Inspection- Historical Blindness
The Facebook OP (original post) was a comment on the hypocrisy of the right not caring about Trump sexual misadventures. The snapback: if Democrats hadn’t freed “slick Willy,” had gone after Kennedy…
Except that’s not what happened.
I think there is an unfortunate tendency for partisans to rely on historical blindness. Historical accuracy is crucial to any truly honest discussion, crucial to good policy making and crucial to our future.
Let’s start by separating ourselves for a moment from the Kennedy, Clinton, Trump kerfuffle. The very nature of the war and the enemy in WWII explains Hiroshima. Note: I did not type “justified.” I’ll leave that to those who argue either way. I have a different point to make.
The Axis seemed an almost impossible enemy. They pushed across Europe and Asia beyond persistently, ferociously, relentlessly. If not for Hitler’s arrogance Russians might be speaking more German. The Japanese were even tougher. Considered a god, or god-like, by his people, the Emperor’s people were willing to fight house to house, cave to cave. This kamikaze-like attitude would have made the death toll on both sides go far beyond the bombs.
Please remember I am talking perceptions held at the time. I understand there’s a counter story told about the Japanese being ready to surrender: whether true or historical revisionism is beyond my point here. Common perceptions of the time explain why there was so much support once the bombs dropped, and crucial to understanding why such decisions were made.
The common perception: ending the war by invasion would have required heavier casualties on both sides. (Remember the bombs hadn’t been dropped yet: the horror that ensued was more of an unknown.) I’m not just relying on history books, but testimony from my father’s generation; stories told in casual discussions with family friends and around the family table. My father was in the Philippines getting ready to join the invasion. He supported not just Hiroshima, but doing it again at Nagasaki. (“We had to let them know for sure we would do it again.) He said it probably saved his life.
A common perception at the time; and understanding perceptions of the times helps us understand why decisions were made, how they were defended. The perceptions that led to the death march and the final solution are a hell of a lot harder to defend.
They are all now part of history, and why history matters.
Any claim that relies on there being no difference between the Clinton, Kennedy, Trump eras is historically blind. Claiming it was just Democrats who let Kennedy go when it came to his lady issues also historically false. Unlike Trump, or Clinton, the subject didn’t come up on the same level.
The morning I polished off this column on Morning Joe I heard Joe say that people were willing to let Clinton go because the economy was good. I think this is revisionism, at best, driven by historical blindness: intentional or not. The 90s offered a significant change to how we viewed the presidency and sex. Part of the outrage over the actions of Starr and the House had to do with this kind of intrusiveness. That’s because a president’s sex life before Clinton was pretty much considered off the table. Oh, sure, there were rumors, and quiet talk, but not at the level we hear now. There was little to no talk radio to pump up controversies, fewer mainstream media talking heads getting ratings through extreme adversary partisanship. Plenty of past presidents on both sides were rumored to have had multiple affairs, but “rumors” is about as far as it went.
Like any social norm there were good and bad sides. This was all part of the “mind your own business” attitude which also kept spouses abusing, even killing, their significant others. This is why there were so many deaths from botched abortions and why parents with money sent their children away under bogus framing to have what? I think you know what. That’s why coat hanger abortions were mostly afflicted upon the poor, and why some pols didn’t give a damn. One of the good things that came out of all this I saw when Sarah Palin stood with her unmarried pregnant daughter on stage. Think what you will of Sarah, and how this was an attempt to use this for political gain: we probably agree there. But for years before that that would have been political suicide no matter what flavor partisan.
Part of the political side to this was, generally, there was no coverage of Kennedy’s affairs, except mostly the very, very few scandal rags. They weren’t at the Grand Union or A&P checkout. Most of us laughed at them, on the very rare occasion we might see one because they also published stories like, “A Three Head Alien is Marrying My Daughter!”
Hey, don’t make fun of him! Poor three headed alien. Didn’t he deserve the ink? It was enough to make his head explode. Luckily he had more than one.
If anything “freed Clinton” it was the relentless push to bring him down that went far beyond Whitewater. Republicans in the 90s at first didn’t go to his sexual issues. They started with Whitewater. When Ken Starr replaced Robert Fiske it was opened up to more than Whitewater.
The distance between Monica and Whitewater is not unlike the distance between Mars and Earth. “Let’s explore ALL the planets,” saith Republicans. Captain Ken did so, eagerly.
”Ahoy, maties! Is that the red planet or a red dress?”
“A stained red dress, Captain!”
“Give that man a dipped cigar!”
I’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday: four shows a day.
Even Dressgate had a historical aspect to it. Most of the people of Bill Clinton’s generation (and mine) generally did not consider oral to be sex. The metaphor was used: “3rd base.” The more acceptable term was “foreplay.” “Sex” was, well, penetration. However, being touched by Twiggy, was toxic AND rape. (So thin she could slip right in.)
Laugh, &%$# you!
The switch to considering peccadilloes fair game changed the nation. Making them MORE than just “peccadilloes” was, of course, long overdue in some cases. And how ironic you can draw a line from Hillary’s husband to Trump. However, Mueller seems to be mostly keeping closer to original intent than Starr. Perhaps it’s mostly the “MeToo” movement that keep Trump sex-capades splattering our news feed? But I also suspect Trump and his surrogates find it convenient: anything that might make the public say, “Enough!”
Russia? Trump brings up Russia more than damn near anyone in the country. And the media helps: following Trump like an obsessed beagle follows a scent. (Is there any other kind?) I believe Trump is counting on it increasing the tiredness factor: just like the public tired of all the Clinton nonsense. It’s actually quite clever, if it works.
When we use historical figures to make partisan points the result is too often historically blind, like claiming one’s polls are better than even Abe Lincoln’s. (You know: the mythical polls taken before polls were taken?)
Historical blindness is, to some extent, a natural state. We haven’t a clue as to most of what our great great grandparents went through, and not even that much about what our grandparents went through. At best our sense of history merely skims the surface.
But in politics it can be not just problematic but dangerous.
”We have always been at war with Eastasia…”
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 40 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks, and into the unseen cracks and crevasses, that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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