Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Department of Thin Skins

You would never know from this report in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the final decision on who the next president will be will not be up to our New Jersey political history colleague Sean Wilentz. I mean, give me a break. He works on the nineteenth century guys. Why would Ohio, Pennsylvania and -- from what I hear today, Nevada -- be waiting breathlessly on what a historian of the nineteenth century United States thinks? It's we twentieth century scholars you need to keep a close eye on to make sure we toe the party line.

Which I am toe-ing relentlessly, despite the fact that I too share Wilentz's doubts about the claims that are being made in the name of liberalism (if not his desire to do the Chicken Little thing in the middle of what most of us perceive as a life-or-death national moment.) And in better election news, my sky blue Obama '08 cap arrived today, along with my "GLBT for Obama" bumper sticker. When you want to have a real effect on the outcome of an election in this day and age, get yourself together and buy gear like you never have before.

Why people are so horrified at Professor Wilentz I do not know, unless it is that he gets a lot of air time in the more popular press that the rest of us would like to have. Our colleagues have done worse, after all. It wasn't so long ago that a lot of prestigious and very respectable historians signed up as consultants to a Disney project aimed (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) at turning a famous Civil War battlefield into a theme park.

Seriously, I know everyone is anxious because the Palin thing is so outrageous and it doesn't seem to be preventing a convention bounce. But it isn't a very big convention bounce. So can we just take a deep breath, put on our caps, and get out there to register voters?


John Poole said...

You know, with the plethora of Obama gear out there, you'd think that someone would have a "Scullers for Obama" or "Rowers for Obama" button. But no! I can't find one anywhere. And I would've bought a box of them. So instead, I am trading in my Dodge Ram for a Sienna, and am ordering this bumper sticker to put on the back.

Susan said...

TR, I'm so glad that consumption can take care of the election :)

JackDanielsBlack said...

Anybody see the article where Joe Biden says that Hillary Clinton wwould have been a better pick for VP than him? See Can't say that I disagree with him.

By the way, Radical, rest assured, many historians share your views. As one of your readers pointed out on another post, KC is firmly in the Obama camp! Wonder if he sent off for a cap too.

Debrah said...

Tsk, tsk, "jackdanielsblack"!

KC doesn't need accessories.

He already has it ALL.

BTW, you don't seem to understand that he has supported Obama right out-of-the-gate.

Many of those who follow his writing have become quite upset with him, but he never allows politics to interfere with his work.

You must be one of those little wayward detractors.

John Poole said...

So I am, right at this very moment, watching the first glimpses of Sarah Palin's unscripted/unprotected interview with Charlie Gibson on Night Line...juvenile, brash, and faking-it-until-I'm-making-it are some of my initial impressions...Hey, she just said "...a target needs to be Osama Bin Laden." Excellent! Can't wait to watch more of this tomorrow night... :-)

JackDanielsBlack said...

John, in addition to watching Palin's interviews, you might want to sneak an occasional peek at the polls. It ain't lookin' good for your team -- and we can attribute it all to McCain's selection of that transformational feminist leader Sarah Palin!

chicago pop said...

I personally believe the 19th century is destined for a comeback. In many ways, the key social conflicts of that period now resemble our own, as does the emerging geopolitical dynamic. In large parts of the world, the "social question" has dropped out, allowing an older tension between religious revival and secularism to assert itself in the absence of socialism. Globally, nationalism is regaining its vigor together with conventional power-politics of the Great Power period, only with new actors. And of course, the globalizing economy resembles nothing so much as the regime of free trade liberalism prior to 1914.

Perhaps the 20th century was an aberration for most of the world. We should have more 19th century specialists on the talk shows!

davidjhemmer said...

Do you think having a GLBT for Obama bumper sticker on your car will help or hurt his campaign?

Tenured Radical said...

Dear rightwing prof:

I never put bumper stickers on my car. Only on my office door and such. I am of an age that exposing my gayness to any nut bag passing on the highway, or going past my driveway at night, seems like a bad risk.

But to be honest, I'm not a bumper sticker person -- I don't like any of them, regardless of the politics, and I particularly the hate the ones that tell me someone's child is an honor student (although I think the rubber testicles you can buy to hang on your truck hitch are perhaps more offensive than any bumper sticker made.)

Door decorating, however, is a time-honored academic tradition.

John Poole said...

Dear JDB,
I am indeed watching the polls, and find them quite depressing and confounding. And I believe you're absolutely right as to the cause.

But regardless of her effect on the polls, it still doesn't change the fact that your "transformational feminist leader" comports herself like a high school sophomore who's attempting public speaking for the first time, and just can't quite manage to get the words to come out right.

Here are just a few of her gems (my comments in square braces):

[On being tapped for VP]
I -- I answered him yes because I have the confidence in that readiness and knowing that you can't blink, you have to be wired in a way of being so committed to the mission, the mission that we're on, reform of this country and victory in the war, you can't blink. [wired to be so committed to the mission? what a crazy blending of words..and since when is being wired to react without thinking some sort of virtue or qualification?]

[On Iran]
We have got to make sure that these weapons of mass destruction, that nuclear weapons are not given to those hands of Ahmadinejad, not that he would use them, but that he would allow terrorists to be able to use them [try to imagine this sentence being spoken slowly by a seventh grader -- somehow, it fits]

[On Russia attacking Georgia]
I do believe unprovoked and we have got to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there [under the leadership there? again, very odd phraseology]. I think it was unfortunate. That manifestation that we saw with that invasion of Georgia shows us some steps backwards that Russia has recently taken away from the race toward a more democratic nation with democratic ideals [my goodness, what on earth did she just say??!!].

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?
PALIN: They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.
[C'mon Sarah, you cannot be serious!]

I could go and on, but why bother? I find her babbling to be totally juvenile, and at times, nearly indecipherable. It betrays a total absence of any deep understanding of the issues being discussed. She is quite literally grasping at straws. No wonder the McCain campaign has tried to keep her away from the press as long as possible! I just hope voters wake up to this fact now that she's finally talking without a script.

JackDanielsBlack said...

John, I think the average American understands Sarah a lot better than you do. What she is really doing is lining up the non-elitists against the elitists -- a game that has been played to great effect by Republicans starting with Richard Nixon. Fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, here we go again! It's like watching Lucy and the football, with the Democrats being Charley Brown. To quote a great Southerner:

'The past isn't dead. It isn't even past.' — William Faulkner

Quiz for the day: who is the last president with degrees from Harvard and Yale? Answer: that great intellectual, George W. Bush!

Tenured Radical said...

I think we should all stop obsessing about Sarah Palin -- she's the newest thing, that's all, in an election that has us all fried by the longest primary season ever.

She's not as horrible as many of her detractors say, but even if she were: she's not going to be President in any case. John McCain -- Mr. Keating Five; the guy who dumped his first wife for a younger, richer model who has kind of a shaky past that could be quite the distraction in the White House is going to be President. And if Cindy McCain found a Senate ethics investigation so stressful that she needed at least 20 mother's little helpers a day, imagine what a Presidency might be like.

I'm actually not being sarcastic -- I think addiction in the McCain family is a big issue, as is what may be the candidate's serious gambling problem.

Honestly, I don't think Sarah Palin is the issue, and given the above, if McCain gets elected we may need her roaming the White House. And in a country devoted to American Idol why wouldn't the masses be nuts about her? But I truly do not believe that folks will vote for McCain and actually believe that Sarah Palin is who they are electing President.

As Gregory, one of KC Johnson's gadflies, used to say, MOO.


JackDanielsBlack said...

Tenured, if we're going to look at McCain's "addictions" should we also examine whether Obama has run around, has had bisexual experiences, is still smoking, etc? Stuff is buzzing around the web on all of the above. Sure you want to go there?

JackDanielsBlack said...

And John, did you catch the Sarah show tonite? She was much more relaxed, much more impressive, and showed a likability that is going to win over a lot of ordinary folks. I personally think the McCain campaign should turn her loose and "let Sarah be Sarah". They really have nothing to be afraid of, in my opinion.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jack:

I think the tit-for-tat thing is exactly what is wrong with politics and political discussion. "Stuff" may be "going around the web about Obama -- or any of us - but what I linked to are issues that are documented and raise troubling questions about decision making. The last time I heard, being bisexual (which I have never heard about Obama -- could this be connected to his slender build and soft-spoken ways) was not an impediment to good decision-making.

Just saying.


davidjhemmer said...

I think putting controversial things on your office door is a really bad idea, and very unprofessional. I am a mathematics professor, my political opinions are irrelevant to my job. My opinions carry no more authority than a banker or physician, and I certainly don't want to see bumper stickers on their doors.

I once had a colleague who had a life size cardboard cutout of President Bush standing in his office door.

davidjhemmer said...

The kind of thing you are doing, posting little snippets word for word and tearing into them, is not really fair. I could take an Obama interview and do the same thing and made him look like a total idiot, but what would it prove.

"Um Um, oh, you know I think that, um it's not a really good idea, but um, after I get done visitng all 57 states um my Muslim faith will um really be strengthened..."

JackDanielsBlack said...

Tenured, when you bring up McCain's wife's so-called drug habit, what does that have to do with the issues? The record is clear that Obama was a smoker until very recently (if not still) and of all the addictions, smoking has probably proved the most lethal -- both to oneself and to one's family. What does that say about his judgment?

As for "high-stakes gambling", if McCain can afford it, what is the problem? If anything, it will enforce his image as a he-man flyboy maverick.

And a lot of the stuff that has been floating around on Palin is not only unconnected with any issues but is beneath contempt, and would not be out there if she were not a woman. This should, I would think, concern women. What is the slogan I used to see: "A woman's place is in the house -- and in the Senate!"? Well, why not in the Vice Presidency? Granted, Hillary would have been better for the job, but Barack precluded that option.

A lot of folks are thinking (hoping?) that Palin is a bubble that is going to burst. I think not, but we will see. It seems to me that a presidential race in '12 between Hillary and a now-seasoned Sarah would be a wonderful thing, for women and for America. But maybe that's just me.

My point in bringing up Obama rumors is just that they are out there, and that once you lie down with the dogs it is hard to get up without having aquired some fleas. As my mother used to tell me, "Don't get down on their level." A discussion of what Obama meant by "lipstick on a pig" may be unedifying, but it is nothing compared to discussions on topics such as those I alluded to.
The right-wing attack machine is, believe it or not, being rather muted so far -- best not to stir it up.

JackDanielsBlack said...

On another topic, I must say that I agree with right-wing prof. If you were a gay student going to a conference with your history professor and he had a sticker on his door that said "Straight Academics for McCain", how would you feel? Or if you were a black kid and the sticker said "League of the South" with a Confederate flag on it?

(I know -- very unlikely to happen where you teach, but still. . .)

davidjhemmer said...

A little more about the office door. My office is an extension of the classroom. I meet with students there, hold office hours there, etc.. It isn't appropriate for me to be pontificating about politics or gay issues or anything unrelated to mathematics in the classroom, so it isn't appropriate to have such things on my door. I have no right to force my students, essentially a captive audience, to listen to or read such things.

Now a blog like this is ok, students have no reason to come here and certainly aren't forced to read it.

My previous institution was trying to implement some kind of program where a faculty member would get some training and then put a big sticker on their door that signified gay students were safe in their office. This too I found ridiculous.

Plain(s)feminist said...

My previous institution was trying to implement some kind of program where a faculty member would get some training and then put a big sticker on their door that signified gay students were safe in their office. This too I found ridiculous.

Oh, very ridiculous - far better that the gay students should commit suicide, the prevention of which is what the safe space idea is all about. Which you would have known, had your previous institution implemented the program. WTG.

Anonymous said...

As for the office door conversation:

I'm a uncomfortable with the suggestion that political opinions aren't relevant to the job of a history professor. My work as a historian is thoroughly linked to my present-day preoccupations with politics, race, sex, etc. I don't really see what other reason there would be for going into the profession. A desire to recite textbook narratives to a group of apathetic students? Perhaps professors of mathematics don't have to deal with this issue (and I suggest this out of ignorance, not to be dismissive), but to deny the role of the present in shaping our views of the past--well, I just see that as dishonest and irresponsible. We all make decisions about how much we want students to know about our personal lives and political stances, and as long as we don't antagonize students for not always standing alongside us, I can't really see a problem.

As for the dismissal of LGBTQ safe spaces, I must say that as a gay Wesleyan alum who never had the privilege of taking a class with TR, it still gave me great comfort to know that there was an outspoken queer professor who would have my back in any case of departmental or institutional intolerance. I don't see how this could, under any circumstances, be interpreted as a bad thing.

Also, at least the passages that John Poole is posting are real. Making fun of Obama's use of the word "um" is one thing; adding "Muslim" into the sentence just for the sake of perpetuating hateful right-wing propaganda betrays something a bit more insidious.

JackDanielsBlack said...

Alum, are you saying that history professors should be hired on the basis of their political views? If so, I don't see how the school that hires them on this basis is any better than a bible college that hires folks based on their religious beliefs.

As for the "muslim" comment, believe it or not, Barack actually said he was a muslim -- he misspoke, of course, and immediately corrected himself, but if he were subjected to the same press/blogger rules as Palin is, we would still be reading about it in the NYT and on Huffington Post. Mr. Obama strikes me as being a very poor thinker on his feet, and has made several gaffes which are being overlooked by the media. I would love to see him in an unscripted town-hall debate with questions from the audience. John McCain proposed ten such debates; Barack Obama wisely declined.

JackDanielsBlack said...

If you want to see a visual summary of Palin's appeal vis a vis Obama, see

For a more intellectual, reasoned discourse giving the Democrats some good advice, see

davidjhemmer said...


"dding "Muslim" into the sentence just for the sake of perpetuating hateful right-wing propaganda betrays something a bit more insidious."

Nothing insidious here, Obama did say "My Muslim faith is important to me". He was immediately corrected by George Stephanopolous, but the point is it's a gaffe.

As for the safe space, why a huge sticker for gays. What about a safe place for blacks? What about a safe place for conservatives! Students have no reason to think they are unsafe at their professors' offices. And besides this kind of sticker program is invidious because it can end up not really being voluntary.

Anonymous said...

"Students have no reason to think they are unsafe at their professors' offices.


I think the only classroom in high school i felt "safe" in was one where the (straight) teacher had put a rainbow triangle on the door.

To be clear, I wasn't worried about getting beaten up. Just constantly stressed about whether i'd be stigmatized, ostracized, etc. It definitely shaped my behavior in the classroom. Worrying just a little less in that teacher's class was a breath of fresh air.

And sometimes its less about feeling safe, and more about feeling welcome, which also affects learning.

Sure, you're talking about college, but college students come molded by high-school.

davidjhemmer said...

How could you be stigmatized or ostracized in my office? I have no idea which of my students are gay or straight, nor do I give a damn. If you are gay and come to my office you will get assistance the same as any other student. I don't need a rainbow on my door.

Anonymous said...

RWP argues that the “office is an extension of the classroom” and that therefore the display of items of a political nature is “not appropriate” and “unprofessional.”

Yet, based on a Sept 5 posting, apparently RWP has a “Reagan Ranch calendar” hanging on his office wall. The fact that he believes the calendar should have deterred his colleague from making disparaging comments about George Bush makes clear that RWP sees the calendar as indicative of his political views.