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This is what Wikipedia’s This Day in History page told me yesterday afternoon when I looked at January 31, hoping to find some grist for my blogging mill:
1876 – The United States orders all Native Americans to move into reservations.
Which made me sit up and take notice. I thought to myself: “Self, how do you not know about this?” So I started digging. And I found nothing. Weird. I know a bit about Native American history. And the years surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction are my specialty. I’ve got all the relevant books in my office and everything. But still: nothing. That would have been the right time to move on. Not me, though, I’m too
stubborn dedicated to high-quality blogging.
So I walked down the hall and asked my colleague, Louis Warren, who knows more about Western and Native American history than I do, if he had ever heard that the federal government ordered “all Native Americans to move into reservations” on January 31, 1876. “Nope,” he said. And then, after thinking for a minute, he added: “I bet that had something to do with the Sioux.” My reply? “Oh. Right. Probably.” At the same time, I thought to myself: “Self, why are you so stupid? 1876 + Indians = Little Bighorn. Always and evermore. Self, you’re a fool.”
If you look here you will see me proposing a hundred-or-so-year interpretive scheme for American political history at op-ed size. As I tell my graduate students roughly once a week, all interpretive schemes must fail to account for everything; the question of their success is necessarily therefore one of degree. And interpretive schemes put at a length of 1000 words will by that fact alone be more likely to account for less. Still, they take less time to read. So there it is to poke holes in, if it pleases you to do so.
Click here for genius. Then, remember to thank Urbino for sharing this with us. Ask yourself: would you have been that generous? If the answer is no, you’re not doing enough for this blog. Regardless: “For you.”
“America still works,” is the headline on Michael Lind’s cover story for the UK Prospect. Okay, dumb hed, but writers don’t choose their own heds, people. The lede tells us the state of the union is strong: “the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.” Huh, okay. So, how do we know that? Well, the first point Lind makes is, “there isn’t going to be a non-white majority in the US in the 21st century. And probably not in the 22nd or 23rd, either.” Because, it turns out, Hispanics are really white.
I don’t think Lind means that if there were going to be a non-white majority, that we could consider that America no longer still works, or that it would no longer be a great power. Does he?
What with histories of cod, salt, coffee, sugar, and other food substances currently one of the many minifads in the profession, this is a film whose time has come. Or so think a number of our colleagues, including Alan M. Taylor (No, not Alan S. Taylor. It’s very confusing around here; don’t even ask me about the two Ari Kelmans.) who got it from Andrew Sullivan.
I confess it took me too long to figure out what I was watching. If you need a cheat sheet, it’s here.
Also <insert strong-stomach comment here>.
Also also: if it doesn’t show up immediately below, click this link to go there.
Surely you know by now that John Edwards is suspending his campaign. As to the inevitable question, no, I have no thoughts on what this means for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. For the moment at least, I don’t really care. Because I just read this lovely post by Ezra Klein, in which the following graf appears:
And, finally, a word on Elizabeth Edwards. The first time I came to Washington as an adult, I came because she invited me. An avid blog reader, Elizabeth asked a handful of bloggers to come have dinner at their home in Georgetown. I’d just been hired by the Prospect, but wouldn’t start for months yet, and so imagined this a good opportunity to visit my new city. I remember standing on their porch, ringing the doorbell only to have John Edwards answer. I remember looking behind him, to the older women with short, spiky grey hair — Elizabeth, after a round of chemo. I remember John Edwards trying to have us convince her that her hair looked wonderful the way it was, and she needn’t color it. I remember the evident bond, and deep affection, their interactions displayed. But more than that, I remember how impressive she was, how quick and articulate and argumentative. It was her, not him, who made the biggest impression on me. He was the politician, but of the two, she was the political thinker, the one who devoured commentary and information, the one who conceived of their campaign as a product of the contemporary progressive moment.
Ezra is young. And he is gifted. And I despise him for both of those traits. (I also don’t know why I insist on calling him “Ezra,” as though we’re friends.) Beyond that, he’s a talented writer and thinker. Above all, he’s very sincere. Which is to say, although he’s well schooled in irony — like everyone else these days — he’s unafraid to write something heartfelt, even sappy. Like the above.
And on the day that John Edwards is leaving the national stage — to spend much more time with his family, I hope — sincerity is the way to go. I never supported Edwards in the primaries. Ahough I admired his policies, I was haunted by his 2004 debate with Dick Cheney. But I know that he made this a better race. And Ezra has nicely encapsulated why I’m going to miss John and Elizabeth Edwards so much. Because they, like Ezra, are unafraid to be sincere. And even a bit sappy. In an age of deep cynicism, such displays of public courage move me.
(Update: I should have linked to this, this, and this in the above post. They talk about Edwards’s impact on the race. And now that I’ve wiped my eyes, I’m already back to wondering if Edwards is going to endorse Hillary or Obama. And if such an endorsement will mean anything. Sick. And twisted. That’s what I am.)
(Update II: Eric, who just dropped by my office, insists that I should have said what follows in my original post. So I will. The thing that so captivated me about the Edwardses was their presence on the campaign trail at all. I hope that Elizabeth Edwards is going to live for many, many more years. But my understanding is that she may not. And so, every time I saw her being interviewed, or her husband giving a stump speech, I found myself thinking: how much time do they have left? And what about their kids? In the end, I was left with one of two conclusions: Either the Edwards candidacy was among the most self-indulgent episodes in American political history. Or it was among the most selfless. I believe that the latter was true. I think that John and Elizabeth Edwards genuinely care about this nation and want to make it better. And they devote themselves to that goal even though they might have very little time left together as a family. So now I’m starting to cry again just thinking about it. Thanks, Eric. You didn’t even leave me any tissues. Jerk.)
(Update III: I’ve been hoping, ever since I watched Edwards give his wonderful concession speech after the Iowa caucuses, that he’d end up as Obama’s running mate. Is there someone here who can make this happen?)
I did a Steve Martin singalong bit with a banjo in college once. It worked beautifully, like a piece of machinery — because that’s what it was — all you had to do was master Martin’s precision timing and physical control. Which, it turned out, is what Martin did too: an ode to craftsmanship.
On this day in 1835, Richard Lawrence tried to gun down Andrew Jackson in the Capitol building, the first presidential assassination attempt in American history. And while this is clearly a job for my co-blogger, who cultivates his image as “Assassination Boy*,” I do have a few thoughts on the subject.
On this day in 1861, Congress admitted Kansas to the Union as a free state, ending one part of a bloody struggle that ultimately would lead the nation to war.
The roots of the Kansas dispute ran back to 1853, when Senator Stephen Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois, sponsored legislation to organize much of the land left over from the Louisiana Purchase into the Nebraska Territory. There was a catch: the area in question sat north of the 36-30 line. Meaning that, based on the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it would be free soil. Southerners, jealously guarding the balance of power in Congress, blocked Douglas’s bill. They informed Douglas that if he wanted his Territory, he would have to end the ban on slavery there.
Douglas understood the implications of their request. But he nonetheless organized a new bill, in 1854, repealing the prohibition on slavery north of the 36-30 line and introducing two territories: Kansas and Nebraska. Although Northern legislators in both parties were appalled by this gambit, the bill passed. Some Northern Democrats, despite their misgivings, voted with Douglas. And Southern Whigs broke ranks with their party to insure the spread of slavery into new territory. Truman Smith, a Connecticut Whig who resigned from the Senate after Douglas’s legislation passed, said: “The Whig Party has been killed off effectually by that Nebraska business.” He was right. The Whigs never recovered, sacrificed upon the altar of slave power.
On this day in 1963,1 Robert Frost died at the age of 88. You might think of him as Mr. New England, which is fair enough, but he was named for Robert E. Lee and born in San Francisco — North, South, and West, he contained within him all the sections and tried to speak for the nation.
And he wrote a great poem about America’s idea of the West, which he recited from memory at Kennedy’s inaugural:
The Gift Outright
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.
It’s much better than the poem he had written for the occasion, which he couldn’t read because of the light and the wind.2 So let us give thanks for inclement weather.
Also not really a spoiler, but under the fold, just in case.
At least on the Democratic side. So don’t come to me with numbers. And no, I don’t want the voters of Florida disfranchised. But their primary doesn’t count. Got a problem with it? Take it up with the Democratic Party. In the meantime, I’m plugging my ears and focusing my attention on Super Tuesday. That is all.
Not really a Wire spoiler — just a casting note — but I’ll put it below the fold in case you’re super-sensitive.
Pitch-perfect Bush State of the Union, right? Weird hostility to camera, like cornered ferret on meth?** Check. Apparent disregard for circumstances of vast majority of Americans? Check. Treating English language like ferret chew-toy? Check. Disjuncture between facial expressions and content of speech? Check. Policy prescriptions seemingly delivered to him by Xenu-vasal Tom Cruise.*** Totally. In sum, hilarious disengagement from the basic realities of the nation he leads?**** Sigh.
So what to do after watching something so horrid and sad as that? Well, I went to a party with a bunch of historians. Because historians like to party. The only problem? Keeping the papparazzi away. Natch. Anyway, after walking the red carpet and dealing with adoring fans, I asked my colleagues: has the state of the union ever been worse?
And here’s what we decided. Yes, there have been darker moments for the nation. Three of them. First, 1814, at the low ebb of the War of 1812, around the time the British sacked Washington. Second, the spring and early summer of 1863, when the Union couldn’t find a general to deal with Robert E. Lee’s treasonous hijinks. And third, 1933, before FDR’s New Deal began to alleviate the worst effects of the Depression.
So, that’s three times in more than two centuries that things have looked worse for the United States than they do right now. Thanks, President Bush. You totally rock out.
* Obviously, I’ve deployed the ever-popular double-entendre gambit: the speech sucked and so does the actual state of the union. Clever! But really: that was one horrible speech. And also: things aren’t so great right now in the US of A.
** Sorry ferrets, I know I shouldn’t hate on you like this. But Rudy! made me do it.
*** I’m so going to Mars on a rocket fashioned from the skulls of Islamic extremists and fueled by twigs from Bush’s Crawford “ranch.” I can’t wait.
**** Actually, not very funny at all. Do not watch in search of belly laughs. Or even chuckles. Probably not the place to go for giggles or chortles. Hell, just don’t watch unless you want to become terribly, terribly sad. For a long time.
You know Nobel-winner Toni Morrison, “who once dubbed Bill Clinton the ‘first black president,’” endorsed Barack Obama. I was recently reading an item by Greil Marcus (not online) in which he pointed out that Chris Rock said it first. And you know what? the Internet says Greil Marcus is correct: Chris Rock, Saturday Night Live, November 2, 1996; Toni Morrison, The New Yorker, October 1998.
On January 28, 1916, Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court, thus sparking an exceedingly nasty confirmation fight. Wilson had to know it was coming — the year before he had supported Brandeis for membership in the Cosmos Club, over opposition complaining of Brandeis “that he is a reformer for revenue only; that he is a Jew; and that he would be a disturbing element in any club of gentlemen.”
Brandeis qualified as a reformer, no doubt: he had come to national attention by putting social-scientific data — largely assembled by his sister-in-law and employer in the case, Josephine Goldmark — before the court in Muller v. Oregon. The tactic gave the Court a way to get around the constipated reading of the Fourteenth Amendment it had been using since it started gutting Reconstruction — if the facts now known differed from the assumptions underlying previous rulings, one could overturn them. It is the tactic that underlies Brown v. Board, among other cases.
Moreover Brandeis had written Other People’s Money, which cast doubt on the social utility of very rich people, among other sins, and advised Wilson during the 1912 campaign.
Here’s an interesting post from Jeremy, at Progressive Historians, who’s wrestling with several issues, including the lack of professional rewards for scholarly bloggers.
There’s a lot going on in Jeremy’s post. But it pivots on the provocative question of how blog comments differ from peer review. After writing up a response to that, and some of his other points, I decided that my arguments were cramped — very old media — and curmudgeonly. So, I’ll pass his post along without further comment and hope to generate a discussion about the point of history blogging, professional rewards for scholarly blogging more generally, and the nature of peer review.
I have a theory. It’s half-baked — at best. It’s ill-informed. And, I suspect, it’s not particularly novel. Intrigued? Not really? Oh. Well. That’s understandable. But here it is anyway: the Clintons are most effective when they have aggressive enemies. When they’re not playing offense, in other words, but have their backs to the wall. If I’m right about this, Barack Obama is pretty clearly the wrong opponent for them.