Publick Occurrences 2.0

March 17, 2008

John Adams, HBO-style

Filed under: Founders,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:16 pm

Having done without it since The Sopranos and Deadwood ended, I forgot to turn HBO back on in time to catch the premier of the cable channel’s take on John Adams, based on David McCullough’s much-maligned-by-me biography. The McCullough version seemed potentially more suited to filming than to a serious print biography, so my mind is open. I plan to catch up with the series soon, but if any readers did see it, please share. The New York Times reviewer was not impressed, but it does sound like there was a realistic tarring-and-feathering scene that bids fair to become a staple of my survey class.


March 15, 2008

Social Movements v. the “Conservative Movement” [UPDATED]

Filed under: Conservatives,Democrats,GOP,Political culture,Political Parties — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:40 pm

I am sitting on the floor in a hallway outside a “Science Olympiad” competition at the moment, so please excuse the brevity. I just discovered a newish site called The Democratic Strategist, largely manned by former DLC types, but showing less devotion to doctrinaire anti-liberalism. Today the site had a good post by James Vega taking issue with the common locution “conservative movement,” denoting the network of right-wingers who took over the GOP and brought it to power over the past 45 years. Vega’s major point is that present-day liberal Democrats have a much better claim to “social movement” status, or origins, than GOP conservatives:

The Democratic Party’s economic perspective comes not simply from the legislation of the New Deal and Franklin Roosevelt, but from the epic struggle of the American trade union movement in the 1930’s. Equally, at the heart of the modern Democratic Party’s social philosophy lies the historical experience of the civil rights movement and the legacy of Martin Luther King.

These two social movements had three things in common. They were struggles of profoundly disadvantaged and oppressed groups for basic social and economic justice, they were grass-roots, bottom-up movements in which leaders emerged from the rank and file, and they were led by dedicated militants who made huge personal and human sacrifices.

Both trade union and civil right organizers lived with the constant fear of death, vicious beatings, or imprisonment and both movements had many famous martyrs killed in the struggle . . . .

The modern “official” conservative movement on the other hand – although in some respects indeed a social movement – was and is to a significant degree a movement of the “haves” rather than the “have-nots” and as a result has never had any of the three characteristics above.

The modern conservative movement was heavily subsidized by foundations and wealthy individuals from its beginnings. By the 1980’s there was a substantial network of think-tanks, book publishers, house-organ magazines, scholarships and internships that recruited and financially supported young conservatives. Communication with ordinary people was overwhelmingly conducted by very sanitary, “no getting the hands dirty” methods – largely direct mail and television (particularly televangelist programming) – rather than by any actual door-to-door, grass-roots organizing.

Read the rest and the comments.

If there is any problem with this analysis, it lies in the term “social movement” itself. I would have to look up who started using it, but I have always found it is a little too self-valorizing and tendentious, like “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” It claims the mantle of true democracy over whatever the “movement” opposes and makes no allowances for the fact that movements often win and become established institutions, if indeed they weren’t to begin with.

“Movement” is just one of many 1960s -vintage terms and tactics that conservatives have stolen from radicals and liberals, and we might want to consider the fact that the term works better for conservatives despite its inaccuracy. Movement  psychology inevitably privileges demonstrations of ideological commitment over more mundane and concrete accomplishments. In movements, “more radical-than-thou” positions are tough to resist and tend to monopolize the internal prestige and outside media attention available. If you are truly committed to a cause, then deeper commitment almost always looks better and any form of compromise becomes more and more suspect and harder to justify. This radicalization dynamic can be a danger to any movement, but especially to modern liberalism and “progressivism” (Nation-style not Teddy Roosevelt-style). Liberal-progressive solutions to social problems tend to involve building new, ongoing institutions that ultimately require realism and compromise in order to survive and prosper, changes that a movement mentality can rarely accommodate and often resists.

Conservatives just want to smash liberal institutions and blow enough smoke to prevent or reverse social changes that liberal institutions helped bring about. “Movement-”style bombthrowing, to any degree short of crazy Fred Phelps-like behavior, poses no problem for them. They are not building anything.

On a completely different note, I also have my doubts about whether the distinction between “social movements” and other phenomena that tend to take the adjective “political” instead, like parties, are really as clear-cut as sociologists and some historians seem to believe. Seems like to a lot of writers social movement just means “the side of the angels” or “The People.”


March 14, 2008

Typographic question answered

Filed under: Journalism history — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:21 am

In answer to Rod Bell’s question below, the “f”-like “s” was standard in 18th-century type. The actual “f” was slightly different, and a more familiar-looking “s” could be used to end a word. You can see all this in the following random newspaper example:

Type example from 1798

I am not sure off the top of my head when this practice changed. If some type maven out there (or just at AAS) knows the chapter and verse on this, please supply.


March 13, 2008

Santiago Matamoros! Viva McCain!

Filed under: 2008 elections,Founders — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 7:00 am

Via TPM, I see that John McCain now has an even better spiritual advisor than John Hagee, one who was apparently too out there even for Father Huckabee. This would be megachurchman and televangelist (aren’t they all) Rod Parsley of Columbus, Ohio. (Parsley joins the late Ian Paisley in the elite corps of prominent religious fanatics whose names are common misspellings of mine.) Parsley isn’t anti-Catholic, or at least that isn’t his emphasis. Quite the opposite. He’s super pro-Catholic, if you mean the Catholicism of 15th-century Spain, where they thought Santiago Matamoros (“St. James, Killer of Moors”) was leading the Christian armies to take Iberia back from its North African Muslim conquerors. Then, of course, it was on to the New World, where they found darn few Muslims but plenty of heathens and precious metals.

Expounding a theme that I expect would do wonders for President McCain’s foreign policy, Parsley seems to find in the Spanish Conquest a lesson for our times, though not the one you might assume. Turns out the lesson was, Islam is devil worship and God wants us to stamp it out. Bring on the Inquisition, boys; no one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

David Corn quotes Parsley as follows:

I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001, was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore.

Somewhere, in whatever state of being would-be “national poets” progress to, the writers who promoted the idea of using “Columbia” as a name or nick-name for our fair land, with pleasant overtones of “discovery” and new ideas and freedom and such, are howling in pain. Even modern anti-Columbians, who associate Columbus with genocide and racism and religious intolerance, are not typically (or ever) in favor of that stuff. But I must admit that I shrink from our historic mission to wipe out other religions.

I do think that one way for Rod Parsley to fulfill his generational calling would be to make like a conquistador, take a few hundred of his toughest followers in boats to some Muslim country, and order the population to convert. When they refuse, Parsley can take a page from the good old Spanish conquest script, and promise that

with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and [President McCain]; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as [McCain] may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of [Presidents McCain or Bush], or ours, nor of these [Republican operatives] who come with us.

That should go down really well in Tehran. (The names were changed above to protect the innocent. I got no beef with King Juan Carlos.)

As for what values the United States was founded on, specifically regarding Islam, I give you Mr. Thomas Jefferson:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.


March 12, 2008

Eliot Spitzer pop quiz

Filed under: Political culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 6:03 pm

Quick. What other major New York politician was suspected by investigators of profiting from government service, but turned out to be just paying for sex? Here’s a hint. The stories ended a lot differently, in very telling ways.


March 11, 2008

Seems Like Old Times, II: Treating unions as criminal conspiracies

Filed under: "Seems Like Old Times",Conspiracy theory,Labor history — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 11:31 pm

I can still remember my astonishment upon first learning in a social history course that labor unions, even very loosely-organized early proto-unions and their chief tactics (such as agreeing not to work until wages were increased) were once considered criminal conspiracies by American courts. For a long time, this was one of my key personal historical examples, just after coverture, the law of slavery, and the recruiting and disciplinary practices of the British navy, of the barbarities that were considered perfectly normal and legal in my chosen period of study.

As I am sure most early American historians but perhaps not all blog readers know, the Philadelphia Cordwainers case of 1806 (Commonwealth v. Pullis) was the key moment in establishing what one would have to call the conspiracy theory of labor discipline. While Christopher Tomlins has shown that the conspiracy doctrine evolved considerably over the 19th century, declining in some respects, labor organizing was not fully legalized and de-conspiracized until the middle of the 20th century.

Now comes the news, to me, anyway, that Smithfield Foods (hams, Mandrake, Christmas hams!) has been trying to revive the tactic in form of invoking the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes, the same ones that have devastated the Mafia, in legal action against the United Food and Commercial Workers. The UFCW has apparently done little more than try to organize Smithfield and give their labor practices some creative bad publicity. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

Frustrated by years of legal delays, the UFCW began embracing a new organizing strategy in 2006. It held informational pickets at stores that sold Smithfield products. It sought nonbinding resolutions of support from city governments in traditional union strongholds such as New York and Boston.

It also began protesting appearances by celebrity chef Paula Deen, who has a promotional contract with Smithfield Foods. And they published information on the Internet that is widely available to consumers and activists. Part of the company’s racketeering complaint cites a union activist who criticized Ms. Deen by quoting from “The Jungle,” muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair’s classic novel about the meat-packing industry.

According to one of the company’s lawyers, “It’s actually the same thing as what John Gotti used to do.” Except, you know, for the beatings and shootings and all those other, you know, crimes.

Read the UFCW’s side of the story here.


March 10, 2008

Everybody’s in Academia, Everybody’s a Pedant (apologies to the Kinks)

Filed under: Historians,Popular culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 10:05 am

I have an editor on my tail today, so I will have to leave blogging at this. I know that many academics (along with many would-be and ex-academics), perhaps in history especially, come to feel that our chosen profession is plagued with a tendency toward abstruse, hairsplitting. dysfunctional debates that go nowhere and eventually outstrip any sane person’s ability to care with their strident tone and militant triviality. My response would have to start with today’s Onion A.V. Club feature on “Twelve Surprisingly Controversial Wikipedia Articles,” where we see vitriolic debates raging on matters such as whether Olivia Newton-John counts as British or Australian.

The Internet has convinced me — not just based on Wikipedia, but also conspiracy theory sites and any number of fan and blog message boards — that hair-splitting pedantry is some basic drive of human nature, one that we academics have actually found a relatively healthy, functional outlet for. Of course, if we did our peer reviews on Internet message boards behind comic screennames, we might get less functional in a hurry.


March 9, 2008

Sunday Internet Tourism: Charleston, S.C.

Filed under: Historic sites — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 5:41 pm

I was skeptical when contacted by the creators, but this webcam on top of the Calhoun Mansion in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, is really quite neat. Every historic district should have one. (If only Lincoln or Jackson or Denmark Vesey had had the Calhoun Mansion wired up like this, with sound!) You can watch the ships go by, swivel the thing around, get Ft. Sumter in your sights, watch the sunrise (I imagine), and see everything on the skyline in detail. I was a little afraid of seeing a close-up of a rooftop palmetto bug, but that’s probably just the Tallahassee flashbacks talking.


March 8, 2008

Wyoming Caucuses Primary Source Special: Gore ’88

Filed under: Past campaigns,Political culture — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 6:58 pm

<<One of many glamorous moments of the 1988 Al Gore campaign that I did not see.

Scene of my big campaign moment. I was not there either. >>

In honor of Obama’s Wyoming caucus win, I am going to reveal the prominent role of the Wyoming caucuses in my own personal history. 20 years ago, I was working as the junior speechwriter on current national treasure, then premature centrist Al Gore’s presidential campaign. I was in way over my head on several counts, and not doing the sort of glamorous, power-behind-the-throne work that people seem to associate with speechwriting. For the most part, I stayed in D.C. cranking out talking points and local situation reports and terrible, terrible jokes for momentary appearances Gore was making at places like the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park and the Dalton, Georgia Rotary Club, never knowing whether anything I was writing was actually issuing from the candidate’s mouth. The likely answer was probably not, at least not more than a line or two that might have made it in his standard stump speech. Other, more important people were writing the formal addresses that actually got read. I was not producing anything that was really worth saying out loud anyway.

That is, except for Wyoming. Gore’s whole 1988 race was predicated on sweeping the original Super Tuesday primaries, which were concentrated in the South and set up to infuse more southern, centrist influence into the Democratic nominating process. In other words, it was supposed to help some white southern hawk-ish type win the nomination, and Al hoped to be that type. Funny story, Jesse Jackson won a bunch of those Super Tuesday primaries, I needed a new job by April, and then the Soviet Empire collapsed, taking much of Gore’s raison d’etre as a candidate with it. (The environmental thing was not much in evidence then, at least not in the campaign.) Long story short, Gore 1988 did not go down as one of the more world-historical presidential campaigns ever chronicled.

On to Wyoming. At some too-late date, the Gore braintrust realized that the whole Super Tuesday gamble might not work out exactly as they had planned and decided to contest some states outside of the South and Northeast. (They had already Guiliani-ed Iowa.) As it turned out, Wyoming was one of two states outside the South that he actually won. This did Gore about as much good as today’s win is likely to do Obama, though I hope otherwise. Wyoming was a big deal to me, however, because for whatever reason they let me write the big speech there, the one that actually got read apparently more or less verbatim. It was at the historic Union Pacific Depot in downtown Cheyenne, and while I did not actually get to go there, I did know it got read (confirming hearsay) because some of my lines were quoted in a news story the next day.

That was a thrill, but it also helped make the decision I was ruminating over at the time about whether I was staying in D.C. politics and journalism after the campaign, or going on to grad school. Upon further review, it seemed sort of pathetic to be thrilled that I had written some words were said by someone else, with almost no one actually knowing about it besides myself and 2 or 3 others directly involved. I was not feeling the insider jollies that DC lifers seem to thrive on, and it dawned that relative obscurity in my own name (academia!) appealed more than getting my words on front page or TV news in someone else’s. What’s more, the speech that won Wyoming — if Hillary brought peace to Northern Ireland, then this is the least I can claim — had been more interesting than most of what I done for Gore because I got what then seemed very deep into the historical background for it. I had checked out some Wyoming books from the DC public library and written all this jazz about Democrats going west with the railroads, the western progressive tradition, etc. As a speechwriter, it seemed, I was a better and more enthusiastic historian than I had ever been with the boilerplate political verbiage.

At any rate, I dug out Al Gore’s historic Union Pacific Depot address out of my files and scanned it for the amazement of the reading public and those sadly obsessed with past political minutiae. You can see the actual antique printer edition here, with a bonus speech written for Casper, Wyoming that I will bet he did not read — prostitutes were mentioned. Or, read on:



The Monster of the Middle Way

Filed under: 2008 elections — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 5:34 pm

Apologies for missing a weekday or two there. Someone asked my prediction about the outcome of the Democratic race. I don’t really do predictions, but given the fact that Hillary Clinton seems prepared to destroy the universe rather than lose, I would guess I have to bet on her.  All I can say is that if she does win making all these flimsy “experience” claims about events where she showed for a photo-op and accusing Obama of things she is much worse about than he is (Rezko, NAFTA), she better be ready for the coming time, also known as roughly May to November 2008, when the media stops trying to prove they are not biased against her, snuggles back up to McCain, and starts picking up on the easy, already available refutations of most what she has said.

The post title is a mixed neo-liberalism/football joke. And she is from Chicago.

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