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Saturday, June 17, 2006

What Was Missing At YearlyKos -- In These Times

It must have been divine intervention by the Journalism Gods that on my flight to Las Vegas for YearlyKos, a conference billed as a gathering of the future of the Democratic Party, I happened to sit next to Lou, a potent symbol of the party’s past.

Small and wiry with a jutting jaw and the tense energy of a prizefighter, Lou expressed disappointment when I first sat down next to him. “I was hoping a couple of good-looking broads would take these seats,” he said. I laughed politely, penciling in a mental checkmark next to “Dirty Old Man.” But after take-off I noticed Lou pull out a copy of The Nation, and I nudged my editor sitting next to me. It was only a matter of time until Lou started to talk, launching into a two-hour disquisition on the evils of war, the Bush administration, the Christian right and Big Business.

“This Bush says he’s a born-again Christian,” he scoffed. “Born-again Barbarian is more like it.” Lou served in Korea and, like his father who was shot while serving in the Italian army during World War I, he “hates war.” He knew the Pentagon’s budget by heart. “War,” he said, “is a business. Just like everything else.”

As critical as he was of the war machine, he wasn’t a pacifist. “If you come to me in peace, with an olive branch, then I’ll respond with an olive branch,” he said. “But if you come up to me and punch me, I’m going to punch you right back in the face.”

He was born and raised in Steubenville, Ohio, a one-time steel town in the eastern edge of the state. After Korea, he spent seven years in the mill as a union man. “I was a rabble rouser,” he said. “The management tried to blackball me.” Steubenville was, in Lou’s day, a boomtown, but now more than 30,000 steel jobs have been reduced to 5,000 and all around him he sees creeping false consciousness. The men at the steel mill have started to turn rightwards, he says, thanks in part to their preachers. “I tell them, ‘You’re so dumb you don’t know your friends from your enemies.’”
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What Was Missing At YearlyKos -- In These Times

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