Sunday, August 09, 2009

Great Emancipator or Wingnut?

After reading Frank Lewis’s recent column “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon” on the Portsmouth Daily Times website, I thought I was back in 1989 when I arrived in Portsmouth and first read the Daily Times, which editorially was so far right back then that I wondered how many of its readers might belong to the KKK or the John Birch Society. When I later heard that the husband of a long-time city official had been a member of and an organizer for the KKK, I figured that was the kind of people who subscribed to the PDT, which I never have. I read Lewis's column online because I believe paying 50 cents for a copy of the PDT is contributing to the further moral and economic decline of Portsmouth. Now we have Lewis, twenty years later, as if it is 1989, as if nothing has changed. But something has changed. The world has changed tremendously, and so has the United States, and those who cannot deal with change have grown even more desperate than they were twenty years ago. Unable to deal with the fact that we have an African-American president, they are growing increasingly paranoid about the “govinment” and the “revenooers”; they have morphed into wingnuts. What’s a wingnut? The Urban Dictionary defines a wingnut as, “An outspoken, irrational person with deeply-held, nominally conservative, political views; a person who chooses on principle to be flagrantly ignorant; a ‘right-wing nut’.” Wingnuts now constitute the base, in more than one sense, of the "Party of No!" Where are the rational, sober conservatives, which the country needs now more than ever?

In my most recent River Vices posting, “Rebranding Shawnee State U.,” I had the displeasure of analyzing an embarrassing writing performance by Wayne Allen in the Community Common, and here, several days later, on a Saturday night, when I could be watching Law and Order, I’m reading Frank Lewis’s “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon” on the PDT website, listening to the roar of the jalopies at the Portsmouth Raceway, wondering which of the two, the drivers at the Raceway or the reporters at the PDT, are the biggest polluters—the drivers of the atmosphere and the reporters of the English language.

Crystal Bull

Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote a column last week about the kind of wingnut circles which Lewis apparently moves, or at least surfs, in. “Obama’s election, far from alleviating paranoia in the white fringe,” Rich wrote, “has only compounded it.” The “birther” movement, which claims Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore cannot be president; the so-called Tea Party tax-revolters who accuse Obama of being a closet socialist; the anti-health reform militants, who are being egged on by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News—these are three issues the wingnuts are currently becoming obstreperous about. Looking into his crystal ball, or at his wingnut websites, Lewis writes, “I believe that a taxpayer revolt is coming. I think the recent Tea Parties are nothing compared to what will happen if we continue on the slippery slope of government-run health care, auto industry financial institutions, etc.” That “etc.” is meant to cover everything imaginable, because wingnuts imagine a conspiracy so vast and pervasive there is no way to escape from it.

I disagree with Mr. Lewis. In my opinion, Obama is attempting to save capitalism from itself, the way Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the 1930s. I am old enough to remember Republicans accusing F.D.R. of being a communist or at least a “class traitor” for standing up to the Wall Street crooks in the process of saving capitalism. The fact that it is a black man who is attempting to save capitalism is driving some white people who will never admit they are racists out of their heads. In the eyes of the wingnuts “revenooers” are bad enough, but when the “govinment” is headed by a black socialist “revenooer”, that expands their paranoia exponentially. I am concerned that some disturbed person, feeding on the wingnut hysteria. might try to do to the president what the racist, anti-Semitic madman did to Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in a Kansas church.

Great Prevaricator

Which is my segue for the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, whom Lewis claims to quote in the closing of his ignorant and prejudiced “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon.” I was almost certain these “Lincoln Quotes” Lewis provided were false as soon as I read them, and it took me only five seconds on a Google search to find the proof that they are false, five seconds Lewis surely must have had at his disposal to make the same search. In the Google search box I typed in the first “Lincoln” quotation, “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich,” and within a fraction of a second it came up with the truthorfiction website, which tells us that “These words are often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but according to the book They Never Said it: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions, they are not from Lincoln. The quotes were published in 1942 by William J. H. Boetcker, a Presbyterian minister. He released a pamphlet titled Lincoln On Limitations, which did include a Lincoln quote, but also added 10 statements written by Boetcker himself.

So the quotations Mr. Lewis claims are Lincoln’s are not. These are not the thoughts of Lincoln, and these are not the words of Lincoln; this is not the kind of language Lincoln would have used if they were his thoughts. These are the words of a clerical neo-wingnut, written about 70 years ago, not the words of the president of the United States written about 150 years ago. Anyone with an awareness of American English as it developed in the successive stages of American history should have been suspicious about these quotes and checked them out. Though he does make his living using the English language, Mr. Lewis obviously does not fall into the category of someone who is aware of the development of American English, not if he cannot tell or at least suspect that there is a big difference between the language of a neo-wingnut Presbyterian writing in the middle of the twentieth century from the language of the sixteenth president of the United States writing in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was Rev. Boetcker, not President Lincoln, who was sticking up for the rich. In my opinion, Mr. Lewis, himself an Apostolic minister, I am told, makes his living as a reporter who uses the English language to apologize and cover up for the rich of Portsmouth. It is wingnuts like him and the late Rev. Boetcker, not Lincoln, who are defending the rich. If Mr. Lewis did not apologize and cover up, he would be out of his PDT job fast, like Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla were. Neither Barron or Deaterla were crusading reporters. They just didn’t cover up and apologize enough.

In its fast-changing cast of employees, the incredibly shrinking PDT is currently advertizing for a sports writer, an advertiser manager (“in a fast-growing company”), and an “experienced editor” (“Come join our growing company in a pleasant community in a beautiful part of the state”). Jason Lovins is still listed as the Managing Editor of the PDT. If he remains at the paper, and is not already gonzo like Arthur Kuhn, Lovins has to bear some responsibility for the ignorance and prejudice Mr. Lewis displayed in “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon.” A managing editor is supposed to monitor and edit his reporters. Or did Lovins fall for the Lincoln quotes too? What have several generations of American high school students been taught to memorize the "Gettysburg Address" for if not to appreciate how English can be used succinctly, clearly, yet eloquently.

There are, like me, hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Portsmouth who refuse to subscribe to the PDT. It is too much to expect people to pay for a shrinking “six-days-a-week” newspaper whose main reason for existing appears to be to cover up and apologize for the rich lawyers and developers who control Portsmouth. A virtual boycott of the PDT has existed for some time. This virtual boycott and the precarious position of newspapers in our digital world mean that the PDT may not be long for this world. Few will mourn its passing, especially those who admire Abraham Lincoln not for defending scalawags but for, at the cost of his life, helping free the slaves and save the union.