Monday, February 08, 2016

The Clintons hit New Hampshire

A miscreant has been released from his cage. Bill Clinton is once again prowling the presidential campaign trail. The latest version looks pale and more corpselike than we remember, but that oily rhetoric is as disingenuous and focus group-controlled as it ever was.

Despite a rash of remarkably good fortune-- Hillary is even luckier at coin flips than she is at cattle futures-- the Democratic Party’s establishment campaign is tipping towards Code Orange. The one and only knock against Bernie Sanders-- his supposed unelectability-- has been blown to smithereens by the latest polls, so, like his daughter before him, Bill has been sent to the stump with a script of misinformation and his work cut out for him. Just how dull have the edges become around this group of experienced political hacks that they’re retreating to the right even before the primary season has ended. The old Bill and Hillary knew enough to pander to liberals at least through Super Tuesday.

Bill tackled historical precedent yesterday. The Clintons were among the corporate Democrats in 2000 and 2004 that demonized Ralph Nader for running an independent presidential campaign against the Democrats in the general election. Hillary said at the time, "His campaign in 2000 cost Al Gore the election. He claimed he was in it against corporate interest because he cared about the environment... and he basically deprived America of the greenest president we could have had, and someone who I don't believe would have made a lot of the mistakes that unfortunately we've had to live with from President Bush." (I wondered if she's referring to the colossal mistake of going to war against Iraq, a mistake she voted for.) Now that script must be upside-down because check out this statement by Bill on Sunday. He said that, because Sanders has been an active fundraiser for the party, having "hobnobbed with the millionaires and billionaires," he "might have to tweak" his anti-Wall Street rhetoric "or we might have to get a write-in candidate.

Wow. "A write-in candidate." He really went there. I mean I knew it would happen, but not during the first week of February. Would the Goldman Sachs wing of the Democratic party really subvert the effort by abandoning Bernie Sanders as the party’s nominee? Because if they do, a George W. Bush might be elected? Any and all wars started by the Trump White House would be the fault of these subversives. It would cost progressives the 'x' number of seats that will come up for grabs on the Supreme Court during the next four years. This is the most important election of our lifetime.TM

Bill wasn’t done. He went on to lie that the “Bernie Bros,’ the mythical misogynists of the interwebs, were wreaking havoc online, subjecting Hillary’s supporters to "vicious trolling and attacks." What he's attempting to conjure is laughable in so many ways. First of all, arguably no American politician ever publicly disgraced a woman as much as Bill did Hillary for the duration of a long career. He is misogyny in the flesh. The 42nd President’s litany of crimes against women would be enough to make his wife a sympathetic actor if she hadn’t routinely acted as his co-conspirator in defaming the victims of the state power he exercised. In Hillary’s rhetorical world, “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported." Unless that woman is Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, or Kathleen Willey, just a few of the female stalkers that dogged Clinton's every step during his time in executive office. Clinton's supporters "trolled" Bill's employment underlings and sexual assault accusers by calling them bimbos, liars, "trailer trash," and whores. And those were not online trolls, those were the operatives in the Clinton West Wing.

I know that Bill telling manufactured stories at a campaign rally are pretty mild stuff compared with the stunt he pulled the week prior to the 1992 New Hampshire Primary-- that’s the cycle during which he flew to Arkansas to supervise the execution of a retarded African-American, Rickey Ray Rector, a victim of the state who saved the dessert from his last meal "for later"-- but it’s still enough to get one’s blood boiling.

Also, there is no such thing as a "Bernie Bro." Reptilian Clinton surrogates invented that concept sometime during a closed-door meeting last week after the campaign’s ugly polling numbers among young women started bleeding onto her polling numbers with all women. The same condescending electoral strategy includes unleashing Gloria Steinem onto the Bill Maher show to suggest that young women are following Bernie because "where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie," and then to have Madeline Albright say explicitly to Bernie’s female supporters, while standing on stage next to Hillary, that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.” Historical legacies are being torched this year faster than poll numbers are reversing.

It’s hard to believe that these tactics, which can be called "Clintonian" with historical context, would be successful with progressive voters, but we’ve seen it before. The problem they have running against a Bernie Sanders-- or a Ralph Nader for that matter-- is that both the public records and private lives of these candidates are unimpeachable. The only avenues left are distortion and dishonesty, and those aren't off-ramps for the ethically-challenged. There have obviously been some hurried, anxious meetings in the Clinton camp in recent days. A sixteen-year personal bid for the presidency, fueled first by the public's affection for a wronged woman and then by gobs and gobs of Wall Street cash, is being permanently endangered-- and by a Socialist candidate at that. The level of frustration and anger that reality must cause for the Clinton team and its supporters is probably equal to the level of beautiful poignancy it means for true progressive revolutionaries.

The triangulators, having long ago abandoned the principles of the New Deal that Bernie champions, must be asking themselves, what can we say now to voters to stop the hemorrhaging? But there is nothing they can say. There are positive indicators now that we're on the verge of a new breed of voter. The internet has changed democracy. The echo chamber for left-wing radicalism, of which this blog has been a small part for eleven years, reverberates louder than ever. The art of political spin is no longer respected by either the right or the left. The people want truth. The news media can engage in an almost complete blackout of the Sanders campaign, and it did-- in 2015, ABC News devoted 261 minutes to the 2016 race, 81 minutes to Donald Trump and 20 seconds to Bernie, and still the revolution rises. Perhaps it’s the case-- finally-- that what you do-- and have done-- in American politics really does count for more than what you say. If that’s the case, say a final goodbye to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Big Game's non-story

It is completely bewildering to me as to why Peyton Manning doesn’t get the Mark McGwire media treatment. The “ageless wonder” is not a wonder at all, if you buy into the narrative that he used Human Growth Hormone. And why wouldn’t you buy into it? The NFL's model citizen is 39, he’s two and half years removed from major neck surgery, and an employee at a medical clinic in Indianapolis, under secret surveillance, has him just this year ordering packages of HGH to his mansion under his wife’s name.

The National Football League schedules 13 days off between the two league championship games and the Super Bowl, six thousand “journalists” have media passes for the Super Bowl and its adjoining events/parties, and nary a soul is talking or writing about this. Nobody in the Associated Press is nosing through Manning’s locker. Could it be that members of our Fourth Estate are more interested in access to power than the delivery of information? One of the NFL’s two biggest stars got caught cheating red-handed this year, and the other one is Tom Brady.

If and when you choose to listen to Jim Nantz on CBS tonight, don't expect him to bring up the topic. He's already avoided it in two other televised Broncos games. Nantz teamed with Manning on a commercial for Sony television years ago, and when asked why he and his broadcast partner didn't broach the subject of Al Jazeera's HGH report on a Broncos/Chargers game last month, he said firmly, ""No, why would we? If we talk about it, we would only continue to breathe life into a story that on all levels is a non-story. Why add another layer to it?"

Why would he? There's a game on.

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When prominent St. Louis businessmen pitched the NFL a new riverfront stadium proposal for their city, the financing plan called for $300 million to be contributed towards construction by the league. At the ownership meeting last month, commissioner Roger Goodell told the collected owners before their vote on Los Angeles relocation that said plan was unacceptable by league standards. The NFL had a hard and fast rule, he warned, that permits no more than $200 million in league money to go towards new team facilities. Goodell told the owners that the proposal should not be taken seriously, and then Rams owner Stan Kroenke said bluntly a day after that the stadium plan-- as well as the entire financial situation in St. Louis-- would be ruinous not only for the Rams if they were forced to stay, but for any other franchise that might think of relocating there.

Last week, under the cover of the Super Bowl's media glare, the NFL agreed to provide the city of San Diego $300 million towards a potential new stadium for the Chargers.

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Stan Kroenke is a bald asshole.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The aftermath

I don’t think outsiders can fully understand the dynamics of the Iowa Caucus-- the sheer accessibility of the candidates to Iowans. From where I live, on the edge of downtown Des Moines, the circus drops by on a daily basis. Nearly all of the televised debates took place within 10 blocks of us, either at Drake University to our north and west, or at the Events Center downtown, to our east. The television producers set up their local studios at downtown locations like Java Joes coffeehouse on 6th street. The local CBS-TV affiliate is four blocks to our east, the NBC affiliate four blocks to our south. Nobody watches the ABC affiliate.

The star-watching is unlike Hollywood or Manhattan Island in the sense that these are famous people that are not going out of their way to avoid you. The candidates want to meet you. They need you. There were more than 15 Republican and Democratic candidates this year, and unlike past cycles, none of this year's candidates skipped Iowa. Virtually all of the candidate parties on caucus night were held downtown. Not only could you see every candidate if you lived here, but you could meet a majority of them, and you could do so without owning a car.

I skipped it all though. And I stayed home during the caucus to make sure that no national party hacks from either side broke into the other condominium units.

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It’s the biggest party on Iowa’s social calendar over a 48-month period, I'm right in the middle of it, and I still wish I was in New Orleans right now for Carnival.

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An anti-Wall Street political independent just scored a tie in Iowa for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and he did so running against one of the three party standard-bearers of our time (Clinton, Clinton, Obama-- he was kind of running against all three). This extraordinary moment has many parents and grandparents, but here are two groups that will go largely unheralded for their major contributions, and they shouldn’t-- 1) the Occupy movement, and 2) Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. The Tea Partiers have their political victories, and now the Occupy activists have theirs. The group never allowed itself to be co-opted by corporatists, or Democrats, and today, despite America's embarrassingly-short term memory, they are winners.

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Word comes today that the voting was so close, six tie-breaking coin flips, each in different precincts, made the difference in which candidate got the majority of the delegates. Pundits say Clinton may hold the advantage ultimately because she has the support of the "super-delegates."

I know what you're thinking. Coin flips and delegates that have more power than other delegates so they get to be called "super"-- these Iowa Caucuses just get more and more fascinating!

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The probability of Clinton winning all six coin flips-- as she did-- is 1.563%.

Yep. That's the probability of that.

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Bernie carried the youth vote by 70%! Now let's keep watching and see if Democrats are capable of reading political and cultural trends.

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The New York Times endorsed Hillary Clinton the day before the Iowa Caucuses. I don't understand the timing. New Yorkers won't vote for weeks. But of course they endorsed her-- both the candidate and the paper endorsed the War on Iraq. Fat lot of good the endorsement did last night, by the way, and today, some idiot of theirs attempts to explain why the tie is somehow a win for the woman that led the polls by more than sixty percent a year ago.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

MTF XIV

Moeller Television Festival XIV arrives today in Cedar Rapids. It's an annual tradition on the blog to publish the greetings that Aaron and I write for the festival programs. We're the co-founders of the event and here they are...


To participate in today’s caucus, you must be registered to vote and be 18 years or older by the date of the general election in November. If you are not registered, you can get a card by seeing Gretta Bromley. She’s wearing a green smock, a Gary Bauer button, and inadvertently, her wig backwards. 

Once the caucus is called to order, party leaders (that’s not you, stay seated) take care of general business, including the election of a chairperson, a secretary, behavior auditors, and somebody to supervise the E-meter. After a performance of the Battle Hymn of the Republic by our precinct’s Log Cabin Crossing Guards, the caucus is ready to begin. 

You will first divide according to your initial candidate of preference. Those of you supporting the Paul Tsongas/Miami Sound Machine presidential ticket are here on the wrong year. We’ll give you a moment to file out. The number of state delegates in play is proportional to the number of votes received in a state primary or caucus, but federal law doesn’t dictate how states choose their delegates so we decided on a variation of the car key game used at suburban wife-swapping parties. After the first vote has been recorded, a splinter group of the party has asked to address the gathering in the form of public counter-accusations of personal wrongdoing and thinly-disguised physical threats—also, forced abortions, if the opportunity presents itself. 

Next is the In Memorium video segment. Longtime party member Ruth Stockman died this past summer of an extreme case of chapped lips. She was the head of our internet spamming division. Her son, Mark, is joining us today to try to get some attention. 

Still delaying the final vote on the presidential nominee so that you can’t leave, we will then discuss planks to the party platform. This year, our pre-submitted proposals include eliminating the community’s 9-1-1 emergency system, opposing the Treaty of Versailles, endorsing the eight-hour work day, and encouraging the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Because this is a presidential year, there will be coffee provided. 

The final, binding vote to elect our party’s presidential candidate comes last so have your car keys ready at this time. Then, on your way out the door with your new life partner, please do not speak to the media. It is important that party communication be consistent at all times and that selective disclosure be avoided at all costs. Failure to stay silent may result in significant liability for the party, and lead to a repeat of the UFO religion affair. 

Please remember that this event is considered the first true test of the presidential race, and is, therefore, vitally important to our state and to our party. Please stand with pride tonight during party pride standing hour, for ours is the political engine that got Bobby Brown out of New Edition, wrecked the marriage of Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, and single-handedly keeps the ION television network on the air. 

Hugs, 
Chris Moeller 
Party Comandante and official spell-checker 

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Moeller Television Festival Historical Lists by Aaron Moeller 

6 Most Frequently Screened Shows at Moeller Television Festivals 
Late Night/The Late Show w/David Letterman (10 times) 
The Simpsons (10 times) 
Cheers (8) 
Newsradio (8- counting this year) 
Taxi (8) 
WKRP in Cincinnati (8) 

4 Shows With Highest Percentage of Total Series Episodes Screened 
Mr. Show with Bob and David 13.3% 
WKRP in Cincinnati 8.9% 
Newsradio 8.2% 
Arrested Development 7.4% 

6 Great Shows Never Screened at a Moeller Television Festival 
The Wire 
Mad Men 
Breaking Bad 
Night Court 
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (until this year) 

4 Shows That May Surprise You Have Been Screened 
Family Feud 
The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder 
The Muppet Show 
60 Minutes (three times) 

5 Big TV Stars You've Never Heard Of 
Tom Selleck 
Jimmie “Dy-no-mite!” Walker 
Abraham Kardashian 
Marlee Matlin's interpreter 
Bob Hope 

5 Actors with Big, Infectious Laughs 
Roseanne 
Ricky Gervais 
Alan Alda 
Robin Williams 
Horshack 

5 Things You Could Be Doing Right Now 
Volunteering at a hospital 
Volunteering with Meals on Wheels 
Volunteering with The Boys and Girls Club 
Refilling your drink 
Refilling my drink 

Aaron's 5 Funniest People (after Woody Allen and Steve Martin) 
Todd Barry 
Ricky Gervais 
Jonathan Katz 
Tracy Morgan 
Kevin Nealon 

The 5 People Aaron Thinks Chris Would Say Are the Funniest 
David Letterman 
Martin Short 
Tina Fey 
That guy from that one movie that Chris thinks also might have been on Mad TV 
Himself 

4 Facts About the Moeller Television Festival 
1. The first four festivals were two-day events. 
2. For years a party sub from Subway was a mainstay at each festival. 
3. The first episode presented at the first festival was the Cheers where Cliff Clavin competes on Jeopardy. 
4. Three people have died of natural causes at Moeller Television Festivals, two people were killed off by George RR Martin, one died heroically and melodramatically on Grey’s Anatomy, two babies were born, and one was conceived during an episode of The Bob Newhart Show.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If you gotta caucus, vote Bernie

It would be really fun to vote against Hillary Clinton on Monday night. That would show her. But I can’t bring myself to attend a promotional and fundraising event for the Democratic party. It is the graveyard of progressive political ideas, and the caucuses are an unholy institution designed to suppress the will of the majority and keep it that way. The Hillary or Bernie debate should be happening in October, not January.

Instead, I offer the Democrats this simple promise. If you choose Bernie Sanders as your presidential candidate in the general election, you will have my vote. If you choose Hillary Clinton, you won’t.

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A lot of Democratic women are excited about voting for a woman. They’re flooding my Facebook feed. But if polls can be believed, virtually no registered Democratic women supported the McCain/Palin ticket. Funny that Clinton is considered such a friend to LGBT Americans since her husband gave us the Defense of Marriage Act, and she finally came out in support of gay marriage the same week that Bill O'Reilly did in 2013.

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Bernie Sanders is a remarkable candidate. His failure to pander to voters even on issues like taxes and gun rights drive home the point of what an empty pantsuit Hillary is. She is the Donald Trump of the Democratic race-- disingenuous and condescending. The difference is that he’s a mainstream Republican pretending to be a Tea Partier, and she’s a mainstream Republican pretending to be a Democrat. She truly thinks you are stupid-- sending her daughter out on the campaign trail to tell you that Bernie Sanders’ support for single-payer health insurance means he’s against affordable health care for working families. This is the same as when conservatives try to tell you that Nazis were left-wing Socialists. She's swift-boating him. In respect to Chelsea, being the only child of Bill and Hillary Clinton is a deeply unenviable position to be in, but the inability to feel shame is clearly a hereditary trait.

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I gave money to Planned Parenthood a couple years ago, and now I regret it. The best presidential candidate put forward by the duopoly in the lifetime of that organization comes along, and their directors choose this to be the one and only year they endorse someone-- his opponent. This lays bare the major political gap in this country between well-to-do, “liberal” white women, and the poor women of all colors that most require the services of Planned Parenthood. When I received my most recent financial plea from them, I scribbled the words “Ask Goldman Sachs” and sent it back.

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This list of political endorsements is instructive. Groups that follow the lead of their rank and file support Sanders. Political groups that have endorsement decisions made by “executive boards” choose Clinton.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Hemingses- A Book Report

Annette Gordon-Reed’s 2008 book “The Hemingses of Monticello” is simply the best non-fiction book I have ever read. Its jacket in paperback advertises it as a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award winner, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but I was only vaguely aware of its existence until a couple months ago-- that an African-American historian had written a notable book, first, on the vastly underexplored social and sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the much younger slave woman, Sarah “Sally” Hemings, that he owned as property and that was also the half-sister of his wife, and second, that the historian had followed up that tome with this more expansive biography of several generations of the Hemings family residing in Colonial Virginia.

What separates this book from other history texts is the extraordinary care and detail taken by Gordon-Reed to acknowledge what we have never been told, and to reconstruct historical records that are incomplete and often unreliable. Her book is endlessly thorough in exploring what it is about the relationships between the author of the Declaration of Independence and members of the Hemings family we can fairly assume to be true, and what we are left to speculate about. The central historical figure of the story is Sally, whose thoughts and actions have only been referred to peripherally until modern times, and indeed, whose humanity was not even acknowledged during her lifetime, having lived the totality of her life before the Emancipation Proclamation.

The author writes from the heretofore-ignored perspective of the utterly powerless. She’s forced to ferret out the actual details from historical documents that were written from the vantage point of persons that supported a doctrine of white supremacy. In the case of this family, the immediate perpetrator of their oppression, and many others they came into contact with, are considered giants in the nation’s history, treated by many still in fact to be akin to deities, growing in myth with the passing of time. The exploration of the lives of the Hemingses becomes essential because the men and women they slaved for lived such a well-documented life, and that allows us to search for truths in the margins.

Take for example, the details of Sally Hemings’ arrival in Paris at the age of 14 in 1787. The purpose of her sea voyage, as set by Jefferson, was to provide accompaniment for his daughter, Polly. The letters back and forth between Jefferson and his Virginia plantation, Monticello, address, not surprisingly, only the topic of Polly, but Gordon-Reed is concerned with the trip from Sally’s perspective. What would expectations have been for her? How would social propriety have been different for Sally than for Polly? The author examines how Sally is perceived by others, notably Abigail Adams, wife of John, who is living in London at the time, and receives the two girls as they are en route to France.

Abigail Adams would write to Jefferson: “The old nurse whom you expected to have attended her [Polly], was sick and unable to come. She has a Girl of about 15 or 16 with her, the Sister of the Servant you have with you [Sally’s brother, James]… The Girl who is with her is quite a child, and Captain Ramsey is of opinion will be of so little Service that he had better carry her back with him. But of this you will be a judge. She seems fond of the child and appears good naturd… The Girl she has with her, wants more care than the child, and is wholly incapable of looking properly after her, without some superiour to direct her. As both Miss Jefferson and the maid had cloaths only proper for the sea, I have purchased and made up for them, such things as I should have done had they been my own…”

Gordon-Reed impressively explores this letter from every possible angle, the account, as it is, from a privileged adult white woman about an African-American slave girl. She sections that Adams is, firstly, wrong about Sally’s age, thinking the girl to be two years older than she actually is, and therefore, believing her to be less emotionally or socially mature. The institution of slavery was also one defined in part by a hyper-paternalism so we must read also through that lens. Conflicting passages from Adams would suggest that Polly Jefferson was the one that was deeply immature, but the reverse is true in this letter to her father. Gordon-Reed explores other evidence known about Adams’ views on race, reminding modern readers that the Adams family’s well-known anti-slavery position did not mean they were not racists. She publishes text of revealing thoughts Abigail put down on paper later in life critiquing Shakespeare’s Othello-- "Who can sympathize with the love of Desdemona? The great moral lesson of the tragedy... is that black and white blood cannot be intermingled in marriage without a gross outrage upon the law of Nature."

Adams never refers to Sally by name in the letter to Jefferson. Remember that, in the United States, Sally was legally a non-person. Also, and this may have caught your eye in the text, as it did Gordon-Reed’s, what is “Captain Ramsey’s” motivation in proposing immediate return transportation for Sally? If this proposition is being accurately conveyed, why is the sailor suggesting to a third-party his opinion that Hemings will be of “so little Service” to the Jeffersons that she should be returned right away to the United States, and under his protection? The author doesn’t say so in so many words, but I will-- the implication of the offer is pretty gross. For Sally, the voyage would have been the hardest part. Once the girls have arrived in Paris, she could easily perform the same domestic duties she’s been performing in Virginia.

All of the historical records regarding Sally Hemings, early to late in her life, convey that she was observed-- by white, black, or biracial acquaintances universally-- to be physically attractive. Gordon-Reed is interested not only in that revealing comment by a peripheral character, but in Adams’ relaying of it. Needless to say, it would be totally unacceptable, in that time, for a ship captain to suggest to a Southern gentleman planter that a white girl from his household be returned to a separate continent in his custody-- and a lady at the very top of the social hierarchy, as Adams was, would never conceive of endorsing such a plan. There was a reason, after all, that everybody agreed at the outset that Polly should have a travel mate.

While Ramsey’s designs, if true, were certainly shaded by Hemings’ physical attractiveness, Adams was likely just as affected by Sally’s appearance in her motivation. She certainly knew also of the widower Jefferson’s reputation with the ladies, and the fact that there was a full staff of servants at Jefferson’s hotel residence in Paris, and Hemings would not even be asked to be the primary caregiver for Polly. Abigail Adams, therefore, comes off quite passive-aggressive in her correspondence. As Gordon-Reed points out, it would actually be insensitive to Polly to remove her from the presence of a girl almost exactly her age, whom she has known all of her life (who indeed is also her aunt), in a foreign country with a predominately foreign tongue, that comes from the same mountain community in Virginia and now shares the same life experience of cultural re-location. With both of Jefferson’s Paris-residing daughters bound for boarding school, is Adams’ actually concerned about the propriety of Hemings living in a small hotel apartment with Jefferson? And if so, is she genuinely concerned with Hemings’ well-being, or with Jefferson’s reputation in Europe and at home in the infant republic, or both? For sure, we should no better than to simply take Adams' written words at face value, yet that's the type of thing historians did for decades.

Writing a history about largely-undocumented people, and from an unexplored perspective cannot be easy. This is not copy and paste stuff. But laying open hidden bits of enlightenment from ancient evidence must be very gratifying for a writer, and the dissection of such is a blast to read. What Gordon-Reed is doing is truly re-writing the American historical record, and doing so in the best sense of that phrase. She’s providing a correction to a story that is monumentally significant in the narrative of the United States. It's the type of achievement for which the Pulitzer Prize should be given.

Even though there are countless texts from Jefferson describing his personal life, and countless more by others regarding Jefferson, it seems that the early American statesman made it the highest priority of his life to hide from his political enemies and the world the fact that he was basically living as a married man with a Negro woman after the death of his wife. Though we’d very much like to, sexual relationships between slave and master cannot be boiled down to just a story of rape. At the macro level, we can do it-- Sally could not give her sexual consent to Thomas Jefferson because, as reinforced by the law of the time, he didn’t need it. She was chattel. (For that matter, he also couldn't marry her, for the state would not recognize it.) His exasperating failure during his life-- and then upon his death-- to free all of his slaves and to put the principles of the Declaration of Independence at work in his own life make our story endlessly more fascinating.

It does an injustice to history to say that all of these slave/slaveholder sexual relationships were the same. Sally’s individualism cannot be sacrificed for the purpose of having her serve as representative of all other relationships, some of which, I promise, were vastly more stomach-turning than this one. Within none of the historical accounts does Jefferson come off as a man that felt he could rape black women with impunity (though, again, legally he could as long as they were his possession) and he did not exercise his power the way others did. By the same account, it cannot be demanded of Sally by historians that she attempt to violently resist or kill her master, as other black women did, to prove to latter-day observers that she had not given her consent.

What Gordon-Reed arrives at on this subject is that, where man meets woman, black meets white, and slave meets master, some significant parsing needs to be done to get to the most precise truths of these people. And even within that construct, a Thomas Jefferson, a Sally Hemings, an Annette Gordon-Reed, or a Chris Moeller is not the same person today that he or she was yesterday, will be tomorrow. In the author’s lively turn of phrase, “Not all of anyone ever always does anything.”

Where does that leave us? These people lived in a time that was almost unfathomably different than the time we live in today. Not only is it difficult to comprehend the concept of humans as property, but we’re thankfully far out of step with their ideas on the inequality of the sexes and the age-appropriateness of sexual relationships. I definitely do not write that to excuse the behavior of Thomas Jefferson. Abolitionists were alive and active, even in Virginia, at that time (and they were densely-populated in the locales of Paris, where Jefferson served as ambassador, and Philadelphia, where he served as President). Examples of Jefferson's writing reveal that he was aware of his own moral deficiencies on the subject, even if he had a hard time confronting them with honesty. Contrasting Jefferson with the Adamses is an interesting exercise as Jefferson was a slaveholder, yet had biracial people as his closest confidantes-- not only Sally but her brothers, and men that he freed as slaves later that he referred to for years as "friends." The Adamses were opposed to slavery, yet clearly held more socially-acceptable beliefs at the time (and less socially-acceptable today) about the importance of keeping the white race pure.


Gordon-Reed writes of the probability that Sally enjoyed a certain measure of contentedness in her relationship with Jefferson. The evidence suggests that he tried hard in his attempts to woo her, and was too accommodating a personality to have been comfortable bedding her against her will. He shopped extravagantly for her in Paris. (One recorded spree translates to a thousand dollars in today's money.) She was already pregnant with his child when they left Paris (she would bear six of his children), and according to one of their sons years later, Jefferson had to agree to free their future children as each reached the age of 21 in order to convince her to return to Virginia when she could have lived in France as a free person. (Hemings had some leverage at this one and only juncture of her life as Jefferson never registered his slaves in Paris, and stood to lose them if discovered by the authorities.) Writes the author, “The world sent (Sally) a very definite and hard message about enslavement at the same time as it conveyed another powerful message about what was to be her role in life as a woman-- partner to a man and a mother. Those roles were tenuous because the law did not protect her in either of them. They were not, however, meaningless to her."

Sally could have been treated well by Jefferson in private, even lived in love with him, but he could not acknowledge her in public. He could have set his slaves free even during the course of his life, but his obsession with his historical legacy and the financial situation of his white family claimed higher priorities. The Hemingses lived in the shadow of an extraordinarily important-- and extraordinarily flawed-- man. They were members of a population that was incalculably oppressed and dispossessed, collectively tortured, and almost entirely unrealized as individuals. A close relationship with the third President of the United States did not shield any of them from that. Our story spins almost out of comprehension when we consider that Thomas Jefferson had this large family that consisted of in-laws, cousins, children, and a life partner (of some definition) that were also his property, and even as I continue to write this report I feel the onerous weight of the topic upon a modern consciousness, and the very real danger of being misunderstood, or writing in an incomplete fashion. The topic is safe instead in the hands of Annette Gordon-Reed. You can borrow the book, but I encourage you to buy your own.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Moeller Television Festival XIV

It's almost two months late and switching cities, but the 14th annual comes this Saturday, January 30th, in Cedar Rapids at the home of Aaron and Alex Moeller. Starts at noon, and costs you nothing for a day of entertainment, food, and drink. RSVP today.


The Viewing Schedule...

“I’m So Bad” Inside Amy Schumer #12 Comedy Central 4/8/14
“Chuckles Bites the Dust” The Mary Tyler Moore Show #127 CBS 10/25/75
“The Gift of Hunger” Black-ish #7 ABC 11/12/14
“My Favorite Orkan” Happy Days #110 ABC 2/28/78
Open Remote: “Fattest Asses” Broad City #5 Comedy Central 2/19/14
“Complaint Box” Newsradio #42 NBC 1/29/97
“Officer of the Year” Hill Street Blues #40 NBC 10/28/82
“Guess Who” Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist #25 Comedy Central 11/10/96
“Show #11.21” The Carol Burnett Show #275 CBS 3/5/78
“Mazel Tov, Dummies!” 30 Rock #132 NBC 11/29/12
“Kimmy Rides a Bike!” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt #11 Netflix 3/6/15