Archive for April, 2008

April 25th 2008
The Clintons R Us

Posted under American history


Over at Corrente, VastLeft has an interesting run-down on Obama v. Clinton.  (Obama supporters, be warned:  it’s pretty snarky, so it might just make you angry.)  However, I think he makes an excellent point here in the way these two candidates are perceived and described by Democrats and by the news media:

What? Their voting records are “virtually identical”!? Still, when Obama made those votes he was being an awesome, young, transformative progressive. When Hillary made them, she was old, machine-like, and totally Republican about it. How could anyone fail to see the difference?

It’s been interesting to watch Obama run the Bill Clinton 1992 primary and general election campaign against Hillary Clinton.  Democrats have a history of loving their Washington “outsiders” and young (or young-ish) upstarts in Presidential politics, and arguably, those candidates have been the most successful of our candidates in second half of the twentieth century.  (Think Kennedy, Carter, and Bill Clinton.)  When Democrats have nominated insider favorites like Humphrey, Mondale, Gore, and Kerry, well–let’s just say that it hasn’t worked out so well, Gore’s victory in the popular vote (and in Florida, as it turned out) notwithstanding.

Obama’s problem, especially in some of the remaining primary states in May and June, is that lots of people in those states remember the Bill Clinton years very fondly.  Historiann lived in southwestern Ohio during the second Clinton term, when gas was 89 or 99 cents a gallon, and the Ford plant in Cincinnati and the GM plant in Dayton were running three shifts turning out Explorers and GMC trucks like they were never going out of style.  A lot of those men and women are now ten years older, gas is $3.50 a gallon, and people aren’t buying trucks and SUVs like they used to, so their jobs (if they still have them) are precarious.  Their unions–if they’re still in one–have been forced to accede to contracts that erode their retirement  and health care benefits.  They’re looking at a future for their now-teenaged and older children that may not offer them as good a life as the life they enjoyed in the 1990s.  The results in from Ohio and Pennsylvania suggest that these folks don’t think that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the last seven and a half years of a declining dollar and global reputation, and increasing inflation and insecurity.  Although Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked to pass NAFTA, which is part of the cause of much of their insecurity, they trust Hillary Clinton more to reform NAFTA and health care.  (Obama has done a terrible job with NAFTA.  He’s allowed H. Clinton to own fair trade, when he should have hung that around her neck like an anchor–a tactic I wouldn’t see as fair or just, but I think he missed a real political opportunity.)

Just as Hillary Clinton had to run as a wise elder stateswoman who can get the job done, so Obama had to run the Bill Clinton “third way” campaign of 1992 as the attractive, youthful outsider who can energize young voters and reform Washington, but that decision has potentially painted his campaign (and perhaps the Democratic party) into a corner.  One commenter at Corrente, wasabi, summarizes the situation succinctly:  “The only way Obama was going to knock off the [then] frontrunner was to tear the Clinton legacy apart. The only way to do that was to convince everyone that Dems and Repubs are all alike, and it’s time for a transformation.  What a shame that he had to pick this time in history, when the country finally caught on to the destructive policies of the Republicans to push the meme that it’s not really the fault of the Republicans after all, but that darn partisanship.”

Maybe this turnabout is only fair play:  after all, a lot of party people back in 1992 were backhanded by Bill Clinton’s centrist campaign, which implicitly suggested that the Democratic party had become too liberal and explicitly touted plans to help the “forgotten middle-class” (not the poor), as well as distanced him from core Democratic constituencies (a la his “Sister Souljah” moment.)  And now, where there are differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton, he is running to her right on health care reform and gay rights, for example.  Yet many of Obama’s supporters seem invested in the notion–contrary to most of the evidence–that he is the more progressive candidate.  No one thought that of Bill Clinton in 1992–as I recall, the favored candidate of the brie-and-chablis set and the college Democrats that year (to the extent that we had one) was Jerry Brown.  Bill Clinton was correctly understood as a “third way” centrist who was going to be as hard on the excesses of both liberalism and conservativism, the post-ideological policy-wonk candidate who was interested in ideas that worked, regardless of where the ideas came from.  That’s pretty much who he turned out to be as President, while dealing with losing Congress and the years-long scandal-sniffing machine that culminated in his impeachment.

For obvious reasons, Obama must have and will continue to have a conflicted relationship with the legacy (and person) of Bill Clinton.  Obama has run a (Clintonian) centrist campaign that’s been (un-Clintonianly) vague on the details.  (Don’t take just my word for it–see Paul Krugman’s column this morning, for example.)  If Obama wins the nomination and the general election, what kind of President will he be?  I think the Clinton style and legacy will be with us for a long time, whether or not that’s the surname of the next President. 

UPDATE, 4/27/08:  Obama’s big interview on Fox News Sunday was today, and guess what?  He thinks that “there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea,” such as industry deregulation, tort reform, and charter schools.  And, he mentions Ronald Reagan as a president whose example he would hew to in revising the capital gains tax.  Whaaaaaat?  Does he realize he’s still running in the Democratic primary?  So much for the school teachers, the trial lawyers, and anyone who doesn’t want a side of e-coli with their burger.  That should put to rest those persistent delutions that he’s the more progressive candidate.  It should, but it probably won’t.  (H/t to mydd for the run-down.)

Actually, I kind of get it that he tossed out the bones of tort reform and charter schools–most people don’t know what tort reform is, and many public school teachers support and teach in charter schools.  But industry deregulation?  Is it possible to deregulate industry further after seven and a half years of Bush?  Are people really unsatisfied with the amount of lead in their consumer goods and mercury in their fish, to the point that they’re demanding more?  Sheesh.


April 24th 2008
I ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and all I got was this lousy wankstain

Posted under Gender & jobs & wankers


Clio Bluestocking once again has a tale of nastiness from inside the Ivory Tower.  To wit:

Today, the security office at our campus sent out this notice:

“Yesterday evening two female students were studying in the lower level of the library when they were approached by a man who engaged in extremely lewd behavior.”

The “lower level” is below ground and houses the majority of the book stacks and some study space, so there aren’t many librarians or other employees down there very often. This sort of thing has happened at lots of libraries that I’ve used, too. Closed, quiet spaces seem to bring out the perv in a lot of people.

The next sentence in the notice, however, bothered me for some reason:

“Personal safety practices and knowledge are your best defense against incidents of this nature.”

Exactly how does that address the issue of being accosted sexually? What exactly do they mean by “personal safety practices and knowlege”? . . . . The women, students, were studying, at school, in the library.

Like we need to give our students any other excuses to avoid studying  or to avoid the library?  Moreover, one could argue that in so doing, they were actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in an environment they presumed was safe.  How presumptuous of those students to think that they had equal rights to equal access on their own campus!  How foolish of them not to huddle in group study rooms and escort each other to the bathroom so as to avoid the notorious campus whack-off artist?

When I was in college, “campus safety” for women was handing out rape whistles in the school colors, and (true story!) installing “rape alarms” in the women’s bathrooms in the library.  (They were there at Penn in the early 1990s–I don’t know if they still are.)  But, these measures, like the advice from campus police that Clio B. reports, put the onus of women’s safety on women.  Instead of presuming that all women college students are potential victims and asking them to always walk around and study in pairs or groups, let’s just presume that male college students are potential aggressors, and make them always walk and study in groups (either with other men or women) when on campus?  Campus police would have the authority to arrest male students who were unescorted, and the women students could use their own campus with much greater confidence in their own safety. 

In the absence of policies like this, I think women college students should be charged less tuition, since they clearly aren’t free to use the campus and its resources the same way that their male peers are.  No walking home to your dorm or apartment late at night, no drinking at all in bars or at parties unless you want to be accused of asking for sexual assault, and now, no studying alone in the library!  Professor Blackwoman at W.O.C. Ph.D. had an interesting post on this a few months ago when she was threatened by a creepy dude who liked to hang out around her department, and I wonder if Breaking the Code would like to weigh in on this issue, since she’s interested in questions about gender and space, and she’s got a post up now about women being rubbed against in public.  (Read the article she links to about the MBTA’s new anti-frottage PR campaign.  Interestingly, the only time Historiann had that unfortunate experience was in fact on the green line in Boston, which is always packed above-ground heading West after work, because it’s free for outbound riders.  An elbow to the guts works pretty well, but still–who needs that crap?)

UPDATED 4/28/08:  Clio B. has an update concerning the police investigation, and the continued absence of creative thinking about how to fend off attacks like these.


April 23rd 2008
The incentivized university

Posted under jobs

By mid-April, I’m urged to turn in my book orders for classes that begin in August.  Why?  Because the university is just dying to see what new book titles and pedagogical innovations I’ve got up my sleeve for the fall term?  No.  Because book buy-back programs want to know which books will be used again and which won’t be, so that they can offer students a few dollars for their books that will appear on someone’s syllabus in the next semester.  Leaving aside the fact that I never teach the same course two semesters in a row (with a 2-2 load, they just don’t come around that often), my incentive–if I’m going to make this artificial deadline–is to teach the same damn syllabus over and over again.  Don’t think about revising your course over the summer.  Add no new books.  Don’t add new lectures or even revise old ones.  Standardize the product, and keep it coming, like a MacDonald’s franchise. 

My special correspondent Indyannna took this snapshot of a poster advertising book buy-back dates at his university before exams have started.  Yes, that’s a great plan:  sell your books before you study for the final exam or write your final papers.  The incentive for students is to slight their grades and learning in favor of the chance for a few dollars per book.  (Is it too much to ask that book buyback schemes start only during finals week?)  I know that books are expensive–but I’m not apologizing for asking students to borrow from a library or purchase five $20 monographs, when science, economics, and business courses routinely ask students to buy $150 textbooks, plus additional books and materials.  Besides, spending money on books isn’t “extra,” it’s part of the expense of college that students should budget for.  (I consider University parking passes and beer money “extras,” but I’m afraid they’re things that get budgeted in before books.)

(Note to textbook companies:  By the way–haven’t you noticed yet that I never assign your books?  If so, why do you keep sending me six to eight free samples per semester?  You’re like a spurned suitor who thinks ze’s being charmingly persistent, when really it’s just stalkerish and creepy.  Your books irritate me, because I know the cost of your “gift” is just handed on down to the students who buy your books.  I give my freebies away to students, especially those studying to be history teachers, so they find good homes where they’re appreciated, but would you please re-examine this wasteful policy of yours?)

Historiann has been criticized in her course evaluations by students complaining that they can’t sell as many books back as they had expected to.  How disappointing–I’m sure they were in mint condition.  I suppose I should assign only best-sellers by David McCullough or Joseph Ellis, or boring textbooks, because students might get something back for them, instead of assigning the best books in my field–the ones with innovative arguments and evidence that, you know, might make you think.  (And, until my next book is published, there just aren’t a whole lot of bestsellers on women’s history, strangely enough.  Going with the bestsellers only approach would pretty much bump all women and people of color off the syllabus.)  Naively, Historiann had supposed that college students buy books because they’re sort of interested in the ideas inside them, not for their possible resale value.  Does anyone else think it’s strange that students would want to try to scrub their bookshelves (and brains?) entirely of course content?


April 22nd 2008
Clinton locks up the keystone state

Posted under American history & women's history


Well, that was interesting.  Senatorella rides again–despite being outspent 3:1, despite her high negatives, despite the fact that Obama really worked hard for votes in Pennsylvania, and despite the cheerleading of the mass media.  As of my press deadline, she’s sitting on a 10-point win, 55-45, with 90% of the vote reported.  Cue the screams for her to drop out for the good of the party.  Cue the shouts that the primary is divisive and must end now.  (H/t to commenter David for pointing me to this New York Times editorial published tonight that begins, “The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.”)  Cue the demands to “take her boobs and go home.”  She only beat him by ten points!  The math!  The math!  Thhhheee mmaaattthhh!

UPDATE, 4/23/08:  Well, that didn’t take long.  Check out this hateful commentary at The Nation by Tom Hayden.  (He calls it “Why Hillary Makes My Wife Scream,” compares her to Lady MacBeth, and claims that “Going negative doesn’t begin to describe what has happened. Hillary is going over the edge.”  Shorter Tom Hayden:  “Women hate her too, so it’s not like I’m a misogynist.  I tried to like her, but she’s just such a bitch!  Waaaaaaaahhhhh!”)  Or, try this new math for competing against girls, where a 10% margin of victory for a girl is really only about 8%, which is really kind of a tie, so it’s not like Hillary actually won, and we’re back where we started.  And take the New York Times–pleaseLe Somerby explains it all so I don’t have to:  “Those million-plus Democrats [in Pennsylvania] don’t exist in [Maureen] Dowd’s world. In Dowd’s world, Dowd wants Clinton to quit. And so, by the laws of childish dreams, ‘the Democrats” must want that too.’”  Maureen Dowd actually published these sentences at the end of her column today:  “The time has come. The time has come. The time is now. Just go. … I don’t care how. You can go by foot. You can go by cow. Hillary R. Clinton, will you please go now! You can go on skates. You can go on skis. … You can go in an old blue shoe.  Just go, go, GO!”

All teasing aside:  if he’s the clear front-runner and the presumtive nominee, why can’t he just win a big, juicy state and wrap this puppy up for the history books?  All of the money he’s raised, the estimable enthusiasm of his voters, and the undeniable media bias in his favor, and he can only play it to a draw?  Even if he pulls out the nomination in the end, he’s got to face John McCain, who is beloved by the Washington press corps (and who doesn’t have the high negatives that Clinton has.)

Clinton looked radiant in turquoise tonight, eloquent, confident, and energized–and her audience was pumped up and ready to fight along with her.  (Even the toads on MSNBC gave her that.)  Her victory speech was long–it reminded me of Amy Poehler’s impersonation of Clinton on Saturday Night Live from a few months ago, mocking her relentlessness and determination.  (It was funny because it’s true!)  I had a phone call less than halfway through and so missed most of the speech, but I did catch this nice comment:  Tonight was for all the people “who lift their little girls on their shoulders and whisper in their ears, ‘See, you can be anything you want.’”

Yeah, well, we’ll see.  There’s still a long way to go for both campaigns.


April 22nd 2008
Smile-a-while: Howler stomps the “smelly old coots”

Posted under American history & Gender & wankers & women's history

Here’s a free laugh, from Bob Somerby.  Today’s example of Baby Boomer ressentiment?  It’s the always stupid and always wrong Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.  You have to laugh about Somerby’s analysis, to keep back the tears you’d otherwise shed on behalf of Cohen’s depraved view of his professional responsibility.  (By the way, that’s a photo of Somerby, not Cohen.  I googled a photo of Richard Cohen, and decided that I didn’t want his smelly old coot mug on my blog.  Somerby is devilishly handsome, no?)

Cohen’s Sermon on the Mount today:  “It is hard to think of anyone who has worked longer or sacrificed more for the presidency [than Hillary Clinton]. She is indomitable, steadfast, gutsy and all those other things we know — smart, for instance. She also can be, in private and sometimes in public, charming and awfully good company.”  And yet, despite these sterling qualifications, “she has gone too far.”  She makes Richard Cohen uncomfortable with her competence and ambition, so for trivial reasons–her comments on the muslim rumor on 60 Minutes, and her Bosnia sniper story–Cohen decrees that she must never be President.  Close your eyes and imagine a male pol being held to the same standard.

Well, it’s certainly not happening in Cohen’s disturbed and tiny little mind.  He admits that McCain and Obama lie too–Cohen writes that McCain has “fudged and ducked and swallowed the truth on occasion — about the acceptability of the Confederate flag, for instance — but always, I think, for understandable although not necessarily admirable reasons.”  Always for understandable reasons, like propping up the flag of racist nationalism.  And Obama?  “[H]e, too, can do the F’s — fudge, fib or forget. I don’t believe him on the Second Amendment — and he says one thing on NAFTA in Ohio and a campaign adviser whispers another to Canada by way of reassurance.”  Lying about policy is A-OK in Cohen’s book, because “these are minor matters, the ‘You look beautiful tonight, dear’ fibs of marriage that have their functional equivalent in politics. They are necessary. They lubricate life itself.”  Lying about policy and pandering to racism?  That’s just politics.  Misremembering something that happened 12 years ago?  She must be stopped.

Somerby’s command of recent history schools the historians (and Historianns).  I especially like the way the Howler suggests that Cohen’s (and John McCain’s) objectification of subordinate young women (and trashing of accomplished, uncompliant women like Naomi Wolf) is somehow connected to his discomfort with Clinton as a presidential candidate.  Watch out, Bob–you’re going to get branded as The Daily Feminazi if you keep commiting thought crimes like that!


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