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  • Originally published 02/21/2013

    Michael Kazin: Who Are You Calling a Liberal?

    Michael Kazin’s most recent book is American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation. He is co-editor of Dissent and teaches history at Georgetown University.Contrary to what everyone who loved—or hated—his inaugural address seems to think, President Obama has yet to demonstrate that he is determined to launch a new liberal era. The big speech did gesture in that direction. Obama declared, in the style of FDR, that “our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” The line about equality being “the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall” was a welcome salute to three of the most prominent civil rights movements in American history. And not since Lyndon Johnson has a president spoken about poverty with such apparent conviction and specificity: “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Forget the Contrarians: Ed Koch Was A True Liberal

    Ed Koch as mayor. Credit: Flickr/LCB Ed Koch was laid to rest with applause for leading his city out of the despair of the 1970s with bluff, bluster and chutzpah. Yet the Koch mayoralty, for all its theater, was also a turning point. In complex and contradictory ways, Koch hastened the shift from a liberal New York that dates to the 1930s to the more conservative city of today. His record bears marks of both.When I interviewed Koch in 2010 for a book about New York City from LaGuardia to Bloomberg, he said he wanted to be remembered as the mayor who restored the city’s confidence after the fiscal crisis; balanced the city’s budget; built affordable housing on a massive scale; and reformed the process of selecting judges to take the politics out. All three were measures (excepting perhaps the pride in budget balancing) that any liberal Democrat could endorse. Yet his style and policies gave him a reputation as a conservative.

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