The (lack of) Communications of Fear

One of the scariest tenets of the modern right is their inability to rationally talk with anyone who disagrees with them.  We see this on a micro, intra-party level when Pam Geller of Atlas Shrugs launches verbal bombs against Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs.  I also thought LFG was among the heaviest wingnut blogs around, but when Geller rants “Charles Johnson – poster boy for the left,” you’d think the man just had the highest recommended diary on Daily Kos.  What is Johnson’s crime?  Offering up criticism of Glenn Beck’s insanity.  That’s just too much indifference for righties like Geller, who demand carte blanche obedience.  Shorter Geller: Don’t like Beck? Well, I don’t talk with you, Obamabot!

We see many examples of this anti-social behavior on a macro level, too — the most recent example is Obama’s handshake with Hugo Chavez.  As is wholly predictable these days, this handshake has caused the right to go apoplectic.  Malkin asks if anyone smelled sulfur during the handshake; after calling it a “terrorist fist bump,” Tom Maguire quips “When socialists salute!”  Etc., etc.  Apparently, there has to be a purity test world leaders must pass for us to talk with them — somebody tell that to the King of Saudi Arabia!  Oh wait, the right only cared about Obama’s meeting with Abdullah because they could scream about the supposed bowing act — the fact that Saudi Arabia continues to be a leading human rights violator, not an issue.  Clearly, in their eyes, heads of state can be shitty, oppressive people as long as they’re not socialists as well.

Not to digress on the hypocrisy too long (once you start, it’s tough to stop), but the point of this post is just how scary this asocial behavior is.  Could you imagine the world today if this obedience-first, anti-social style of Republican occupied the White House in the post-WWII era?  We didn’t have that, of course.  Despite the fact that the Soviet Union was more fearsome and brutal than Chavez could ever hope to be — with a massive nuclear arsenal and ICBMs, too — the Republican Eisenhower administration kept diplomatic lines open with them.  When the impromptu “Kitchen Debate” took place in 1959, Vice President Nixon had a direct, face-to-face meeting with USSR president Khrushchev.  Reflecting on politics today, let that sink in for a moment…  Could you imagine former Vice President Dick Cheney meeting with any one of today’s lesser enemies while he was in office?   Now that just sounds silly.

The direct correspondence between Khrushchev and the White House continued into the Kennedy administration, and not only was present during the Cuban Missile Crisis but played a key role in averting total nuclear war.  Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s Defense Secretary, discussed the cabinet meetings and tense diplomacy during the crisis which ultimately led to its resolution:

McNamara: Kennedy was trying to keep us out of war. I was trying to help him keep up out of war. And General Curtis LeMay, whom I served under as a matter of fact in World War II, was saying “Let’s go in, let’s totally destroy Cuba.”

On that critical Saturday, October 27th, we had two Khrushchev messages in front of us. One had come in Friday night, and it had been dictated by a man who was either drunk or under tremendous stress. Basically, he said, “If you’ll guarantee you won’t invade Cuba, we’ll take the missiles out.” 

Then before we could respond, we had a second message that had been dictated by a bunch of hard—liners. And it said, in effect, “If you attack, we’re prepared to confront you with masses of military power.” 

So, what to do? We had, I’ll call it, the soft message and the hard message.

At the elbow of President Kennedy was Tommy Thompson, former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow. He and Jane, his wife, had literally lived with Khrushchev and his wife upon occasion. Tommy Thompson said, “Mr. President, I urge you to respond to the soft message.” 

The President said to Tommy, “We can’t do that, that’ll get us nowhere.” 

Tommy said, “Mr. President, you’re wrong.” Now that takes a lot of guts.

Kennedy: We’re not going to get these missiles out of Cuba, probably anyway, by negotiation.

Thompson: I don’t agree, Mr. President. I think there’s still a chance.

Kennedy: That he’ll back down?

Thompson: The important thing for Khrushchev, it seems to me, is to be able to say, “I saved Cuba, I stopped an invasion.”

McNamara: In Thompson’s mind was this thought: Khrushchev’s gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, “My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: ‘Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'” Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. 

Now think about that for a minute.  Not only did the Kennedy administration have direct communication with the USSR, but in the cabinet meeting Kennedy had somebody who knew and formerly lived with President Khrushchev.  Given that the stakes were nuclear war, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that the world would be a much more different, desolate place today if the US/USSR direct diplomacy of the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t exist. 

Talking with your enemies brings peace.

Of course, one person sitting at that cabinet meeting thought Kennedy and everyone else were full of shit, and that’s General Curtis LeMay.  A hardline Republican then, LeMay is analogous to what the Republican party has become today.  Had Kennedy listened to LeMay, none of us would be sitting here today, blogging about it. 

The LeMay factor of today’s Republican leaders is what scares me the most about them; and if this wing of the party ever takes power again.  They don’t want presidents to talk with anyone who doesn’t pass their political litmus test.  If these anti-social Republicans were in power in the 1960s, or even the Eisenhower Republican era of the 1950s, we wouldn’t have had diplomatic communications with the Soviet Union.  We wouldn’t be here

Compared to such a bleak future, I hardly see where Obama shaking Chavez’s hand is a mistake.  I’m more scared of not talking to him, or any other world leader.

10 Responses to “The (lack of) Communications of Fear”

  1. Maria Elena says:

    Hugo Chavez portrays himself as the king of “machismo,” a strong leader who whips others into shape. Since Obama’s inception he has been making fun of Obama. He sees him as weak. He sees the USA apologizing and brought finally to its knees. The nicest thing Chavez has called Obama is “an ignorant negro, a monkey.” In fact to describe Obama he used an old Spanish saying, “aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda..” Read blogs in Spanish. They are not pretty or complimentary to Pres. Obama and the USA. That is not going to change. It is not about Pres. Obama or whatever president is in power. It is about envy. It is about freedom and what they consider a rich country. Until Latin America isn’t as free and rich as the USA this attitude will remain.

  2. Kathy says:

    Great post, tas. This so needed to be said.

  3. merl says:

    I gave up discussing politics with my FIL years ago. There was never an actual discussion, It was more like ranting and raving. The longer I held out, the louder the same rant came. I would say “you can yell all you want, you’re wrong.” I just gave up, because I was starting to dislike the man and he is a very good man.

  4. Continuum says:

    Right wingers are unable to communicate with most anyone who doesn’t share their single minded thought process. I’ve given up talking facts and reason with my brother-in-law long ago. If you noted opposing facts, his argument quickly degenerated into swearing and personal attacks. I’m stuck with him as long as he remains married to my sister, but I no longer listen to any of his political thoughts.

  5. zhak says:

    The topic of this post touches upon something that I often think about but can’t quite resolve to my own satisfaction. I’m aware that the general worldview of someone on the left is very different from someone on the right. And, being an American and a firm believer in Democracy as the best form of government going (though I think there are weaknesses that should be firmed up to make the .. ah .. human element less capable of sabotaging democracy), I feel that it is of great important to have at least one robust opposition party, to keep the ruling party honest & on its toes & to genuinely engage on the many problems the US & the world currently face. I do not feel that the modern-day Republican party constitutes a robust opposition party. They are apparently wholly fixated on tax cuts — which is insanely unworkable in this economy & never was the Magic Pony they sold it as. There are auxiliary fixations as well, mostly related to keeping the world unequal for everybody that isn’t a rich white man. To this end, we see whinges about how abortion should be made illegal (a topic that shouldn’t even be open for debate at this stage of our civilization); about how our borders are porous & let in too many brown people; about how marriage between two people in love who happen to have the same plumbing is, like, totally threatening to their own marriage (how, exactly? nobody seems to know).

    I understand all that stuff, though I find it baffling that these people seem to want nothing more than to drag us all kicking & screaming several centuries backward to a simpler time when white men ruled, dammit, and women & minorities knew their damn place.

    Ahem.

    What I don’t understand is this: folks on the right can have an opinion — say, that the Iraq war is a glorious success & we’ve won (yes we have!). Now, this opinion flies in the face of, well, just about any possible measuring unit. Same thing with tax cuts — folks on the right claim they’re just the thing to fix the deficit, despite there being no data to back that up in the least. But they’ll say such things, make these claims — “they’ll force your daughter to not just get an abortion but to marry her best girlfriend!!!” — and they’re divorced from any iota of reality. It does make it very hard to talk to them — I mean, where to start? But despite lots of facts — real true actual FACTS — that fly in the face of just about every one of their desperately held canards, nobody on the right actually listens to a bunch of facts & figures about whatever and says, “well, okay, that’s correct, but you’re failing to consider this, this and this.” They just scream “tax cuts” or “FASCISM” (or “SOCIALISM” of course) or whatever the outrage du jour is. And I just can’t understand the mentality behind that. I’d love to see these folks confronted with facts and have to actually answer to them. I’d like to think it’d help move their out-of-control rhetoric to something bounded by reality.

  6. tas says:

    Thanks Kathy.

    Continuum and merl, I know how you feel.. Politics is an off-limits topic with some of my relatives now. I also never tell them about my blogging habits anymore.

    zhak — It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I mean, I can’t sit here and say that blind partisanship doesn’t grip both sides, and many people involved with political parties adhere to grand ideological points without making contingency plans. Immigration is one of my favorite issues for this. If we send’em all back to Mexico, what happens when the pressure of so many jobless south of the border causes a civil war there? Nobody’s been able to answer that question when I’ve asked them.

    Republicans just seem to be a special case with this, though. Like you pointed out on tax cuts and such, for the modern Republican party not only is there no empirical evidence to prove that their ideas work, there’s a boatload of empirical evidence proving that none of it works — and they choose to ignore all of it. What kills me the most is their refusal to take any fiscal responsibility whatsoever — simply blaming Obama for everything. How these people can blame a new president for the shitty state of the economy is beyond comprehension. For 8 years, these very same people told us to vote for Bush and their congressional candidates, show obedience towards them, not complain about their policies, etc. After those 8 years are over and we’re mired in one of the world’s biggest fiscal crises ever, they’re trying to pin it all on Obama? Really? Are you kidding me? I’m never seen anything more disingenuous than this.

    Maria Elena: Uh, what?

  7. Great post , tas!

    One quick point LGF has been doing a great job lately in not falling into the great big pool of crazy so many seem to have fallen into.

  8. tas says:

    Thanks Kyle. Just goes to show I should write posts every Saturday morning, after rolling out of bed and hungover. Which actually isn’t far from the truth…

    I haven’t been a regular reader of LGF, lately or ever. But having Geller go after Charles Johnson kinda humanizes him.. heh. LFG has always been a cesspool of the worst of the worst, though, so both Johnson reaching his limit with rightwing craziness — and people like Geller turning on him — surprised me. Though the former surprises me more than the latter.

    I know many would accuse me of an unnecessary reach for saying this, but honestly.. People like Geller and Malkin would have made great Nazis in the 1930s. They really would have. That’s kinda why I find them scary.

  9. Kathy says:

    I think Glenn Beck has been going after Charles Johnson, too. It’s frightening what happens when you stray one inch away from the fold. I still don’t agree with most of his opinions, but on this issue he deserves a lot of credit.

    And tas, as one of those who regularly jumps on Nazi comparisons, I think you’re in clear waters with this one. You’re not saying they *are* Nazis. You’re saying that, given the right enabling political and historical circumstances, they could have been. And I agree. And I think it’s true as a larger statement that the *only* thing that keeps people like Malkin and Geller from actually participating in or supporting a political movement like Nazism is the fact that they live in a time and place where their inclinations are restrained by a democratic constitutional structure.

  10. tas says:

    Kathy, I’ve thought of dedicating a post to Charles Johnson, recognizing him as a Republican who’s fighting to clean up his side — which I’ve rambled about much lately. Unlike John Cole at Balloon Juice who simply switched sides, I have no notion that Johnson’s about to start humping Obama. Regardless of my disagreeing with mostly every political viewpoint Johnson has, I’d rather have him as a representative of the Republican party if its the influence of people like him that drive the extremists out.

    Besides, having an opposition is healthy. It’s when that opposition becomes so extremist that Nazi comparisons can reasonably be applied is when I become worried.

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