June 18, 2003
In Praise of Sid Blumenthal and Heartland Values
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
Sid Blumenthal, like BuzzFlash, is a product of the Heartland.
He grew up in the truest American big city, Chicago, at a time when the rough and tumble of Richard J. Daley Chicago ward politics blended with the youthful, inspirational idealism of John F. Kennedy.
People who live on either coasts often deride the Midwest as a vast stretch of prairie that is as boring as it is flat. The use of the Midwest as an opportunistic "values" prop by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush hasn't helped its reputation among outraged pro-democracy Democrats and independents.
Reagan gave the Midwest a bad name because his image handlers created a mythical vision of a hometown America that never existed and turned it into a right wing Potemkin village. Reagan was born and raised in Illinois. He even went to college in the Land of Lincoln. But, BuzzFlash being from Illinois, can bear witness that you would hardly have known Reagan had any relationship with Illinois when he was President.
Reagan's Illinois roots, although real, seemed unreal, as if plucked out of a Hollywood movie, just as he was pulled from his role as a television host to be a right wing stalking horse for wealthy extremist Republicans. His backers in the early 60's, when they put him up to run for Governor of California, knew that they didn't have to find someone with presidential timber; it was easier to put their money on the man who could ACT the role of being a president. So, Ronald Reagan was no role model for Midwestern values. Divorced, estranged from the children of his first marriage as they grew up, and remote from his children with Nancy, he was all Hollywood celluloid image. You could say Ronald Reagan was born and reared in Hollywood, not Illinois, to play the role of an affable "Morning in America" president who could read his lines with conviction.
George W. Bush made Heartland values a hallmark of his first two years in office, although he bought his ranch in Crawford not too long before running for president. Cynics might say that the Crawford ranch is actually a political television prop, purchased for a role in the Karl Rove script of creating a down home man (Bush) who would rather be home clearing scrub brush than off in Washington rubbing elbows with elitist Washington politicians.
Forget for the moment that the Bush family has servants for clearing scrub brush; Bush is no product of Heartland values. Crawford is more the Southwest than the Midwest anyway, but Bush is much more radical Neo-Confederate Plantation Owner in his outlook than Heartland, so it doesn't really matter.
Bush too was picked to flash a hearty grin and attach a few nicknames to people as window dressing for an extremist anti-democracy agenda. Bush represents, in reality, the antithesis of Heartland values. In the mythology of the Heartland, community, true compassion, common sense, integrity, country-before-personal-enrichment and honesty matter. George W. Bush doesn't live or represent a single one of these values.
Which brings us back to Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal was in Chicago on June 16th promoting his best selling book, "The Clinton Wars." [LINK] He brought along his wife and two sons, because, after all, Chicago is where he grew up and his mom and extended family live in the area -- and it was a homecoming of sorts. (In fact, his mother still lives in the same house that Blumenthal grew up in on Chicago's far North Side.)
BuzzFlash has long been an admirer of Blumenthal's role as a brilliant, loyal media strategist for the Clintons. Not long ago, we interviewed him for BuzzFlash [LINK], concentrating on a chapter in "The Clinton Wars" that details how he was targeted by Ken Starr -- and interrogated before the never-ending Clinton grand jury.
On June 16th in the Heartland, Blumenthal took the stage at a junior high school auditorium packed with family, childhood friends, high school classmates, and political junkies. For forty minutes, he told the story of "The Clinton Wars." And, mesmerized by the succinct impact of his presentation, this is what we realized, once again: we are in the midst of a new civil war, the outcome of which will decide whether we remain a democracy or whether we become a one-party state, ruled by a network of extremists who have usurped the Constitutional basis of our great nation.
Blumenthal masterfully detailed how the Republican Party -- through its hard right political enforcers, fanatical financial backers, and a compliant media -- launched a war against Clinton before he was even sworn into office. And when they lost the first war, they launched another one, and then they just never stopped. They felt that they had -- and have -- an entitlement to rule America, the voters be damned. Clinton fought them off, with the assistance of loyal staffers like Blumenthal, but the Republicans, in the end prevailed. The Republican junta leaders were unable to unseat a democratically elected president, but they were able, in 2000, to steal the presidency.
Blumenthal is a journalist by profession, which he will proudly tell you. He became a journalist when it was actually a skilled trade. He told his story with a brevity and economy that, in its understatement, only heightened the threat to the founding vision of America.
He is a chronicler of politics who became a reporter covering his own politics. He is a man who walked into the center of a war zone, created by zealots who value personal ideology over loyalty to the Constitution.
Fortunately, unlike Reagan and Bush, Blumenthal is truly a child of the best about America's Heartland. He believes in a responsibility to his community, in working for the common good, in the government being a servant of the people, in dignity for workers, in common sense, in integrity, in loyalty -- and in honesty. He believes that there is honor and reward in being a public servant and that government should reflect the highest dreams of the American people, not its worst fears. That is why he ended up in the White House.
But most importantly, Blumenthal believes that these Heartland values are worth fighting for. He believes that when someone hits you, you hit back, because otherwise you allow yourself to become a victim. He believes that leaders persuade people of their vision when they fight for what they believe in; and if they don't fight for what they believe in, maybe they don't believe in anything.
The current Democratic leadership is so busy looking at the polls, that they long ago lost their voice, their vision, their conviction and their courage. As one web site recently noted, our Congressional Democratic leaders are afraid to tell the truth about Bush's lies because he is considered "so high" in the polls. That, of course, begs the question "Is Bush so high in the polls because the Democratic leadership refuses to expose his lies?" We have a bait and switch administration, and the "opposition party leadership" keeps swallowing the bait and turning a blind eye to the switch.
Sid Blumenthal gives as good as he gets. He grew up on the streets of Chicago. He knows that you don't win elections -- or save democracy -- by hiding behind the garbage pails when the bully comes barreling down the alley looking for you.
You stand up and fight. And the next time, you swing first.
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
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BuzzFlash Note: Special thanks to Joe Conason for the bully imagery.
otherwise noted, all original