Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Barack Obama and Post-Equal Protection Equality

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on February 5th, 2009

Much has been said about the relationship between Barack Obama and former civil rights leaders.  On the one hand, the inauguration was full of parallels between Obama and Martin Luther King.  Obama was said to have realized tmpphpw3ebwl1.jpgthe dream that King spoke about in the 1963 March on Washington.  Without the efforts of Dr. King and the movement that he led, Barack Obama would probably not have had the opportunity to become President.  However, as Prof. Hank Chambers has pointed in an earlier post, there is a danger that the election of a Black man as President will cause many to believe that Blacks as a whole have achieved equality in our society.  There are many indicators that that is not the case.  The chief indicator is that Blacks are still significantly poorer than whites.  Hence, it is understandable that some in the older generation of civil rights leaders are uncomfortable with Obama’s emphasis on unity, downplaying the racial differences that still plague our society.

I have been thinking a lot about this issue as I consider the possibility of a post-Equal Protection vision of equality in constitutional law.  By its very nature, the Equal Protection Clause requires the comparison of groups of people, including racial groups, to determine whether they are being treated equally.  This vision of racial equality is the basis of most of our civil rights law, including both Court rulings and most civil rights statutes enacted by Congress during the Twentieth Century.  Equal Protection based civil rights have been the basis of significant accomplishments of minorities and women in our society.  However, our equal protection based equality law is flawed because it assumes that people start at the same place.  Women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups are entitled to nothing more than equal treatment, regardless of the fact that centuries of discrimination mean that we simply don’t start all at the same place.

A post-Equal Protection vision of equality focuses not on comparing groups of people, not on conflicts between racial groups, but on the substantive rights to which we are all entitled.  In a very real sense, this was the vision of equality of the Reconstruction Congress.  Their landmark 1866 Civil Rights Act, which preceded the Fourteenth Amendment, required that all people be entitled to the same rights as white citizens, and listed some of those rights, including the right to engage in the economy that slaves had lacked.  These members of Congress also empowered themselves to create more substantive rights which would enable freed slaves to live as fully integrated members of our society.  Future members of Congress could determine which substantive rights would be necessary to fulfill this vision.

Several generations later, during another time of crisis, the New Deal Congress relied on a substantive vision of equality as they enacted legislation creating economic rights such as the right to organize into a union, the right to unemployment benefits, and the right to economic security if one retired or became disabled.  Unfortunately, African Americans were largely excluded from this promise of economic security because the jobs that most of them performed at the time, domestic and agricultural labor, were not covered by these statutes.   Since then, many African Americans have benefited from the right to organize, and from the safety net that the New Deal Congress enacted.  However, the lack of New Deal economic rights also contributed significantly to the lack of economic progress of African Americans as, thanks to the Civil Rights movement, they emerged from the Jim Crow South’s system of racial apartheid.

We’ve come a long way towards realizing equality in our society, but wtmpphpp6uijs1.jpge still have a long way to go.  What we need now is a post-Equal Protection vision of equality, a vision based on substantive economic rights for all.  Which brings me back to President Obama.  There are early indications that Obama believes that equality, including racial equality, will come from economic empowerment.  Last week, the Obama administration announced a project to revive the middle class.  One of the President’s first economic measures was to revive the labor movement by rescinding restrictions on unions.  Obama has said that he believes that unions are part of the solution to our economic crisis.  His administration is also working to create new jobs that should be available to all.  Government employment has been a crucial path to economic security for African Americans since the New Deal Era.  These are promising indications that the Obama will pursue a post-Equal Protection model of equality.  Obama’s presidency itself is a symbol of the progress that we have achieved thanks to the Equal Protection based civil rights movement.  If he continues to champion substantive economic rights, I am hopeful that more people of all races may be enjoy a future of full participation in our society.

Is the Pope a Closet Holocaust Denier?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on January 30th, 2009

The Pope has sent a terrible message concerning the Catholic Church’s position on Holocaust denial. In order to avoid a continuing “schism” in the Church Pope Benedict decided “to lift the excommunication of four ultra-traditionalist bishops, including one who has denied the Holocaust, has angered many Jews and Catholics who say the bishops represent repressive and anti-Semitic currents in Catholicism that they want the pope to now explicitly repudiate.” Listen to the mother of all rationalizations based on “historical evidence.”
Adolph Hitler killed no Jews “by gas” in “gas chambers.” According to the good Bishop, anyone who believes the contrary rejects “evidence” and bases his or her judgment on emotion. Oh yes, the good Bishop concedes that two to three hundred thousand Jews were killed by the Nazis, but not one of them by gas. Williamson’s conclusion is that no “Holocaust occurred. He also “has written that women should not attend universities, empathized with the Unabomber’s views on modern technology and suggested that the U.S. government staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as an excuse to invade Afghanistan.” Does Williamson believe that there is greater “historical evidence” supporting the proposition that Christ was crucified and resurrected than there the proposition that the Nazis killed millions of Jews? If so, he advances quite a curious conception of “historical evidence.”

Frankly, Williamson and his cohorts are morally lost causes, but what’s wrong with Pope Benedict? The Pope decided to overturn Pope John Paul the Second’s excommunication of Williamson, and now has recalled Williamson to the bosom of the Church and restored him to a sacred role as priest.  Why would Pope Benedict lift the excommunication of such a moral/sociopath as Williamson? The perfunctory explanation is that the Pope seeks to heal the schism in the Church. Bravo! But not on the backs of Jews and the epistemic dimension of “historical evidence.” A darker explanation is at work here.

James Ashley, another “Great Emancipator”

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on January 29th, 2009

Next month, our country will celebrate the 200th birthday of The Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln deserves  his revered status in our history.  He presided over the nation during the Civil War which preserved the Union; he freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation and his advocacy for the Thirteenth Amendment.  However, Lincoln was not the only Great Emancipator, nor was he the only politician of his time who dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery.  Members of the Reconstruction Congress were also responsible for the end of slavery, and the expansion of individual rights, which they constitutionalized in the Reconstruction Amendments and enforced in civil rights statutes that are still effective today.  In a very real sense, the leaders in the Reconstruction Congress were responsible for the Second Founding of our country.  Yet few of us know anything about these other Great Emancipators.

One of those members of the Reconstruction Congress was Representative James Ashley, who represente2332634c-9468-09e8-c827db016f8216511.jpgd northwest Ohio, including my home, Toledo.  Ashley was a lifelong opponent of slavery, probably a participant in the Underground Railroad, and a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Toledo.  In Congress, Ashley fought ceaselessly and relentlessly to end slavery, first in the territories, then the rebellious states, and finally throughout the nation.  Ashley introduced the first version of the constitutional amendment to abolish slavery in Congress, and he lead the fight for that Amendment through a recalcitrant House of Representatives.  After the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted, Ashley continued to fight for the rights of the freed slaves.  He supported the Fourteenth Amendment and the Reconstruction Era civil rights statutes, and fought for the freed slaves’ right to vote.  After Lincoln died, Ashley also led the unsucessful fight to impeach Lincoln’s successor, the conservative Andrew Jackson, who opposed Congress’ Reconstruction measures.

President Lincoln helped James Ashley to convince members of the House to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, joining Ashley in making promises and twisting arms to convince them to vote for emancipation.  As a radical, Ashley often disagreed with the more moderate President Lincoln.  However, the two joined forces when it mattered, in the fight on the ground.  James Ashley deserves to be celebrated alongside the President who presided over most of his years in Congress.

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on January 19th, 2009

Racial apartheid has taken a terrible toll on African Americans by shutting them out of America’s promise.  But racism has exacted a terrible cost on all Americans. The symbol of this oppression can be best captured in the introduction to the film “Mississippi Btmpphp6mpgve.jpgurning.” The movie opens with the camera focusing on two water fountains, one marked “white,” the other marked “colored.” An adult white man approaches the white fountain and drinks and then walks off. A young African American male then approaches the colored fountain, drinks and also walks off. This metaphor has special currency in my own life. During my family’s first trip to Florida, we stopped for refreshments at a Dairy Queen in Georgia. My older sister, Julia, approached the water fountain marked “Colored,” and was about to drink when an angry white employee redirected her to the fountain marked “Whites.” My sister was thirteen, at the time, and no activist, so she refrained from drinking from the “Colored” fountain.  Nonetheless, she could not bring herself to drink from the “Whites” fountain and thus refrained from drinking at that Dairy Queen at all. An eight year old neighbor, accompanying us on our vacation, spied the “Colored” water fountain and shouted gleefully and in earnest, “Look colored water.” In retrospect, the starkness of Günnar Myrdal’s “two Americas” has no greater reality than through the conduct and words of children.

Why did this experience have such a poignant impact on me?  After all, I was just a little kid. The answer lies in the fact that I grew up in a household where racism was viewed as America’s original sin. Racism was wrong and America needed to redeem its promise by extirpating the practice once and for all.

Of course, in a few short years, the force of  Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to hold segregation up to the American social mirror forcing all of us to decide whether we could embrace the image that we saw. But Dr. King’s approach was not merely an exercise in civil obedience. Indeed, there exists a powerful philosophy behind his activism that needs to be articulated.

Dr. King’s non-violent civil disobedience required enormous courage and self-discipline. Dr. King recognized that individuals are not the measure of all things, but more importantly, he recognized the interconnectedness of everyone. We are community, of one sort of another, and the type of community we choose determines who we are individually. Consider:

[W]e have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood [and sisterhood]. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this.  We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

These words bespeak the idea of community, but more than that also. King goes on to state what I think is the best statement of his conception of community.

I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.  And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

This states the thread that connects every American. It also states a dynamic process of making sure that both you and I are what we ought to be.  But most important, it seems to me, it captures the importance of deliberation and conversationalism.  We must deliberate with one another, engaging in a conversation that never ends, but continues to refine and perfect our Union. Dr. King recognized that the true spirit of the American experiment was a continued process of deliberating over what both you and I ought to be and the recognition that it is impossible for this moral “ought” to be just for whites, or just for Americans. This sense of continued community is contained in the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” and Dr. King helped to make this aspiration real.

Dr. King realized the difficulty of this moral project, which is among other things, the moral project of justice and freedom. He quotes the Prophet Amos as saying “Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream.” King believed that “America ha[d] made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard.”

And then came Barack Hussein Obama. In May, the University of Pennsylvania’s Journal of Law & Social Change will publish an article of mine which casts President-elect Obama’s philosophy as committed to tmpphpn0yo3h1.jpgdeliberative conversationalism, a methods for engaging in political dispute resolution. His philosophy includes endless respect for others and civil conversation.  He requires us to take one another seriously and see ourselves in others. President-elect Obama sees the need for resurrecting America’s sense of community.  Rather than adhering to weaponized reason which often devolves into an insistence that I’m right and your wrong, President-elect Obama sees commonality in our differences. The possibility that the man and his philosophy can actually change our politics and help re-create our sense of community is not a given.  It requires supporting him not by rubber-stamping his policy decisions, but rather by a continued commitment to his deliberative conversationalism. In my view, the American attempt to rid ourselves of racism begins with the Declaration of Independence, and then marches on to the Civil War amendments, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, Brown, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and now the Presidency of Barack Obama. While racism unfortunately still exists in our nation. We are entering a new phase that I believe will prove to be the beginning of the end of this national malady.

I am incredulous and amazed that shortly America will begin to overcome its brutal racial past by swearing in the first African American to the presidency of this great nation. But we should celebrate President Obama not only because he is African American but more importantly because of the truly extraordinary person he is. In my mind’s eye I am overwhelmingly eager to see and hear him finish his oath with the words “ . .  . so help me God,” so that the Chief Justice can say, “Congratulations Mr. President.” This is truly the legacy of Dr. King.

The Lincoln Bible

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on December 25th, 2008

I learned yesterday that president-elect Barack Obama has chosen to take the oath of office using the smallerthumbnail1.jpgsame Bible as Abraham Lincoln did when he was first sworn in as our 16th president.  The choice is laden with symbolism.  Obama, the first Black president, has chosen to use the same Bible as the Great Emancipator, the only other Senator from Illinois to be elected president.   The choice also is not surprising.  Obama has been open about his admiration for Lincoln.  Indeed, he began his historic campaign for the presidency in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln’s adult home town, with a speech invoking Lincoln’s name.   The use of the Lincoln Bible is a fitting end to that campaign.

What is surprising is that no other president  since Lincoln has made the same choice that Obama has made.  Given that Lincoln is such a revered figure in our nation’s history, I would have thought that other presidents would have made the same choice as Obama to invoke Lincoln’s legacy.  Nevertheless, despite much rhetoric from past president-elects about the man who arguably ranks as the greatest American president, no president-elect has chosen, until now, to place his hand where Lincoln did while swearing to uphold our constitution.

Why will Barack Obama be the first American president to use the Lincoln Bible since 1861?  The reason has roots in our country’s tortured history dealing with the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  For much of the Twentieth Century, the predominate view of Reconstruction was what I call the “Gone with the Wind” version of history (also known as the Dunning school of history after historian William Dunning) – in which northern carpetbaggers intruded upon the end of the gentile southern aristocracy.  Even in the northern and decidedly pro-Union state of Minnesota, when my parents were in grade school, they learned that the Civil War was the “war between the states,” a name that implies two equally legitimate sides to the conflict and obscures the true history of the war – that is, that rogue states attempted to break away from their mother country in order to preserve the barbaric institution of slavery.  Therefore, it is not surprising that no leader of our nation wished to remind our country of that conflict and its conflict-ridden aftermath.

Of course, the “Gone with the Wind” story of the Civil War and Reconstruction also served to implicitly condone thlincoln.jpge Jim Crow South – a place where Blacks were still treated as second class citizens, systematically denied the right to vote, and terrorized with racialized violence into the late 1960s, when historiography and current events  began to shift in similar, almost parallel, directions. Thus, even as the Civil Rights movement emerged to overcome state-sponsored segregation and win the right to the franchise for Blacks, a new group of historians such as Les Benedict and Eric Foner began to reconsider the Reconstruction era and to describe its true nature – a “new birth of freedom” when the United States Congress attempted not only to free the slaves, but to create rights that would place them upon the same plane of citizenship “as white citizens.”  As more Americans came to understand the need for national civil rights legislation, the work of those scholars served to enhance the legitimacy of such action by linking it to the unfulfilled promises of Reconstruction.

It has often been noted that if it were not for the 1960s Civil Rights era and leaders such as Martin Luther King, Barack Obama would never have stood a chance of being elected president.  Obama’s choice of the Lincoln Bible reflects his awareness that the Civil Rights movement did not begin in the 1950s, but in the 19th century, with the abolitionist movement, the Reconstruction Congress, and of course, President Abraham Lincoln.  By choosing to place his hand where Lincoln did, Obama is paying tribute not only to one of our greatest presidents, but contributing to the restoration of Reconstruction to its rightful place in our nation’s history.

From Korematsu to Shinseki

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on December 18th, 2008

President-elect Obama has announced numerous qualified and interesting cabinet appointments, but there is one in particula770_shinseki_testifying_2050081722-14090.jpgar that has caught my attention – retired General Eric Shinseki, who Obama plans to appoint as the Head of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  Shinseki has a disinguished military record.  He served in the army for 38 years, earned two purple hearts and four bronze stars for his service in Viet Nam, and was the first Asian American to be appointed Four Star General.  Shinseki is also well known for his testimony before Congress that the Iraq war would require a significantly higher number of troops than planned by the Bush Administration, a prediction which ultimately proved to be correct though it angered the Bush administration and probably led to Shinseki’s retirement.  All of these are good reasons to notice Shinseki, and to expect that he will be a strong leader for our nation’s veterans at a time when they really need it.

However, there is another reason to notice Shinseki.  He will be the first Asian American to head the Department of Veteran’s affairs.  Shinseki was born in Hawaii to parents of Japanese ancestry in 1942, during a time when the United States was at war with his country of ancestry.  It was also a time when the United States government was rounding up Japanese Americans on the west coast and transporting them to detention camps.  Indeed, some of those Japanese Americans who were rounded up and dislocated had sons and husbands who were serving in the armed services at the time, bravely fighting for their country (the United States) as Shinseki did in a later generation.

The Japanese American detention program was challenged by a young Fred Korematsu. Korematsu lost his case in the United States Supreme Court in 1943 but was ultimately vindicated when Congress apologized to Korematsu. Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts in 1998.

I do not know whether Shinseki’s parents, or any members of his family, suffered from this program. However, I do know that Fred Korematsu was speaking for Shinseki’s family and thousands of other Japanese Americans as he stood before the United States Supreme Court. Korematsu helpd to pave the way for Shinseki’s success. Both Korematsu and Shinseki are American heroes who were not afraid to speak truth to power.

John McCain and George Wallace

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on October 23rd, 2008

A few weeks ago, John Lewis compared the language used by the McCain-Palin ticket to the language used by George Wallace in suggesting that inappropriate and inflammatory language can lead to violent results.  Though Lewis never suggested that the substantive views of the McCain-Palin ticket were similar to George Wallace’s substantive views, John McCain angrily suggested that he had essentially been called a segregationist and called on Barack Obama to denounce Lewis’ statements.  Obama’s campaign agreed that McCain is not George Wallace, but noted that Lewis’ comments about the McCain-Palin ticket’s inflammatory rhetoric were well taken.  The irony is that Lewis’ comments were not only measured, but his reference to George Wallace was far closer to the mark than many recognize.

Lewis suggested that George Wallace’s rhetoric created an atmosphere that made the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church somewhat unsurprising.  He could have added that Wallace’s rhetoric also made the beating Lewis received in Selma, Alabama at the Edmund Pettus Bridge unsurprising.  The straight line between Wallace’s rhetoric and the violence was not overblown.  Wallace was the governor of Alabama at the time both of the violent outbursts mentioned before occurred.  Indeed, in his inaugural address in 1963, Wallace famously declared, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny and I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

In noting the inappropriateness of the rhetoric of the McCain-Palin rhetoric, John Lewis merely suggested that stating that one’s opponent has been “palling around with terrorists,” has “voted against the troops” and would “waive the white flag of surrender in Iraq” might provoke some to violent outburst.  We all hope that Lewis is wrong, but our history suggests that his statements were hardly improper or even inaccurate.

Interestingly, Lewis could have made a much more direct comparison between Wallace and McCain.  Maybe he did not because many – particularly Southerners of certain age – may already know where I am going.  In his early days, George Wallace was a maverick.  In 1958, when he ran against John Patterson for governor of Alabama, Wallace declined an endorsement from the KKK and lost after that garnered an endorsement by the NAACP.  In the wake of the election, he is reputed to have said that he had been “outniggered” by Patterson and that he would never be “outniggered” again.  For much of his career, he stuck by that sentiment, was a maverick no more and was elected Alabama governor a number of times.  However, he later recanted and was last elected based on what is known as the Wallace coalition, which included many Alabama blacks who wanted to and did forgive Wallace.

John McCain has claimed to be a maverick, somewhat like George Wallace.  He has decided that he will do what he believes he needs to do to get elected, somewhat like George Wallace.  However, arguably unlike Wallace, McCain he has yet to recant.  Maybe because he has yet to win this most important election.  It is possible that John Lewis really was calling on McCain to be a little less like George Wallace and to be a little more like George Wallace at the same time.  Apparently, McCain did not hear the call.

Lest anyone think me unfair, here are two final points to ponder. First, Wallace appeared to see nothing improper or unchristian in his call for segregation, ending his inaugural speech saying, “And my prayer is that the Father who reigns above us will bless all the people fo this great sovereign State and nation, both white and black.”  Apparently, McCain sees nothing improper or presumably unchristian in his campaign’s rhetoric.  Second, Wallace appealed to states’ rights in supporting his views in 1963.  McCain somewhat anachronistically cited federalism – to some a current incarnation of states’ rights – to support his views in his last debate with Barack Obama.   Without a doubt, John McCain is no George Wallace.  However, that could mean different things to different people.

Obama in 2008? Could this be a Transformative Constitutional Moment?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on June 16th, 2008

eca9.jpgDoes Barack Hussein Obama, an African American with little, if any, executive experience, defeat John McCain, a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, who fought in Vietnam and spent over five years as the premier resident of the “Hanoi Hilton”? Currently, the polls show a virtual dead heat. But that’s not nearly the end of the story.”[M]any presidential scholars doubt that John McCain stands much of a chance, if any. Historians belonging to both parties offered a litany of historical comparisons that give little hope to the Republican. Several saw Barack Obama’s prospects as the most promising for a Democrat since Roosevelt trounced Hoover in 1932. . . . ‘This should be an overwhelming Democratic victory,’ said Allan Lichtman, an American University presidential historian who ran in a Maryland Democratic senatorial primary in 2006. Lichtman, whose forecasting model has correctly predicted the last six presidential popular vote winners, predicts that this year, ‘Republicans face what have always been insurmountable historical odds.’ His system gives McCain a score on par with Jimmy Carter’s in 1980. . . . ‘McCain shouldn’t win it,’ said presidential historian Joan Hoff, a professor at Montana State University and former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency. She compared McCain’s prospects to those of Hubert Humphrey, whose 1968 loss to Richard Nixon resulted in large part from the unpopularity of sitting Democratic president Lyndon Johnson.” Continue reading here.

Can Obama initiate a transformative constitutional moment in American politics? Like the New Deal, Obama’s new, deliberative politics, inviting everyone committed to the common good–the good of all–to the table of decision-making can revivify American politics for decades to come. And like the New Deal, no formal constitutional amendment is necessary to effect such transformative change. This, indeed, is one conception of the living Constitution that not even Justice Scalia can successfully denigrate.

Short of a terrorist attack on American soil comparable to 9-11, it’s difficult to see how Senator Obama can lose. But for a transformative constitutional moment, Democrats must also take Congress. In that case, the new constitutional politics will be given the audition it deserves. Bring it on Barack!

Lincoln & Obama on Race

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on May 23rd, 2008

In the May 1st edition of the New York Review of Books, Gary Wills presents a compelling mini-portrait comparing Senator Obama and President Lincoln’s speeches on race. “Two men, two speeches. The men, both lawyers, both from Illinois, were seeking the presidency, despite what seemed their crippling connection with extremists. Each was young by modern standards for a president. Abraham Lincoln had turned fifty-one just five days before delivering his speech. Barack Obama was forty-six when he gave his. Their political experience was mainly provincial, in the Illinois legislature for both of them, and they had received little exposure at the national level–two years in the House of Representatives for Lincoln, four years in the Senate for Obama. Yet each was seeking his party’s nomination against a New York senator of longer standing and greater prior reputation–Lincoln against Senator William Seward, Obama against Senator Hillary Clinton. They were both known for having opposed an initially popular war–Lincoln against President Polk’s Mexican War, raised on the basis of a fictitious provocation; Obama against President Bush’s Iraq War, launched on false claims that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and had made an alliance with Osama bin Laden. . . . Neither man fit the conventions of a statesman in his era. Lincoln, thin, gangling, and unkempt, was considered a backwoods rube, born in the frontier conditions of Kentucky, estranged from his father, limited to a catch-as-catch-can education. He was better known as a prairie raconteur than as a legal theorist or prose stylist. Obama, of mixed race and foreign upbringing, had barely known his father, and looked suspiciously “different.” Continue reading here.

For Wills these speeches, though separated by over 150 years of American history, share a common factor. “[W]hat is of lasting interest is their similar strategy for meeting the charge of extremism. Both argued against the politics of fear. Neither denied the darker aspects of our history, yet they held out hope for what Lincoln called here the better ‘lights of current experience–what he would later call the ‘better angels of our nature.’ Each looked for larger patterns under the surface bitternesses of their day. Each forged a moral position that rose above the occasions for their speaking.” Yet, in another respect, Obama’s presence on the national scene is unprecedented. In the depths of gutter-political discourse, Senator Obama wants to forge a vocabulary, a perspective, an attitude for everyone to share and attempt to instantiate. He wants to leave the shoutocrats behind and attempt to create a vantage point from which we can experience our commonality. If he succeeds, he will disappoint both unyielding conservatives and uncompromising liberals. He’s offering a deliberative pragmatism where solutions are not known in advance independently of the process of civic engagement. Rather than sanctify our own perspective and denigrate our opponents, Obama will ask us to take a subjective, functionalist stance toward our opponents and an objective, formalist approach towards ourselves. Or as Kierkegaard put it, “[t]he majority of [people] are subjective towards themselves and objective towards all others, terribly objective sometimes–but the real task is in fact to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards all others.” Rather than being judgmental towards others while excusing oneself, excuse others and be judgmental towards oneself. Take the heat off other people and turn it on oneself. One final note. Barack Obama might be the real deal. While it is fashionable on the left to decry reliance on individuals for transformative political and social change, sometimes individuals capture the imagination of a generation. When that occurs, significant change occurs when that generation becomes empowered sometimes by the presence of one single visionary.

QUESTION: “Why was Neville Chamberlain Called an Appeaser?” ANSWER: “Because He was an Appeaser.”

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on May 22nd, 2008

Earlier this week, before the Israeli Knesset, President Bush caused a furor by implying that Senator Obama was guilty of being an appeaser because he trumpeted his wish to talk to Iran.

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is–the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

The White House confirmed that these remarks were directed at Senator Obama. Democrats called “This is an unprecedented political attack on foreign soil” and a paradigmatic example of “cowboy diplomacy,” especially since Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called for talks with Iran. Kevin James, a conservative radio talk show host, defended the president on Hardball.

Is this particular conservative talk show host anymore historically illiterate than most conservative pundits? Or for that matter any talk show host? What’s interesting here is that Mr. James tries, through shouting, exasperation, and rudeness unsuccessfully to get Matthews to desist. I’m not a big fan of Matthews, but exposing this joker, while not requiring a doctorate in rocket science, does serve a significant purpose of revealing how little history some of these guys know. And yet, they show no prudence. Their interest, as Mark Green points out is simply to use “loaded words for political slander.” We’re already aware of their incompetence in constructing logically sound arguments, but history is easier to come by. The morale is clear: if you’re going to rely on a historical analogy to condemn a presidential candidate you should know some history, at least the historical details of that analogy. And remember, Mr. James’ contribution, “[i]t’s [Chamberlain and Obama] the exact same thing.”