Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: LA Times (1-16-12)
Mark Levine, a professor of history at UC Irvine, responds to The Times' Jan. 9 Op-Ed article, "The U.S.: MIA in the Mideast." Levine is also a distinguished visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden and the author of the forthcoming book about the revolutions in the Arab world, "The Five Year Old Who Toppled a Pharaoh." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
Has the U.S. really gone MIA from the Mideast under President Obama? Apparently so, if your knowledge of the region comes from its surviving monarchs, autocrats and assorted military leaders.
These are the people to whom John Hannah, former national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and the author of the Jan. 9 Op-Ed article, has been talking lately, and it seems they are not at all happy with Obama's "lack of resolve" in maintaining the decades-old "Pax Americana" that has been crucial to ensuring their hold on power.
Hannah would like us to consider the failures of Obama administration policy that have led to this perception, including "overblown promises" to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "betraying" faithful clients such as deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and failing to attack Iran. But the far more pertinent question is why Hannah is attempting to sell a narrative of American retreat that is so at odds with the realities on the ground.
Specifically, Hannah accuses Obama of being a "willing accomplice in the dismantling of a regional order ... that has been the linchpin of Mideast security for decades." In fact, at almost every turn, the president has done everything in his power to preserve the existing system. Setting aside the assassination of Osama bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and the surge in Afghanistan, Obama has continued and in many cases increased U.S. aid (most of it military) to clients such as Morocco and Jordan, sold tens of billions of dollars in advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies, tightened the economic screws on Iran and refused to punish Israel (and in fact just increased aid) despite its continued settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem....
Posted on: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 12:35
SOURCE: The China Beat (12-23-11)
Adam Cathcart is Assistant Professor History at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington and the editor of SinoNK.com.
The pigs were being slaughtered in the streets when the news of Kim Jong Il’s death arrived in Dachuan, a small logging village in the mountains of western Sichuan province. Over the immense and extended cacophony of the blood-letting, the retired head of the local bank explained, with a bit of apologetic joy, that the villagers were getting ready for Spring Festival, then turned back to the news from Pyongyang, shaking his head at the retrograde tendencies of China’s Korean socialist brothers.
It was a fitting juxtaposition, watching events in North Korea amid the production of reams of red pork with rich peasants in China. Meat, after all, was the sine qua non of success for Kim Il Sung and his son, both of whom proclaimed their magnanimous desire to make good on the promise of “rice with meat soup” in every pot (and a tile roof for every rural house). Yet, as even a cursory read of virtually any analysis or short trip to the North Korean border with China can attest, the battle for higher living standards—as opposed to monuments—in essentially every place outside of the DPRK’s model capital has been lost. Mao Zedong said he could do without meat, making revolution with just grain and rifles, but North Korea has ample rifles but no grain, and the revolution is dead.
Amid the welter of random, confusing, instructive, and occasionally cruel responses to Kim Jong Il’s death among Chinese, Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 has been a touchstone. This particular parallel, encouraged by Chinese state media, is significant because it implicitly holds out the hope that a market-oriented North Korean Deng Xiaoping might yet emerge out of the factions assumed to be maneuvering in Pyongyang. But North Korea is hardly exiting the “fractured rebellion” of a Cultural Revolution. The DPRK remains instead in the thrall of a persistently centralized leadership system in which Kim Il Sung and his son had purged, jailed, exiled, or killed all the advocates of possible systemic alternatives. In Andrei Lankov’s phrase, the “blade of state of state remains sharp enough to cut off its diseased parts,” and gazing at the grizzled ranks of the Pyongyang senior elite, it seems unlikely that some wholesale adoption of Chinese-style market reforms is in the offing.
The Reluctant Embrace of Kim Jong Un
On December 21, Wen Jiabao went to the North Korean embassy in Beijing, bowed to Kim Jong Il’s portrait, and said: “We believe that with the Korean Workers’ Party under the leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un, the North Korean people will certainly powerfully pass through their grief, pushing forward to new successes in socialist construction.” It was a turn of events which but a few years earlier would have been seen as unlikely. Since Kim Jong Il’s stroke in 2008, and the rumors of Kim Jong Un’s existence as a viable successor to his father in early 2009, the CCP has gone through a number of stances toward the idea, ending in the acceptance of the successor. In the aftermath of the North Korean nuclear test of May 2009, Beijing loosened its grip on journalism about the DPRK in the Chinese media, using the new latitude to serve the Party’s foreign policy purposes. Publications about the North Korean role in starting the Korean War were suddenly acceptable, and, more importantly, a number of unflattering portrayals of the “weird” Kim family began to emerge. Chinese public intellectuals like Zhu Feng and Shen Dingli speculated about rapid changes in North Korea and the CCP made clear its desire, at the very least, for North Korea to transition to a more collective leadership centered in the Korean Workers’ Party rather than in the enfeebled Kim Jong Il or his relatively unknown successor.
However, after Kim Jong Un’s formal unveiling at the September 2010 KWP Congress in Pyongyang, the discourse shifted decisively toward a more supportive line toward the “young general.” Likenesses between Chinese and North Korean political cultures were emphasized; in mass magazine portrayals, CCP scholars encouraged Kim Jong Un to “make his mark via some achievements in writing about communist theory.”
Even Kim Jong Un’s foreign experience was highlighted in Chinese media as beneficial. It seemed that in some important ways, Kim Jong Un could be used to send home the message to China’s unreceptive youth: It may be fine to spend a few years studying abroad and fall in love with Michael Jordan, but when you come home, it’s all about the Young Pioneers and Party building. More importantly, the junior Kim’s probable role in North Korean attacks on the South Korean vessel “Cheonan” in March 2010 and on Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010 was downplayed in the PRC. South Korean stories which asserted that Kim Jong Un had assumed control over North Korea’s northern border security, like most narratives focused on refugees, did not enter the public discourse in China.
The CCP’s evident nervousness about stability in North Korea, and its protective stance toward the DPRK, means that no loud public doubts about Kim Jong Un’s inexperience are presently welcome. Suggestions that the successor is incapable of leading, when allowed at all, are placed in the mouths of foreign experts like the International Crisis Group’s Daniel Pinkston, and qualified with some implication that South Korean media reports could all be false anyway.
North Korea appears to have made only a minor rhetorical concession to Chinese pressure by referring to the idea of “uniting around the Korean Workers’ Party and Comrade Kim Jong Un,” a phrase codified in the DPRK’s official response to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s initial statement of regret at Kim Jong Il’s death.
Economic and Cultural Exchanges
The legacy of Kim Jong Il’s rapid—one might almost say rushed—advancement of cooperation with China in 2010 and 2011 hangs in the balance, and the CCP will be eager for cross-border trade and tourism to resume. A rather explicit December 20 editorial in the Huanqiu Shibao, entitled “China is the Reliable Friend Upon Which North Korea Can Rely during Transition,” stated: “We suggest that as soon as it is appropriate, Chinese high-level leaders go to North Korea, where they will intimately communicate with North Korea’s new leaders at this special time that Pyongyang can send a distinct signal to the world [by taking the Chinese path].”
In the weeks prior to Kim Jong Il’s death, China had been pressing for more clarification and motion on the two new island trade zones in the Yalu River near Sinuiju. While the Chinese side has been investing an immense amount of money in construction of what is essentially a new city outside of Dandong and a large new super-highway worthy bridge to the DPRK, the North Pyong’an leadership has been everything that privately infuriates Chinese partners: uncommunicative, inaccessible, and (according to the Daily NK) suddenly purged.
Far more promising is the development at Rason, on the far northeastern edge of the Korean peninsula, where China has brought in an old Korea hand named Tian Baozhu, a Kim Il Sung University graduate and former Consul-General in Pusan, to set conditions for further Chinese investment in this highly-desired port which finally offers eastern Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces access to the sea and cheaper means of shipping coal to ports like Shanghai. Rason remains a source of rumors from South Korea and the active advocates of immediate North Korean collapse, who often imply that China is not simply constructing the port but has secured it with a few thousand PLA troops. Such impressions are unlikely to slow the CCP in its push for more access and faster development of Chinese business interests, particularly in the minerals sector, in North Korea.
Chinese cultural exchanges with North Korea have been, in the DPRK context, incredibly extensive. The oft-maligned Korean Central News Agency has opened up exchanges with Xinhua, performing arts delegations tour across the Chinese mainland, and a Confucius Institute is open in Pyongyang with some 800 students. Tourism to the DPRK, another area of possible peril—seven Chinese tourists and businessmen were killed in a mysterious crash outside of Pyongyang on Thanksgiving Day—is an area where the Chinese side puts a great deal of stock and aims to develop further from even remote cities like Qiqihar and Mudanjiang. The extent to which the North Korean side remains committed to the speed and intensity of these relationships is something which the Chinese government is particularly keen to observe.
Border security on the northern frontier remains a complex and sensitive issue, as well as military-to-military relations. The fact that eight North Korean border guards were reputed to have run headlong into the Liaoning hills in late November is not to be forgotten; the fact that China was hosting the Japanese Self-Defense Forces Navy in Qingdao (of all places) from December 19-23 is another area which under normal conditions might cause strain on Sino-North Korean relations.
Kim Jong Il’s death does not alter the fundamentals of the bilateral relationship, but it does offer an opportunity to take stock of this most fraught and significant relationship. The speed and intimacy with which it continues is of interest to us all.
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 18:35
SOURCE: The New Republic (1-17-12)
Michael Kazin is the author, most recently, of American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He teaches history at Georgetown University and is co-editor of Dissent.
Is the Christian Right still a power in American politics? The lavish coverage which its partisans and their favorite issues have received during the current Republican campaign certainly leave that impression. Yet all this attention is akin to the dazzling glow of a setting sun. In fact, the Christian Right is a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals.
Yes, pious conservatives earned the underfunded Rick Santorum a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, and, last week, a large gathering of evangelical leaders nodded fervently in his direction. Every GOP candidate still in the race speaks of Planned Parenthood as if it were a band of terrorists and vows to stop the largest and oldest reproductive rights group in the country from winning even a dollar of federal funding—and all of them except Ron Paul has signed a firm pledge to support a constitutional amendment that would essentially ban same-sex marriage. As for the presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, who has earned the suspicions of many conservative evangelicals, he has worked tirelessly to ingratiate himself with the Christian Right. Pro-Romney robo-calls in South Carolina currently feature a right-to-lifer from Massachusetts who opens her pitch, “I know you have heard a lot of folks talking about Mitt’s record on life, faith, and marriage while governor of Massachusetts.”
But, whatever their influence on the Republican primary, the Christian Right is fighting a losing battle with the rest of the country—above all, when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage, the issues they care most about. A strong majority of Americans backs abortion in the early months of a pregnancy. If elected president, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Romney would ever sign legislation that could lead to the indictment of millions of women and tens of thousands of physicians for fetal murder. Last fall, even voters in Mississippi soundly rejected a bill that might have done just that....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 18:08
SOURCE: National Review (01-18-2012)
Never has America been more assimilated, integrated, and intermarried — as is evident in everything from politics to popular culture, from statistics to anecdotes. Yet from late 2007 to 2012, Barack Obama has been establishing new rules of racial referencing. In general, his utterances follow a disheartening pattern. When he is ahead in the polls, has won an election, and is not campaigning, then he emphasizes the unity of the country. But when he is running for president, or campaigning for others, or sinking in the polls, he and his closest associates predictably revert to charges of racial bigotry, albeit usually coded and subtle. America is redeemed when it champions the Obamas, but retrograde when it does not.
Obama’s race-based strategy is predicated on some unspoken assumptions: Any short-term damage incurred by engaging in racial tribalism can easily be later erased by soaring teleprompted speeches on racial harmony; the media will either not widely report his emphases on race or generally support his charges; a person of color can hardly be culpable of racial polarization himself given the history of racial discrimination in this country.
In a recent speech before a Latino audience, President Obama, in blasting congressional Republicans, recalled that he had run for office because "America should be a place where you can always make it if you try; a place where every child, no matter what they look like, where they come from, should have a chance to succeed." The obvious conclusion from his increasingly frequent "look like" trope is that his critics predicate success in America on just the opposite criteria. That is, supposedly racist opponents do not wish every child to succeed, and so it certainly matters to them a great deal what Americans should "look like."..
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 17:16
SOURCE: LA Times (1-17-12)
Joseph A. McCartin teaches history at Georgetown University and is the author of "Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike that Changed America."
On Jan. 17, 1962, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, bringing collective bargaining rights to most federal workers for the first time. Kennedy's order might be the least known of the string of significant events that made the 1960s such crucial years in American history. At the time Kennedy acted, very few workers at any level of government had won the right to bargain collectively with their employers. Federal action helped inspire many states and localities to follow suit, allowing their own workers to organize. This triggered a huge wave of unionization in the public sector that saw firefighters, teachers, sanitation workers, social workers and many others form unions in the 1960s and '70s.
For 20 years after Kennedy's order, public sector union rights were not controversial. To the contrary, they enjoyed bipartisan support — even from conservatism's leading light, Ronald Reagan. Reagan, as governor of California, presided over the extension of collective bargaining rights to state and local workers in 1968.
Over the course of the last 30 years, however, bipartisan support for public sector bargaining has eroded. And it was Reagan's breaking of the 1981 strike by PATCO, the union of air traffic controllers, that contributed to this shift. More recently, Gov. Scott Walker in 2011 cited that action as an inspiration for his effort to strip government workers of bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Yet in his day Reagan never went as far as Walker. In the PATCO case (and in other negotiations), he never challenged government workers' rights to bargain, only their right to strike illegally....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 11:13
SOURCE: NYT (1-17-12)
Kevin M. Kruse, an associate professor of history at Princeton, is the author of the forthcoming “One Nation Under God: Corporations, Christianity, and the Rise of the Religious Right.”
...The concept of “one nation under God” has a noble lineage, originating in Abraham Lincoln’s hope at Gettysburg that “this nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth.” After Lincoln, however, the phrase disappeared from political discourse for decades. But it re-emerged in the mid-20th century, under a much different guise: corporate leaders and conservative clergymen deployed it to discredit Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
During the Great Depression, the prestige of big business sank along with stock prices. Corporate leaders worked frantically to restore their public image and simultaneously roll back the “creeping socialism” of the welfare state. Notably, the American Liberty League, financed by corporations like DuPont and General Motors, made an aggressive case for capitalism. Most, however, dismissed its efforts as self-interested propaganda. (A Democratic Party official joked that the organization should have been called “the American Cellophane League” because “first, it’s a DuPont product and, second, you can see right through it.”)
Realizing that they needed to rely on others, these businessmen took a new tack: using generous financing to enlist sympathetic clergymen as their champions. After all, according to one tycoon, polls showed that, “of all the groups in America, ministers had more to do with molding public opinion” than any other....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 10:55
SOURCE: Salon (1-17-12)
Michael Lind’s new book, "Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States", will be published in April and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.com.
...The Republican Party is not really a pro-business party at all. It is a pro-hereditary wealth party. Its platform serves the interests of those few Americans who are born into wealth and seek to preserve their fortunes, not those who start new companies or invent new technologies. Naturally, therefore, the party’s presidential candidates are chosen nowadays from among the pedigreed, hereditary social elite who are the chief beneficiaries of its policies.
How is it, then, that the party of old money has succeeded in winning the vote of the white working class since Nixon and Reagan? To understand how this could occur, we need only look at American history.
In the 19th century the Jacksonian coalition, then identified with the Democrats beginning with Andrew Jackson, was, like the Republican Party today, based on an alliance of white Southerners and Southwesterners with working-class whites in the North. Like today’s neo-Jacksonian Republicans, the original Jacksonians posed as the champions of the common man, denouncing government tyranny and privilege.
But Jacksonian common-man rhetoric was a camouflage for the interests of the most parasitic rentier elite in American history: the Southern slaveowners, including Andrew Jackson himself. The rentiers of the plantation South were allied with Northern crony capitalists — businessmen and bankers who sought to loot the public domain by means of what today would be called “privatization.” That is why the Jackson administration destroyed the Bank of the United States, a quasi-public agency that was the largest corporation in the country, and distributed its financial assets to “pet banks” allied with Jackson and his cronies. The modern equivalent would be the privatization of Social Security and Medicare and the diversion of their vast revenues into private hands, which, of course, is the centerpiece of the Republican economic agenda for America....
Posted on: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 10:40
SOURCE: CS Monitor (1-17-12)
I just returned from a quick trip to Great Britain, which once ruled a fifth of the world’s inhabitants and a quarter of its land mass. But then the British instituted a system of social welfare, including national health care, which diminished their strength and confidence – and paved the way for the dissolution of their empire.
So said presidential hopeful Rick Santorum earlier this month in Iowa, where he ran a close second to Mitt Romney in the Republican caucuses. Critics quickly seized on Mr. Santorum’s confused chronology, noting that the British left India – the jewel of their empire – in 1947, and their National Health Service wasn’t established until 1948.
Yet when I recounted Santorum’s remark to a colleague in England, he had a very different response: “Why does the guy like empire so much?”
The answer isn’t hard to find. Like most of the other GOP candidates, Santorum seems to see America as the rightful heir to British global domination. All we need is a firm belief in our own superiority, which the British allegedly forsook after World War II....
[M]y colleague in England, who happens to be Irish ... wryly pointed out [that] nobody in Ireland – which suffered three centuries of vicious British rule – would ever put in a good word for imperialism.
Neither should we. If we really want to be an “exceptional” world power, we should resist the idea of empire wherever it arises. Despite what you hear from Rick Santorum, health care didn’t bankrupt the British Empire. In all the ways that matter, it was bankrupt from the start.
Posted on: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 13:48
SOURCE: Huffington Post (1-17-12)
"Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority."
Such were the sentiments of Capt Robert Falcon Scott exactly 100 years ago today, as he reached the geographic South Pole, having followed in the sledge tracks of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
It's a matter of record that Scott and his men were not the first to reach the pole. But arguably, his was a far greater 'reward' - an incredible legacy of science and conservation which has endured and flourished for a century.
Meteorological data, rocks, fossils and marine samples collected by Scott's party laid the early foundations of our scientific understanding of Antarctica - its geology, climate, and wildlife, including the amazing marine biodiversity of the Southern Ocean....
Posted on: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 11:12
SOURCE: LA Progressive (1-5-12)
Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University. For a list of his recent books and online publications, click here. He has previously written on mass culture, along with other topics, in his An Age of Progress? Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces (Anthem Press, 2008).
On LA Progressive’s pages, I have read many articles and commentaries which threaten not to support President Obama’s reelection. Although I distrust political labels, I consider myself a liberal and progressive, and thus a leftist, but I differ from some of you in several ways.
First, I embrace an ethics that is heavily consequentialist. A consequentialist would not say, “it is always wrong to lie.” What if a Nazi asked you if you were hiding a Jew during World War II? A consequentialist would consider the consequences of his/her actions, whether it be lying or voting in November and let that affect his/her decision.
I understand and admire some people who take a different approach and have written at length on one of them, pacifist (even during World War II) Dorothy Day. Her approach to ethics stressed more the intrinsic rightness or wrongness of an act. But I side more with various thinkers like Max Weber, Isaiah Berlin, and Reinhold Niebuhr (Obama’s favorite theologian) who advocated a more consequentialist ethics. These three men also took what they considered a realistic approach to politics and recognized the importance of compromises and toleration.
This did not mean ignoring the importance of political passion and pressure. Weber wrote that “devotion to politics, if it is not to be frivolous intellectual play but rather genuinely human conduct, can be born and nourished from passion alone.” And Niebuhr wrote: “Political strategy, therefore, always involves a combination of coercive and persuasive factors. . . . The welfare of society demands that enough social intelligence and moral idealism be created to prevent social antagonism from issuing in pure conflict and that enough social pressure be applied to force reluctant beneficiaries of social privilege to yield their privileges before injustice prompts to vehemence and violence.”
He applied these ideas already in 1932 to the black struggle for justice. He declared “the Negro will never win his full rights in society merely by trusting the fairness and sense of justice of the white man. . . . Neither will the Negro gain justice merely by turning to violence to gain his rights. . . . If he is well advised he will use such forms of economic and political pressure as will be least likely to destroy the moral forces, never completely absent even in intergroup relations, but which will nevertheless exert coercion upon the white man’s life.”
Considering these words and Niebuhr’s strong influence in Protestant circles, it is not surprising that he had a strong influence on Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. In his famous April 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote: “We have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”
On April 13, 1970, two years after King’s assassination, the editor of the journal Christianity and Crisis wrote to Niebuhr: “Let me tell you that Andy Young told me recently that in the quiet hours when he and Martin King would sit and talk that Martin always said he was much more influenced by you and Paul Tillich [another important Protestant theologian] than by Gandhi and that the nonviolent technique was merely a Niebuhrian stratagem of power. Enough said!”
For workers, Niebuhr also advised pressure tactics because “the group which is able to wield the most economic and political power really determines its [the state’s] policies.”
The advocacy of various forms of pressure by Niebuhr and the employment of nonviolent pressure tactics by Gandhi and King all suggest that among the masses and non-politicians, political wisdom often calls for more partisanship and passion and less compromise than for politicians, who often must compromise to advance the common good.
Gandhi and King were not modern-day politicians, but more akin to the Biblical Jewish prophets who attacked the evils of their day. These two modern prophets displayed the “prophetic charisma” that Weber believed was helpful to challenge an increasingly rationalized and bureaucratic state.
More recently, Cornel West has emphasized the importance of prophetic action within the political realm. He asks, for example, “Can prophetic religion, in all of its various forms, mobilize people, generate levels of righteous indignation against injustice—not raw rage at persons, not ad hominem attacks—can we put pressure on President Obama? He’s listening to technocratic elites in his economic team who have never had any serious concern with poor people and working people.” Without necessarily agreeing with all that West states, his stress on moral fervor against injustice seems appropriate.
So I applaud the passion and pressure that many of you, my fellow leftists, demonstrate in fighting for such noble ideals as peace, equality, freedom, and justice. And I recognize that President Obama has not always pursued these goals as passionately as you would like. But our roles as private citizens and his as president are different. Politicians must always remember that politics is, as Bismarck once stated, “the art of the possible.”
As John Kennedy wrote in his Profiles in Courage:
We shall need compromises in the days ahead, to be sure. But these will be, or should be, compromises of issues, not of principles. We can compromise our political positions, but not ourselves. We can resolve the clash of interests without conceding our ideals. And even the necessity for the right kind of compromise does not eliminate the need for those idealists and reformers who keep our compromises moving ahead. . . . Compromise need not mean cowardice. Indeed it is frequently the compromisers and conciliators who are faced with the severest tests of political courage as they oppose the extremist views of their constituents.
We, as private citizens, can and should apply pressure. The president often must compromise if he (or, hopefully some day, she) desires to advance the common good.
Has President Obama often perfectly balanced his desire for justice and the need to compromise? Undoubtedly not. Like all of us, he is an imperfect creature. But as I hope to demonstrate in a forthcoming essay, “Barack Obama and Political Wisdom,” he admires political wisdom and often demonstrates it.
In 1968, for the Democratic nomination I first supported Robert Kennedy and then, after his tragic assassination, Eugene McCarthy. But after Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, I voted for him against Richard Nixon in the November election. Some of my leftist friends refused to vote for him and instead wrote in McCarthy—in California he received more than 20,000 write-in votes.
Even then, I took the more consequentialist position I still do: a vote for McCarthy (he ran again as a third-party candidate in several later elections), Nader, or anyone else on the left rather than the Democratic candidate often helps the Republicans. And whatever my reservations about the Democratic candidates, I thought they would advance the common good more than would the Republicans.
Columnist Nicholas Kristof reminds us that in 2000: “Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority—and won eight years of George W. Bush.” He concludes, “This time, let’s do a better job of retaining perspective. If we turn Obama out of office a year from now, let’s make sure it is because the Republican nominee is preferable, not just out of grumpiness toward the incumbent during a difficult time.”
I think Kristof is correct. So I ask you, my fellow leftists, do you really think any of the Republicans likely to win their party’s nomination would further our ideals and the common good more than Obama? Do you think, for example, a Romney, Santorum, or Gingrich would nominate Supreme Court justices more to your liking?
Posted on: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 15:12
SOURCE: WSJ (1-14-12)
Dr. Charles K. Ross is Chair of the African American Studies Program, and Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi. Dr. Ross is the author of, “Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League” (New York University Press).
The recent success of Tim Tebow as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos has facilitated much dialogue among followers of NFL football and probably among many who don’t follow the sport closely. Without question his tremendous success at the collegiate level, unconventional throwing motion, and strong Christian faith have fueled numerous perspectives and opinions. The issue of race has been largely ignored by the mainstream media but cannot be overlooked when examining the opportunity that young Mr. Tebow is enjoying as the most important player on the field for the Broncos.
Yes, many people feel that that the issue of race and the quarterback position in the NFL was settled long ago, when Michael Vick became the first African-American quarterback to be selected with the first overall draft pick in 2001 by the Atlanta Falcons.
But the social issues around Vick are still generating heated discussion. On ESPN’s “First Take” several days ago, the panelists debated whether Tebow was in fact getting exposure because he was white and that black quarterbacks in the past had not been given the same opportunities. On the show, sports journalist Rob Parker stated “The NFL is making an exception for Tebow which has created resentment that is grounded in the question of ‘How come black players with similar skills in the past were not granted the chance to play quarterback?’”...
Posted on: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 13:06
SOURCE: CNN.com (1-16-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" (Times Books) and author of the forthcoming book "Governing America" (Princeton University Press).
As the South Carolina primary approaches, Mitt Romney has been struggling to respond to the blistering attacks from Newt Gingrich and a super PAC that supports his candidacy.
Gingrich opened up a line of attack on Romney's past work at Bain Capital, depicting Romney as a heartless capitalist, a "corporate raider," who made his money off other people's misfortunes. "Their greed," says the narrator of Romney and others like him, "was only matched by their willingness to do anything to make millions in profits ..."
Romney spent the final days of the New Hampshire primary trying to respond. He tried to turn the attack on its head, presenting himself as defender of the market economy and Gingrich as someone who was unexpectedly sympathetic to "European" ideas about government.
Although the response served its purpose, Gingrich has exposed Romney's greatest vulnerability in the campaign against President Barack Obama. Gingrich took Romney's greatest strength -- his background as in the world of business -- and turned it into a weakness....
Posted on: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 13:00
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-16-12)
Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.
There are “two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws…THE RICH AND THE POOR.”
The British novelist (and later prime minister) Benjamin Disraeli wrote those words about England in 1845. But they could equally well apply to the United States in 2012.
Since the advent of Occupy Wall Street, there has been a tendency to assume that only the left worries about inequality in America. The implication of OWS’s division of the country is that “we” are “the 99 percent,” and therefore conservatives must necessarily be apologists for “the 1 percent.”...
So what, if anything, can conservatives say in response? Step forward Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, whose new book, Coming Apart, offers by far the best available analysis of modern American inequality—and a much-needed antidote to the campaign for a European America....
Like Disraeli, Murray sees two nations where there used to be just one: a new upper class or “cognitive elite”—to be precise, the top 5 percent of people in managerial occupations and the professions—and a new “lower class,” which he is too polite to give a name. The upper class has gotten rich mainly because the financial returns on brainpower have risen steeply since the 1960s. At the same time, elite universities like Harvard (where I teach and where Murray studied) have gotten better at attracting the smartest students. The fact that these students are very often the offspring of better-off families reflects the fact that (as Murray puts it) “the parents of the upper-middle class now produce a disproportionate number of the smartest children.” They do this because smart people tend to marry other smart people and produce smart children....
Posted on: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 12:29
SOURCE: Newsweek (1-16-12)
Simon Schama is a professor of history and art history at Columbia University. He has been an essayist and critic for The New Yorker since 1994, his art criticism winning the National Magazine Award in 1996.
There are many things wrong with the Republic in 2012, but when historians come to write its chronicle they will notice that the country was gripped by the clammy delirium of nostalgia. Tea Partiers ache for what they imagine to have been a tricorny country, all innocent of the Monster Government. Politicians and radio ranters sell the credulous on an American paradise before “socialism,” in the wicked shape of Social Security and Medicare, ever came to be. And folks who might have better ways to pass their time have been falling like grouse to the gun before the mighty edifice of Downton Abbey. Deprived of a wallow in the dry-martini and bullet-bra world of Mad Men? Not to worry, Downton serves up a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery. It’s a servile soap opera that an American public desperate for something, anything, to take its mind off the perplexities of the present seems only too happy to down in great, grateful gulps.
...[T]his unassuageable American craving for the British country house is bound to get on my nerves, having grown up in the 1950s and ’60s with a Jacobinical rage against the moth-eaten haughtiness of the toffs. They still knew how to put One in One’s Place. I’d barely crossed the threshold of one such establishment before its Carson had delicately knocked at the door of my room wondering when he could collect my trousers. He had not asked of course but assumed I’d want them Properly Pressed. I still remember the look on his face as he carried them off between thumb and forefinger as if removing a mysterious object in an advanced form of contaminated decay. Before “retiring,” I was asked by another servant whether I would prefer to be woken with tea or coffee. “Ah,” I said, “how nice. Tea if that’s all right.” “Milk or lemon?” he pressed on. “Oh, gosh, thanks, milk.” “The Jersey or the Guernsey herd, sir?”...
Posted on: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 12:24
SOURCE: NYT (1-15-12)
Posted on: Sunday, January 15, 2012 - 15:39
SOURCE: The American Interest (1-7-12)
Walter Russell Mead is professor of foreign affairs and the humanities at Bard College and editor-at-large of The American Interest
Libya may be in a better place without Muammar Gaddafi, but the country is certainly not out of the woods quite yet. Nobody expected a functioning government by now, but the liberal interventionists who supported the war were hoping for something better than what we now have.
The Washington Post reports that factional violence between rival rebel groups has picked up again, casting doubt on the possibility of a healthy democracy emerging any time soon.
“We are now between two bitter options,” [Chairman of the Transnational Council Mustafa] Abdel Jalil told a gathering in the eastern city of Benghazi late Tuesday. Either “we deal with these violations strictly and put the Libyans in a military confrontation that we don’t accept,” he said, “or we split, and there will be a civil war.”
The militias . . . appear to believe they must keep an armed presence in the capital to ensure they receive their share of political power […]
Tripoli is now an unruly patchwork of fiefdoms, each controlled by a different militia. Police are rarely seen, except when directing traffic, and there is no sign of the newly created national army.
If Libya falls into another civil war, who will NATO bomb then?
The fledgling government is struggling to establish a national police force and army and is unable to quell the fighting. NATO may have accomplished its ultimate goal of ousting Gaddafi, but it seems to have lost interest in its stated goal of ensuring civilian safety and dignity. Part of this is that the only part of Libya’s government that some westerners care about is working: the oil is flowing. Part of it is compassion fatigue: the world has only a very limited amount of political and military energy for humanitarian concerns. And part of it is what we can call Reconstruction Syndrome: as the Yankees discovered in the postwar South, it is much easier to defeat armies in the field than to build a new society on the ruins. Sooner or later, the carpetbaggers and the troops who back them give up and the good old boys are pretty much free to do what they want....
Posted on: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 18:17
SOURCE: Dissent (1-1-12)
Max Fraser is a journalist and doctoral student in American history.
“When I graduated from Muncie Central High School, you could go just about anyplace and get a job—a decent job,” says Dennis Tyler. Tyler has represented Muncie’s Delaware County in the Indiana State House since 2007, and this past November he became the first Democratic mayor of Muncie in two decades. Before embarking on a political career, Tyler, who is sixty-nine, spent more than forty years in the fire department. For most of that time, he worked out of a firehouse just a mile and a half from where he grew up on Muncie’s Southside. “You could go to Borg Warner, and if you didn’t like Borg Warner you could leave and go to Chevrolet; if you didn’t like Chevrolet you could leave and go to Delco; if you didn’t like Delco you could leave and go to Acme-Lee, or dozens and dozens of other little places that were spinning off mom-and-pop tool-and-die shops.”
“At one point,” he recalls proudly, “the Southside of Muncie was almost completely built by people working in them factories.” Working people may have built south Muncie, but it was a pair of sociologists that put the city on the map. Ever since Robert and Helen Lynd christened Muncie Middletown in 1929, journalists, academics, and presidential hopefuls have flocked to this blue-collar city in eastern Indiana, for a look into the petri dish of American life or simply some Joe-the-Plumber-style street cred.
Last summer, with the nattering of congressional debt-ceiling debates and reports of ballooning corporate profits making headlines, I went in search of what Middletown has become today. Once as wholesome a symbol of the American Dream as the family breadwinner and apple pie, the very idea of Middletown now seemed a pale shadow of present realities, as the stark prose of unemployment statistics and eviction notices inscribed a very different kind of story onto the lives of millions of Americans....
Posted on: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 17:48
SOURCE: National Review (1-12-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.
President Obama has just ordered massive cutbacks in defense spending, eventually to total some $500 billion. There is plenty of fat in a Pentagon budget that grew after 9/11, but such slashing goes way too far.
Fairly or not, the cuts will only cement the now-familiar stereotype of Obama’s desire to retrench on the world scene. They follow symbolic apologies for purported past American sins, bows to foreign royals, and outreach to the likes of Iran and Syria. Abroad, such perceptions can matter as much as reality, as our rivals begin hoping that Obama is as dubious about America’s historically exceptional world role as are they....
The reason why our deficit is more than $1 trillion is not just that we have multimillion-dollar jet fighters or tens of thousands of Marines. Defense outlays currently represent only about 20 percent of federal budget expenditures and are below 5 percent of our gross national product. Those percentages are roughly average costs for recent years — despite an ongoing deployment in Afghanistan. In contrast, over the last three years we have borrowed a record near– $5 trillion for vast unfunded entitlements — from a spiraling Social Security and Medicare to an expansion of the food-stamp program to include one-seventh of America. Yet many Americans would probably prefer a new frigate manned by highly trained youth to discourage our enemies, rather than another Solyndra-like investment or a near– $1 trillion stimulus aimed at creating jobs in “shovel-ready” projects....
Posted on: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 17:22
SOURCE: National Review (1-12-12)
It would be unfair to dismiss the administration’s latest assault on the U.S.’s defense capability as the folly and cowardice some commentators are already alleging. Without a worldwide rival of comparable strength threatening all American strategic interests, it is certainly possible to retrench gradually and support regional forces of stability and, preferably, moderation.
President Roosevelt saw that if Nazi Germany were permitted to retain its conquests of 1938–40, and to continue to enjoy the satellization of unoccupied France, Italy, Romania, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, and much of the Balkans, it would, in a generation or so, have as large a population and industrial capacity as the United States, especially if it tore away and annexed chunks of the Soviet Union as well. Roosevelt responded with the greatest defense buildup in world history; the extension of U.S. territorial waters in the North Atlantic from three to 1,800 miles; orders to attack German ships on detection; the gift, described as a loan, to Britain and Canada, and later the Soviet Union, of any sinews of war they requested; and the enforced expulsion of any German or Italian influence from the Americas....
There is no such threat now. Terrorism is a dreadful nuisance, but it lacks central direction and a great and powerful host country devoted altogether to its conduct, and it is incapable of attracting the intellectual and moral support of more than a few homicidal psychopaths and genocidists....
Posted on: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 17:18
SOURCE: American Spectator (1-9-12)
Burton Folsom, Jr. is professor of history at Hillsdale College and author of New Deal or Raw Deal? (Simon & Schuster, 2008). His new book, co-authored with Anita Folsom, is FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Anita Folsom works at Hillsdale College and is co-author of FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America (Simon & Schuster, 2011).
Who should build and fix the nation's roads? The Democrats clearly believe road building and repair is best done by the federal government. President Obama, in fact, made infrastructure improvements a major part of his $787 billion stimulus package. And in the New Hampshire debate on Saturday night, the Republicans sadly seemed to look to Washington as well.
When asked during the debate about the federal government's role in improving the nation's roads, Newt Gingrich seemed resigned to a strong federal role. So did Mitt Romney, although he also seemed open to state efforts. According to Romney, "There are certain things government can do to grow the economy. Rebuilding infrastructure that is aging is one of them." He went on to describe bridges and highways that needed repair.
These Republicans are right in pointing to a strong infrastructure as being essential to economic growth. But "Let Washington do it" should not be our battle cry. If we look first to the Constitution, and second to competency, we will discover that we should ask Washington to hit the road, not build it....
...[T]he Constitution leaves road building as a state and local function. In 1817, when Congress passed a bill allowing the federal government to build roads and canals in various states, President James Madison vetoed it. "I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution," Madison said....
Posted on: Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 22:26