Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review: 'Dominion: The History of England Volume V' by Peter Ackroyd

By Ben Wilson
1 September 2018

The name of Tomas Castro, a butcher from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, was on everyone’s lips in the 1860s and 1870s. Castro claimed to be the long-lost baronet Sir Roger Tichborne; he had come home to claim his title and estates. Radicals and the so-called artisanal class rallied to his support; here was a butcher cheated of his inheritance by a bunch of aristocrats and land agents.
His cause was discussed at mass meetings, mechanics’ institutes, popular debating societies and in public houses. He won the attention of music hall acts and the support of newspapers. Such was the interest that a group of publicans set up a fighting fund for him. When the butcher’s image was unveiled at Madame Tussauds, the queue to see it stretched down the street. Castro/Tichborne failed in his quest, despite leading a large march to Wapping in the East End, and was imprisoned after being found guilty of perjury.
The Tichborne affair is central to Peter Ackroyd’s dissection of Victorian society. From Charles Darwin to the scandalous weekly papers, Victorians were preoccupied by theories of heredity and inherited characteristics. The question “could a butcher really be a baronet, or a baronet a butcher?” gave that preoccupation vivid expression. The saga was delicious because it transgressed all the rules that kept respectable society together. But what exactly was respectable society?
Blackmail and fraud engrossed the public in this period too. “The reigning obsession was with what lay just below the surface,” writes Ackroyd, “a world of nervous tension where the conventions of ordinary life concealed the burden of secrets and of irregular relationships. This was a world of confused identities where no one had a secure home. This was the world of Tichborne.”
Before Tichborne there was the great “lunacy panic” of 1858. The public was gripped with the fear that madness was infecting the country with as much virulence as cholera. With it came another anxiety: apparently sane people were carted off to lunatic asylums by greedy relatives on the prowl for a premature inheritance. The worrying ease with which a person could declare a rich or annoying relative insane became a staple of popular journalism and the basis for Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. Rumours swirled that Victoria was, like her ancestor George III, raving mad and restrained in a padded cell. Entrepreneurs marketed antidotes with names such as “Battley’s Drops” or “Mother Bailey’s Quieting Spirit”. They were the brand names for laudanum.
The lofty Edinburgh Review judged that the sudden prevalence of insanity “derived from the extreme tension to which all classes are subjected in the unceasing struggle for position and even life”. In Dominion, the fifth volume of his history of England, Ackroyd captures the anxieties that gnawed at people as the country hurtled through decades of tumultuous change. To be “Victorian” in the 1850s (the decade when the word was first minted) was to be at the cutting edge of turbo-charged progress. For us, “Victorian” means something different: a rigid, unchanging, hypocritical society, beset with stifling notions of respectability and rules of convention.
Explaining the gulf in the two notions of “Victorianism” is the theme that runs through Dominion. For Ackroyd, the English of the 19th century were bewildered by the ferocious pace of change and did all they could to give the rollercoaster ride the appearance of gentle domesticity, permanence and respectability. Scandals such as the Tichborne affair or the lunacy crisis rudely revealed the darker passions and deep anxieties lurking behind. Some Victorians in this anxious age fell back on spiritualism, with its panoply of levitations, ghosts, spirits, table tappings and telepathy. Others sought solace in a nostalgic view of medieval England, an image of permanence in a period when nothing stood still.
The Victorian veneration of all things domestic and “respectable” represented solidity, security in a slippery world. As one writer observed: “In the middle classes we note an almost universal unfixedness of position. Every man is rising or falling or hoping that he shall rise of fearing that he shall sink.” No wonder people thought they were going mad.
Ackroyd takes us on a whirlwind tour of political reform, ceaseless foreign wars and industrial revolution. We go by way of familiar landmarks such as the Reform Acts, the Corn Laws, the Crimean and Boer wars, the political duels between Gladstone and Disraeli. Peppered with apposite quotes and illuminating vignettes of the protagonists, it is all deftly done. The incidental details stand out in these high political set pieces. After one lengthy cabinet meeting, the ministers were called back by the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, as they filed out. “Stop a bit,” he said. “What did we decide? Is it to lower the price of bread or isn’t it? It doesn’t matter which, but we usually all say the same thing.” Decades later, Disraeli wrote to the Queen describing the ageing Gladstone’s effect over the Commons: “The new members trembled and fluttered like small birds when a hawk is in the air.”
Nonetheless, it is Ackroyd’s depiction of an anxious society in the grip of rapid change — industrialisation, fast urbanisation, the impact of the railway and the electric telegraph — that is most riveting. The giddiness of change was encapsulated in Manchester, the population of which grew from 75,000 to 303,000 in the first half of the 19th century. Ackroyd draws a picture of the boom towns of the Industrial Revolution with their clatter of industry, rows of unsanitary slum housing and impenetrable smoke.
The mayor of Middlesbrough asserted that “the smoke is an indication of plenty of work — an indication of prosperous times — an indication that all classes of workpeople, even those in the humblest station, are in a position free from want. Therefore we are proud of our smoke.” “If it was set at the right tempo and cadence,” Ackroyd responds acidly, “this could be a significant Victorian hymn.”
Ackroyd reserves most of his sympathy for the poor. In a fascinating description of a music hall, he conjures up a bright world of comedy and laughter amid darkness. The Cambridge Music Hall opened in Liverpool in 1866, during a time of mass unemployment and typhus. “Drink and the music hall were the solace of the people. It was the will to live in a world not at all worth living in. When all else fails, put on a pantomime.”
Dominion: The History of England Volume V by Peter Ackroyd, Macmillan, 416pp, £25

Democrats' 'Kanye Derangement Syndrome' Explodes

October 12, 2018

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Kanye West visits President Trump this past Thursday.(AFP)

The Democrats are having a full on freakout -- virtually "intergalactic" in Louisiana Senator Kennedy's now-immortal phrase -- in their response to Kanye West's support, indeed embrace, of Donald Trump.

As well they might.... 'Ye is a one-man wrecking crew to their beloved identity politics -- a reactionary methodology about as progressive as the Mongol hordes and even more racist.  In case the great "liberals," or whatever they choose to call themselves, have forgotten, it was the Soviets  who instituted the internal passport system identifying everyone's ethnic identities (Uzbek, Estonian, Jew, etc.) in order to maximize control. How "progressive" was that? (On second thought, maybe it was.)

Well, never mind.  Times change and so do world views.  It's all expediency, dontcha know?  But according to a tweet from Real Clear Politics' Tom Bevan, here are the various ways what we may now safely call full-blown Kanye Derangement Syndrome is expressing itself.

We can add to that Snoop Dogg calling Kanye an "Uncle Tom" and, most ridiculous and reactionary of all, Donna Brazile proclaiming 'Ye had set blacks back "155 years."  That, needless to say, is the same Ms. Brazile who cheated during the election by passing CNN questions in advance to Hillary Clinton and then lied about it.

As a shameful political hack, Brazile's criticism probably only helps West, who is the opposite of a conventional pol like Donna.  It's likely she realizes that -- she's not stupid -- and it is a mark of the growing power of KDS (i.e. the acknowledgment Kanye is actually a threat to the Dems' divisive, antediluvian politics) that she went ahead with her nitwit comment anyway.

This is all in the face of the uncomfortable fact (to her and other Democrats) that black unemployment is at its lowest level ever and that their salaries are rising, neither of which happened under Obama.  Both West and Brazile have noticed this, but only Kanye had the honesty to call this for what it is -- a good thing.  Donna ignores this, preferring to brand Trump as a racist -- with about as much evidence as Blasey Ford had on Brett Kavanaugh.

Increasingly, this is backfiring.  African-Americans...  yes, I'm aware hyphenated Americans are another reactionary, segregationist construct, but let's stay with it just  for the short run... are waking up to years of Democratic Party exploitation and being slaves to a virtual one-party system.  This is reflected in the polls, but it is also reflected by the growing abreaction by largely white progressives who are acting out in unprecedented manners.

It's  not at all accidental that the unhinged behavior of these progressives, confronting Republicans in restaurants and so forth, is growing at the same time as Kanye is getting huge publicity for his apostasy.  These white progressives and their black semblables like Maxine and the Rev Al are the most old-fashioned, conformist people around. Avant-garde in 1967, they are now fogeys visiting their cliché-ridden, passé nonsense on new generations.

This makes the thoroughly modern Kanye especially threatening.  Wasn't being cool supposed to mean being a Democrat?  Sorry, these things change.  They always have.  "There's nothing so old as the avant-garde" is a cliché for a reason.

As an example, the Greg Gutfeld Show is infinitely hipper (and funnier), in its mocking of trendy hipness, than anything you see on tired late-night television with its perpetual, tedious Trump bashing.  Or SNL, which even Chevy Chase says is "ye olde."

Perhaps, after all this, Kanye will have his own show. Do you doubt that it would be a smash?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Climate Change’s Ever-Shifting Goalposts

October 10, 2018

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A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offers a timely reminder that much of the Left’s doomsday hysteria can be traced to the modern-day environmental movement. Like Democrats’ dire warnings that everything from tax cuts to net neutrality will result in mass casualties, the climate cabal’s Grim Reaper estimates are not just wrong and constantly changing—they defy reality.

Ever since Donald Trump wisely scuttled the meaningless Paris Climate Accord last year, climate alarmists have been desperate to revive the public’s interest in this once-dominant political issue. As concern about climate change has waned, the activists who are determined to use it as leverage to exert more state control over our lives have downgraded the planet’s prognosis once again.
The IPCC now warns that if the rise in global temperatures is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial estimates, millions of humans will suffer a horrific fate beginning in 2040. Most scientific agencies that track climate change insistthe Earth’s temperature has already increased just shy of 1 degree C since the late 1800s and blame human activity for most of the rise.
That means, according to the IPCC, we only have another half a degree Celsius to go before we all fry, drown, or starve.
Urgent action is needed immediately, according to this international group of experts, to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate “the risks to health, livelihoods, food, water, and economic growth, especially in rural landscapes and urban areas” around the world. Never mind that this will require personal sacrifice, social and economic upheaval on a global scale and—of course—trillions of dollars:
Pathways limiting global warming to [1.5 C] would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure and industrial systems. These transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale and imply deep emissions reductions in all sectors, a wide portfolio of mitigation options and a significant upscaling of investments in those options.
Eliminating the use of coal, boosting the use of capricious sources of renewable energy, and actually removing carbon from the atmosphere are a few of the solutions they propose. (The group, however, continues its unscientific and fearmongering objection to the cleanest form of energy, nuclear power.)
Now before you doze off at the latest Malthusian threat by global eco-warriors, it’s important to take note of the 1.5 C number because it is much lower than the previous scare number of 2 C, which was the targeted limit in the Paris pact. This represents a significant change from what the public previously had been told about the danger of rising temperatures.
As one Greenpeace activist told the Washington Post, “1.5 degrees is the new 2 degrees.” The media tipped us off earlier this year that the pivot was in the works, and scientists were poised to insist the 2 degree threshold was too high.
Coral Davenport, a dutiful climate scribe for the New York Timesjustified the scientific sleight-of-hand. “Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by a larger number, 2 degrees Celsius, because that was the threshold scientists previously considered for the most severe effects of climate change. The new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner.”
Davenport talked to scientists who’ve worked on this issue for years; they are allegedly stunned at the news. (This is a familiar tactic by climate change peddlers. They always pretend to be alarmed at their latest prediction just so we know how really, really serious it is.) “It is quite a shock, and quite concerning. We were not aware of this just a few years ago,” one former IPCC scientist told Davenport.
So much for “settled science.”
But the climate cabal’s latest prediction isn’t shocking or scientific at all: It’s political. The reason the doomsday number has been lowered is not that the threat suddenly became more acute or that their understanding of the threat suddenly became more accurate; it’s because the rapid global warming we’ve been promised over the last three decades has not occurred. A new story was needed.
In the very first IPCC report published in 1990, scientists warned that global average temperatures would rise by 0.3 degrees C a decade beginning that year: “This will result in a likely increase in global mean temperature of about [1 C] above the present value by 2025.”
In reality, according to NASA, global temperatures have increased by less than half that between 1991 to 2017. During that time period, as worldwide carbon emissions continued to spike, temperatures basically were unmoved for about 15 years, an event called the “warming hiatus.”
Is it possible that the Earth’s temperature could go up by another 0.5 C in the next seven years? Or by 2030, which is the IPCC’s newest deadline? Climate activists might say yes, but recent data suggest the trend may be the opposite. Here is one fact you won’t read splashed across the front page of the Times: Between 2016 and 2017, global temperatures dropped almost a full tenth of a degree Celsius. In other words, global warming is going in the wrong direction.
There are other indicators that 2018 will not surpass 2016 as the “hottest year on record,” either. (A claim widely disputed by climate change skeptics.) According to NOAA, “the 2018 year-to-date value was [0.52 degrees Fahrenheit] [.17 C] lower than the record high set in 2016.” Another Trump victory!
So the new IPCC report is another example of what author Marc Morano called, “the ever-receding tipping point.” In his book about the trillion-dollar farce that is the international climate change movement, Morano detailed the shifting goalposts, data manipulation, and dystopian threats that are all part of the strategy deployed by climate activists trying to influence public opinion and policy.
“What the media is not telling the public is these climate reports are self-serving reports that have predetermined outcomes,” Morano told me via email. “The U.N. hypes the climate ‘problem’ then puts itself in charge of the ‘solution.’ And the mainstream media goes along with such unmitigated nonsense.”
Indeed they did. The usual suspects—the New York Times, the Washington PostCNN—all ran breathless articles and editorials touting the new findings. “The Trump administration rejects the science of climate change and actively favors dirty energy sources over clean ones. Humanity has no time for such foolishness,” wrote Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Some even questioned whether or not to bring children into such a doomed world. (Here, let me help you with that question: Please don’t.)
But the origins of this panic have little do with actual threats to the environment or humanity, and everything to do with the Left’s crusade to impose higher taxes and crushing government regulations while cherry-picking favored industries that enrich their donors and friends. The lowering of the doomsday number is just another attempt to hasten a massive restructuring of the global economy. Nonetheless, climate activists will try to convince you that paying $240 for a gallon of gas really would be in your best interest if only you understood your interests properly: it’s all for the children and for the planet, of course.
Just remember: When taking the advice of climate change prophets of doom, never pay close attention to the details or to the changing nature of their predicted doom and destruction. You’ll feel better about it that way.

Lock Up Your Sons

October 9, 2018

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Protesters on Capitol Hill October 5, 2018 (Jose Luis Magana/AFP/Getty Images)

Look at thus [sic] chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement,” wrote Georgetown University professor Christine Fair, referring to Senate Republicans and the guilty-until-proven innocent Supreme Court nominee (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh. “All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

“It is hard to read an article like this and avoid the conclusion that we live in a culture that hates women, just hates us,” spat Chloe Angyal on MSNBC, referring to the University of Virginia “rape” case. A woman Rolling Stone called “Jackie” had claimed that several members of a fraternity took turns raping her at a party. The magazine ended up paying $1.65 million to the fraternity because “Jackie” lied. But the fact that it was so easy for so many to believe the outrageous lie shows, in truth, that we live in a culture that hates men.

“But really, guess who’s perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Senator Mazie Hirono(D-Hawaii) said recently. She was referring, of course, to the assault allegation against Kavanaugh. “And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
Never mind that in March a 36-year-old woman in Hirono’s home state was indicted for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy. Never mind that 88 percent of police─the people who protect women from assaults─are men (i.e., only 12 percent of those who’ve “stepped up” are women). Never mind that 96 percent of firemen are men. Never mind that 85 percent of our military personnel are men, and 100 percent of the people with Selective Service numbers (for military draft eligibility) are men.
Men doing the “right thing,” using their natural aggression to protect others, is the norm. If Hirono had made her comment about a racial group (“It’s the blacks in this country”), she would be forced to resign. If a male politician had told the women of America to “Just shut up,” an army of purple- and red-haired Amazons would be outside his office with pitchforks.
Shifting Narratives
Our society in fact adulates women. More than 80 percent of the men on The Titanic died, while 75 percent of the women lived; yet clearly men, being stronger, could probably have taken all of the lifeboats if what Chloe Angyal claimed were true.  A Baltimore woman was able to get a mob to murder a man  just by falsely claiming that the man had raped her.  Though disputed, some say that in Muslim jurisprudence, the word of a woman is sometimes worth half that of a man, and, we in the West look down our noses at that. Yet it is undisputedly the case in our society that the word of a woman is worth more than that of two men.
Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, named four people at the alleged party where Kavanaugh allegedly attacked her. Kavanaugh categorically denied this. A second man said he had no memory of such a party or incident. A third man said he had no knowledge of such a party. None of that mattered. The fourth purported witness, a woman, said she has been a lifelong friend of Blasey, but could not recall ever being at a party with Kavanaugh.
That was when the media conveniently started discussing a second accuser.
Deborah Ramirez says she was drunk and cannot clearly remember a college party where Kavanaugh allegedly showed her, in the presence of several people, something of his she did not wish to see. Indeed, it was only “[a]fter six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney” that she could remember. Even though “The New Yorker [had] not confirmed with other eyewitnesses that Kavanaugh was present at the party”—indeed, “two of those male classmates who Ramirez alleged were involved in the incident, the wife of a third male student she said was involved, and one other classmate, Dan Murphy, disputed Ramirez’s account of events”—The New Yorker published the story anyway. The word of one drunk girl is worth more than that of three men.
Ramirez claimed that she was scarred by the experience because she only ever wanted to see a naked man after she was married. And yet she later attended Kavanaugh’s wedding, posing with him, smiling, for pictures.
Protect Men From False Claims
This gives us the solution. Today, there are “rape shield” policies that allow women, like Jackie, to make anonymous accusations with impunity. Courts are forbidden to discuss the history of accusers, even when it is relevant, as in Ramirez’s case (she says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her, and this was bad because she only ever wanted to see such a sight after she got married. We’re discussing when he lost his virginity; so, did she wait until she got married? If not, this suggests that she’s not truthful. Knowing if she was a virgin bride, as she implies she wanted to be, enables us to assess her credibility) or in Bill Cosby’s case (one of his accusers pled guilty to prostitution; prostitutes literally will lie with men for money, no drugs needed).
If it is relevant what a friend of Kavanaugh’s may have once told an ex-girlfriend about a party not involving Kavanaugh (!), why can’t we discuss Blasey’s high-school yearbook—we’re discussing his—or the rumor that Blasey boasted of having been with 54 men in high school? Someone like that may have tussled with more than one male and gotten her parties confused. In an era of slutwalks, when women can legally go topless, laws protecting the “honor” of women are anachronistic.
Laws protecting men are needed. Women are the perpetrators in 70 percent of cases of one-sided domestic violence.
A few years ago, a woman threatened my life, touting her connection to the mafia (a credible claim) and saying that I might wind up “in the news.” I reported this thinly veiled threat to police. After I filed charges, I got an appointment with two women working for the office of the state’s attorney. One of those women literally laughed in my face, saying it’s good to be “in the news.”
Our society is dripping with the hatred of women─for men.
Today’s “Josef K” is Kavanaugh. Tomorrow it’s your son.

Burning books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is the honest next step for the anti-Kavanaugh left

October 10, 2018
A member of the SA throws confiscated books into the bonfire during the public burning of "un-German" books on the Opernplatz in Berlin in 1933.(US Holocaust Museum)

A great fire, a bonfire of burning books like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Ox Bow Incident” and other troublesome works containing offensive ideas.
Now that Brett Kavanaugh has finally been sworn as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court — after several ugly weeks of ritual defamation by the hard left that has seized the Democratic Party — there is just one more unfinished ritual to complete.
These titles were once prized by my good and liberal schoolteachers, who remembered McCarthyism and what happens to a people who abandon the notion of presumption of innocence of the accused and warned us about giving in to mob rule to satisfy our politics.
But for the past few weeks it has been the Democrats, hostages of the hard left, seeking to stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation through public shaming and the evisceration of his once stellar reputation on uncorroborated allegations that, while in high school 36 years ago, he was a sexual predator.

My old teachers were young in the 1960s. They were civil libertarians and liberals, yes, but not in the modern sense. A liberal then and the hard left of today are very different creatures. And the American Civil Liberties Union has, for partisan political purposes, abandoned the presumption of innocence where Kavanaugh was concerned.
My teachers taught those books with care and purpose. But if they were teaching today, they might be fearful to speak, lest they be branded as the enemy by the mob that has ruthlessly shouted down dissent in American universities.
As a student, the idea of book burning was terrifying to me, something done by a totalitarian government reaching into the hearts and minds of its people to convince them to erase threatening ideas.
Yet given the way the left has treated Kavanaugh, it would be fitting for them to put a match to the pile.

The acrid smell of burning paper and the sight of bright sparks shooting into the night sky would bring much-needed clarity.
And perhaps ritual chant, in the manner of those captured on the video of anti-Kavanaugh protesters in the Senate corridors, parroting the commands of organizers to shout down any senator who might even consider confirming Kavanaugh.
Protest leader: “I am going to go to Heidi Heitkamp’s office.” Protesters: “I am going to go to Heidi Heitkamp’s office!”
On that video, a confused protester asked, “Why? She’s on our side.”
The group leader turned and looked at her as if she were an insect.
I grew up with the belief that individual liberty was sacred, that tyranny of the majority must be resisted, and the rule of the mob was something to be feared. But those ideas have been scorched now, haven’t they?
Republicans have seized the theme of Democrats pushing mob rule to help them in the November midterm elections. And the left and their handmaidens in the Democratic Media Complex are mocking that notion, as if leftist mobs are some cynical GOP fantasy.
But mockery doesn't change the reality.
Years ago, Republicans used similar techniques to shout down dissent as the neoconservative-led GOP insisted on sending American troops to war in the Middle East.
The weapons were patriotism and fear. And those who dared questioned war were shamed as enemies of the state.
Back then I allowed myself to be herded into supporting war in Iraq. Years later, I promised that I would never be herded again. I hate being herded.
The goad used by the Democrats now is that all women who accuse men of sexual harassment are to be believed without question, even if there is no corroborating evidence. And those who dare question this are to be shamed.
The claims of women who’ve been sexually harassed should be treated with serious concern. But every American is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and evidence is necessary to destroy someone.
I won’t litigate the claims of Christine Blasey Ford, who says she was the victim of sexual assault 36 years ago. But her witnesses would not corroborate her story.
And other wild accusations, that Kavanaugh was a facilitator of gang rape, were so incredible that Americans saw through them. Yet these, too, were parroted by media, and perhaps because of the venom of it all, the tide of popular opinion, at least among political independents, began to turn.
Even in defeat the left threatens revenge. The warning of Lenin is repeated, that those who oppose them are on the wrong side of history and shall be shamed. A special education teacher tweets out that someone should “kill Kavanaugh.” A former American astronaut dared to quote Winston Churchill and was compelled to apologize.
The hard left has made it clear that once commonly held notions that maintained civil society are garbage to be burned, like those books.
And so, there is that one honest thing the left could do. Strike the match. Burn them. Burn them that all Americans might witness.
Burn Harper Lee’s novel about an accusation made by a white woman against a black man. Burn Walter van Tilburg Clark’s novel of cowboys hunting cattle rustlers.
As Major Tetley tells the posse, “Law, as the books have it, is slow and full of holes.”
So, those words would burn as smoke in the sky as would these from another book that’s often ignored:
“The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For after all, how do we know that two and two makes four?”
Listen to "The Chicago Way" podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin —
Twitter @John_Kass

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

How a longtime Democrat became Ronald Reagan’s biographer: Join a discussion with the author at the Oct. 11 Register Book Club

October 3, 2018

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As author Bob Spitz wrapped up his biography on Julia Child, he started to ponder who he might choose for his next biography. He was looking for someone with the cultural heft and impact of the chef and TV personality – or of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, subjects of previous books.
“I realized there was a thread all the way through them and that was that the subjects were beloved and that they had changed the culture,” says Spitz, who will talk about his new book, “Reagan,” at a public event held by the Register Book Club on Thursday, Oct. 11.
So he pored over lists of estimable artists, such as recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors of the National Endowment of the Arts, but nothing sparked his interest.
“Then my wife said, ‘What about Ronald Reagan?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Spitz says. “I’m a longtime Democrat. I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a Republican. I’m just not wired that way.
“And yet I realized the Beatles changed the way we listened to music,” he says. “Julia Child changed the way we lived. Ronald Reagan certainly changed the way Americans thought about their government.
“Reagan was a guy whose life framed the entire 20th century,” Spitz says. “When I thought about it, this was a man who lived a remarkable life. As someone who perhaps didn’t appreciate him beforehand, I felt that I could really learn something that would show me why he meant so much to so many people.”
So he began the work that would find him spending three years doing research, another two-and-a-half writing the book, and all of the time with an eye toward making his biography new and different and necessary for readers to pick up despite the many other books on the 40th president of the United States of America.
“There are two different ways I can answer that,” Spitz of how a biographer approaches an already familiar subject. “No. 1, I feel that a biography – in addition to being detailed – has to have a compelling narrative. And while I loved Lou Cannon’s books they’re basically policy wonk books, and ‘Dutch’ failed in a lot of different ways. Even though [‘Dutch’ author] Edmund Morris is a terrific biographer I don’t think he ever got a handle on Reagan.”
Spitz says he’d already been over this hurdle with his 2005 book “The Beatles: The Biography.” There were more than 800 books on the Beatles when he started that project, but once you weeded out the hagiographies, the fanboy books, the very narrowly focused slices of their career, there really weren’t that many single-volume biographies of the entire arc of the Beatles story.
His two models for Reagan were David McCullough’s “Truman” and Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith’s “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga,” both of them big books that sought to spin a comprehensive narrative “with an eye for the audience, so that the audience gets swept up,” Spitz says.
The other thing that helped make his “Reagan” different than those that came before was the passing of time, he says.
“I discovered that when people age into their ’60s and ’70s they’re more willing to talk about their lives and the people they represented,” Spitz says. “They want to get their stories down. So many people haven’t talked before but they had an eye on their biological clock and said, ‘Well, this guy came along at the right time.’
“And also, Reagan had died, so they could talk more freely,” he says.
Nancy Reagan, before her death, gave Spitz unprecedented access to Reagan’s private papers, something he says she’d never granted another writer. Members of his administration such as Robert McFarlane and John Poindexter spoke freely about the Iran-Contra scandal while lesser-known but significant figures, such as the doctors and nurses in the emergency room where Reagan was taken after an assassination attempt, talked in great detail about how much more serious that moment was than Americans were led to believe.
Spitz says one of his happiest days came on a trip to France when he called actress Olivia de Havilland, with whom he’d been corresponding in hopes of an interview, and the now-102-year-old Hollywood star agreed to let him stop by her Parisian apartment for champagne and canapes and to talk about her friendship with Reagan during his time making movies.
“I felt this was such a valuable piece of information to add to the Reagan canon,” he says. “Not only to understand how his career was slipping away at this time, but also how the goings-on at the time of the Hollywood blacklist and the Screen Actors Guild (of which Reagan was president) shifted him away from being a Democrat to being a conservative Republican.”
Spitz says that regardless of one’s feelings about Reagan, whether you voted for him or not, or endorsed or fought the policies he advocated during his eight years in the White House, the story of his life is one that anyone can appreciate.
“He led an incredible life that took him through five different careers,” he says, ticking off Reagan’s success as a popular radio star in the Midwest, as an actor and Screen Actors Guild president in Hollywood, as a national corporate spokesman for the powerful General Electric, as California governor, and finally, president.
“Reagan shaped the 1980s, and if you want to learn how that era affected all of us you can get it through his story,” Spitz says. “I say read this as kind of an adventure story and learn a little about this man who appealed to so many people.”

The Register Book Club hosts Bob Spitz

What: The author of the new biography “Reagan” in conversation with Register pop culture reporter Peter Larsen
When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11
Where: Anaheim White House, 887 S Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim
How much: $10 donation that will go to Caterina’s Club, which provides food, housing and job training for youth.
Also: Valet parking at the Anaheim White House restaurant is $6. Copies of Spitz’ book will be available for purchase and the signing at the event.
For tickets: Go to and search for ‘Register Book Club’