Last week I wrote about the importance of the 1990s to current trends in intellectual discourse. Today, I’d like to zero in on one story of the decade: Bill Clinton’s attempt to handle race relations during the 1990s. We would do well to remember how a Southern Democrat, facing a country continuing to wrestle with the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, navigated the intractable problem of racism in modern life. His 1997 Presidential Commission on Race, which “celebrates” its twentieth anniversary this year, is the best example of how he tried to deal with race. The fact that the commission is virtually forgotten, despite the participation of notables such as historian John Hope Franklin, speaks both to the tumultuous nature of Clinton’s second term, and the nation’s forgetfulness on the recent history of race and American society.
During the past week, I had the opportunity to spend five (very) full days with ten fellow scholars doing research in the Hoover Library and Archives, as part of that institution’s Workshop on Political Economy, organized by Jennifer Burns.
George Nash has written a fine study of Herbert Hoover’s relationship to Stanford University, with a detailed history of the beginnings of the archival collection that would form the core and in some ways the crown of the library’s holdings. (Here is a brief account of how the collection got its start.)
Herbert Hoover gave a crucial directive to those he commissioned to gather documents (on the downlow and on the government’s dime) in the wake of the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution: whatever else they found, they should be sure to gather “fugitive materials.” By this he meant things like posters, pamphlets, handbills, placards, underground press publications, newspapers, tabloids, programs, notices, broadsides – all the ephemera of political movements and historical moments, the texts and images that were printed to serve an immediate purpose and not designed or expected to endure beyond their contemporary use.
It was a prescient proviso, paving the way for a massive collection of materials on “war, revolution and peace” in the 20th century, a collection that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
The following guest post is by Louis F. Cooper, longtime reader and commenter who contributed to the blog’s Roundtable on U.S. Foreign Policy and the Left in 2014.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Michael Harrington’s The Vast Majority: A Journey to the World’s Poor (Simon and Schuster, 1977). The leading American democratic socialist of his time, Harrington (1928-1989) is best known for his 1962 book The Other America, which drew renewed attention to poverty in the United States and argued eloquently for a “comprehensive” assault on it.  In The Vast Majority, Harrington joined the debate about the Third World (or the global South, as we now say) and the issues of global poverty and inequality. Despite having become dated in some ways, The Vast Majority still bears reading. Among other things, the book is notable for its candor: it admitted the complexities of the problems, their resistance to easy solutions, and insisted nonetheless that steps toward a more just global order were both possible and morally necessary. (more…)
I teach regularly at a prison in Only, Tennessee. I post about it sometimes. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the experience more than usual, probably because for the first time I’m carpooling with a philosopher friend of mine who has started teaching ethics out there. We talk about any number of things, but invariably discuss pedagogy and the men we teach. It helps that I’ve had some of his students in some of my classes in the past, so we compare notes. I’ve also been following and rereading the posts of our own Holly Genovese on prison writing, which has got me thinking more seriously about prisoners as intellectuals. Thank you, Holly, for reminding all of us that we need more intellectual histories of incarcerated women and men.
On Saturday afternoon, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted out the following: “Before summer’s out, we’ll repeal/replace Obamacare w/ system based on personal responsibility, free-market competition & state-based reform”.
Before summer’s out, we’ll repeal/replace Obamacare w/ system based on personal responsibility, free-market competition & state-based reform pic.twitter.com/JzCyxX9kJb
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) June 24, 2017
The invocation of “personal responsibility” led many people to respond with examples of people whose health conditions cannot, under any reasonable set of circumstances, be considered their “personal responsibility.” How, they asked, is taking away Medicaid from children born with underdeveloped organs or costly but ultimately surmountable complications an example of promoting “personal responsibility?”
My son was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a week after his birth, so this is not a hypothetical question for me. My wife and I would not have been able to afford that week of excellent care on our own, and while my son may have been stable enough to have survived if we had to bring him home earlier, I don’t see how putting him at a heightened risk of dying would have taught anyone involved “personal responsibility,” at least as most people understand the phrase. There must be something else going on beneath this rhetoric. What would Mike Pence have said to me if the worst had happened? (more…)
Two recent essays have caught my eye in recent days, forcing me to think even harder about the importance of history to modern political and cultural debates. Both illustrate to me the reason why recent history is such a crucial aspect of the historical profession. While it is often easy to use comparisons to the nineteen-sixties when talking about the chaos of modern politics—and we should all brace ourselves for next year, which will mark numerous fifty-year anniversaries for the calamitous events of 1968 (you were warned)—or the “malaise” of the nineteen-seventies, it is time to also think about historicizing the nineteen-nineties. Events in that decade say as much about our current predicaments as much as referencing the Cold War, the Civil Rights/Black Power era, or the “Age of Reagan” of the eighties.