Okay, Lumpenprofessoriat,it isn't a tenure meeting (there was a spoof of a law school tenure meeting on YouTube, but it was a little too snotty even for the Radical.) But it is mildly funny. And short.
Senator Edward Kennedy's (D-MA) endorsement of Barack Obama was confirmed by the New York Times this morning. For those of you who don't have time to read the article, Teddy's official entry into the chase for delegates was prompted by his dismay over the Clinton campaign's tactics in South Carolina. Kennedy will also have an influential role in the campaign for Super Delegates, of which there are over 700 if the Michigan and Florida delegations are not seated.
That said, also in today's Times,Paul Krugman points to the need for we academic historians to work faster than we do to get analysis to the public, something some of us are starting to talk about as a methodological category with its own set of challenges: "recent history." Krugman asks those who are comforted by Obama's promise of inclusiveness and a politics freedom from conflict: "Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?" Click here for Krugman's reminder that after Bill Clinton's stunning victory, which had strong populist elements, that the administration was first disabled (on health care and gays in the military) and then pushed strongly to the center on social issues, not by division within the party, but by Republican dirty deeds that kept the administration on its heels fighting ludicrous charges that were repeated by the media as if they constituted legitimate political issues. "No accusation was considered too outlandish," Krugman reminds us: "a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler." Does Obama think he is immune from this? Early indications suggest that the lunatic fringe has already begun to circulate such stories. Therefore, we who are preparing to shift gears and support him should the nomination go his way hope that he is aware of what the road to hell is paved with.
Krugman also points out that although some of the tactics from the Clinton campaign have been "boorish,"the Obama campaign has also practiced the art of selective interpretation spreading false information to "demonize" its opposition. But even if this were not the case, the lesson of 1992 is not that Obama's promise of inclusiveness will create change once he gets to the White House but that a new administration needs to be committed to policies and ready to fight for them from day one, perhaps without compromise. "What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward," Krugman concludes. "Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing."
Right on. And it could be any of the three candidates who are able to steer this course, with the right allies. Readers here know that I am most convinced it can be Edwards. But here is a piece of wisdom I would offer the Obama camp in terms of crafting a strong campaign: Barack's heavy emphasis on matters of political style, as if that in and of itself constituted a break from the political past, is simply naive. I am particularly turned off by the notion, which I have heard him speak about three times (once in the South Carolina debate), that he will conduct high-level policy negotiations on C-Span. Personally, I think both Edwards and Clinton have demonstrated a great deal of grace by not telling him in public that promising his supporters this is either dumb or rash, depending on the level of genuine good will behind the idea. If Obama really believes that this will happen, or that a President can just tell the Congress to put committee meetings that are not now open to the public on national television, he knows less about Washington than he should, even after the short time he has spent there. On the other hand, if he is just saying this to persuade us of his desire for transparency it is misleading. It has just as much chance of happening as videotaping a debate over a tenure case and putting it up on YouTube.
You aren't going to learn anything here about the overwhelming Obama victory in South Carolina that you haven't heard anywhere else, but for the first time I am beginning to think the Clintons are in trouble. Why? Because here is someone who has almost never, in my memory, in a long life devoted to public service, endorsed a candidate: go to this link for Caroline Kennedy's reasons why she believes that Obama can inspire the nation like her father did. Better yet, if you can, go to the New York TimesOp-Ed piece where she states her position in full. To quote a piece of the Op-Ed that I found particularly moving: "I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it," Kennedy writes; "who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved."
Wow. If the Kennedy family hits the campaign trail for Obama, it's all over but the shouting, friends.
Now, that Obama took many Edwards votes -- even in the white Piedmont and the North Carolina border, where Edwards has run strongbefore -- means something to me about Obama's electability among the poor who have suffered most from conservative and neoliberal market-based economics: textiles and manufactured clothing are at the top of the list of jobs lost to the global economy. And, this is also that South Carolina, where some of the saddest and most violent moments of the sorry history of Reconstruction played out, the state that came to define white domination before and after the Civil War. That a candidate could also muster such solid support across the racial lines also means something to me: there is perhaps something quite historic being played out here.
I still believe in Edwards. Deeply. But recent events that have left Edwards solidly out of the running are impressive, I must say. And while I am sure that there are many feminists who would see the failure of Clinton to make the ticket at all as a real slap in the face, what would mean most to me at this juncture would be to see Obama and Edwards come to some accord about national priorities -- either by putting Edwards on the ticket (unlikely, given what many in the Democratic leadership perceived as a me-first campaigning philosophy on his part when he was bottom-dog on the Kerry ticket) or by Obama pledging that he will give Edwards a cabinet post and give him the power to craft anti-poverty programs. And although the Obama campaign is maintaining what I think is an icky, feel-good take on race that makes me really uncomfortable (last night, prior to the victory speech, the crowd chanted "Race doesn't matter," which personally I think is a little odd since it is exactly the point that he is a black candidate who is breaking into demographics who have not voted for a black candidate in such numbers for over 125 years, or perhaps ever) I am coming around. And what would make a big difference to me also would be for whites and blacks associated with the Obama campaign not to act like thinking about race in a critical way is a poison pill. This country has a lot of work to do on race, and pretending it doesn't matter is not persuasive to most of us who have been working for racial justice for decades and see that work -- particularly as anti-racism has been associated over time with attempts to alleviate social inequality, poverty and violence more generally -- as unfinished and often reviled in the political mainstream.
So let's start with the white people: Step up, why don't you, as few people have since the 1960's, to say that you are willing to form an alliance with progressives of color in which you are not demanding leadership as the price for your participation. And while you are at it -- everybody needs to start talking to the Hispanic and Asian communities. Because when we talk about black-white all the time, guess what we are not talking about? That's right, Papi. Immigration, borders and undocumented workers.
This is also, I think, what John Edwards could do on a presidential ticket, and why I will continue to support him, even though it is clear that the mandate for the presidency is going in another direction. I do think it would be a big deal for a Northern black man and a southern, white progressive to share a national, major party ticket, and for the black candidate to be in the top spot. It would be historic, and not just because of the black man. Better yet, it might produce a national progressive alliance that in itself would be historic in its efforts to not just lift up the middle class (a rhetoric I will always be wary of because of what a critical role it played in the Reagan revolution), but to wed the middle class to the interests of the poor. Because the poor built America: slaves, servants, workers, wage laborers, immigrants, farmers. You name it, they built it, grew it, cleaned it, slaughtered it, wove it, drove it. And its past time that we paid them back.
Afternoon Update: As tipped by Tony Grafton in the comments section of this post, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) is reported to be on the verge of a press conference where he too will endorse Obama. I guess it's about time to get on the Obandwagon -- there goes New England, Hillary. Does this mean that Barack is not afraid of the L-word? Stop laughing, Lesboprof -- you know which L-word I mean! But I hope he isn't afraid of the other one either. And sources close to the Tenured Radical report that she is ready to declare party unity as soon as Edwards throws his support to Obama.
I have been on John Edwards' mailing list for a long time, and I recently received a request to help fund this ad in South Carolina:
So I thought I would, but I also wanted to post it here, because I have readers from many states who will be voting on February 5, only a little over a week from now. And while you are thinking politics, take a look at this story in today's New York Times in which Edwards turns free market logic, usually used to support privatization, on its head. Let private insurers compete with a government-sponsored health plan, he suggests: Americans will have the right to decide which kind of plan they think is better, and if the private insurers go out of business, then the question of the viability of a single-payer system in the United States will have been fairly decided by the people, not political and financial elites. This is a progressive version of what Harvard historian Liz Cohen, among others, has called "consumer citizenship." If the private insurers don't go out of business, it will show that they are doing a good job for the people who can afford them. And people who can't afford them will still have health insurance.
How much sense does that make?
I have also recently received mail from John opposing a bill currently on the floor of the Senate that is up for a cloture vote: the bill revises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and "would give 'retroactive immunity' to the giant telecom companies for their role in aiding George W. Bush's illegal eavesdropping on American citizens." The filibuster is being led by Connecticut's Senator Chris Dodd. If you live in Connecticut you can call Senator Dodd at (202) 224-2823 and tell him you approve; you could also call Connecticut's other Senator, my Shoreline neighbor Joseph I. Lieberman at (202) 224-4041 and tell him to act like a Democrat.
But better yet, click this link and call your senators. Ask them to support Chris Dodd and the Constitution of the United States. It will only take a second. And if your senators are Republicans, so much the better: many conservatives feel very strongly about the right to privacy and there is a good chance to defeat this bill despite the jingoistic "war on terror" it claims to support.
In other political news of interest to academics and the students they serve, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking minority member of the Senate Finance committee, is issuing subpoenas to the 136 wealthiest colleges in an effort to push them to "use more of their wealth for financial aid and threatening to require them to spend a minimum of 5 percent of their endowments each year, as foundations must. The committee pointed out that donations to universities and their endowment earnings were both tax-exempt." The subpoena also asks them to reveal what they are paying their money managers, which is a great idea: according to a prominent Harvard alum I know, last year Crimson financial advisors earned tens of millions for their advice. Hence, the most wealthy universities are directly lining the pockets of a financial elite rather than siphoning the money to the communities they are in, supporting local public education or further subsidizing tuition and fees.
I think the Senate hearings that will ensue are a good idea, but one potential problem is that we risk limiting the discussion about the rising cost of college to a conversation with only those very few colleges who can do something about it. What is left out of the equation is how hard institutions, private and public, community college to state university, have been hit by the retraction of federal and state-level spending on education. Most students don't go to those 136 schools. How are we going to help them?
And finally, just when you thought you knew everything about Al Gore, he comes out for gay marriage. Regular readers of the Radical know how she feels about marriage, not to mention the icky little bit where Gore suggests that marriage helps control promiscuity, but that does not put me above just loving him for this.
Between Al and John, I have to ask this question: is it possible that anti-racist white progressives in the South who are not affiliated with research universities are making a comeback, after all these years? Whoever becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, this could be something to watch. And, if you happen to be inclined that way, pray for.
Instead of writing something pithy and important about the South Carolina debates I want to begin by posting a very small piece of information I learned tonight. In my endless perambulation around blogs this evening, I visited New President's blog, and I discovered -- via a link provided there -- that six of my core faculty in The Program have won the university's teaching award, and one of my faculty, a person who is really very famous, has won it twice. That is more than any other single department or program in the university. As the term begins, with all these terrific people, plus the terrific teachers who haven't won an award yet, knowing this makes me feel like the academic equivalent of manager of the Yankees. Really it does.
Your favorite Radical won the teaching award some years back, just after getting tenure and about five weeks before her father's death -- yeah, the father who is up in heaven explaining to Ann Coulter's father why Joe McCarthy isn't currently available. It was kind of an emotional moment since Zenith honestly does value teaching, and our students are pretty sophisticated as an audience. But it was a particularly emotional moment since I knew of all the things I had accomplished up to that point, my father -- a physician and a great teacher himself -- would like that the best. And I was glad I could tell him about it before he died.
But speaking of teachers -- as Sherman once said outside Atlanta, Now that we're warmed up, let's get back to South Carolina, shall we? Barack Obama needs a good teacher before the next debate. I thought he did quite poorly last night, got flustered and unnecessarily angry, and said very little of substance about his policies or his record as a result. I was left utterly stumped as to why he commands such fervent loyalty. Obama's performance stood in great contrast to both Clinton's and Edwards' substantive summaries of their policy proposals, and it was also different from the easy confidence that he displays in his more formal speeches when, of course, he is alone and unchallenged. I mean, I have never liked the "Change" message, because I always want to know -- how will things change? Neoliberalism has been a big change too, and frankly I don't think it's so hot. But I thought Obama said virtually nothing last night about how he would govern.
Whether it is illusion or reality, Obama appears to be slipping and sliding around what appears to be a very odd record indeed, a record that has been carefully crafted for public consumption to emphasize three years as a community organizer over twenty-odd years as a corporate lawyer and a politician solidly embedded in the Illinois machine. GovTrack grades his record of actually appearing to vote in the Senate as Very Poor in comparison to his peers, and of course, his record of repeatedly voting "present" in the Illinois legislature was part of what made him testy last night, when the other two candidates didn't accept his explanation that this is just what politicians do in Illinois. Well, maybe it is, but then that wouldn't make him an agent of change, would it? Perhaps I am missing something here.
But back to teaching. In addition to a historian on staff,to explain to him that he's got to stop talking about how great it was that all of those white Democrats became Republicans because Ronald Reagan promised to bring affirmative action to a screaming halt, he needs a debate coach. In particular, he needs to learn how to cock his head and smile graciously, as Hillary does when people spout nasty accusations of various kinds at her and accuse her of being a liar (Obama twitches, fumes and interrupts.) And he needs to practice saying sentences that have a verb and an object and aren't only about him. Things like "My candidacy, and my life's work, is to end poverty," as John Edwards says so convincingly.
And as for change -- I'm not against change. Far from it. I'm just against people telling me there will be change and asking me to trust them that it will be a good change. Because after eight years of "What -- Me Worry?" Bush, the steady devaluation of my 401K due to White House mismanagement, a foreclosure rate in Shoreline that is going through the roof and reckless federal spending on a bad war, it's really hard for me to trust anyone who just tells me to relax and wait for him to deliver change because he's a good person and the change will be good. On the other hand, this is why I love John Edwards. Ending poverty, in my view, is a change that is concrete. It would even be a change if anyone tried and was only partly successful, which they haven't in over forty years. And unlike Obama, Edwards says how he will do the thing that he is making central to his campaign, not just that he wants to, which I also find heartening.
So when Obama can't say how change will come, this makes me think that either he doesn't actually know, or that he is just another neoliberal trying to woo conservatives and he doesn't want to say so because this would make the idealistic young not like him. Lord knows I'll vote for the man if he's the nominee, but I'd rather vote for Hillary if I can't vote for -- as Obama put it so succinctly and oddly (for someone who is above race) last night as he poked John Edwards in mock fun after all the fireworks -- "the white man."
Craig Smith over at Free Exchange on Campus tagged me for a meme last week that was begun inadvertently by one of my early favorites in the blogosphere, Dr. Crazy, with this post. Free Exchange on Campus is a site maintained by the American Federation of Teachers and, as Craig explained, exists in part to break into the monotonous Horowitzean rhetoric that produces teaching as a commodity exchange between teacher and student. So the idea is to answer the question "Why I teach (subject)" and then tag up five other bloggers. You can have as many, or as few, reasons as you like. And what better time than the beginning of the semester, in the middle of what is for some of us the dead of winter, to spread such an optimistic meme?
So here goes. I (love) teach(ing) history because:
It makes sense of what can often be a chaotic and frightening world, and I offer it to my students in that spirit. Why things happen strikes me as a persistently interesting and useful question that is not fully answered by social theories, representational logic or by market-based thinking. It puts human reason at the center of events, sometimes in ways that can valorize the best aspects of of what it means to be a sentient being in the world, and sometimes helping us come to terms with the worst things people can do. In history, although some people are leaders and others live obscure lives, no one is insignificant.
I like to watch students awaken to the fact that history is fun. Because history is incredibly fun for me, and I like to share that with others. Honestly, I think this is something that can span the range of what counts as college teaching, from community college to Ivy League. History is often taught in rote form at the secondary level and, despite the dedication and brilliance of many high school teachers, that will be even more the case until we get away from standardized testing and its various mandates. Why, just today the New York Times tells us that, not content with punishing entire schools for conditions in their student body and a lack of resources that they can't control, teachers in New York City will be evaluated primarily on whether they improve the test scores of their students: read about it here. High Stakes testing for students = High Stakes evaluation for teachers. More facts (some of which are wrong, if you have ever seen the tests), less critical thinking (not conducive to multiple choice tests, don'tcha know.) And no fun for students. So at the college level, we are on the front lines now in teaching critical thought, and we have a lot of work to do just to get our students to imagine that history isn't a chore. Often one of my biggest thrills of the semester is reading the evaluations that say: "I used to hate history, but now I am going to be a history major." Or, "I used to hate history, and I am still pre-med, but I am going to take more history courses." So limited as my audience is, I consider teaching history to be a form of intellectual activism and and a public service.
Because it helps students who feel invisible or inarticulate among other students talk about their own ideas, become part of our community, and take a big step towards becoming engaged intellectuals. At a school like Zenith, this can often mean students from poor families in a population that is mostly made up of very privileged people; conservative students on a liberal campus, who are often reduced to bromides and declarations of belief to be heard at all; students of faith who are operating in an atmosphere that often implicitly or actively de-values religion as not rational, and therefore unworthy; leftist students who can be heard on a liberal campus, but who often have more enthusiasm for the causes they espouse than they have the necessary knowledge about those causes, knowledge that might empower them to take action or get work in politics rather than just tell other people what to think and what to do. For all of these students -- and more -- making the connection between their college education and their life's work as adults can be one of the great contributions that any teacher can make.
Because, like literature, history is not just scholarship, but an ordinary thing that is marketed as entertainment to a heterogeneous audience. Most of my students will not be professional historians, but if I do my job right they will have a set of tools for thinking about the "history" they will be bombarded with in the world. They can use those tools in their work and/or derive an enhanced pleasure from history for the rest of their lives. I suspect his is true of other fields as well, but I am continually struck by the number of situations I am in where, in response to me admitting that I teach history, someone lights up and says, "I was a history major!" or "I love history!" Your average Joe usually has a particular topic he loves, which -- nine times out of ten -- is either the Civil War or World War II, but so what? The point is that this person is a reader and a thinker, for whom the past has great meaning.
Because I honestly think that history matters, and that it is a continuing resource for making moral, ethical, political and strategic decisions. When I ask my students why we should study history, one of them always says, "So we don't make the same mistakes we made in the past." But the truth is "we" often do make the same mistakes we made in the past (Vietnam ---> Iraq; Korea--->Iraq; suppression of leftists in El Salvador--->Iraq), and recognizing these patterns is important to forms of individual empowerment that are crucial to organizing. In other words, knowing how to think critically about the past can help us take action as citizens in the present. I think it is also relevant for citizens to be educated enough so that they know when someone powerful -- like Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama -- doesn't seem to get it (in his "clarifying" remarks about why he admires Ronald Reagan) that Reagan was able to mobilize Democrats to vote Republican because he tapped into long-standing rage about affirmative action among working-class whites, who didn't want blacks in their schools, neighborhoods or unions. Now here is someone who could use a good historian on his staff.
Because teaching history allows me to know what young people are thinking about. Need I elaborate on what a gift this is?
In this week's edition of The Nation, Chris Hedges points us to House Resolution 888 intended, among other things, to establish National Religious History Week. Unfortunately, you can only access the full story if you are a subscriber to the Nation, but the bill, according to Hedges, "is an insidious attempt by the radical Christian right to rewrite American history, to turn the founding fathers from deists into Christian fundamentalists, to proclaim us officially to be a Christian nation." Skillfully deploying a tactic invented by historian Carter Woodson in 1926, when he created National Negro History Week (now Black History Month) as a way of addressing the absence of African-Americans from school curricula, HR. 888 also -- by adopting a progressive intellectual tactic and turning it to its own purposes -- implicitly represents evangelical Christians as an oppressed minority on the model of women, gays, and racial groups.
The good news is that Hedges does not think this bill will even come out of committee, much less be passed, but let's take a closer look anyway, shall we?
You can read the bill yourself, courtesy of GovTrack, a terrific website that allows you to access pending legislation and its progress. The bill clips a fistful of historical "facts" that link American political institutions to Christianity, including the presence of a Gutenberg Bible in the Library of Congress. These facts are stripped of their historical context, and strung together in chronological order, to "prove" that the United States is, and was intended to be by its founders, a Christian nation based on Biblical fundamentalism. It also argues, by using brief and selective quotes, that presidents have affirmed the inextricability of Biblical and secular law over time.
In other words, this bill is attempting to pass into law the notion that there is no legal or historical justification for a distinctly secular sphere. Curiously, it also suggests that religion really has no history as such -- only a timeless present that can be used to re-order a political past in the interests of a contemporary interest group, a charge often aimed at leftist academics by cultural conservatives who want to minimize the importance of race and gender to national history. Furthermore, H.R. 888 implicitly argues for fundamentalist Christianity as the dominant and original national religion. It implies that political figures, many of whom were elected by a mere fraction of the nation's population, were actually instruments of God, in that His words were put in their mouths repeatedly over the centuries. History is not change over time, just God's word conveyed over time. That should be enough to set of alarm bells for most historians. But there is another agenda in H.R. 888 as well: establishing a history of properly Christian presidents. Notably, as we near the end of an imperial Presidency in which George Bush and his cabal have attempted to establish the independence of the executive branch from Congress and the judiciary, this bill also implies that the highest office in the land ought to be held by someone who can be a vessel for God's will. Thus the bill does legal work to establish Christianity as a national religion, but it also makes a case for religious activism in the political sphere.
The bill, sponsored by Representative James Forbes (R-VA), who is -- significantly, I think -- also on the Armed Services and Judiciary Committee, is intended to leapfrog a variety of Supreme Court decisions that restrict or ban state-sanctioned religious expression. It's specific provisions are as follows: H.R. 888
"(1) affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history, including up to the current day;
(2) recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation's most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation for America's representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures;
(3) rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation's public buildings and educational resources; and
(4) expresses support for designation of a `American Religious History Week' every year for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith."
In other words, H.R. 888 would clearly put federal funding behind representations of Christianity in the public, secular sphere and make fundamentalist readings of Christian texts the basis of law, something the Founding Fathers - for all their warts -- opposed strenuously, lodging their opposition in the Constitution's establishment clause. It would potentially put our tax dollars to work to evangelize Christ. It intends to establish (or reaffirm, depending on your position) the United States as a theocracy. It would erect a potential legal barrier to policies that did not square with fundamentalist interpretations of the Christian scriptures: think gay anything, but also any policy measures that addressed the structural inequality of women; the teaching of evolution; health policies addressing sexuality, birth control, and abortion; and international policies that justified the oppression, or re-colonization, of nations with non-Christian populations in the name of freedom for oppressed minority Christian populations. It could also, given current high stakes testing policies, affect national curriculum standards to codify the teaching of American history as Christian history.
That Barack Obama smoked pot. The only thing I can say about this is: Oh. Please. Stop. This -- and the severe penalties that people can be exposed to for taking naked pictures of their toddlers at the beach and having them developed at Walmart -- are perhaps the worst residue of the Reagan era's conservative cultural backlash. Being honest about getting high is, in my opinion, one of the things that makes this man genuine in his approach to others -- it's no wonder that young people like him! And I can name at least one prominent conservative intellectual/pundit, a man who helped get us into the Iraq war, who I got high with repeatedly in college. So shut up already. Clearly getting high is not a barrier to power.
That Hillary Clinton is a racist. This is truly absurd. Hillary and Bill have been profoundly progressive on race, Bill as a white governor in a state that -- under former governor Orville Faubus -- was for a short time the poster child for massive white resistance to desegregation. And Barack Obama has offered us proof of what he said in last night's debate was his great weakness -- a lack of executive experience -- by not putting the hammer down on this right away. I am quite sure that he does not believe in the kind of attack that was launched by people in his campaign in response to Senator Clinton's remarks about Dr. King. Now the Clintons are not so progressive on welfare, education, unionization or fair trade. But those are different -- if related -- issues, and not what Senator Clinton was attacked about. Which, to my mind, means something about the political intent of those who attacked her.
That John Edwards has a large, expensive house. Has anyone evaluated the Clinton bungalow lately, in lovely Westchester County? How about the Obama homestead in pricey metropolitan Illinois? And perhaps the founder of modern liberalism -- not to mention the welfare state itself -- Franklin Roosevelt: what was his net worth, and how many houses did he own when he became President? President Reagan? That newish Bush ranch? And let me just say -- you could easily spend $400 on a haircut. Someone needs to ask Hillary what she spent on her most recent color job.
That Mitt Romney is a Mormon. Honestly, as an exiled Westerner, I kind of like him for this. Do you know that Mormonism is the only true American religion? As a queer, I've never seen polygamy as entirely bad -- only abused as an institution. And why would Mitt Romney be a worse president than Mike Huckabee, who believes that the world will be devoured in fire and chaos, with the Devil walking the earth, and that only those who have taken Jesus Christ as their Saviour will survive and be taken to heaven to live with their loved ones?
Here are the things that do worry me.
That every Democratic candidate is solid on civil unions that convey equal rights for gay and lesbian people, as well as gay and lesbian adoption and child custody, but all candidates have tacitly accepted that marriage for queers is a political poison pill. Ok -- I don't believe in marriage as a way to convey equality. I don't believe in marriage at all as an institution that is inherently good for anyone. But really -- if civil unions and marriage would be the same in every way in a Democratic administration, why would we keep the two legal statuses separate (but equal)? This is the kind of thing that causes me to sympathize with gay men and lesbians with whom I otherwise have nothing in common: letting them get married undermines our society and economy -- how?
That Barack Obama doesn't think his lack of administrative experience/ability is an issue. Honey, that's why they call it "Commander in Chief," and the President's quarters "the Executive Wing." And no, you can't just say you will hire the good people who will run the government for you, you will supply great ideas for change and it will be ok. Who are these people? Will we be electing them?
That Hillary Clinton says things like the Martin Luther King statement and doesn't think it will come back to smack her in the fanny. The Clintons are too damn smart and too ready to demonstrate it: that caused people to hurt them before, and it will cause people to hurt them again. And of course Hillary was historically correct: what activist actually does move legislation? Did John Brown, Frederick Douglass, or Harriet Tubman end slavery? Did SDS bring the troops home from Vietnam? All you have to do is read Robert Caro's terrific third volume on Lyndon Johnson (which only goes up to 1960) and you know what the woman was talking about. The Senate sat there for twenty years watching mass black protest in the South and violent white resistance to that protest and did almost nothing. It took a President who knew how to control the Senate to get voting rights and civil rights legislation passed. Hillary is talking about the moral authority of the presidency, but she is also talking about raw, statist power. And in politics nowadays we are supposed to talk about political power in user-friendly ways that mask and mystify its real nature.
That media outlets get to decide for the rest of us citizens who is a legitimate candidate and who is not. Lucky for democracy, the kickin' Dennis Kucinich is taking this on by suing NBC over his exclusion from the televised Nevada debate. My question: what happened to the League of Women Voters, who used to sponsor these debates?
That Mike Huckabee reminds me a lot of Huey Long. Or Henry George. Watch him talk, why don't you?
But can I say that I do just love politics? I really do.
I know this is unfashionable, but have I told you that John Edwards is my favorite candidate?
No, no. I am not just getting pissy about the identity politics thing. And yes, I will work for, vote for, the Democratic nominee whatever happens. But I give money to John Edwards. Tonight my friend Linda and I went to a Shoreline event intended to get us all going for the February 5 primary, when Connecticut's puny 23 votes will be added to someone's column. It was a star-studded event as Shoreline political shindigs go, but what really got to me is that after primaries in two *very white* states, with even fewer votes than Connecticut, this town has bought the Hillary-Barack showdown hook, line and sinker and marginalized Edwards.
So your Radical cruised the room, talking to the organizers for each campaign, asking the question: "If your candidate wants our votes in Shoreline, where 75% of us live below the poverty line, why don't they come to Shoreline and speak to us, like John Edwards did?" And this is what I learned:
1. The Clinton organizer said, "Listen, I've been trying to get Hillary to Shoreline. She has lots of great connections here. But it's a hard fact that if I can't guarantee her $250K, she's not coming." Which means it's not about the votes, its about the votes money can buy.
2. The Obama rep: "Connecticut's a small state." Which means he doesn't actually give a crap about our votes, and the Obama campaign knows that we will vote Demo whomever the candidate is, so why bother to talk to us?
On the other hand, a quick stop at Teenie airport as you are zipping between a key Southern state and New Hampshire would have taken what -- two hours?
The truth is, they come here -- to Fairfield County and to West Hartford, to be exact -- to pick up checks and leave. Connecticut has historically been the wealthiest state in the Union, and also has had the greatest disparity between rich and poor. And who are those people? Hedge fund managers, and executives for the arms industry -- Colt, UTI, Electric Boat. You name it, we'll build the machine that will kill it. All those people who are giving you a bloated military budget that is eating the money we could be putting into schools and health care. That is who Barack Obama and HIllary Clinton will owe -- them and Big Pharma, agribusiness, and every other stinking capitalist lobbying group. And frankly, when they agreed today to stop talking about race, I was not reassured. Baby, we need to talk about race in this country -- just not their race(s).
OK, the other thing I learned -- and this is unverified -- is that both the Hillary and the Barack phone bankers are raising the question of John Edwards' depression after his son's accidental death, and asking how he will cope if Elizabeth dies.
So if you want to phone bank for John Edwards from your own home, go to this link and try. Because he is not taking money from the big corporations. Because of all the candidates, he has actually come to Shoreline and talked to us about what it means to live in a town where people are really, really poor. And because he is not taking money from the people who have taken our money.
Thank you. This has been a public service announcement from Planet Radical, and I have endorsed this message.
Today I dug down to the bottom of my holiday mail and found my TIAA-CREF statement. I opened it and -- Crap! How did I lose all that money? And then I realized -- oh yeah, the real estate investment option, which allowed me to ride through the last stock market free fall, making money all the way, is currently my doom. And now it seems too late to get out, since there was all last quarter and then half of this one when the envelope was just sitting on my desk unopened. I'm thinking I just hang on for a bit, keep the shares, and eventually TIAA-CREF will figure out a better way to make money from real estate than buying packaged securities from mortgage brokers who trick old people and working stiffs out of their life's saving and equity. All the same, I'm checking in at piggy bank blues to see if she has any advice other than "Open your mail when it arrives, stupid!"
Fortunately, however, if I ever want to send the dog to Harvard I won't have to take out a second mortgage on the house. Their new financial aid policies are shaking up the world of top-rank colleges and universities, private and public. I have run into more than one little huddle of admissions office people and upper-level administrators at Zenith and elsewhere who are worried about what colleges who don't have an endowment worth billions are supposed to do to make students who don't go to Harvard believe that we can't afford to let most of them go to school for the cost of a Toyota Corolla with power windows. I am reminded of this because of historian Anthony Grafton's piece in today's Daily Princetonian, Class Tells. (Hat tip: yes, I know it's a well known conservative website, but Radicals have to stay up to date too, you know.) Tony asks us to think further about Harvard's new financial aid policy, announced in December, that defines families with incomes between $120 and $180K as "middle income." Such families will only be asked to pay 10% of their income. Does Harvard mean such families are "Middle class?" No, probably not, Tony suggests; the phrase is a deliberate sleight of hand. They actually mean people who are wealthy, but not wealthiest. As Tony points out, "only 15.73 percent of households earned more than $100,000 a year, and fewer than a third of them, the top 5 percent, earned more than $157,176. The president of Harvard is saving the dream, in other words — for children whose families earn more than 95 percent or 96 percent of American households."
Please note a newcomer to the Tenured Radical blogroll, although not a newcomer to the world of blogging: Juan Cole, at Informed Comment. Juan is professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan.
I read the Sunday New York Times in this order: sports section, Styles section (quick jump to the "Modern Love" feature, then a scan of the marriage announcements to see if there is anyone I know who is Doing It), "A" section, Metro section, Connecticut section. If, as I do, you live outside the metropolitan area -- in Connecticut, Minneapolis or Bahrain -- the magazine and the Book Review come on Saturday. This is not only distinctly un-festive, it causes us in this household to miss Sundays with the paper and deli from Russ and Daughters on East Houston Street in New York. But it matters less than it might have in the past. I have come to dislike the Magazine and the Book Review section; the former is badly edited from my perspective and the stories inane, while the latter tells you nothing you wouldn't learn from looking up the book on Amazon.com.
I almost never read the "Week in Review" section. I don't know why, except that I spend enough time on the internet that by Sunday I often feel that I have absorbed enough commentary on the week's news. Except today. For some reason my aging eyes picked out the names of history colleagues Sara Evans, Joan Scott and James Patterson, who were asked to comment on the Hillary Clinton - Barack Obama primary contest. This was timely for your Radical because, after soliciting the opinions of many young friends over the last ten days, I had just decided last night to give it up that John Edwards will be my party's nominee. And even though the Connecticut primary is so irrelevant and our blue state status so predetermined that candidates only come through to collect money from us, I feel that I need to begin to develop an opinion nonetheless, and one that addresses the political terrain as it is developing. So I point you to the front page article in today's Week in Review, Mark Leibovitch's "Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision Course," which pursues the question of whether the "white woman" or the "black man" should "go first" as a path-breaking presidential nominee.
I would like to propose that it doesn't matter whether we nominate the white woman or the black man, since they both have utterly bourgeois values and neither one provides much of a new direction -- both will have a horrendous burden awaiting them, and I think there is a good chance that neither one will be able to do much more than stop the bleeding. Which would be a relief, but not progress, as it used to be perceived. I would also propose that what it means intellectually or politically to be a "woman" or "black" or "gay" is something we should be long over, given such luminaries as Phyllis Schlafly, Clarence Thomas and the extended Cheney clan.
So let's start somewhere else. As a queer feminist, I would like to tackle the binary we are being asked to make a decision about here, and propose that while identity politics can help us critique policies that have prevented movement on the large number of imperfections in our democracy in recent years, we have also hit the limits of identity politics in this election. It may truly not make a difference whether we choose Clinton or Obama. In the general election, either the Republicans will do the sensible thing and nominate McCain -- in which case it will be a dogfight -- or they will nominate anyone else and it won't. And all three prospective presidents will have trouble governing -- for different reasons, none of which will be related to race or gender.
But since I wanted to vote for the white man whose politics represented a significant shift to the left, and this has pretty much been taken off the table, I hoped the article would give me something to think about. Which it did -- except, of course, what it caused me to ruminate on is how journalists deploy history badly to imagine the significance of current events and perpetuate false choices. And I don't blame this on the historians, mind you: any of us who has been interviewed for a newspaper article knows that it is the rare journalist who comes to us to learn something. Mostly they are looking for good quotes to beef up the story they already wanted to write. Evans, Scott and Patterson do a skillful job of teaching a large audience by delivering the quotes that Leibovich used. Perhaps the most masterful is this analytical point by Joan Scott, in which she sums up three books worth of feminist political theory in one sentence: "How do you become a universal figure," i.e., a president, "when you represent movements that have claimed the right of equality for you in your difference?"
So despite what the historians gave them, the article misses the point in its unwillingness to address the difficult questions here, one of which is the missing -- and impossible figure -- of a black woman as a contemporary political leader, and what that means. The article writes the possibility of a black woman out immediately by looking to the nineteenth century rift between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass over the Fourteenth Amendment as a suitable parallel, noting that despite their differences, the women's movement and the movement for African American civil rights moved forward together from the 1860's onward.
This is simply misleading and untrue, except in a very general sense. The only reason this analysis has credibility is because of a skillful, entirely modern political phenomenon which should lead us back, as Joan Scott suggests, to the emergence of difference as a category through which similar political claims could be made by disempowered identity groups, working in loose coalition and using each others' victories in the courts and in Congress to amass credibility. By the 1970's, as Alice Kessler Harris has shown, American feminists had long decided to pattern their claim to citizenship on the modern civil rights movements, as would gay and lesbian activists after them. This, and Sara Evans' path breaking scholarship on the direct links between the movement for black civil rights and second wave feminist organizing, has caused many casual observers to articulate the relations between the two movements as harmonious and their issues as comparable in the twentieth century, an argument that is significantly troubled if you look at the struggles between white women and women of color in the feminist movement from the mid-1960's on. "One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women's movement," wrote the members of the Combahee River Collective in their 1974 Statement "As Black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and Black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women's movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue."
So this is where we need to look at history -- and our current dilemma about the Clinton-Obama primary campaign -- far more critically. Four historical arguments that might better inform our thinking are:
1. The nature of support for expanding the franchise has always depended on who would benefit, and that has to be placed in the context of class politics: in the 1860's, it was the Republican party who first used black votes and then used a powerful white male war veterans' apparatus, the Grand Army of the Republic, to pursue support for a set of expansionist national policies that were dedicated to putting money in the pockets of national elites.
2. Voting has always, more or less, been a corrupt and inexact practice in the United States. It became idealized in the post- World War II period because of the contradictions between the violence of mass black disenfranchisement and United States foreign policy claims that articulated voting as a major point of distinction between democratic and communist forms of government (see, for example, founding contributor to Legal History Blog(ger) and historian Mary Dudziak on this topic.) In the United States, however, black people and poor people have been perceived over the long term as the source, rather than the means, of this corruption in a way that white women -- often viewed as the conscience of white men -- have not. When black men in the south proved not to be as corruptible as the Republican party had initially hoped, activating their own political networks independent of the national Republican party, and negotiating locally, first with southern Democrats and then with third-party movements, Republicans and Democrats agreed between themselves in 1877 that the black franchise in the south was "corrupt" (see Steven Hahn, A Nation Under our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration, Belknap Press, 2003). And it is no accident that white women's votes were seen to have a "purifying" influence by 1921, when the historians of the Dunning school had "proven" to a national political elite that black men's votes were the epitome of corruption.
3. White women have been perceived as exceptional in the category of "women" over the course of United States history: for example, the modern perception of welfare recipients as overwhelmingly women of color living their lives on undeserved charity, or the choice of white feminists to emphasize their whiteness as a qualification for full citizenship prior to 1921. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her allies, as the central movers of a bourgeois nineteenth century women's movement, capitalized on the perception that they were exceptional among the mass of women, and that their whiteness entitled them to political privilege. They were racists, in the modern sense, because like most educated, middle class people, black and white they did not believe in the universal franchise. They believed that the enfranchisement of millions of new citizens -- former slaves or immigrants -- corrupted the political system because their educational and biological inferiority could be easily exploited by others. They were what coalesces late in the nineteenth century as "liberal racialists," who believed that black people would eventually be prepared to shoulder social and political responsibility, but that slavery had delayed that project for an indeterminate amount of time. One was not simply a "racist" in the nineteenth century: racialisms were a complex set of beliefs that criss-crossed class, gender, and often "racial" groups themselves.
4. Bourgeois black men who aspired to political office in the nineteenth century, many of whom, like Barack Obama, were bi-racial, and many of whom were the acknowledged or unacknowledged sons of planter elites, have also historically believed that they were exceptional among the greater mass of black people, both those who were poor and undereducated, and those who were women. And, frankly, nineteenth century white feminists were not wrong to perceive themselves as having been left at the altar after the Civil War by black male politicians, who believed that their opportunity for the vote would be lost if they "feminized" their claims by insisting on bringing their white, feminist allies from the anti-slavery movement with them. This, I think, muddies the water significantly as to whether white women are the only villains of this sordid little historical tale. If you admire pragmatism, it was probably the right thing to do; if you admire principle, it was not.
OK, so to return to the present -- what is really at stake in the Clinton-Obama contest? What is at stake, I would argue, is not the merits of the two candidates (who are distinguishable, but barely, and it's hard to even know how Obama's slightly more liberal stance would play out in post-election political realities.) The real anxiety here for the Democratic party is whether "women" and "blacks" -- the most sought after political blocks of votes over the last half century-- will actually hold together as political groups and which candidate will maximize their impact. Can the reduced number of "black" voters who have not been disenfranchised by modern forms of voter purge be counted upon to turn out and vote for a Democratic candidate who is a white woman? Will Obama be perceived as "black" by voters who still view American blackness through a history of enslavement that Obama cannot claim? Will "women" stay home if they are thwarted again in their quest for political equality and power? And what I propose is this: that both candidates pledge that whichever one of them wins the nomination, that they will run together as a ticket. This, in my view, does two things. It might get us back to ideas -- rather than inane debates about whose political rights matter most -- and it would demonstrate that each candidate is truly willing to put the nation's best interests at this crucial historical moment ahead of careerism and selfish personal gain.
And by the way, if you don't recognize her: the woman at the top of the page is the late, great, Shirley Chisholm. She was the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress, and in 1972 she became the first black woman to run as a major party candidate for President of the United States.
So, this evening I have been catching up on my Netflix, and I watched Jesus Camp, a little gem of a movie directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady that was released in 2006. It is about a children's ministry run by Becky Fischer, a ministry intended to prepare young people in North Dakota for their role as political Christians and as soldiers of God. It demonstrates a multi-generational strategy for cultivating a political coalition of born-again citizens who are willing to devote their lives to bringing the nation back into alignment with the Scriptures and God's Word. I think it does a great job of covering multiple topics that students would need to think about to understand the resurgence of political Christianity in the late twentieth century. It also answers what has for me been a difficult question: who are those people that account for George Bush having any approval rating at all at this point in his presidency?
Now it would be tricky to teach this film, in part because if your students are unfamiliar with the material -- home schooling, speaking in tongues, the radical pro-life movement, intelligent design -- they will exoticize the subjects of the film, miss what they are really saying, and fail to take their status as believers seriously. I think teaching it as an ethnography would move students away from knee jerk reactions, pro or con, and toward a more nuanced discussion about the intersection between conservatism, nationalism and religion. But part of what's great about this film is that there is virtually no commentary, except by a Christian radio talk show host who challenges the role of religion in politics and a few little factoids pasted on the screen. And the children are incredibly compelling and sincere.
Queer people and those who are allied with them, will particularly like the segments with the now-disgraced Ted Haggard of the New Life megachurch of Colorado Springs, Colorado,where, according to the movie, there are more evangelicals per square mile than anywhere else in the nation -- who knew? You see film of this guy and you wonder -- how exactly did anyone miss it that he was struggling with being gay?
Check out the geneology that Anne Coulter provides on her history as a conservative at the on-line publication Human Events: if you don't want to follow this link to her obituary for/memoir of her father, who passed away last Friday, absorb this final line: "Now Daddy is with Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan. I hope they stop laughing about the Reds long enough to talk to God about smiting some liberals for me."
OK, so this is a bunch who once sent me an email alert that warned "Are you ready for the return of the dark ages?" Which was about the supposed threat that "Islam" posed to "Western Civilization." But imagining your father in heaven with Joe McCarthy -- seriously, Ann? An alcoholic, anti-Communist extremist, and relentless self-promoter who recklessly ruined thousands of people's lives for no good reason at all except to get on television?
The Republican party cannot be defeated soon enough if you ask me.
OK, so your Radical is in convention recovery, in St. Petersburg Florida, by a pool. All I can say to everybody up north is: Nyah, nyah.
OK -- so part of the package is that I am in temporary charge of a three year old nephew. Big deal. He's a sweet boy with a lovely smile. And, after an hour or so at a splendid playground and park by the water, he agreed to accompany me to the Salvador Dali Museum. I have been waiting approximately twenty years to get someone to do this with me, since surrealist art is never on the top of our agenda when we are visiting relatives who don't see us much. But this morning, it was just me and the boy. So of course I jumped on the opportunity to take advantage of a companion who a) must do what I say, no matter what; b) has a pleasant disposition; and c) has a tendency to say "yes," "no" or "OK" when you ask him a question. Hence, you have a 66.33% chance of total agreement to any activity.
"Want to go to the Salvador Dali Museum?" I said.
"Okay," he said.
And we were off. We went through at his speed, which is a fast trot. It is my opinion that viewing art at the child's pace, even if you are wearing trifocals and need a second or two more than he gives you to focus, is one good way not to ruin museums for him. As a counter example, my parents used to saunter through them at a leisurely, thoughtful walk, discussing the paintings one by one, as though they were in a group entirely made up of adults. Needless to say, being treated as an equal has other advantages, but this, I found, was not one of them. My sister and I became adept at standing in front of Major Works looking as though we were thinking Deep Thoughts about them, but we were secretly bored out of our minds. I never enjoyed art at all until my twenties, when I started gallery hopping with a gay man who would literally go through SoHo at a dead run, stopping only for an occasional vodka.
If you are in the St. Pete area, and you haven't been to the Dali Museum, go, and if you are with a child, double-go: I think it's a great little museum, and of course surrealist paintings make no sense, so they are kind of more intriguing for kids than realist art. In addition, right now the museum has an exhibit of surrealist paintings, sculptures and drawings done by school children in the community that is really very impressive. I mean, the work is impressive, but they also obviously have some great art teachers working in this city.
And you can get a fabulous foam Salvador Dali clock, where the 12 and the 6 wag back and forth, for only twenty dollars. My nephew now has one, although he will need a more conventional time piece to learn to tell time -- one where all the numbers are actually lined up on an axis, for example. Even I can't tell what time it is on that clock. We also have a book for children on The Life and Work of Salvador Dali. My favorite page says "Salvador was expelled from art school in Madrid because he caused trouble. In Paris he met a Russian girl called Gala. She became a model and then his wife." What they don't tell you in the book is that he was expelled because he announced that his teachers were not competent to examine him; that he was a big Franco-phile; and that Gala was married to someone else when she became his "model." Details, details. We should all be writing children's books.
But, since I would agree with the editors' view that three year olds are a little young for conversations about fascism or adultery, I would actually support the central historical argument here, which is:
Causing Trouble ---> Spectacular Artistic Career.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity of a relative lull in the academic schedule to introduce you to Historiann, a newish blogger doing a dynamite job, who is now on my blogroll. Click now for some historical context on Gloria Steinem's recent remarks about the relative weight of racism and sexism in the Democratic primaries. Historiann ain't buying it. She also led me to this pithy commentary on Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes.
After my panel I flew out of DCA and came to visit my niece and grandnephew in a Warm State, where I slept for ten solid hours last night. There is no amount of training that can get you through a convention as big as this one. You just have to catch up at the end. Although my Saturday night dinner with Leslie Harris, Wendy Wall and Renee Romano was delightful, it was not a late night, so I have to conclude that four straight days of non-stop talking and listening just requires recovery.
For a partial wrap-up of Day 4, you can go to Rick Shenkman's account at HNN, complete with videos from the sessions he attended. For my part, I woke up yesterday with a profound sense that my paper was too long, so I spent part of the morning re-editing it and missed the morning session almost completely. I did -- as part of the process of finding the room my session was in -- walk in on the tail end of a fascinating discussion about digital publishing and journals that included Alice Kessler-Harris and Eileen Boris, with Linda Kerber raising critical points from the audience. I was sorry I missed the first part of the session, since when I got there the group had moved on to the question of how we retain access to our journals in an era of shrinking library budgets.
My session, sponsored by the Committee on Women Historians (CWH), was on promotion, retention and quality of life for women. It was the last session on the last day -- and we still got a group of about twenty five. Chaired by Leo Spitzer of Dartmouth, it was your favorite Radical, on how to make a second career at the same institution; Tiya Miles on making decisions about motherhood, book writing, and the tenure track; and Nancy Hewitt's thoughtful reflections on thirty years of women in the profession. Speaking only for myself, I think it was a great panel, and to make a pitch for traditional media for a second, should probably be in print somewhere. The room was hideous: it was very cold, and part way through the panel, I realized that we were right next door to a large garage, where trucks were backing in and out, with attendant beeps, roars, and big guys yelling. In fact, we were more or less in the garage, since there were large red curtains draped against the wall, and I took a peek -- they were actually garage doors. It was a real sign that there was no diva factor on the panel that none of us complained; we just did our work and coped. Fortunately none of us became ill from carbon monoxide poisoning, but, memo to program committees booking rooms at the Washington Marriott at future conferences: take Washington Room 1 off the schedule.
All in all, I thought it was a great conference. One thing I did notice: this year, I met at least three people with books out who did not get tenure for some reason other than the actual quality of their scholarship. I find this a disturbing trend, if indeed it is a trend. It says to me that the institutional garbage that triggered the Radical's Unfortunate Events is not isolated, and that there may be a general trend in higher education of restricting or delaying access to promotion that the Professional Division of the AHA (chaired this year by the able Tony Grafton, who put together a wonderful series of workshops and panels for those on, or trying to get on, the tenure-track) should be looking at and commenting on critically. The other thing was that I met more people (perhaps because of my new visibility as a history blogger) than I ever have who have great degrees and have been on the market for years with no luck. In one discussion, some were advocating restricting the number of new Ph.D.'s, which I disagree with -- I think if you took a hard look, you would see hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of unfilled tenure track lines at public universities and community colleges that have been more or less taken off the boards in the last two decades that need to be reactivated. And at places like Zenith, although we have added lines since I came there in 1991, we could do a better job if we added lines in the department to actually account for people going on sabbatical. In other words, if you have six U.S. historians, and a sabbatical cycle that runs every seven semesters, and if you have a policy that allows people to extend sabbatical to a year, and if you allow people to take grants when they can get them regardless of whether they are on cycle or not -- well, then you have a situation where you have between one and three people who are on leave at any given time. So even at Zenith we need two or three more lines in American history to stabilize our curriculum properly: instead, we spend a lot of time in April and May hiring people on a per course basis, or on one-year lines, to cover the courses we need.
But the other thing we need to address is that Ph.D. programs have more or less resolutely failed to deal with the idea that historians can, and should, be doing public work, and that those people should have Ph.D.'s. It seems to me that there are not only pre-existing categories of work that need certificate programs, such as archives and public history, but that there is so much going on in digital media, I don't know why we aren't exploring this as an avenue of paid intellectual activity that is expanding and should be a source of new jobs, which could offer some teaching and a university affiliation as part of the package. A great many of the complaints about how a career in history is structured (or not), and what kinds of choices scholars have (or not) could be usefully addressed by training and certifying people to do the things that they often figure out how to do all by themselves. I would advocate that next year's program committee, perhaps through the professional division (which did an outstanding job this year, as did the CWH, in promoting these discussions) set up a series of workshops to explore how to move on this.
Because morning social life happens around coffee, and because I have had about five times as much coffee as is normal for me, I am far too buzzed on caffeine to report accurately on the Breakfast Meeting of the AHA Committee on Women Historians that I attended this morning. Suffice to say that the talk, by Lisa Yun Lee, the director of the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum in Chicago, was great. Lisa drew our attention to the unforeseen consequences of memorializing our political foremothers -- which is that someone who was a fundamentally radical person can be perceived as mainstream or ordinary for her time when her name gets put on bridges and whatnot. Lisa also got a big laugh when, as evidence of the practice of bestowing names on various public works to honor a city's past, she noted that there was a Jane Addams Highway outside of Chicago. Jane Addams fans have noted, Lisa says, that she probably would have preferred a freeway. Lisa ended a funny, intelligent commentary on scholarly public engagement by reminding us that women's history is, and should be, a radical intervention.
Subsequently I had a lot of business and social life to do, which is why, at twenty to twelve, I am seated in the lobby of the Omni taking advantage of their excellent, free wireless connection. I can report that the Zenith History Mafia is here in force: Renee Romano was at the CWH breakfast (Renee changes hats and becomes a member of the Stanford Mafia tonight, a group in which I now have visitor status by virtue of a drinks-and-dinner date with them at 5:00.) We also stopped off to have a serious chat with Derek Krissof, an editor at University of Georgia Press who is one of my former students. Teach your children well, colleagues: they may end up offering you a book contract someday. This afternoon, Jennifer Mittlestadt, of Penn State (formerly a student at Zenith!) is giving a paper from her new research on women in the military. Jennifer's first book on welfare is out and if you are reading this blog from the conference, you should go to this panel. I guarantee you it will be great since Jennifer definitely does not need the Radical's advice on How to Give Good Paper. I could learn a few things from her, in fact. Finally, yesterday I had lunch with the fabulous Danny Green, also a Zenith honors student and a Chicago Ph.D., who initially landed at the Holocaust Museum and now has a great job at the Newberry.
Lastly, but not leastly: yesterday evening I finally met Ralph Luker, in vivo. Ralph included me in a dinner with a cadre of the Cliopatra bloggers (one of my Berkshire Conference friends said this morning at the CWH breakfast, "I saw you last night, and thought to myself, 'What is she doing with all those men?'") Having a wonderful time, that's what. It was a stimulating, fun evening with some of the wittiest, smartest, nicest group of men I have ever spent an evening with. It is an unbloggable event for many reasons, chiefly because it would be impolite, but I did want to say -- thanks guys. Let's do it again soon.
Most of the highlights of my day consisted of running into old friends -- many of whom were in graduate school with me. One is an editor at a university press, one is chairing her department (actually, four people from my cohort, or in cohorts immediately before and after, are now chairing departments or programs; I think it's a life cycle thing.) On a quick tour through the book exhibit, I turned a corner and found Eric Foner, Ira Berlin and David Blight in a single conversation group, which I wish I had a picture of, well -- just because. It's kind of neat isn't it, to have that many people who are important to a single field in one place?
This morning Anthony Grafton, Vice President, Professional Division, organized a workshop on interviewing; there were tables organized for different kinds of positions where graduate students could sit down and work with faculty on job interviewing techniques. I worked with Atina Grossman, of Cooper Union, which was a good mix because Cooper and Zenith both have great students but are very different kinds of schools. One of our customers was a young woman in Native American Studies who is still at the Masters level, who has started asking for advice early because, as she pointed out, she's in a field where it's even less easy to get a job than it is in most fields, as there are few departments or programs in Native American Studies. I thought this was unbelievably smart of her to do this. On the one hand, graduate students need to present who they are and what they have achieved to the best advantage; on the other hand, part of graduate school is crafting a profile as a scholar, and there are choices one can make in graduate school that allow one to apply for more jobs or fewer jobs. For example, as we discussed, a person in a Native American Studies program could take a number of courses that would prepare her to do her work in an ethnic studies job; a nineteenth century job; or a women's studies job.
Big things we ended up emphasizing?
1. Know who your audience is. Go to the department website, and cruise the university or college website so you get a sense of what kind of courses they offer, what the major looks like, and how you would make an impact on that school's program.
2. Answer the question. When you are asked about your dissertation, talk about it; when you are asked about teaching, don't bring the conversation back around to your dissertation.
3. If your job would involve internships, co-curricular programming or liaisons with the community around the school, be able to talk about how your teaching dovetails with that work. Importantly, as Atina pointed out, know that many students can't afford unpaid internships, and you need to have ideas about how they will be funded.
4. Evoke your classroom when you talk about the teaching you have already done -- what do you like about your students? (One prospective job candidate did this beautifully, demonstrating that several years as an adjunct or visitor in the same place, while frustrating, can be a big advantage because you have a chance to develop empathy for your students and talk about them in nuanced ways.) What has worked well for you? Have you done something that failed? How did you address it -- or how will you strategize that part of the course next time?
In other news, in the afternoon session, I went to a fantastic roundtable with Mark Bradley, Marilyn Young, Bruce Cumings and Juan Cole on "The United States in Asia, the United States in Iraq: Lessons Not Learned." It's often exhausting to think about what the Bush administration does not know, but the discussants laid out some important arguments. Cole placed the war in the context of the Bushies' failure to understand the dynamics of decolonization, and that the divisions in Iraq had been long repressed by the lethal repressions that the Baath party had been known to use over the period of its dominance. Instead, the Bush administration substituted a decapitation strategy; as Cole quoted Douglas Feith: "Think about Iraq as a computer, Saddam Hussein as a processing chip. Remove Saddam chip and insert Chalabi processing chip."
I mean, wow.
Bruce Cumings then chimed in with a series of analogies to other presidential administrations, concluding that Bush and Cheney are more contemptuous of domestic and international law than any previous administration and "the most dangerous and reckless administration in the history of the United States." Cumings also noted the administration's "complete absence of any sense of history," and ended by warning the audience that anybody who does not think a long-term occupation of Iraq that does not resolve the fundamental issues at stake is not possible should take a second look at the Korean peninsula, and an occupation that has lasted over sixty years.
Marilyn Young concluded by working against the premise of the panel: the Bush administration did, in fact, learn from Vietnam -- they just didn't learn what we wanted them to know. These lessons include: controlling the press is important, but not always easy; controlling the historical narrative is also important; opponents of the war must be made to feel that it is morally wrong not to "support the troops," even in a criminal war when they are committing criminal acts; at all costs, avoid a draft; avoid body counts; atrocities should be attributed to "bad apples," not the nature of the war itself; avoid language that provokes bad memories, such as massacres and the mass death of civilians; when in trouble, up the ante; a war needs heroes; and finally, criticism of previous wars can be usefully invoked, particularly when it leads to the conclusion that the war must be sustained despite criticism or that the problem in the previous war has now been "fixed."
There was a great discussion, which I won't summarize: I am happy to say that Juan Cole came out strongly in favor of blogging as a way to get what we know as historians out in a way that makes our knowledge useful to others. Apparently fewer than 1% of the members of the AHA publish in electronic formats. I don't remember taking this survey, but it sounds reasonable, given that I know a fair number of people in my generation who either don;t know what a blog is or who say flatly, "I don't read blogs," as if it were a vice to be avoided. After all, you rarely hear electronic publishing mentioned in any discussion of tenure criteria, and if demographics hold, it should be our younger colleagues who are really jumping on the new media. Bu my guess is they are too busy meeting the old-fashioned expectations of their elders.
In other news: here is Rick Shenckman's account of yesterday's proceedings. Also, if you are reading this blog at the AHA -- drop by the Inside Higher Ed booth -- they are giving away free refrigerator poetry magnet sets.
This is how you know History is Happening: change over time. Seriously, I don't think I have ever attended the AHA during the Iowa caucuses, in Washington, ever before. In fact, this would have been impossible in the last election cycle because the caucuses have never been this early in the entire history of our republic. I ate tonight in an American style restaurant in Adams-Morgan, and all the gay folk were coming to dinner after a long, hard day running the country. There was lots of interesting political chat among the single folk at the counter, of which I was one this evening. The prediction among the young politicos was that the Clinton machine is too powerful to stop, but that Iowa is always too quirky to call. Go figure. Meanwhile, there was a huge flat screened TV, with no sound and the court reporter thing going on so that you could read what Wolf Blitzer was saying, listen to the hip music the restaurant was playing, and talk to Congressman Forehead's liaison for suitcases full of money, all at the same time. And of course, there is nothing to know at this point because, being Midwesterners, they were still serving pie and chatting at the "Live" caucuses CNN was showing us.
So different from our primaries in the Northeast, where we truck people in from retirement homes, flip the knobs that they can't see, duct tape their hands to the lever and let them collapse gently to the floor. Democracy has many different faces I guess.
My favorite part of the coverage, however, was that the court reporter doing the teletype thingy couldn't seem to get Hillary's name right: once it came out Hilly, and once Silly ("a vast right-wing conspiracy....")
As to conference travel, it was blighted as always. I flew down here against my better judgement since I am heading down to see my niece in Florida for a few days after the meeting, and logistically, a three corner trip like that makes more sense on planes than on trains, if you know what I mean. This was the only leg of the trip that was not non-stop, and they still screwed it up. My itinerary said that the plane would go from Hartford to JFK, where it would land, I would wait on the plane, and it would take off 25 minutes later, landing at BWI at 3:00. No, no, no. At check in, they told me that I would have to get off at JFK and go to another gate. "But my itinerary says no change of planes," I said assertively.
"There is no change of planes," the woman at the counter said with a straight face. "We are substituting equipment."
Really. She said that. And did you know that when you take little planes at JFK, they make you march around outside in the cold, rolling your suitcase down these ridiculous boardwalks? This means that when you get on the plane they ask you a zillion times where you are really going, which makes me think people often take a wrong turn on the boardwalk and get on a plane to, say, Buffalo, rather than Baltimore. Which would be a huge, virtually uncorrectable, error.
On the upside, although I didn't get to BWI until 5:00, I finished all my back issues of The Nation, which means I could be beamed into an Iowa caucus tonight and really make a good show of it. As it was, I think I did pretty well with the Capitol Hill types at the restaurant without having to prop up my feeble authority by coming out as a history professor. And as a bonus, slightly earlier, when I had seated myself on the bus to go to Washington, I looked down at the luggage rack, and one of the tags said Robert Self. Well, yay, since I haven't seen him since we were introduced in October, in a kind of across the room sort of way, at a seminar we were both attending in Cambridge where no conversation was really allowed. We had a lovely chat, all the way in to Woodley Park-Zoo Station.
So there's a little bit of good in everything, isn't there, even being late and traveling for hours because Ronald Reagan thought that deregulating the airlines was a terrific idea? And you know what -- of we made a law that presidential candidates had to fly commercial, I bet someone would damn well fix them.
I am Claire B. Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. My blogging ethic is neither to name or to accurately describe individuals unless I am writing about a public event, or commenting on information already published about that person in a reputable source. Unless I note otherwise, situations, pseudonymous people and professional dilemmas described here are fictional. Uncivil or mean-spirited comments toward me or anyone else will be deleted, as will advertisements for products or services disguising themselves as comments. The Radical can also be found at her Zenith faculty page and at Cliopatria; scholarly and public writing can also be found here. The banner photo was taken from this page.
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