Lessons from the Wisdom of Marc Raskin

Eulogy for Marcus Raskin (1934-2017)

 Delivered by Congressman Jamie Raskin

[Editor's Note: On February 12, I took part in a memorial for Marc Raskin, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies and an old friend of mine, going back to 1959 when he and I were both legislative assistants to Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin,  and then were colleagues from 1963, when the Institute began, into 1977.  The beacon-light of the memorial was an extraordinary distillation of Marc's wisdom, filtered through the experience of his son, newly elected Congresmman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. With his permisssion, I am publishing his Eulogy here and will be sending it to the email lists of The Shalom Center. --  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, editor]

Eulogy for Marcus Raskin (1934-2017)

Delivered by Congressman Jamie Raskin

February 12, 2018, at Sixth and I Synagogue
 in Washington DC

Lesson One: My father taught us that, when a situation seems hopeless, then you are the hope.
  When everything looks dark, you must be the light.
Thank you for being the hope and bringing us the light today.

That’s your first lesson. Dad taught us a lot about every stage of life, from birth to the time of what he called “shooting on through.” He was a philosopher and we need his teachings more than ever, so I’m going to honor my Dad by sharing these Marcus Raskin life lessons with you.

** Lesson Two: Spoil children with love and wisdom, not with things.

When we were kids, he’d take us places—not like baseball games or ski trips or the Virgin Islands but, you know, conferences on reconstructive knowledge at MIT, national political conventions, civil rights marches. Once he took me with him to Kenyon College where he debated a human being named Midge Decter. And she said something about how my Dad’s friend Dr. Spock had spoiled the children of the 1960s and these spoiled children were all liberals now because of it. And Dad said, no, they were liberals because they loved freedom but, yes, he was absolutely for spoiling children—spoiling them with love, the only thing that works, he said, to raise healthy adults. And he said, “It never occurred to me to spoil them with money because I never had any, but no, it doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”

My Dad delighted in children and saw the best in them—his four children, his nine—soon- to-be ten grandchildren, and his first great-grandchild, and all the others. He saw qualities in us we could not see and nurtured them until we did see them and then they became part of us. He loved us unconditionally and dreamed for us boundlessly.

He was a famously subversive grandfather. He and Lynn called for a pizza slumber party with a mass of grandchildren when their average age was somewhere around 8. Then, after Lynn went to sleep, he let them watch, without parental permission, Wedding Crashers, and when all the parents were in an uproar the next day, he led a long inter-generational insurrection and debate, rallying the kids to argue that there was no such thing as a “bad word.”

Dad transmitted his natural anarchism to a lot of this third generation. Take the case of, Tommy Raskin, the middle child belonging to Sarah and me who actually interned with Baba. When he was 10, a boy in our neighborhood was suspended for school for three days for acting up in class and when I was walking Tommy to school the following Monday, I noticed the boy was walking back to school too. And I said, “Tommy, look there’s Julian. They let him out of jail.” And Tommy corrected me, saying, “No, you mean, they let him back into jail.” I don’t know whether it’s nature or nurture but that’s pure Marcus Raskin and I’m telling you guys, it lives!

** Lesson Three: Whatever the background noise, follow the music in your head and the dreams in your heart.

He was born in 1934, the year Hitler declared himself dictator of Nazi Germany. While my Dad’s older brother, our Uncle Mel, fought with valor in World War II and flew bombing missions over Germany, Dad was in 5th Grade.

Every day the piano prodigy would march off to Whitefish Bay Elementary School, and when the teachers spoke, he couldn’t hear them. Literally couldn’t hear them. He could hear only Bach and Schumann and Beethoven and Chopin playing concertos of human longing in his head. It was as if this tiny little boy was keeping the romantic dreams of the 19th Century alive in his mind as the 20th Century became drenched in blood and genocide.

When I was a kid I asked my Dad if his teachers sounded like the teachers on Charlie Brown—wah, wah, wah—but he said no, he couldn’t hear anything at all. Nothing. Just the music in his head.

When he turned 16 he left his home in Whitefish Bay—which by then he was calling White Folks Bay—and said goodbye to his parents—my grandfather Benjamin the plumber, after whom I was named, and my grandmother Anna the seamstress— and to his favorite childhood chum, Jerry Silberman, who would leave Whitefish Bay soon thereafter himself and change his name to Gene Wilder.

He followed the music in his head to New York to study piano at Julliard. There he befriended yet another budding young comic, his roommate Nipsy Russell. It was as if my Dad, who felt the tragic weight of history in his bones, always had to have on his side a comedian, Gene Wilder, Nipsy Russell, later Dick Gregory, a friend who could level the conceits of power with clowning and laughter. Dad loved to laugh and never surrendered his absolutely juvenile sense of humor which you can blame on Willy Wonka.

After a year, Dad decided, against the urgings of his piano teacher, Rosa Levine, to leave the path of a professional musician and to study at the University of Chicago.

He later told the press he was too lazy to pursue music but that’s an unlikely story for a man who never took a single day’s vacation in his life, at least vacation in the sense that the rest of us would think of it where you actually stop working. For my Dad, work and play were fused every moment of every day, and the harder he worked, the more playful he got. He didn’t even stop working in the hospital when he got sick with something serious but insisted on wearing regular street clothes—well, regular for him——and his hospital room always ended up looking exactly like his office, with books, papers and pink phone messages strewn everywhere.

No, it wasn’t laziness. At the time of Joe McCarthy and fallout shelters, Jim Crow in Washington and apartheid in Johannesburg, the teenaged Marcus Raskin decided against a full- time career in classical music because I think he heard something else playing in his head now: the music of a new political language that he would come to help develop and express, the language of what he called the “civilizing movements” of the second half of the 20th Century:

The Civil Rights Movement;
 the peace movement and SANE/FREEZE; 
the movement for human rights and international law; the labor movement;
 the women’s movement;
 the LGBT movement;
 the movement for environmental justice; and
 the movement for immigrant rights

—all the movements for human liberation and dignity, freedom and peace that would become his lifeblood, the driving spirit of his beloved IPS, and the humanistic counterpoint to a century of war and oppression.

The musical contributions today are a sampler of the music in his head and the dreams in his heart: both the classical pieces that stirred his boyhood imagination and the music of the civilizing movements that infused his passion for freedom.

** Lesson Four: Go to school to teach as well as to learn and never let your schooling interfere with your education.

A high school friend of my father’s wrote me to say the other kids used to take notes in class when my Dad spoke. In college, he taught a kid on his floor named Philip Glass how to play the piano, which some people say explains everything you need to know about Philip Glass’ wild and paradigm-busting music.

** In law school Dad was research assistant for Quincy Wright, the professor who advised the Judges at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Dad wanted to figure out, in the aftermath of Auschwitz and Treblinka, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how international law could be used to prevent genocide and war crimes and end what he was calling even then “the war system.”

Think of this for a second: my Dad went to law school for a reason. He had a purpose for being there. He didn’t care about most of his classes and, let’s be honest—kids cover your ears— he didn’t go to most of them. Indeed, when he received an Alumni Award from Chicago, we learned that his corporations professor, who practiced the Socratic Method, would actually call on Dad at the start of each class as a raucous crowd-pleasing joke because everyone knew he wouldn’t be there. Dad’s selective approach for going to classes did no wonders for his GPA and he proudly graduated last in his class of several hundred. He had gone to law school for a different reason, to solve a problem—how to use law to prevent the recurrence of war and genocide.

** Lesson Five: Bring your full intelligence and ethics to work every day and if you can’t, you may need to find a new job.

When President Kennedy took office in 1961, Dad left Capitol Hill to join the Special Staff of the NSC as McGeorge Bundy’s assistant for national security and disarmament. He had been recommended by Harvard professor David Riesman, who promised the 26-year old Raskin would become the “conscience” of the Kennedy team. Upon meeting him, as recorded in The Color of Truth, Kai Bird’s biography of the Bundy brothers, Bundy took to my Dad immediately, writing tothankRiesmanforthereferral. “He has a remarkably powerful and lively mind,and it is flanked by both moral and physical energy,” he wrote, “I think we shall probably have some disagreements. . .”

Of course, the disagreements came right away, in fact on his first day of work. It was April 19, 1961, the day of the Bay of Pigs. My Dad quickly prepared a Memo for President Kennedy saying the military base at Guantánamo Bay should be closed and converted into a hospital and health clinic and given to the people of Cuba as a gift from the American people. This Memo remains unanswered to this very day.

In 1962, Dad represented the U.S. at disarmament talks with the Soviet Union in Geneva where he pressed for negotiation of the first atmospheric test ban treaty, something that would come to pass within a year, after the Cuban Missile Crisis. While he was in Geneva, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and other conservatives attacked The Liberal Papers, a book my Dad edited while working on Capitol Hill.

Bundy wrote JFK a Memo to alert him that Dad had come under fire for his liberalism but that he wanted to keep him on. He wrote: “That young menace, Marcus Raskin, has returned from Geneva. . .you may be curious about Raskin, who has been a good staff officer in spite of—and perhaps partly because of—his insistent effort to find ways of making progress in this most unpromising field (of disarmament).” He warned the president that “critics of the Liberal Papers may be trying to focus attention on Raskin, and in that event we may have a small fuss.”

Dad survived that small fuss but his early criticism of the Vietnam War proved too much for Bundy. Dad was sent to the Bureau of the Budget to work on education, where he moved to block nuclear fallout shelter drills in the schools and press for massive funding of schools in poor communities. Observed Kai Bird, who is here today and whose book tells the story of how the “best and the brightest” plunged America into the quagmire of the Vietnam War: “For McGeorge Bundy, it may well have been a tragedy that this troublesome twenty-six-year old was no longer by his side to serve as his ‘conscience.’” By the end of 1962, Dad had left the administration to create IPS with Dick Barnet.

But Dad used that episode to teach us about power and conscience. When David Riesman said my Dad would become the “conscience of the Kennedy administration,” Bundy quickly adopted that tag-line and introduced him to everyone as the “conscience of the White House,” a putative compliment which Dad completely rejected.

As he explained, if he was going to be their conscience, then what would happen to their conscience? It would atrophy and shrivel away. Outsourcing your conscience is an alibi for irresponsible decision-making. If he was going to be assigned the role of conscience in the White House, Dad said, it would mean he would never have any power and they would never have any qualms.

So never allow yourself to become the conscience for other people, Dad said, and never allow other people to delegate their moral decision-making to you. All of us must exercise conscience together and all of us must exercise power together. In Democracy, he would say, the highest office is that of citizen and we must bring all our faculties to the task. And those of us who aspire to public office, whether President or Congressmember or Governor, are the bosses of no one. We are nothing but the servants of the people.

**Lesson Six: Hate war and work as citizens for peace and justice.
He was a leader in the movement to stop the Vietnam War, the crucible where he shaped both his intellectual authority and his fierce political courage. The book he wrote with Bernard 5 Fall, The Vietnam Reader (1965), became the bible of the peace movement which used it to organize thousands of “teach-ins” across America.

Imagine that—a book about foreign policy designed not for the Establishment but for the people. Like Tom Paine’s Common Sense, it was a popular book that galvanized a movement. It did so not as a polemic but as a reader, a collection of essays from pro- and anti-war voices alike, official sources and historical documents as well as the voices of soldiers and civilians, the underdog soldiers of the night and all the unarmed refugees in flight.

In 1967, several months after he, along with Arthur Waskow, drafted “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” he was indicted in the Boston 5 case along with Dr. Benjamin Spock, William Sloane Coffin, Michael Ferber and Mitchell Goodman for conspiracy to “aid and abet” draft evasion. They faced many years in prison. I was four, Erika was eight, and Noah was four months.

Dad was acquitted by the jury while his four co-defendants were convicted. The New York Times asked him how he felt, and he said, “I suppose I could demand a retrial.”

Everyone always wondered why my Dad was acquitted.

I just read the whole trial transcript, and what strikes me is that Dad never adopted the stance of a civil disobedient. He never struck the pose of Thoreau. When he accompanied a delegation to the Department of Justice for a draft card turn-in, he actually disagreed with the group, which was insisting that the DOJ officials accept the draft cards of young anti-war protesters as evidence of a crime. Dad said the crime was the war itself and DOJ should leave the draft resisters alone and immediately launch an inquiry into war crimes taking place in Vietnam.

At trial, from the start he insisted that he was standing up for the Constitution and the rule of law. He put the war on trial. The peace movement, he said, was standing up for the rule of law while high government officials were complicit in an undeclared war of aggression and criminal atrocities against civilians. The law student who graduated last at Chicago graduated first at the trial in Boston.

During the trial Dad received a telegram—which, for you kids out there, is kind of like an email but it was delivered to your house—from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. saying that, if Dad was guilty, then he was guilty too. And indeed, Dad was making the same argument about the Vietnam War that Dr. King was making about segregation: it was the government policy that was outside the law and it was morally and legally necessary to challenge it, and those who did were citizens guilty of nothing.

“Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly,” said King on April 3, 1968, the night before he died. “Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.”

Like Dr. King, my Dad was a great citizen of democracy who insisted the purpose of government must be justice. Dad quoted Saint Augustine at trial to say that a state which does not pursue justice is no more than a band of thieves, a reference the reactionary judge ordered immediately stricken from the record and disregarded by the jury, along with the Geneva Conventions.

So I think the jury saw a man of irresistible integrity with three children who did not want to go to jail at all but who was so anguished by the violence taking place in his name that he was willing to risk everything to stop it. It could have been a moment like the trial of Socrates where an intellectual had to accept the consequences of corrupting the youth of his time, but Dad convinced everyone that the threat to the law and the corruption of the young came not from the intellectuals but the state. The jury recognized him as a patriot who stood ready at every moment to defend his country against his government.

After the trial, Dad stepped up his activism. You know of his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers—and now we know of Gar Alperovitz’s heroic role too, his co-authorship of Washington Plans an Aggressive War, his appearance on President Nixon’s Enemies List, and the constant espionage and surveillance he dealt with.

The funniest part of my Dad’s COINTELPRO FBI file was the conversation between two agents, one of whom was new to the beat and asked the other, “How can you tell Raskin from Barnet?” To which the other replied, “Barnet is the slightly better dressed one.”

The Vietnam War ended on Dad’s birthday, April 30, 1975, and April 30 is the day we hope to give the Marcus Raskin Award we are about to announce.

** Lesson Seven: Act pragmatically, not in the degraded sense of doing what powerful people want you to do, but in the Deweyean sense of promoting experiments to advance the ideals of freedom and the common good.

Dad’s hero John Dewey said, “Theory without practice is empty, but practice without theory is blind.” Dad was a man of strong action and high theory who unified the two.

Dad rejected all ideological systems, including both bureaucratic state socialism and bureaucratic state capitalism. He rejected government secrecy, lies and deception as a threat to the very foundations of democracy. “Democracy and its operating principle, the rule of law, need a ground to stand on,” he said. “That ground is the truth.”

He debunked the fraudulent claims of market fundamentalism, eugenics, and all the authoritarian ideologies of the Right. He rejected the pseudo-scientific claims of Marxism about the iron laws of history and dialectical materialism, embracing instead the vision of radical human freedom associated with existentialism and his beloved Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Dad knew that pragmatism needs to have a moral content lest it become a Machiavellian formula the way some people in Washington use it. His friend Sidney Morgenbesser once put it this way: “Pragmatism works in theory but it doesn’t work in practice.”

Dad showed us pragmatism works in practice when you create projects imbued with ideals and purpose. He called this process “social reconstruction” and the great proof of it was in the work of the Civil Rights Movement and his friends in SNCC who came to IPS, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Bob Moses, Marion Barry, Sue Thrasher, Heather Booth, Courtland Cox and Frank Smith. These young people transformed the South not through war or violent revolution but by rebuilding society, drawing on what is best in it and overcoming oppressive and pathological arrangements.

You can find in his pragmatic public philosophy the very best of radicalism, liberalism, progressivism, and conservatism.

**Lesson Eight: Never give up on anyone, never hate anyone, and act with love whenever you can.

Marcus Raskin was a man touched by many forms of genius—musical, political, and philosophical, but arguably his greatest genius of all was identified by the historian Garry Wills, who said my Dad had a “genius for affection.”

Everyone present has experienced the transforming force of Dad’s affection.

But the most astounding sign of this genius was seen not with respect to Dad’s treatment of his friends and family but with respect to his treatment of adversaries and the people he didn’t know.

He never gave up on anyone, he never prejudged anyone, he never hated anyone and he gave every single person the benefit of the doubt. I never heard him utter a disparaging word about any person, including Richard Nixon, who put him on his Enemies’ List, or Barry Goldwater, who tried to get him fired from the Kennedy Administration, or Ramsey Clark, the Attorney Generalwho indicted him. He had no time to waste on ad hominem politics and not an ounce of negative energy in his soul. I once asked him whether he could really think of a reason to love your enemy, and he said, “Your enemy teaches you to take strong action.”

But he had no enemies, only people who were confused about something. No one attacked him from the Left who didn’t later attack him from the Right or end up in a religious cult, and no one ever attacked him from the Right who didn’t later apologize for it. Even the prosecutor in the Boston 5 case apologized to him.

You could see Dad’s remarkable and radiant humanism in the most mundane interactions. I remember this one like it was yesterday. I was in high school and I went to meet Dad at the old IPS and in the building across the Street. It was not long after the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Karpin Mofitt, his beloved colleagues, which shook everyone to the core.

But we got into the elevator and there was a guy in there who looked like a Hell’s Angel. He had giant tattoos all over him and a red bandanna across his head and he probably weighed in at 300 pounds.

It was just the three of us. Now you know my Dad talked to everyone all the time in every situation, which is embarrassing enough, but this felt really dangerous and I said to myself, “Oh no, please don’t let Dad start talking to this guy. Please please please. We’re going to be dead. It’s all over.”

And then sure enough, my Dad said, “Where did you get all those tattoos?”

I was looking at my shoes but I heard the man say in a Southern accent, “North Carolina.”

Then while I prayed for silence, I heard my Dad say, “Are you happy you got them all?”

Oh my God, I’m thinking, it’s all over, we’re dead. I’m staring at the ground.

And then the man says, “Well, not really too happy because I was 19 in the Army when I got them but now my daughter is 19 and she wants to get tattoos and I can’t really stop her because she says I’ve got them.”

“Well, I think they look great,” my Dad said. “I think you should let your daughter get hers too. She probably just wants to be like her father.”

And then the elevator door opened and I looked up and I saw the man get out and I heard him say, “Thanks, partner.”

**Lesson Nine: No good act in life is ever wasted.

I am loathe to close this beautiful ceremony but I have one more lesson and story to share because I will treasure it the rest of my life and I want all the kids here to know it too. Like so many of the stories about my Dad, it borders on magical realism, something that is almost too exquisite and enchanting to be true, but it is.

It was the broiling summer of 2006 and my first campaign ever for State Senate. Now I’ve had some tough campaigns but this was in a class by itself: I was running against a 32-year incumbent who was President Pro Tem of the State Senate.

I’d been trying all summer to get my Dad to come out and knock doors with me and he finally relented in the final dog days of August.

So we’re taking the odd side of the street and I said “Dad, I’ll start with my group of Democracy Summer interns on that end of the block and you start down here with yours, and then we’ll meet in the middle. “OK,” he said in that way he had of suggesting it wasn’t really going to work out. “But the key thing,” I said, “is we only have a few days left in the campaign and so I want you to skip any house that already has my sign in the front yard or that has my opponent’s sign, Ida Ruben, out front, like this one right here on the corner. We’re focusing on the undecided people.” He seemed to vaguely assent to my rules but I could already see him mentally bristling under the straitjacket of a plan, any plan.

So I took off towards the other end of the block with my team and I could sort of see out of the corner of my eye Dad going up to the house on the corner with an Ida Ruben sign.

I ignored it and started canvassing the block. About a half hour later we were in the middle of the block but there was no sign of my Dad. We kept going until about 20 minutes later we approached the second-to-last house and as I knocked on that door, I observed that, sure enough, not only had my Dad gone up to house next door with the Ida Ruben sign, he was talking to the owner, and had been talking to him for almost an hour. It was probably 92 degrees.

Then, as I said goodbye at the door, I looked over and saw my Dad walk down the path with an older gentleman and they put one of my Raskin for Senate lawn signs into the grass right near the one for Ida Ruben. I could hardly believe my eyes.

One of the Democracy Summer interns taking notes with my Dad came running over and said, “Jamie, it’s the damndest thing I ever saw. Your Dad introduced himself and the man was a big fan of his books. He’s a math professor at the University of Maryland and they started talking about Bertrand Russell and Einstein and about the death penalty and how you’re working to abolish it and they were talking about Zeno’s Paradox and they were laughing really hard.

Then your Dad said, ‘Well, can you put up one of Jamie’s signs, and the man says, ‘Well, I told this man at synagogue I would put up an Ida Ruben sign,” and your Dad says, “Well, did you say you wouldn’t put up one of Jamie’s signs and he say, ‘No, I see what you mean.’ And so your Dad says, ‘Let’s do it!’ So they went and put it up.” Now there were two signs up for the opposing candidates.

But then we looked up and we saw the really incredible thing. They had taken the Ida Ruben sign off of its metal frame and turned it upside down.

So I walked over to meet the man and he was super-nice, and we chatted, and then I asked why they had turned the sign upside down and he said, “Well, when I told your Dad I had agreed to display an Ida Ruben sign, he said, ‘Did you agree to display the sign right side up,” and I told him no, I see what you mean, and so what else could I do? I turned it upside down.”

So my Dad, I am sure, has gotten me thousands of votes, but this is the most special one, the only one he really worked for, the only door he ever knocked with me, and it is to me the quintessential Marcus Raskin story which says it all:—y

You be the hope and you be the light, spoil your children with love, bring your intelligence and ethics with you wherever you go, work for peace and justice, be a pragmatic idealist, never give up on anyone in any circumstance, don’t be afraid to talk to the person you think is your enemy, always keep fighting, and no good act is ever wasted.

Generations to come will marvel that such a man was with us and we had him for 83 years. On behalf of the whole Raskin family, I want to say thank you for being the hope today.



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