By LIONEL ROLFE
In my mind, there’s little doubt that Barack Obama will go down in history as one of our greatest presidents. He is presiding over a country almost as torn by divisions as it was in the civil war. Our greatest presidents come out of troubled times.
You would have to be totally blind if you ignored the fact that the source of the strident words is one thing–pure unadulterated racism. It’s there on the faces of the tea party goers. It’s there on the faces of even the suavest of Republican politicians. They can’t hide the otherwise inexplicable hatred writ large on their pasty visages.
Years ago I was much more tolerant of Republicans than I am now. As a journalist, I covered a lot of Republican politics. I became a drinking buddy with Ed Reinecke, the former California lieutenant governor and congressman who went to prison for 18 months in the Watergate scandal. I always felt he was a patsy, taking the fall for other higher ups who should have been not just been sent to jail, but given a fair trial and then hung. We both liked women and booze and had a belief that the Warren report lied about who killed John Kennedy.
As part of my duties in covering politics, I used to go to Republican parties in the late ’60s where I regularly flirted with Maureen Reagan, daughter of the then California governor. She loved her father, but also knew that he was not the sharpest knife on the shelf. She hated Nancy, her stepmother, who had turned her father from Democratic to Republican politics. Her mother was Jane Wyman, who divorced her husband in part because of their political differences.
I spent a week at the end of the ’60s living with Patrick McGee in the Elks Lodge in Sacramento. He was an assemblyman, a brilliant man, a drunk who knew Latin and literature and a Republican–he took me on his rounds as he went to collect campaign funds from the oil companies, car companies and others who donated to the Republican party. He took me in to shake hands with Reagan, who was then the governor. Reagan was obviously unnerved by my then counter-culture appearance, which McGee knew would happen. He awkwardly extended his hand to me. Reagan didn’t like McGee, in part because he was a womanizer who had bedded a number of the spouses of the cadre Reagan brought with him to the state’s capital, and Reagan was pretty straight laced in these areas. But he had to put up with me, just like he had to put up with McGee because he was the party’s main bagman in the assembly.
When McGee died, I wrote about him in the old Los Angeles Free Press where I was a columnist.
I had been a thorn in Reagan’s side. I once called up Lynn Nofziger, Reagan’s “brain,” in the way Carl Rove was for W. “Hi, Mr. Nofziger, I’m calling you from a little country newspaper down here in Newhall, The Newhall Signal,” I said. But he knew the paper was then owned by Scott Newhall, editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, which long had had a hard-on against Reagan. Nofziger replied, “Don’t give me that shit, I know who you are.”
I remember when I was covering President Ford, I got a badge from the Secret Service saying I was covering him for the Freep. I remember as he walked past the line of reporters awaiting his departure on Air Force One, he stopped in front of me, read my badge out loud, and chuckled at the fact that he was getting coverage in the Underground Press.
Although the Republicans were almost by definition corrupt, they weren’t complete yahoos. I’m almost nostalgic for their sort of benign corruption. At least they didn’t deny science or education or knowledge–Reinecke had a degree in mechanical engineering from Caltech. They knew that science was the reason this country had achieved as much as it had. They were not the know-nothings, the bigots and ignoramuses today’s Republicans are, who in my mind have become virtually treasonous in their desires to bring down their own country just to spite Obama.
Most of my professional life as a political journalist seemed to focus on Republicans, but I also had also met some great Democrats while growing up. My uncle introduced me to Eleanor Roosevelt and I shook her hand and was incredibly excited by having done so. She had been the conscience of Roosevelt’s New Deal. I spent a couple of hours with Eugene McCarthy, then running for president against Lyndon Johnson because of the Vietnam War. He began the process that brought Johnson to his knees. He was a U.S. senator but also a highly literate man who loved poetry. We talked about someone we both knew well, Jerry Baron, an attorney who was my godfather and McCarthy’s good friend. McCarthy loved Jerry who loved to drink like the proud Irishman he was and recite Finnegan’s Wake while doing so. Jerry loved McCarthy. When Jerry, then the district attorney of Monterey County, ran for Congress, McCarthy came to campaign for him. He didn’t win; he was running against a venal Republican who had held the seat for years and Monterey County was a cow county.
McCarthy, Jerry and my father were all close friends at the University of Minnesota during the Great Depression. As a youngster, I vividly remember Hubert Humphrey came to Jerry’s house then in Los Angeles, and sitting down on the living room couch and speaking to my dad, my mother and Jerry and his wife for hours. He had just gotten back from his famous meeting with Kruschev in the Kremlin. My parents wouldn’t let me stay with the grownups for the discussion. I got to shake his hand and then was sent to my room. But I heard every word. I hid in the stairwell and listened intently. I was impressed by the man, who spoke volubly and with passion because he had so many ideas all fighting hard within him to get expressed.
I said that I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of Republicans. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older and crankier, or more likely, I’m doing so in the spirit of the times. When the asinine governor of Texas says he wants to lead a secession movement, my emotional reaction is to say “Good riddance. Texas never was a part of the country. It always was a fascist, anti-democratic police state at heart run by some of the worst of this country’s ruling class.” The kind of potentates who always get offed when civil strife veers into revolution. And I say that having known some wonderful people from Texas. Of course, the key is in the word from. Hell, I even partied with Janis Joplin in Berkeley as part of a gang of exiled Texans from Austin and Port Huron.
I never met Obama, but like a lot of other folks, I feel like I know him. That’s primarily because of his first book, Dreams From My Father, which I’m convinced will be regarded as one of the country’s literary masterpieces.
Also, I know a couple of people who went to Occidental with him. One “Oxy Moron” recalled when various campus activists set up their tables in the protest row to hawk their ideological wares, Obama held down the anti-Apartheid table, and by the powers of his intellect and speech, always gathered a big crowd, and he wasn’t famous, although it was the reason he would become so.
“I knew I would never be able to compete with that,” said the Oxy Moron.
One of the Los Angeles Times‘ right wing scribes the other day had the temerity to compare Obama and Ted Cruz, the man who obviously is busily developing a career for himself in the U.S. Senate of being the reincarnation of Joseph McCarthy. I found the comparison odious, stupid and just plain wrong. The fact that Cruz even looks and talks like McCarthy–Joseph, not Eugene–is completely unnerving. Is Cruz trying to become the nation’s new Huey Long?
I guess he’s the anti-Christ. The Tea Party anti-Christ. And this time, he ain’t stupid, like most of the recent Republican presidential candidates. That makes him scarier. But I’d bet that Obama must be a great chess player and poker player, as well as a damn good writer, orator, and president, because his enemies have been forced to reveal themselves for the absolute scoundrels they are.
Lionel Rolfe is the author of several books about music, about literature and about history, philosophy and politics, all available at Amazon’s Kindle Store.