Is the Democratic Party Divided Over Abortion Rights?


The late Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey was reportedly denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic Convention because he wanted to give a pro-life speech

What should the Democratic Party do with its pro-life members?  Over at The Atlantic, Clare Foran reports that the politics of abortion threaten to divide the party.

Here is a taste:

Ahead of an event on Thursday where Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who remains the left’s most popular figure, was slated to appear with Representative Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chair, and Heath Mello, an Omaha, Nebraska Democratic mayoral candidate, NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization that endorsed Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, harshly criticized the DNC for what it called the party’s “embrace” of “an anti-choice candidate.”

The statement followed a report in The Wall Street Journal that Mello once supported legislation “requiring women to look at ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.” The liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement of Mello over the report.

On Thursday, Mello told The Huffington Post, however, that he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care,” if elected. Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party and board member of Our Revolution, a group that emerged out of the embers of the Sanders campaign, said in an interview that The Wall Street Journal and NARAL had “mischaracterized” Mello’s legislative record.

“Heath is a strong progressive Democrat, and he is pro-life, and you can be both things,” Kleeb said, adding: “What Heath did actually was stop a bill to make ultrasounds mandatory by getting Republicans in our legislature to agree to make them voluntary.”

Mello’s vow did not satisfy NARAL, however. “It’s not enough to issue a statement for political expediency when your record is full of anti-choice votes,” Ilyse Hogue, the organization’s president, said in a follow-up statement. “The Democratic Party’s support of any candidate who does not support the basic rights and freedoms of women is disappointing and politically stupid.”

Read the entire piece here.

I did not think the pro-life faction of the Democratic Party was that strong. Or at least I have not heard the divisions in the Party framed this way recently.  I assumed that pro-life Democrats lost all power in the Party sometimes shortly after the election of Bill Clinton.

If you want some perspective on how the Democrats became a pro-choice party I recommend Daniel K. Williams’s book  Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade (Oxford 2016).  Before you go out and buy the book you may want to hear Williams talk about the history of the pro-life movement in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

As I have argued, particularly in a piece I published a couple of years ago in USA Today, the modern Democratic Party should really be the party of life.

Steinfels: “You Don’t Win over People By Calling Them Racists”

steinfelspeterCatholic writer Peter Steinfels reflects on the #ageoftrump in a recent piece at Commonweal, the magazine where his byline has appeared for over fifty years.  He has little patience for Donald Trump, the GOP, the  Democratic Party, and identity politics.

Here is a taste:

And that raises the much-bruited issue of identity politics. Clearly, the Democrats’ fixation on sheer diversity, a demographic checklist of age groups, income groups, and racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities, has proved a failure. But what is the problem—simply the emphasis on identities or the failure to connect with some identities (e.g., traditionalist, rural, working-class) in a convincing way? Perhaps the problem, to a disturbing degree, is the loss of identities, of identities, that is, with any genuine life-shaping character, any authentic culture, rather than identities based on skin color or admiration for a reality TV star and winner at casino economics? 

I would have thought that religion might provide that kind of identity, until I looked at the 81 percent white evangelical vote for Trump and the 60 percent white Catholic vote. My guess is that these churches and, by association, religion generally, will find themselves badly discredited by a Trump administration bearing gifts. The prolife and religious freedom movements, which I consider of major importance, may win a round or two in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, with the mark of Trump stamped on their foreheads, they have virtually doomed themselves in the cultural contests essential to their goals.

I have not said anything about “whitelash.” I never believed for an instant, as I am sure Barack Obama never believed, that we had entered a “post-racial” era. I also don’t believe that we are returning to Jim Crow or that black bodies exist in constant danger of being mowed down by white authorities on the streets. But I have neither space nor ability to address with due gravity and precision what 2016 reveals about where the nation stands in regard to this, its deepest and most threatening wound. My only observation, practical but superficial, is that you don’t win over people by calling them racists.  

Read the entire piece here.  The last paragraph reminds me a lot of Niebuhr’s “spiritual discipline against resentment.”

HT: John Haas

Some Helpful Stuff on Trump’s Carrier Deal


Kudos to Donald Trump.  He negotiated and saved about 1000 jobs at the Carrier plant in Indiana this week.  Indeed, there will be 1000 people who will have a better Christmas because Trump did this.

But we historians have a nasty habit of understanding events like this in larger contexts. We tend to look for a bigger picture.  We think about the implications of political decisions and about cause and effect.  We take the long view.

One piece that has provided a start point for helping me understand the implications of Trump’s job saving efforts as Carrier is Matt Yglesias’s piece at Vox.

Here is a taste:

Now, the overall scale of this move relative to the size of the American economy is pathetic. In Indiana alone, there were 672,000 manufacturing jobs at the 1999 peak, falling to 425,000 in the summer of 2009 and bouncing back to 513,000 as of this fall. Which is just to say that broad Obama-era policies aimed at overall economic recovery have “brought back” almost 90 times as many jobs as are at stake in the Carrier deal. Getting all the way back to the Clinton-era peak would require Trump to pull off about 160 Carrier-scale moves in Indiana alone, to say nothing of the millions of manufacturing jobs in other states.

But the very small-scale nature of the Carrier situation is part of what makes it such appealing public relations. It’s true that something abstract like a 0.25 percentage point cut in the federal funds rate or a temporary partial suspension of the payroll tax would do a lot more to create jobs than jawboning a single company about a single factory. But Trump’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the problems of one American community indicates an obsessive focus on boosting the fortunes of working-class Midwesterners — even as his administration’s big-picture policy focus remains on deregulating Wall Street, enacting an enormous tax cut for rich people, and slashing spending on assistance to the poor.

And this:

Trump has done a good job over the years of making his Twitter feed livelier and more exciting than Obama’s feed. But it’s still the case that allowing him to set the media agenda via Twitter is an enormous win for him. Very few people will be affected by the Carrier move — many fewer, for example, than the million or so people impacted by Obama’s leave for contractors initiative — whereas huge numbers of people will be affected by things Trump doesn’t like to tweet about, including rolling back Dodd-Frank and slashing taxes for millionaires.

Touring the country looking for factories to cheerlead or small interventions to help particular communities is a perfectly legitimate thing for a president to do. But a PR stunt is a PR stunt, not a major economic policy initiative.

If Trump actually does try to make this kind of stunt the centerpiece of his economic agenda, that will be a disaster. But the much more likely scenario is one in which he continues with his stated policy agenda of tax cuts and deregulation while using a handful of PR stunts to maintain an image as an champion of the working class. The big question is will he get away with it?

Read the entire piece here.

Why I Signed “Historians Against Trump”

HistoryTrumpYesterday my friend Mike Kugler, professor of history at Northwestern College in Iowa, wrote a an important series of Facebook posts in response to Stanley Fish’s provocative New York Times piece “Professors, Stop Opining About Trump.”

In that piece Fish, in response to the Historians Against Trump movement, argued that historians (and all academics for that matter) as a group should not  be in the business of offering political opinions. He writes: “Academic expertise is not a qualification for delivering political wisdom.” Historians, he adds, should be teaching people “how to perform as historians, not as seers or political gurus.”

Here is Kugler’s original Facebook post:

I’m intrigued by Fish’s argument. I wasn’t troubled by the idea of the Historians Against Trump; and some of the people speaking from that platform do have sharp, well-trained historical perspectives on the history of the presidency and American populism. But Fish’s theme, that academics should cultivate a particular kind of humility about what they know and don’t know, seems true. Is there some disciplinary aspect of historical thinking that gives its practitioners special insight into the character and ideological nature of presidential candidates?

This led to what I think was a fruitful exchange with Kugler. I publish that exchange below, beginning with my response to his initial post.  I hope it might be a starting point for further conversation.

Fea:  Mike: This open letter is not perfect. Of course you are right in saying that not all the historians who signed it, including myself, are trained specifically on the history of the presidency or populism. And I agree with Fish’s point about humility. Actually the letter does acknowledge the limitations of the historian.

I would respond to your take on Fish’s piece in two ways. First, I think specialization is overrated. (I think it’s fair to say that we both know this, based on our teaching loads and the subjects we asked to cover at small liberal arts colleges). I think sometimes those of us who teach the survey or are trained broadly are better equipped to speak to the public than research professors who spend their careers mining one specific field. These scholars may be in a position to tell OTHER SCHOLARS about this or that sub-specialty, but they spend little time thinking about anything else. Let’s remember that we probably know more about fields outside our specialty than most Americans [and thus have a duty to engage the public based on what we know].

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I signed this document because I believe that historians, as historical thinkers, have a LOT to offer when it comes to critiquing political candidates. The emphasis in the letter on evidence-based arguments, the respect for the dignity of all humanity, the importance of context, the uses of the past in political discourse, the commitment to a civil society (rooted, presumably, in the kind of empathy that historical thinking brings), and the very fact that making America great AGAIN is ultimately a statement about the past. Trump runs roughshod over all these things. For what it’s worth…

Kugler: Like I said above, it’s Fish’s claim about humility that attracted me to his editorial, not his criticism of the Historians Against Trump. I would not be surprised if Fish would suggest that “acknowledging humility” is not the same as living up to it; I can tout my opponent’s virtues at length before I attack her. In my experience I find many academics often to be a strange combination of embattled self esteem and arrogance–including myself. Then, your suggestion about experience in teaching the survey is interesting, and I agree that careful attention to such work over the years does make a teacher a kind of expert in a wide range of historical subjects. Finally, let me ask this question, John. What candidate has lived up to the virtues of historical thinking you and I and many, many others try to embody and teach? Hasn’t Trump provoked this unusual act on the part of over 500 historians, teachers, museum staff etc because his candidacy seems unprecedented in recent history and his statements are often outrageous? If as you say “historians, as historical thinkers, have a LOT to offer when it comes to critiquing political candidates”, why haven’t other candidates who probably exhibit equally strained relations with historical method, subtlety or evidence provoked the formation of a similar group as Historians Against Trump?

Which then leads back to my question above: Is there some disciplinary aspect of historical thinking that gives its practitioners special insight into the character and ideological nature of presidential candidates?

Fea: All good questions and thoughts. I would hope that historians would call out all candidates who manipulate the past. During the course of the primary I called out Rubio, Cruz, and Sanders. I think two things might be at work here with Trump. First, I am sure politics are involved. The letter talks about being bipartisan, but it is pretty easy to invoke bipartisanship when were are talking about opposition to Trump. So I am guessing that many who signed this [letter] DO have a political axe to grind and see the letter as a legitimate way of sticking it to Trump without being overtly political. Second, I wonder if Trump’s campaign is egregiously anti-historical when compared to Hillary. (But I am sure I will get some push back on this from my conservative friends).

Kugler: The real subject for me, John, you can imagine is the nature of historical thinking as we teach and practice it. Recently I”m quite haunted by the problem of historical context as explanation/diagnosis. Historians typically answer moral, religious, political questions with stories; the stories explain why the “now” at issue looks as it does. But are such stories diagnoses in the sense that they strongly suggest action in response? Historical perspective encourages intellectual humility. But does it, as the Historians Against Trump say, teach “lessons”? I was surprised to see that word used, more than once.

Kugler made me think hard about a few things.  Do we want our students and readers to learn “lessons” from the past?  Of course we do.  But what are those lessons?  Who decides what is a “lesson” and what is not?  It seems that the idea of studying history to learn “lessons” makes the doing of history first and foremost a political act.  Some may have no problem with this, but I imagine that others will.  Still others will admit that the doing of history must always be a political act, but our job as historians is to be on guard so that the politicization of the past does not go too far.

It seems to me that “lessons” is a morally problematic term and not always helpful to historical thinking.  Does providing historical context for current events–an important work of the historian–necessarily lead to “explanation/diagnosis?”  I still stand by the statement for the reasons I stated above, but I also think that we should not dismiss Fish out of hand.


What To Do About Trump

Trump thunbs up

Damon Linker offers an interesting suggestion at The Week.  

Linker suggests that the GOP should do everything possible to deny Trump the nomination in Cleveland even it if means (and it probably will) that they will lose the 2016 election.

I will let Linker take it from here:

But wouldn’t this backfire? If the party denied Trump the nomination at the Republican convention, wouldn’t it fuel a “stabbed in the back” narrative that would inspire an even darker political movement four years from now? This was Jeet Heer’s argument in a recent smart piece in The New Republic. The Trump voters are a problem for American democracy, Heer asserted, one that can only be solved by allowing them to get their nominee and then ensuring that he’s roundly defeated at the ballot box in November.

It’s a powerful argument, but I’m unpersuaded that a general-election defeat will “solve” the problem of the Trump voters. These voters are activated now. Trump has given them a style and the rudiments of a policy agenda that they clearly prefer to the offerings from either the Republicans or the Democrats. The only way to keep those voters from flocking to Trump four years from now, or rallying around some even-worse populist copycat, is for the GOP to woo them by adjusting its platform and agenda.

That’s what both parties did after the original Populists upended American politics in the 1890s. It could happen again. It needs to happen again. And whether and how it happens will do far more to determine the future shape of the Republican Party than whether it dumps Trump this July.

In the short term, the party would most likely be wrecked. But that could well be less destructive, in the longer term, for both the party and the country, than trying to ride the Trump tiger. Exiling the Trump voters in 2016 would save the GOP from making a fatal compromise with competence and put it in a relatively strong position to run more compelling and capable post-Trump populists in the 2018 midterm and 2020 presidential elections. America would be much better for it.

At the end of the transformation, the Republican Party would look and sound quite a bit different than it has since Ronald Reagan took it over 36 years ago. But Republicans should consider that vastly preferable to allowing Trump to remake the party in his own Know Nothing image. We all should.

Very interesting, especially the nod to William Jennings Bryan.  Read the entire piece here.

GOP Presidential Candidates: Quit Complaining About the Questions

Every Republican in the country tonight is complaining about the liberal bias of the questions posed by Becky Quick, John Harwood, and Carlos Quintinilla, the moderators of last night’s GOP debate on CNBC.

Were they tough questions?  Yes. Were the moderators liberal?  I don’t know their personal political views. Did the questions have a liberal bias?  Probably, but I don’t think anything they asked was out of bounds as far as politics go–past or present.
I have not heard Donald Trump criticize the questions yet.  Sean Hannity interviewed him after the debate and Trump skirted Hannity’ question about the liberal-bias of the moderators.  Of course Trump also had serious problems with Megyn Kelly’s question in the first Fox debate.  He could be an bipartisan whiner.
Many conservative pundits on Fox, including Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill O’Reilly, all thought that Marco Rubio won the day when he said that the CNBC questions had a liberal bias.   Others praised Cruz for attacking the supposed liberal nature of the questions.  
What struck me was that neither Cruz nor Rubio answered the question that they were asked. Instead they used their time to criticize the moderators.  The moderators asked Rubio a good question.  Why aren’t you showing up to represent the people of Florida in the Senate?  He did not answer this question, claiming that it played into the liberal bias of the media. Such an answer may have fired up his base, but it was not very satisfying.  And then he followed-up by saying that if John Kerry, John McCain, and others skipped votes when they were running for president, then why not me?  Jeb Bush was right to attack him on this point.
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the questions at last night’s debate were biased.  I don’t know about you, but I want my presidential candidates to be able to give an honest answer to any legitimate question that is asked of them.  The President of the United States is the leader of all Americans–liberal and conservative.  When asked a hard question from someone of a different political or ideological perspective–a question that might make him or her uncomfortable–I don’t want my president to default with an appeal to the political bias of the question.
Fiorina needs to answer questions about her time at Hewlett-Packard.  I think GOP and independent voters would like to know more about this.   Marco Rubio needs to explain why he is not showing up for votes in the Senate.  GOP voters in Florida might be interested in this.  Ben Carson needs to defend his “tithing” approach to taxation when people like Becky Quick hit him with the numbers. These are all fair questions. And even if the media is liberal, its members are Americans who have every right to ask these kinds of questions of their candidates. 
And by the way, I would say the same thing about the candidates on the Democratic side.  Why not have Fox News host a debate with Hillary, Bernie, and the gang. Let them address tough “conservative” questions on abortion and gay marriage and socialism and the role of government in society.  I would love to see that. 
OK, enough of this rant.
I came away from the debate impressed with Kasich and Christie.  

What Conservative Voters Like About Bernie

Rick Perlstein explains in a piece at The Washington Spectator:

Nate Silver has the Bernie Sanders campaign figured out. Ignore what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, the “data-driven” prognostication wizard wrote back in July, when Sanders was polling a healthy 30 percent to Clinton’s 46 percent in both contests. That’s only, Silver says, because “Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa and Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire are liberal and white, and that’s the core of Sanders’ support.”
Silver has a chart. It shows that when you multiply the number of liberals and whites among state electorates, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa rank first, second, and third. Texas is near the bottom—a place where Bernie Sanders should feel about as welcome as a La Raza convention at the Alamo, right?
I have a new friend who begs to differ.
It’s July 20, and my airplane seat mate asks what brought me to Texas. He is a construction company sales executive from Houston. He’s watching Fox News on his cell phone. He tells me he considers himself a conservative. I tell him I’m a political reporter covering the Bernie Sanders campaign. He perks up: “I like what I’ve heard from him. Kind of middle of the road.”
Eleven days later, I’m at a Bernie Sanders house party in the depressed steel town of Griffith, Indiana, in a state that places in the bottom quartile on Silver’s chart. I approach a young man in his twenties wearing a thrift store T-shirt. I ask him what brings him here tonight.
“I’m just helping out my friends because they asked me to help out,” he tells me. He adds that he’s a conservative: “But I approve of some of the stuff that Bernie stands for. Like appealing to more than just the one percent and just trying to give everybody a leg up who’s needing it these days.” Data-driven analysis is only as good as the categories by which you sift the information. If you’ve already decided that “liberals” are the people who prefer locally sourced arugula to eating at McDonald’s, or are the people who don’t watch Fox News, it is a reasonable conclusion that there aren’t enough “liberals” out there to elect Bernie Sanders. Yet political categories shift. One of the things the best politicians do is work to shift them.
Read the rest of the piece here.
I should add that Texas has an open primary.  So do several other southern states.

An Intellectual History of Donald Trump Supporters

In his essay at National Journal, John Judis argues that the success of Donald Trump should be explained less by his personality and more by his appeal to a group of voters he calls “Middle American Radicals.” 

Here is a taste:

In 1976, Don­ald War­ren—a so­ci­olo­gist from Oak­land Uni­versity in Michigan who would die two dec­ades later without ever at­tain­ing the rank of full pro­fess­or—pub­lished a book called The Rad­ic­al Cen­ter: Middle Amer­ic­ans and the Polit­ics of Ali­en­a­tionFew people have read or heard of it—I learned of it about 30 years ago from the late, very ec­cent­ric pa­leo­con­ser­vat­ive Samuel Fran­cis—but it is, in my opin­ion, one of the three or four books that best ex­plain Amer­ic­an polit­ics over the past half-cen­tury.

While con­duct­ing ex­tens­ive sur­veys of white voters in 1971 and again in 1975, War­ren iden­ti­fied a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

War­ren called these voters Middle Amer­ic­an Rad­ic­als, or MARS. “MARS are dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected,” War­ren wrote. They saw “gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply sus­pi­cious of big busi­ness: Com­pared with the oth­er groups he sur­veyed—lower-in­come whites, middle-in­come whites who went to col­lege, and what War­ren called “af­flu­ents”—MARS were the most likely to be­lieve that cor­por­a­tions had “too much power,” “don’t pay at­ten­tion,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many lib­er­al pro­grams: By a large per­cent­age, they favored gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee­ing jobs to every­one; and they sup­por­ted price con­trols, Medi­care, some kind of na­tion­al health in­sur­ance, fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion, and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

On the oth­er hand, they held very con­ser­vat­ive po­s­i­tions on poverty and race. They were the least likely to agree that whites had any re­spons­ib­il­ity “to make up for wrongs done to blacks in the past,” they were the most crit­ic­al of wel­fare agen­cies, they re­jec­ted ra­cial bus­ing, and they wanted to grant po­lice a “heav­ier hand” to “con­trol crime.” They were also the group most dis­trust­ful of the na­tion­al gov­ern­ment. And in a stand that wasn’t really lib­er­al or con­ser­vat­ive (and that ap­peared, at least on the sur­face, to be in ten­sion with their dis­like of the na­tion­al gov­ern­ment), MARS were more likely than any oth­er group to fa­vor strong lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton—to ad­voc­ate for a situ­ation “when one per­son is in charge.”
If these voters are be­gin­ning to sound fa­mil­i­ar, they should: War­ren’s MARS of the 1970s are the Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers of today. Since at least the late 1960s, these voters have peri­od­ic­ally co­alesced to be­come a force in pres­id­en­tial polit­ics, just as they did this past sum­mer. In 1968 and 1972, they were at the heart of George Wal­lace’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns; in 1992 and 1996, many of them backed H. Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan. Over the years, some of their is­sues have changed—il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion has re­placed ex­pli­citly ra­cist ap­peals—and many of these voters now have ju­ni­or-col­lege de­grees and are as likely to hold white-col­lar as blue-col­lar jobs. But the ba­sic MARS world­view that War­ren out­lined has re­mained sur­pris­ingly in­tact from the 1970s through the present.
Read the rest here.

Why Rick Perry Should Stop Using "Born in the USA"

I have been watching volleyball in Vegas all day.  Came back to our hotel and saw that Real Clear Politics was running my piece on Rick Perry and Bruce Springsteen.  Here is a taste:

If the last several GOP presidential primaries are any indication, nearly every candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2016 will claim to be a follower of Ronald Reagan.
Rick Perry, should he decide to run, will be one of those candidates. The former Texas governor has even decided to use one of Reagan’s old campaign theme songs.
Last Thursday, at an event in Washington D.C., Perry walked onto the stage to Bruce Springsteen’s iconic 1984 single, “Born in the U.S.A.” About thirty years ago this song peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts and it continues to be a quintessential American anthem and a crowd favorite at Springsteen concerts.
Like Reagan in 1984, Rick Perry and his staff seem to have no clue about the song’s meaning. Anyone who listens carefully to the lyrics of “Born in the U.S.A.” will quickly realize that there is little about the song that reflects conservative values.

Read the rest here.

Simon Newman Compares American and Scottish Independence

Simon Newman of the University of Glasgow, a historian of early American history, offers some nice historical reflections on the similarities and differences between the argument for American independence from Great Britain and Scottish independence from the U.K. Check out his entire piece at The Junto.  Here is a small taste:

American historians generally accept that in 1776 independence was supported by a minority of adult white male voters, with many more either undecided or actively opposed to separation. The Second Continental Congress declared American independence without majority support in their new nation. Greater unanimity in support of American independence developed slowly, in the face of massive and destructive British military operations, and the ever more efficient Patriot militia policing of communities from New Hampshire to Georgia. Similarly in 2014 opinion polls continue to show only a minority in support of Scottish independence. Yet the gap is closing and is now almost within the margin of error. Moreover, these polls are far from reliable since demographically coherent groups of voters are divided by an issue determined by heart as much as head: two people of a similar age, education, religion and so forth are as likely to disagree as agree, making it all but impossible for pollsters to find statistically representative samples.

Although the polls are narrowing independence may well be defeated, but even if it is Scotland and the UK will have been changed by this process. In the event of a “No” vote, both the UK government and the Labour opposition in Westminster have guaranteed greater devolved powers for the Scottish government, with even more control over taxation and expenditure within Scotland than is already the case. This would increase the already considerable differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK in terms of welfare policies, health care, higher education and a raft of other governmental responsibilities.

Something similar was possible, albeit highly unlikely, in America in September 1776, when British Admiral Lord Richard Howe met with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge. Hoping to prevent a costly and divisive war, Howe promised the representatives of the Continental Congress significant concessions, offering many of the rights colonists had asserted since 1764. Yet even if Congress had agreed, the relationship between Britain and America would have been irrevocably altered, and independence postponed rather than denied. Such may well be the case in Scotland. The debate over independence, and the content and manner of English arguments against it have changed Scotland and its relationship with the UK. If Adams was right, and the American Revolution “was in the minds and hearts of the people” before independence was countenanced and declared, then perhaps a similar revolution has already occurred in Scotland.

I also recommend this piece by British historian Linda Colley.

Kazin on Libertarianism: It Has No Chance

Michael Kazin of Dissent and the Georgetown University History Department is an astute observer of the American political scene.  I like his stuff because he often brings historical reasoning and evidence to bear on his punditry. Here is a taste of his recent take, published at The New Republic, on the rise of libertarianism in American political culture:

Libertarianism may be on the rise, but it has no real chance of taking over the Republican Party, much less the nation. A daunting set of obstacles lies in the path of true believers who would shrink the government down to Gilded Age dimensions.
The most obvious hurdle is that Americans may dislike “big government,” but they cherish their federal benefits. The libertarian charge, made most recently by Paul Ryan, that entitlement programs harm the people they are supposed to help speaks to few recipients of Social Security or Medicare (even elderly Tea Partiers), much less to anyone cashing an unemployment check or being cared for at a VA hospital. And even most Republican businessmen would resist stripping away tax credits for homeowners and subsidies for energy and agriculturejust to name some of the biggest examples of “corporate welfare.”
Second, it’s one thing to rile against an agency that monitors your phone calls but quite another to advocate, as authentic libertarians do, the demolition of the “national security” state first established during World War II and expanded after the attacks of September 11. If Rand Paul bases his presidential hopes, in part, on scaling back the powers of intelligence agencies and bringing the U.S. military back home, GOP heavies like McCain, Graham, and Rubiobacked up by millions of servicemen and women, past and presentwill be glad to dash them.
Third, any Republican who promotes a coherent libertarian agenda will have to do battle with Christian conservativesstill the party’s largest and most faithful constituency and one whose definition of “freedom” excludes abortion rights and gay marriage.  Paul understands this, of course; he is careful to declare he is “100 percent pro-life,” and he opposed the recent decision by a federal judge who ordered Kentucky to recognize same-sex unions from other states. But if he emphasized such views, he would destroy his image as an apostle of untrammeled liberty, particularly among the young people who rallied to his father’s candidacy. So, in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, Paul will have to straddle the social issues or avoid them. Most Republican voters who seek a fierce defender of “family values” will probably look elsewhere.
Fourth, libertarians have a weakness for conspiracy-mongering and foolish statements. They tend to believe with Ron Paul that “the Federal Reserve is the main cause of the boom-and-bust economy, as well as the leading facilitator of big government and crony capitalism” and long to return to the gold standard. Almost 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, Rand Paul still thought it was wrong to require the owner of a private business to serve customers of all racesalthough he now denies he said that. An unswerving devotion to individual liberty can attract a devoted corps of activists. But most who stand outside that self-reverential band would agree with Emerson’s famous observation that “a foolish consistency is the hobglobin of little minds.”
Ideological zealots fascinate journalists and scholars, but they have never dominated American politics. New Deal liberals triumphed far more because they met mass demands for jobs, security, and civil rights than because they bashed the corporate rich or preached about the Four Freedoms. Ronald Reagan and his fellow conservatives rose to power by indicting the shortcomings of federal programs and Jimmy Carter’s failed foreign policy, not because they made a strong case against “big government.” 
In fact, if not political rhetoric, the United States has never been a libertarian nation. Even during the Gilded Age, the federal government financed, through loans, the building of the transcontinental railroads and subsidized American industry through high tariffs (taxes, by another name). Many individual states, using the “police power,” also banned the liquor traffic and segregated the races. Libertarianism is a grand aspiration of Americans who wish they could live in a society in which the only government that mattered would be the government of oneself. Like all utopian wishes, it will never be granted.

North Carolina Historians Arrested


William Chafe of Duke University and Jacqueline Dowd Hall of the University of North Carolina, both former presidents of the Organization of American Historians, were arrested this week for protesting the Republican policies of the North Carolina legislature.  In an op-ed published in the Charlotte News and Observer, Chafe and Hall argued that the policies of the North Carolina legislature contradict the long history of civil rights that has come to define the Tar Heel State over the course of the last half-century.  Here is a taste:

This week, we were arrested at the General Assembly. We chose the path of civil disobedience – along with 29 others – as a means of calling attention to the headlong assault on our state’s history by the governor and the state legislature.

We are not radicals. Each of us has been president of the Organization of American Historians, the leading professional organization of all American historians. We cherish the history we have spent our lives studying. Yet now we see a new generation in Raleigh threatening to destroy the very


history we have spent our lives celebrating.

During the last half century, North Carolinians helped pave the way for racial justice, educational leadership and fairness for all citizens.

They conclude:

That history is one that our current legislature and governor now seek to reverse: by denying 500,000 people health care through Medicaid, even though it would not cost the state a cent for the first two years; by restricting women’s access to reproductive health care; by terminating unemployment payments for more than 160,000 workers laid off through no fault of their own; by endangering the right to vote of tens of thousands of people through curtailing early voting and requiring state-issued picture IDs; by cutting taxes on the rich, and increasing them on the poor; by telling a father in New Bern that if his daughter chooses to vote in Boone, where she attends Appalachian State, instead of traveling five hours back to New Bern to cast her ballot, the father can no longer claim his daughter as a dependent on his tax return.

This political juggernaut runs totally contrary to what North Carolina has stood for during the last half century. It represents class warfare against the middle class and the working-class residents of our state. Justice lies at the core of our civic life. And we are all responsible for sustaining that justice.

Beneke and Stephens: "Colleges should see political diversification as a matter of self-preservation…

…as well as a genuine public good.”

Check out Chris Beneke and Randall Stephens’s essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education in which they argue that Republicans and academics need each other.  (The piece was published yesterday–April 1–but I don’t think it is an April Fool’s joke).

They argue that “conservative disaffection with higher education is costing the Republicans both young talent and the opportunity to sharpen their skills through regular contests with savvy adversaries.”

They also argue that colleges and universities need “right leaning donors and legislators” and political diversification for the common good.

Here is a taste:

To suggest that Republicans and colleges look for ways to embrace one another may seem like asking the Hatfields and McCoys to just kiss and make up. Identifying common and respectable arenas for dialogue and cooperation won’t be easy. Faculty and administrators will have to acknowledge that their institutions tend to be ideologically narrow, while Republicans will have to concede that most social and economic problems are terribly complex and require prolonged investigation by communities of researchers.

Left-leaning professors may want nothing more than to see the Republican Party go the way of the woolly mammoth. But that is no more realistic than Republican hopes for retaining a vigorous policy-making role absent the knowledge and analytical skills of so-called smart people. Without Republicans in the colleges and college-friendly intellectuals among the Republicans, both the political party and the colleges are worse off. And American public life is diminished as a result.

Shortly after the piece went live, one commentator wrote that the “Republican party should simply be enabled to die of its decrepitude….”  Some things may never change. 

Conservative Soul Searching

From Gordon College political science professor Paul Brink at the Center for Public Justice. A taste:

For the sake of the country, and for the sake of their Party, conservatives need to enter a new round of ideological soul-searching. The challenge conservatives face is unique: how to put forward a coherent platform for state action while remaining generally committed to the idea that the state should be doing less to begin with. Without such a forward-looking agenda, conservatives cannot avoid appearing shrill and reactionary.

Where to look? One immediate priority is to think once again about what the state is for. There are resources aplenty. The Center for Public Justice has long been offering help along these lines: past generations of conservatives have found much to value in the traditions of Christian pluralism that attempt to mediate between statism and individualism. More broadly, the American emphases on limited government, the strong affirmation of civil society and the call to civic virtue continue to have a deep resonance with the American public. There is ground for renewal, and the Republican position is not without hope.

On the other hand, the movement’s continued flirtation with libertarianism is only prolonging our national political malaise. It is simply not true that less government is always better. The sooner conservatives stand up and say so, the sooner they can begin to lay out a positive vision for state action. Criticism and reform of specific government programs and proposals will become much more successful if conservatives can demonstrate how their positions are not based on a reflexive anti-government stance, but rather upon a well thought-out and comprehensive political vision. Libertarianism’s unwavering faith in individual freedom for the sake of individual freedom alone is not the stuff of conservatism. Historically, conservatives have been much more impressed by the frailties of human nature and more positive about the responsibility of the state and other social institutions to restrain human impulses.

Conservatives need to rethink this alliance. Clearly, the mainstream of the American public hasn’t been impressed. Most Americans do not favor the radically individualist position, perhaps for the reason that most Americans are not radical individualists. People genuinely do care about the situation of the poor, for example, and while they may not agree on what governments should do to help, they don’t like politicians who appear willing simply to abandon the vulnerable. The association between conservatism and libertarianism does not simply risk ideological incoherence; it risks political irrelevance.

The Crazy, Unnecessary, and Generally Abusive Process of Picking an American President

Matt Tiabbi, writing at The Rolling Stone, reflects on the crazy way in which Americans choose their president.  Here is a taste:

What we Americans go through to pick a president is not only crazy and unnecessary but genuinely abusive. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in a craven, cynical effort to stir up hatred and anger on both sides. A decision that in reality takes one or two days of careful research to make is somehow stretched out into a process that involves two years of relentless, suffocating mind-warfare, an onslaught of toxic media messaging directed at liberals, conservatives and everyone in between that by Election Day makes every dinner conversation dangerous and literally divides families.

After making some suggestions for how to improve the process, Tiabbi concludes:

If we did this right, people would come out of presidential elections exhilarated, maybe even stoked to get involved in their local races for county sheriff or D.A. (Such races would likely have more of an impact on their day-to-day lives: For the most part, when it comes to our daily routines, the president might as well be on Mars.) Instead, most of us come out of the election exhausted, in desperate need of a couple of Ambiens and determined to spend the next two years buried in Hulu reruns, afraid to even pass a news channel while couch-surfing our way to Storage Wars or a Lifetime movie.

What makes us feel pessimistic about the world, ultimately, is the way the media encourage us to believe that our fate hangs on the every move of the promise-breaking, terminally disappointing Teflon liars in Washington. And that’s a shame, because feeling optimistic shouldn’t require turning off the TV or tuning out The Process. What we are witnessing, after all, is the world’s greatest contest for power, an amazing fairy tale full of iconic moments that we’ll watch no matter how much Sean Hannity or Chris Matthews screams at us. But it would be awesome, next time, if we could find a way to turn down the volume.