2017-10-03 03:03:09 UTC
The Boston Globe
Arguable - with Jeff Jacoby
Monday, October 2, 2017
Massacre in Las Vegas
More than 50 people were murdered, and at least 200 wounded, when a gunman
in a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on a crowd at a country music festival late
last night. It was one of the worst mass shootings in modern US history.
Americans will be dealing with the aftermath of this horror for a long time
As I write, little is known about the shooter, who is now dead, except his
identity: He was Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nev. His motives, his
connections, his ideology, his accomplices — all that remains to be learned.
Inevitably, this bloodbath will reopen the endless debate over gun control.
That is understandable and appropriate. But why do so many people feel that
their very first reaction to such a terrible event must be to start venting
politics? The bodies of the dead were still warm, and the wounded were still
bleeding, when the political posturing and agenda-thumping began.
On Twitter and Facebook, on news websites and talk shows, there was an
instantaneous freshet of comments about gun control and white males and
terrorism and the presumed partisan leanings of the shooter. Of course none
of these topics should be off-limits. But none of them needs to be expressed
within minutes of learning that hundreds of fellow citizens have been cut
There is a time for everything, and the immediate wake of a ghastly mass
murder is a time for tears and silence and prayer — not for exploiting the
dead to advance a political agenda. It’s not that political agendas don’t
matter; democratic self-government would be impossible without them. But we
shouldn’t be so consumed with politics that we see nothing else when a
tragedy takes place.
In the first jolting moments after so terrible a crime, racing to score
political points should not be anyone’s priority.
In a column following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, I described a
different response, more humane and meaningful to a bloody tragedy.
On April 4, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was on his way to a campaign rally in
Indianapolis when he learned that Martin Luther King had been assassinated
in Memphis. Breaking the news to the largely black audience, the normally
hyperpartisan Kennedy had the grace and good judgment to rise above
"You can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for
revenge," he told his listeners. But "what we need in the United States is
not hatred . . . but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another."
From memory, he quoted Aeschylus, who wrote 25 centuries ago of the wisdom
that pain and despair can reveal. And Kennedy ended with a plea as poignant
and relevant today as it was in 1968:
"Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to
tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us
dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country, and for our
How powerful a government?
Boston’s Faneuil Hall — the original “cradle of liberty” — is a splendid
place to debate the workings of democracy. Faneuil Hall is where Samuel
Adams formed the Sons of Liberty, and where Massachusetts colonists first
met to protest the British Parliament’s Tea Act. It was a favorite venue of
abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in
the years before the Civil War. It was where John F. Kennedy closed his
successful presidential campaign on Election Eve in 1960 — and where his
brother Edward opened his own unsuccessful presidential campaign 19 years
Dominating the west wall of Faneuil Hall’s main chamber is George P.A. Healy’s
dramatic painting, “Webster Replying to Hayne.” It depicts Massachusetts
Senator Daniel Webster, one of the great orators in American history,
speaking from the floor of the Senate chamber during the “nullification”
crisis of the late 1820s. Southern leaders had insisted that states had the
right to nullify federal laws of which they disapproved; Webster argued
forcefully that they did not, and that the integrity of the national union
took precedence over any state’s demand for autonomy.
The speech portrayed in the Fanueil Hall painting has often been called the
most eloquent speech ever delivered in Congress, and its ringing final words
appear on the frame: “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and
Webster Replying to Hayne (1830), Faneuil Hall, Boston
If you visit Faneuil Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 11, you can take part in a
debate on a contrary proposition: whether Congress should have the right to
nullify a law passed by any state. This isn’t a roiling controversy today,
when the supremacy of the federal government over the states is
well-established. (Too well-established, some of us might say.) But once
upon a time, it was a burning issue, and its great exponent was James
Madison. Harvard Business School professor David Moss and Marc Campasano
tell the story in Democracy: A Case Study, a new book that applies the
business school’s famous “case method” to 19 pivotal moments in US
In yesterday’s Boston Globe Ideas section, Moss and Campasano recalled the
tumultuous years when the United States was governed in accordance with the
Articles of Confederation: the years when Congress was weak and could not
levy taxes, when the states engaged in internecine trade wars, and when
thousands of angry farmers fomented rebellion in Massachusetts. At the time,
George Washington — the young nation's greatest hero — described himself as
“mortified beyond expression” that Americans, having won such a hard-fought
war for independence, were making themselves look “ridiculous & contemptible
in the eyes of all Europe.”
The answer to the crisis, Madison concluded, was a much stronger central
government. When a convention was called in Philadelphia to revise the
Articles of Confederation, he proposed that Congress be given a “federal
negative” — the right to strike down any law passed by a state legislature.
In the end, of course, that didn’t happen: The convention instead wrote a
brand-new Constitution — one that greatly strengthened the central
government, but also reserved key powers exclusively to the states.
That wasn’t the last word on the subject, not by a long shot. One way or
another, Americans have been contending for better than two centuries over
the best way to balance state and federal power. The relationship between
Washington and the states has been colored by the Civil War and the 14th
Amendment, by the admission of new states and the direct election of
senators, by federal civil rights laws and the acceptance of judicial
supremacy, by the vast expansion of federal spending and the even vaster
expansion of federal regulation.
I would argue that Washington now is much too influential and that the
states have been dangerously handicapped. I am persuaded that if Madison
were alive today, he would be scandalized by the immense degree of control
wielded by the national government, and by the pathetic reduction of the
states to mere satrapies willing to swallow almost any encroachment in order
to receive federal funds.
And so the debate goes on, as it should. If you’ll be in Boston next week,
you can be part of it. At a public forum in Faneuil Hall, in connection with
the annual HUBweek festival sponsored in part by The Boston Globe,
Professor Moss will lead a public discussion of this case. The program is
free and open to the public, but seats are limited, so registration is
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Think left and think right and think low and think high
Domenic Sarno, the Democratic mayor of Springfield, Mass., had some choice
words for Liz Phipps Soeiro, the Cambridge librarian who snottily rejected a
gift of Dr. Seuss books sent to her school by First Lady Melania Trump.
Dr. Seuss — the pen name of Theodor Geisel — was born and raised in
Springfield, which today is home to The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss, a museum
dedicated to the life and work of the extraordinarily popular children’s
author. In a letter addressed to Mrs. Trump, the mayor blasted Soeiro’s
put-down of Dr. Seuss as “ridiculous” and “political correctness at its
worst.” Sarno said his city would happily take the books if Cambridge doesn’t
want them, and invited the First Family to visit Springfield and take in the
Dr. Seuss museum.
Soeiro’s attack was disgraceful and rude, and the backlash it provoked was
entirely justified. Even the Cambridge school district hastily dissociated
itself from the ill manners of its librarian. Who, it turns out, was not
only discourteous but hypocritical to boot: Twitter users quickly turned up
posts from 2015 showing Soeiro dressed as the Cat in the Hat , and presiding
over a Dr. Seuss birthday breakfast of green eggs.
Needless to say, Soeiro’s public rejection of the First Lady’s gift had less
to do with any political solecism on the part of Dr. Seuss, and everything
to do with her distaste for the Trump administration. Theodor Geisel was no
right-winger, after all. Christopher Klein, writing about Dr. Seuss for the
History Channel, notes that he drew political cartoons for a left-leaning
As the Nazi tanks rolled into Paris in 1940, Dr. Seuss felt compelled to
express his opposition to American isolationists, particularly aviation hero
Charles Lindbergh. “I found that I could no longer keep my mind on drawing
pictures of Horton the Elephant. I found myself drawing pictures of
Lindbergh the Ostrich,” he said. Between 1940 and 1942, Geisel drew over 400
editorial cartoons skewering isolationists at home and the Axis abroad for
the liberal newspaper “PM.”
Measured against today’s standards, some of those drawings were racist in
their depiction of Japan’s rulers, but by all accounts Geisel was a liberal
Democrat who supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.
“His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and
he urged action against it both before and after the United States entered
World War II,” states the Wikipedia entry on Dr. Seuss . “His cartoons
portrayed the fear of communism as overstated, finding greater threats in
the House Un-American Activities Committee and those who threatened to cut
the US ‘life line’ to Stalin and the USSR.”
But when it comes to Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, political messages are
for the most part nonexistent.
There are a few exceptions. I will admit to detesting The Lorax, a
tendentious and preachy environmental screed that treats business as little
more than concentrated greed. For example:
I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go.
business is business!
And business must grow
regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.
On the other hand, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose makes for a terrific
parable about the dangers of unrestrained welfare-state policies, and how
they end up crushing well-meaning and productive members of society under a
load they cannot bear. Thidwick is a generous moose who gladly allows a
Bingle Bug to hitch a ride on his antlers. Then a Tree-Spider hops aboard,
then a “fresh little Zinn-a-zu-Bird.”
Soon Thidwick finds himself supporting a large population of mooches, who
come to regard his hospitality as an entitlement that may not be curtailed.
When the moose needs to cross a lake for food, his “guests” put it to a
vote, with predictable results:
He stepped in the water. Then, oh! what a fuss!
“STOP!” screamed his guests. “You can't do this to us!
These horns are our home and you've no right to take
Our home to the far distant side of the lake!"
“Be fair!” Thidwick begged, with a lump in his throat.
“We're fair," said the bug.
"We'll decide this by vote.
All those in favor of going, say 'AYE,'
All those in favor of staying, say 'NAY'."
“AYE!” shouted Thidwick,
But when he was done,
“NAY!” they all yelled.
He lost ‘leven to one.
“We win!” screamed the guests, “by a very large score!”
And poor, starving Thidwick climbed back on the shore.
When my kids were small, our house was filled with Dr. Seuss books, many of
which were read aloud over and over and over. Like tens of millions of other
children, mine loved Dr. Seuss not because of any political themes he
expressed, but because of his exuberant tales, his comical drawings, his
catchy rhymes and driving meter, and his hilariously joyful made-up words.
For decades, Dr. Seuss’s books have been a source of happiness and delight —
and sometimes wisdom — for countless families like mine. There is every
reason to think they will be captivating new readers for decades to come.
Not because they’re political, but because they’re magical.
To be gifted with a pile of Dr. Seuss books is to be gifted with children’s
laughter and adult glee, with zany plots and lyrical silliness, with love of
language and kindness and imagination. What kind of Grinch would say no to
In yesterday's column , I wrote about a state legislator's proposed bill to
ban "any false information" from being expressed in political campaign
materials — and to punish any violators by seizing all the funds in their
campaign bank accounts. Such a law would egregiously violate the First
Amendment. Of course truth is important, but when it comes to political
debate, the Constitution leaves it to the people, not to government
regulators, to determine the truth or falsity of public speech. Bottom line?
Politicians who object to their critics' claims should refute those critics,
not threaten them with prosecution.
Last Wednesday's column , written amid the controversy over football players
kneeling in protest, asked: What is the national anthem doing at sporting
events in the first place? Originally a gesture of spontaneous, heartfelt
patriotism, it has been transformed into an enforced, rote display of
national loyalty, ripe for exploiting by players or politicians with a
disruptive agenda. "Playing the national anthem before every team sport,
track meet, and auto race hasn’t deepened American unity and love of
country," I wrote. "It has tarnished it."
Wild Wild Web
Always wanted your own rhombicuboctahedron? Now you can make one!
On Rosh Hashanah, the most prominent rabbi in America condemned the
president. It was 1935, and the president was FDR.
What would happen if you never washed your sheets?
A budget airline wants to do away with seats and make all its cattle
Mom tells her little boy she’s going to have a baby. He finds that very
The last line
“And the turtles, of course . . .
all the turtles are free.
As turtles and, maybe,
all creatures should be.” — Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
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