Friday, March 26, 2010

When Adlai got the Tea Party treatment in Dallas

In The St. Louis American's obligatory report this week on the passage of health insurance reform, I got a good quote out of U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay. I had asked him if he had spoken with his colleague U.S. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver after Cleaver (a pastor) was spat on by a presumably racist protestor on Capitol Hill.

"He was lucky he picked a man of the cloth," Clay said of the protestor. "If he had picked me, I would not have turned the other cheek."

In a week where incivility and threats of violence ruled American politics, I am glad we were spared the image of Congressman Clay wading into a Tea Party crowd and opening a can of whoop ass.

My wife follows this action on her free time, but since I give at the office, when she turns on her CNN at night I retreat into a neutral corner to read a book. This week I have been reading Dallas Justice: The Real Story of Jacky Ruby and His Trial* by Ruby's lead trial attorney, Melvin M. Belli.

Because Belli thought he and his client were crucified in the Dallas media, which he viewed as a mouthpice for the mid-century Dallas oligarchy, Belli sets a stage for how out of control that oligarchy was at the time - and their coziness with what he describes as "right-wing fanatics".

This all sounds drearily familiar. There even was a spat-upon Democrat, though this incident was absent of race.

Less than a month before President Kennedy arrived in Dallas for his unscheduled appointment with history, his Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson** was in town to address a Dallas UN Association meeting.

Stevenson was protested by a group calling itself "The National Indignation Committee," sort of a nice, all-purpose protest moniker. After the speech, exiting the building, Stevenson crossed police lines to reason with a woman who had yelled a vicious phrase at him.

At that point another protestor clubbed the diplomat over the head with a picket sign, Belli notes, "and two young men spat on him."

In another echo of the farce of today, "Bruce Alger, the right-wing Republican Congressman from Dallas, disputed the need for a City Council apology to the Ambassador."

Less than a month later, the U.S. president was shot dead in the same city.


* I am reading about Jack Ruby because our arts organization, Poetry Scores, is setting to music (and staging other multimedia events) around the long poem Jack Ruby's America by David Clewell. Long after we picked Clewell and started to work on this project, he was named Missouri Poet Laureate.

** Adlai Stevenson is a great uncle of one of my best and oldest friends, the producer Lij, who cofounded Poetry Scores and coproduced the first poetry score with me.

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