Monday, June 30, 2014

Did Doris Kearns Goodwin Blow It At Gettysburg?

This was originally published on  on July 3, 2013.  This reissue is scheduled to post one year from the date of the opening ceremonies for the Gettysburg Sesquicentennial on the evening of June 30, 2013 or Day 0 in the reckoning of this real timer.  Here is the Goodwin speech which stirred up a bit of controversy.  To me it was DKG being DKG, but then I'm an Imus fan.

Cover of "Team of Rivals: The Political G...

Of all the things I have experienced since arriving at Gettysburg on Saturday, the Doris Kearns Goodwin speech Sunday night does not rate very high on the impression list.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I am here with six other people. There is my covivant and my two friends from Central Florida and their three children.  I have decided to call the entire assemblage the Magnificent Seven, but we have not really been operating as a unit for the most part.  Thus, I was unaware that Mr. CF had led his family out of the event in silent protest until I discussed a link he sent me to this article by Tony Lee:
On Sunday, a stunned audience sat in silence as Doris Kearns Goodwin turned the keynote address at the opening ceremony for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg into a political lecture focusing on women's and gay rights.
Now as far as  the "stunned audience sat in silence" part goes, I was there.  Here is one observation about just about everybody involved in the sesquicentennial in any way. They are a very polite bunch of people.  Of course everybody was silent.  There was somebody speaking.  Duh.  Even Mr. CF and his family were silent.  They got up and walked out.  So the one tenth of one percent of the audience that I am familiar with did not sit in "stunned silence".  Neither CV nor I were stunned and the CF family did not sit.  That does not mean that Doris Kearns Goodwin did not do a crappy job.  On reflection I think she did.  And it is not just because when you are at Gettysburg and you say Stonewall, as one word, you should be talking about how things might have turned out if General Jackson had not been involved in a friendly fire incident at Chancellorsville.

Why Doris Kearns Goodwin Was A Reasonable Choice
Doris Kearns Goodwin is the author of Team of Rivals on which the movie Lincoln is based.

I have my own theory that Lincoln is a cinematic response to Birth of A Nation

Thanks in part to Birth of A Nation, the "Lost Cause" narrative, although stripped of its explicit racism, is the one most deeply embedded in popular culture.  Here is what the "infallible source" has to say about the "Lost Cause":
The Lost Cause is the name commonly given to an American literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional white society of the U.S. South to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War of 1861–1865.Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy's cause as noble and most of its leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies through overwhelming force rather than martial skill. Proponents of the Lost Cause movement also condemned the Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, claiming that it had been a deliberate attempt by Northern politicians and speculators to destroy the traditional Southern way of life.
Even though, or perhaps because, it is the site of a major Union victory, Gettysburg is powerfully iconic to the Lost Cause.  You get to stand near the spot where Armistead fell

There is a bit of a monument debate, that got rather heated at one time, about whether it was troops from Virginia, North Carolina or Mississippi that made the deepest penetration through Union lines - the High Water Mark.  By all reports, the most attended public hike will be Pickett's charge today.  I was going to stand where my probable cousins in the 69th Pennsylvania stood, but I changed my mind and bought another hat and will do the walk.  After all I have a Florida CPA license to go with the one from Massachusetts.

At any rate, Lost Cause, compelling as it is and cherished as it must remain, deserves a counter narrative and that is that the small number of Americans who stood up for racial equality in the period leading up to the war were also incredibly brave.  They risked being lynched anywhere in  the country.  When war came, some of them, like Thomas Wentworth Higginson, rather than going to war with neighbors and friends, would volunteer to command liberated slaves, with a promise from Jefferson Davis that, if captured, they would be considered fomenters of servile insurrection rather than officers entitled to treatment as prisoners of war.

At any rate, I see the logic in inviting Doris Kearns Goodwin to keynote the televised piece of the events of this week.  I guess when you invite somebody like that to speak, she gets to say whatever she wants.  So the screw-up, to the extent it is one, is hers alone.

What I Heard 

I wasn't bothered by her talk because it was Doris Kearns Goodwin being Dorothy Kearns Goodwin.  I had heard most of the anecdotes that she related from listening to Imus. (CV was puzzled wondering why the talk was mostly about Doris Kearns Goodwin) Also her counter narrative to Lost Cause- Abolition to Racial Equality to Women's Liberation deserves some respect, regardless of whether you agree with it.  The sesquicentennial is paying much more homage to the counter narrative than the centennial which was all Lost Cause, all the time.

How She Screwed Up

I think her screw-up is that she forgot that she was not on Imus.  She had been accorded a great honor to keynote this event.  She should have spent some time preparing rather than throwing her speech together at the last minute.  We were all there thinking about an event that has had one hundred fifty years to marinate in our national consciousness.  It is not the place to celebrate last weeks Supreme Court decisions that might sweep some divisive issues off the political table.  Trying to use the Supreme Court to take a divisive issue out of the hands of the electorate was one of the things that led to the need for a National Cemetery at Gettysburg.  The seceding states were reacting to an election that threatened to mess up their major Supreme Court victory:
A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States.
When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its "people or citizens."
The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.
Every citizen has a right to take with him into the Territory any article of property which the Constitution of the United States recognises as property. Scott v. Sandford - 60 U.S. 393 (1856)
Hooray for the Supreme Court.  They really nailed it with the Dredd Scott decision

What Was Required

The keynote speech needed to be a unifying message.  I think one of the things that we as individual Americans need to always remember is that if something really bad happens in our community, the outpouring of generous support and, if required acts of heroism, will be, in some arbitrarily large percentage, from people with whom we profoundly disagree on deeply held moral beliefs.  If the keynote speaker needed to work an up-to-the minute reference into the speech, it being on television and all,  she would have been well advised to choose the Granite Mountain Hotshots of the Prescott Fire Department.  Doris Kearns Goodwin and I might agree that the Stonewall drag queens had courage, though of a different sort than Stonewall Jackson's, but there is a time and a place for the expression of every sentiment.

In some ways, the promise that the veterans of Gettysburg made when they would walk across the large field or stand behind the stone wall and shake hands after the old men from the South had made that long walk was that we should remember that the practically insane courage that allowed that charge might be required from time to time and should be remembered, but that it is not what is required for us to live together with our differences.  That's why we have elections and when we don't like the way they turn out we wait for the next one and, in the mean time, and particularly on some special occasions, we treat one another with respect.

You can follow me on twitter @peterreillycpa.

This parody of Goodwin is a bit amusing

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