecessary.… So when you have those pressures [to battle terrorism and keep the nation safe] and then you run into laws that don’t allow you to do what you need to do, I think the prescription is that going it alone unilaterally with executive power is not as good as getting the other institutions on board through consensus and consultation.” (Klaidman 9/8/2007)
President Obama sharply criticizes the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, giving corporations and unions the right to give unlimited and anonymous donations to organizations supporting or opposing political candidates (see January 21, 2010), during the annual State of the Union address. Obama gives the address to a joint session of Congress, with three Supreme Court members in attendance. “With all due deference to the separation of powers,” Obama says, “last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” Democrats in the chamber applaud Obama’s remarks, while Republicans do not. In his response, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the five conservatives on the Court who joined in the majority decision, shakes his head and mouths, “Not true, not true” (some lip readers will later claim that Alito says, “That’s not true”). It is highly unusual for a president to so directly criticize a Supreme Court ruling, especially in a State of the Union address. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden defends Obama’s remarks in an appearance on Good Morning America. Biden says: “The president didn’t question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it. I think [the ruling] was dead wrong and we have to correct it.” Supreme Court expert Lucas A. Powe says, “I can’t ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that.” Experts say that the closest precedent they can find is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 criticism of the Court in his address to Congress. Yale law professor Jack Balkin says, “The important thing to me is that the president thinks the Citizens United decision is important enough that he would include it.” Reactions are split along ideological lines. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) calls Obama “rude” to criticize the Court’s verdict. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls Alito’s reaction “inappropriate.” Legal expert Barbara A. Perry of Sweet Briar College says both Obama and Alito were in the wrong, calling the interaction “an unfortunate display for both branches.” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says: “One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.” Alito refuses to comment. Alito and Obama have a contentious history. As a senator, Obama was one of the most outspoken voices against Alito’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006), saying then of Alito, “[W]hen you look at his record—when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.” For his part, Alito snubbed the formal visit paid by Obama and Biden to the Court. (Nagraj 1/28/2010; Barnes 1/28/2010) Months later, Obama’s warning will be proven to be correct, as a media investigation will show the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign monies to fund attack ads and other political activities under the cloak of the Citizens United decision (see October 2010).
Fox News host Glenn Beck launches a rhetorical attack on the nation’s unions. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was designed “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices.” For years, conservative and Republican candidates and organizations have fought against unions’ rights to bargain collectively, in part because labor unions are a critical element of the center-left “progressive” coalition in American politics. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; Board 2011) A regular segment on Fox News is titled, “Unions: Can America Afford Them?” (Fox News 2011) Beck often calls union workers “thugs” and/or “enforcers.” (Media Matters 9/7/2010) On his daily radio show, Beck says of unions: “Look what they’ve done to the police and firemen. They’ve raped these guys. Along with politicians. Along with politicians—raped them. The bravest among us.… What, do you think the politicians are not in bed with the unions?” Beck is discussing unions’ push for Congress not to privatize and dramatically reduce Social Security benefits for workers. (Media Matters 8/4/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010)
A Fox Business Channel host says America’s unions are “the antithesis of freedom.” The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was designed “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices.” For years, conservative and Republican candidates and organizations have fought against unions’ rights to bargain collectively, in part because labor unions are a critical element of the center-left “progressive” coalition in American politics. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; Board 2011) A regular segment on Fox News is titled, “Unions: Can America Afford Them?” (Fox News 2011) Fox News host Glenn Beck often calls union workers “thugs” and/or “enforcers.” (Media Matters 9/7/2010) A Fox Business Channel (FBC) commentator calls labor unions “the antithesis of freedom,” and says that while “fortunately” private sector unions “have retreated,” public sector unions are still a “problem.” Stuart Varney, a guest of Andrew Napolitano on Freedom Watch and host of Varney and Company on FBC, says that unions have been “a disaster for the British economy,” and continues: “They are the antithesis of freedom. They impose rigid workplace rules that have no place in a modern economy.” Later, Varney says: “Fortunately, unions have retreated in the private sector. It is in the public sector where they rule, and that is the nature of some of our problems.” He adds that “taxpayers” and “the concept of freedom and liberty” “suffer” from the existence of unions. (Media Matters 9/4/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010) The same day, on his own show, Varney accuses a union advocate of “siding” with America’s “enemies” (see September 4, 2010).
A Fox Business Channel host attacks a union representative for “sid[ing] with [America’s] enemies” by advocating for the rights of workers to organize. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, was designed “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices.” For years, conservative and Republican candidates and organizations have fought against unions’ rights to bargain collectively, in part because labor unions are a critical element of the center-left “progressive” coalition in American politics. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; Board 2011) A regular segment on Fox News is titled “Unions: Can America Afford Them?” (Fox News 2011) Fox News host Glenn Beck often calls union workers “thugs” and/or “enforcers.” (Media Matters 9/7/2010) Stuart Varney, host of Varney and Company on the Fox Business Channel, attacks a union representative on his show for “sid[ing] with our enemies” against America. Varney opens by telling Bruce Raynor of the pro-union group Workers United: “I was shocked and angered by the idea that my government in America would link our behavior in America vis-a-vis unions, and link it to some kinds of human rights abuse. Say it ain’t so. You can’t be serious.” Varney is referring to a recent State Department report that calls for strengthening labor unions in order to combat workplace abuses by employers. Raynor begins by informing Varney that “millions of American workers today have no right to organize a union,” and Varney immediately attempts to cut him off by saying that all workers have “every right” to organize, a claim that is flatly untrue. Raynore cites examples of public workers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and other states who are prohibited by law from forming unions; Varney then contends that the lack of a right to organize is not, as the State Department report claims, a human rights abuse. Raynor contends that it is indeed an abuse of human rights. Varney then accuses Raynor and the State Department of attempting to “embarrass this great country” by taking this report to the United Nations “and put us in the same league as North Korea.” Raynor calls the right to organize part of Americans’ constitutional right to free association. Varney then begins to shout Raynor down, saying: “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?” Raynor attempts to counter with the fact that over 20 states have laws forbidding certain groups of workers from organizing in unions, and notes that drivers for Federal Express, one of the largest private employers in the US, are forbidden to join or organize unions, while drivers for United Parcel Express (UPS) do have that right. Varney calls Raynor’s examples “little” and “tiny” that mean nothing in a larger sense, and storms: “You now say that this great democracy abuses human rights. That’s embarrassing, sir.” Raynor continues to cite examples of workers who lack the right to organize, and Varney disputes the accuracy of Raynor’s facts, trying to dispute the fact of law with Raynor over workers’ rights to organize. Raynor says that every organization except for the military should have the right to organize, but many of them do not. The United States, Raynor says, “is the hardest country in the free world to organize unions.” Varney, clearly indignant, accuses Raynor of “report[ing] us to the United Nations, a den of thieves, and you say” the US is abusing its citizens’ rights. Varney begins shouting again, accusing Raynor of “embarrassing” the United States by “bringing a public spotlight,” and says: “You have sided with our enemies. You’re in the same camp as our enemies. That’s disgraceful.” Raynor attempts to deny the allegation, and Varney concludes the interview, saying, “I’m sorry, we must agree to differ, but that, sir, is disgraceful.” (Media Matters 9/4/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010)
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