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: The New Republic (11-2-12)
David Greenberg is a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers. He is a contributing editor for The New Republic.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Barack Obama for president Thursday is the latest piece of evidence to suggest that, at the least, the president’s performance during Hurricane Sandy won’t hurt his reelection prospects. But if the President wants a model for boosting his election prospects on the basis of such heroics, he should consider the example set by Herbert Hoover. More than anyone, it was Hoover who established the precedent of treating natural disasters as a proving ground for the presidency, and a measure of executive compassion and competence....
[President] Coolidge’s belief in a hands-off presidency was tested when the Mississippi River overflowed its banks in April 1927, creating the worst natural disaster in American history until Hurricane Katrina. The floods killed hundreds, displaced hundreds of thousands, and left damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars. To spearhead a rescue, relief, and reconstruction effort, Coolidge named Hoover. He was the obvious choice for the job, having built a reputation as a hypercompetent humanitarian in World War I by delivering needed food first to the Belgians who had been overrun by Germany and then, after the war, to vast swaths of ravaged Europe....
Posted on: Monday, November 5, 2012 - 08:07
SOURCE: NYT (11-3-12)
Posted on: Sunday, November 4, 2012 - 08:34
SOURCE: NYT (11-3-12)
Posted on: Sunday, November 4, 2012 - 08:31
SOURCE: LA Times (10-30-12)
Erwin Chemerinsky is dean and professor of law at the UC Irvine School of Law.
The future of the Supreme Court is the forgotten issue in this year's presidential election. This is surprising and disturbing because a president's picks for the federal judiciary are one of the most long-lasting legacies of any presidency. There is a sharp contrast between the types of individuals that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would place on the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, yet neither is saying much about it.
Recent history powerfully shows the importance of presidential elections to Supreme Court decision-making. Imagine that Al Gore or John Kerry had been elected president and one of them, rather than George W. Bush, had been able to replace William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor in 2005. The high court likely would not have found a right for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (2010), or a right of individuals to own and possess guns in District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008), or upheld the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act in Gonzales vs. Carhart (2007)....
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 14:06
SOURCE: Via Meadia (Blog) (10-31-12)
Walter Russell Mead is the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He also writes a blog for the American Interest.
While the lights went out across Manhattan tonight, and the city that calls itself the capital of the world was cut off from the mainland as flood waters thundered through its streets, many people around the world watched the spectacle and were reminded just how fragile the busy world we humans build around us really is.
Manhattan is one of those places where nature seems mostly held at bay. Except for the parks, oases of carefully preserved nature deliberately shaped by the hand of man, every inch of the city’s surface has been covered by something manmade. The valleys have been exalted, the mountains laid low and the rough places plain.
Those who live and do their business there pay very little attention to the natural world most of the time. It can be hard to get a taxi in the rain, and the occasional winter snowstorm forces a brief halt to the city’s routine, but the average New Yorker’s attention is on the social world, not the world of nature. What’s happening to your career, your bank account, your friendships and loved ones, the political scene and the financial markets: those are the concerns that occupy the minds of busy urbanites on their daily rounds.
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 13:40
SOURCE: NYT (10-27-12)
Colin Shindler is an emeritus professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and the author of “Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization.”
LAST week, Twitter shut down a popular account for posting anti-Semitic messages in France. This came soon after the firing of blanks at a synagogue near Paris, the discovery of a network of radical Islamists who had thrown a hand grenade into a kosher restaurant, and the killing of a teacher and young pupils at a Jewish school in Toulouse earlier this year. The attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence against Jews in France.
Today, a sizable section of the European left has been reluctant to take a clear stand when anti-Zionism spills over into anti-Semitism. Beginning in the 1990s, many on the European left began to view the growing Muslim minorities in their countries as a new proletariat and the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism. The issue of Palestine was particularly seductive for the children of immigrants, marooned between identities.
Capitalism was depicted as undermining a perfect Islamic society while cultural imperialism corrupted Islam. The tactic has a distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Indeed, the cry, “Long live Soviet power, long live the Shariah,” was heard in Central Asia during the 1920s after Lenin tried to cultivate Muslim nationalists in the Soviet East once his attempt to spread revolution to Europe had failed. But the question remains: why do today’s European socialists identify with Islamists whose worldview is light-years removed from their own?...
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 13:08
SOURCE: National Review (11-1-12)
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of the recently released The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com.
...The greatest problem facing Obama, however, is not just his mediocre record of governance, but the growing public perception that he is as uncool in 2012 as he was cool in 2008. Voters no longer feel they’re square for voting against Obama. Instead, it’s becoming the “in” thing to shrug that enough is enough.
A common theme of classic American tales such as The Rainmaker, Elmer Gantry, The Music Man, and The Wizard of Oz is popular anger unleashed at Pied Piper–like messiahs who once hypnotized the masses with promises of grandeur.
The bamboozled people rarely fault their own gullibility for their swooning over hope-and-change banalities, but rather, once sober, turn with fury on the itinerant messiahs who made them look so foolish. In other words, it is not just the economy, foreign policy, poor debating skills, or a so-so campaign that now plagues Obama, but the growing public perception that voters were had in 2008 and that it now is okay — even cool — to no longer believe in him....
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 12:28
SOURCE: LA Review of Books (10-30-12)
William Davis is a PhD student at UCLA. He was raised in Utah in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He is working on a book about the origins of the Book of Mormon.
WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF MORMON? For nearly two centuries, faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) have claimed that Joseph Smith translated the text from the writings of ancient prophets, while critics have endlessly recycled inadequate theories of plagiarism or co-authorship. What has rarely been addressed is that for much of his language and narrative structure, Smith turned to the most read and memorized author of the late seventeenth century, John Bunyan. He did so in such imaginative ways that the resulting work transcends any easy charge of plagiarism and calls upon us to reimagine the rich oral traditions of early America.
Parallels between Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) and the Book of Mormon have not gone entirely unnoticed. As early as 1831, Eber Howe, in his anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed, noted the use of names — “Desolation” and “Bountiful” from Pilgrim’s Progress reappear in the Book of Mormon — but most observations have been similarly limited in scope or suffered from lack of a systematic methodology. Bunyan wrote upwards of 60 books, tracts, and pamphlets, including Grace Abounding, A Few Sighs from Hell, Holy War and The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, and these texts provide extensive narrative parallels to the Book of Mormon, often containing unique characteristics shared only by Bunyan and Smith.For decades, LDS Church leaders have worked to mainstream the LDS faith, and with the nation on the verge of potentially electing the first Mormon president, coupled with the rising influence of the church in the cultural and political landscape of America, some have dubbed this period the “Mormon Moment.” Universities have even experienced a burgeoning interest in Mormon Studies. Such attention, however, is a doubled-edged sword, forcing the LDS Church to respond to controversial issues from its past, such as its history of polygamy, denying priesthood authority to black males until 1978, and the on-going debate about Mormonism’s status as a traditional Christian faith....
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 11:15
SOURCE: NYT (10-31-12)
Robert S. McElvaine is a historian at Millsaps College. His most recent book is a 25th anniversary edition of “The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941.” He is currently completing a book manuscript, “Oh, Freedom! – The Young Sixties.”
The question Americans should be asking ourselves isn’t whether we’re better off than we were four years ago. It’s whether we’re better off than we were 80 years ago.
...[T]he most appropriate presidential term to use as a benchmark is Herbert Hoover’s. He was the last president to face an economic crisis on a scale similar to the one that confronted Obama when he took office.
I have been studying the Great Depression for the better part of four decades. A comparison of these two presidencies is both clarifying and highly favorable to Barack Obama. Mitt Romney himself has drawn attention to the implicit parallel between the crises faced by Hoover and Obama. “This is the slowest job recovery since Hoover,” Romney declared in June 2011. He did not, of course, intend the association to be a positive one for the current president. Obama has returned the favor. In the final debate, he told Romney that “when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”...
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 11:04
SOURCE: NYT (11-1-12)
A DEVASTATING storm slams into New York City; within days, another hits the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The president refuses to allow the federal government to coordinate relief efforts. No, it’s not a glimpse into a future without the Federal Emergency Management Agency under a Romney administration. It’s what happened in August 1893, and the consequences of the government’s inaction offer valuable lessons today....
In the wake of these twin tragedies ... President Grover Cleveland did nothing.
Cleveland, a Democrat and former governor of New York, opposed government intervention in natural disasters. In his first term he had vetoed a bill that would have given drought-stricken Texas farmers $10,000 for seeds. “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character,” Cleveland wrote in his veto message....
Posted on: Thursday, November 1, 2012 - 11:01