Thursday, September 24, 2009

His soul (Westbrook Pegler's) goes marching on

I posted last year on 08/10/09 and 09/15/09 about Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969), the Old Rightist who Sarah Palin quoted anonymously in her speech accepting the Republican Party nomination to be the new Dick Cheney. Pegler got kicked out of the John Birch Society (JBS) in 1964 for becoming too openly anti-Semitic. But prior to that, he was one of their favorite writers for their magazine American Opinion. (The current JBS magazine is called The New American.)

Westbrook Pegler: "As to whether I am a racist ... yes, I am."

In the November 1963 number of American Opinion, Pegler hadn't yet crossed whatever line JBS founder and leader Robert Welch drew between obviously anti-Semitism and too-obvious anti-Semitism. Welch himself introduced the magazine's lead article by Pegler. Although he had obviously begun to have some doubts, cautioning the reader that "Mr. Pegler has the temerity to hold a few prejudices that do not coincide with my own." But calling Pegler an outstanding and influential American journalist ... even when he is so obviously weakminded as to say thing with which I disagree, in language of which I disapprove." Although since Welch not only headed the JBS but was the editor of the magazine in which he chose to print the article very prominently, he couldn't have disapproved of it too intensely.

What kind of language made even Robert Welch uneasy? The piece is called "Pegler on Bigotry", though oddly it has Pegler referring to himself in the third person at one point. The month of this American Opinion number, Nov 1963, was the month John Kennedy was assassinated, I might mention. The author of the homey quote about small towns Palin used in her speech wrote:

I am one of the few declared American bigots. This implies the state of mind of one who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to a political party or a belief or opinion - and doesn't deny it. Jesus Christ was obstinate and intolerant of evil. So am I. And on that meaning of bigotry I take my stand.
You might expect from that opening paragraph that Pegler was making some kind of word play at least he thought was clever, and setting up an argument to accuse his critics of falsely defining him as a bigot.


Actually, though, he talks in that article about bigotry in the normal usage of the word. It's just that he clearly thinks bigotry is a good thing. He continues directly:

Thus, bigotry is often laudable, calling for courage and for contempt toward the herd-mind of school teachers, publishers, ill-taught and queasy clergy, and most Presidents of the United States. There are millions of secret bigots too; but they are a sorry lot of parasites thriving on the courage of their betters.

In this country, bigotry is a protest against the censorship of thought and expression exercised by the Beverly Hills, Harvard, and Cape Cod riff-raff - and against their disgusting vulgarity. Such a protest is held to be a violation of an unwritten nothing called human rights. I may freely grant that it is such a violation because human rights are not defined and may not exist. I obey laws not superstitions. Actually, no human being has even a legal right to live if the rest of a society in their sovereignty decide to kill him.
Pegler took off from that latter "principle" to attack the Nuremberg War Crimes trials:

This is the first principle of the miscalled Liberal element... It is ambiguous and double-jointed. The Government of the United States confirmed it and put it into horrible execution, in the Bloody Assizes at Nuremberg, to punish the Germans for doing the same thing. Our Russian comrades sat beside us on that court, still bloody-handed from their own massacres.
Since the Nuremberg Trials aren't nearly as well known or understood as they should be, I'll point out that Pegler was completely misrepresenting the legal basis for those trials. They were prosecutions of German officials who were accused of violating laws in force in Germany at the time the crimes were committed. The trials were scrupulously fair. Several major defendants were acquitted. Those "Russian comrades" among the judges voted for convictions in all cases. (In BircherWorld, Harry Truman was as much a part of the ginormous Communist Conspiracy as Joe Stalin.) And the trials were not "to punish the Germans". They were prosecutions of specific individuals.

Those sentences I just quoted provide an example of the hazards of wading through far-right propaganda, whose most prominent characteristic when you're reading it is typically its deadly dullness. If the reader takes them as at least being factually correct or enunciated in good faith, he can wind up swallowing two or three whoppers per sentence. Trying to explain a portion like I just did isn't really a matter of "refuting" it, or of unwinding whatever pieces of it might brush up against reality. For instance, there actually were war crimes trials of some Germans in Nuremberg. But that contact with reality is almost incidental, snatches of the real world plastered onto a paranoid construction of an all-powerful World Conspiracy. Stating the real-world facts touching the same subject is literally stating an alternative worldview, which by definition is non-credible to the conspiracist.

There's more from Pegler:

I yield no obedience to any verboten [sic] concocted by any private society to wheedle and seduce Negroes of their votes and to suppress truthful discussion of the nature and history of organized Communism.

I know very few Negroes socially but most of those whom I do know are confident of my respect and my friendship for them. ...

Negroes on the whole have not yet had enough political experience as voters to realize that the vote has very little value except as a means to destroy the Nation by voting undeserved gifts of money to subjects of the dominant party. But I have been allowed to vote ever since my twenty-first birthday and the franchise has meant only that I have had a choice between professional politicians, usually two scoundrels. Three of them betrayed my country to Soviet Russia. [my emphasis]
He doesn't specify which three politicians did that deed. But, yes, he did write that "the vote has very little value except as a means to destroy the Nation".

As to whether I am a racist - which is a common but false synonym for Nazi, used by the bigots of New York - yes, I am.
Then as now, "New York" often is used by far rightists to mean "Jews". Which the immediately continuing sentences show is how it was meant there:

All Nazis are bigots. But the good bigot is not necessarily a Nazi. He probably hates Nazis just as he hates Communists. The most malignant organization of bigots on the other hand is devoted to the persecution of law-abiding Americans, especially in the Federal courts of New York; to muzzle their expressions of belief regarding the rights of the Arabs.
I didn't bother to dig out exactly what alleged court persecution to which he may have been referring. "Communists" in BircherWorld of 1963 included Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King (of course!), Nelson Rockefeller and pretty much most elected Democratic and Republican office-holders.

The New York Herald-Tribune has made free and nasty use of the term "racist" in discussing commotions in the Southern Tier of States incited by agents from New York.
Gee, racism in the Deep South in 1963? Surely only a Jew Communist could say such a thing.

It's not only New York Jews who Pegley saw as bigots:

All my Negro friends are racists. They have no desire to be white and I have no desire to be Negro. If I had to choose membership in some other race I would elect to be a Negro because the Negroes in our country in my time have made greater progress against worse odds than any other element. ...

It is clearly the bounden duty of all intelligent Americans to proclaim and practice bigotry.

However, the slackers may be excused when they do not know the true meaning of the world. They do not want to be oppressive. Neither do I.

I am bigoted against the Kennedy dynasty because they are dishonest by all tests to date.
Did I mention this was the American Opinion issue for the month in which Kennedy was assassinated? As Robert Kennedy Jr. recalled of Pegler, when there was discussion in 1965 of his father possibly running for President, Pegler expressed the wish that "some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies."

In the "Pegler on Bigotry" piece, he also writes:

I received two Christmas gifts of $500 each from a Judge Armstrong, of Natchez, Mississippi; a rich man who suffered an awful going-over because he wanted to endow a little Southern college with a proviso that the students should be taught that white people are superior to Negroes in some ways. That was honest, legitimate bigotry. It was not hatred. He believed he was right.
To the extent that there's any sense to it when people operating in Pegler's dimension make a distinction between racism or bigotry and "hatred", the idea is that hatred is some kind of personal grudge, whereas hatred directed against entire groups is good. But like I say, reality-based approaches to this kind of thing are more about defining their worldview than getting caught up in the bushes and brambles of the symptoms.

Pegler in the American Opinion article proceeds to describe the Democrats as "the Party of Satan - as of course it has been ever since the recognition of Soviet Russia" by Franklin Roosevelt.

A good bit of his article is devoted to two political figures who his readers would recognize as having at least "Jewish-sounding" names: former Secretary of the Treasury Hans Morgenthau and New York Sen. Herbert Lehman. And Eleanor Roosevelt. In this quote, he apparently means "franchised" as having a vote:

Her career was notoriously immoral in her hypocrisy, and cruelty, and her insensate greed for money. Lehman promoted her imposition on millions of franchised fools to the extent that, on her demise and for a long time before, she was often described as the First Lady of the World. This was managed idolatry. In the first place she was not a lady at all but a rascal. I hate rascality.
He closes with this little philosophical summary:

Bigotry truly should be a civic function as well as a personal joy of all good citizens.

You see, bigotry is irresistible in most human beings which is perhaps the reason that no Congress has ever dared forbid it by enactment. That has been left in the main to mewling, other-handed golfers who have prospered in the commerce called journalism.
And, no, I can't even guess to whom "other handed golfers" may refer.

This is the kind of sewer from which Glenn Beck and his Tea Party movement are drawing a major part of their inspiration and ideas. So far as I know, Beck has never pushed Pegler's writing the way he does that of his current political guru-from-the-grave Willard Cleon Skousen, a Birchite political paranoid who became an important player in the Christian Right. But it's worth being realistic about the background of this sort of Bircher thinking. Especially now that Beck is frantically broadcasting it to his FOXist fans.

I actually came across that "Pegler on Bigotry" article while looking for an issue of American Opinion that featured Skousen. It certainly gives a glimpse of the kind of intense hatred and extreme rhetoric that was being directed particularly against John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., in late 1963. While there was no FOX News in those days and TV network news maintained quality standards such that raving bigotry wasn't featured as respectable commentary or news presentation, these kinds of attitudes were featured on local TV and radio in the South and in innumerable pamphlets and books in places like the still-segregated South and Western states like Arizona and southern California.

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