Blogs > Cliopatria > The fate of our hopes and dreams

Sep 27, 2004 4:26 pm


The fate of our hopes and dreams



I was just looking at the lineup of new articles on HNN. Not surprisingly the election’s big. Perhaps a bit more surprisingly they are just about all on foreign policy. Most surprising, and disconcerting, with the exception of Judy Rubin’s discussion of anti-Americanism, they are all Bush-bashers.

Now, as an opponent of Bush, perhaps I should simply conclude that no rational historian can support him. But that’s BS. Heck, if I had to, I could sit down and create a pro-Bush article. It wouldn’t be that strong, but, still, I could do it. So why isn’t there one on HNN by someone whose heart is in it?

I’m pretty sure that HNN is not to blame. The HNN editor is to a considerable extent the prisoner of submissions. If the lack of pro-Bush submissions is the problem, perhaps this is an example of the weakness of blogs and the web in general. People opt for forums where they find support for their ideas and leave the ones where the majority of posters are opposed to his or her views.

That also may indicate the increasingly strident rants on both sides. The election is Armageddon!
The fate of the world and the fate of all our hopes and dreams hinge upon it!
Ruin or renewal! Good or Evil!

You get the drift. You know the drift.

And I feel it. As I wrote those phrases in italics, I felt the messed-up-stomach-adrenaline-surge of a person who thinks that it may be true. If Bush wins, we remain stuck with a bad war administrated incompetently and with a vision of society in which everything in the lives of most people gets subordinated to an ceaseless economic scramble in which there are fewer and fewer victories that last more than a day.

But if both sides go on thinking that way, then we will almost certainly come out of the election with a country filled with anger. The losers will use every opportunity to kneecap the winners, and the winners will be tempted to more and more extreme tactics to discredit the losers.

Am I wrong that as academics and historians we should, at least occasionally, lean against such a trend? That we should work even harder to understand those opposed to us not simply for its own sake but as a lesson to others in a better way to think and decide?

I don’t ask scholars not to state the reasons why they support or oppose someone. Such public commentary is a legitimate activity. But if Bush is not the chosen of God, as some of his supporters think, neither is he the anti-Christ. He’s a man, supported by many people who are decent and have decent goals. Maybe those of us who oppose him should remember that in our comments on occasion, even when we don’t get the same respect in return.

If the ethic alone isn’t a good enough reason, consider this. A reputation of restraint makes criticism more telling.


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Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

"People opt for forums where they find support for their ideas and leave the ones where the majority of posters are opposed to his or her views."

Well, I tend to visit all sides. Maybe you are mistaken.

"Ceaseless economic scramble" is sort of a fact of life isn't it? Do you really think a presidential election is going to solve that? The unemployment rate in New York has fallen below pre-9/11 rates. I spent the weekend at motorcycle and car rallies. People were spending as fast as the cashiers could take in the money.

Reading this site, I don't find myself so much in opposition. I go away bewildered that the same old cliches that have dominated left/academy for 50 years are repeated so incessantly as if they were new. I don't even have to actually read most of the articles to get the drift. The ones that especially cloy are the ones that pretend that we are living in the midst of a recurrence of the Great Depression, even as obesity becomes our biggest health problem.

Cursing the American people for their "racism, sexism and homophobia" accounts for about, I'd estimate, 40% to 50% of the verbiage on this site. It's pretty damned old, it's not original, and it's not true. Most of this sort of ranting seems to have no purpose other than to nominate the ranter for sainthood.

Some degree of original thought would be very welcome.


Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

"'Ceaseless economic scramble' is sort of a fact of life isn't it? Do you really think a presidential election is going to solve that? The unemployment rate in New York has fallen below pre-9/11 rates. I spent the weekend at motorcycle and car rallies. People were spending as fast as the cashiers could take in the money."

I had to quote myself because you ignored it. Nice of you to skip the parts that are beyond dispute. We are, indeed, living in economic boom times... not quite as plentiful as the mid-90s, but pretty close.

So, here's a new thought for this board. A "poor" person in the U.S. is still a person who (1) owns a late model car, (2) has an air-conditioned abode, and (3) can and often does eat to obesity. The hyperventilating rhetoric of your essay, which seems to evoke economic hardship at the level of The Great Depression is just... well, silly. I realize that this is a rhetorical device, but some attachment to reality would be welcome.


Stephen Thomas - 10/29/2004

It's pretty simple. The authors who frequent this site are arguing morality and high ideals. Nobody in their right mind votes for any politician for this reason. Sensible people vote to serve their self-interest.

I will probably vote for Prez Bush, out of plain self-interest. I am that despised white, hetero male and I want things for myself. I'm married to an Asian woman. We are, thus, at the absolute bottom of the race and sex quota game. I'm not even sure what the cost for us is in this game, and I don't care. The game is rigged against us, and the Democrats tell me and my wife we are just supposed to take it. The Republicans, and particularly Bush, are not remarkably better, but at least they talk about being on our side. Why would I vote for a candidate who tells me that I should be happy with second class citizenship?

I watched several successive Democratic mayors cave in to black gangsterism in New York City. The result was a city that was almost ungovernable and uninhabitable. The Democratic party will not condemn outright black gangersterism. Rudy Giuliani did. He prosecuted the law equally throughout the city, and everybody (especially black middle class people) benefitted. On a national level, the Democratic party will not issue an outright condemnation of black gang violence. (The results of this for black men are disastrous.) I live in a community that is equal parts black, Asian, white and Hispanic. I want all gangs put out of business because that is the only way to live in peace in an integrated neighborhood. So, I will continue to vote against Democrats until they cease caving into the black racists. I don't expect that to happen soon.

I generally regard foreign policy as the province of the president. I think too many people now concern themselves with this. It's a hangover from the Vietnam war, and an unhealthy one at that. Here again, what I want from the president is the aggressive pursuit of U.S. self-interest. I'm not much interested in larger questions of morality or idealism. It's irrelevant. I like driving a big SUV and I like buying gas. (Also have a big Harley-Davidson.) The notion that simply retreating from desireable commodities will save us strikes me as childish dreaming. One day, another commodity besides oil will be the focus of conflict, and people will fight for it.

So, there you have some very good reason to vote for Prez Bush. Many people are just like me. Prez Bush represents their self-interest better than Kerry.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/28/2004

It's a nice little Catch-22.... if we talk about 'the study of history' but not about current affairs (which are mostly political at the moment) then we are irrelevant. When we try to be relevant, we are 'political.'

Sorry, I'd rather push the boundaries of the discipline a bit and be relevant. We're learning a lot in the process, actually.


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/28/2004

Well, I, for one would be glad to see more attention given to the study of history, and less focus on current politics.

Charles V. Mutschler


Adam Kotsko - 9/28/2004

2000 wasn't "the most important since..." if I remember correctly. Now, of course, a lot of us vaguely wish someone a little more balanced had been in the driver's seat for all of this.


Charles V. Mutschler - 9/28/2004

Mr. Chamberlain for a thoughtful and well reasoned posting. I think we are all much better served by lowering the volume, and trying to respect the other guy, even when we disagree with him. I think you summed it up very nicely. Bush and Kerry are both men with differing visions of what they want the nation to become, but neither is saintly, and neither is satanic. We demean ourselves as much as we belittle the opposing candidate when we sink to the cheap shots and the strident rhetoric in these discussions. Thank you for saying this clearly and concisely.

Charles V. Mutschler


mark safranski - 9/28/2004

That articles published here, and I've written a few over the past couple of years, should be reasonably related to history and not just current policy.

It's far easier (and more fun !) to draw analaogies on how some current Bush policy is apt to be just like our favorite historical folly than it is to draw say a positive analogy from the administration of James K. Polk.

I have my criticisms of Mr. Bush but I intend to vote for him primarily because the Democratic Party is collectively unable to face up to the reality of making war on Islamist terrorists and John Kerry, who is an advertisement for intellectual paralysis, can't be trusted to be sufficiently vigorous in prosecuting that war. ( yes, yes, I have read Kerry's national security speech - I just fear he's too much Hamlet and not enough Harry Truman to be given the keys to the Oval Office)

Not a few Americans seem to agree.


Stephen Tootle - 9/27/2004

Ditto.


Tom Bruscino - 9/27/2004

It is always a struggle to keep some perspective in the midst of a presidential campaign. It is so much easier to assume the worst about those with whom we disagree than to figure out where they get their ideas. One of the nice things about some of the HNN blogs like Cliopatria and (shameless self-promotion) Rebunk is that though we might from time to time get caught up in the debate of the day, we often find that fair middle ground where we agree to disagree. Professor Chamberlain's post is a perfect example. Bravo.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2004

What essay invokes the Depression? I haven't mentioned it.


Ralph E. Luker - 9/27/2004

Mr. Thomas,
Has it occurred to you that virtually _every_ comment you make on this site attacks the academic Left for blaming all social ills on heterosexism, racism, and sexism. Quite often, that critique is off the mark, but apart from that what original thought has all your commentary represented? You make the same point _over and over_. Ever have a new thought?


Jonathan Dresner - 9/27/2004

You beat me to this point (ok, it wasn't that close, as I hadn't actually written anything down yet), but with a caveat: I think part of what we do in arguing by analogy is indeed trying to reach people who don't necessarily agree with us.

This is one of the reasons that Tim Burke suggests that analogies be made primarily to examples that are reasonably well known (or if not, well explained). If the reader can accept that the analogous case is problematic (or ultimately positive, though we make many more comparisons to disastrous policies than to successes), then they can engage with the comparison (Mr. Severance's response to the Halpern article being a fine example) and see where it falls short or goes too far.

I would agree that the rhetorical level is high, but I wonder if it's really that much higher than in previous elections. I can't remember an election that wasn't "the most important since...."

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