by Jeremy Young | 2/18/2008 12:22:00 PM
Periodically, I tout various projects that seek to draw the history blogosphere together. Very few of them are as important as History Nexus. Developed by Andy Walpole, History Nexus seeks to become a Digg-style aggregator for history blogs and websites. Andy's also started creating widgets, a critical Web 2.0 strategy that should bring our work to many more people than currently read it. (I've suggested some additional ideas for widget functionality to him.) Andy's doing some great work and needs all the support we can give him. If you haven't already, head over to History Nexus without delay, sign up, add your blog, and grap his widget (currently residing in our right-hand sidebar). Hat tip Rob MacDougall.

Check out Scott Horton's article at HuffPo about another commander-in-chief who was faced with the perplexing question: to torture or not to torture? Guess which decision he made. Hat tip.

Site improvements: You can now subscribe to ProgressiveHistorians by e-mail, by clicking the link at the top of the left-hand sidebar (note: I haven't actually tried out this feature yet, so it might not work). I've also turned our RSS feed into a summary feed at Andy's request -- he needed a smaller feed to add to his latest widget. (If this is a problem, let me know.) Finally, Pannasmontata, the designer of this site's template, has returned to template building after a few months' absence. I've asked her for an estimate for an upgrade to Blogger Beta -- which, among other things, would make posting and updating vastly easier and Recent Comments/Peer Review much more reliable.

At Melissa Harris-Lacewell's blog, Blair Kelley argues that the very existence of Obama in the White House would be transformative for race relations:

I think most white Americans don’t know, but when you walk in the world in a black body, you implicitly set limits. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be racial brave, it is who I am. I attended majority white schools from the time I was six. I live in a neighborhood that is mostly white. I am the first black woman to be on tenure-track in my department. But there are always limits. Neighborhoods where you don’t buy a home for fear of how your children might be treated, bars and clubs you would never visit, heck, whole states where I would never set foot. But Obama has gone to all those places. He got on a plane and went to Nebraska, Idaho, and Iowa to make speeches and he got off the plane. If he was intimidated, it didn’t show. He started with the assumption that they would listen.

It is this assumption, or shall I say, audacity that for me has been the most transformative.


It's the most compelling argument I've heard for why I should support Obama (and Kelley's not the first person who's said it; Dr. Terrence Roberts advanced a similar argument here at IU two weeks ago.)

What's on your mind?

[Update] Congratulations to our blogfriend Rob MacDougall, who has won the 2008 Fishel-Calhoun Prize "for the best published article written by a
new scholar researching United States history between 1865 and 1917."

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10 Comments:


Blogger Ahistoricality on 2/18/2008 11:04 PM:

Continuing our political mash-up trend: John McCain as Gollum. There's a real tragedy here, and a lot of reason to not concede anything to the Republicans this year.

 

Blogger workshop on 2/19/2008 8:02 AM:

It seems to me that the argument you cite, Jeremy, for having a black in the White House is similar to one of the arguments for affirmative action. I buy it as an argument for affirmative action. I don't buy it as an argument for electing a president. In fact, I think that as an argument for electing a president, it's a slap in the face to Martin Luther King, who articulated the "dream" that most of us, I presume, accept as definitive, of an America where one is appreciated for who one is, now what color one is.

The notion of affirmative action for a position as singular and crucially important as President is inherently absurd. In no other position in the entire world, undoubtedly, is it more important that the selection process be color blind, so to speak.

What Obama has done, in my opinion, is to cleverly use the color of his skin as a subliminal metaphor for "change". A white guy running around saying "hey, I'm change, elect me" would be ludicrous. A black guy doing the same is just as ludicrous, but isn't percieved as ludicrous.

And what if Obama turns out to be a disaster? Look what Bush has done for the political chances of white guys in a country that is still manifestly racist in many ways!!

eppie

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 2/19/2008 8:35 AM:

I think TR's got a point -- the incredible hostility to the process I see from some unsuccessful job candidates borders on the ridiculous, and maybe it's fueled by the wiki. If I come out the other end without a job, the fault will be some combination of mine, my advisor's, and luck -- not that of the AHA or evil departments (I understand this may be different for a person of color, but the people I've seen complaining were white men like me). That said, I do think the more information is available, the better, even if not all of it is accurate.

I refuse to vote for Obama as the lesser of two evils, no matter how evil the greater is. I did that in 2004, and I still feel like I whored out my vote. And Epppie, thanks for giving me a reason to dismiss Kelley's argument too (and great to have you back, BTW!) I'm back to the drawing board again, I guess.

BTW, I was greatly amused by TR's mention of the Diva. Having had that unfortunate individual sicced on me by KC Johnson, I have no desire to repeat the experience. My heart goes out to TR for her trouble.

 

Blogger workshop on 2/19/2008 10:10 AM:

Thankyou, Jeremy.

Re. the job process: in my department, I would say the process of landing a teaching job depended on how well you sucked up to the faculty more than on any other single factor. But that's just my personal view, based on my personal experience, though my impression is that it plays a pretty big role in every department - probably more in mine, because it's such a small department and such a small corner of the academic world (painting).

I too refuse to vote the lesser of two evils. I believe that there is a populist majority out there, an overwhelming majority, I think, that continues to go unheard precisely because the leastworst game continues. I believe that the leastworst game turns progressives and populists into dupes.
All the corporatocracy has to do, in my view, is continue to put on the good cop bad cop kabuki show for us dupes, as long as we continue to play leastworst.

Re. having a black president: I do think that could make a big change for the population in America, in that it could help white people overcome whatever fear they continue to have of empowered black people, and I think it could help people of color to have a stronger gut feeling of unlimited opportunity. Both those things could be very important. But I also see 'the first black president' as something you can't force. The point is to elect a president and not to exclude blacks from the process, to overcome prejudice that excludes them, and not by substituting a new prejudice that prefers them. If we do that - fight the barriers of perception that exclude black candidates - it will soon be inevitable that we have a black president. Sheer talent will out.

Now, if we had 20 presidents every election cycle, maybe some form of affirmative action would be appropriate. Then the issue of the continuum of representation (re. the diversity of the population) would become an issue. But when we are talking about electing a unique and central figure, then representing the continuum of the population is inherently excluded as a consideration.

To put it on a more real level, I could see a President deciding "I must have people of color in my cabinet, because that's a perspective I need to have in the council I rely on." But I can't see that being a factor in the election of the President himself or herself.

I mean, come on, what's next? Shouldn't we elect a gay President? Lol - I've been reading that Lincoln may have been gay, so maybe we already have! ;)

epppie

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 2/19/2008 10:46 AM:

Actually, there's a much better case for James Buchanan.

 

Blogger workshop on 2/25/2008 12:15 PM:

I have to admit, I've read that about Buchanan too. But Lincoln being a Republican, being THE Republican, I couldn't resist citing him!

I want to make a couple of comments about your Obama piece. One, I disagree strongly about the 2004 convention speech. I think that if you read the speech, it's actually not a very good speech. I think what struck people so much then, and continues to, was his delivery, which is well above average.

In his speeches, Obama simply never , to my knowledge, expresses anything remotely resembling an original thought. That's somewhat odd, because in Dreams of My Father, there are some strikingly original passages, which I assume weren't ghost written (though who knows?). The 2004 speech was no exception. He, to me, is a one trick pony, whose only appeal is that he speaks with a confidence almost unseen amongst Dems. But that might be because, despite his bizarre appeal to progressives, he's barely a Dem. Take out the applause lines and what you have is a maybe a moderate Republican.

Good. So he's a 'centrist'. Great. He's a Uniter. Except that the political center in this country is waaaay to the right of the population, pushed there by corporate interest, in league with the religious right. Right wing churches tithe. This is the main thing that gives them so much power, I think.

Another point I wanted to make wasn't about your article, but about the historians who recomended Obama; and I'm sorry, I just can't put this respectfully: they must be ****ing idiots if they think Obama is the most thoughtful DEm presidential candidate since Kennedy. He may be the most charismatic (though I doubt it - we seem to forget that Clinton was loaded with charisma), but more thoughtful than Carter? I call that ridiculous on the face of it.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 2/25/2008 7:14 PM:

We'll have to agree to disagree about the 2004 speech. I think it has to be judged as a whole, delivery and all. If we're just going based on the written text, then John Kerry's made some damn fine speeches -- when we all knew he was a pretty terrible speaker. I think Obama gets credit for what he did in that speech. I thought it was masterful the first time I heard it, and I've listened to it many times since. I've listened to it next to Dean's California Democratic Party speech, and was shocked at how much better Dean was; but at the same time. I was shocked at how much better Obama was than the other speakers at the convention. I've heard him attain that level of brilliance this cycle, too. I think attacking his speechmaking is a losing battle -- he's just really good.

I'll give my professor friends the benefit of the doubt and note that there are a LOT of people who are jumping on the Hope Express. But like you, I don't really understand why. Personally, I need my inspiration leavened with a bit more wrath.

 

Blogger workshop on 2/26/2008 1:24 PM:

Well, I'm never one to agree to disagree. Yes, presentation is part of it. Everyone seems to agree that part of what made Lincoln's Cooper Union speech so great was his presentation. But the text STILL stands the test of time. No Obama speech will, least of all the 2004 speech, which is mostly a mishmash of boilerplate, borrowing crucially from GOP icons such as Reagan.

I think the point you need to reflect on (respectfully) is that it was the confidence of the speech that mesmerized poeple and continues to. And if presentation was the real key, Reagan would be studied to this day as a great orator. I don't think anyone bothers to read his speeches anymore, for good reason. But the main thing is that Dems are simply not used to hearing Democrats talking with such confidence.

Like you, I prefer Dean. Were it not for his unfortunate off the cuff remarks - where he is at least coherent, but puts things a bit too personally - he'd be President now.

Please don't mention Kerry in my presence ever again! ;) Don't Taser Me Bro!!

I respect your respect for your professor friends, but here again I must demurr. In my opinion, it's sheer idiocy to say that Obama is more thoughtful than Carter, inexcusable idiocy. WTF are progressives drinking these days? I thought orange koolaide was bad enough, but they've got their hands on more potent stuff now.

Who can blame them? According to Naomi Klein, as I understand her arguments, the shock of the fascist (or let's be polite and say "corporatist") attack on norms of decency leaves progressive in a state so full of pain, if they are sincere at all, that it's understandable that they would seek to numb themselves.

But I say you got to be very, very numb to say that Obama is the most thoughtful candidate we've had. And he doesn't compare to Kennedy either, though I've heard that enough times to make me puke. Kennedy was an organized crime thug, but at least he could write an original line. I challenge anyone to show me one genuinely, strikingly original line Obama has written in a speech.

No matter. The Pubs will rip him to shreds over Rezko. You think think Edwards' hair was a cause celebre. You think Abramof was. Obama tells us 'I barely knew the guy'. Can you hear the cock crowing, Obama? You knew him for years. You advocated for him. You bought land from him. You received massive campaign contributions from him and from his pals. Rezko made megabucks off building deals supposedly meant to help the poor, projects at least some of which have not been kept up. That blood money has undoubtedly found it's way into your campaigns, Obama.

And then there's the tender loving care the nuclear industry, the health insurance industry, etc., from the man who tells us that he's gonna erect a barrier against Corporate Influence. Yeah right. Read his blueprint - he promises to set up an independent board to over see Congress' involvements with lobbists - he doesn't have the power to do that, its unconstitutional. Meanwhile, he sets up no such board to oversee the executive branch - which he DOES have the power to do. In other words, it's bull****.

I'm so ***ing nostalgic for Dean. Edwards. God, ANYBODY!!!!

But no, I don't think attacking Obama's rhetoric is a losing battle. If it is, admitting that the emperor has no clothes is a losing battle.

 

Blogger workshop on 2/26/2008 2:15 PM:

Fwiw, I think that Nixon, while hardly thoughtful, was more intelligent and charismatic than either Kennedy or Obama.