Thursday, April 12, 2007

Political Odyssey Pt. 2

As I noted in Part 1 of my Political Odyssey, I began my political life as a Republican after being raised in a mostly apolitical family.
But during my junior and senior years in college, things began to change rapidly.
The Iran-Contra scandal broke in the fall of 1986 when I was starting my senior year at Texas A&M. Then-President Ronald Reagan at first denied any involvement, but about a week later he reversed course. I remember watching the nationally-televised speech Reagan gave on Nov. 13, 1986, trying to explain what had happened and why. He made it all sound so innocent and stressed that we were only talking about a very small amount of arms sent to Iran, just enough to fit into one cargo plane.

I authorized the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran. My purpose was to convince Tehran that our negotiators were acting with my authority, to send a signal that the United States was prepared to replace the animosity between us with a new relationship. These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane.


At first I was satisfied with this explanation. I was more than willing to give Uncle Ronnie the benefit of the doubt. But it soon became clear that Reagan had not been honest. We weren’t talking about a “small amount of defensive weapons” that “could easily fit into a single cargo plane.” We were talking about thousands of TOW missiles that took weeks to deliver in multiple shipments:

In January 1986, North and Secord negotiated on behalf of the United States the sale of 4,000 TOW missiles to Iran. Ghorbanifar agreed to pay $10,000 for each TOW. The terms and conditions negotiated by North and Secord required an initial sale of 1,000 TOW missiles for $10 million, and subsequent sales of an additional 3,000 TOW missiles for $30 million. North falsely informed DoD and the CIA that Secord would receive only $6,000 per TOW, or a total of $6 million. The Defense Department established its price as $3,700 per TOW missile for its sale to the CIA and the price to be paid to the CIA by Secord.
Between February 7 and February 18, 1986, Khashoggi deposited $10 million into the Enterprise's Lake Resources account. On February 10-11, 1986, $3.7 million was transferred from Lake to a CIA account for the weapons. Between February 17 and 27, 1986, 1,000 TOWs were shipped to Iran.


The full impact of Reagan’s lie took awhile to sink in, but the immediate effect was still jolting. My faith and trust in Reagan the man had been profoundly shaken. This ultimately had the effect of jarring me loose from my ideological underpinnings at that time. I suddenly found myself politically adrift. It was around that time that I decided I needed a better foundation and I turned to my history books to find a new hero. I eventually settled on John F. Kennedy. I began reading books on the Kennedy era including Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam, Watergate, etc. All the stuff that my history books had glossed over or skipped was suddenly becoming very relevant to me.
Then one weekend when I was home on break I went to the local public library and on a whim I checked out a video documentary about the Kennedy assassination. I was only vaguely aware at the time that there was any controversy surrounding the events of that period and was expecting mostly a historical overview. What I got instead was an eye-opening examination of the contradictions and inconsistencies in the official record that to this day leave unanswered one of the most important questions of the last century. Who shot JFK and why?
That video sparked my interest and I began to seek out as many books on the topic as I could find. I read books on both sides of the conspiracy issue - both pro-Warren Commission and pro-conspiracy theory. There was little question in my mind where the preponderance of the evidence pointed and I ended up siding with the majority of Americans who to this day believe Kennedy was killed as the result of an organized conspiracy. Who was behind that conspiracy is still debatable and I don’t pretend to have any definitive answers, but my suspicions were and still are that a right-wing cabal of anti-Castro Cubans, Mafia bosses and rouge elements in our own government conspired to pull off the crime of the century.
My research into the JFK assassination led me to believe that some of the same elements had conspired to pull off the subsequent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King as well. I was incensed that THEY could get away with this. Even though I did not know who THEY were, I was nevertheless placing the blame on the right-wing side of the political spectrum and that was shoving me squarely into the left-wing side. It was a strange place to be for an Aggie in the Corps of Cadets but I felt the need to not only learn more about these issues, but to also do something about them.
As I became more and more enamored of JFK, RFK, MLK, etc., I became more and more disenchanted with Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Richard Nixon and the whole cast of characters who were making the news everyday in the growing Iran-Contra scandal.
I had never been to a College Republicans meeting, though I had faithfully supported the Republican ticket in 1984 and 1986. But by 1987 I was going to Aggie Democrats meetings and even got involved with the local chapter of Students Against Apartheid - quite possibly the only member of the Corps to ever be affiliated with the group. And I continued to read all kinds of left-wing political literature of that period much of which still influences my thinking to this day. They include:

“Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” by Noam Chomsky
“Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World” by Jonathan Kwitney
“The Power Game: How Washington Works” by Hedrick Smith
“Rise of the Counter Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power” by Sidney Blumenthal
“Tales of a New America: The Anxious Liberal's Guide to the Future” by Robert Reich
“The Media Monopoly” by Ben Bagdikian
“On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency” by Mark Hertsgaard

When the 1988 election season rolled around, my politics had done a complete 180’ from 1986 and I was anxious to not only vote for Democrats, but to actively work in their campaigns. When the Democratic primary rolled around I found myself supporting Jesse Jackson just to make a political statement - not because I had any illusions that he could win. After Michael Dukakis emerged as the candidate, I volunteered to work in his campaign in College Station. One of my talents was writing letters to the editor and when I had written all that I was allowed in any given month, I would turn around and ghost write letters for other people to send in.
Alas, all my efforts were for naught as Dukakis went down to defeat against the Willie Horton-fearmongering and shameless flag-exploiting campaign of George Bush the Elder. I was deeply disappointed but rather than turning away from politics I turned my efforts instead toward the state and local arena and supported the full slate of Democrats running for state office in 1990 including Ann Richards for Governor, Bob Bullock for Lt. Gov., Jim Hightower for Ag Commissioner, Garry Maruo for Land Commissioner and John Sharp for Comptroller. I also railed against a local Republican state rep trying to run for the state Senate (he lost) and worked in the campaign of a local attorney trying to win the vacant state rep seat (he lost too).
By the time Ann Richards and her group won, I was newly married and on my way to New England where I would soon get an entirely different perspective on politics.

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