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: ABC Action News (8-20-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."
(CNN) -- Now the party is really starting. Democrats and Republicans are preparing to gather to hold their conventions, each using this precious time to tell the nation what its presidential candidate is all about.
Republicans are hoping that Gov. Chris Christie can tear down the Democrats, New Jersey style, in his keynote address, and that Condoleezza Rice can add some foreign policy heft to a ticket remarkably thin on international affairs. Democrats are depending on former President Bill Clinton to tap into the rhetoric he used against Republicans in the budget battles of 1995 to cut into Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's vision for Medicare. They hope that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the keynote speaker, can send a message to Latinos about which party is on their side.
Without any more deal-making in smoke-filled rooms, speeches are the highlight of the convention. Even when speeches are made at conventions whose candidate winds up losing, they can offer ideas and rhetoric that become integral to the party for decades to come. A look back at history reveals that there are different types of speeches that we might see in the coming weeks, each with very different purposes and effect....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 12:43
SOURCE: NYT (8-20-12)
The Great Recession and its frustrating aftermath spawned the Tea Party and the Occupy movement – bands of dedicated activists who agree about nothing but the need to transform the political system. Both movements grew quickly, aided by their own creative tactics and the news media’s rapt attention. Each one forced office-holders and aspiring candidates to address their concerns and adopt some of their rhetoric – whether “protect the Constitution” or “We are the 99 percent.”
So why, less than three months before the election, do only the Tea Partiers wield a major influence on American politics?
A big reason is that the main purpose of these conservative activists was always to elect right-wing stalwarts who could thwart President Obama’s “socialist” programs. And, from the first, they could draw on wealthy contributors like the Koch brothers and experienced advisers like Richard Armey....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 12:41
SOURCE: American Prospect (8-22-12)
Richard Rothstein is a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley. Mark Santow is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Politicians and experts typically refer to schools as “failing” if they are filled with low-income children with low test scores. Faced with enormous challenges, such schools may be doing as well as they possibly can, though. African American children from low-income urban families often suffer from health problems that lead to school absences; from frequent or sustained parental unemployment that provokes family crises; from rent or mortgage defaults causing household moves that entail changes of teachers and schools, with a resulting loss of instructional continuity; and from living in communities with high levels of crime and disorder, where schools spend more time on discipline and less on instruction and where stress interferes with academic achievement. With school segregation continuing to increase, these children are often isolated from the positive peer influences of middle-class children who were regularly read to when young, whose homes are filled with books, whose environment includes many college-educated professional role models, and whose parents have greater educational experience and the motivation such experience brings as well as the time, confidence, and ability to monitor schools for academic quality.
We have little chance of substantially narrowing the achievement gap without breaking up heavy concentrations of low-income minority children in urban schools, giving these children opportunities to attend majority middle-class schools outside their distressed neighborhoods.
Busing poor black children out of neighborhoods with accumulating disadvantages is not only politically inconceivable but practically impossible—the distances are now simply too great. Yet without integrated education, we have little hope of remedying the educational struggles of the “truly disadvantaged” (sociologist William Julius Wilson coined the term a generation ago). Without integrating residential neighborhoods, we have little hope of integrating education. Residential integration is now also beyond the pale politically and perhaps inconceivable practically as well. But it was not always so; we should give the policy a second look....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 11:02
SOURCE: The Root (8-22-12)
Kiff Hamp is a graduate student at the University of Michigan Law School and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
...In debating the constitutionality of rights given to, and taken from, African Americans throughout the history of our country, lawyers, legal scholars and historians have debated the concept of a "colorblind Constitution." Most Americans know the term from Justice John Marshall Harlan's famous one-man dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which he stated: "Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." In fact, the term was used in a similar way in the decades before the Civil War by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass and Sen. Charles Sumner.
The idea of constitutional colorblindness is still used in modern legal discourse, often in debates regarding affirmative action. Today individuals opposed to affirmative action argue, in part, that our Constitution does not allow for special assistance for minorities because the document makes no mention of color or distinction among races....
The colorblind-Constitution theory, at first glance, seems to provide a compelling argument for equality. But despite its historical roots in the abolition movement, it doesn't actually work as a remedy for discrimination against African Americans. The key concept behind the original colorblind argument made by 19th-century abolitionists was equality before the law; their vision was of a country in which nobody saw color, so everyone, it would follow, would be inherently equal.
While this is certainly an ideal for which to strive, the problem with that view today is that African Americans were subjected to decades of discrimination and unfair treatment, even after the abolition of slavery, during the repeal of Reconstruction, through the birth of Jim Crow in the 1890s and continuing throughout much of the 20th century. Today the case can certainly be made that African Americans are "facially equal" to white Americans. But because they were so disadvantaged by decades of discrimination, simply removing race from our national discourse and providing no remedial help to people who were historically and systematically disadvantaged simply cannot lead to true equality....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 08:00
SOURCE: LA Times (8-22-12)
Thomas A. Foster is an associate professor and chairman of the history department at DePaul University. He is the editor of "Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America."
"If it's a legitimate rape," he said, "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
In a piece that was typical of the widespread outrage the remarks stirred, the Atlantic magazine called them the "contemporary equivalent of the early American belief that only witches float."
The writer was onto something important. Akin's ideas truly do date back to the colonial era.
In those days, prior to modern medical understanding of conception, women were considered to be "more amorous" than men, and it was believed that both partners needed to have orgasms in order for conception to occur....
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 07:39
SOURCE: Newsweek/The Daily Beast (8-19-12)
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.
I was a good loser four years ago. “In the grand scheme of history,” I wrote the day after Barack Obama’s election as president, “four decades is not an especially long time. Yet in that brief period America has gone from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to the apotheosis of Barack Obama. You would not be human if you failed to acknowledge this as a cause for great rejoicing.”...
It is a sign of just how completely Barack Obama has “lost his narrative” since getting elected that the best case he has yet made for reelection is that Mitt Romney should not be president. In his notorious “you didn’t build that” speech, Obama listed what he considers the greatest achievements of big government: the Internet, the GI Bill, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hoover Dam, the Apollo moon landing, and even (bizarrely) the creation of the middle class. Sadly, he couldn’t mention anything comparable that his administration has achieved....
The voters now face a stark choice. They can let Barack Obama’s rambling, solipsistic narrative continue until they find themselves living in some American version of Europe, with low growth, high unemployment, even higher debt—and real geopolitical decline.
Or they can opt for real change: the kind of change that will end four years of economic underperformance, stop the terrifying accumulation of debt, and reestablish a secure fiscal foundation for American national security....
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 15:50
SOURCE: Chronicle of Higher Ed (8-13-12)
No one doubts that globalization is one of the most important trends of our day. Nor does anyone question that it affects what we study, how we teach, and whom we seek to reach. Beyond that, however, there is little consensus.
As American universities expand their global footprint with branch campuses in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere, many faculty are concerned about oppressive governance, human-rights violations, and lack of academic freedom abroad. Meanwhile administrators grapple with how these new ventures—and globalization in general—will change teaching and research in the United States. As higher education seeks new audiences, will it be able to maintain the significance and character of the liberal arts, which have played such a crucial role in the educational mission of the American university?
Similarly educators increasingly agree that all undergraduates ought to pursue some study abroad. But should it involve language study and full cultural immersion? Or short-term travel and networking through internships and other kinds of programs?
The lack of clarity is especially troubling in my own field of area studies, where a growing number of scholars have abandoned older practices in favor of new forms of global study....
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 12:09
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (8-20-12)
Juan Cole is Professor of Modern Middle Eastern and South Asian History at the University of Michigan.
It would be bad enough, as I reported last week, that 47 billionaires were responsible for the lion’s share of individual Super PAC contributions. It turns out that the Super PACs aren’t even the biggest players.
The biggest players are the dark money PACs, which do not have to reveal the sources of their funding.
If we just look at the television ads bankrolled by the top six sources of funding, we make a startling discovery, which Kim Barker reported on in these pages last week.
The ‘dark money’ PACs are outspending everyone else. Crossroads GPS, founded by Karl Rove and backed by anonymous big-money donors, has bought negative attack ads against President Obama to the tune of $52 million! The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity spent $20.6 million. The political parties and the Super PACs, which have to identify the source of their funds, are making a much smaller contribution....
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 11:43
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (8-20-12)
Vanessa Heggie is a historian of science at the University of Cambridge.
..."[A]bsolute rape" is not quite the same as Akin's "legitimate rape". Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier [medieval] idea ... relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.
The biological basis for this idea is what the historian Thomas Laqueur has termed the "one sex system". The one sex system suggests that women's reproductive organs are fundamentally based on men's reproductive organs, so the vagina is represented as an inverted penis, the ovaries are testes and so on. Women had "cooler" constitutions, and therefore lacked the heat or force to drive the gonads out of the body, to convert ovaries to testes.
Thinking of the sexual organs as mirrors of each other obviously led to questions about the existence of a female "seed" or ejaculate. There was a disagreement about the roles of male and female seed – did they mingle to create the offspring, or did they contribute different things? Whatever the female seed contributed to conception, it was thought necessary, and so in theory a female orgasm was as important as a male orgasm....
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 09:55
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (6-25-12)
Tad Daley is the author of Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World (Rutgers University Press), soon in paperback. He is currently working on a new book about the history and future of the ancient idea that something like a world republic could serve as the solution to the problem of war.
A reflection on:
Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement
272 pages, $21.95
In 2011, people across the planet reached out to Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Millions watched as one nation after another rose in mass revolutions across the Arab world. The Occupy movement blossomed, as citizens in cities around the globe expressed rage over the excesses of capitalism and corporate power. And Time magazine named "The Protester" its annual Person of the Year.
The world has never been smaller. Citizen movements increasingly demonstrate their limitless promise. So, think it sounds too dreamy to imagine that someday people power might transform our small world into one world -- a united republic of Earth?
Then read Lawrence Wittner's 2009 book, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. And think again.
Dawn of a movement. Confronting the Bomb is a condensation of Wittner's epic, three-volume masterpiece of historical research, The Struggle Against the Bomb. An overarching message of the book will surprise even nuclear policy experts, because Wittner starts with an incontrovertible historical fact almost wholly forgotten today: For the first several years of the nuclear age, the ultimate aspiration of the disarmament crowd was not just to eliminate nuclear arsenals, but to create a federal republic of the world....
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 18:55
SOURCE: Madmen of Chu (8-17-12)
Andrew Seth Meyer is associate professor of history at Brooklyn College and the translator for "The Dao of the Military: Liu An's Art of War." Enter DAOME on Columbia University Press's website for a 30 percent discount on the book.
Speaking with other Jews, one of the themes that often arises when one discusses the current presidential campaign is the notion of President Obama's purported hostility to Israel. Even staunch Democrats who avow their support of Obama will opine that "Romney would be better for Israel." There is a broad expectation that such concerns will make many more Jews vote Republican in this cycle.
Relations between the Obama White House and the Netanyahu government have been visibly strained, but other than this particular friction it is difficult to fathom why so many American Jews are persuaded that President Obama is "anti-Israel" in the abstract. His opposition to the building of new settlements in the Occupied Territories and his open endorsement of "pre-1967" boundaries as a baseline for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority have been seized upon by the President's critics as blatant provocations, but they do not open any daylight between Obama and his Republican opposition.
An example of the hazy logic behind this conventional wisdom can be seen in a recent piece posted on the blog Israel Commentary by Michael Freund: "Where Does Paul Ryan Stand on Israel?" In it, Freund calls upon Jewish voters to vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket, noting that "On Ryan’s Congressional website, Israel features prominently in the section entitled 'Homeland Security.'" But if one goes to the actual text concerning Israel on Ryan's website, there is nothing to distinguish his position on Israel from President Obama's. Indeed, Ryan declares that "Real peace will require Palestinians to recognize that Israel has a right to exist, even as it will require two states for the two peoples," a key pronouncement which might be lifted out of the speech for which President Obama has been so decried among some of Israel's supporters. Freund admits sullenly that "Unfortunately, Ryan also endorses the so-called two-state solution, which is clearly a non-starter," demonstrating how far out of the mainstream those who have most actively promulgated the myth of Obama's "anti-Israel" stance really are.
The stubborn persistence of the image of Obama as "anti-Israel" is sometimes quite puzzling. Mitt Romney has moved to capitalize on the impression, asking in a recent campaign ad why Obama has never visited Israel. Though it is true that Obama has never visited Israel officially as President of the United States, the same is true of all but four of the eleven U.S. presidents that have served in office since Israel first came into existence: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The two Republican presidents who did visit Israel (a list that noticeably does not include Ronald Reagan) did so only in their second terms.
Moreover, the notion that "Obama has never visited Israel" is simply not true. Senator Barack Obama visited Israel while campaigning for president in 2008. On that trip he made a point of visiting with victims of a rocket attack by Hamas forces in the town of Sderot, declaring that, "I came to Sderot with a commitment to Israel's security. Israel has the right to defend itself, and peace should not undermine its security." That proved to be more than an empty promise. As Colin Kahl notes, "Obama has championed efforts to provide Israel with $275 million over and above its annual FMF to help finance Iron Dome, an anti-rocket system that has already saved Israeli lives by intercepting approximately 90 percent of projectiles launched against protected areas in the country's south in the past year."
Indeed, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Israel has hit historic highs under the Obama administration, reaching $3.1 billion in FY 2013. Monetary aid is only one dimension in which the security relationship between Israel and the U.S. has grown historically close under Obama's stewardship. Technological exchanges and cooperation on key defense matters have accelerated under this administration faster than under any previous president, prompting Ehud Barak, Bibi Netanyahu's Defense Minister, to declare: "It's been proven to all the doubters, President Obama is an ally and friend of Israel. The Obama administration gives backing to Israel's security in a wide, all-encompassing and unprecedented manner."
Despite all the evidence, the notion that President Obama is hostile to Israel persists, fueled by sound-bite impressions and skewed rhetoric. The Romney-Ryan campaign believes that they can win Jewish votes on the strength of this myth, and their success in winning the allegiance of backers such as Sheldon Adelson seems to bear out their strategy. The facts, however, tell a different story. Though Obama's advocacy for a two-state solution has occasionally produced friction between his administration and that of Bibi Netanyahu, it does not in any way distinguish him as a matter of policy from his Republican rivals. Those who vote against President Obama on the suggestion that he "has been bad for Israel" are being sorely misled.
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 18:34
SOURCE: Huffington Post (8-10-12)
Jim Sleeper lectures in political science at Yale and posts frequently at TPM. He has been a New York newspaper columnist and is the author of The Closest of Strangers and Liberal Racism.
A few hours ago Fareed Zakaria apologized publicly for passing off New Yorker writer Jill Lepore's work as his own in an essay he wrote for Time magazine. Not to put too fine a point on it, Zakaria committed egregious plagiarism, as Alexander Abad-Santos of the Atlantic Wire reported.
But the offense does not end there. Zakaria is a trustee of Yale, which takes a very dim view of plagiarism and suspends or expels students who commit anything like what he has committed here. If the Yale Corporation were to apply to itself the standards it expects its faculty and students to meet, Zakaria would have to take a leave or resign.
Worse still: Lepore, whom Zakaria wronged by misappropriating her work, is herself a Yale PhD. If anyone knows what it means to steal another scholar's work, it's Zakaria, who holds a PhD from Harvard.
Zakaria is a busy man, of course. Although he's been judged by The New Republic to be one of America's "most-overrated thinkers," he was interviewed about the state of the world last year by Yale President Richard Levin before a large audience at the kick-off off Yale's $50 million Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, the new home of "Professor" Stanley McChrystal and of what Lewis Lapham has called "the arts and sciences of career management," including mastery of "the exchange rate between an awkward truth and a user-friendly lie."
Zakaria was Harvard's commencement speaker this June and, as Paul Starobin reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, he's also very busy collecting his standard speaking fee of $75,000 for talks he gives to at Baker Capital, Catterton Partners, Driehaus Capital Management, ING, Merrill Lynch, Oak Investment Partners, Charles Schwab, and T. Rowe Price.
Might Zakaria then have fobbed off the drafting of his ill-fated Time article to an assistant or intern (from Yale, perhaps?) and given the draft his glancing approval before letting it run under his byline in Time? Whatever the truth, he couldn't have fobbed off the blame on anyone but himself, and so he has issued his clipped but "unreserved" apology to Lepore.
He should also apologize to Yale. Last April Yale's trustees, under fire for their ill-conceived venture to establish a new liberal arts college bearing Yale's name in collaboration with the authoritarian city-state of Singapore, wheeled in their fellow trustee and favorite journalist, Zakaria, to write a column defending the venture in the Yale Daily News that, I wrote here in Huffington Post at the time, then read as if it had been written by a wind-up toy of Zakaria at his self-important, elitist worst.
After parsing the new Singapore college's prospective East-West syllabus with affectations of an erudition he doesn't possess, Zakaria, a consummate player of the "Third World card" against Westerners who dare to criticize his Davos neo-liberalism, discovered in the Singapore venture's Yale faculty critics "a form of parochialism bordering on chauvinism -- on the part of supposedly liberal and open-minded intellectuals" who, he wrote, can't "see that we too, in America and at Yale, can learn something from Singapore."
I've since had several occasions to explain what exactly we're learning from Singapore, as well as to note Zakaria's bad habit of resorting to elitist, snarky put-downs of his critics. Last summer, he lit into a leftist critic of President Obama, the academic psychologist and political consultant Drew Westen, by telling Charlie Rose, "I'm not going to get into the what-ifs of a professor, you know, who has never run for dogcatcher advising one of the most skillful politicians in the country on how he should have handled this."
Zakaria -- who hasn't run for dogcatcher, either, but doesn't hesitate to advise presidents -- can't help himself at such moments, and he hasn't been able to help himself now, either. As long as he remains a Yale trustee, he will remain a sad example of Yale's own transformation from a crucible of civic-republican leadership for America and the world into a global career-networking center and cultural galleria for a new elite that answers to no polity or moral code and that aggrandizes itself by plucking the fruits of others' work.
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 18:30
SOURCE: NYT (8-16-12)
Lewis L. Gould is professor emeritus of American history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans.”
In all the media excitement over Mitt Romney’s selection of Representative Paul D. Ryan as his running mate on the Republican ticket, little attention has been focused on the rarity of an incumbent member of the House of Representatives holding second place on a national ticket. Each party has done it twice since 1900, with one success and one failure for both Republicans and Democrats so far.
The Republicans led off in 1908 with the selection of James S. Sherman to run with William H. Taft. A representative from upstate New York, Sherman was chosen to balance the “Western” choice of Taft, from Ohio. After the election, Sherman (known as “Sunny Jim”) played almost no role in the Taft presidency. He presided over the Senate and played golf. After Taft defeated Theodore Roosevelt in the bitter 1912 Republican national convention, Sherman was re-nominated by default. He died of a heart condition shortly before the November voting and is now generally and deservedly forgotten.
Twenty years later, in the tumultuous 1932 Democratic convention that nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt for the first time, the Speaker of the House, John Nance Garner of Texas (nicknamed “Cactus Jack”), threw his delegates to F.D.R. at a key moment to break a multiballot deadlock and received the vice presidency in return. Later he famously opined that the position was not worth “a bucket of warm piss.” Garner sought the presidential nomination himself in 1940 but could not overcome the third term sentiment for President Roosevelt....
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 18:28
SOURCE: Bloomberg News (8-17-12)
Lawrence B. Glickman is professor of history at the University of South Carolina. He is the author most recently of “Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America.” The opinions expressed are his own.
Representative Paul Ryan, Romney’s recently announced running mate, uses the phrase even more frequently. In his very first speech as Romney’s selection, he called for a return to the founding principles of “liberty, freedom, free enterprise.”...
In using this language, the two are part of a long tradition, one that helps explain how Americans have frequently mythologized the role of the “free market” and downplayed that of government in our dynamic economic system.
Ever since the term “free enterprise” was popularized by the National Association of Manufacturers in the 1930s, critics of the New Deal and its legacy have been issuing urgent warnings. Lacking a positive definition, the idea of free enterprise has been expressed largely through a language of fear and loss.
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 18:17
SOURCE: NYT (8-17-12)
Posted on: Saturday, August 18, 2012 - 16:23
SOURCE: Dissent Magazine (8-16-12)
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is co-editor, with Angilee Shah, of Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Lands, which will be published next month by the University of California Press. He will join other contributors to the volume, including Dissent author Megan Shank, for a book launch event at New York’s Asia Society on September 17 (details here).
As Britain basks in the glow of its successful Olympics, the thought that comes to this China specialist’s mind is, what a difference four years makes. There is a striking contrast indeed, where China is concerned, between the largely positive international chatter about that country in mid-2008, as the Beijing Games concluded, and the largely negative buzz about it now.
The change in China’s fortunes has little to do with medal counts or world records. Still, a look back to the Beijing Games helps place then-and-now contrasts into sharp relief.
Plenty of criticisms were leveled at China’s leaders just before the 2008 Olympics over issues such as repression in Tibet, and the Games were hardly free of controversy either, thanks to complaints about everything from parts of the opening ceremonies being faked (for example, the fireworks that looked like footprints in the sky being doctored digital effects) to underage gymnasts competing on the Chinese team. And yet, overall, a lot of things went right for the Party four years ago. As a result, a good number of international observers came away from China’s first Olympics seeing the country much as its leaders desperately want it to be seen: as a country that is respectful of its past yet surging toward a prosperous future; that is no longer poor, chaotic, isolated, with leaders prone to ideological extremism, personality cult rule, and factional infighting.
The “Bird’s Nest” and other new arenas looked great on television, fostering the notion that China can build things quickly and well, an idea further buttressed by headlines in the following years about new high speed trains going into operation. Even the weather cooperated four years ago, in part, the Party claimed, because of the skillful use it made of sci-fi methods to hasten or delay rainfall as needed. Most important of all, the 2008 opening ceremonies, while not without critics complaining about such things as a bait-and-switch technique that had us see one girl singing while hearing another one’s voice, was an eye-popping spectacle and left the impression on many viewers that the Party was striving to convey. The extravaganza began with a quote from Confucius, back in favor by 2008 after being denigrated by the Party as recently as the 1970s, and ended with a symbolic nod to China’s space program. It contained no direct allusions to the Mao years (1949-1976) or indeed any twentieth-century event, but red flags filled the stadium and Hu Jintao presided over the event, so no one could forget that the Party was running the show and, as the quote from Confucius put it, taking pleasure in welcoming friends from afar. The gala wowed a big crowd of eyewitnesses, which included top world leaders such as Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, and was watched on screens all over the world.
Flash forward to 2012 and we find many contrasts.
The biggest recent Chinese weather story, for example, is the devastating floods that hit Beijing last month. These not only cost people their lives but also undermined the state media’s already tenuous credibility, since rumors flew early on that the loss of life was being grossly underreported.
Similarly, the big infrastructure story this summer has not been about impressive structures but rather the inability of the capital’s sewers to handle the water from torrential rains. This led some Chinese bloggers to mock the authorities for spending too much on showy buildings and too little on the basic things that matter to most people. In doing so, as in questioning the reliability of state media reports on the flood, these bloggers picked up on themes that figured centrally in the important flurry of online commentary triggered a year ago by a high-speed train crash and clumsy government efforts to cover up what had gone wrong.
And when it comes to China’s relations with foreign countries, the focus now is not on its ability to play the gracious host but on Beijing’s proclivity to act like a regional hegemon in disputes over small islands claimed by more than one country.
The most striking difference between four years ago and today, however, has to do with the carefully scripted Chinese dramas enacted while each of the last two Summer Games were being televised. Whereas in August 2008, we had Zhang Yimou’s cast-of-thousands spectacle staged out in the open in China’s capital, last week there were quick and dirty proceedings in a provincial courtroom—something that might best be described, oxymoronically, as a highly secretive show trial, with only a small handful of foreign observers allowed to watch the proceedings in person.
The goal of this drama was to prove that Gu Kailai, who had once been lionized as a successful lawyer and businesswoman and is the wife of the recently purged Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, was a vile if pitiable individual. According to official reports, she has confessed to the crime of conspiring with one of her employees to poison Neil Heywood, a mysterious Englishman whom she had once viewed as a trusted helper of her family but supposedly later came to fear posed a danger to her son.
The trial, like earlier events involving Bo and members of his family, have led some commentators inside and outside of China to question the notion that Chinese politics has really undergone a sea change since the 1970s. In criticizing Bo, other Chinese leaders have claimed that his efforts to build a personal following were too similar for comfort to things that Mao had done during the Cultural Revolution decade (1966-1976). In the eyes of some, though, it is the way Bo has been attacked and Gu has been turned into a scapegoat that bring to mind the infighting and intrigue of an earlier era.
What are we to make of the contrasting global chatter on China in 2008 and 2012? Surely it is partly due to the many ways that the country has changed in the in the last four years, some of which I have written about in this publication. To cite just one shift, upticks in online complaints and protests relating to environmental concerns show that there are more Chinese citizens now questioning the government’s claim that the existence of faster trains (that may be dangerous) and more goods on supermarket shelves (that may be unsafe to eat) are sufficient proof that the quality of life is steadily improving.
There are two other factors, though, that contribute to the dramatic shift from 2008 to 2012.
One of these is the enduring tendency in the West to swing between viewing China in either an overly admiring or overly disparaging way. Perry Anderson, writing in the London Review of Books in 2010, referred to this as the competing pulls of Sinomania and Sinophobia. Anderson stressed the distorting effects of both kinds of emotionally charged views of China. He also notes that sometimes Sinomania and Sinophobia can become intertwined. He cites as an example the seemingly phobic (from its title) but actually largely admiring (in its approach) When China Rules the World, which sold well when the afterglow of the Beijing Games was still strong. Similarly, looking back, we can see that even in some commentaries praising China in 2008, there was an undercurrent of anxiety, a sense that there was something disturbing about all those drummers moving in lockstep in the opening ceremony—that what we were seeing on our screens was too good to be true, that all those new buildings could be symbols of a bubble economy.
In 2008 many viewers around the world were dazzled, as the Chinese government hoped they would be, by a ready-for-primetime Beijing that seemed as magical as the Emerald City had to Dorothy when she first encountered it. In 2012, however, as Geremie Barmé put it in an Australian ABC television interview on Bo’s fall and Gu’s trial, we have gotten a “Wizard of Oz moment,” a chance to glimpse things that we were not supposed to know existed. Beijing is proving to be a different place than the one that looked so good on television four years ago. It turns out to have sewers that don’t operate the way that they should. And it turns out to contain leaders who, all talk of harmony aside, are not immune to the kind of factional divides and rough-and-tumble score-settling that we were told were part of the old New China of Mao but not the sleek PRC 2.0 of today.
Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 16:15
SOURCE: National Review (8-16-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com.
...How to explain the seemingly inexplicable? “California” is a misnomer. There is no such state. Instead there are two radically different cultures and landscapes with little in common, the two equally dysfunctional in quite different ways. Apart they are unworldly; together, a disaster.
A postmodern narrow coastal corridor runs from San Diego to Berkeley; there the weather is ideal, the gentrified affluent make good money, and values are green and left-wing. This Shangri-La is juxtaposed to a vast impoverished interior, from the southern desert to the northern Central Valley, where life is becoming premodern.
On the coast, blue-chip universities like Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA in pastoral landscapes train the world’s doctors, lawyers, engineers, and businesspeople. In the hot interior of blue-collar Sacramento, Turlock, Fresno, and Bakersfield, well over half the incoming freshmen in the California State University system must take remedial math and science classes....
Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 15:47
SOURCE: CNN.com (8-11-12)
Joseph Loconte, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history at the King’s College in New York City and the author of The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt.
(CNN) The ancient Greeks, especially the frugal Spartans, would probably balk at the commercialism that saturates our modern Olympic Games. And it’s doubtful that either badminton or beach volleyball would satisfy their appetite for blood-and-guts competition.
Yet we share something with the Greeks every time we assemble for this great athletic contest: a desire to transcend the politics of the moment and reach beyond the ordinary limits of human achievement. That desire has been on full display during the London Summer Games.
Begun in 776 BC, the Olympic Games soon became so important to Greek life that conflicts between participating Greek city-states, which were constantly squabbling with one another, would be suspended until after the games. The great historian Thucydides described one such scene in his classic history of the Peloponnesian War....
Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 15:39
SOURCE: CNN.com (8-11-12)
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and of the new book "Governing America."
(CNN) -- Mitt Romney has taken many people by surprise by announcing that his vice presidential running mate will be Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. The decision excites many conservatives who have been calling on Romney to go big. They believe Ryan will inject some juice into a campaign they feel has been lackluster and put the focus on the policy differences between Romney and President Obama.
The primary risk with Ryan, from what we currently know about him, is that his controversial budget plan and tough line on Medicare could energize liberals and alienate elderly voters in key states like Florida. He also lacks foreign policy expertise and has spent most of his career in the city that conservatives hate, Washington. In recent decades, the record of vice presidential running mates who have come right out of the House is not very good.
The risk of making the wrong choice for vice president was highlighted in 2008 by Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a decision many believe helped torpedo the Republican nominee. Palin struggled before the media, appearing inexperienced and unprepared for the Oval Office. She also used aggressive conservative rhetoric that undercut McCain's appeal to independents....
Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 15:36