Happy Birthday, Bill!

Happy Birthday, Bill!
Today would be the late William Kunstler's 89th birthday. He was a brilliant, passionate and courageous battler for justice, a thorn in the side of oppression and a generous and patient friend. He had a wonderful sense of humor and an effervescent fervor for life. We miss and love you, Bill.

The William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice continues Bill's good fight. It relies on us to fund this important work. Please make a donation if you can.

Also, Happy Belated Birthday to Kunstler Fund director, Randy Credico, 58 years young on July 5!
And so in the best tradition of Counselor Kunstler, let's see what's on the docket...

My previous post provoked the following comment:
Allan -- Monday, July 7th 2008 1:52AM

Twain is one of my idols. And if America were a literate enough place that even a fraction of its citizens had read even a portion of his works, it would certainly be a finer country than it is today.

And that's why I can appreciate the extraordinary challenges faced by a genuinely intelligent and well-read gentleman like Barack Obama, who has read Twain, and understands as you do that the current level of our public discourse is neither intelligent nor literate. Which is why I give him a big pass on the patriotism issue, and wish you could as well.

I think Allan's comment merits an answer here on the center stage of this blog. Here goes:

Allan, Your statement is built on a false premise. Of course "a fraction of Americans" have read at least "a portion of his works." I am among a measurable number who have read a lot of Mark Twain's efforts. (No one has read them all -- his letters are still not completely available.)

If Obama had even a working grasp of Twain's views on such matters then he knows it was a cynical act to wheel out the great author's corpse to co-sign his patriotic petition. There are thousands of revered Americans who never uttered a word about patriotism that wasn't reverential. Why not employ one of them for this sordid duty?

Because Twain truly is my idol, no one will ever convince me to hide my motives behind a flag. This doesn't mean I won't vote for your candidate. It only means that Mr. Obama makes voting for him somewhat distasteful now that I have seen him misappropriate Twain for such petty duty.

Sorry I can't grant your wish about overlooking this matter. Never fear, my adherence to Twain's principles will have no real influence on the outcome of the election. An immeasurable portion of Americans read what I have to say. That's what makes them so very special!

Thanks for writing,

Barry Crimmins


Yesterday, right after the end of Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times, there was an announcement that stated: Thomas L. Friedman is off today.  Last I checked, Thomas L. Friedman is off every day.


OK, I'm working on an essay that's taking some time -- maybe it will be done tomorrow, maybe Wednesday. Also, there are some amazing developments in the struggle between the liberated forces of The Field and a certain authority figure at a failing rural organization. I am watching carefully and will comment when appropriate.

In the meantime, thanks to all who linked to and to all who read my Call Me Lucky post. The response (both public and private) has continued to be amazing. And yet I still know I will have no real influence on the outcome of the fall election!

UPDATE: Allan has replied below. Please take a look before reading the following:

Allan, I did read the speech. I also saw and read what most Americans knew of it-- the boiled down version that ended up broadcast on the networks and picked up by the wire services, which is to say, the soundbites the campaign wanted out there and got out there. They included Twain, front and center. Thus my focus. No false premises whatsoever.

Campaigns know what the money quotes are and they know how to underline them. They know what the media will pick up and so we got Independence, Mark Twain and don't you dare question my patriotism! The media wasn't mistreating Obama by including this version in its stories, it was playing right into his hands -- and those of his handlers.

Any political speechwriter worth his or her salt writes an entire speech as nothing more than a conveyance for the "money quote." A quote meant to sway the great mass of people who do in fact read very little and rarely watch entire speeches. The money quotes aren't crafted for those who read or carefully monitor public addresses. And even those who do watch the entire speech will get it boiled down for them so many times after it's done that the money quotes end up being what they remember of it.

A smart campaign builds plenty of escape hatches into a speech like this. The campaign's intent is for everyone to end up seeing what they want them to see. As the senator asserts in The Audacity of Hope,  "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." You saw a brilliant speech. I saw red when Twain was dragged into it. I was in an extreme and disposable minority.
crimmins 1202

I further hated the how the speech was used for reinforcement of the myth about how the peace movement mistreated Vietnam vets, and would have mentioned this as well but my friend Dennis Perrin beat me to the punch, and it was a haymaker.

His recent speech honoring the Vaterland featured not only the predictable soft-focus images, but also the requisite "stabbed-in-the-back" refrain concerning the Vietnam era:

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

Tomorrow may belong to Obama, but here he's simply spouting crap. "Dragnet" hippies are always fun to blast, those legions of dirty, pot-smoking traitors who lined up at airports, poised to spit on any pour soul in uniform. Yet the reality is much different, as Obama probably knows. The antiwar movement of the 60s and early-70s embraced returning veterans, many of whom became prominent speakers and activists in the cause. It was the US government that shit all over combat vets, from the VA on down; and there was hostility in the military itself, among active duty personnel and the old coots at the local VFW.

Dennis doesn't have comments section on his site but I think that's probably best for you, Allan. In any case, I suggest you read his entire post. Never fear, John McCain gets his, too.
crimmins 1202

Anyway ,back to Twain and Obama. In this speech Obama presented himself to the chumps, as Red, White and Blue, as American as Independence Mo. and Disneytraumatized as Mark Twain. And then there was the bonus stuff for the thoughtful readers that asserted dissent is fine. I objected to the use of Twain, particularly when he excised the crucial word "rational" from the quote. Because to describe "rational patriotism" is to insult patriotism in all of its other forms, which was what Twain always did. It was not Barack Obama's intent to insult any form of patriotism in this speech.

The upshot of your earlier comment was that you wanted me to give a "pass" to Obama. Passes expire so I assume the Illinois senator will be expected to report for accountability after the election. Well, Martin Luther King has been dead for forty years. Shall we wait until after the election to point out that  Obama's brief recap of MLK's contribution to America provides a great example of how contemporary message massagers can destroy contexts at will with the best of the Fox news crew? The last clause of Obama's reference to King reads "who led a movement to help America confront our tragic history of racial injustice and live up to the meaning of our creed- he was a patriot." This is context demolition par excellence. Consider that "the young preacher from Georgia" spent the last year of his life naming America as the greatest purveyor of violence of all the nations on the planet. Period. For this he was practically excommunicated from respectable civil rights circles and roundly condemned by Democrats and 'progressive' clergy alike. Until the day he was brutally murdered, these folks criticized MLK for his excess candor and inability to pull punches. (And to be clear, nobody is criticizing Barack Obama for not being a prophet like MLK.)

Just like Twain, now that MLK's dead, his message is easily managed and repackaged to support even the most banal of political assertions and ambitions. And so now it sure was a tragedy the Reverend King had to leave us so soon, especially considering his great patriotism and all. So, 40 years after MLK was killed for refusing to hide his light under a bushel, we hear only the dry rustle of straw men carefully shucking off the poorly baled loads of cautiously pre-arranged words with which they have been stuffed to the point of silliness. It's implied that every one of us would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Martin all the way to the bullet chorus, but you know, we really ought not ever mention what he actually said or did back then. But keep the faith, folks, come the day after the election, quiet as it's kept... sense, meaning, truth, and even revelation will be just around the corner. Honest.


PS- Please try keep your reply to a reasonable length, say 250 words, or post it elsewhere (perhaps your blog?) and provide a link here. The layout of my comments section gets overwhelmed by giant tombstones of text. It's why I usually break up my posts in this main section with graphics. It's also why I have replied  to you in this area.

Note: Movie screen photo found at Bryan Upton' blog

UPDATE 2: You know what, post whatever you want, Allan. But I think I will put some sort of limit on future replies with the reminder that I will be happy to allow links to further comments so long as they aren't to Klan sites or other worthlessly stupid destinations.


GeorgeTuesday, July 8th 2008 1:37AM

ClareON -- Monday, July 7th 2008 9:50PM

George, that's a great Twain passage. Where does it come from?

ClareONMonday, July 7th 2008 9:50PM

George, that's a great Twain passage.  Where does it come from?

I appreciate this discussion, always appreciate Barry's clear eyed take on things just as I do Al Giordano's.  I will do everything I can to help Obama get elected, but I often tell people that the main reason I am behind him is the community organizing that is going on on his behalf.  We are Obama's best chance for not becoming totally warped by this process.

Allan, thanks for the link to the video of Obama talking at the picnic tables about his organization.  He could have been urging people to keep him accountable because he knew how susceptible he would be to pressure when he became president.   Kind of reminded me of Jesus talking to the apostles at the last supper.... hmmm, Jesus.  (kidding)

Me, I'm supporting Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold's fight against FISA.  For some reason, I'm not getting so juiced about Obama's stance.  But I don't want to find myself head over heals for Obama or excusing his political behaviour as anything nobler than it is.  That's why I keep reading Barry.  He isn't afraid to point out the ugly things he sees and he says them with such humanity that I'm glad I read them and he always makes me think.

GeorgeMonday, July 7th 2008 8:57PM

Obama needs to think about this Mark Twain:

"Patriotism is merely a religion—love of country, worship of country, devotion to the country's flag and honor and welfare.

"In absolute monarchies it is furnished from the throne, cut and dried, to the subject; in England and America it is furnished, cut and dried, to the citizen by the politician and the newspaper.

"The newspaper-and-politician-manufactured Patriot often gags in private over his dose; but he takes it, and keeps it on his stomach the best he can. Blessed are the meek.

"Sometimes, in the beginning of an insane and shabby political upheaval, he is strongly moved to revolt, but he doesn't do it—he knows better. He knows that his maker would find it out—the maker of his Patriotism, the windy and incoherent six-dollar sub-editor of his village newspaper—and would bray out in print and call him a traitor. And how dreadful that would be. It makes him tuck his tail between his legs and shiver. We all know—the reader knows it quite well—that two or three years ago nine-tenths of the human tails in England and America performed just that act. Which is to say, nine-tenths of the Patriots in England and America turned traitor to keep from being called traitor. Isn't it true? You know it to be true. Isn't it curious?

"Yet it was not a thing to be very seriously ashamed of. A man can seldom—very, very seldom—fight a winning fight against his training; the odds are too heavy. For many a year—perhaps always—the training of the two nations had been dead against independence in political thought, persistently inhospitable toward Patriotism manufactured on a man's own premises, Patriotism reasoned out in the man's own head and fire-assayed and tested and proved in his own conscience. The resulting Patriotism was a shop-worn product procured at second hand. The Patriot did not know just how or when or where he got his opinions, neither did he care, so long as he was with what seemed the majority—which was the main thing, the safe thing, the comfortable thing. Does the reader believe he knows three men who have actual reasons for their pattern of Patriotism—and can furnish them? Let him not examine, unless he wants to be disappointed. He will be likely to find that his men got their Patriotism at the public trough, and had no hand in their preparation themselves."
Mark Twain, ca. 1901.


AllanMonday, July 7th 2008 8:56PM

It's your webspace, Barry, do what you wish with it.  The best reason to limit the length of comments is that the miniscule font in which they are posted is really hard on the eyes.

I think I'm done on the topic, except to say that I wrote that I "wish you could" give Obama a pass on this one issue.  That's pretty tame, and yet you inflate it into something more like a demand and universalize it beyond the one issue in order to pontificate some more.

I know that satirists are not held to the same standards as journalists, so I'll presume you're engaging in some Swiftian hyperbole and say no more.

And if I decide I have more to say I will use my blog to do so and post a link here.  Best regards!

Allan, I happen to agree about the font size of the comment section and have made a few requests over the past several weeks to my very busy  webmaster to change this. I will repeat this request tonight.

As far as expanding the discussion, you wanted me to consider the entire speech so I did.

As far as your comment about hyperbole is concerned, it represents a tactic that was often employed by Twain's critics. Thanks for the compliment!

I have found you to be lucid on occasion as well.



AllanMonday, July 7th 2008 6:14PM

No, C Ray, if you read my post you will see that I entirely support the concept of holding Obama accountable, because he does too.  If you read Al Giordano of The Field, he wrote a now-notorious post which has embedded in it a video of Obama speaking to citizens in Indiana in which he lays out his blueprint for how the movement he has created will be sustained in his administration.

Here's the link:

C RayMonday, July 7th 2008 6:08PM

So, Allen, we should just give Obama a pass?
While he is still a candidate running for president we should just start rolling over now? I'm sorry but no.
Barrack want's my vote and I want to vote for him, but since he is my candidate I will hold him accountable starting now. Because if I don't that means he could expect me not to hold him accountable for actions as president.
And just where do you draw the line?
No sir i have had it up to my neck with this last president who has been given 7 years of passes.
I will not allow another.
And maybe instead of just reading Twain you should take some to heart.
No one gets a free pass if they expect to be my president.


Diana ComerMonday, July 7th 2008 5:01PM

"Last I checked, Thomas L. Friedman is off every day."---funny.  So true!  He's such a namby pamby.  As for Obama quoting anybody about patriotism, if it helps him win, I'm all for it!  

AllanMonday, July 7th 2008 3:28PM

Barry, thanks for raising the issue of false premises.  It helped to focus me on the source of my objections to what you wrote about Obama's speech and his invocation of Twain.  For I believe you are operating under some false premises of your own.

You do not indicate anywhere in your post that you have actually watched Obama's speech or read the entire text thereof, yet you comfortably use a snippet from an AP summary as a club with which to bludgeon Obama.

This is the kind of context-free Obama-bashing we have come to expect from the likes of Fox News, so when I see you stooping to that level it disappoints me.

While you rightly excoriate Harry Truman re: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you neglect to note that Obama specifically called out several examples of acts by former Presidents that were inconsistent with rational patriotism:

"After all, throughout our history, men and women of far greater stature and significance than me have had their patriotism questioned in the midst of momentous debates. Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule. Likewise, even our wisest Presidents have sought to justify questionable policies on the basis of patriotism. Adams' Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans – all were defended as expressions of patriotism, and those who disagreed with their policies were sometimes labeled as unpatriotic."

And in your haste to bemoan Obama's Twain citation, you also deprive it of context:

"Of course, precisely because America isn't perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that's occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

The young preacher from Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a movement to help America confront our tragic history of racial injustice and live up to the meaning of our creed – he was a patriot. The young soldier who first spoke about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib – he is a patriot. Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country's name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution – these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that – especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words."

Do you find irony in Obama's defense of the Constitution in light of his positioning on FISA?  Many do.  And yet I consider it enlightening that Obama's supporters have used Obama's own website's capabilities to form a group exhorting him to reconsider that position, and that Obama has welcomed their dissent and addressed them directly.

I'm pleased, of course, that you will join me in casting your single vote for Obama in November.  It will be incredibly refreshing to have a President who is able to cite American history and great literature in his public addresses.  And one who will devote considerable attention to the deplorable state of public education in the US, so that in time more of our young people will seek to learn more about these historical facts and works of art after being tantalized by President Obama's references to them.

I look forward to reading your posts and many of them have moved and inspired me.  This one just didn't cut it.

Full text of Obama's speech can be found at the following location:

Please see my reply above. BC

C RayMonday, July 7th 2008 2:48PM

I'm going into the elections this November knowing that I will vote for the lesser of two holes.
Some believe that it is the lesser of two evils but it's two holes. As in "which hole will hurt less to hit bottom in after being thrown down it".