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So long as I’m debriefing myself about the OAH panel on this blog, let me put up my answer to the “nomenclature question”—i.e., “progressive” or “liberal.” I said (and I paraphrase myself from memory) that while as a citizen I understand the practical reason for avoiding the “l-word,” as a historian I’m not that keen on the use of the word “progressive.” Because as I understand it, I said, both wings of our modern political family descend from the progressives of the early twentieth century.

Basically, some progressive reforms addressed the ills of modernity by trying to make Americans into a better people—prohibition, immigration restriction, eugenics and so forth, and their descendants are modern conservative measures. Other progressive reforms addressed the ills of modernity by taking people more or less as they are, but by trying to dicker with the system that governed them—regulation of the financial rules, changes in workplace laws, and so forth, and their descendants are modern liberal measures.

So the term “progressive” seems a bit imprecise.


There is a school of historians and other scholars who maintain that we are, as a people, basically conservative. The story goes something like this: liberals are crazy social engineers who will make you tolerate all kinds of weird people—even gay ones!—and real America—which is, generally, construed as meaning white working class people—do not like you effete liberals doing that. As if shifts in sexual attitudes did not result from a massive cultural sea change, and instead happened because liberals starting sneaking condoms into school lunches.

I am willing to credit that conservative working-class people exist. But I do not believe they are the bedrock source of modern Republicanism nor, despite a kind of casual identification of white working-class people with “real America,” do I believe they represent America.

Why do I express doubt on these points?

(a) Poorer people vote Democrat, richer people vote Republican. No matter what cultural attitudes they may express, in the voting booth people seem to see “liberal” in economic, not cultural terms. As the linked artlcle, by McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal shows, over the past thirty-five years or so, there has been increasing real division between rich and poor, and it has gone along with increasing party polarization. And there’s lots more evidence of that nature on the way, as this preview of Larry Bartels’s new book seems to show.

(b) The American people are more liberal on both cultural and social issues than you’d think if you thought only about “the American people” in terms of Nixon’s “silent majority,” or Reagan Democrats. So say Pew.

This post born from a comment on this panel, which in q & a turned out to be a lot less historical and more political.

[Editor’s Note: Neil Maher, author of this particularly awesome book, joins us today. Neil’s the tallest historian I know. He’s also an excellent surfer and a very handsome lad. And on top of all that, he’s a really great guy. What a jerk.]

Seventy-five years ago today Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to create the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. In his address to Congress, Roosevelt was obviously concerned with the twenty-five percent unemployment rate then gripping the nation. Yet a second crisis also worried the President. Noting severe flooding occurring along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, due in large part to deforestation along their banks, Roosevelt warned Congress that the country faced an environmental emergency as well. To combat simultaneously both crises — one economic, the other environmental — FDR called for the creation of the CCC.

During its nine-year existence the Corps helped battle both of these national problems. On the economic front, from 1933 to 1942 the CCC provided jobs for more than three million young men between the ages of 18 and 25. The Corps was as successful environmentally. Enrollees in the New Deal program planted more than two billion trees, slowed soil erosion on forty million acres of Dust Bowl farmland, and developed more than 800 new state parks that provided outdoor recreation to millions of Americans. All told, CCC work projects altered more than 118 million acres across the United States, an area approximately three times the size of Connecticut.

Today we face a similar pair of predicaments. News of Bear Stearns’ possible collapse last week was all too reminiscent of the wave of bank runs that cascaded across America during the early 1930s, and suggested to many economists that the looming recession may intensify into a full-blown depression. Meanwhile, record rainfall across much of the Midwest during the past few weeks not only caused river flooding, similar to that which alarmed Franklin Roosevelt back in the spring of 1933, but also highlighted once again the serious environmental consequences of global warming. While in the United States these two contemporary crises — one economic, the other environmental — are not often linked in the minds of most citizens, they are very much connected in other parts of the world.

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“What a writer is obliged at some point to realize, is that he is involved in a language which he has to change. For example, for a black writer, especially in this country, to be born into the English language is to realize that the assumptions of the language, the assumptions on which the language operates, are his enemy.”

The South will rise again?

Via Kevin.

Here’s what I wrote down to say at the OAH. I’m posting it to go up at around the time of the panel, so I don’t know right now whether it’s what I’ll actually say (oh the verb-tense issues). But if you’re interested and you somehow didn’t manage to make the panel, read on.

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Ian Buruma is a pretty smart guy. Or so I’m told. But this is a great example of the hazards facing an author who’s writing about something in his own field, in this case human rights in Tibet, and analogizing to something he apparently knows nothing about, contemporary Native American culture. Judge for yourself:

Are the Tibetans doomed to go the way of the American Indians? Will they be reduced to being little more than a tourist attraction, peddling cheap mementos of what was once a great culture? In Tibet itself, that sad fate is looking more and more likely. And the Olympic year is already soured by the way the Chinese government is trying to suppress resistance…

I know what he was after there: a hook, a lede to draw in readers. Which is fine, admirable even. But it would be tough to craft a more insulting sentence than the second one in the graf above. Buruma simultaneously demeans the current status of Native people while reducing and romanticizing their past: “little more than a tourist attraction, peddling cheap mementos of what was once a great culture.” Stick to what you know, Professor Buruma. So says the blogger. Oh, the irony.

If you’ll remember back to where we left our story on Wednesday, John Milton Chivington had performed admirably, if somewhat controversially, at Glorieta Pass. And he had been promoted for his trouble. Still, he wasn’t satisfied with the rank of colonel; he had his eye on a “brigadiership.” It wasn’t going to happen. There wouldn’t be any more significant Civil War engagements in the Rocky Mountain region, leaving Chivington frustrated by inactivity. But not all was bleak. He had secured for himself an excellent reputation: as a man of God, a man of courage, a man of action. And his good name was a kind of currency, especially in Colorado territory, where, absent an established community, the social hierarchy remained relatively fluid. Chivington, though still a newcomer, could rub elbows with the territorial governor, setting himself up for a bright future. Or so Chivington hoped.

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Jewcy (still a silly name) has posted the finale, “Electoral Dog Whistles Are Giving Me A Headache,” of Tedra Osell’s (aka Bitch, Phd) conversation with Courtney Martin and Wendy Shanker about the Democratic primary. Tedra’s post, which must have been written some time ago, reads as eerily prescient. See for yourself.

The distinguished economic historian Peter Lindert, who before his retirement had the office next to mine and who was a great good scholarly neighbor to me, tendered me the following after a session of explaining certain concepts to me. I thought I would share it with you all. If you don’t like it please blame Megan.

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On this day in 1866, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act, a piece of legislation that moderates in Congress had drafted to combat the notorious Black Codes. According to Eric Foner, the Civil Rights Act of 1866:

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Ezra Klein points to this fascinating article by Gershom Gorenberg (who has an awesome blog). Gorenberg argues that the Clinton camp’s effort to slime Barack Obama by tarring one of his advisors, Robert Malley, as an anti-Semite is misguided on several levels, the most significant being that Malley isn’t actually an anti-Semite.

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Perhaps. It’s probably too soon to tell for sure. Still, bear with me while I explain.

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More on the library kickback case; US outsourced Afghan munitions supply to “a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur” (from NYT); California snowpack average but restrictions on water export mean “an estimated 25 million Californians” south of the Delta may be drier than they’d like (25m is about 2/3 of Californians, btw); governor says illegal immigration has nothing to do with state’s budget deficit (no, it wasn’t praeteritio; he was asked).

Lifestyle corner has correlation between midlife belly fat and old-age dementia.

By Civil War standards, the Battle of Glorieta Pass, which began on this day in 1862 and took place in what today is the state of New Mexico, was of only middling significance. A Union victory, the battle ended a Confederate invasion of the Rocky Mountain region and put to rest Confederate plans to control a vast swath of the Southwest. For this reason, some historians call Glorieta Pass the Gettysburg of the West. These historians, no offence to them or their loved ones, are begging to be mocked. Roughly 250 soldiers were killed or wounded at Glorieta Pass — compared to the approximately 24,000 casualties at Shiloh, less than a month later, or 46,000 at the Gettysburg of the East, the following summer. And the invasion was always something of a long shot.

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Fmr Sac Public Library officials arrested for grand theft and bribery—“A Bee Exclusive”—they’re alleged to have worked with a maintenance firm to overbill the library and kick back; Parkway Little League recovers after arsonist burns down its snack shack; state chiropractor board found to have broken open-meeting and conflict-of-interest laws.

Lifestyle corner is how to see the Kings for “cheap”—$42.25 for a couple.


I have nothing to add to the horror of the round numbers 5 and 4,000.* Nor do I have anything to say about the rogues’ gallery of losers and thugs that lied us into this terrible war. Or at least nothing that Tom Tomorrow hasn’t already said.

* Not to mention the who-knows-how-many Iraqis who have been killed.

Speaking of “a class of the lost,” on this day in 1894, Jacob S. Coxey started out with his army of the unemployed, also known as “the Commonweal of Christ,” from Massillon, Ohio, to march to Washington. You know the basic story: it’s a deep, desperate depression, the worst at least until the Great Depression; Coxey is a soft-money man, a People’s Party kind of guy—not poor himself, but believes in the cause, and wants the federal government to provide aid.

Here’s the thing: it’s awfully hard not to play Coxey for laughs. He named his child “Legal Tender.” He converted to a peculiar version of Christianity at the hands of an amateur theologian named Carl Browne, who held that each of us is reincarnated from a pool of mixed souls, so that a new soul contains an amalgam of old souls, which means that each of us contains a bit of Christ’s soul, too—and that Browne and Coxey had extra bits of Christ’s soul (he could just tell). The army marched under a banner with a portrait of Christ and a motto reading, “He is Risen, but Death to Interest on Bonds.” Coxey promised an army of a hundred thousand, but mustered only maybe a hundred; Massillon, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the best place to accumulate a pool of the unemployed. The army accrued a few hundred more people as it went along, but arrived still pretty small in Washington, DC, where its leaders were arrested and convicted for walking on the grass.

There were, immediately following, much more serious armies. But they were all tainted by this first outing’s faint air of ridiculousness.

So what do you do, teaching this story? Do you let the funny parts be funny? (Honestly, I’m not sure you can stop them.) How do you get your students, or readers, to refocus on the serious material at hand (double-digit unemployment, Pullman Strike, federal government going bust until/unless Morgan bails it out, that kind of thing). How can you play something that happens first as farce, then as tragedy?

Emails, journals of six of the 4,000; Sacramento FBI indicts 19 in mortgage fraud case.

Lifestyle corner is how to spend your stimulus check.

If you’ve got a spare fifteen or twenty minutes, and you can stomach it, take the time to remind yourself that New Orleans’s fate still hangs in the balance. Look at these gut-wrenching videos documenting the rebuilding effort in six of the city’s neighborhoods: Broadmoor, Gentilly, Lakeview, the Lower 9th Ward, Mid City, and St. Bernard Parish. I’m not a huge fan of disaster voyeurism, but these films are, I think, very well done. A couple of them are even pretty upbeat.

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