The Tea Potty (pt 4: From Vietnam to Ventura)

(A BALLSY  HISS-STORY OF THE “BAGGERS” AND OTHER LOONY TUNE MOVEMENTS)

(pt 4: From Vietnam to Ventura)

1968

(I’m scribbling this part of the post on March 16th. On this date in 1968, Bobby Kennedy announced that he was seeking the Democratic nomination for President. I note this not so much in commemoration of Kennedy, but rather as a comment of how much longer these things go on now. Hell, the Republican clown show is nine months old already and still playing in “the sticks” although to a smaller and smaller audience.)

1968…….That was another one for the books.

On January 30th, the Vietnam Tet Offensive began. Although eventually it was a U.S. victory, perception-wise it was a loser.

People started turning against the war in droves, spurred on by scenes like this.

A Viet Cong officer is executed by the South Vietnamese National Police Chief

On March 31st, LBJ dropped out of the Presidential race. (Check out the video below. Believe me, it’s worth the six minutes.)

On April 4th, Martin Luther King is shot in Memphis. Riots erupted all over the U.S., some lasting for several days.

On June 5th, Bobby Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles after winning the California Primary. He died the next day.

August 5th – 8th saw the Republicans nominate Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon for President and Spiro “Nattering Nabobs of Negativity” Agnew for vice.

(Both eventually resigned in disgrace. Agnew, as part of a plea bargain to keep out of jail. Nixon, one step ahead of impeachment.)

Nixon had deployed his “Southern Strategy” in obtaining the nomination. Tricky Dick’s political strategist, Kevin Phillips, explained the strategy in a New York Times interview.

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.  James Boyd: “Nixon’s Southern strategy: ‘It’s All in the Charts’ New York Times (May 17, 1970)

It’s a cynical, lowest-common-denominator strategy, banking on the premise that the majority of southerners are racist bigots, but it worked beautifully. (Which, I guess, proves that the majority of southerners are racist bigots. Plus it explains a lot of those Tea Potty posters.)

On the last week of August the Democratic Convention/Anti-War Protest/Police Riot was held in Chicago.

The Democrats were as divided as the nation over the war and other issues.

Of the 13 primary states, Gene McCarthy had carried 6; Kennedy had won 4 of the 12 he competed in. Hubert Humphrey hadn’t competed in any primaries, but he was the “safe” establishment candidate and he was nominated over some very strong objections.

And then there was George Corley Wallace. (Not to be confused with the comedian George Wallace. Believe me, this man was not funny.)

(No. That’s not “our” George, either. But, I just couldn’t resist. I mean, how often do you come by a neat old lobby card from a sci-fi serial. Plus, “our” George was a bit on the loony side as well.)

George was a “good ol’ boy” who gained national notoriety back in ’63, when as Governor of Alabama, he literally blocked the door to the University of Alabama in a lame attempt to keep four black students from enrolling. (Shades of Orval Faubus.) He moved out of the way when faced with U.S. Marshals, the Federalized Alabama National Guard  and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. (Better that than sittin’ in the slammer over your “principles” I guess.)

This stunt should not have come as a surprise (and it didn’t). Georgie, in his inaugural speech as Governor, had uttered those immortal words: “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.

Georgie did a little primary campaignin’ in ’64 against LBJ, but it didn’t do much good. He even offered to switch parties if Goldwater would choose him as veep. Goldwater chose Willie Miller of New York instead, so Georgie stayed a Democrat a bit longer.

And that, boys and girls, brings us to the American Independent Party.

The AIP was formed in 1967 by Bill Shearer and his wife, Eileen as a vehicle for George’s political ambitions. The party is still around – sort of. (It split into factions in 2008.)

After 1968, it promoted right-wing heroes such as Lester Maddox, Howard Phillips, and Alan Keyes. But looking at the election results, nobody really gave a shit. Plus, who needed a right-wing third party when they had the Republicans licking their ass. Btw, Bill Shearer himself ran for Governor of California in 1970. (He got 1% of the votes.)

But, this section is about 1968 and George Wallace (and more importantly, the racist bigots who followed him like a horny hound sniffing a bitch’s butt.)

To run as a Presidential Candidate Georgie needed a running mate. At first, he wanted Kentucky Governor (and ex-Baseball Commissioner) “Happy” Chandler. But, then somebody remembered that when Chandler was Baseball Commissioner, he supported hiring that nigger Jackie Robinson, breaking the unofficial “all whites rule” of America’s Pastime. So much for his prospects.

Then he tried (and failed) to recruit Colonel Sanders. (Yes Virginia, there really was a Colonel Sanders. And, his chicken was a hell of a lot better than the factory fowl his namesake take-outs dish out now.)

Finally, George picked General Curtis “bomb them back to the stone age” LeMay.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in ’62, General LeMay was the Air Force Chief of Staff. In this position, he opposed the naval blockade, vigorously arguing instead for bombing the missile sites.

What he didn’t know, was that the Russian field commanders had been given authorization to launch if they were attacked. They had 20 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM’s) with atomic warheads capable of hitting targets as far away as Washington D.C. or Dallas Texas. Plus, they had nine fully loaded tactical missiles. Richard Rhodes: “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb pp. 574-76 (1995)

If LeMay had gotten his way, several million southerners wouldn’t be with us today. (And, probably damn few of the rest of us would be around either.)

After the compromise (the Russians pulled their missiles out of Cuba, we pulled ours out of Turkey) that ended the crisis, LeMay still wanted to invade Cuba. As to the peaceful resolution of the crisis? LeMay called that “the greatest defeat in our history”.

(Oh, and if General LeMay looks or sounds familiar, you might remember him as Dr. Strangelove’s General “Buck” Turgidson, played by George C. Scott.)For his election strategy, Wallace and company decided to try the Dixiecrat play book, hoping to receive enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives. (I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.)

How he thought he could benefit from a House decided election, I couldn’t tell you. There was no way in hell that the House would ever give him the Presidency.

Anyway, it was a moot point. The final results of the election were: Richard Milous (Tricky Dick) Nixon – 301 electoral votes; Hubert Horatio Humphrey – 191 electoral votes (Poor Hubie. He never got the respect he deserved.) and George Corley Wallace – 46 electoral votes.

Remember my “horny hound” comment a few paragraphs back?

9,901,118 of them showed up to vote for Georgie and Curtis. Where did most of these racist bigots come from?

Wallace country (shades of green) by Congressional District

As you might have guessed (or if you peeked at the graphic) they came from the old “slave states”. Enough of them in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to give Wallace all their electoral votes.

Why all this racism over 100 years after the Civil War? My personal opinion is way too many generations of inbreeding. (Which would explain a lot of other Southern quirks as well.)

OK. That last comment was a tad over the top. (Or, under the bottom?) Obviously, they can’t all be products of inbreeding.

Also, to be fair, it isn’t just the “Old South” that seems to be getting stupider. Arizona and Kansas (hell, the whole “Bible Belt”) seem to be racing down that path as well.

There are a number of reasons why the South is the way it is. Way too many to stuff into an already overlong post. However, it would make for a good post of its own, so I think I’ll give it one. Just to give you a quick tease: A lot of the blame falls directly on the backs of Southern Democratic pols. (Stay tuned, sports fans!)

Likewise, I’m going to skip over the political rise of the Christian Right. That’ll be covered in the “Religious Wrong” post.

Instead, we’ll jump ahead 27 years.

1995 & beyond (And a little bit before.)

So far, in the first four “Tea Potty” episodes, most of the attention has been on the bigoted side of the proto-Baggers. Of course, if you ask a Bagger, they’ll tell you that it isn’t about race, it’s about taxes. (I’ll address that joke in Part 5, when we finally get to the Tea Potty itself.)

The major reason there hasn’t been more on the tax resistance side is that there hasn’t really been any major anti-tax movements since the “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791. Oh sure, there’s been a lot of minor tax avoidance groups, but nothing really organized until the 1990’s.

 Enter: Ross PerotPerot himself, is a very interesting character on a number of levels.

As a boy, he made Eagle Scout in 13 months. As a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, he helped establish its honor systems. As a salesman for I.B.M., he made his yearly quotas in around two weeks. In 1962, he founded Electronic Data Systems. In 1964, he sold controlling interest to G.M. for $2,400,000,000. (That’s 2.4 billion, in case you’re counting zeroes.) In 1979, after Iran had imprisoned two of his employees, Ross organized and paid for their rescue mission. (That’s Ross Perot: 1; Jimmy Carter: 0) 

I could go on and on, but you get the picture – Chuck Norris stands up when Ross Perot enters the room.

As the old idiom goes, Ross “had his eye on the main chance“. In 1992, the economy wasn’t doing too good (especially after the “rip-roaring” 80’s). And, as usual, according to some people, it was all the government’s fault because of its wild spending. Plus, distrust of politicians was gaining momentum. 24 states had put Congressional Term Limit proposals on the ballot. Even the Republicans would come out in favor of limits in their 1994 “Contract with America“. (And, damn it! They stuck with that position right on up to their own re-elections.)

Republicans were also pissed off at President Bush for bowing to reality and violating his “Read my lips. No new taxes!” pledge. I find that a bit puzzling since his predecessor, Saint Reagan, raised taxes 11 times. (And don’t get me started about Ronnie raising the debt level 18 times.)

Most major Dems ditched the Presidential race out of fear of Bush’s post Gulf War popularity, leaving the primary field (primarily) to Paul Tsongas,Jerry “Governor Moonbeam” Brownand Bill “Bubba” Clinton. Bubba won the nomination. (I’m glad he did.)

Anyway, with what he knew was a combination of weak and weakened competition, a winning platform and a receptive audience, Ross decided to jump in. (And play by his own rules, of course.)

Most politicians announce their candidacy in some historically or politically important location (like their home town). Ross used the Larry King Show.

His first step was to pull a “coy” act. On the February 20th, 1992 program,  (Ross’s 4th visit) Larry tossed the softball: “Is there any scenario in which you would run for President?” Perot replied that he didn’t want to run, but he would campaign if “ordinary people” signed petitions and got him on the ballot in all 50 states. (And there’s a swing….. and a hit…..and it’s going….going….over the wall and out of the park!)

Ross ran an “interesting” campaign, even dropping out in the middle for a while. But, Bubba stole his theme (“It’s the economy, stupid!”) and the Repubs weren’t all that pissed at Bush. Still, Ross ended up with 18.9% of the vote (and 0% of the electoral votes). That was the best that any 3rd party candidate had gotten since Teddy “Bear” Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party.

One final thought on Ross and his “too much taxes and government deficits are the problem” meme. You would think that Perot would do well in what is now “Tea Bag Heaven” (aka the South).

You’d be wrong!The darker the green, the larger % Perot vote. (White is <10%; Darkest Green is > 30%)

Notice anything interesting about the map? Yup, Perot did poorest in the South. The best he could get other than in Florida and Texas was between 10 – 15% of the vote. (I guess future baggers weren’t all that worried about deficits under a white Republican President.)

But, the movement was becoming more important than the man.

Perot had touched a nerve with a lot of people. Thousands responded in every state (not so much in the south). They signed petitions, they got him on the ballot it all 50. And, after the election, despite his loss, they were feeling their oats. Plus, Ross had gotten over 15% of the vote which qualified for federal matching funds for the next presidential election.

In January of ’93, Perot announced the creation of United We Stand America, a political watchdog group. Their first goals were to set up chapters in every state and fight against the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (Ross’s pet dislike at the time.) Perot, of course, assumed the leadership role.

In 1995, the Republicans took the House of Representatives and co-opted many of Perot’s themes, but just couldn’t seem to do anything about term limits or a balanced budget.

Unhappy with Republican efforts to “get off the dime” and accomplish what he wanted, Perot banded together the various state organizations into a third-party. Then he moved UWSA’s paid staff over to run the party.

They wanted to name the new party, the “Independent Party”, but “Independent” was already taken. (Think Georgie Wallace and his ilk.) So instead, they became the “Reform Party“.

When the ’96 Presidential season rolled around, Perot went into his “coy act” again and called for others to take up the banner and run for President. The only taker seemed to be a former Colorado Governor named Dick Lamm.

Within 48 hours of Lamm’s bid, Perot announced that he just might be persuaded to take up the burden of running again.

After an acrimonious convention, Perot got what he wanted but at the cost of a party split. Lamm’s supporters claimed the Perot fixed the vote, so they walked out in protest and formed the “American Reform Party“.

’96’s election was quite a bit rougher this time around. For one thing, the Commission on Presidential Debates (formed, and controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties) changed the qualifications for debate eligibility, making Perot ineligible. (One of its stated purposes was to keep 3rd parties from participating.) Deprived of an honest debate on the issues. Ross was limited to half hour infomercials, complete with charts. (Lots and lots of charts.) He ended up with 8.4% of the vote, a fractured party and the death of his Presidential ambitions.

The Reform Party went on to have one signal success: Jesse (The Body) Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota in 1968.

Jessie (born James George Janos) was a navy seal during Vietnam (although not involved in combat) serving with Underwater Demolition Team 12 and later with Seal Team 1. He was also an “outlaw biker” and member of the Mongols.

The next highlight on his Resume was as bodyguard for the Rolling Stones. In 1975, he became a wrestler, working his way up the ladder and later becoming a commentator for the WWF. (It got the “F” outta there and is now the WWE.)

He also found the time (and talent) to appear in a number of movies from “Predator” (The only movie ever to feature two future governors (Ventura & Schwarzenegger), as well as a Kentucky Gubernatorial candidate, (Sonny Landham). ) to “The Running Man” to “Major League II”.

In 1990, Jessie ran for mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, defeating the 25-year incumbent, and serving for four years. (Brooklyn Park is also the home of Garrison Keillor, but that has nothing to do with this.)

In 1998, the Reform Party nominated Ventura for Governor of Minnesota. Jessie defeated then St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Hubert Humphrey’s son, Skip (Hubert H. Humphrey III).

That about wrapped it up for the Reform Party. It’s still around (as is the American Reform Party) but nobody gives a shit.

George “Duh-bull-you” Bush was appointed President in 2000 and everybody quit caring about the deficits. (Which was a good thing for “Bush League”, because he increased it a record 42.7%.)

Ok, next episode, we FINALLY get the Tea Potty itself. Check back, it promises to be a great rump….I mean, romp. (Hell, I was right the first time.)

Grouchy

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