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Jazz, Politics, Edward Kennedy and the Ghosts of Richard Nixon: Our American Dialogue and the Hatfields and McCoys

Carl L. Hager By

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The greatest of these lies is that we are a divided people who can't talk to each other. True, it's difficult to assign all the blame for forwarding this fiction to the electronic news media. The print boys do their fair share, too. There are people in advertising agencies and PR firms who will do anything for a buck, so wrapping a destructive communication in a pretty package is fine with them. And of course, there is that politician who has no qualms about employing any and all of these people and their skills to gain ascendancy. Divide and conquer is the oldest strategy in history. To spare your enemies and use these heinous tactics on your fellows is the filthiest crime there is.

Why? Because we need each other, and we know it. In hard times, we need each other even more, and we know it. We need to pull together. Nearly everyone understands this quite well.

But it's obvious that not everyone accepts the idea, because when times are this hard, someone is making it hard. When the majority of us 314 million Americans are working harder than ever, spending more wisely and focusing our energies more discerningly than we have in three generations, and the situation still refuses to improve, something is deadly wrong. Someone—some ones of us—are pushing down even harder than the majority of us are pushing upward. How hard are these few psychos working to stop the thing from getting anywhere? Harder than the combined efforts of all the rest of us to get it working again. That's a lot of push-down. But it's not a class or race or political party or philosophy or type or income bracket or demographic category that is pushing down. It is a person who tells you the solution as a society is to engage in name-calling, subterfuge and division. You vs. All of Them is the battle cry of the insane.

Sadly, in these difficult, contentious times, a person promulgating the concept of a politically divided America is accepted more easily than during the good times. People are looking for answers even more earnestly than ever. The purveyors of chaos and preachers of doom know this, depend on it in fact, because without your acceptance of their simplistic black-and-white dichotomies that pit one generalized philosophy or position or group against another—You against the Other—they'd have no power of persuasion over you, and no "solution" to sell you.

People harbor grudges, of course. Some carry on feuds, vendettas fueled by personal hurts and wrongs, real or imagined. No sane person would dispute that there are indeed a few real enemies in the world, evil beings who demonstrably seek the destruction of all things good and well intended.

Cats and Dogs Sleep Together

But it isn't the Liberals and Conservatives. They are not natural enemies any more than are union workers and non-union workers, small businesses and big corporations, Gentiles and Jews, or blacks and whites. I don't believe I've ever asked someone how they voted in an election, or whether they were Republican or Democrat. I've never had a single friend who condemned or deserted me because of my political philosophy, religious beliefs or work affiliation, let alone sought my destruction for it. I can count the number of times in my life that I've been asked by anyone (other than a pollster or hospital administrator) to place myself in one of these artificial societal categories—to indicate whether I am Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, Christian or Jew, pro-life or pro-choice, etc.—on the fingers of one hand. More to the point, in each of these cases the inquiry was a result of the inquiring person's imperceptiveness or unwillingness to have a real conversation. On the other hand, if you cloister yourself and never associate with anyone outside a small, unchanging circle of like-minded priests and priestesses devoted to your own orthodox ideology, the noise that glass seal on the fire alarm makes when you break it will be nothing compared to the alarm.

In 1972, just weeks after one of the few actual landslide presidential elections in American history (Republican candidate Richard Nixon received 520 electoral votes, his Democrat opponent George McGovern got 17, and Libertarian John Hospers, 1) Pauline Kael, the iconic film critic for the New Yorker magazine, is famously quoted as saying she couldn't believe Nixon had won, because no one she knew had voted for him—apparently due to the infrequency of her trips away from Manhattan into any other part of New York, whose voters had helped elect Nixon. Whether it was her line or someone else's, the more revealing quote (according to Israel Shenker's New York Times article of December 28, 1972, covering the lecture she gave at the Modern Language Association) quoted Kael as saying, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."



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