Part 2—The wars of the 1990s: At present count, thirteen people died yesterday in the Washington shootings.
Everyone knows the role this event will play in the public discourse. For starters, the incident will harden sides in the public debate about guns.
Beyond that, some on “the right” will offer quips in which Barack Obama says, “If I had a son, he would look like” the killer. Some on the left—perhaps on the self-reinventing, newly-left left—will encourage anger about such comments, while saying such things as this:
“Obviously I'm not trying to indict the tens of millions of conservatives who AREN'T thinking this when I point out the individuals who are.”
Nothing could be more obvious! But then, at times of tribal war, no one cares about “the tens of millions.” It’s all about “the individuals” who can make our tribe really mad!
Objectively, people on the right and the left have quite a few major shared interests. As the plutocrats exert more and more control over 1) the Congress and 2) the economy, people in The Lower 99 are being jointly looted.
They are getting jointly looted in their stagnant incomes. They are getting jointly looted through the bizarre levels of American health care spending.
Red and blue are jointly faced with the crazy rise in the cost of college—a topic the press briefly puzzled about when Obama made a speech on the subject last month.
Red and blue together! Everyone is getting ripped off, in a range of ways.
That said, it’s very hard to get people to see their joint interests because of “the so-called culture wars.” This brings us to the life the late Sheldon Hackney, who died on Martha’s Vineyard last week.
Hackney was born in Birmingham in 1933. At the time, the state’s population was divided into those who were said and believed to be white and those who were said and believed to be black.
Hackney’s whole family was said to be white. That said, he took positions which placed him in the minority among that group.
Hackney got his B.A. and his doctorate from Yale. In 1963, on Birmingham Sunday, he was 29 years old.
According to today’s New York Times, Hackney’s “award-winning 1969 book, ‘Populism to Progressivism in Alabama, established him as one of the foremost historians of the post-Civil War South.” He studied under C. Vann Woodward, whose famous book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, was described by Dr. King as "the historical bible of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Hackney was on the right side of history when it came to matters of so-called race. This doesn’t mean he was always right about every issue, of course.
What kinds of Southern people, thought to be white, took the right side in the civil rights era? In 2007, Hackney was profiled by the Martha's Vineyard Times. At one point, C. K. Wolfson named some famous names as he described the family of Hackney’s wife, Lucy Hackney:
WOLFSON (9/6/07): The Hackneys share a legacy of belief in that system along with a family tradition of activism. Lucy Hackney's mother is the late Virginia Durr, author ("Outside the Magic Circle," 1985) and noted Southern civil rights activist. (Her brother-in-law Hugo Black, Sr. was appointed to the United States Supreme Court in 1937.) Lucy Hackney's wedding dress was fitted by family friend and seamstress Rosa Parks.Durr was one of those Alabama people who, despite being seen as white, actively took the unpopular side in these matters in real time. If you read about Rosa Parks, you will read about Durr, with some contemporary writers helping you see that she was wrong, oh so wrong, in so many ways when compared to our own very safe modern moral greatness.
Virginia Durr, who lived in Alabama, spent summers on the Vineyard with the Hackneys. Mr. Hackney points to the cushioned window seat, Ms. Durr's favorite place, and to the small framed picture of her reclining there that's perched in the corner.
For ourselves, we wouldn’t have written that sentence about Mrs. Parks that way. The Durrs were fortunate to have known such a person. We would have crafted that sentence to reflect that obvious point.
Hackney fits our meditation today because of his experience during the Clinton years. In 1993, Clinton nominated him to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In today's New York Times obituary, Paul Vitello describes Hackney’s tenure thusly:
VITELLO (9/17/13): Mr. Hackney had been president of the University of Pennsylvania from 1981 to 1993 when President Bill Clinton appointed him chairman of the endowment. His defining initiative in the job was his first: “A National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity,” a project that helped finance and shape about 1,400 public meetings from 1994 to 1997.We’ll admit it. We don’t recall those 1400 meetings, although we may have been aware of them at the time. We do recall the events which preceded those meetings—the widely-discussed events which preceded, and complicated, Hackney’s appointment by Clinton.
In discussions held in libraries, college auditoriums and town halls in all 50 states—some televised, most not—citizens discussed what it meant to be an American at the height of the so-called culture wars, when the idea of “one nation, indivisible” seemed threatened by ideological and religious divisions over issues like abortion, homosexuality, multiculturalism and the separation of church and state, as well as racial tensions as seen in the polarized public reaction to O. J. Simpson’s murder trial and acquittal, a response that troubled Mr. Hackney.
Hackney’s nomination was controversial. Vitello explains why:
VITELLO: At the University of Pennsylvania he became identified with two highly publicized campus disputes involving alleged racial incidents. Mr. Hackney was portrayed as having sided with the black students in both cases, one involving epithets against women in a black sorority and the other concerning black students who had confiscated copies of a campus newspaper over an article they considered offensive.Luckily, they don’t give out Purple Hearts for wounds incurred in the multicultural wars, or we would have to argue about those awards along with everything else.
Though the details of the events and his actions in handling them remained disputed, his portrayal as the personification of the “politically correct” academic leader later became the focus of Congressional opposition to his nomination to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was confirmed anyway.
But after Republicans won control of Congress in the 1994 elections, Mr. Hackney’s budget was cut to $110 million, from $172 million the previous year.
“I was a true veteran of the multicultural wars,” he said in an interview. “If they gave out Purple Hearts for wounds incurred while trapped between the front lines, I would have several.”
Hackney’s history seems interesting to us for several reasons.
First, it’s almost odd, at this point in time, to read about “the so-called culture wars” of the 1990s. In some liberal circles, people sometimes suggest that these unhelpful wars began in 2008, with the candidacy, nomination and election of President Obama.
In fact, much of the craziness of the present day was fully active in the 1990s. We’re not suggesting that those on the right were everywhere and always “wrong” in those culture wars. But many prominent figures on the right played active, unfortunate role in the rise of these wars.
(Example: No, Virginia! The Clintons weren’t involved in a long string of murders, as Jerry Falwell tried to make everyone think all through the 1990s. As late as August 1999, Chris Matthews invited Gennifer Flowers onto Hardball, where she spent a half-hour alleging this string of murders. Her performance was so inane that she was invited to repeat it on Hannity & Colmes, where she did the full hour. This was the way of the era, with liberals and mainstream press critics keeping their traps shut about the spreading lunacy. Matthews spent the next fifteen months sliming Candidate Gore and Candidate Hillary Clinton in repellent, ridiculous ways.)
Which side is right in “the so-called culture wars?” There’s no ultimate way to answer that question! But to the extent that we engage in such “wars” involving “ideological and religious divisions over issues like abortion, homosexuality, multiculturalism and the separation of church and state, as well as racial tensions as seen in the polarized public reaction to [George Zimmerman’s] murder trial and acquittal,” we make it very hard for The Lower 99 to see their common interests.
As a result, red and blue get jointly looted by The One Percent! (Really, by The 0.1 Percent.)
Abortion is an actual issue. To state the obvious, race, gender and sexual orientation all involve various real issues too. We just find ourselves amazed by the way race and gender are becoming the central, almost solitary focus of a tribal divide which is increasingly encouraged by forces on the so-called left.
Divide and conquer, the oligarchs have always said. Is it good for progressive interests when forces of the corporate left push this famous old process forward?
Tomorrow: Rappaccini’s web site