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Mark Dankof: The American Right’s Rubber Ball Pops Up Again

Mark Dankof:  The American Right’s Rubber Ball Pops Up Again 

by Leila Fathi for Janbakhtegan

(Los Angeles/July 17th–Janbakhtegan)


     I will always remember my first trip to San Antonio, chiefly for the sights of the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas, and the Riverwalk.
     And not incidentally, for the assigned purpose of my just completed 3-day journalistic sojourn to the Alamo City from the City of the Angels:  to encounter The Rubber Ball of the American Right, Mark Dankof, and to gather his latest thoughts on our world and his.

     He picked me up at San Antonio International Airport on time and without a hitch, recognizing me immediately only on the basis of an electronically transmitted photo sent from Los Angeles the day before. Other than a slightly-receding hairline and a touch of gray on the sideburns, he looked exactly as he did in photographs taken of him by my parents 35 years ago, in their home in north Tehran.  The athletic build of three and a half decades previous had been kept reasonably well preserved. My first glimpse of him was a poignant time-warp.  I was not alive when his friendship with my late father and mother first crossed the national and cultural divide, a decade before I was even conceived. 
     Dankof was grudgingly tagged some years ago by the late Jack Kemp as The Rubber Ball of the American Right, for the simple reason that pressing down on him at any moment in time, in any place, always seemed to result in his popping up somewhere else, and usually when least expected by his adversaries.
     Kemp, as the erstwhile Pollyanna of the American neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party of William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan, was especially infuriated with The Rubber Ball when the latter was running as a Constitution Party insurgent in the U. S. Senate race in Delaware in 2000, with the specific goal of displacing Kemp’s old pal, William Roth, from the latter’s seat in the world’s most deliberative and prestigious legislative body.  Several late night phone calls that year from Kemp to Dankof’s apartment on the Delaware/Pennsylvania border, the content of which has yet to be publicly revealed, failed to dissuade the latter from keeping Mr. Roth in the Texas expatriate’s crosshairs.

      In the final analysis, it was Mark Dankof over Kemp-Roth, much to the amusement of the Northeast regional and Delaware State press corps at the time.  Despite being tagged by one Delaware State news daily as the “The Texas Gun Lobby’s Minister Plenipotentiary in the Delaware U. S. Senate race,” and with no money in either federal matching funds or private contributions, the former Seattle/King County 36th Legislative District Chairman of the Republican Party garnered the combined vote totals of the Reform and Constitution Party Presidential candidates for Delaware in 2000. 

     Even more importantly, his fabled talk-show host glibness and occasional acidity in forensic debate encounters (now showcased with the populist Republic Broadcasting Network outside of Austin),  skewered Roth repeatedly around The First State, as Dankof and eventual winner Thomas Carper made ongoing mutual hay over Mr. Roth’s repeated refusal to join any debate format where the Constitution Party insurgent was present. 
     “If I was to really toot my own horn,” the now 54 year old Lutheran pastor opined, “I’d have to say that the most important statistic of that race wasn’t the 1,041 votes I actually got in the election.  It was the 11 point swing in the polling service numbers in the last 10 days of the election, from Roth to Carper, where I had the real impact.  My radio debate appearances were credited with being a part of that.  I admit I’m proud of what I accomplished that year, ridding the American conservative movement of one of its biggest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the electorate. But then, there are so many more of them to be rid of.”
     Life has now changed considerably for Mark Dankof at the end of the 21st century’s first decade.  He returned to San Antonio in 2006 after a prolonged stint at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for post-graduate work, chiefly to get medical care for a seriously-ill wife, and to care for a dying father.  The latter, an American Air Force Colonel who once served as Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s director of logistics for the Imperial Iranian Air Force, passed away this May 20th.  His military honors funeral at Randolph Air Force Base was June 5th.
     As for The Rubber Ball of the American Right, his priorities have been refocused since his father’s death two months ago.  Aside from a once a week appearance on Mark Dankof’s America for the Republic Broadcasting Network, and a rare op-ed piece for brass-knuckled print outlets like the American Free Press and the Proud Political Junkie’s Gazette, public visibility as a political activist for the paleo-conservative, America First sector of the American political spectrum has noticeably waned. He has resumed his pulpit ministry calling with San Antonio’s Immanuel Lutheran Church, and is occasionally spotted in local hospitals visiting the sick, or in especially grim missions of calling on the U. S. Military’s wounded at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC).  His lips noticeably tighten; the jaw suddenly tenses, when these latter pastoral visitations are mentioned.
     The Rubber Ball succumbed to the temptation to editorialize on the impact of the wars:

     “I don’t talk about this stuff when visiting wounded kids or consoling families, but the Iraq-Afghanistan war of counterinsurgency in Central Asia illustrates how screwed up the American Right really is.  We’ve killed thousands of people, put our own kids in a couple of unwinnable wars under false pretenses, and are in the process of running up a tab of at least 3 trillion dollars for a debacle that has no perceivable end–and all for the Israeli lobby, the banks, and the energy consortiums, the very folks who own the American political process and its institutions.  The Founding Fathers wouldn’t recognize the place.  You can have Kemp, John Hagee, John McCain, and all the rest.  I’ll take Washington and Jefferson, thank you.”
     Driving around San Antonio for 3 straight days with him is a surreal experience, quite unlike any other in my brief career in political journalism.  In any given day, he pops up at Gold’s Gym in the wee hours for treadmill, weight machine, and swimming pool; spins by his own congregational office at Immanuel Lutheran Church in a changing neighborhood on the Alamo City’s Southside; responds to a sudden emergency hospital crisis involving virtually anyone in any part of town; checks up on his wife’s rehabilitation sessions through the University of Texas hospital system; descends upon several of the city’s major bookstore outlets to snap up his usual panoply of newspapers, magazines, and news journals for instant digestion; returns 10 phone calls made daily to his published cell phone number in any 3 hour segment of time; and diverts to Bracken Gun Range on the city’s Northside to join his network of gun enthusiasts in possession of the most amazing array of weaponry I have ever seen displayed in one place at one time.

     The gun range encounter brought me into contact for the first time with an American subculture unimaginable in my native Iran.  Dankof introduced me to some of the regular denizens who inhabit his area of the armed camp. Many were decked out in camouflage gear, hunting boots, cowboy hats, and shooting glasses.  They all knew him by first name, and gathered eagerly around his table to talk shop, and to learn the identity of his unusual female companion for the afternoon session of controlled gunfire. Logos from various military and gun organizations adorned their gym bags and rifle cases. Range tables were stocked with revolvers, semi-automatic handguns, high powered rifles with long-range optical scopes, shotguns, boxes of ammunition, headphones for hearing protection, and even infrared technology for night vision shooting.

     “My father taught me how to use a gun many years ago,” he explained.  “We never went hunting, only to the ranges for regular target practice.  He and I would compete with each other with the Model 1911 Colt .45 auto, and the Winchester Model 94 in .30-.30 [John Wayne’s lever action rifle in the Western movies].  It’s a fact that I never outshot him once.  When we lived in Iran decades ago, he was still beating me at racquetball, when I was 20 and he was 55.  I still feel his presence out here when I come to practice.”

     The conversation between volleys of piercing gun blasts turned naturally to The Rubber Ball’s younger days in my homeland.  “I really loved Iran,” he remembered with more than a trace of wistfulness.  “It was my plan to return there after college, to learn the language, and to travel as extensively within the country as possible.  The Revolution changed all of that in a heartbeat.”

     Topics Iranian would continue in my final night in San Antonio, at a steakhouse called Wildgrass.  The Pastor [known jokingly as “Father” by his circle of friends at Bracken Range] insisted on paying the bill. “You came here from Los Angeles to talk to me,” he cautioned.  “And your parents did more for me in Iran years ago than can ever be recounted.  One can’t return to the past in life, but I’m often taken back to those days when my mind wanders.  It was a different time, a different age, a different place.”

     This led me to the critical question I had been destined to ask Mark Dankof since arriving in the Alamo City.  As you see things now, what continues to give you meaning and to guide your destiny ?

     The Rubber Ball of the American Right paused.  He gathered his thoughts as he smiled, then engaged my question.

     “I’ve given up on changing the course of America through the electoral process,” he opines.  “I think the United States is in the final stages of its past role as a world empire.  I’ve largely shifted into regaining my focus and emphasis on the things of God, and things that edify me, as opposed to dwelling on things that are simply destructive.  You know how it is.”

What are those things?

     He paused once more.  “Other than prayer, Scripture reading, and helping people who need it, my goal is to finish my post-graduate thesis and theological German exam, to learn some Persian through the Pimsleur Language Program, and to complete 3 books in the next 2 months.”

The books in question?

The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and Its Impact on World History, by Dr. E. Michael Jones; Iran/Persia:  Ancient and Modern (Odyssey Books and Guides); and The Life and Times of the Shah by Gholam Reza Afkhami.”

Any parting advice to my readers?

     “Get your priorities straight.  Spend your time on things that matter.  Dump the things that don’t.  It’s that simple.”

Any prediction on what will, or should happen in Iran?

     “What will happen may prove entirely different from what should happen there.  Keeping in mind that virtually no one cares what I think on the subject, I’d say that the first step to recovery of that country would be the elimination of any form of Islamic theocracy, which is no better or worse, of course, than any other ill-fated theocratic scheme for government on planet Earth.  Second, the nation needs to return to some type of secular constitutional republic, in conjunction with a well defined return role for Persian monarchy, going back 2,500 years to King Cyrus and the ancient Zoroastrian idea of the divine farr.  Third, the country needs to maintain its autonomy and unity, avoid any descent into sectarian and regional tribalisms, and maintain an openness to commerce and trade with outside powers while keeping foreign interventionism and intrigue at bay.  That includes the American, British, and Israeli varieties, along with the Russian, Chinese, and Arab brands as well.”

Who do you consider the Persians that have stood out most as influences in your own life?

     “I consider your Shahbanou, Farah Pahlavi, the most dignified and effective female political role model and head of state in any country of the world, period.  I know of no American or European lady who quite matches her.  In the scholarly realm, I’d say Fatema Soudivar Farmanfarmian, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh [Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War], and Dilip Hiro have given me the most guidance on your country, as a non-specialist seeking to learn more.  And when it comes to political activism and human rights for Iran, Shirin Neshat of Sarbazan and Janbakhtegan is at the top of the list.  I say that for two reasons.  First, she has managed to survive for 30 years after losing both her father [General Ali Neshat, Commander of the Shah’s Immortals, the Imperial Guard] and her country at the same time.  Second, she harkens back to a time when people in activism were there because of ideas and ideals, not money and power.  If Iran is ever recovered in my lifetime, Ms. Neshat will have a place in the highest stratum of the pantheon of the giants that history will say had the greatest role to play in the most dramatic counter-revolution of all time.”

     I said farewell to The Rubber Ball of the American Right yesterday, July 16th, before transiting through airport security at San Antonio International for a return Southwest flight to Los Angeles.  Once through security, I glanced back.  He was still there, ready to wave goodbye before I disappeared through the mass of humanity bound for distant destinations through the arched, blue, cloudless firmament of the south Texas skies.

     Dozens of Iranian expatriates of the Pahlavi era still count him as their friend, even as he somehow seems a stranger and sojourner in his own land, in these days of a changing American political and cultural landscape. 

     I now understand why.

Written by Mark Dankof

July 24, 2009 at 5:08 am