The Rise of A Prairie Statesman

The Book of the Week is “The Rise of A Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern” by Thomas J. Knock, published in 2016. This biography covered the senator’s life only through the 1960’s, and his remaining history would presumably be told in another volume.

McGovern’s uncle, whose name he got– George– was born into a poor family in 1881. That uncle was the youngest of six children of Irish/Scottish extraction. McGovern’s grandmother died when his youngest uncle was less than a year old. McGovern’s grandfather was a miner; his father– the oldest child in his family– Joseph, too, started mining at nine years old.

Joseph became a Methodist minister in South Dakota, a state with an agricultural economy– wheat and corn. Harsh conditions abounded, including blizzards, locusts, grasshoppers, floods, hail, and prairie fires. And dust storms from drought. To add insult to injury, the Great Depression hit. South Dakota got more financial aid than any other state.

Joseph’s first wife died when he was 49. He wed the second in 1918. McGovern was born in Mitchell, a medium-sized town in July 1922, the second oldest of four siblings. It was “Life With Father.” Nevertheless, leisure pursuits included pheasant hunting, picnics, swimming in the creek, (sneaked-into) movies, etc.

The high school personnel cared about their students. The Episcopalian basketball coach would wake up his team on Sunday mornings to take them to religious services, and then to lunch of burgers and rhubarb pie at a cafe. An English teacher told McGovern to join the debate team to get him out of his shell.

McGovern graduated third in his high school class of one hundred forty. He got a scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan University. During the Depression, the school accepted farm animals and crops in lieu of tuition. But there were no dances, fraternities or sororities allowed because it was Methodist.

In February 1943, McGovern was drafted. He became a war hero, flying 35 bombing missions over Germany. The ten-man flight crews wore heated suits, oxygen masks, and wool-lined boots and gloves because at 20,000 feet altitude, the temperature fell to about minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Life-threatening risks included being shot down, a blown plane engine and/or tires, and damage to a plane and its occupants from anti-aircraft flak. Most of these happened to McGovern and his crews but they survived.

McGovern also suffered psychological trauma when, on a mission, his plane accidentally let go its bomb right onto an Austrian farmhouse, just when it was likely the family would be eating their midday meal. He never found out how many people if any, died in that incident, but the entire place was destroyed.

Through the years, McGovern got married, had five children and earned a PhD in history from Northwestern University in Illinois, on the GI Bill. He traveled to various states to research his thesis on the Colorado Coal strike of 1913-1914. “Through his scholarship, McGovern had become a firsthand witness to the exercise of power without accountability, and he soon surmised that people who held such advantages rarely surrendered it voluntarily.”

McGovern became a professor and coached the debate team at Dakota Wesleyan. He supported Henry Wallace in 1948. Even though McGovern was a “local boy who made good” J. Edgar Hoover still compiled an FBI file on him. McGovern gave up a brilliant teaching career to enter politics. He re-grouped the Democratic Party in South Dakota– traditionally a Republican state– after Adlai Stevenson’s loss to Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.

In June 1953, the US had fifteen hundred nuclear weapons; by January 1961, eighteen thousand. The nuclear tests in 1958 alone numbered about 81, most of each of them about fifty times more destructive than the bomb that hit Hiroshima.

McGovern’s speeches and writings recommended that America stop such scary stupidity (and cancer cluster proliferation) that was supposedly taking place in the name of peace. To no avail. His voice of reason, one of the few, was outnumbered. An estimate of the cost of nuclear weapons alone was fifteen billion dollars for 1963 alone; in fiscal 1964, the military budget was actually $54.8 billion. This accounted for more than half of the entire federal budget, and exceeded the cost of all the programs of the New Deal from 1933 to 1940.

In September 1963, more than one hundred nations (except for France and China) including the US, signed a nuclear test ban treaty whose inevitable loophole was the allowance for unlimited underground testing. Sure, the treaty banned testing in the sea and air, but humans, due to their nature, are destroying the earth, anyway.

Sadly, many well-intentioned documents governing test bans, arms reduction, peace, economic arrangements and environmental initiatives among nations have historically turned out to be worthless pieces of paper.

A handshake can be as trustworthy (or not) as a document; it depends on whose hands are doing the shaking. Government officials can accomplish things through fear and force, but they won’t earn respect. Or they can exude charisma and make people feel good, even if they break their campaign promises or act against the nation’s best interests. The images of friendly, jokey leaders are more fondly remembered historically than serious, insecure, mean-spirited ones.

McGovern should have continued his academic career. His idea– that instead of possibly overkilling the world with nuclear arms, the money spent to build them could more wisely be used for providing Americans with better education and health care– was ignored. It sucked for him. And the world.

In 1961, after McGovern lost his senate race, President John F. Kennedy appointed McGovern to lead the Food for Peace Program. According to the author, “Adding in the school lunch program, he had coordinated the feeding of more hungry people than any other individual in American history.” Or was it Herbert Hoover?

Anyway, read the book to learn of other international aid programs orchestrated by McGovern and how the humanitarian goal of the original program was turned on its ear (instead of feeding the starving, it fed people in the war machine) unbeknownst to McGovern; the dirty campaigning in McGovern’s senate elections; and his political views and actions on various issues.

Mistaken Identity – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Mistaken Identity” by Don & Susie Van Ryn and Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak, with Mark Tabb, published in 2008. This is a long, true story of a cluster-screw-up of honest ineptitude whose negative consequences were mitigated by the virtuous nature of the people involved.

The families of the victims described in this book weren’t vengeful and didn’t look for someone to blame or sue, pursuant to the tragedy. They were forgiving, and saw the positive consequences of it– they widened their social circle and became a good example for others of civil and mature behavior.

In late April 2006, two female Taylor College students from Michigan who shared an employer happened to be riding home in the same van in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They didn’t know each other. However, their appearance, build and facial features happened to be largely similar. The van was involved in a tragic accident. Along with other passengers, one of them died, and the other lived but had serious injuries.

In the aftermath, the one who lived remarked, “A lot of what was written in different magazines was wrong, and I think it gave me a different perspective on people and the media that I never had before.”

Read this book (not media stories) to get an accurate picture of what happened to the two families of the accident victims.

The Rise of Marco Rubio

The Book of the Week is “The Rise of Marco Rubio” by Manuel Roig-Franzia, published in 2012.

This volume’s opening words indicate that Rubio considers himself the focal point of the universe. He is admittedly a Ronald Reagan wannabe. He does have an appeaser personality, and the major essentials of a career politician–unctuous public speaking ability and phony friendships with wealthy donors.

Born in May 1971 in Miami, the third of four siblings, he has Cuban ancestry. In 1979, Rubio’s family moved to Las Vegas for four years. There, they, except for his father, converted to Mormonism. Rubio clearly has ambivalence about his religious bent, as it appears to be both Mormon and Catholic. He is against gambling.

Rubio graduated high school in 1989, having played on the football team. He started attending Tarkio College in Nebraska on a partial football scholarship. He eventually earned a law degree from the University of Miami Law School.

In 1996, Rubio worked for Bob Dole. In 1998, a moderate Republican, he was elected to the West Miami City Commission. Good at collecting valuable contacts, he became chummy with the mayor of his political territory, West Miami, which was like a small town of less than three thousand people.

The author’s language is unclear as to whether Rubio fathered a child before he married his girlfriend he’d had for eight years. But Rubio did assist with gerrymandering in his areas of dominant influence. In 2001 and 2002, he requested lots of pork barrel money, but asked for none the following year. For, then he ran for and got elected as a Representative in Florida.

Rubio copied a plan (but his was less helpful) from the Democrats, to add to the prescription benefits of financially struggling seniors. He created fundraising front groups for conservatives. Unfortunately, they “… were plagued by accounting glitches and perception problems.” They were actually financial patronage vehicles for his family members. In 2004, he unsuccessfully pushed for a state tax subsidy to pay for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team.

Rubio is a big spender with both taxpayer-, and his personal, moneys. Nevertheless, in 2010, he got himself elected US GOP Senator from Florida. During the campaign, he fancied himself a maverick with Tea Party support but after his victory, he distanced himself from those supporters. He is pro-life, favors reducing the national deficit but contradictorily–  cutting taxes and increasing military spending.

In the summer of 2011, a “news” show on the network Univision was sniffing into decades-old trouble involving Rubio’s brother-in-law. Rubio’s brother-in-law was a private citizen, not a public servant, not paid by the taxpayers. Rubio asked the TV sleaze machine whether he could pry into the private life of the station’s news anchor. There was no comment.

Read the book to learn how Rubio was a mythmaker with regard to his family’s heritage, and other information.

The Chief

The Book of the Week is “The Chief, The Life of William Randolph Hearst” by David Nasaw, published in 2000. This tome described not just the life of the media emperor, but the historical backdrop of his generation.

Born in April 1863 in San Francisco, Hearst was a mama’s boy. He grew up in a highly cultured family. However, its fortunes waned, and finally waxed in the 1870’s. The father was in the gold mining business; politics too– he was elected as a Democratic member of the state assembly of California in November 1865.

When Hearst was at Harvard, his mother “…redecorated his rooms [in Matthews Hall] in Harvard crimson, equipped him with a library, hired a maid and valet to look after her boy.” In those days, one student could live in an on-campus suite and have servants. Hearst was an outsider who bought himself a position in society by making the Harvard Lampoon profitable and donating big money to Harvard’s sports teams. But he lacked the manners to get invited to the elitist summer resorts.

In October 1880, Hearst’s father bought San Francisco’s Evening Examiner and turned it into a morning newspaper to win a future election. Father and son helped get Grover Cleveland elected president in November 1884. Two years later, Hearst’s father was elected to the U.S. Senate. Hearst eventually failed out of Harvard.

In his mid-twenties, Hearst got an opportunity to attempt a financial turnaround of the Examiner. He took various creative steps to achieve this goal. The Examiner‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, anti-capital and anti-railroad.

In the 1890’s, the culture of journalism was a mixture of “fact-based reporting, opinion and literature.” Readers liked emotionally-moving stories. They could tolerate a lot of fiction in their news. And they must’ve, when Hearst published made-up war stories to help Cuba gain its independence from Spain in 1898. However, toward the mid-twentieth century, journalism strove to be more objective.

In 1893 at the time Hearst bought the New York Morning Journal, there were eight established morning newspapers in New York. The Journal‘s editorial bent was pro-labor, pro-immigrant and anti-Republican. But it did have anti-African-American cartoons and jokes. According to Hearst, New Yorkers were overpaying for their gas, power, coal, ice, milk and even water due to monopolies (in those days called “trusts”).

In 1900 and 1901, the Hearst papers constantly criticized and even mentioned killing president McKinley. When the president was shot by a madman in September 1901, Hearst was accused of hiring the hitman. In 1902, Hearst was elected to Congress as a Democrat from New York, eleventh district. When he ran for a third term, he gave every man, woman and child in his district a free trip to Coney Island, including most of the Luna Park shows (thousands of tickets). Then he changed his mind and ran for mayor instead in 1905 in an attempt to “drain the swamp.” He wed in 1903, at forty years old. In May 1905, he bought Cosmopolitan magazine, kicking off his entry into the magazine business.

Hearst lived high on the hog and spared no expense when it came to gathering stories for his growing media empire. He paid his employees well, sent droves of them to cover stories which appeared in his newspapers that had more pages and special features than the competition’s. His business was losing more money than ever.

In the early 1920’s, “After 2 decades of debate and agitation, the rise and fall of Populist, Progressive and Socialist parties…” and lots of labor unrest, there was general consensus between government and American business “… that the role of government was not to supersede or control the corporation, but to legalize and legitimize it by regulating its excesses.”

Public relations at the turn of the twentieth century consisted of billboards and posters, newsreels and serial films, stunts, service features and contests. Radio was the next big thing in the 1920’s.

After recording political history for decades, Hearst concluded that “…politicians were, with few exceptions, mendacious, corrupt, and incompetent. The country needed a leader who was not tainted by the political process and was not dependent on the largess of machine politicians or big businessmen.”

On one trip on Hearst’s yacht, with a group of Hollywood celebrities, a movie director was celebrating his 43rd birthday. The director had a major heart attack and later died. All sorts of wild stories abounded in the newspapers that Hearst had killed him. A 2001 FICTIONAL movie called “The Cat’s Meow” was made of one wild-story version. No evidence of any crime has ever surfaced, except Hearst’s violating Prohibition– a crime whose exposure he wanted to avoid. That was the reason he didn’t want the media anywhere near the heart attack victim.

In late 1927, for nearly a month, Hearst had published front page articles based entirely on fictitious sources. He had libeled several nations, dozens of foreign statesmen, at least two prominent American journalists, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ernest Gruening, and four U.S. senators. Yet he wasn’t taken to task on any of that. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Read the book to learn the details of Hearst’s friendly relationships with William Jennings Bryan, Marion Davies, Mussolini, Hitler, Churchill and others; his wire service; his reporting on Tammany Hall; San Simeon and how his other estates with mansions came to be; his art collection; the size to which his media empire grew; his rabid anti-Communist activities; and how he worked his way out of financial ruin. Most of the aforementioned involved disgusting excesses.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt” published in installments from 1937 through 1961.

Born in October 1884, Eleanor grew up in a wealthy family with a few younger siblings. Her mother died of diphtheria when she was eight. Her father thereafter practiced spousification briefly, then left the household, and died the following year. One of her grandfathers was the Theodore Roosevelt.

Eleanor’s grandmother, aunts and uncle assumed responsibility for raising her. They convinced her that charitable activities were a virtue, and they did a lot of that.

Eleanor’s immediate family alternately resided in New York and France. When in New York, they lived with the household help in a mansion in the Madison Square neighborhood. But spent summers at an estate called Tivoli in upstate New York; Hyde Park, to be specific. On rare occasions, she was permitted to visit the family of her grandfather Theodore in Oyster Bay, Long Island. That’s where she met her distant cousin and later husband, Franklin.

At fifteen years of age, Eleanor was sent to an all-female boarding school. She eventually became a starter on the field hockey team. She studied French, German, Latin, Italian, history and music. Upon graduation, young ladies of her generation (debutantes) “came out” — searched for a husband, but were chaperoned everywhere they went.

On Saint Patrick’s Day in 1905, Eleanor married Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). They eventually had six children. When he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy, she became his social secretary. As did many other women, she knitted for her country during WWI.  She also entertained foreign dignitaries, worked for the Red Cross canteen, and visited the war wounded at the naval hospital.

Through all of her social and political activities, Eleanor met hundreds of people who were instrumental in furthering her husband’s political career. He was elected governor of New York State in 1928. When he became president, no Secret Service agents protected her because she wanted privacy. Thus, they trained her to use a revolver, which she kept on her person at all times.

After her husband passed away, Eleanor began participating in meetings to form the United Nations. She was reading briefing papers containing information on international affairs marked, Top Secret “… but it appeared in the newspapers even before it reached us.”

Read the book to learn of the myriad other ways Eleanor filled in every second of her days– including her travels for purposes of speech-making and diplomatic visits to meet with foreign government officials (especially royal family members); being a daily columnist– and her opinions of America vis a vis other countries. Shamefully, she failed to achieve world peace.