We’ve had lots of fun comparing the White House’s attacks on Fox, Glenn Beck, Rush, Charles Krauthammer, Dinesh D’Sousza, the Washington Times, Forbes, and other doubleplusungood crimethink journalistic voices to Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon’s press secretary. And we’ve noted that the New York Times’ Paul Krugman has occasionally wished that President Obama could channel Nixon in terms of having even more of a statist economic plan. But the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen really goes for it!
I still ride a bike. I do 12 miles, several days a week, and as I do so I listen to music — the Pandora service on my iPhone. I have created a station that plays folk rock. Lately, it has repeatedly played the Neil Young song “Ohio”: “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?” On the bike, I have to repress a tear.
“Ohio” has been around for 40 years, and I have heard it over and over again. It’s about the 1970 killing of four students at Kent State University during a demonstration against the Vietnam War. The killers were the equally young men of the Ohio National Guard. I was in the National Guard myself once. How did this happen? “This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in Ohio.”
Obviously the reports of union-related violence against Kenneth Gladney, Bill Rice and other tea partiers has gotten to Cohen, and he’s attempt to place the Tea Party into context with other protest movements, right?
The governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, demonized the war protesters. They were “worse than the Brownshirts and the communist element. . . . We will use whatever force necessary to drive them out of Kent.”
That was the language of that time. And now it is the language of our time. It is the language of Glenn Beck, who fetishizes about liberals and calls Barack Obama a racist. It is the language of rage that fuels too much of the Tea Party and is the sum total of gubernatorial hopeful Carl Paladino’s campaign message in New York. It is all this talk about “taking back America” (from whom?) and this inchoate fury at immigrants and, of course, this raw anger at Muslims, stoked by politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Rick Lazio, the latter having lost the GOP primary to Paladino for, among other things, not being sufficiently angry. “I’m going to take them out,” Paladino vowed at a Tea Party rally in Ithaca, N.Y.
Back in the Vietnam War era, the left also used ugly language and resorted to violence. But the right, as is its wont, stripped the antiwar movement of its citizenship. It turned dissent into treason, which, in a way, was the worst treason of all. It made dissidents into the storied “other” who had nothing in common with the rest of us. They were not opponents; they were the enemy: Fire!
On my bike, I recalled those days and wondered if they have not returned. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words — that singsong rebuttal notwithstanding — can kill. We lose presidents to words and civil rights leaders to words — homosexuals and immigrants and abortion providers, too. Richard Nixon is named in the song because he was the president at the time and because his words were ugly. He was enthralled by toughness, violence.
So how did Kent State happen? If only Richard had read Kathy Shaidle’s latest NewsReal column on “9 Progressive Gatherings Gone Terribly, Horribly Wrong” before breaking out his Gibson Hummingbird and getting his inner Neil Young on:
For the “20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love,” P.J. O’Rourke penned one of my favorites of all his “bits.” It included a chart ruefully contrasting “People Who Died During the 1960s” (John F. Kennedy) with”People Who Were Allowed to Live” (Teddy Kennedy).
The black-humored final entry under “People Who Died…” was “4 students at Kent State”. Their “Allowed to Live” counterparts?
“All the other students at Kent State”
Immortalized in an instant song by Neil Young, and by a (retouched) LIFE magazine photograph, the students shot during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State live on as another set of progressive martyrs. Which is annoying on a few levels.
First, as Ann Coulter noted:
Reno’s military attack on a religious sect in Waco, Texas, led to the greatest number of civilians ever killed by the government in the history of the United States. More Americans were killed in Waco than were killed at any of the various markers on the left’s via dolorosa – more than Kent State (4 killed), more than the Haymarket Square rebellion (4 killed), more than Three Mile Island (0 killed).
Progressives have a bad but telling habit of memorializing events with the fewest number of victims (or, as Coulter pointed out, none at all); the thought of long ago Kent State still brings a tear to a leftist’s eyes faster than footage of 9/11.
Second, as you might have guessed, the received legend of Kent State doesn’t quite square with the facts. Every May at my blog, I try to (cough) “raise awareness ” by citing Steve Farrell’s invaluable counter-history of the tragedy. In the days leading up to the 1970 shooting, all wasn’t peace and love at the University or in the surrounding area.
“On the evening of May 1, 1970, a day after Richard Nixon announced an American counter-attack into Cambodia, students rioted in the main street of town, broke windows, set fires, and damaged cars. On May 2, a crowd of about 800 assembled on campus, disrupted a dance in a university hall, smashed the windows of the ROTC building, and threw lighted railroad flares inside. The building burned to the ground. A professor who watched the arson later told the Scranton commission, which investigated the shooting and the events leading up to it, ‘I have never in my 17 years of teaching seen a group of students as threatening, or as arrogant, or a bent on destruction.’
“When fireman arrived students threw rocks at them, slashed their hoses with machetes, took away hoses and turned them on the firefighters. The police finally stopped the riot with tear gas. The National Guard was called in by the governor on May 2 and student rioters pelted them with rocks, doused trees with gasoline, and set them afire. Students attempted to march into town on May 3 but were stopped by the National Guard, the Kent city police department, the Ohio highway patrol, and the county sheriff’s department. The protesters shouted obscenities and threw rocks.
“From May 1 to May 4 there were, in addition, riots in the town’s main street, looting, the intimidation of passing motorists, stoning of police, directions to local merchants to put antiwar posters in their windows or have their stores thrashed, and miscellaneous acts of arson. All of this occurred before the shooting.
This year, a new (mostly ignored) revelation shed even more light on the event. As NewsReal’s Ben-Peter Terpstra reported on the 40th anniversary of Kent State:
Previously undisclosed FBI documents suggest that the Kent State antiwar protests were more meticulously planned than originally thought and that one or more gunshots may have been fired at embattled Ohio National Guardsmen before their killings of four students and woundings of at least nine others on that searing day in May 1970.
As usual, the truth makes a less inspiring story than the progressive myth. Those armed agitators created the atmosphere that got their fellow students injured and killed, and left young soldiers with the lives of fellow Americans on their consciences. Needless to say, these troublemakers were never brought to justice.
And as both another Washington Post columnist, and a member of the JournoList, which snaked its way through the Post have each noted, Progressives Myths are far more interesting than placing events into context.
Michael C. Moynihan of Reason Offers “Congratulations” to Cohen for writing “The Worst Column of the Year:”
Like actor and political scientist Jon Hamm, [heh–Ed] Cohen bemoans “all this talk about ‘taking back America’ (from whom?)” we hear from conservatives and Tea Party activists. But it’s an entirely appropriate sentiment, one that fails to exercise Richard Cohen, when Howard Dean writes a book called Winning Back America. Or when liberal radio host Thom Hartmann issued his 2004 call to arms, We the People: A Call to Take Back America. Give me a minute to find Cohen’s column lamenting The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s 2004 book Taking Back America: and Taking Down the Radical Right. Or this straight-to-the-remainder-table book from James Carville and Paul Begala. Or maybe Cohen’s cable was on the fritz when, just this weekend, MSNBC blowhard Ed Schultz gathered on the mall to tell people that “This is a defining moment in America. Are you American? This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America.” Why do we have to fight for America? Who is attacking America?
You get the idea.
Whether or not he likes or approves of it, the Tea Party is a movement of “dissent” against the government, but Cohen still manages to bring up the tired talking point about “turn[ing] dissent into treason, which, in a way, was the worst treason of all.” Those who shouted down the 60s antiwar movement “made dissidents into the storied ‘other’ who had nothing in common with the rest of us. They were not opponents; they were the enemy: Fire!” You see the parallels in the Tea Party movement yet?
And no, Richard Cohen doesn’t catch the irony: The dissent of Kent State protesters, he thinks, was met with deadly force because of rhetoric that “otherized them,” that turned them into a domestic enemy. Pretty much exactly what Richard Cohen is doing to the dissidents of the Tea Party movement. But he disagrees with those people, so…