Erik Loomis

Ken Starr, janus-faced moral hack, is finally dead

Here’s the simplest way to describe Ken Starr. When it fit his interests to talk about “morality,” he did so. When it fit his interests to defend the greatest moral reprobates in this country, he did so.

That it was always Democrats whom Starr found morally deficient and Republicans he defended maybe isn’t so surprising.

But given his witch hunt against Bill Clinton in the 1990s that he followed by being the greatest possible supporter of admitted sexual assaulter Donald Trump just sums up so much about today’s right.

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Moreover, Starr himself oversaw one of the worst sexual violence scandals in contemporary college sports, when as president of Baylor, a conservative Baptist institution, he routinely overlooked serial rape committed by players because they won football games.

He defended Jeffrey Epstein.

He defended Donald Trump.

In short, Starr’s feelings about sexual crime depended entirely on whether he liked the person who committed it.

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Born in 1946 in Vernon, Texas, Starr grew up in the town of Centerville and in the milieu of white backlash to civil rights.

His father was a Church of Christ minister, making the family far-right, even for Texas. They moved to San Antonio before Starr went to high school and then he was off to Church of Christ affiliated Harding University. He got a draft deferment due to, um, bad skin.

He transferred to George Washington University where he majored in history. As a historian, I issue an apology to the world on behalf of my profession, even though I wasn’t born yet when he graduated in 1968. Then it was onto Brown and Duke law schools.

Starr clerked for David Dyer on the Fifth Circuit after his graduation from Duke. Then Warren Burger brought him on as a clerk. By the time Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, Starr was on the fast path. After a few years at a prominent Los Angeles law firm, Attorney General William French Smith brought Starr on as a counselor. Then Reagan appointed Starr to the US Circuit of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which has long been a place for rising young judges.

At first, Starr wasn’t quite seen as conservative enough for the truly far right people in the Reagan administration. He fixed that problem.

By the early 1990s, he was a conservative attack dog.

That made him very useful to George HW Bush, who brought him on board as the US Solicitor General. But the real rightwingers weren’t convinced by his credentials. So when a Supreme Court nomination opened up, there was talk about Starr. Instead, Bush nominated who thought was a more reliable conservative – David Souter.

This is a great irony given that Justice Souter became a traitor to the rightwingers for putting constitutional principles above partisanship.

You never had to worry about that with Ken Starr!

Disappointed, Starr considered running for the the Senate in Virginia in 1994, but did not want to run against fellow rightwing operative Oliver North. What a choice that would have been …

In 1994, Starr became the lead investigator of Bill Clinton’s Whitewater scandal when it was going nowhere. This was one of the many questionable attempts by Republicans to get Clinton.

I do not want to excuse Clinton’s activities. I will never forgive his inability to control his personal demons and the shift of his presidency to defending himself rather than pushing policy.

But many of the attempts to get Clinton were bogus and Starr was there for all of them. With Whitewater, there wasn’t anything there. Most certainly, there was nothing Starr could prosecute Clinton for.

Starr showed no sense of boundary. He was determined to get Bill Clinton. It’s almost hard today to understand just how culturally divisive Clinton was. Yeah, he didn’t go to the Vietnam War but then neither did Starr. But he smoked marijuana when he was young and he enjoyed sex. In the 1990s, these things were outrageous.

These “crimes” meant that Republicans would stop at nothing. Did Ken Starr push forward the idea that Hillary Clinton might have killed Vince Foster? Oh, you know he did. Starr would promote any lie that any enemy of Clinton from any small Arkansas town would tell. It didn’t matter. Starr didn’t care. He just wanted to take down Clinton.

And who was Starr’s deputy in all of this?

A young lawyer named Brett Kavanaugh. (More on him later.)

That brings us to Monica Lewinsky. Again, I do not forgive Bill Clinton for this. But the idea that his relationship with an intern was impeachable was absurd. It was the most naked, disgustingly partisan moment of the late 20th century. It also failed miserably.

Starr was an attack dog. He pushed the most sensational claims and engaged in repeated bouts of unethical behavior to get Clinton.

But despite what he and Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole thought, the massive overreach by Starr created sympathy for Clinton and allowed Democrats to hold on to the Congress in 1998, helping to end Gingrich’s revolting career as speaker of the House.

Starr became the guy that the worst people in the world would come to for legal help. That includes Jeffrey Epstein. Starr became his fixer.

In 2008, he used his enormous influence to pressure federal prosecutors to let Epstein off, condemning many more girls to rape by Epstein and his friends. Starr was indirectly and knowingly responsible for letting off a disgusting criminal and while I think everyone deserves a legal defense, that’s different from working to get a sex criminal off because his friends are rich and powerful.

That Starr would defend one of the worst sexual predators in America explain his second career as president of Baylor University.

He took the job at Baylor after a run as dean at Pepperdine School of Law, the far-right evangelical school known for its incredible campus and horrific basketball team. Training new generations of far-right lawyers? Now that was a project Starr could throw himself into!

Baylor, a Southern Baptist school as closely identified with far-right politics, saw in Starr a natural leader, especially given as they wanted to upgrade their own horrible athletics. Starr was cool with that.

So when it turned out that a lot of the football players recruited by Baylor were engaging in sexual assault, you might have thought that Ken Starr would have had some sort of principles here.

And he did, I guess – if the sexual activity doesn’t serve my interests, I go after it and if it does serve my interests, we will cover it up.

That’s exactly what he did.

When head football coach Art Briles found out that Baylor football players were raping other students, he chose to cover it up.

Starr was indifferent to all of this, happy to participate in the cover up. As president, Starr had heard about the rumors of rape, but he simply refused to investigate. He didn’t care. The team was winning.

Starr led in a culture of indifference to sexual assault in service of good football. This was the leadership of the once moral scold of Democratic presidents’ sexual peccadilloes. It was utterly disgusting and it finally caused Baylor to push Starr out of his job in 2016.

Even so, Starr still remained someone the Washington press corps would talk to in order to get a “conservative” viewpoint on issues. This went far to demonstrate that there’s almost nothing conservatives can do to be banished from elite media appearances.

During the Trump administration, I could not listen to NPR. It was too depressing. But my wife likes All Things Considered on the way to work. So once, I said OK, we can try. We turn it on and the first thing we literally hear is Steve Inskeep saying, “I’d like to welcome our next guest, Ken Starr.” I immediately turned it off. Just revolting that such a hypocrite and overseer of sexual assault could retain his media profile, not to mention a media mostly consumed by liberals.

In fact, The Atlantic, the once great magazine today turned into a place for hot takes and rightwing fears about “cancel culture,” gave Starr a forum to discuss what he considered proper behavior of Robert Mueller in the impeachment of Trump. Of course, the answer was completely devoted to whatever Trump needed, completely ignoring Starr’s own history. Then Starr went farther, becoming part of Trump’s legal team in 2020 during the second impeachment.

To the end of his life, Starr showed up wherever there was room for one to excuse sexual assault if it was committed by a Republican.

When it seemed his former protégé Brett Kavanaugh might have his own Supreme Court nomination derailed by the sexual violence of his past, who was there to stand up for him? Ken Starr!

Starr even got involved in defending child molesters who had nothing to do with the contemporary Republican Party, such as pushing for a lighter sentence for a convicted child molester in Virginia. It turned out there was no limit to unacceptable behavior.

Finally, let us revisit the greatest Starr reference ever made. This was the “Treehouse of Horror” episode in Season 10 of The Simpsons. In this, the aliens Kang and Kodos fly off to kill every politician. As their spaceship flies out, Bart yells out, “Don’t forget Ken Starr!”

Indeed, Bart. Indeed.

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Mikhail Gorbachev has died. Who was he?

Despite what Americans want to believe about the man whom they credit with doing much to end the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev is probably best described as the greatest failure of a leader in Russian history. He is hardly being mourned by most Russians today.

When we evaluate his legacy, we need to do so outside an American context, even if we’re American and we’re glad the Cold War ended.

An apparatchik with ambition

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Born in 1931, in Privolnoye, Stavropol Krai, near the border with Ukraine, Gorbachev grew up in a poor peasant family. In fact, as a young child, he was caught up in the Stalin-created famine of 1932 and 1933. He survived. Gorbachev’s family were major supporters of the collectivization effort, which his grandfather led in his locality.

Both grandfathers were caught up in the purges, as was anyone who had stuck their head up. Both were imprisoned and tortured, but not killed and eventually released. Gorbachev’s father fought in World War II, was pronounced dead, but was in fact only wounded and then showed up at home after his family thought he was gone.

Gorbachev was an excellent student as well as a Stakhanovite-type laborer. His father and he harvested ridiculous amounts of grain and were given medals for the service to the state. His dad received the Order of Lenin for this, the highest civilian award the Soviets had.

Gorbachev went on to college at Moscow State University, where he studied from 1950 to 1955. There, he went into the law, which was an unusual choice for a rising apparatchik. The law was not a highly respected field in the Soviet Union at this time. I can think of darkly humorous reasons why, but don’t want to speculate here.

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As an apparatchik with ambition, Gorbachev was closely associated with the Komsomol, the student movement of the Communist Party, the chapter for which he was a leader during his college years.

But he was not overly zealous in the snitching part of the job, which made his fellow students respect him. After he finished with his degree, he quickly moved to be involved with this organization on a professional level. He got himself appointed deputy director of Komsomol's agitation and propaganda department in the Stavropol region, where he sought to improve the lives of villagers.

Gorbachev became a follower of Nikita Khrushchev’s reforms and began to consider Stalin’s extremes a perversion of Leninism. More importantly, he was a master politician for a young guy known for cultivating relationships with older politicians in a way that reminds me of a young Lyndon Johnson, which could mean being a sycophant, yes, while alienating other ambitious young men who didn’t do that.

A leader under 80

Not being a supporter of Leonid Brezhnev and his return to the quasi-Stalinism of the late 1960s, Gorbachev became frustrated and considered leaving the political realm to work in academia.

Instead, he just kept rising in the party structure. By 1969, he was the second most powerful party figure in Stavrapol. This meant speaking out in favor of Soviet policy when he might not have supported it.

That included the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring. He was friends with at least one of the movement’s leaders. But he could not speak against the violent suppression of a democratic movement in Czechoslovakia because that would have meant the end of his career.

Gorbachev was no profile in courage. He would absolutely sacrifice people’s lives to advance. In 1969, the party ordered him to lead the prosecution of an agricultural expert who criticized its agricultural policies. Gorbachev happened to agree with the guy. But he led that prosecution, anyway, even if he later said he felt bad about it.

The Soviet Union was in big trouble by the early 1980s. A half-century of Stalinist leadership had left it absolutely decrepit. Other than the brief Khrushchev thaw, when the premier decided to break from the worst parts of the Stalinism he had long supported, the USSR was dominated by old Stalinists who hated change.

Brezhnev was rigid enough. But when he died in 1982, the Politburo just kept naming more ancient dudes to replace him. Neither Yuri Andropov nor Constantin Chernenko had any ability or desire to do anything but keep the Soviet Union on the path it had been on.

They could not and would not see that the economy was a mess, corruption grew rampant and Afghanistan was a disaster. So when Chernenko died in 1985, the remaining Politburo realized someone under the age of 80 needed to lead. And thus, thanks to strong support from the powerful Andrei Gromyko, it went to Gorbachev.

A Soviet mess

Gorbachev was little known to the Soviet population. Those who did know him did not see him as much of a reformer. Had they, he never would have achieved this level of power. He was seen as a party man because he was a party man. He did, however, have a touch of populism to him that no one in the Soviet Union had seen before.

What Gorbachev remained was an epic infighter. His first moves were to reshape the Politburo, attempting to force the remaining ancient men into retirement and moving Gromyko into a more ceremonial role. He managed to succeed here and started placing his own men in power, particularly his friend Eduard Shevardnadze.

As I said, the Soviet Union was a mess. Corruption had grown to rampant proportions. The economic model had stopped working. The nation’s pride was reeling from the Afghanistan disaster. Corruption had become as great a problem in Soviet society as it ever claimed existed in capitalism. The Soviets sure seemed a lot more secure from a US perspective than it did inside the country in 1985. Gorbachev at least brought new energy into the leadership.

Once Gorbachev consolidated power, he instituted his two-part program to revitalize the nation. The first was perestroika. This was to import an extremely limited set of quasi-free market principles to jolt the economy into working more properly. This was needed.

The five-year plans going back to Stalin had led to vastly lower productivity than western nations as well as low-quality consumer goods. It’s amazing that any nation could make worse cars than the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, but the Soviets managed to.

It was like this throughout the economy. This was most definitely not a transitional period to a market socialism, like western Europe. Gorbachev believed in the centrally planned economy. But he had to do something. To the extent this economic system could even be saved by the mid-1980s, between the indifference of important leaders, corruption and outright hostility, it wasn’t that effective.

Somewhat related to this was a full-scale attempt to get Russians to stop drinking so much vodka. In fact, this was moderately successful and was a holdover from the Andropov era. Not only were there massive public health issues developing (which would become apparent in the first post-Soviet decade) but all the drinking was undermining the productivity needed for perestroika. But due to the rise of black market moonshine, he ended the program in 1988.

The second part of Gorbachev’s program was glasnost. Always on the reform side of mainstream Soviet politics, he felt the need to create conversations inside the government on how to do things, undermining the yes-men mentality that had stagnated society.

He freed dissidents and opened the Soviet archives to some extent so the nation could get a more honest telling of its history. Something like freedom of speech and freedom of the press opened the door to a more flexible society. It also served to destabilize the country.

Some, especially Moscow mayor Boris Yeltsin, felt that Gorbachev moved too slow. The still very active Stalinist wing meanwhile began to see Gorbachev as a traitor to the cause of state socialism.

Negotiating with Reagan

All of this got framed by Chernobyl, the great symbol of late-Soviet corruption and collapse. The poorly designed, poorly maintained nuclear plant killed around 100 people right away, though who knows how many later, and over 300,000 were evacuated from the region.

It wasn’t just that there was a cover-up. It’s that local officials tried to cover up what had happened from Gorbachev. Once he did figure out what happened, he upped his critique of the nation, beginning to see that the corruption was even worse than he had anticipated.

To add to this, Gorbachev had to deal with Afghanistan. By the time he took power, the Soviets had been in the nation for five years and were in a quagmire with no end in sight. He wanted to slowly pull out Soviet troops. But was the Soviet Union too far gone to save?

The answer is probably yes, barring a return to using the military to wipe out any and all dissent. One thing Gorbachev did want to do was reduce the nuclear arms race so he could also cut the military spending that was now far too great a part of the Soviet economy.

Now, lots of westerners distrusted Gorbachev. Thinking that communism was still an evil plot directed out of Moscow, they saw Gorbachev as the latest trick to sucker western governments into thinking he was a newer kind of communist – then he would strike.

Many of these people were close to Ronald Reagan. Gorbachev’s advisors distrusted the United States just as much, especially Reagan given his extremist anticommunist rhetoric. But they started meeting anyway. The issues the two faced were intractable — Nicaragua, Afghanistan, America’s Strategic Defense Initiative and human rights.

But to their credit — and I hate giving credit to Reagan for anything — both eschewed the advice of the hardcore factions of their administrations and sought to bring the nations closer to peace.

I’ve read transcripts from the Geneva meetings. It’s easy to see Gorbachev’s tremendous frustration with Reagan and his advisors just not understanding his position or what he was trying to do.

But they met again in Iceland in 1986. Gorbachev was willing to make a legitimate offer to give up a lot of leverage to get rid of America’s Strategic Defense Initiative (often called the Star Wars program). Reagan really scared the Soviets! They thought he was a madman!

So Gorbachev was happy to talk to him. But Reagan and his advisors were so committed to their space games that they rejected any offer Gorbachev made. That frustration was at the Geneva meeting.

The entire communist world

In advance of the Iceland meeting, Gorbachev made a public announcement of a three-step program to reduce the nuclear arms race in hopes of pressuring Reagan on the international stage.

But no dice.

Gorbachev went back and told the Politburo that Reagan was "extraordinarily primitive, troglodyte, and intellectually feeble.”

No argument from me!

Yet Reagan and Gorbachev did build a relationship.

In 1988, they met in Beijing. Reagan went so far as to say he no longer considered the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” From someone as hawkish as Reagan, this was a remarkable step, even if it wasn’t accompanied by any action from the US on reducing the arms race.

The US was hardly the only foreign policy issue that Gorbachev faced. In addition to Afghanistan, Gorbachev personally found eastern Europe deeply difficult to deal with, a bunch of kleptocratic leaders who did nothing but suck resources out of the USSR.

It was the same with North Korea, not to mention the corrupt autocrats with long ties to the Soviets such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Not surprisingly, he saw China as a potential ally and sought to repair the broken relationship between them. He also wanted to reduce support of Cuba, as it got his nation nothing.

In short, the entire communist world by this time was a combination of inept economics and/or corrupt and entrenched leadership. I think it’s necessary to state this — one can be a socialist and also admit that the system of planned state socialism did not work.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the pressure Gorbachev was under as the Soviet Union moved toward collapse. The Stalinist state was still alive. A whole lot of people had a lot invested in nothing changing. That was certainly true of Communist Party leadership and the military, but also reverberated through Soviet society. What would Gorbachev do when the walls start crumbling?

Reviled in Russia

When the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989, Gorbachev decided not to send in the military, a stark difference from Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the pressure on Poland during the Solidarity movement. From the perspective of human rights, this was the right thing to do. Arguably, Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize for this in 1990.

But this was also the start of the decline of a global power. It’s not hard to see why, after 1991, many Russians reviled Gorbachev.

It’s also questionable whether the Soviets could have put down social democracy in a way that would establish stability. This was an era of rising nationalism in the Soviet Union and in the eastern bloc.

In 1986, Kazakhs rioted after a Russian was placed in charge of the region, something unthinkable in the Stalinist era and its aftermath. This was just the first of many such incidents throughout the Gorbachev era. Azerbaijanis began killing Armenians in 1998, previewing a brutal war shortly after they became independent.

Then in 1989, people in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia demanded economic autonomy and the ability to deal with Europe on their own, with a Lithuanian court actually ruling that the Soviet annexation of it in 1940 was illegal. So Gorbachev was plenty busy dealing with his own nation falling apart due to nationalist movements to do much about East Germany and Poland.

Still a committed communist

Gorbachev was also pretty naïve.

He was still a committed communist at heart.

He believed that if he allowed democratic elections in eastern Europe that voters would choose to continue with communism. He was very wrong about that and there was a widespread rejection of socialism immediately after 1989, one that has morphed into an increasing embrace of hard-right fascism in much of the region 30 years later.

He was taken unawares over rapid German reunification. So were England and France. If one thing united Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher and François Mitterrand, it was fear of Germany reunified.

But there wasn’t anything any of them could do about it.

Gorbachev then sided with the US in condemning Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, which infuriated the Soviet old guard, for whom Saddam was a key ally and who found the idea of supporting anything the Americans did as impossible to accept.

Collapse

By 1990, the Soviet Union was on the ropes.

Gorbachev found himself increasingly without a political home. The hardliners who wanted to kill all of these people claiming any autonomy from Moscow despised Gorbachev as a traitor. (Incidentally, The Americans, that wonderful show about the late Cold War, gets into this in a useful way for American audiences).

The reformers, led by Yeltsin, who loathed Gorbachev in a mutually held feeling of hatred, felt that he needed to go. Gorbachev was reelected party leader in 1990 and then made a deal with Yeltsin to privatize parts of the economy in order to save socialism but then abandoned it when the hardliners criticized it.

Yeltsin started threatening Gorbachev publicly. There were increasing calls across the USSR for Gorbachev to resign. Then the Baltic nations decided to secede. Gorbachev struck back and the military killed 15 protestors in Lithuania. Gorbachev banned demonstrations. But things were falling apart fast.

The economy was now in a free fall, forcing Gorbachev to ask for loans from western nations. This was just too much for the old guard to handle. Plus the west mostly rejected the Soviet entreaties.

In August 1991, Gorbachev and his family took a vacation at their dacha on the Crimean Sea. This was the time for the hardliners to throw Gorbachev out of power and try to save their nation. The so-called “Gang of Eight,” actually called the State Committee on the State of Emergency, overthrew Gorbachev in a coup.

But the coup was a disaster.

The people no longer feared the government. Tens of thousands of protestors came out in Moscow to protect Boris Yeltsin. Within a few days, the coup was over. But so was Gorbachev. He resigned as Communist Party General Secretary two days later.

Yeltsin was now the most powerful figure in the Soviet Union and he effectively banned the Communist Party in November. Gorbachev tried to keep the nation together, but few of the potential republics went along with his plan. Yeltsin and the heads of Ukraine and Belarus ended the nation on December 8 and created a loose Commonwealth of Independent States. He didn’t bother to tell Gorbachev. Gorbachev resigned on TV and left by the end of 1991.

International celebrity

Afterward, Gorbachev became something of an embarrassment in Russia, especially after the rapacious capitalism that marked the initial post-Soviet years and that humiliated many Russians.

But he was an international celebrity.

He embraced the capitalist world of high speaking fees like any good American. He traveled, being the voice of democracy for the victorious west. He wanted respect in Russia, but as the experience of American triumphalism over the end of the Cold War grated on a Russian public that didn’t see their material conditions improve much, he became a deeply unpopular figure at home.

In 1996, Gorbachev decided to run for president. I don’t know why. No one liked him. Sure he was a global superstar. That was one reason no one liked him in Russia. He had failed the Soviet Union. Russia was open for the taking by foreign capitalists, a shell of what it was. People were angry and bitter. Gorbachev was not the answer.

Though his advisors urged him not to run, he hated Yeltsin and he hated Gennady Zyuganov, who was just an old Stalinist of the type that Gorbachev had long rejected. Gorbachev was so out of touch in Russia by this time that he received all of 0.5 percent of the vote.

This is actually kind of incredible.

A mere five years earlier, he had been the all-powerful figure of the Soviet Union and now only 1 out of every 200 Russians wanted him back. That’s one of the great political rejections of modern history.

The all-time low point in Americans just shoving the Russians’ face in the dirt was Gorbachev appearing in a Pizza Hut commercial.

This was just sad, but he needed the money.

It was 1998. Russian capitalism was in full swing but if you weren’t a winner, you were definitely a loser. This was the moment when the lifespan for Russians was plummeting rapidly. Gorbachev was persona non grata on the Russian scene. By 1998, he needed cash.

Pizza Hut was happy to provide that to the tune of about $1 million. He refused to eat the horrible pizza on screen (good for him!). If the worst of American capitalism was going to rub it in the face of the Russians, this was the way to do it. He then lost most of his money that he made on the ads in the Russian financial crisis later that year.

Gorbachev tried to regain relevance in Russia, but he failed. Putin’s rejuvenation of the Brezhnev years but under nominal capitalism was not what Gorbachev had in mind. He attempted to form a new party that went nowhere. He praised anti-Putin protestors. No one cared.

The world is probably better

Gorbachev released an album of him singing old Russian standards and dedicated it to his late wife. Kind of sweet. He often criticized the U.S. for militarizing eastern Europe and then praised it for trying to deal with Russia. When Donald Trump attempted his coup on January 6, 2021, Gorbachev spoke out against it, saying "The storming of the Capitol was clearly planned in advance, and it's obvious by whom." Ah, if only the US media would just come out and say this.

In any case, Gorbachev became a sort of hero in the west. But he became that hero precisely because he was a massive failure.

We have to see his legacy in the light of how he is perceived in Russia, not just that he helped the US win the Cold War. The bitterness toward him in Russia is very real and I’m not sure the world is better off for his failures. It’s not that the American evaluation of Gorbachev has no value. But we have to remember that the world is not made up of Americans and the contempt for him at home probably should mean more than what we Americans think.

Of course, the world probably is a better place for Gorbachev’s life. His actions in 1989-1991 could have been so much worse and resulted in the killing of many people. But again, we can’t just look at him as a hero because his life also ended up serving American interests.

He’s not an American after all. He’s a Russian. If we don’t consider how people see him in his beloved home, we are myopically seeing the world through American lenses. Let’s try not to do that today.

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President Luis Echeverría Alvarez is gone but Mexico is still a mess

Luis Echeverría Alvarez has died at the age of 100. You’d think that this former president of Mexico lived a good century. But you’d be wrong. If you want to consider what’s wrong with Mexico today, a lot of it is at least partially the responsibility of Echeverría.

Luis Echeverría was born in 1922 in Mexico City. Part of the post-revolutionary generation, Echeverría became an academic, teaching political theory at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 1947. He soon became a rising star in the one-party state, becoming personal secretary to PRI’s President Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada. From a young age, he was on the fast track to power.

There was a time when the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was genuinely revolutionary. Originating at the end of the Mexican Revolution, the PRI quickly sought to institutionalize itself as the legitimate inheritor of the Revolution, quite successfully at least for awhile, with real benefits to the Mexican people.

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When Lazaro Cardenas governed in the 1930s, Mexico was home to thousands of Spanish Civil War refugees, not to mention Leon Trotsky, which was a mistake given that there were so many Stalinists in Mexico ready to kill him. In any case, Cardenas went far to deliver the promises of the revolution to the nation’s poor.

But by World War II, the PRI had already begun turning its back on the past. It became an increasingly authoritarian, top-down organization that bought the support of the poor through small gifts, nepotism, patronage and, if necessary, the power of a gun.

Presidents were chosen within the PRI power structure, with no democratic accountability. Effectively, party leadership tapped the next candidate on the shoulder. Any meaningful sense of democracy was compromised in the name of institutionalizing the revolution and passing power down in an orderly and often lucrative manner for those lucky enough to have access to it.

By the 1960s, many Mexicans felt the PRI had betrayed them. As in much of Latin America, populist anger, often channeled into the leftist movements rising in the developing world through these years, began to challenge the Mexican state.

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When Gustavo Diaz Ordaz took over in 1964, he named the increasingly prominent Luis Echeverría as his Interior Secretary.

This put Echeverría in charge of the police and internal security. He was worried about the fracturing of the Revolution. Seeking to salvage the PRI as the site of power, if not the legacy of the Revolution, he cracked down on movements that Diaz Ordaz and Echeverría claimed were undermining the legitimacy of the state.

With the state in effect controlling hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs through captured unions brought into the revolutionary government, they had the ability to crack down.

They sent 15 percent of the military to Guerrero to fight the guerilla movements challenging PRI power there, movements that would be unlikely to exist had the government in Mexico City taken their problems seriously in the decades before 1968.

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Echeverría’s truest legacy was his role as the primary official, other than Diaz Ordaz, responsible for the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre.

On October 2, 1968, 10,000 students marched in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. This was the culmination of student protests that reflected those around the world during that year. Mexican students had marched since the beginning of August in a nonviolent way to demand greater democracy, independent unions, and other things that reflected the anti-democratic nature of the PRI at that time.

That Mexico was hosting the Olympics in a few weeks made its government even more angry. The protestors assured the government that it had no intention of interfering in the Olympics. The military moved in under Echeverría’s orders. Snipers were placed in the apartment buildings of government workers that surrounded the plaza. The workers had no choice but to surrender their homes to the snipers, as their livelihood depended on it.

Then the military moved in and the snipers began to fire. Upwards of 300 people were massacred. With nowhere to run in the large square, they were mowed down, beaten, captured and tortured.

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After refusing to discuss his actions for three decades, finally in 1998, Echeverría gave an interview when he denied ordering the violence and claiming he had no control over the officers and soldiers responsible for the massacre. This laughable claim is technically true in that they were transferred to a special unit directly controlled by Diaz Ordaz, but something that effectively nobody believes because there is no way that the second most powerful politician in Mexico and the man already tapped next president did not know about this.

He blamed Diaz Ordaz, who certainly has his share of the blame and Echerverría did not work alone, but in 1970, Diaz Ordaz selected Echeverría as his successor in thanks for his role in the massacres.

He ran for president in 1970 and easily won. In fact, as the PRI’s chosen man, he had no chance to lose. Seeing the problem of the 1968 killings, he talked a big game about bringing the poor, students and indigenous people into government. Using populist rhetoric, he attempted to portray himself as a man of the people. He made grand promises to restart the revolution, build schools, housing for workers, provide universal health care and other big projects.

Presiding over the PRI’s bloated corpse, Echeverría did little for the people. The 1971 Raymundo Gleyzer documentary, Mexico: The Frozen Revolution, is a good summary of how terrible the PRI had become.

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Echeverría presided over the nation’s dirty war against radicals in the largely indigenous states. He tried to couch this in populist rhetoric and public gestures to claim he was a man of the Mexican people.

He was terrible at governing. He gave ever-longer speeches (up to 6 hours!) and other expressions of a massive ego. He ranted about US imperialism in Latin America while never admitting his own guilt. In 1971, there was another attack on protestors in Corpus Christi Day in Mexico City in broad daylight. Several were killed. While Echeverria’s involvement is not clear, the attack came from the government.

Moreover, violent responses to the populist uprising in the state of Guerrero, with a dirty war killing hundreds of people, reinforced Echeverria’s reputation for having little respect for human rights.

Named “Operation Friendship” of all the horrific names one can imagine, it was created by Díaz Ordaz, then continued by Echeverría. He cracked down on the Guerrero insurgency. When a man by the name of Julio Hernandez Hinojosa went to the municipal building in the town of Atoyac to protest the detention of two women, he was handed over to the police. They accused him of working with the guerrillas, tortured him, castrated him and killed him.

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Another man wrote of how he was beaten by soldiers while two officers raped his wife in front of him. Then, on April 24, 1973, around 400 soldiers and four tanks entered the town of Los Piloncillos and started killing people. First, they machine-gunned five campesinos in front of community members. Then they went to the home of a community leader and murdered him. Others were beaten. This was the beginning of Echeverría’s dirty war. Plan Atoyac was implemented in 1974 to restrict food supplies to Guerrero to starve out the guerrillas. During his presidency, about 700 dissidents were disappeared. Such was the legacy of the Revolution in rural Mexico.

Echeverría did face a lot of problems not of his own making. In his six-year term, the population of Mexico rose from 48.5 million to 70 million while growing rural unemployment and migration from the countryside to Mexico City strained the nation.

He responded by reinvigorating government spending in a number of arenas to gain support from the people for the continued rule of the PRI. This included bringing indigenous people into the government a little. But even then, it was to undermine revolutionary activity in rural areas more than caring much about these communities.

He sort of encouraged independent unions, as the Mexican labor movement had been co-opted by the PRI early on, and freed some unionists from prison. And ironically, while repressing leftwing movements in his own country, he developed reasonably close relationships with both Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende, allowing Chilean dissidents to seek asylum in Mexico after the Pinochet coup.

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The rich hated Echeverría because he talked a populist game about land reform even while killing and jailing dissenters. Journalists made fun of him for his eccentricities and populist gestures.

He engaged in the cronyism that got him into power to begin with, naming his good friend Jose López Portillo as Finance Minister at the same time that continual devaluation of the peso placed Mexico into an economic crisis. López Portillo, who Echeverria had known since childhood, was then named as Echeverria’s successor. In the internal dictatorship that was the PRI, once he was touched, he was touched.

And so the nepotism and corruption of the PRI continued.

Echeverría then went into a very, very long retirement after his term ended in 1976, largely staying out of the public eye, in no small part because of Tlatelolco and the dirty war of his presidency.

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At first, he wanted to stay active and he lobbied to be the secretary-general of the United Nations, despite his filthy past. People long sought to make Echeverría pay for his crimes.

In 1995, a judge threw out a case involving a 1971 incident where plainclothes Mexican police officers killed more than two dozen dissidents. In 2006, a Mexican judge ruled that Echeverría could be investigated and charged with crimes relating to Tlatelolco.

But a magistrate overruled it the next year, granting immunity to the ex-president. He has been the target of occasional protest, such as in 2007 when people painted his front door red to mark him as an assassin. But he escaped accountability and died at a very old age.

Now he is gone. But Mexico is still a mess. Decade after decade of ineffective government and violence have continued to undermine that nation. Each president since World War II deserves some level of blame for this situation. Few deserve more than Echeverría.

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How former GOP Senator Orrin Hatch spent his career 'making the country worse'

He may have been known as Borin’ Orrin, but his career and positions represented some of the worst tendencies in American history.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, Hatch grew up in a staunchly Mormon family, with elders going back generations. He went to Brigham Young University after working in the steel mills a bit. He was a smart, ambitious guy but not one with much money at this point.

He married young and already had a big family, fulfilling his Mormon heritage, so he finished at BYU, went back to the University of Pittsburgh for law school, and actually lived in a big chicken coop with his young family behind his parents’ house.

He was a history major at BYU and as a professional historian, I am ashamed of that fact. But he wouldn’t remain so for long. Once he graduated with his law degree, he got a job back out in Utah working for the oil and gas industry.

Goldwater-lite

Until he ran for the Senate in 1976, Hatch was not a politically important figure. He was just a lawyer. But he thought about it and talked to some Republicans in the state. They told him that anti-Washington sentiment was growing and, who knows, maybe he could take out the Democratic senator Frank Moss.

Hatch got the endorsement of the BYU president, Ernest Wilkinson, a man so rightwing that he refused to allow economics professors there to teach Keynesianism and who refused all federal funds so there would be no state control over his institution of higher indoctrination.

So that was a big endorsement in Utah.

He was a really terrible public speaker and it was a crowded primary. He didn’t have any money. He drove around campaigning in a big van with his six children in tow. But he did have that outsider rhetoric.

He made a recording where he borrowed heavily from Barry Goldwater’s anti-establishment language in 1964, calling his fellow Republicans sellouts and effectively being a precursor of Donald Trump’s ridiculous “drain the swamp” rhetoric in 2016.

He did this in part by endorsing Ronald Reagan for the 1976 election, tapping into the rising rightwing fury against civil rights and feminism among whites. Reagan was so happy, and Hatch’s team so busy bugging Reagan’s advisors for contacts, that Ronnie called up Hatch and endorsed him, which made all the difference in Utah. He won that primary.

Hatch continued this rhetoric in the general. Frank Moss was a pretty good senator. It’s worth remembering it’s not that long ago that the rural West could elect some really fine politicians. Moss fought the tobacco industry, nursing home exploitation and expanded the power of the Federal Trade Commission, all while opposing the Vietnam War.

Quite the senator for Utah!

Alas, those days are now long behind us. Hatch ran on his outsider credentials and laughably using term limits as his tool to do so. His theme: "What do you call a senator who's served in office for 18 years? You call him home.” Oh, the humor of Orrin Hatch. It worked. Sadly, Moss lost and Utah has not elected a decent statewide politician since.

Hatch the hatchet

His positions were typically revanchist culture war stuff. He promised an anti-pornography bill. He wanted to privatize Social Security. The vile Republican direct mail guru Richard Viguerie got behind Hatch and used his power to flood the Utah mail with propaganda in favor of the extremist.

When Hatch was elected, he was seen as kind of joke. As Rick Perlstein explores in Reaganland, shortly after Hatch’s election, there was a dinner party among Long Island suburbanites that challenged guests to figure out what an “Orrin Hatch” was (sounds like the blandest possible mild New Mexico green chile to me), which led to some mildly amusing responses and the requisite Times article that effectively confirmed rural stereotypes about how urban people have contempt for them.

Hatch was just terrible. When Birch Bayh noted that anti-abortion activists only cared about life between conception and birth, Hatch actually said on the Senate floor that there was a “remarkable similarity between those who believe in abortion and those who are spending us into bankruptcy.”

What that similarity was, I have no idea, since it doesn’t make a lick of sense. But that word salad worked in Utah and among the growing powerful rightwing extremists making up the Republican Party, who thought Orrin might be interesting presidential material.

What made Hatch appealing to the New Right is that he was a hatchet man. They were sick of compromise. They wanted full-out aggression with no holds barred. That was Orrin Hatch.

Although still a first-term senator, when the AFL-CIO and Democrats pushed labor law reform in the early years of the Carter administration, it was the young Orrin Hatch chosen to be the pit bull against it. He called the business lobby when he arrived in Washington “a bunch of gutless wonders.” And he provided them the gut.

He was determined that workers would gain no rights in this nation. Worse, he succeeded in that goal, leading the way to gutting anything Democrats proposed on labor issues. What tool did he use?

Our old friend, the filibuster.

The filibuster’s history is mostly known for holding up bills that would move toward racial equality and there’s a good reason for that. But senators also used it, in the days before it became an everyday part of obstruction by the Republican Party, specifically against workers’ rights legislation. Hatch killed labor law reform. There were 59 votes for it. Such is the disaster of the world’s worst deliberative body.

Sorry, not sorry

Once he was elected, all that talk about term limits went away real fast. He was elected again and again, never seriously challenged by a Democrat. He defeated the mayor of Salt Lake City by 17 points in 1982 and then Frank Moss’ son Brian by 35 points in 1988. By this point, Utah was a full-on frothing rightwing cesspool. The state that once elected quite decent senators was now a place where Orrin Hatch could be seen as a relative moderate. He won reelection again in 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2012 without any real competition.

Hatch was a hired hack of the vitamin supplement industry. This might seem like a strange issue to be tied to. But the supplement industry is huge in Utah and Hatch had a lot of relatives involved.

So he did everything in his considerable power to protect this industry from any regulation at all, including revealing what is in them. When Hatch left the Senate, Michael Hiltzik’s farewell in the LA Times reminded us of how “his deadliest law will live on.”

This was the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. Effectively, this eliminated government supervision of the supplement industry, allowing hucksters and scammers to put whatever they wanted in these things. Specifically, it stopped the Food and Drug Administration from reviewing these supplements ahead of time.

The FDA could later pull a product if it was found to be poisonous but that would come only after such poison was proven. This was a massive perversion of the entire point of the FDA and also the near-prototype for how Republicans see the world and how they want to take America back to the Gilded Age.

As Hiltzik noted, this had hugely negative consequences in the real world, such as when a supplement sold in Hawaii sent 47 people to the hospital with liver problems, resulting in three liver transplants and one death. Finally, it was pulled off the market. That’s entirely on Orrin Hatch.

Of course, Hatch’s son worked as a supplement industry lobbyist and two of the largest three campaign donors for Hatch in 2010 were Herbalife and Xango LLC, a supplement marketing firm. And when John McCain introduced a bill to mandate reports of illnesses from supplements, Hatch backed him down.

So everytime you hear someone getting seriously ill or dying from supplements, you can thank Orrin Hatch.

Not as clean as you’d think

Almost every position taken by Hatch was horrible. He was the author of the vile Hatch Amendment, his idea for a constitutional amendment reading, “A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution. The Congress and the several States shall have the concurrent power to restrict and prohibit abortions: Provided, That a law of a State which is more restrictive than a law of Congress shall govern.

Hatch also was obsessed with a balanced budget, that hobgoblin of the little minds of our dumbest elites, and sponsored the Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution on several occasions.

To his credit, Hatch did work closely with Ted Kennedy on a number of issues, the kind of bipartisanship that made Beltway reporters swoon.

That included working together on creating State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997. And you know what, sure, he deserves credit for that. Good for him. It’s not a perfect program but at least he did something positive with his life.

It got to the point that National Review even called him a liberal. That was ridiculous, but still. That also increasingly disappeared as he got older, to the sadness of writers such as Michael Tomasky, who lamented the decline of bipartisanship this represented.

Hatch was also not as clean personally as he liked to claim.

He got caught up in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International scandal in the early 1990s, which was a case where the bank was laundering drug money and got caught and then was shut down in 1991 for paying huge bribes to governments in the global south to get deposits in the bank. It was a classic Beltway insider job, headed by former LBJ advisor Clark Clifford, among others.

Hatch was friends with a lot of these people and had attempted to use his influence to get a $10 million loan for another friend. Hatch went off on the Senate floor against the treatment of this bank in a speech written for him by the attorney of the bank implicated in all of this.

As part of the loan for his friend, campaign contributions to Hatch were laundered. Moreover, the organization bought 1,200 CDs of Orrin Hatch singing (my God, what horror is this?) and that was another payoff for him. There was a Senate Ethics Commission investigation of this but of course Hatch got away scot-free. Gross.

Hatch’s questionable finances meant he never got what he wanted more than anything: a Supreme Court appointment. As a co-founder of the Federalist Society, as well as co-chair, he set himself up for this well. Supposedly, he was in the running to replace Lewis Powell, which was Robert Bork’s infamous nomination, but there was no way Hatch could get by the Emoluments Clause and so didn’t get the call. And hey, remember when that mattered among Republicans!

Fathering judicial extremism

In any case, Hatch could routinely be the worst during Supreme Court nominations. He was outraged that Bork didn’t get confirmed. Moreover, he was on the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas hearings, where he read from The Exorcist to “prove” that Anita Hill had stolen her (obviously false natch) sexual harassment allegations from that book.

In fact, few did more than Hatch to push the Republican Party toward extremism in the judiciary. He was a huge supporter of the nomination of Mr. Torture Memos himself, Jay Bybee, to the Ninth Circuit Court.

What is interesting, and a sign of how much politics have changed, is that Hatch, who was friends with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, personally lobbied Bill Clinton to choose her for the Supreme Court.

He was enough of an institutionalist to be wary of Republican decisions to nuke the filibuster on court nominees, but then was happy to go along with it and refused to support Merrick Garland in 2016. He had even once said that Garland would be a “consensus nominee” for the court. And then he stated that Garland did not deserve a nomination after Obama nominated him.

By this time, Hatch had pretty well determined not to run for another term. But that didn’t matter. He now fully believed in all of the Republican hard-right turn. After all, on most issues, he was quite responsible for that turn.

On gay rights, Hatch was as bad as one could possibly imagine, though he did moderate on this over time. In a 1977 speech at the University of Utah, Hatch stated, "I wouldn't want to see homosexuals teaching school anymore than I'd want to see members of the American Nazi Party teaching school.”

Of course, you could hear plenty of Democrats saying the same thing at the time. Hatch was a huge supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act. Later in his career, he did move enough on this issue to vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have barred employers from being able to fire workers based upon their sexual orientation.

So I guess it serves to show that you work hard enough and maybe you can move the worst politicians to be slightly less bad, especially after you lay the groundwork for your party to become a cesspool of coup leaders and fascists. A lesson there, of sorts.

Right-winger too left for right-wingers

In 2000, Hatch decided to run for president. I am not sure who was clamoring for an Orrin Hatch presidency. As it turns out, the answer was no one. After a robust 1 percent showing in Iowa, placing him behind such brilliant leaders as Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, Hatch dropped out and supported George W. Bush.

Naturally enough, the idea of Americans having a right to decent health care was an outrage to Hatch. Like a lot of Republicans, he was a total hypocrite on the issue.

Back in 1993, when Bill Clinton threatened universal health care, Hatch was one of the cosponsors of the individual insurance mandate in order to fight Democrats. So, in 2009, when Obama brought that fight back, in what led to the Affordable Care Act that integrated his own proposal sixteen years ago, Hatch now opposed it. Why, it’s almost as if Republican proposals are not made in good faith and Democrats shouldn’t copy them!

He had a lot of respect for people who held his own previous positions as well, saying in 2018 that supporters of Obamacare "the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met.” I’m not sure Jesus and Joseph Smith approved of that language, Orrin. He may be in Hell now paying for such talk.

By the end, Utah had moved so far to the extremist right that people wondered whether Hatch was vulnerable to a primary challenge.

This is pretty crazy when you think about it. There was never anyone more committed to rightwing values than Orrin Hatch.

But he wasn’t a full-on fascist when the Republican Party began to demand that in every candidate. Mike Lee had defeated Bob Bennett in 2010 and Jason Chaffetz was talking about running against Hatch. He didn’t but eight other candidates did. He had to go to a run-off primary, which is the rule in Utah if a candidate doesn’t win 60 percent of the vote. Hatch won that easily, but it was the first time he had to do that and it was a sign that Utah was getting ever scarier.

Now, Orrin Hatch was always a good Mormon. So he claimed to have family values. Do you think those family values got in the way of him supporting Donald Trump? Ha ha, of course not.

Sure, after Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape came out, Hatch stated it was “disgusting” but it wasn’t enough for him to rescind his support in the fact of having to watch Hillary Clinton become president. Anything but that!

Instead, he used Trump like all Republicans did once they found out he shared their values, such as destroying the planet. Hatch was one of the senators to sign a letter urging Trump to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, which he then did.

Hatch finally decided to not run for reelection in 2018. I doubt he would have lost a primary challenge that year, not after embracing Donald Trump so closely. He had only been in the Senate for a mere 42 years, which at the time was the longest serving Republican in Senate history, though Chuck Grassley later passed him.

For all his work in making the nation worse, Donald Trump presented Hatch with the Presidential Medal of Freedom that year.

Orrin Hatch is now dead. The nation is worse for his life. But hey, at least he had the respect of Donald Trump. What more could he want?

The nasty legacy of Bob Dole

Let’s be very clear and upfront here. Bob Dole was not a nice man. He was never a nice man. Just because he was the last World War II veteran to win the nomination to the presidency at the same time that Boomers were dealing with their parental issues through the ahistorical and frankly absurd “Greatest Generation” nostalgia does not mean he was a nice man in 1996.

He was mean early in his career. He was mean when he was close to Nixon. He was mean in his later career. He was mean in the Senate. He was mean as a presidential candidate. And he was mean as an old man being all-in on Donald Trump, unlike the rest of the Republican elite.

Where Dole became such a hard man

Born in 1923 in Russell, Kansas, Dole grew up as a boy of the Midwest at a time when a place like rural Kansas seemed like a place of the future America. This … did not last much longer. The Doles weren’t a rich family. His father ran a local creamery. The young Bob Dole was a good athlete and legendary Kansas basketball coach Phog Allen recruited him to play for the Jayhawks. At Kansas, he not only played basketball but also ran track and was an end on the football team. But before he graduated, Dole went to war.

Dole’s story in World War II is well-known because it played such a large role in his later political career. He joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1942, but he did not go to fight until very late in the war. By 1945, he was in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division as a second lieutenant. Fighting in Italy that April, just days before the end of the war in Europe, Dole was hit by German machine gunfire. His upper back and right arm were riddled with bullets and few thought he would survive. Very, very slowly he recovered.

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He was transported back to the US, treated with experimental drugs, and went through a serious depression that his athletic life was over and who knows what would replace it. He received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star. He never did recover entirely from his injuries and mostly lost the use of his right hand. But he did come around both mentally and physically.

Whatever you want to say about his political career, no one can critique the man’s toughness and determination in coming back from injuries that would have destroyed the lives of many men, even if they survived. Some have speculated that this is where Dole became such a hard man. Well, maybe.

To the right of the right

Dole started back at college at the University of Arizona. Before graduating, he returned to Kansas and decided to dedicate his life to politics. He ran for the state legislature in 1950 while still in college, finishing an undergraduate and then getting a law degree at Washburn University in Topeka. He won that legislature race and served one term. He then returned to Russell and was County Attorney between 1952 and 1960.

That year, he went to Washington as a congressman from Kansas’s 6th District. When the state lost a seat in the 1960 Census, he won the race for the newly combined 1st district, covering the gigantic empty areas of western Kansas. To his credit, he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, though these were not particularly controversial positions for a Kansas Republican at the time.

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Unlike the present, the Republican Party wasn’t fully committed to being the White Man’s Party, though by the time Dole was in power as Senate Majority Leader they were moving apace in that strategy, without Dole really objecting to it.

When Dole ran for the Senate in 1968 to replace the retiring Frank Carlson, he was largely seen as a hard-line conservative. That’s because he was a hard-line conservative. He did have occasional bouts of moderation. He worked with George McGovern on a bill to expand food stamps, for instance.

But he both hated Democrats and on the vast majority of issues was on the right of the Republican caucus. He rose fast in the Republican apparatus though, based mostly on his hard-line approach to Democrats that appealed to the New Right. In 1971, he was named chairman of the Republican National Committee and became a close advisor to Richard Nixon.

Attack dog, not perpetrator

During Watergate, few Republicans were as pro-Nixon all the way to the end as Bob Dole. Dole actually lived in the Watergate Hotel at the time (as he did upon his death; not sure if he ever moved out actually. In 1998, Monica Lewinsky moved in next door to him), but he was out of town at the time of the break-in. When the story came out and grew in the press, Dole was happy to serve as Nixon’s public hatchet man.

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The story got worse. Dole did not care that Nixon had committed massive constitutional violations. What mattered was owning the libs. His reaction was to make sure that Americans wouldn’t know what was actually going on. He stated: "It is time to turn off the TV lights. It is time to move the Watergate investigation from the living rooms of America and put it where it belongs -- behind the closed doors of the committee room and before the judge and jury in the courtroom."

Dole met with Nixon during the hearings and told him it would all blow out, that it was just a Beltway scandal real Americans didn’t care about. Instead, Dole suggested Nixon attack Walter Cronkite as an out of touch elite, a strategy that the rest of Nixon’s advisors thought would go over very poorly.

All of this actually led to Dole himself being investigated a bit by the Senate Watergate hearings, but he was cleared of doing anything wrong. That’s probably accurate. He was the attack dog, but not the perpetrator. After all, that was ultimately his best role — attacking the libs.

Hatchet man

In 1976, Gerald Ford selected Dole to replace Nelson Rockefeller on the ticket as vice-president. In fact, Ford had nearly selected him when he chose Rockefeller in 1974. Did he run a nasty campaign? Oh, you know he did! The whole point of Dole was to be Ford’s “hatchet man,” in the words of Rick Perlstein.

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When Dole tried to attack Carter for using tax loopholes in his peanut business (ah, for the days when Republicans at least claimed to be against using the government to personally clean up and loot the taxpayers), the media pointed out Dole’s own sketchy history, including a $5,000 campaign contribution from a lobbyist running an illegal slush fund from Gulf Oil. Whoops!

In the VP debate with Walter Mondale, Dole stated, "I figured it up the other day: If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans — enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

Democrat wars. Fun to know that included World War II, which evidently Dole now opposed. Of course, he didn’t oppose World War II. He didn’t oppose Vietnam either. He didn’t oppose any wars, at the time or in retrospect. He was just being a cheap cynical politician claiming to make a point in 1976, as if his buddy Richard Nixon hadn’t been more than happy to continue Johnson’s war in Vietnam.

Bob Dole wanted to be president from the moment he went into politics. He tried so hard. After Ford’s defeat, he was seen as a strong candidate in 1980, but he was totally wiped out in both Iowa and New Hampshire by both George Bush and Ronald Reagan, so he dropped out. Dole had attempted to create space for himself after the ’76 defeat by claiming that Republicans could only win if they eschewed extremism. I wonder if we’ve ever heard that again? Moreover, I wonder if that’s been proven wrong over and over again? Hmmmm. In any case, Reagan showed Dole that was not at all the case in 1980.

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Moderation, schmoderation

What did moderation mean to Bob Dole? First and foremost, it meant the childish politics of having a national balanced budget. From a policy perspective, this was Dole’s top obsession. He had not only introduced the Balanced Budget Amendment into the Senate time after time but also had personally written all fifty state governors urging their support for what just seemed like common sense to his tiny rural Midwestern mind.

And of course being mean. Nothing was as important as that. That was the real appeal of Dole — trolling the libs. When Carter had his incident with the rabbit coming toward his boat, Dole went full troll, telling the press Carter should apologize to the rabbit because it was “doing something a little unusual these days — trying to get aboard the president’s boat.”

Dole may not have gotten the nomination in 1980, but he was still an important figure in the Senate. He had become the ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee in 1975. Then, in 1981 with Republicans taking the Senate, he headed the powerful Finance Committee.

Sometimes, the media wanted to create a moderate Dole. In 1982, a Times article said that he had moved from his initial position as a “hard-line conservative” to become a “mainstream Republican.” What the Times and other media outlets refused to get in 1982 and really still resist is that it wasn’t Dole who changed. It’s the Republican Party already becoming increasingly radicalized, making someone like Dole seem more moderate than he actually was because the new people were even crazier and meaner than he.

Qualified loser?

He ran for president again in 1988 and did defeat Bush in Iowa. But as we all know, the worst moment in the American electoral cycle typically does not lead to any predictive power in who is going to win the nomination and that was true in ’88 too. He lost in New Hampshire and then blew up at Tom Brokaw in an interview after the loss, saying Bush should "stop lying about my record" over his tax positions. Well, that didn’t go over well. Neither did Dole calling Bush a “qualified loser,” though I happen to like that myself, although it’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black because what was Dole if not a qualified loser?

Dole’s meanness was always an issue in his political career. Irascibility plays well in very small doses. It does not play well on TV day after day in the midst of a political campaign. He was toast; even though he had the coveted endorsement of Strom Thurmond in the South Carolina primary, he still lost to Bush. I’d like to not hold Thurmond’s endorsement against Dole. But I am absolutely am. There’s a reason that Thurmond liked Dole over Bush. And it’s not a good one.

But still, Dole did learn one lesson in 1988: lie. He told the truth that Bush’s “no new taxes” pledge was irresponsible. And he got pilloried by New Hampshire Republicans over it, contributing to his loss. He would learn from that. Lying was no longer going to be an objection again for Bob Dole.

On policy, usually awful

Dole’s positions remained horrible through these years. He was as hawkish on foreign policy as Jesse Helms and often aligned with that horrible jowly goon on sanctions against Cuba and other nations that didn’t kowtow enough to right-wing interests.

He was freaked out against the idea of teaching American history that wasn’t overtly about patriotism. Rap music came from the devil. Environmental regulations were destroying American business. Labor unions were bloodsuckers on the glorious American capitalist. Speaking Spanish or, even worse, allowing bilingual education, would destroy American culture. Campaign finance reform would get in the way of corporations controlling American, anathema to Bob Dole. That was especially true of agribusiness, for which he was a bought and sold hack.

I guess he didn’t care all that much either way about abortion. He also never bought into the supply-side nonsense about tax cuts leading to an expanding economy. But on policy, Dole was usually awful. Oddly enough, Dole had a chip on his shoulder about growing up poor and occasionally expressed his attempt for corporations, bragging about passing bills over the objections of the Chamber of Commerce. But then he would go right back and fight for the most pro-corporate agenda possible. This is how you get a guy who denounces Time-Warner for making profits off of the nation-destroying musical genre of gangsta rap (the horror!) while also taking large donations from … Time-Warner.

One positive thing

In 1990, Dole pushed through the one positive thing he did in his career and it is highly telling. This was the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is of course an unvarnished good. It has significantly improved the lives of millions of Americans in the decades since. Dole put all his energy behind it. But that was the rub — the only reason he did this is that he personally was disabled.

Yes, he deserved credit for the ADA. But Bob Dole is the platonic example of the conservative politician who hates government except for this one thing which personally benefits me and so on this issue I am a big supporter of government. Did Dole ever extrapolate from his disability to think, hey maybe the government could also help other people who have other problems out of their control? Ha ha ha ha ha, of course not.

It’s not exactly rank hypocrisy. After all, he did really help people through the ADA. What it represents is the smallness of the conservative mind, the cheap meanness that disallows empathy and instead tells people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Dole couldn’t do that because he had only one functional arm. But others can’t because of race, class, gender, sexuality, education, etc. For Dole though, that was a totally different situation with no comparison to what he went through. After all, he was a war hero.

“Dr. Gridlock”

As Majority Leader during the Clinton years, Dole was known as “Dr. Gridlock,” a moniker which of course he liked. He also played his favorite attack dog role. In the many Clinton scandals, nearly all of which were vastly overstated if not outright fabricated, Dole attempted to paint himself as the symbol of honest government as opposed to Clinton. He stated about the supposedly notorious FBI files, “I think it smells to high heaven. I remember Watergate." Given that this came from the mouth of the most notorious Nixon defender in the Senate, that’s pretty rich!

He also wasn’t really that effective as Majority Leader. For instance, the government shutdown in 1995 wasn’t really Dole’s doing so much as it was Gingrich and the hard right. But Dole did not keep his own caucus in line. He knew the shutdown wasn’t a great idea and that compromise was needed. That wasn’t what his caucus wanted to hear. So of course he went along with it as the increasingly fascist tale wagged the reluctant but not that reluctant dog.

(A story from a friend who hails from Arkansas: His father bumped into Dale Bumpers in a parking lot one day. Bumpers was still a senator at that time. His father asked him why Republicans were blocking everything Democrats proposed. Bumpers told him directly, and this is a quote: “Bob Dole is an evil man.”)

“Senior Statesman”

In 1996, Republicans smelled blood. Cocky from their big victory in the ’94 midterms, hating Bill Clinton and really hating Hillary Clinton, they felt the world was their oyster. Newt Gingrich was the real frothing lunatic here, but again, Bob Dole was more than happy to go along with him if it was to his political advantage.

When they passed their ridiculous budget in 1995 and Clinton vetoed it, the government shut down. Despite Newt’s cockiness, the public mostly blamed Republicans. Dole was already gearing up for his presidential run and Iowa was coming. He got nervous and wanted to settle.

Newt and the other extremists such as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay refused. In fact, a Republican electorate increasingly radicalized was already skeptical of Dole. Despite his huge resources and enormous name recognition, Pat Buchanan actually beat him in New Hampshire.

That kind of rebellion wasn’t going to succeed nationally in 1996 and Dole ran away with the nomination. But the writing was on the wall and “conservatives,” which more accurately given what has happened since should have been called “crypto-fascists,” were not that excited.

This civil war was played among Dole’s aids. Some of them wanted him to be Gingrich/Limbaugh. Others wanted him to be Bob Dole, Senior Statesman. More importantly, the latter is what Dole wanted to be. Somewhat interestingly, Dole was the first sitting party leader in the Senate to be nominated for the presidency, though he resigned upon receiving the nomination.

Republican daddy

Most of Dole’s campaign was about three major things. First, lower taxes and balancing that budget. Second, that Bill Clinton was a moral reprobate. Third, that he was Bob Dole and was a member of the Greatest Generation. Dole’s campaign coinciding with the rise in World War II nostalgia as that generation started dying off was a major theme; he was the Republican daddy, quite literally, that a good number of Baby Boomers wanted. As for taxes, Dole bringing on Jack Kemp as his VP was a nod to the libertarian wing of the party, what with Kemp’s closeness with Steve Forbes and the flat tax nonsense. He promised the nation a 15 percent cut in the income tax. This did not work out for him, despite Americans’ normal greed.

On the nostalgia front, Dole went all-in against that hippie draft-dodging pot-smoking womanizing Bill Clinton. In his convention speech, Dole said, "Let me be the bridge to an America that only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.”

This was a ridiculous statement on the face of it. It’s not as if America was ever this tranquil place where we all just got along. But then nostalgia never has much connection to the lived past. It’s all about the present and that’s what Dole played to.

The problem for him is that Bill Clinton easily batted that back into Dole’s court like Dikembe Mutombo taking out a weak shot, saying in response, “We do not need to build a bridge to the past, we need to build a bridge to the future.” Even at the height of World War II nostalgia, most Americans didn’t actually want to return to the past. They wanted the America of the future, whatever that might be.

“He’s old and mean”

To make it worse, Dole’s real policy agenda was Bob Dole. When asked why he should be president, he told Esquire, “I think I fit the job description.” Uh, OK? What this meant is on the stump and in the debates is that he basically took the political positions of Newt Gingrich because his own agenda was so muddy. Both liberals and conservatives noted how far Dole moved to the right in the primaries, which Frank Luntz called “more a leap than a slide,” but then that didn’t change much in the general.

What no one could understand is whether Dole believed any of this or not. Many saw him as a pure opportunist. That seems to have included Bob Dole. He told the Republican National Committee, “I’m willing to be another Ronald Reagan if that’s what you want,” and responded to Al Gore’s claim that he had become an extremist by saying that’s what he needed to do in the primaries.

What Dole did do though was to bring the question of “stolen elections” into the limelight. Despite evidence to the contrary, Dole had always said that all the Perot votes in 1992 would have gone to Bush and thus Clinton had somehow stolen the election. He used that terminology as well in 1996, claiming that the news media wanted to “steal” the election for Bill Clinton. This was insane on the face of it, given how much the media so openly hated the Clintons and how much they were fawning over Greatest Generation Dole.

Once, in the spring of ’96, I flipped on CBS on a Sunday evening to watch something. I caught the last 20 seconds of “60 Minutes.” It was, of course, Andy Rooney’s segment. All I heard was “That’s why I like him. He’s old and mean, like me.” What more could sum up Dole’s appeal, such as it was.

His sunny side

In the end, Clinton wiped the floor with Dole. A 379-159 electoral college vote was shocking to Republicans who were sure they were going to get rid of the pot-smoking womanizing hippie draft-dodging reprobate. And while the Republicans during these years were very much a “it’s my turn to get the nomination” kind of party, there’s not much reason to think that anyone younger or more energetic would have defeated Clinton. The economy was pretty good. Even with groups such as unions that Clinton had alienated through NAFTA, it’s not as if Dole or other Republicans were really an alternative on the left or that they appealed to the left anyway.

I doubt it really mattered, but Dole’s advisors really tried to make him play up his sunny side during the campaign. But he didn’t have a sunny side. He was a mean old man. Whatever extent Dole had charm that would appeal to the American public, this is what it was, not being a regular politician. So he came across as kind of pained and not totally true to himself in the campaign. Again, I doubt it mattered but it’s worth noting.

After his defeat, Dole mostly stayed out of the political limelight. He did become something of a television personality. After all, for the mean old man he really was, he also could joke about himself. He appeared on The Daily Show several times. He cameoed on Saturday Night Live. He was even on the Brooke Shields NBC vehicle Suddenly Susan. Not Must See TV. But more importantly, Dole did what old politicians do: cashed in as a lobbyist. He was a paid foreign agent of Taiwan, registering as a lobbyist for that quasi-nation, as well as his client states of Kosovo and Slovenia.

Bob Dole could joke about Bob Dole

Dole did not get nicer as he got older. In 2008, Scott McClellan, Bush’s press secretary, wrote a book criticizing his former boss. Dole just unloaded on him for daring to do such a thing. He wrote in an email to McClellan, which Politico got ahold of:

There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits and, spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique. In my nearly 36 years of public service I've known of a few like you. No doubt you will 'clean up' as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, 'Biting The Hand That Fed Me.' Another thought is to weasel your way back into the White House if a Democrat is elected. That would provide a good set up for a second book deal in a few years.

"That would have taken integrity and courage but then you would have had credibility and your complaints could have been aired objectively," Dole concludes. "You’re a hot ticket now, but don’t you, deep down, feel like a total ingrate?"

That’s the Bob Dole we know!

Outlived Norm Macdonald

And then there was Dole’s vigorous support for Donald Trump. This was the perfect way for the mean old man to end his mean old career. Whereas the rest of the senior Republican establishment either kept their distance from Trump or outright rejected him, Dole completely embraced him. It’s obvious why — they both lived to own the libs.

Given how much Dole had embraced the idea that Clinton had stolen the election in 1992, he was more than happy to embrace Trump’s way of politics. Even before the 2016 election, Dole touted how Trump would be “a great president.” Dole particularly lauded Trump’s ability to cut deals with Congress, saying, "I think that's his strength," he says. "He's done that all his life. He's made deals. He'll compromise. He's not a rigid conservative and that's why, you know, I think I'd call him a pragmatic conservative." Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

When confronted with the Access Hollywood tapes that demonstrated for all to see what an utter reprobate Trump was, Dole’s response? “The Clintons aren’t pure either.” Of course! Trump paid him back, signing a bill in 2019 to give Dole an honorary promotion to colonel.

Dole complained that the 2020 Debate Commission was biased against Trump, because he said he knew all the Republicans and none of them were fervent Trump supporters, as if a nonpartisan group is supposed to include partisan hacks at the Dole level. At least Dole admitted that Biden won the election, but that’s about as good as it got here.

Somehow, Bob Dole outlived Norm Macdonald, who had the most iconic impression of him.

His legacy

So this is the legacy of Bob Dole. He’s not the worst American the nation ever produced. But he was a nasty guy, someone who contributed materially to the disintegration of American politics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His support of the ADA was the height of his career, but also demonstrated what a small-minded man he was since he completely lacked the basic empathy to make comparisons between the disabled and other people struggle. It’s not surprising.

In the end, he was a small-minded Midwestern man from a small-minded Midwestern town. He could never grow out of that perspective and that ultimately is his legacy.

The real legacy of Colin Powell must not be forgotten

Colin Powell has died of COVID-19. One of the most unjustly lauded individuals in early twenty-first century America, an honest portrayal of Powell's legacy turns out starkly negative. From his cover-up of the My Lai Massacre to his lies about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, Powell holds a great deal of responsibility for many of America's worst crimes in the last 60 years.

Born in 1937 in Harlem, Powell's parents were immigrants from Jamaica. He started working as a young boy in Jewish-owned stores around his house and learned Yiddish well enough to speak it for the rest of his life, sometimes speaking to Israeli reporters in the language.

Powell worked hard and went to City College to study geology. He wasn't much of a student at that point. He graduated but certainly with no honors or any particular direction. This made him perfect for the Army. Powell joined the ROTC at City College. He liked it a lot more than college so he made it a career. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Georgia, where he faced discrimination in a state still committed to Jim Crow. He rose fairly quickly in the military brass. He first went to Vietnam in 1962 for a tour and was wounded after stepping on a punji stake. He returned to Vietnam in 1968 as assistant chief of staff of operations for the 23rd Infantry Division. By this time, he was already a major.

What first made Powell newsworthy was his whitewashing of My Lai. It's hard to overestimate the horror of this. So many people in the US Army did so many things so horribly wrong both on that day when William Calley and his troops massacred 500 or so Vietnamese civilians who were not even fighting back, and then in the aftermath of it during the gigantic cover-up. Given that, it's easy to excuse many of the people involved, saying that they did what anyone else would do, unfortunate as it may be. But this of course is a lie to make ourselves feel better about the whole thing.

That day, on the ground, there were soldiers who refused to participate and actively intervened to save Vietnamese lives. There were people up the chain of command who finally took these murders seriously and acted upon them. Colin Powell was … not one of those brave soldiers. He was a coward and an apologist for mass murder.

He actually wrote in the report on the massacre: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent." This was … not true. He never really did fess up to his role in covering up for My Lai. As late as the 2000s, he said that My Lai was bad but was also exceptional and shunted any blame for it away from himself. He just never could be honest in his role covering up arguably the worst war crime in American history. This is central to Powell's legacy and we must remember it today.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his role in covering up My Lai, Powell still rose right up the ranks of the military. He had a White House Fellowship in the Nixon administration in 1972 and 1973. During the early Reagan years, he was a senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. By 1986, he was high enough to command V Corps out of Frankfurt, Germany. In 1987, he became Reagan's National Security Advisor, where he stayed for the rest of the administration. In 1989, George HW Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. By the time of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Powell was one of the most powerful military officers in the post-Vietnam period. Powell's great skill was politics and he rode it all the way to the top.

Of course, part of the significance of Powell is that he was the first Black person to be in any of these positions. That is important. It's also worth noting, though, that part of his work in rising this high was being useful to the command in underplaying racial tensions in the military. While Powell was in South Korea, there was a race riot on a base. This was not so uncommon in the late 1960s. Powell's job was to prosecute the Black soldiers in this and end Black militancy in the military. I'm not saying the US military can operate with any kind of racial militancy in its ranks, though it seems to be a lot more comfortable with the white extremism in it today that it was of Black radicalism a half-century ago. But of course they made the Black guy take charge of it and of course he was happy to do so, advancing his career in the process.

Anyway, the HW Bush years were quite active for American warfare. Powell was in charge when the US invaded Panama after its useful dictator Manuel Noriega became less useful. And as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he played an outsized role in crafting the invasion of Iraq in 1991. At some point, I guess around the late 1940s, every time some foreign policy person created a slight policy change, it became known as the X Doctrine. That included Powell. The so-called Powell Doctrine created a list of questions that he felt should be answered before the US engaged in a military strike against another country. Alas, if only the nation ever took these questions seriously. Such questions include whether it was a vital national security interest, is there an exit strategy, do Americans support this, and have all nonviolent options been pursued. Hmmm …

Now to be fair, when we were talking about Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, these questions were probably answered fairly in the affirmative. I don't know what else was going to get Saddam out of Kuwait and really that was an unjust invasion and conquering of a nation that really was unacceptable, even without the oil question. I am not one of those leftists reflexively criticizing every American military action, and I'm not convinced of other alternatives that would have ended this without war.

What I am saying, though, is that Powell himself would not do a good job of following his own doctrine and that the US would just wildly ignore all of this the second time it went into Iraq, which also, of course, involved Powell. The success of the Gulf War made Powell an American hero. This was despite the abandonment of the Iraqis the US urged to rise up and which Saddam then slaughtered with the Americans standing by. But for Americans, and especially for the military and the conservative establishment, the Gulf War supposedly ended the Vietnam Syndrome, when Americans didn't support its wars and demanded accountability in human rights. This supposedly would usher in a new age of American patriotism. Powell would be front and center in this as the reasonable and statesmanlike general who provided calm leadership in a crisis. That he was Black also made him an important civil rights figure. Moreover, he was a stark contrast to the more militaristic and controversial Norman Schwarzkopf. Powell became a celebrity as well as a general.

Powell and the Clinton administration did not get along at all. Powell really disliked the liberal internationalism of Clinton advisors and saw himself as more a realist in the Kissinger school. Great. The long influence of Kissinger, a man who evidently will never die, continues today. Powell and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin really hated each other. Powell felt that Aspin was indifferent to the job and Clinton indifferent to foreign policy (perhaps true). So Powell stepped down in September 1993. After the American military disaster in Somalia, Powell made it pretty well known that he had suggested better military preparations over there and was ignored by Aspin. Of course, Powell also strongly disagreed with Don't Ask Don't Tell, not because it opened the door to prosecutions of gays in the military, but because it allowed gays to be in the military at all, which he definitely did not support at the time.

Where this left Powell was a Hero to the Centrist Blob. These people loved Powell. And they wanted him to be president unlike that southern hick womanizing pot-smoking Bill Clinton. That Powell was the kind of conservative but respectable Republican Daddy the media loved only made him more popular with them. He had mostly stayed apolitical during his time as a general, but now away from the military, he could provide his significant support to Republican candidates. There was a major push to get him to run against Clinton in 1996, providing the military leadership that the Blob so loves. He refused, preferring not to run for office himself. Had he run, it's hardly unreasonable to think he would have done better against Clinton than Bob Dole did and perhaps he would have won. It's difficult to overstate Powell's popularity at this time. Some Republicans wanted him to run in 2000, but he again refused and threw his support to George W. Bush.

After the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush as president, he surrounded himself with neoconservatives. Colin Powell was not a neoconservative. But he was a respected voice. Bush also wanted to make claims that he cared about Black people and so searched for Black voices he could bring into his administration. Powell was a team player too. So Bush hired him as Secretary of State. This was far from a controversial decision. He received no meaningful opposition in the Senate or with the general public, who still loved him from the first invasion of Iraq. The Senate unanimously confirmed him.

As Secretary of State, Powell was surprisingly indifferent to traditional notions of diplomacy. He was the least-traveled Secretary of State in recent history, rarely leaving the country unless he had to and having few meetings with global leaders. However, on September 11, 2001, he was in Peru at an OAS meeting. He quickly became the administration's point man on coordinating what Bush would soon call the Global War on Terror on the international stage. Of course, he wasn't very convincing. Most of the world was highly unconvinced of anything that Bush and his people had to say about any of this outside of Afghanistan. But Powell used all his public credibility to push Bush's idea to expand the GWOT into Iraq, despite the fact that not only did Saddam Hussein have nothing to do with 9/11, but he also wasn't even a supporter of radical Islamic terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. As many, many people pointed out, if the administration had really cared about that, they might have noted that 20 of the 21 9/11 bombers came from Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi leaders were old oil friends of the Bushes. So there you go. Other targets would have to suffice.

Powell's lying to the United Nations over so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq gave huge amounts of cover to the unjust and frankly idiotic invasion of Iraq in 2003. This is the singular event for which we should remember Powell. One does not have to apologize for or cover up the awfulness of Saddam Hussein to note that this war was absolutely wrong, especially in the context of the war on terrorism (whatever that actually meant). Iraq was a terrible state, but it was most certainly not an Islamic fundamentalist state along the lines of the Taliban-led Afghanistan or even Iran. Saddam Hussein was a secular nationalist leader along the lines of Yassar Arafat. And Iraq most certainly had nothing to do with 9/11. Powell used all of his credibility to browbeat the global community into believing that Hussein had WMDs and thus the US would be justified in invading the nation. He was only partially successful, as many traditional American allies stayed out of it.

Did Powell really believe that Iraq was enriching uranium and planning for terrorist attacks against the US? I actually don't care.

Because Powell had so much respect on the international scene, his testimony was the most important moment in convincing enough of the United Nations and enough of the American public to sanction what would become a terrible and disastrous war.

Either he was outright lying or he was a fool who saw what he wanted to see. Whatever the answer, he materially contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the destabilization of an entire region, and the death of over 4,000 Americans and many thousands more wounded and suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is the legacy of Colin Powell. He may share that responsibility with many other terrible people, but he earned more than his share that day in front of the UN. Powell later tried to shift blame, saying he only had four days to review the data before he gave that UN report. But that's his responsibility. By 2005, he realized he was wrong. Bush had forced him out as secretary of state in late 2004 since he wasn't a team player on the war anymore. So he could say he was wrong. But again, I don't care. You don't get to take that back, especially given the number of deaths he caused.

Sure, Powell did turn on the Bush administration. In retirement, he endorsed Barack Obama and Joe Biden, giving them important room to attract the kind of voters who still look up to Powell for some strange reason. This is fine, it's important to repent for your sins and try to do better. Does this make up for his actions in the Bush administration?

No, absolutely not.

This isn't to diminish Powell doing the right thing as he aged. It's important. Were there a few centrists who were uncomfortable about supporting Democratic presidents who felt better about that because of Powell's endorsement. Yeah, probably there were. So that's fine. But we also need to keep it in the context that it doesn't make up for Iraq.

Simply put, Powell's legacy is covering up My Lai and lying about Iraq. Despite the Blob's love for the man, something he was happy to take advantage of while also serving on many high-paid corporate boards and engaging in the enriching lobbying of the Washington elite, his life made the world worse.

Erik Loomis is the Editorial Board's obituarist. An associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island, he's the author most recently of A History of America in Ten Strikes (New Press). He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Find him @ErikLoomis.

The American labor movement loses one of the best leaders it has ever seen

Richard Trumka, long-time president of the AFL-CIO, has died of a heart attack at the age of 72. There is much to admire about Trumka's career. He will be remembered in part for his failure to turn around the downward trajectory of the American labor movement, but that's in part because people often don't understand either how the labor movement works or the structural issues in the way of rebuilding labor.

Born in 1949 in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, Trumka grew up in a true working-class family. His father was a Polish-American coal miner at the height of the United Mine Workers of America's (UMWA) power. John L. Lewis, its long-time president, had built that union into a force, creating the Congress of Industrial Organizations to organize the nation's industrial workforce, and developing a fearless union that would even strike during World War II. Trumka grew up in this milieu. He also grew up in a transitional time. Many blue-collar kids would follow their fathers to the mines and mills of America. Trumka did this for awhile, going to work in the mines in 1968. But this was a time when many working-class kids had the chance to go to college and live a different life from their parents. Trumka did this, too. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1971 and Villanova University Law in 1974.

Trumka could easily have taken his education and lived an easy life in a white-collar job. He could have represented corporations with that law degree. He did not. He would never turn his back on blue-collar America. He used his education to become a fierce fighter for the rights of working Americans. In 1974, on graduation from law school, the UMWA hired him as a staff attorney. He worked as a union lawyer for the next five years. He rose quickly. In 1981, he won election to District 4 of the UMWA and then, in 1982, replaced Sam Church as union president. He was only 33 years old at the time, a mere child compared to the ancient ages of most union presidents.

Trumka was a breath of fresh air as president of the UMWA. That union had gone through a tumultuous 15 years before Trumka took the helm. On the retirement of John Lewis, the union had a culture best described as a dictatorship with leadership more interested in protecting their privileges than representing workers. Lewis created that dictatorship, but he always fought for his workers. By the time the corrupt Tony Boyle took over, it was just a dictatorship indifferent to workers and hostile to any kind of union democracy. Boyle had his challenger Jock Yablonski brutally murdered in his home in 1970, leading the president into prison. Miners for Democracy, a rank-and-file movement to change the culture of the UMWA, broke the dictatorship, but then its leader Arnold Miller also tried to rule as an autocrat. Church later took over for Miller. He was a weak president, noted for once punching someone who leaked union business to the press, but also one without that much support. When Trumka ran against him, Church red-baited him, saying he was supported by communists, a ridiculous allegation. But Trumka whipped Church by a 2 to 1 margin.

What Trumka brought to the UMWA was a renewed militancy and a culture of solidarity. The 1980s were a terrible time for American labor. Reagan had fired the air traffic controllers in 1981, setting off a round of union-busting that decimated organized labor for the rest of that decade and beyond. Trumka led the biggest exception to this dark era. The 1989 Pittston Coal strike was epic. The strike began when the Pittston Coal Company canceled the health benefits of 1,500 retirees, disabled miners and widows. They focused heavily on nonviolent civil disobedience. They opened a sort of women's auxiliary to the strike. The Daughters of Mother Jones as they were known, named after the legendary mineworkers' organizer, conducted a sit-in at the Pittston headquarters in Virginia. Mineworkers began blockading roads into plants, leading to their arrests. This was illegal, but all nonviolent.

The illegality cost the union big time. The courts served the UMWA with millions in fines for its actions while ignoring the company thugs that were provoking the union and committing crimes that it then blamed on the union. Again, when the law is entirely on the side of companies, at what point do workers have the right to disobey the law? Finally, 98 miners and one minister conducted a sit-in at a Pittston mill.

Wildcat strikes also began spreading with up to 37,000 workers who were not UMWA members going on unauthorized strikes to not only put pressure on Pittston, but to protest terrible working conditions and poor-health care in the non-union mines.

The Pittston strike finally ended on February 20, 1990. It was nearly a total success. Miners again received their benefits. Pittston had to pay $10 million toward the health care of the miners who had retired before 1974. The mines could stay open with extended shifts, but the amount miners had to work was limited by the agreement. The UMWA got the fines against them dropped (which had included $13,000 a day against individual union officials and a total of $64 million against the union) in exchange for 10,000 hours of community service, which spread among the members, wasn't too bad.

Trumka's leadership was decisive in the UMWA during the Pittston strike. He became one of the big hopes for a revitalized American labor movement and he rode this into the leadership of the AFL-CIO. In 1995, John Sweeney, from the Service Employee International Union, ran a dark horse campaign to replace the retiring AFL-CIO head Lane Sweeney. Trumka was the Secretary-Treasurer nominee on Sweeney's New Voice campaign that won, ushering in a new day for the labor movement. The Cold War fighting past was replaced by a new emphasis on organizing and building for a new era. As Secretary-Treasurer, Trumka was seen as Sweeney's heir apparent.

It was during this period that I met Trumka. I was involved in campaigns at the University of Tennessee between 1997 and 2000 to focus on labor rights. In 1999, my co-organizers and I held a labor teach-in at the university. This event spurred the organizing of UT's workers into the United Campus Workers, today an affiliate of the Communication Workers of America. Even though Tennessee is a right-to-work state, the UCW became a model of how to organize even in a place where you will never win a contract. Anyway, Trumka was gracious enough to attend and speak at our teach-in. He even took time to meet with myself and the other student organizers personally, giving us an inspirational speech about the work we were doing. It was great.

Sweeney's reforms were incomplete when he chose to retire and Trumka took over as AFL-CIO president in 2009. Now, to understand Trumka's work here, we need to take step back and look at what the AFL-CIO actually does. First, it is not a union. It is a federation of unions. Even major newspapers will confuse this point. It really matters. Trumka may have been the head of the American labor movement for the last 12 years, but it is more of an honorary head than a dictator. Made up of dozens of different unions, the federation is rife with infighting. This shouldn't surprise us. Organized labor is a diverse movement. There are unions dominated by left-liberals and there are unions with a lot of conservative members. The building trades don't often have a lot in common with the public sector. The service-based unions, made up of people of color and immigrants, may be openly hostile to the police unions, who share that contempt right back. Trumka had to manage the big egos of union heads. Everything he would say was going to anger someone else in the labor movement.

This doesn't mean we can't criticize Trumka's leadership. His first term as president was quite progressive, but things slowed down after about 2015. He placed less emphasis on organizing over time. Connections with worker centers, spaces where low-wage and often undocumented workers can fight for their rights outside the labor movement, frayed. I often disagreed with Trumka on his approach to one of the trickiest issues in organized labor—climate change and green energy. The Laborers Union has led the way inside the labor tent in fighting green energy with its president, Terry O'Sullivan, often denigrating alternative energy sources and antagonizing other unions that tried to ally the labor movement with environmentalists. O'Sullivan fights for his members' jobs and we all need to understand that. But the future of life on this planet is at stake. Trumka could have done a lot more to push back against the building trades on this. On the other hand, those trades could also just leave the AFL-CIO. Lots of unions do not belong to the federation. He could not push that hard.

But even had Trumka remained a great forward-thinking leader into his later years, there wasn't too much he could do to turn around the struggles of labor in America. He had close relationships with Barack Obama and especially Joe Biden, but organized labor has become a junior partner in the Democratic Party, with moderates often indifferent or even opposed to its demands. You can put all the money into organizing you want. It doesn't mean it will win in the face of a labor law regime captured by corporate America with its ability to run intensive anti-union campaigns that scare people into voting no in union elections. How much union resources should go to campaigns that are not going to bring new members into the labor movement? These are not always easy questions to answer. It's a lot easier to scream "ORGANIZE" than it is to be in Trumka's position trying to navigate the rickety ship called the SS Labor.

Trumka nearly retired in 2017, but did not. He likely would have retired in the meantime, but with his heir apparent Liz Shuler, the present Secretary-Treasurer of the federation and now acting president facing a real challenge from Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson, one not dissimilar to the one he and Sweeney had that won in 1995, he chose to stay on for the time being. His close relationship with Biden has paid off. Democratic presidents have largely ignored unions for decades—Carter and Clinton were terrible on organized labor's issues and Obama wasn't much better, especially in his first term. On the other hand, Joe Biden made a statement directly supporting the attempt to organize Amazon in Alabama, an unprecedented positive intervention into an organizing campaign by a sitting president. It may not have worked—workers still lost the union vote through a brutal anti-union campaign from Amazon. But Trumka convinced Biden to tell the nation how much he supported unions. Moreover, Trumka helped bridge the gap between the Biden administration's support of green energy projects and the building trades' hostility toward them, creating space for real discussion between the president and the labor movement. This was Trumka at his best and most useful.

Trumka also helped steer labor away from its traditional anti-immigrant platform to become of the biggest progressive allies of the immigrant rights movement. He stood strong against racism, including giving a speech in 2008 rejecting the racism pointed at Barack Obama, that got a tremendous amount of attention. Targeting union members who expressed reservations about a Black candidate, Trumka's speech was a statement that racism was no longer welcome in the labor movement.

In the end, Trumka wasn't a saint. But he was one of the best leaders the American labor movement has ever seen. Whether you think that's a low bar or not depends on your perspective. But he worked hard to move the labor movement in a direction that pointed the way toward justice, which the movement had largely abandoned from the 1950s to the 1990s. That he wasn't able to organize the masses of Americans is hardly his fault. He had his weaknesses and maybe hung around a little too long, maybe got a bit out of touch with the workers he represented. But in the pantheon of American union federation leaders, we should remember Trumka as one of the very best.

—Erik Loomis

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Erik Loomis, an associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island, is most recently the author of A History of America in Ten Strikes (New Press). He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Follow him @ErikLoomis.

History's worst secretary of defense: Rumsfeld's death leaves behind a legacy of arrogance and violence

Rumsfeld's upbringing isn't really very interesting; upper-middle class German-American family from Illinois, Boy Scouts, Princeton, ROTC, marriage at 22, kids, bit of time in the Navy. He started in politics in a pretty normal way, as a congressional aide to David Dennison of Ohio and then Robert Griffin of Michigan.

He then worked at a banking firm for a couple of years in the early 1960s, but then ran for Congress in 1962. He won that race and served four terms. He was a generally moderate Republican at this time and supported civil-rights legislation. He also co-sponsored the Freedom of Information Act, an ironic move given his later career.

But during these years, he was exposed to a vile force that has done tremendous damage to the world—the Economics Department at the University of Chicago. This transformed his views, as these ideas placed the seeds of evil in so many people over the decades and all the way to the present. How much did Milton Friedman come to love Don Rumsfeld? He later bemoaned Reagan selecting George Bush as his vice president as the greatest mistake of his presidency (how dare he use the term "voodoo economics!") and claimed that if Reagan had listened and selected Rumsfeld instead, "I believe he would have succeeded Reagan as president and the sorry Bush-Clinton period would never have occurred." Hoo boy. What a world that would have been.

In 1969, Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to go work for a nice man named Richard Nixon. The new president wanted to reform the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), which administered most of the War on Poverty. Rumsfeld, who had voted against its creation and who still believed it should be eliminated, did not want to take the job of director. After all, by this time he was pretty committed to his Randian economics. But Nixon, who believed that it should exist in some way but under conservative leadership, convinced him to take the job. But hey, at least he got to hire some really lovely people like Frank Carlucci and Dick Cheney to work under him.

Pleased with Rummy's administration, Nixon named him Counselor to the President in 1970 and allowed him to retain the Cabinet rank he had gotten at OEO. Rumsfeld became one of Richard Nixon's top White House advisors, with his own office in the West Wing. Why did Nixon like him so much? One quote demonstrates his Nixonian values: "He's a ruthless little bastard. You can be sure of that." The Iraqis are sure of that anyway. Finally, in 1973, Nixon named Rumsfeld the NATO ambassador.

When Nixon resigned, Rumsfeld returned to Washington to head up Gerald Ford's transition team. Ford and Rumsfeld were close from their time in the House together. Then, Rumsfeld became Ford's Secretary of Defense. Here he was a pretty open bureaucratic enemy of Henry Kissinger, as Rumsfeld was committed to building up America's traditional military forces, unlike the secretary of the state.

Rumsfeld argued the classic old strategy of the Cold War: that a reduction in military armaments and forces would open a gap with the Soviets. So he pushed for significantly expanded missile systems and a big shipbuilding program. Overall, his first run as Secretary of Defense was ultimately relatively uncontroversial compared to others during the Cold War. Kissinger was the more powerful player on foreign policy, even if Rumsfeld was very good at playing the inside Washington game.

Like any rich Republican with connections throughout the defense industry and every other government-related business, Rumsfeld found his talents in high demand after the Ford administration. He became president and CEO of the pharmaceutical company GD Searle. He won a bunch of big awards for being such a great CEO, which I have little doubt was about currying favor from this powerful Washington insider. He was CEO of General Instrument, a semiconductor company, from 1990 to 1993 and then chairman of Gilead Sciences, another Big Pharma firm, from 1997 to 2001.

At the same time, Rumsfeld was a useful guy for Republican presidents to have around. In 1983, for instance, Reagan named him his Special Envoy for the Middle East, which allowed him to meet with a good buddy: Saddam Hussein. They had lots in common actually, such as opposing Syria and Iran. Of course, Iraq was in the middle of its war with Iran, which the US supported with significant investment on the Iraqi side. Sure, Rumsfeld expressed some mild disapproval of Saddam's frequent use of chemical weapons, but that wasn't going to get in the way of the alliance and doing some business. This was just the most prominent of Rumsfeld's many forays into representing Reagan and then George Bush internationally and on domestic issues.

That included everything from Reagan's Special Envoy on the Law of the Sea Treaty and a member of the Joint Committee on US-Japan Relations to his time on the National Economic Commission and being a member of the FCC's High Definition Television Advisory Committee. Maybe he just got to watch a lot of cool new TVs in that last one, I don't know. Anyway, more significant was Bill Clinton naming him to the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States in 1998, which produced a report claiming Iraq, Iran and North Korea would have intercontinental ballistic missile systems that could strike the US in five to 10 years. I wonder if we will run into those three supposed threats later in this obituary?

Rumsfeld was also an active member of the Project for a New American Century, that vile group of neoconservatives who saw the fall of the Soviet Union as an unvarnished victory that opened the door for the US to dominate the world through an aggressive free-market capitalism backed with robust military force. Just what the world was asking for. Rumsfeld, working with Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney and other lovely people, basically believed the US should not be restrained by international law and they did the intellectual work to create the American response to 9/11 before it even occurred, ready to go with turning Iraq into the personal experiment in American awesomeness and badassery. Their 2000 document "Rebuilding America's Defenses," was such an aggressive statement of American power that it received both national and international condemnation for seeking to overthrow world order, especially after all the people involved with it ended up working for President George W. Bush.

It is, of course, due to Rumsfeld's return to the position of Secretary of Defense under Bush that this obituary exists. He holds more responsibility than arguably any single person for the disaster of US foreign policy after 9/11 and the huge numbers of dead, American and Iraqi. Unlike when he served under Ford, there was no great rival to Rumsfeld implementing policy. The entire administration was staffed with Rumsfeld allies, most notably Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice-president in US history. Rumsfeld and his cronies sought to apply PNAC ideals into the administration. This first came through their plans to modernize the military by significantly reducing its size. While earlier in his career Rumsfeld had argued for a larger military, now he saw a fast and effective fighting force as the way to go. This would soon be a major area of controversy when his ideas proved less than effective in his preferred war.

When the attacks of September 11, 2001 took place, Rumsfeld had little real interest in exploring the real roots of the problem of terrorism, especially in regards to Saudi Arabia. Rather, he applied the event to his preconceived notion of the world's problems. Bush's Axis of Evil speech simply reflected Rumsfeld's and PNAC's obsessions that Bush was happy to share. Rumsfeld was already obsessed with Iraq, Iran and North Korea, as we saw in the Clinton years. In particular, Rumsfeld wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to take out Saddam Hussein. In his memoir, Known and Unknown, he later dissembled about all this: "Commentators have suggested that it was strange or obsessive for the President and his advisers to have raised questions about whether Saddam Hussein was somehow behind the attack. I have never understood the controversy. I had no idea if Iraq was or was not involved, but it would have been irresponsible for any administration not to have asked the question." This is bullshit.

There's a huge difference between an administration asking a question and telling lies to start a war with a nation that had nothing at all to do with the attacks, pushing uncorroborated or false claims about weapons of mass destruction and engaging in a year-long full-frontal assault to justify an invasion, followed by not having a clue about what to do after the war ended except to apply PNAC's vision of fundamentalist free-market capitalism and assume everyone would see that America was awesome. Rumsfeld has prevaricated throughout this history. Another known known.

Even so, as the nation planned his war against Iraq, Rumsfeld kept complaining that the US was going to use too many troops! You don't need a big military to take out and rebuild Iraq! Not surprisingly, thanks in no small part to his ideology, the war and its aftermath was a disaster. It was easy enough to overthrow Saddam. No one loved him. His military had been seriously hamstrung by the decade of sanctions after 1991.

But who or what would replace him? Rumsfeld and his cronies seemingly never really considered this, placing faith in ex-pat hucksters such as Ahmed Chalabi instead of engaging in real studies of Iraqi culture. Hell, Rumsfeld and his people didn't even have a functional knowledge of the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam, simply the most important point in the history of the religion and the societies build upon it, an issue that it so happens defines much about Iraqi politics and those of the nations around it. Chalabi told Rumseld what he wanted to hear, was rewarded with plum posts in the new Iraqi government, and, welp. When Germany and France questioned the morality of this invasion, Rumsfeld dismissed them as "Old Europe," by which he meant effeminate weak nations, as opposed to Bush's Coalition of the Willing, which was super manly and buff and well-oiled with flaunting muscles. Poland will not be forgotten! Meanwhile, there was this slight war going on in Afghanistan all through this period. Given that's where Al Qaeda actually was and where Osama Bin Laden was hiding, you'd think Rumsfeld would have cared about this, but he didn't. He thought of it is as a sideshow to the real show. Given that he didn't care about nation-building one bit, even as he was embracing wars that required it, his disinterest in Afghanistan undoubtedly made the situation there even worse than it had to be.

The disaster began in Iraq almost immediately. Cultural institutions and Iraq's amazing cultural patrimony were looted to sell on the black market. Rumsfeld's reply: "Stuff happens … and it's untidy and freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here." Freedom baby!

He also responded, "The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases?'" In conclusion, Donald Rumsfeld was a monster of a human being.

It's not as if this was unknown. George H.W. Bush wrote (or ghost-wrote, no doubt), "I've never been that close to him anyway. There's a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He's more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that. Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow." Well, Bush can go to hell himself for hiring him and letting him do whatever he wanted, but he was correct.

Rumsfeld's war was pure ideology. It couldn't just be fought to eliminate Saddam or fight terrorism. It had to be fought his way, with his military, his preferred weapons, his idealized free-market capitalism replacing Hussein. Of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no support of Al-Qaeda, no nothing. The entire war was based upon the lies of Donald Rumsfeld and his friends. Rumsfeld was sure they were there. In March 2003, he said on ABC's This Week, "We know where they [Iraq's WMD] are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat … I would also add, we saw from the air that there were dozens of trucks that went into that facility after the existence of it became public in the press and they moved things out. They dispersed them and took them away. So there may be nothing left. I don't know that. But it's way too soon to know. The exploitation is just starting." The exploitation was indeed just starting, but Donald Rumsfeld was the exploiter.

Rumsfeld was central in the torture and "extraordinary rendition" that marked the treatment of Iraqis and Afghanis during these wars. As Rumsfeld supported the use of black site detention, the American use of Abu Ghraib prison and the endless (and still continuing) detaining of supposed terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, itself a colonial possession stolen from Cuba, he was responsible for the abuses at all of these places.

He accepted this responsibility, in no small part because he didn't care about such minor things as torturing possibly guilty but quite possibly not guilty prisoners. In one memo about forcing prisoners to stand in one position for four hours to break them, Rumsfeld smarmily responded, "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing [by prisoners] limited to 4 hours?" Human rights organizations such as the ACLU attempted to sue him for his responsibility in these atrocities, but there was no way the US "justice" system was going to hold him accountable for torturing Muslims.

Rumsfeld consistently believed that the right messaging would salvage the popularity of the war for Americans. Talking about "sacrifice" was big for Rummy, but he could never articulate what we were sacrificing for, except to play 9/11 footage over and over again, which had squat to do with Iraq and everyone knew it by 2004, even if they should have known it before. But Rumsfeld could not be moved off this messaging obsession, developing then-secret Pentagon PR plans. He couldn't even be bothered to sign letters of condolences for dead American soldiers, using a signing machine instead. He had more important things to deal with, like killing brown people.

And of course, there was the greatest bit of messaging in American history: "Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no 'knowns.' There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say, 'well, that's basically what we see as the situation,' that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns." It's a wonder Rumsfeld couldn't sell this war to the parents whose children were dying for no good reason.

For all of this, Rumsfeld received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation in 2003. That award is supposed to go to "those who have made monumental and lasting contributions to the cause of freedom worldwide." And if you consider "freedom" to mean breaking the law to sell arms to Iran and sending the money to commit human rights violations in Nicaragua, then giving it to Rumsfeld makes perfect sense. Moreover, in 2011, CPAC gave Rummy their "Defender of the Constitution Award." Only the best people.

Finally, Rumsfeld was forced out, the worst secretary of defense in American history. Eight retired generals and admirals publicly called for his resignation for his utter lack of competence. Although George W. Bush continued to back him, Rumsfeld retired on election day in 2006. Some Republicans claimed his delay in resigning cost them at the ballot box, but his work was done and it wouldn't have made any difference.

Rumsfeld retired to the life of a slightly disgraced public official whose standing in official circles never really suffered. He wrote a memoir, for which he at least had the minor grace to give all the profits to veterans' organizations. He sat on many foundations and corporate boards. He also started his own foundation, The Rumsfeld Foundation, which brings people in from central Asia to school them in Rumsfeld's preferred free-market fundamentalism. He also complained about paying his taxes.

Because the world likes to remind us of link between human rights crimes of the past and present, Rumsfeld purchased the plantation where Frederick Douglass was taken as a young slave to be broken by a slavebreaker. In Douglass' first Autobiography, the physical beating he placed on the slavebreaker and the inability of the man to tell anyone lest it destroy his business is the moment where his manhood is formed. This land was owned, until today, by Donald Rumsfeld. Evil is attracted to evil.

In a just world, Rumsfeld would have been tried for war crimes, or at least became Washington's latest persona non grata. Instead, he got a huge advance for his memoirs, established The Rumsfeld Foundation to push his ridiculous ideas and was honored by the 2011 CPAC conference. Finally, the beast is dead, a man who represented the very worst of American arrogance and violence toward the rest of the world.

Alas, there are so many beasts to replace him.

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