Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “politician

How did lobbying as we know it today get its start in the United States?

Lobbying had always existed in the United States, even before its independence, thriving in local governments. When crafting the constitution and the Federalist Papers, James Madison saw commerically motivated “factions” as threatening to the general will. He tried to neutralize that threat by making them compete against each other. Even though the First Amendment protects the right to petition, Madison hypothesized that special interest groups would often negate each others powers, thus preventing any possibility of tyranny. Since the federal government did not deal with many economic matters throughout most of the nineteenth century, lobbying occured only at a state level. However, the onset of the Gilded Age and increased federal intervention in fiscal matters also brought a heightened scale of lobbying as we know today.

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Where did Jefferson find builders talented enough to build Monticello?

Most of the brick and stonework on Monticello was done by local white masons, with some of the finer woodwork done by joiners from the mid-Atlantic region. That said, several foreign-born artisans are known to have worked on Monticello. Carpenter David Watson was British and his successor James Dinsmore and Dinsmore’s assistant John Neilson were Irish. They used already-skilled slaves, including John Hemmings, as their assistants. Lucia Stanton, a respected Monticello scholar, also notes a stonemason from Scotland. The window glass and mahogany sashes were European imports, but the rest of the materials were local as well.

Very few of the elements would have been completely unfamiliar to American architects and builders, and the classical orders were not among them. Peter Harrison, a British-born and trained gentleman architect, used Doric order in the 1747-9 Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island. The library is an example of the Palladian style popular in the mid-eighteenth century, which Neo-Classicism had much in common with.

Slightly predating the Monticello we know today was the Woodlands in Philadelphia (1788-9). Besides the Doric columns on the porch, the house also had oval-shaped rooms. This is an example of the Federalist Style, the most popular architectural style in the Early Republic, again using many familiar classical elements.

William Thornton’s 1792 design for the US Capitol features a dome that was quite Monticello-esque. Charles Bulfinch was also building a dome on the Massachusetts State Capitol at roughly the same time (1795-7).

If I have been unclear, my point is that many of the individual features of Monticello were fairly common among other high-style American buildings. The admiration for Monticello comes from Jefferson’s fusing together of various elements in the new style, influenced by his time in France, and the seamless inclusion more subtle details like chamfered corners and the recessed wall behind the portico. There are also the interior contraptions such as the seven-day Great Clock (originally made by Peter Spruck of Philadelphia) which are small marvels of their own.


The “Nixon Madman Theory”

Essentially, a key tenet of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of communist countries think that he was unstable and prone to use nuclear force. What ensued in his first year in office in 1969 is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Cold War because it really highlights the growing split between the USSR and China and how Nixon tried to drive a wedge between them in order to strengthen the United States’ relative power and influence.

During the buildup to the Vietnam war after the Cuban missile crisis, and prior to Nixon taking office in 1969, leaders in the US and USSR would generally not explicitly threaten each other for fear of stoking another nuclear crisis. Nixon believed that the only way to end the war in Vietnam was to get North Vietnam and China to back down in the face of nuclear extinction, as the threat of nuclear escalation is what brought about a ceasefire during the Korean War. After secret peace talks in Paris to end the war stalled in the first few months of his presidency, Nixon went full ape. If Teddy Roosevelt believed that the United States should speak softly and carry a big stick, Nixon believed the United States should yell incoherently and flail its stick around.

In October 1969, Nixon issued a secret high level alert to his top military brass. He told them to be on standby to use nuclear force against North Vietnam and possibly the USSR and to scramble planes equipped with nuclear bombs to fly near Soviet airspace. This was kept secret from the American public, but was made loud enough so Soviet intelligence would pick up on it. At the time, Nixon wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam by expanding the bombing campaign into the North, which was not popular with the American public and would have likely resulted in fully-fledged war with China. So Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Soviets to think that he would do anything to win the war in Vietnam without actually having to do anything. It was a huge gamble.

But let’s not forget that in the immediate months prior to Nixon’s secret order, the USSR and China were in an undeclared military conflict with each other over a border dispute. Relations between the two communist powers had soured since 1960, which Nixon sought to capitalize on.

Prior to Nixon issuing the nuclear alert, the USSR was considering a preemptive, possibly nuclear attack on China’s nuclear arsenal. The USSR worried that if the United States escalated the Vietnam war with nuclear force and if China responded with nuclear force too, then they would get dragged into a nuclear war with them as well. When a KGB officer approached an American diplomat about the possibility of the USSR striking China’s arsenal and how the US would respond – and allegedly even asked if the US would collaborate with the USSR to weaken China – Nixon made it very clear that the US would not tolerate an attack on its enemy by its other enemy.

But while Nixon intended the nuclear alert to influence events in Vietnam in his favor, some evidence from recently declassified Cold War documents suggest that the USSR mistakenly believed that the alert was meant to warn the USSR against attacking China’s nuclear arsenal.

Nixon did want to exploit the soured relations between the USSR and China in order to have leverage over the Soviets, and the nuclear alert had the unintentional effect of hinting that the US would side with China should a nuclear conflict arise between them and the USSR. This also unintentionally played into Nixon’s policy of opening up to China. By opening up to China, the US would no longer be dealing with one communist power, but rather two competing communist powers that were at odds with each other.

The nuclear alert issued in October 1969 did nothing to improve the situation in Vietnam (and arguably made things worse). While it did frighten the Soviets, they did ultimately interpret it as a bluff. Still, it indicated to the Chinese that Nixon would give them leverage over the USSR. It set the stage for rapprochement with China, which culminated in Nixon’s monumental 1972 visit to the communist country and the subsequent improvement of Sino-American relations. And of course, the visit laid the foundation for the deepening of economic ties between the two nations.

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Conservative Christianity and the Republican Party:

I read a really good history of the Southern Baptist Convention, a couple of years ago (sadly, I forget both author and title) that documented the conscious decision by which the national leadership of the SBC, during the Reconstruction, made a conscious decision to be the voice of moral authority on the Confederate revisionist side, to embrace and defend the religious and social complaints of the former slave-holding class in the old Confederacy. So by the time of the rise of the Religious Right as we know it, the Southern Baptist Church had already invested nearly 100 years in raising, training, and providing volunteers for pro-segregation candidates in both political parties. After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, that put the Southern Baptist Church firmly on the Republican side.

Also in 1964, at the presidential nominating convention (per the speeches and writings of Goldwater delegate and best-sellling conspiracy theory author John Stormer), was the meeting of the Republican Anti-Communist Caucus at which the leader of the top fundamentalist seminary in America, Dallas Theological Seminary, committed to revising the curriculum to persuade all future fundamentalist ministers that fighting Communism was Christian cause number one, and to teach that it was therefore a religious duty of all Christians to support politicians from what they saw as the only reliable anti-socialist, anti-communist party, the Republicans.

In 1968, the Pope of the Catholic Church issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which, among other things, banned the practice of contraception or abortion. By 1968, feminism was already seen as a left-wing political cause for long enough that it was being paid lip-service by even center-left politicians in the Democratic Party, which fairly rapidly coalesced into the current situation where observant Catholics feel forced into supporting the only anti-feminist political party, the Republicans.

In the second volume of his auto-biography, Francis Schaeffer, Jr., the son of the famous evangelist (and founder of the modern fundamentalist movement) Francis Schaeffer, documents that it was his personal revulsion to the idea of legal abortion, after 1973 Roe v Wade, that persuaded him to argue his father into telling wealthy Protestant fundamentalists that opposition to abortion was the most important Christian cause, and that they needed to donate money that funded the founding of Moral Majority. Schaeffer Junior says that he approached politicians in both parties, offering them the support of Moral Majority if they would denounce legal abortion, making the argument to Democrats that the traditional Catholic origins of organized labor and their traditional embrace of government regulation made anti-abortion a Democratic cause, only to find himself out-maneuvered by feminists on the platform committees and organizing committees. So, he says, he had no choice but, as their lead fund-raiser, to encourage early Moral Majority leaders to embrace Republicans, and their embrace of traditional rural values (see neo-Confederacy, above), as the only hope of seeing legal abortion overturned. (A decision he now says he regrets, but feels that the feminists left him with no alternative.)

(*Post-1964, the Southern Baptist Church embraced the Republican Party for segregationist reasons; post-1973, Moral Majority and the Catholic bishops both embraced the Republican Party for anti-feminism reasons.)