Newt vs. Reagan

Newt Gingrich is always wrapping himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, but at the time, when Newt was a Congressman, he was best known for criticizing Reagan’s policies and for putting down the president.  So says Reagan administration official Elliott Abrams, who was there:

Here at home, we faced vicious criticism from leading Democrats — Ted Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, Jim Wright, Tip O’Neill, and many more — who used every trick in the book to stop Reagan by denying authorities and funds to these efforts. On whom did we rely up on Capitol Hill? There were many stalwarts: Henry Hyde, elected in 1974; Dick Cheney, elected in 1978, the same year as Gingrich; Dan Burton and Connie Mack, elected in 1982; and Tom DeLay, elected in 1984, were among the leaders.

But not Newt Gingrich. He voted with the caucus, but his words should be remembered, for at the height of the bitter struggle with the Democratic leadership Gingrich chose to attack . . . Reagan.

The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”; partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.” But of course “the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan.” Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were “pathetically incompetent,” so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels “are fundamentally right.” Such was Gingrich’s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

Gingrich scorned Reagan’s speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because “the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language.” In Afghanistan, Reagan’s policy was marked by “impotence [and] incompetence.” Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that “we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire.” Reagan did not know what he was doing, and “it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world.”

There are two things to be said about these remarks. The first is that as a visionary, Gingrich does not have a very impressive record. The Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, just as Reagan had believed it must. The expansion of its empire had been thwarted. The policies Gingrich thought so weak and indeed “pathetic” worked, and Ronald Reagan turned out to be a far better student of history and politics than Gingrich.

The second point to make is that Gingrich made these assaults on the Reagan administration just as Democratic attacks were heating up unmercifully. Far from becoming a reliable voice for Reagan policy and the struggle against the Soviets, Gingrich took on Reagan and his administration.

via Gingrich and Reagan – Elliott Abrams – National Review Online.

The CIA, patron of modern art

Frances Saunders reports in the British newspaper The Independent that modern art, particularly abstract expressionism, was funded by the C.I.A. as part of its covert war on communism.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years. . . .

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete. . . .

The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. . . .

The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America’s anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism. . . .

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.” . . .

Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Pre-eminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called “Mummy’s museum”, Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called “free enterprise painting”). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom [a CIA front] to organise and curate most of its important art shows.

The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members’ board of the museum’s International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency’s wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949.

Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD.

“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.”

via Modern art was CIA weapon – World – News – The Independent.

I look forward to the reaction of the art world to these revelations.  But the West really did stand for the freedom of expression over against Communism with its collectivist “socialist realist” art that had to depict stereotyped images of the class struggle.   And, as I keep pointing out, it was the artists behind the Iron Curtain, chafing under the Soviet restrictions and looking to the West for alternatives, who played a major role in the fall of communism.  So I would say that this is a good example of government funding for the arts!

HT:  tODD

The evangelical who made Democrats liberal

Scott Farris has a feature in the Washington Post about how those who lost presidential campaigns often had big and long-lasting effects on their parties and on the nation.  Barry Goldwater and George McGovern would be the obvious examples.  But the most powerful influence, according to Farris, was that of evangelical Christian best known today for battling Darwinism in the Scopes trial:

But the greatest transformation probably occurred in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, 36, became the youngest man ever nominated for president.

Throughout the 19th century, the Democrats had been the conservative, small-government party. In a single election, in which he campaigned with “an excitement that was almost too intense for life,” as a contemporary reporter wrote, Bryan remade the Democratic Party into the progressive, populist group it remains today.

The 1896 campaign was an extraordinary struggle. Every major newspaper, even traditionally Democratic ones, endorsed Bryan’s opponent, William McKinley. Even Democratic President Grover Cleveland urged supporters to work for McKinley’s election, not Bryan’s. The Republicans significantly outspent Bryan, but he countered with a matchless energy, personally addressing 5 million people over the course of the campaign. Instead of being buried in a landslide, he won 47 percent of the popular vote and carried 22 of the 45 states.

Bryan, who saw religion as a force for progressive reform, is sometimes portrayed as a simpleton, even a reactionary, because of his crusade against the teaching of evolution as fact. Yet in many ways he was far ahead of his time. In 1896 and in his subsequent presidential campaigns in 1900 and 1908, he advocated for women’s suffrage, creation of the Federal Reserve and implementation of a progressive income tax, to name a few reforms. When Franklin Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, Herbert Hoover sniffed that it was just Bryanism by another name.

via The most important losers in American politics – The Washington Post.

This reminds us of a time when the conservative Christians we now call evangelicals tended to be politically liberal.  How do you account for that?  Can it be that applying the Bible to politics can cut both ways?

I would like you liberal readers to pay tribute to William Jennings Bryan.  You tend to say today that religion should be kept out of politics.  But don’t you appreciate how “Bryanism” gave us the New Deal and changed the Democratic party from the conservative small-government party to the progressive and big-government party it is today?

I would like you conservative readers to criticize William Jennings Bryan.  Don’t you think he should have kept his religion out of politics?  Are there elements of “Bryanism” in the Christian right today?

Last year’s predictions & contest results

A New Year’s custom on this blog is to have readers predict what will happen in the year ahead.  That’s not particularly unique.  But what is unique is our other custom:  To review those predictions at the end of the year and actually check how everyone did.  Whoever has the most impressive prediction wins universal acclaim and bragging rights for the whole year.

I urge you all to read Your predictions for 2011 | Cranach: The Blog of Veith.  You will get a kick out of it, and you will be encouraged that the year was not quite as bad as many of us thought it was going to be.

Most notable is that Webmonk and Kerner actually made a bet over the number of troops that would be in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Kerner said that we would have fewer than 155,000 troops still fighting in those wars, and Webmonk said that we would have more than that.  Webmonk said that if Kerner is right he would write on this blog an ode “to the greatness of Kerner and all things Lutheran (LCMS).”  Kerner called the bet, agreeing to write an ode to Webmonk and to the religion of his choice.   Well, combat troops have withdrawn from Iraq, though 91,000 remain in Afghanistan.  So Kerner wins!

Webmonk, we await your ode. Not a limerick or a sonnet.  An actual ode.

Special Loser Awards for the predictions that most spectacularly did NOT come to pass go to:

 (1) The Jones, for predicting that Mitch Daniels would be the Republican presidential front-runner, with Tim Pawlenty “right at his heels.”  (We wish!)

(2) WeCanKnow, a follower of Harold Camping, who insisted that the world would end on May 21.

Honorable mention goes to someone who has placed in this contest I believe each year that we’ve done this:  Cindy Ramos.  She predicted that the Green Bay Packers would win their division this year with a record of 13-3.  She didn’t nail the record exactly–it will be either 15-1 or 14-2 (if, as if likely, the Packers rest their starters against Detroit, the perfect season being gone and the team already with a bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs).  Still, few people expected the Packers to have the kind of season that they did.  Cindy’s prediction I still consider remarkable, and more remarkable still is her record of at least three years making remarkable predictions in this contest.  (She is one of my former students.  I taught her all about how to do effective analysis and interpretation.  Wait a minute.  The Jones is also one of my former students.)

This year’s winner started off making some generalized predictions, then realizing that no one could agree on whether they happened or not, he took a different tactic:

The only way to surefire Prediction Glory is to make a rather unforeseen, falsifiable claim and manage to get it right. So I’ll shoot for the moon and say that some event (death or general incapacity) will cause Kim Jong-Un to succeed his father as leader of North Korea.

Kim Jong-Un!  Who even knew who Kim Jong-Un was this time last year?  But sure enough, with just a couple of weeks left in 2011, he became North Korea’s new dictator.  So all Prediction Glory goes to:  tODD!

 

What history was made in 2011?

Here are the top news stories of 2011 according to the Associated Press:

1. Bin Laden’s death

2. Disasters in Japan

3. The Arab Spring

4. EU fiscal crisis

5. U.S. economy

6. Penn State scandal

7. Gadhafi’s fall

8. U.S. Congress

9. Occupy protests

10. Congresswoman Giffords shooting

Other contenders: the death of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, Hurricane Irene, tornados in he Midwest and Southeastern U.S., the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy

I think we could agree by acclamation that the killing of Osama bin Laden was the biggest news story of the year.  But let’s take a bigger view than this list of mere news items.

What do you think were the most historically significant events of the year?  That is, events that future historians will study because they proved pivotally important in whatever happens next.

 

“How Luther went viral”

The Economist tells how Luther, in effect, used social media:

Although they were written in Latin, the “95 Theses” caused an immediate stir, first within academic circles in Wittenberg and then farther afield. In December 1517 printed editions of the theses, in the form of pamphlets and broadsheets, appeared simultaneously in Leipzig, Nuremberg and Basel, paid for by Luther’s friends to whom he had sent copies. German translations, which could be read by a wider public than Latin-speaking academics and clergy, soon followed and quickly spread throughout the German-speaking lands. Luther’s friend Friedrich Myconius later wrote that “hardly 14 days had passed when these propositions were known throughout Germany and within four weeks almost all of Christendom was familiar with them.”

The unintentional but rapid spread of the “95 Theses” alerted Luther to the way in which media passed from one person to another could quickly reach a wide audience. “They are printed and circulated far beyond my expectation,” he wrote in March 1518 to a publisher in Nuremberg who had published a German translation of the theses. But writing in scholarly Latin and then translating it into German was not the best way to address the wider public. Luther wrote that he “should have spoken far differently and more distinctly had I known what was going to happen.” For the publication later that month of his “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, he switched to German, avoiding regional vocabulary to ensure that his words were intelligible from the Rhineland to Saxony. The pamphlet, an instant hit, is regarded by many as the true starting point of the Reformation.

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today’s online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther’s sympathisers recommended it to their friends. Booksellers promoted it and itinerant colporteurs hawked it. Travelling merchants, traders and preachers would then carry copies to other towns, and if they sparked sufficient interest, local printers would quickly produce their own editions, in batches of 1,000 or so, in the hope of cashing in on the buzz. A popular pamphlet would thus spread quickly without its author’s involvement.

As with “Likes” and retweets today, the number of reprints serves as an indicator of a given item’s popularity. Luther’s pamphlets were the most sought after; a contemporary remarked that they “were not so much sold as seized”. His first pamphlet written in German, the “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace”, was reprinted 14 times in 1518 alone, in print runs of at least 1,000 copies each time. Of the 6,000 different pamphlets that were published in German-speaking lands between 1520 and 1526, some 1,700 were editions of a few dozen works by Luther. In all, some 6m-7m pamphlets were printed in the first decade of the Reformation, more than a quarter of them Luther’s.

Although Luther was the most prolific and popular author, there were many others on both sides of the debate. Tetzel, the indulgence-seller, was one of the first to respond to him in print, firing back with his own collection of theses. Others embraced the new pamphlet format to weigh in on the merits of Luther’s arguments, both for and against, like argumentative bloggers. . . .

Being able to follow and discuss such back-and-forth exchanges of views, in which each author quoted his opponent’s words in order to dispute them, gave people a thrilling and unprecedented sense of participation in a vast, distributed debate. Arguments in their own social circles about the merits of Luther’s views could be seen as part of a far wider discourse, both spoken and printed. Many pamphlets called upon the reader to discuss their contents with others and read them aloud to the illiterate. People read and discussed pamphlets at home with their families, in groups with their friends, and in inns and taverns. Luther’s pamphlets were read out at spinning bees in Saxony and in bakeries in Tyrol. In some cases entire guilds of weavers or leather-workers in particular towns declared themselves supporters of the Reformation, indicating that Luther’s ideas were being propagated in the workplace. One observer remarked in 1523 that better sermons could be heard in the inns of Ulm than in its churches, and in Basel in 1524 there were complaints about people preaching from books and pamphlets in the town’s taverns. . . .

Amid the barrage of pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts, public opinion was clearly moving in Luther’s favour. “Idle chatter and inappropriate books” were corrupting the people, fretted one bishop. “Daily there is a veritable downpour of Lutheran tracts in German and Latin…nothing is sold here except the tracts of Luther,” lamented Aleander, Leo X’s envoy to Germany, in 1521. Most of the 60 or so clerics who rallied to the pope’s defence did so in academic and impenetrable Latin, the traditional language of theology, rather than in German. Where Luther’s works spread like wildfire, their pamphlets fizzled. Attempts at censorship failed, too. Printers in Leipzig were banned from publishing or selling anything by Luther or his allies, but material printed elsewhere still flowed into the city. The city council complained to the Duke of Saxony that printers faced losing “house, home, and all their livelihood” because “that which one would gladly sell, and for which there is demand, they are not allowed to have or sell.” What they had was lots of Catholic pamphlets, “but what they have in over-abundance is desired by no one and cannot even be given away.”

via Social media in the 16th Century: How Luther went viral | The Economist.

The article also tells about the role music and visual images (with a shout out to Lucas Cranach), both of which also went viral, in the spread of the Reformation.

Can you envision a time and a cultural context in which this sort of thing–the spread of the gospel–could happen again, now that we really have the technology for it?

HT:  Joe Carter


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