Patriotism Smackdown: Obama Vs. Vietnam Protesters (Hegemony Is The Enemy Special Report--Pt2)

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat Jul 05, 2008 at 18:40


In Part One of this series, I used Langston Hughes's poem "Let America Be America Again" to sharpen some of the inconsistencies in Obama's speech about patriotism.  Here, I want to dig deeper into what appears to be a fundamental aspect of what's wrong with Obama's vision-his acceptance of righwing mythology about the nature of anti-war activism from the Vietnam Era.  In this diary and the next, I draw primarily on the research of sociologist-and Vietnam vet-Jerry Lemcke, to discredit and analyze two prominent rightwing mythic narratives about Vietnam, both of which seek to shift responsibility for losing the war away from those responsible for the war and onto those who opposed it.  In the diary following that, I'll look at how this fits into a much longer historical pattern of rightwing mythmaking.

This diary is about the myth that anti-war protesters commonly spit on returning veterans.  The next is about the myth of "Hanoi Jane"--portraying Jane Fonda, who was actually well-liked by the troops, as someone deeply hostile to them, and responsible for their defeat.

Paul Rosenberg :: Patriotism Smackdown: Obama Vs. Vietnam Protesters (Hegemony Is The Enemy Special Report--Pt2)
Obama In the Shadow of The Spitting Image

Let's recall that key passage again:

Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

What he comes close to here, but then draws back from, is the full-throated lie that anti-war protesters commonly spat on returning veterans.  We know it is a lie, thanks to the dogged research of sociologist Jerry Lembcke, author of the 1998 book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam.  While it's impossible to prove a negative, and some such incidents may well have happened, Lembcke says, he found no contemporaneous reporting of any such spitting events, which surely would have been regarded as newsworthy at the time, given the overheated political atmosphere.  Lembcke found no arrests, news reports, photographs, or references in FBI files. If it was happening, he concludes, it left virtually no contemporaneous trace--no one seemed to have been reporting it or talking about it.

Since publication of his book, and attempts to refute his work, a grand total of one solid news report of such an incident has been found--but it was not a direct report of such an event, and cannot be considered proof.  It was included as part of a portrait of a returned Vietnam Vet who claimed to have been spit on sometime previous to the interview, which was broadcast by CBS news.  Given the prominence of this outlet, if the event had been commonplace, it's reasonable to think that others would come forth to share their experiences as well.  But this didn't happen.  Thus, if the reported incident did happen, it was so anomalous that reporting it did not strike a chord with anyone that can be identified today.

There were other reports, but none seems to be credible and specific.  For example, one of the founding members of Nixon's front group, which eventually gave us the always-reliable Swiftboat Veterans, claims to have been spit on not once, but twice!  He could be telling the truth, of course. Given that he was part of a Nixon front group when he made the original claims, and given what that front group later evolved into, well, the word "credible" is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind.

Attempted Refutation

In fact, as Jack Shafer reported in Slate, an all-out attempt to refute Lembcke came up with very little:

Jim Lindgren, professor of law and Volokh Conspiracy blogger, has done yeoman's work in scouring the news archives in search of evidence to refute Holy Cross College scholar Jerry Lembcke's stand that the returning-Vietnam-vets-spat-upon-by-protesters story is an urban myth.  

If you're arriving late to the story, I've written about the spit myth a number of times since 2000, most recently last week. Like Lembcke, I've have yet to see anything that corroborates the tales told by some vets about being gobbed on by protesters at airports while in uniform during the Vietnam War era.

In his Feb. 8 Volokh Conspiracy post, Lindgren presents his findings (scroll down and click the "show the rest" link for his complete case). Lindgren writes that, contrary to Lembcke's claims, many easily discovered newspaper stories from the 1967-1972 era show servicemen were spat on frequently. He starts by citing a Bucks County Courier Times article from 1967 in which two sailors were spat on outside a high-school football game by a gang of about 10 young men, one of whom said, "We're going to get a couple of sailors." One of the attackers was sentenced to time in a reformatory following the assault.

He also cites James Reston of the New York Times, who wrote of servicemen guarding the Pentagon being spat on by anti-war protesters during the famous October 1967 demonstration. He has other stories about protesters slinging saliva on an ROTC officer, on ROTC students, and on a military recruiter. He points to a 1967 New York Times story in which Neil Sheehan writes that National Guardsmen were being trained not to react when protesters spat on them, as well as several other stories culled from the press to establish the culture of protester-spitting.

But for all his industry, Lindgren has failed so far to produce a contemporaneous news account--or other corroborative evidence--of a protester ambushing a returning veteran with a gob of spit, which I take as the main point of Lembcke's book, Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam.

Lembcke has responded to Lindgren's challenge in an e-mail, which he's sent to his critics. I publish it here as a sidebar. For the point-counterpoint effect, open Lindgren's piece in one browser window and Lembcke's response in another.

Rather than strengthening his case, the inclusion of two sailors attacked by a teenage gang is indicative of how thin the counter-evidence actually is.  As Lembcke said in his response to Lindgren:

1. I've never said I knew that spitting did not happen. In the book, I speculate that, given the raucous nature of the war years and the many years that the war and opposition went on, I'd be surprised if some veteran, sometime, someplace, would not have been spat on.

2. At the time I wrote, I did not find any first-person "I was spat on" stories that had been told in the late 1960s or early 1970s and still today I have almost nothing of that sort. I did find some second/third-hand claims of spitting, from that time period, and I recounted some of those on pages 80-82 of the book....

3. The first-person stories began to come around 1980. I stand by that, but the existence of early claims wouldn't alter my conclusions substantially....

Lindgren also went on to attack other aspects of Lembcke's research, such as the assertion that soldiers did not fly into civilian airports, which were typically the setting for such stories.  However, the totality of his evidence and arguments does not come close to touching the core of Lembcke's argument, that such stories did not become commonplace until well after the fact, and were quite at odds with the common experience of soldiers returning from war at the time.

The Deeper Level-the Logic of Blame-Shifting

Indeed, there is a deeper level to Lembcke's argument, as there is to the spitting myth itself: the myth is used to delegitimate anti-war activism, and to shift blame for losing the war onto those who opposed it. For the myth to be true, there must not only have been a significant number of such incidents, they must have been either an intentional tactic of the anti-war movement--if not, indeed, part of a larger strategy--or an instinctual expression that  resonated at the time and had a profound negative impact that undermined both the moral of returning troops and those still stationed in Vietnam.

As Lembcke explained in an interview with Toward Freedom:
:

I didn't originally use the term urban myth or urban legend, other people have used it, but that's the way that urban myths start. The main characteristic of the origin of an urban myth is that it has no point of origin or time of origin, and that it is being told across a wide geographic area. So, the absence of any point of origin, suggests that the spitting stories are of the same nature as an urban legend.

To me, this means that the stories are reflecting something deeper about an anxiety in American culture; that they are an inarticulate expression of something that is really bothering people, which is "Why did we lose this war?" What the spitting stories help construct, then, is an answer to that question, which is "We lost the war because of betrayal at home. We did not lose the war to the Vietnamese; we lost the war to ourselves, were defeated by ourselves."

None of this is true, and none of the evidence that Lundgren works to assemble begins to establish any of these claims.  Indeed, quite the opposite:  rather than antagonism, there was not just good relations between anti-war protesters and returning vets or active duty military--members of the military itself were heavily involved in the anti-war movement.  Indeed, that was part of the reason for myth coming about in the first place--as a late stage in a prolonged process of erasing the military anti-war movement from public consciousness.

The GI Anti-War Movement

To get a sense of how widespread the military anti-war movement was, I am going to quote from a contemporary report by a member of the military brass who was clearly horrified by what he was reporting on.  This should completely rule out any claims that the source is unreliable.  It comes from the Armed Forces Journal, 7 June, 1971, "The Collapse Of The Armed Forces" by Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr.

"Frag incidents" or just "fragging" is current soldier slang in Vietnam for the murder or attempted murder of strict, unpopular, or just aggressive officers and NCOs. With extreme reluctance (after a young West Pointer from Senator Mike Mansfield's Montana was fragged in his sleep) the Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in 1970(109) have more than doubled those of the previous year (96).

Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.

In one such division -- the morale plagued Americal -- fraggings during 1971 have been authoritatively estimated to be running about one a week....

The issue of "combat refusal", and official euphemism for disobedience of orders to fight -- the soldier's gravest crime - has only recently been again precipitated on the frontier of Laos by Troop B, 1st Cavalry's mass refusal to recapture their captain's command vehicle containing communication gear, codes and other secret operation orders.

As early as mid-1969, however, an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade publicly sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, another rifle company, from the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division, flatly refused -- on CBS-TV -- to advance down a dangerous trail.

(Yet combat refusals have been heard of before: as early as 1813,a corps of 4,000 Kentucky soldiers declined to engage British Indians who just sacked and massacred Ft Dearborn (later Chicago).)

While denying further unit refusals the Air Cav has admitted some 35 individual refusals in 1970 alone. By comparison, only two years earlier in 1968, the entire number of officially recorded refusals for our whole army in Vietnam -- from over seven divisions - was 68.

"Search and evade" (meaning tacit avoidance of combat by units in the field) is now virtually a principle of war, vividly expressed by the GI phrase, "CYA (cover your ass) and get home!"

That "search-and-evade" has not gone unnoticed by the enemy is underscored by the Viet Cong delegation's recent statement at the Paris Peace Talks that communist units in Indochina have been ordered not to engage American units which do not molest them. The same statement boasted - not without foundation in fact - that American defectors are in the VC ranks.

Symbolic anti-war fasts (such as the one at Pleiku where an entire medical unit, led by its officers, refused Thanksgiving turkey), peace symbols, "V"-signs not for victory but for peace, booing and cursing of officers and even of hapless entertainers such as Bob Hope, are unhappily commonplace....

Sedition - coupled with disaffection within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity previously inconceivable - infests the Armed Services:

At best count, there appear to be some 144 underground newspapers published on or aimed at U.S. military bases in this country and overseas. Since 1970 the number of such sheets has increased 40% (up from 103 last fall). These journals are not mere gripe-sheets that poke soldier fun in the "Beetle Bailey" tradition, at the brass and the sergeants. "In Vietnam," writes the Ft Lewis-McChord Free Press, "the Lifers, the Brass, are the true Enemy, not the enemy." Another West Coast sheet advises readers: "Don't desert. Go to Vietnam and kill your commanding officer."

At least 14 GI dissent organizations (including two made up exclusively of officers) now operate more or less 31 openly. Ancillary to these are at least six antiwar veterans' groups which strive to influence GIs.

Three well-established lawyer groups specialize in support of GI dissent. Two (GI Civil Liberties Defense Committee and new York Draft and Military Law Panel) operate in the open. A third is a semi-underground network of lawyers who can only be contacted through the GI Alliance, a Washing, D.C., group which tries to coordinate seditious antimilitary activities throughout the country.

One antimilitary legal effort operates right in the theater of war. A three-man law office, backed by the Lawyers' Military Defense Committee, of Cambridge, Mass., was set up last fall in Saigon to provide free civilian legal services for dissident soldiers being court-martialed in Vietnam.

Besides these lawyers' fronts, the Pacific Counseling Service (an umbrella organization with Unitarian backing for a prolifery of antimilitary activities) provides legal help and incitement to dissident GIs through not one but seven branches (Tacoma, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Monterey, Tokyo, and Okinawa).

Another of Pacific Counseling's activities is to air-drop planeloads of sedition literature into Oakland's sprawling Army Base, our major West Coast staging point for Vietnam

On the religious front, a community of turbulent priests and clergymen, some unfrocked, calls itself the Order of Maximilian. Maximilian is a saint said to have been martyred by the Romans for refusing military service as un-Christian. Maximilian's present-day followers visit military posts, infiltrate brigs and stockades in the guise of spiritual counseling, work to recruit military chaplains, and hold services of "consecrations" of post chapels in the name of their saintly draft-dodger.

By present count at least 11 (some go as high as 26) off-base antiwar "coffee houses" ply GIs with rock music, lukewarm coffee, antiwar literature, how-t-do-it tips on desertion, and similar disruptive counsels. Among the best-known coffee houses are: The Shelter Half (Ft Lewis, Wash.); The Home Front (Ft Carson, Colo.); and The Oleo Strut (Ft Hood, Tex.).

Virtually all the coffee houses are or have been supported by the U.S. Serviceman's Fund, whose offices are in new York City's Bronx. Until may 1970 the Fund was recognized as a tax-exempt "charitable corporations," a determination which changed when IRS agents found that its main function was sowing dissention among GIs and that it was a satellite of "The new Mobilization Committee", a communist-front organization aimed at disruption of the Armed Forces.

Another "new Mobe" satellite is the G.I. Press Service, based in Washington, which calls itself the Associate Press of military underground newspapers. Robert Wilkinson, G.I. Press's editor, is well known to military intelligence and has been barred from South Vietnam.

Col. Heinl is in no way sympathetic to what he is reporting on.  The little details can be most telling in this regard. Note, for example, the snide reference to "lukewarm coffee" in the GI coffeehouses--damn hippies can't do anything right!  Nevertheless, there can be no doubt it is a picture of a vibrant, not lukewarm, anti-war culture within the military--one that receives assistance and support from the wider anti-war movement. This is the reality that the spitting myth is meant to permanently erase from the American memory.

There can be no doubt that some incidents of spitting or other acts of disrespect may have transpired between anti-war activists and returning military in the US at the time.  But the sheer numbers of military troops involved in anti-war activities themselves clearly dwarfs any such isolated incidents by several orders of magnitude.  

Of course, there were those who disrespected the troops on their return, who "spit on them" figuratively, if not literally.  At the top of the list were the US government itself, and mainstream American society.  Anti-war vets were not popular with the Nixon Administration, of course, but neither were politically neutral or even pro-war vets who might talk too frankly about what the war was really like, and many ordinary Americans felt the same way. Returning vets have a hard time fitting back in to a rapidly-changing America, with high unemployment rates in the short term, leading to a homeless population that is with us still.

After WWII, the GI Bill integrated millions of returning troops back into civilian life, but after Vietnam, the effort was much more modest, and far from adequate to the need.  If anyone truly disrespect the Vietnam vet is not those who opposed the war so much as those who supported it, but didn't want to take responsibility for it.  Those in the anti-war movement did take responsibility for it.  In a democracy, the people are responsible for what their government does, and if they disagree with their government, they are responsible for changing its policies.  That is precisely what the anti-war movement did: take responsibility for the war.

On a personal note, I hitch-hiked across country a number of times in the late 60s and early 70s.  I had long hair and a beard. In rural areas, it was particularly common for me to get picked up by Vietnam vets, hungry to have someone to talk to about their experiences. Mostly I just listened, as they spilled their guts about the horrors they'd seen, the fear they'd felt, the sheer incomprehensibility of it all.  Usually, they told me, there was no one they could talk to, which is why they were so eager to talk to me.  Often, they had fathers who had served in WWII, but instead of giving them something in common, it only made things harder, because of how different their experiences were from each other. After hearing so many stories this way, I, for one, was not the least bit surprised to hear the testimony from the Winter Soldier Investigation in Detroit Michigan, in early 1971.

Oh yes, and one more thing.  You know all those guys who picked me up hitch-hiking?  I never spit on a single one of them.

This is just a glimpse at the difficult and complicated nature of the American response to the Vietnam War, a response that Barack Obama quite misleadingly referred to in the passage quoted above.  I want to repeat it, with all that I have said still fresh before you:

some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Senator Obama, with all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about. No idea at all.  And that, sir, really is a national shame.


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Interesting facts about spitting (4.00 / 1)
But you spent tons of time attacking something Obama didn't say.  

Even in the previous post you said:

So, we must express our profound gratitude for Captain Medina, Lt. Calley and the men who followed their orders in carrying out the  My Lai Massacre??

Which is every bit as close to "attacking the troops" as Obama was to saying hippies spit on the returning troops.  Which is to say, none -- but looks just like that to someone very sensitive to the issue at hand.

There is no need to have experienced to 60's to understand that humans are imperfect and crap happened.  This overprotectiveness you have of the 60's counter culture reminds me a great deal of the overprotectedness some people have towards the troops.

I get what you are saying, but I get what Obama is saying even more.  The commenter in the previous post who pointed out this is all about respecting the dignity of others, even when dignity is not shown towards you had it completely correct, in my opinion.


You're Missing The Point, I'm Afraid (4.00 / 1)
This:

There is no need to have experienced to 60's to understand that humans are imperfect and crap happened.  This overprotectiveness you have of the 60's counter culture reminds me a great deal of the overprotectedness some people have towards the troops.

completetly elides the crucial role of GI dissent.

Indeed, as someone who lived through that time, I have anything but an idealized view of things.  The fact that rightwing lies completely misrepresent the era hardly means that there was nothing to criticize.  To the contrary, the avalanche of wildly off-target criticism only makes it more difficult to intelligently discuss the actual problems of the times.

In fact, for all the efforts of the civilian anti-war movement, I believe that it was the GI anti-war movement, more than anything else, that brought about the end of the war.  Quite simply, there was a mass rebellion against an insane, immoral and illegal war, which finally brought it to a halt. But that conclusion of mine goes beyond the facts I am able to marshal at this time, so I offer it only as reflective of my thinking.

Since I believe that the ending of the war was a very good thing, and I believe that the GI anti-war movement was much more responsible for this than anything that I and other civilians did, I think it's fair to say that I don't have an inflated sense of my own importance, and am not obsessed with trying to protect anything other than the truth.

Finally, a narrative about respecting the dignity of others that includes damnable lies does not have a great deal of integrity IMHO.  If Obama wants to enhance his integrity, he should take care to eliminate the lies.  And I hope he does so.  In the meantime, I will continue to work to illuminate where those lies come from, and how else they have infuenced us.

I am not, after all, arguing that Obama is some sort of arch-villian here.  I am arguing that there has been an ongoing one-sided culture war for the last 40 years, and that the sorts of failings I am pointing to in Obama's rhetoric and understanding are the direct consequences of this one-sided culture war.  By countering this state of affairs, we can begin to change the overall dynamics significantly beyond what Obama can do within the strictures he has inherited.

While part of my criticism is certainly directed at what he has said, believed, or assumed, the deeper, more fundamental criticism is not of him as a person, but of the entire state of affairs, and our collective failure to engage in systematic fight-back.  He is only a part of that larger story.  An increasing important part, to be sure, but still only one actor on the stage of history.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Respecting the dignity of others? .. (0.00 / 0)
Does this mean we have to go around saying Jesse Helms is a patriot, or a swell guy(like McConnell and Bush said this weekend)?

[ Parent ]
Habitual (4.00 / 3)
You are at it again and are, sadly, proving my point:

http://www.openleft.com/showCo...

You quote Obama as saying:

Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

and you extrapolate that to:

What he comes close to here, but then draws back from, is the full-throated lie that anti-war protesters commonly spat on returning veterans.

That is farcical. You are doing to Obama what the media did to Clark. You are just making stuff up.

I can only guess that you had a diary already drafted dealing with the spitting-on-soldiers myth (a point on which you are absolutely correct) and then decided to turn it into an attack on Obama.



John McCain doesn't care about Vets.



What He Does Say Makes No Sense (0.00 / 0)
I already showed that what he said was incoherent in the previous diary.  In this one I am looking at the source material for the mythology that he is echoing.

Are you arguing that there is another source for the beliefs he is expressing?  If so, then what is that?

I can only guess that you had a diary already drafted dealing with the spitting-on-soldiers myth (a point on which you are absolutely correct) and then decided to turn it into an attack on Obama.

Utterly, completely wrong.  You are so enraptured with Obama that you apparently can't hear a word I say.  This is precisely the sort of leader/follower relationship that is anathema to a vibrant democracy.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
OK, so you wrote this diary to debunk a lie Obama never told (4.00 / 1)
but you imagine he almost told.  Now you are imagining you are privy to "the source material" for a mythology he never said.

And, you are calling Obama incoherent.



John McCain doesn't care about Vets.



[ Parent ]
No, Not Exactly... (0.00 / 0)
I wrote this diary to debunk a lie that Obama's statement echoed and reinforced as part of a larger series on the role of blame-shifting hegemonic narratives in constraining successful, progressive approaches to foreign policy.

Big picture.  Big picture.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Oh, I get the picture alright. (0.00 / 0)
It will be part of my larger series on the role of a straw man argument in the smearing of candidates.

John McCain doesn't care about Vets.



[ Parent ]
You Really Shouldn't Lie About Stuff (0.00 / 0)
that's on the very same page where you're typing.

Usually only Republicans are dumb enough to do that.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Your argument only works (4.00 / 1)
if you produce an anti-spitting quote.

You're going a little off the deep end lately and trying to take this site with you, to be frank.  


[ Parent ]
What else was he talking about? (0.00 / 0)
Being anti-war is not, of course, anti-troops. So how were returning soldiers disrespected? Surely not by people denying that their service had been in a good cause - if Obama did mean that then we're really in a bad place.

So one assumes that he meant that returning soldiers were treated with deliberate hostility by some anti-war protestors. The most emblematic image of that is the Spitting Myth.

Yes, it's not absolutely certain, but it's one of the more probable inferences one could draw, and even if Paul is wrong, it does have the helpful effect of showing that no matter how much hostility a few protestors may or may not have demonstrated, the vast amount of the anti-war movement viewed the soldiers as parts of a machine they did not control nor necessarily agree with.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


[ Parent ]
You Completely Misunderstand What I'm Talking About (0.00 / 0)
Unfortunately, you appear to have been completely conditioned by campaign discourse.  At this level one properly asks, "Who said what, exactly."

But I am not operating on that level at all.  I am operating in terms of cultural and discourse analysis.  At this level, one properly asks, "How does one act (including speech acts) fit into the larger context in which it appears?"

And at this level it is perfectly clear that Obama's talk about shame lasting to this day strongly reinforces the spitting myth, and that it doesn't really make much sense if one knows the actual history that runs so deeply counter to that myth.

Furthermore, the larger point of this series is that if we want a truly progressive--and successful--alternative to the failed BushCo approach to terrorism, we need to rid ourselves of a deeply insidious legacy of myths that systematically misplaces blame and responsibility throughout the entire Cold War era.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
What Obama said is stupid, ignorant and disgusting. (0.00 / 0)
The only ones to dishonor returning troops were representatives of the United States government.

They provided them with no medical care.
No nothing.

It's the same now with returning veterans from the latest fiasco. Did you ever hear of Walter Reed?

Obama is sick and out of his mind to blame anything on people who protested the war in Vietnam.

He can go fly a kite.

He should disappear from the public scene.

He makes McCain look angelic.


[ Parent ]
Not to excuse the behavior... (0.00 / 0)
but I think when Obama mentioned "some Americans going so far as to hate his country" what he is really trying to do is distance himself from that Bill Ayers guy.

I just get the feeling that has something to do with his repudiation of the "far lefties" or revolutionary types from the 60's

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.


[ Parent ]
I'm A Great Believer In Over-Determination (4.00 / 3)
so I'm pretty sure it played a role. And probably just being black, and all those stupid rumors probably played a role as well.

The confluence of specific, individual causes and generic socially-shared causes is fairly common.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Over-determination? (0.00 / 0)
I don't know what "being black" has to do with the arrogant stupidity of Obama's statement as quoted.

I refer to: "...burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day."

This is pure Bush-speak.
People opposed to the venture in Iraq and say so out loud are aiding the terrorists, says he. Bush's entourage routinely describe those of us who are appalled at the wanton slaughter unleashed in America's name as "blaming America" - when in fact we are blaming Bush. Either Obama is dumb as a post, or he is one and the same as Bush.

Blaming people who protested the war for the "failure to honor" returning Vietnam vets is a horrendous  distortion of reality. The government, then as now, sent kids into a senseless battle. They were made to do horrible things. They  were made to kill civilians. 50,000 were killed in this enterprise. The ones who survived were scarred for life. When they came home, the government gave them no support. No medical care. And the medical care that they did provide was in a snakepit environment. Things haven't changed much if we are to believe what we have seen going on at Walter Reed - if we are to believe the statistics of vets forced to live in the streets.

So, Obama, the chicken-hearted, goes after the powerless. He goes after the few who tried to make a difference. Some of them were killed in the process.
Does anyone remember the students deliberately killed at Kent State by the National Guard?

Does anyone doubt that Martin Luther King's support for the anti-war movement contributed to the atmosphere that encouraged his assassination?

I will never forgive or forget Obama's contempt for those who tried, unlike him, to end an unjust war.



[ Parent ]
Don't you know, Paul? (0.00 / 0)
When Republicans talk about "the troops," what they really mean is career officers.  

Yes, Well, (4.00 / 2)
At least 14 GI dissent organizations (including two made up exclusively of officers) now operate more or less 31 openly

Plus, the last straw was when the air force pilots began refusing orders to bomb civilian targets in North Vietnam.  All the pilots were, of course, officers.

Now, those were war heroes.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
And John McCain was not one of the pilots who refused to bomb civilian targets (0.00 / 0)
The pilots who did bomb civilian targets were probably committing war crimes.  The bombing of civilian targets was one of the reasons that many pilots who landed in North Vietnam were badly beaten by civilians before authorities could arrive to rescue the pilots -- and send them to the Hanoi Hilton and other POW camps of extremely unattractive accommodations and service.

[ Parent ]
An important history lesson, but... (4.00 / 1)
If your point is that Obama doesn't understand what happened back then as well as you and others do, you've convinced me.  But what I don't understand is why that is so important in today's political environment and amidst the challenging realities and political choices we face.  Nor--as I tried to explain in the prior thread--why you think this reflects serious flaws in Obama's character and/or judgment with regard to today's issues and his ability to be a progressive president.

If the goal of your series of posts is to understand Obama to better deal with him as president, then I think that's a worthwhile, even a fairly urgent one.  But its hard to see that as the case for this post which, while very informative, seemed mainly aimed at clarifying an important part of our history and arguing that a paragraph in Obama's speech did not represent that history accurately enough for you. If, on the other hand, its goal is to educate Obama and others, then I think its well worth posting, and hope he and his staff read and understand it, and begin to adjust his language to reflect it.

But, frankly, I'm more concerned with how Obama understands and addresses current issues (yes, including FISA, but also others I consider more vital and difficult to address), and still don't see how the elements of his speech you focus on have much relevance to this.


The whole thing ties together into a fake narrative that has been disastrous for Democrats and for America (4.00 / 6)
Arguments like the one about the angry war protesters has fed this culture war narrative that is at the core of convincing poor rural voters that their way of life would be fundamentally destroyed if they didn't vote for the guy looking to redistribute wealth to the richest 0.1% of the population whilst he stomped on the scary minority group of the day.

This, along with the hagiography of conservative icons like Reagan has created a mythos where it is very difficult for Democrats to make a logos-based argument.  We aren't going to get the country back until we replace these tales with actual history.  And having our leaders repeating the same self-defeating mythos does nothing but bury the Democrats further.


[ Parent ]
Yeah, THAT'S What I Meant To Say (0.00 / 0)
Reading my mind when even I couldn't read it.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I wonder... (4.00 / 2)
John Kerry knows something about the Vietnam war.
He also knows something about protests against the war.

I wonder how he feels reading the swill that Obama just put before us.


[ Parent ]
But, what matters is now (0.00 / 0)
No narrative of the Vietnam war, fake or otherwise, directly effects the modern discussion; it goes through one level of indirection.  What does middle America think the Left believes right now?

Paul is arguing that it is important to change everyone's mind about what happened in the 60's to move the hegemonic center.

Obama counters it is more important to change everyone's mind about what the Left believes today.  If people believe the faults of the past are behind us, that we recognize our mistakes and adjust accordingly, that the sale of liberal values is easier.

Paul's complaint that this is intellectually dishonest is, perhaps, valid.  But that is a different argument than saying it is ineffective.

In other words, do Obama's comments effect people's believe towards Iraq and those that oppose it in a negative way?  I don't believe they do.  In fact, I think it helps.  Regardless if I'm correct or not, that is the hegemonic battleground that matters.


[ Parent ]
Except .. (0.00 / 0)
it seems that Obama and some on the left disagree about what the left stands for

[ Parent ]
The Past Isn't Dead--It Isn't Even The Past (0.00 / 0)
If Obama's attitude toward the 60s had no bearing on how he acts today, I wouldn't be writing this series.

It is, perhaps, a typically American belief that the past has no influence on us, if we only wish it away.  But, of course, this very belief is one of the oldest and most deeply entrenched cultural beliefs we have.

If the past really had so little hold on us, paradoxically, we would be able to readily free ourselves from our chronic amnesia.

"You know what they say. Those of us who fail history--doomed to repeat it in summer school."
    --Buffy, "Afterlife," Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3.



"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
All In Good Time (4.00 / 1)
I'm more concerned with how Obama understands and addresses current issues (yes, including FISA, but also others I consider more vital and difficult to address), and still don't see how the elements of his speech you focus on have much relevance to this.

It's my thesis here that Obama--as much as all the rest of us--is limited in his understanding by the one-sided culture war that has, among other things, promulgated blame-shifting myths about why we lost Vietnam.  In order to gain clarity about what we should be doing now, it is important to free ourselves from those myths, gain a clear understanding of the historical reality hidden by those myths, and work backwards from there to see where we went wrong in the past, so that we do not repeat our mistakes.

This is what I am trying to do, in outline form, in this series of posts.  Yes, it is aimed at gaining a better understanding of Obama's thinking and how it may be limited, but it's not just about him.  It's using his example as a doorway into a larger discussion--a not uncommon thing to do with major poltical actors.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
A little bit obsessed are we Paul? (4.00 / 1)
Of Paul Rosenberg's last 11 diaries, 9 of them were negative posts about Obama. All 9 included some negative mention of Obama, above the fold. What were the other 2 diaries about? American blogger series, both of which there was plenty anti-Obama stuff to go around. So basically Paul has written about nothing but Obama for the past 11 diaries/6 days. And once you go back and look at the next 20 or so after those initial 11 a large % of them are about Obama as well, though not quite the 100% batting average on these past 11.

Now I'm not saying you were wrong about any of it, although I disagree on a bit. Also I realize Obama has been a hot topic lately. I just remember a time when you used to blog about a much wider wide variety of interesting and progressive subjects. Of course you can and will write about anything you want and nothing I'm going to saw will change that, I just used to enjoy reading them a lot more. And not all of the anti-Obama diaries were bad many I actually enjoyed, thought useful, and/or or agreed with.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.


I tried to warn you, Paul. (4.00 / 2)
You are still making Baby Jesus cry and you don't even want to know about the kittens.

Or, to put it another way-- fourth amendment, shmourth amendment.



Montani semper liberi


[ Parent ]
If You Bother To Actually READ This Series (0.00 / 0)
you'll see that it's not really about Obama.  It's about hegemony and it features Obama, among others. The title focus on him comes about because it's about something much bigger than him that has a significant, under-appreciated impact on how he sees the world, and that can severely constrain his chances for succeeding in some crucial endeavors.

I've blogged about hegemony before, and will do so again, and take different approaches at different times, often taking advantage of topical situations to do so.

Given that Obama has shifted noticeably to the right in the last two weeks, given a major speech about patriotism with some under-recorgnized contradictions, and upset a significant constituency with his FISA reversal, it's hardly surprising to find me writing some critical diaries.

However, you've significantly exaggerated my focus.  The American blogger diaries are not Obama related.  I don't even write any of the specific content.  To the extent that they have anything "anti-Obama" in them, that simply reflects a broader reaction of displeasure with his recent actions.  And, of course, you forgot to count the Jesse Helms diary this morning.

Furthermore, if you go back to last weekend, you'll find almost nothing about Obama, and very little in the two weeks before that, with my first diary on FISA not addressing Obama.

In short, I think that you're the one who's obsessed, my friend.  Obsessed with my presumed obsession.

Truth be told, I did some diaries three weekends ago that got very little attention that I actually was quite obsessed with.  Sometimes you have to strike a balance and find a way to marry your obsessions to what others are interested in.  And that's part of the story behind how this series came to be.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I was only pointing out a trend in your posting.... (0.00 / 0)
All 9 included some negative mention of Obama, above the fold. What were the other 2 diaries about? American blogger series,

I made clear the criteria I used. I never said they were all about Obama, and I never even implied the American Blogger Series was focused on Obama. In fact I intentionally left those out, and counted them as "walks" for your 1000 batting average (because the 2 American Blogger posts were posts you had committed to making prior).

And you shouldn't assume I didn't read a diary or post or comment or series simply because I didn't vote on it or leave a comment.

All I was doing is pointing out your recent tendency to feel the need to work a criticism about Obama into every single post you make, almost always above the fold.

Count my posts about Obama recently and count yours and you are really going to go as far as to make the claim that I'm really the one who is obsessed? Come on now, be serious

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.


[ Parent ]
Our leaders should lead (4.00 / 1)
Obama's been disappointing recently. He hasn't been acting like a new kind of Democrat. And as the effective leader of the Democratic Party, you would surely accept that if you believe he's going on the wrong path, it is correct to criticise him?

Better than the alternative is good enough to get a vote, but it's not good enough to get immunity from criticism.

That's my take, anyway. If Paul thinks different, I'm sure he'll tell you.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog


[ Parent ]
Off topic in some ways but on topic in others... (4.00 / 1)
I watched "Iraq for Sale" this afternoon and was painfully (make that sickeningly) reminded how far down the wrong road our country has traveled over the past 8 years.  Though most of you probably don't need it, I thought I'd pass on the reminder to everyone else, regardless of whether you're pleased, disappointed or angry with Obama--and with Paul's posts that have been critical of him.

There's so much that needs changing and fixing in our government, our country and our world.  What's important to me and, I think, to the rest of you, is that we do it as quickly and effectively as possible. And while we may disagree on some things, there's a ton more that we agree on.  One of these, I'm pretty sure, is that the process of changing and fixing will be easier (though not easy) if Obama wins this election and the Dems get closer to a filibuster-proof majority.  Admittedly, that's just a start, but we do need to get started. Criminals (at least by their negligence) have been running the show, and many, many people have suffered and died.


Very True (4.00 / 1)
I'm just quite worried about what this FISA betrayal means for the future.  Standing up for the rule of law is a pretty sharp dividing line for me.  The last thing we need to be doing is eroding our moral authority.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
David Broder (0.00 / 0)
I have a question about the larger picture you are trying to paint about hegemony and the culture wars.  Where does David Broder fit in?

If I understand you correctly, Broder has been a Godsend to the liberal movement, as he constantly supports our memes and ideas while discussing both sides.  Sure, he always ends up (reluctantly, of course) on the conservative side, but he helps us out along the way.

Yet, I don't think you believe Broder helps us out.  Most seem to believe he sneakily some centrist sounding middle ground while ultimately aiding the conservative cause.

So I'd love to see a compare and contrast between what Obama does and what Broder does.  

To me they seem to be doing the same thing for different sides.  I believe that different propagandists and different styles reach different people, that Broder does help the conservative cause in a way very different than Limbaugh does.  I also think that Obama's rhetoric helps liberals in a way more similar to Broder than to Limbaugh.

I believe that the final message on patriotism as given in Obama's speech is purely liberal and the parts you don't like, similar to Broder's approach, simply help the message be heard by those that need to hear it.


If Obama Were An Op-Ed Columnist (4.00 / 1)
I would still grumble, but I would not care as much.

However, as leader of the Democratic Party, he's still badmouthing parts of the base, and no Republican would do that.

So that's the difference, for me.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
You're going to make me do research, aren't you? (0.00 / 0)
"no Republican would do that."  I'm fairly certain that is incorrect.  If Broder, Bush, and the rest were held to the same standard in reverse, I don't think they would do as well as you believe.

[ Parent ]
Republicans putting down Republicans (0.00 / 0)
Look at many David Brooks articles and the first thing he does is put down some Republican or concede a liberal talking point.  For example:

These writers came of age as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude. Most of them were dismayed by what the Republican Party had become under Tom DeLay and seemed put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter. As a result, most have the conviction - which was rare in earlier generations - that something is fundamentally wrong with the right, and it needs to be fixed.

There he throws DeLay under the bus and says that conservatism fell into decrepitude.  Of course, his final conclusion is all is swell with the new conservatism, much like Obama's speeches end with strong, liberal points of view.

Here is Bush in his 2000 acceptance speech:

A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam: When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming.

I'm sure some on the right felt thrown under the bus on that!  I guess Vietnam was not just, according to Bush.

Of course, we all know of "compassionate conservatism" which implies normal conservatism isn't compassionate -- a pure left wing talking point.

McCain lumps Bush with Clinton in a similar manner Obama does:

There is a time to campaign, and a time to govern. If I'm elected President, the era of the permanent campaign of the last sixteen years will end.

So McCain thinks Bush never governs and is in permanent campaign mode?

Those are some quick examples from searching the internet.  I'm sure an actual conservative who cared about such things, like you do, would have a much better list.


[ Parent ]
Sorry To Make You Do All That Work Over A Misunderstanding (0.00 / 0)
I was talking about Obama as a politician vs. pundit.  It's the GOP politicians who resist with all their might the condemnation of anyone on their side, particularly significnt parts of their base.

Remember, for example, my post yesterday highlighting the National Review defending Jesse Helms' racism as simply opposing "a particular vision" of civil rights?

The prototypical expression of this attitude comes from Ronald Reagan, who famously touted "The Eleventh Commandment"--"Thou Shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

And, of course, those old enough may well recall when, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing, the GOP Congress held hearings, and listened meekly to a collection of "militia leaders" berating them for how evil the government was, without ever raising a peep in contradiction.

Even so, the examples you've come up with aren't exemples of Republicans attacking and even demonizing parts of their base, which is what Democrats do all too often.  Indeed, there's not even a direct criticism, much less an attack, in anything you quote.  All they are doing is implicitly criticizing or differing with some past behavior.

It's quite telling, I think that you use such mild examples to try to show similar activity on the GOP side.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Brooks, not Broder (0.00 / 0)
Ok, I'm a dyslexic (or something) idiot.  I meant David Brooks, not David Broder.  It is Brooks on the right that sounds a lot like Obama on the left.  That is with whom I thought a compare and contrast would be useful.

On to my research...


[ Parent ]
"liberal movement"? (4.00 / 2)
I think the differences you have with Paul are well-illuminated here. Obama and David Broder are playing for opposite sides that use the same playbook. The problem is that they aren't playing a game of Democracy.

Do you really, honestly believe that David Broder presents "both sides" of an honest debate? Have you ever seen David Broder discuss the fact that I make less money for similar work, have more debt for similar education and fewer options open to me than my father did thirty years ago? Have you ever heard David Broder discuss the role of big business in importing illegal immigrants? Have you ever seen David Broder ask if any action was Constitutional, let alone evaluate the answers?

That's the problem.


[ Parent ]
No new myths (4.00 / 4)
Paul, I too was there at about the same age and hair and a lottery number 365. I didn't see anyone spit on a vet but there was definite hatred for soldiers who believed in the war. There's no way around it--especially after the Mi Lai massacre.

I also remember the myth making taking place on the other side too. Remember the movies "Easy Rider" or "Joe"? They were sentimental, self-serving stories of hippie martyrdom designed for popular consumption. The people consuming them looked like hippies, but they didn't believe in very much more than the image.

I get tired of the 'DFH' pejorative thrown around on progressive blogs to feign persecution of our movement. Many of my friends were hippies and yes some of them were dirty, some were drug addled, some died under bridges and such. So let's not create a counter myth.

What is interesting here is how the opposing sides still try to achieve 'hegemony' or gain 'political capital' by building a myth around a small, possible event. The reality was far more complicated and there were heroes and villains on all sides. Obama is right on this regard--the Left abandoned the symbols of America when they should have wrapped them selves in them. They largely held the higher ground on the war, the environment and civil rights, but ceded the symbols most Americans love to the rightwing. We are still paying a price for that.


This Is Quite True (0.00 / 0)
There were all sorts of stupid myths circulating in the 60s.

Perhaps most fundamentally, I, for one, certainly never called myself a hippy back then, even though I had long hair.  I viewed that term as a ludicrous caricature, and thought of myself as either a 2nd generation beatnik, or, more properly, simply as a Bohemian.

It's only now, after 40 years of lies, that I proudly embrace the label I once despised.

Funny how that works.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I quit (4.00 / 1)
I've enjoyed reading the commentary on this site, but four rants against Obama in a row from this author?  I'm sorry to say that I'm not willing to read this site any longer -- as it is has become more frustrating than illuminating -- and I think that Paul Rosenberg is doing real damage to this site and its focus.

Hopefully, I'll come back in a few weeks and see if this phase has passed or if the editorial staff has refocused this site in some appropriate way.


How, Exactly, Is This A "Rant" Against Obama? (0.00 / 0)
Obama barely figures in it at all.  It's about the delibarate falsification of history, and Obama is criticized only quite briefly for buying into this false history.

So, are you claiming that the false history really is true, the way that conservatives claim it is?

Or are you claiming that Obama should act as if it's true, even though it isn't?

Or are you simply saying that we should blindly follow Obama's example, even when he's wrong?

You see, I just want to be clear about which of these self-destructive paths of action you are recommending for the Democratic Party.  Because the GOP has engaged in all three with zealous abandon for as long as most of us can remember, and they are now facing an electoral debacle as a result.

You, sir, are the one who is advocating for the destruction of the party, by following in the same lockstep idiocy that is finally bringing the GOP the comeuppance it so richly deserves.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
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