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Rest in Peace

Simon Maloy ’03 died yesterday after enduring a year-and-a-half-long fight with colon cancer.  Simon was a researcher and a journalist with Media Matters for more than 14 years. He was, at one time, in charge of listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio show and providing his readers with commentary and fact-checking services.

Simon appeared in the pages of Ephblog over a decade ago talking about his experience as a Limbaugh listener. Over his career, his work was published at The Week, Rolling Stone, American Prospect, and Salon. He was a history major at Williams College.

Some of his friends have set up a page at GoFundMe in his honor. So far, donors have given $67,696 toward an overall goal of $125,000. You can find this GoFundMe page by clicking on the following link. 

In Memory of Simon Maloy

The authors of the GoFundMe page indicate they are “…setting up this fund to help support Simon’s family — especially his sons’ education — as they move forward without him.”

Simon Maloy is survived by his wife Leslie and his sons, Avery and James.


Listening at the Great Awokening

The great Darel E. Paul, professor of political science, published a well-researched and thoughtfully organized article at Areo on how the new identity politics has taken hold at schools across the nation. He connects the dots which show how identity politics has become a staple at schools as different as Williams, Sarah Lawrence, Evergreen State College and Yale.

Listening at the Great Awokening

Colleges and universities across the English-speaking world are caught up in the enthusiasm of a Great Awokening. Its dogmas are structural violence, systemic racism, racial stress, white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias and microaggressions. From the University of Missouri to Evergreen State College to Sarah Lawrence College and beyond, faculty and students are ablaze with the fire of social justice.

In Paul’s view, liberal arts colleges are particularly likely to get wrapped up in the dogma of critical race theory because they lack – by definition – traditional STEM programs like business, medicine, engineering and agriculture. He reports that predictably “…this spring the Great Awokening finally came to my home institution, Williams College.” Unfortunately for Williams, Paul writes that the school seems unpleasantly close to being another Evergreen State College.

Administrators and other campus leaders have encouraged white members of the college community like myself to listen. Over the past two months, I have striven to do exactly that. In fact, I’ve done quite a lot of listening (and reading). I have spent dozens of hours listening at meetings and reading copious documents produced by activist students and faculty. I have also watched videos and read documents resulting from the racial blowups at Yale University in 2015, Evergreen State College in 2017 and Sarah Lawrence College in 2019. Listening to these views from multiple campuses helped me realize that what seems to be a local discourse responding to local issues is actually a local manifestation of an international social, political and ideological phenomenon. All the accents and cadences of critical race theory can be identified. Williams, Sarah Lawrence, Evergreen and Yale could really be Any Residential College in Any Town.

Paul notes that the folks promoting critical race theory are ultimately leading us into a Soviet Union style educational system where truth matters very little. All that matters is whether research and teaching supports the dominant ideology.

Just as critical race theory can destroy knowledge, it can likewise destroy institutions premised upon the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Thanks in large part to the influence of critical race theory, Evergreen State College melted down in Spring 2017. The concrete results of that meltdown included numerous faculty resignations, a catastrophic collapse in enrollments, layoffs, budget cuts and worldwide humiliation. Every institution of higher education should learn the lessons of Evergreen, for history is wont to repeat itself―the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Areo is an opinion and analysis digital magazine focused on current affairs — in particular: humanism, culture, politics, human rights, science, and free expression.


A Prediction on Political Discussions in Williams

As Williams enrolls Gen Zers, there’s going to be a resurgance of right-wing, populist views.

Not a dramatic paradigm shift, but a gradual gnawing away at the entrenched left-wing environment.


This graph shows how Gen Z ‘voted’ in the 2016 election relative to voting adults. Trump’s platform focused mainly on nativism, and his incredible usage of online media complements Gen Z’s more tech-savvy nature.

The presence of the virgin Conservative Society is just the adumbration of this trend. The political atmophere in first year in this campus wouldn’t have even humored this organization.

Ultimately, I see what’s going to happen here as a microcosm of the Overton Window shifting across the nation. We won’t be seeing any varient of paleoconservatism on the rise here, because Trump’s ideology is one of mild reform, and that’s what makes him appealing to his supporters, but it’ll still be quite a sight to hear some now verboten topic echo throughout the halls and classrooms, as was the case not so long ago.


Local demands for intellectual diversity

Saw the following today, thought others might be interested in seeing what’s going on at other schools in our neck of the world: UMass students — fed up with professors preaching anti-Americanism — demand ‘intellectual diversity’ .

The petition itself is available here. What I find fascinating is that the title of the article uses the word ‘demand’, which appears no where in their petition. They use words such as ‘petition’, ‘urge’ and ‘suggest’; it is written in a very different tone than other recent petitions (such as this one from Oberlin).



Uncomfortable Posting

Greetings. I’m the faculty president of the Williams’ chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. As there has been a lot of discussion about speakers invited to campus by Uncomfortable Learning, I wanted to briefly post why PBK has decided to co-sponsor their next speakers.

PBK is dedicated to the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. We do not necessarily support the views and opinions of the speakers, but we strongly support the calls made by President Falk,  William McGuire III ’17 and others on the importance and value of having civil discussions. There is a great opportunity in such debate, and we encourage all interested members of the community to come to these and other events and be heard. Many of the positions held by students and faculty on our campus today would not have found receptive audiences in the earlier days of Williams; ideas should be refuted by facts, not silenced.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Socialist.

                     Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

                     Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out 
                     Because I was not a Jew.

                    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for
                    me. — Martin Niemoller

Steven Miller (, Associate Professor of Mathematics


Smartest Apostate in the Room

Don Beyer '72, in his Alexandria, VA home.  Photo by Andre Chung in a Washington Post article

Don Beyer ’72, in his Alexandria, VA home. Photo by Andre Chung in a Washington Post article

Congressman Don Beyer ’72, who represents a large swath of Northern Virginia in its 8th Congressional District, is not only the best-educated Member of Congress, but the best speller as well. Politico reports:

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) won the National Press Club’s “Politicians vs. Press” spelling bee on Wednesday night, narrowly ekeing out a victory over Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post.

The winning word? Apostasy. Along the way, however, he missed on words such as “bergamot” and “lutefisk” — Ephs such as Arne Carlson ’57 and Eric Dayton ’03 will be disappointed, particularly when they learn he had no such difficulty with “Wisconsinite.” But his misspellings were hardly among the ugliest: Fellow member of the Virginia delegation, Sen. Tim Kaine, missed out on “veterinarian,” Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy erred on “knish,” and both Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer and the Politico staff reporting on the spelling bee managed to misspell “doctrinaire”:


A bonus for Beyer: to win the Politicians vs. Press Bee, he didn’t have to square off against Sen. Chris Murphy ’96 or Washington Post writer Greg Jaffe ’91 to secure his spelling title, unlike in his 2014 election faceoff with Micah Edmond ’96.


Which Presidential Candidate is the Most Eph? (Republican Edition)

Picking up our review of the presidential field with the Republicans, we’ll go alphabetically. This edition will start with Bush, Jeb,  and go through Gilmore, Jim. 

What? You thought I was going to cover them all in one post? If you’re that pithy, maybe you should join us as an author!

Jeb Bush.

Education. University of Texas.

Comment: As the son and brother of former Presidents, Bush is the ultimate legacy candidate. At least until another Adams, Roosevelt, or Harrison comes along (or Chelsea Clinton runs). He did attend Andover, which has fitted numerous Ephs for their purple over the years (President Baxter, for example). And he was a varsity tennis player – at Andover and at UT. That’s kind of Eph. But running for president, he looks like a slacker who expects to be elected by acclaim, and that’s not the Williams way.

Dr. Ben Carson.

Education. Yale, University of Michigan Medical School.

Comment: In his turn on the GOP debate stage, Carson sounded like he was running for philosopher-king, not president. He would fit right into the Political Economy curriculum at Williams. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon, which is pretty much the career to which the plurality of pre-med Ephs seem to aspire. And he turned down an appointment to West Point in favor of Yale, a little bit like the “Choose Williams over Harvard” mantra that we at EphBlog encourage.

Chris Christie.

Education: University of Delaware, Seton Hall Law School.

Comment: We know he’s the beefiest, but is he the Ephiest? Well, New Jersey is a pretty classic Eph state, and so it’s hardly surprising that Dr. Chris Rodriguez ’99 serves as the Director of Homeland Security in Christie’s gubernatorial administration. Another Eph link: Gail Gordon, a key financier for Christie, is married to Eph legislator Bob Gordon ’72.

Ted Cruz.

Education. Princeton, Harvard Law School.

Comment: Finally, an actual Eph link! Cruz’s chief adviser on national security, Victoria Coates, is an Eph (MA ’92) who studied art history. Cruz has a few other Eph-esque qualities. He attended Princeton, a favorite “other school” to which Ephs apply. Top-ranked debater on APDA in the 1990s, just like a string of Ephs: Chris Willenken ’97, Jonathan Kravis ’99, and one-time EphBlogger Jeff Zeeman. Bonus: although Cruz looks un-athletic, he played intramural basketball at Harvard Law, where he trash-talked constitutional law with Eph Ted Ruger ’90 (now Dean of Penn Law School).

Carly Fiorina.

Education. Stanford, then an MBA from the University of Maryland. And a management degree from MIT.

Comment: Well, Stanford is the Williams of Division I. And putting a double-major in Philosophy and Medieval History to use as a Fortune 20 CEO role is a pretty Eph thing to do. Bonus Eph link: Fiorina likes to speak on the campaign trail about how Hillary Clinton adapted the title of her State Department memoir, Hard Choices, from Fiorina’s 2006 memoir, Tough Choices. Fiorina leaves out, however, that she in turn stole “Tough Choices” from a 1990s Sage Hall entry t-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan.*

Jim Gilmore.

Who? You know, the guy who ruined the presidential chances of one of the most promising Eph politicians of our generation, then Lieutenant Governor (now Rep.) Don Beyer, by upsetting him in the 1997 Virginia gubernatorial race. For that alone, his Eph score is a zero.

Rep. Don Beyer ’72.

Verdict: We’re through about 1/3 of the Republican field, and Ted Cruz and Chris Christie look to be the early leaders.

*I believe the “tough choices” to which the shirt referred were inexpensive keg beers – perhaps Genesee vs. Keystone?


Which Presidential Candidate is the Most Eph? (Democratic Edition)


There may be nearly two dozen declared presidential candidates for the two major parties, but America remains as far from electing the next James Garfield as ever.  It falls to EphBlog to consider who, in the absence of a real William College alum in the field, has the best claim to being an Eph.  Dissenting opinions welcome. Let’s begin with the Democratic candidates.

Hillary Clinton.

Education: Wellesley, then Yale Law.

Comments: Resembles a college administrator: old, corporatist, falsely  populist, disdainful of transparency. Her liberal arts background (albeit at an institution that continues to exclude an entire gender) would make her a favorite, but when it came time to take Chelsea shopping for colleges, Amherst was on the list, but not Williams.  And if — as appears to be the case — she’s on the verge of squandering an overwhelming nomination advantage for the second time, aren’t we glad she’s not an Eph?

Martin O’Malley:

Education. Catholic University, University of Maryland Law.

O’Malley was one of the inspirations for the fictional mayor Tommy Carcetti on “The Wire,” which was exceedingly popular among Ephs and became the subject of a course taught by Professor Manigault-Bryant of the Africana Studies Department.  And he has musical talent.

Lincoln Chafee.

Education. Brown University, Montana State University.

Once a liberal Republican, now a Democrat, Chafee went to graduate school to become a farrier, and then shoed horses for seven years. Kind of an Eph thing to do. As governor of the state that contains Roger Williams, could he be mistaken for an Eph? Probably not.

James Webb.

Education. USC, then the U.S. Naval Academy. Georgetown Law School.

Webb served in Vietnam as a Marine, the military service favored by EphBlog for its storied tradition of Ephs in service. And he rose to prominence on the strength of his critically-acclaimed 1978 novel about the Vietnam War, Fields of Fire. He later taught literature at the Naval Academy.  A literary Marine — that’s kind of Eph-y.

Bernie Sanders.

Education. Brooklyn College, then transferred to the University of Chicago. Not very Eph choices.

Former Senator from Vermont, a very Eph-y state — and into which the Williams campus spreads. A socialist, which has earned him early grassroots enthusiasm at Williams, like this July 29 potluck, and makes him popular in Eph-y places like Portland and Somerville.  That carries some weight, but enough to offset his urban education?

Verdict: Let’s face it, none of these folks has “I’m a secret Eph” written all over them.  Does Eph enthusiasm for Sanders and his New England career outweigh Hillary’s educational background?  Let’s call it a tie.


Bruising Will Go On

Missed this New York Times letter from six years ago.

To the Editor:

“The Bruising Will Go On for the Party, Too” (news analysis, front page, April 23) says that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s substantial victory over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, thus continuing the battle, is believed by many Democrats to hurt their (our) election chances against John McCain.

But I, as a Democrat, would rather find out now rather than later who would be the weaker candidate for the general election, given the advertisements and speeches I expect from the Republicans.

I would love to see the battle go on until the Democratic National Convention, restoring what conventions used to be, with the general public enthralled with the discussion.

Then, and only then, the superdelegates should do what they were set up to do — decide who the better candidate is to represent the Democratic Party in the general election.

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, Mass., April 23, 2008

In 2008, I was quite pleased that Obama won the primary and election. But I suspect that my reasoning was somewhat different from Pasachoff’s . . .


Lock ’04 on Election Forecasting

Kari Lock ’04 has an academic paper (pdf) on election forecasting.

A wide range of potentially useful data are available for election forecasting: the results of previous elections, a multitude of preelection polls, and predictors such as measures of national and statewide economic performance. How accurate are different forecasts? We estimate predictive uncertainty via analysis of data collected from past elections (actual outcomes, preelection polls, and model estimates). With these estimated uncertainties, we use Bayesian inference to integrate the various sources of data to form posterior distributions for the state and national two-party Democratic vote shares for the 2008 election. Our key idea is to separately forecast the national popular vote shares and the relative positions of the states. More generally, such an approach could be applied to study changes in public opinion and other phenomena with wide national swings and fairly stable spatial distributions relative to the national average.

Read the whole thing, at least if you are a statistics geek like me.


No More Christmas

Breaking news:

In a sudden and unexpected blow to the Americans working to protect the holiday, liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt ruled the private celebration of Christmas unconstitutional Monday.

“In accordance with my activist agenda to secularize the nation, this court finds Christmas to be unlawful,” Judge Reinhardt said. “The celebration of the birth of the philosopher Jesus—be it in the form of gift-giving, the singing of carols, fanciful decorations, or general good cheer and warm feelings amongst families—is in violation of the First Amendment principles upon which this great nation was founded.”

In addition to forbidding the celebration of Christmas in any form, Judge Reinhardt has made it illegal to say “Merry Christmas.” Instead, he has ruled that Americans must say “Happy Holidays” or “Felices Fiestas” if they wish to extend good tidings.

Within an hour of the judge’s verdict, National Guard troops were mobilized to enforce the controversial ruling.

Read the whole thing. Judge Stephen Reinhardt is the father of Williams professor Mark Reinhardt and has participated in several Williams events over the years.


Steeped In Anger

Hal Crowther ’66 writing last year:

There’s no national conscience and damn little national memory, but there’s a furious national movement they call the “Tea Party,” which rapidly backtracking historians describe as the first right-wing street-protest movement in the modern history of the United States. Just when you thought the Republican Party had camped as far to the right as the laws of physics allow, here was a voice, a howling from way beyond its right perimeter—and were those gunshots? The Tea Party is depressing, embarrassing, most of all mystifying. It’s also considerably smaller than the media might lead you to believe. Of the roughly one-fifth of Americans who claim to support Tea Party principles, only one-fifth, or 4 percent of the general public, have ever sent money or attended a party event. And only half of them, it seems, think party poster girl Sarah Palin is fit to be president.

The Party is small but unaccountably rabid, in the fullest sense of the illness known as rabies and the violent, irrational behavior of its victims. Though 98 percent of Tea Party supporters are white, though 92 percent identify President Obama as a socialist (a harder core also identifies him as a closet Muslim or as the Antichrist, and a Tea Party website calls him “the reincarnation of Pol Pot” (?)) and a third subscribe to the wishful-thinking myth that he was not born in the United States—I won’t take the wide, easy road and dismiss the whole movement as a racist renaissance provoked by a non-white president.

Thanks! I think . . .

Has Crowther ever had a conversation with a smart Tea Partier like me? I doubt it.


Peyser ’76: Public-Privatize Amtrak

Writing in this week’s Wall Street Journal with former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Peter Peyser ’76 of Blank Rome,* calls Amtrak “a joke” and suggests that its Northeast Corridor service (likely the only viable high-speed rail service in the U.S.) be spun off into a public-private partnership:

A September 2010 study by Amtrak showed that a railroad operating at 220 mph in the Northeast Corridor would generate a $900 million annual operating profit. Undoubtedly, improving the service will be costly. It will require constructing a dedicated track that won’t be used by freight or commuter lines. Can such sums be raised to create a world-class railroad in the United States? We think so.

The first step is for the federal government, which ultimately controls Amtrak, to break off the Northeast Corridor into a separate company. It could then package the railroad for transfer out of federal control. The new railroad should be a public-private partnership. Fifty-one percent of this new company would be owned by a multistate compact among the nine states along the corridor and the District of Columbia. The remaining 49% would be owned by a private consortium that would likely include an investment bank/private-equity group, a railroad operating company, railroad unions and equipment vendors.

Read the rest, and note that Peyser and Rendell, while claiming to support President Obama’s call for investment in high-speed rail nationwide, don’t mention the likelihood that with the Northeast Corridor spun off, the remainder of Amtrak is likely to be quickly doomed under the federal government’s dire budgetary pressures.

(Edited to add photo of Peyser, left, with Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta in 2001).


Future Albany DA: Kindlon ’98?

Lee Kindlon with his father Terence, from the Albany Times-Union

At the age of 34, Lee Kindlon ’98 has assembled an impressive resume, much of it covered in previous EphBlog posts: a Mt. Greylock high school graduate, an offensive lineman at Williams who played with a broken leg to help win the epic 1997 Amherst thriller, a Marine who served with an infantry battalion in Iraq, a criminal defense attorney with high-profile murder cases under his belt. Now comes word that Kindlon, a criminal prosecutor for much of his time in the Marines, is setting his sights on again representing the people, this time as District Attorney of Albany County:

Kindlon, 34, of Delmar, a former military prosecutor in the Marines, formed a campaign committee — Friends of Lee Kindlon — for the possible run, state Board of Elections records show.

“We’re looking into me running for DA in 2012, yes,” Kindlon said in an interview Thursday. He said he filed paperwork for the exploratory campaign a few weeks ago…

Read more


Your New Chinese Overlords

This election video generated an interesting discussion at WSO.

I think we actually are disagreeing on the distinction between racism and xenophobia. The ad is based in xenophobia (and nationalism), and it is VERY xenophobic, and of course a component of that is racism, but on the whole, that is not a defining feature of the ad (ie they have kept the racism component small). I think you are claiming that the ad is outrageously racist whereas I would call it outrageously xenophobic. I think I would be comfortable arguing that Avatar is more racist than this clip. They are not saying “reduce the debt because the Chinese aren’t Caucasian and we don’t want to be ruled by an inferior race”; they are saying “reduce the debt because the Chinese are Chinese and we don’t want to be ruled by outsiders and an inferior country”.

You write that as if it is obvious that xenophobia is a bad thing . . .


We’re delighted to be here

Still frames from videos are often unflattering. Eph connection? Uh, whatever.


Chris Murphy ’96 launches run for US Senate


Tired of Waiting

EphBlog author Mike Needham ’04 on the election.

On Tuesday, we saw the first victory in a long and protracted war for the soul of the Republican Party. For the past decade, the federal government has spent beyond its means, centralized control and minimized individual liberties. And during the last two years, those trends have only increased, creating a real sense of crisis throughout the nation. For many Americans, managed decline is not an option.

While the policies of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid government have crystallized this sense of urgency in the minds of the American public, a Republican Party unmoored from its principles has been an active participant in our government’s move away from its constitutional purpose.

We saw then-Republican Senator Arlen Specter vote for a stimulus that added to our nation’s debt, but did little to stimulate the economy. Republican Senator Bob Bennett voted for TARP, which built upon the moral hazards of previous bailouts that set the groundwork for the financial crisis. Charlie Crist, another Republican-turned-Independent, embraced a job-killing cap-and-tax agenda.

Each of these establishment politicians were of the party of Reagan, but forgot his observation that “entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all of the economic growth in the United States.” Each of them was challenged by a candidate who stood on principle and ultimately defeated the business-as-usual arm of the Republican Party.

Read the whole thing. One of the reason that we Tea Partiers are so happy with the election is that it represents the first victory in our long war to take over the Republican Party. Wish us luck!


Ephs Win 3 of 4

A good election night for Williams. Three Eph candidates won!
Chris Murphy ’96 for reelection to Congress from Connecticut.
Walker Stapleton ’96 for Colorado State Treasurer.
Martha Coakley ’75 for reelection as Massachusetts Attorney General.

Alas, Doug Hoffer ’85 lost in his race for Vermont State Auditor.

Were Ephs involved in any other elections last night? Any opinions about what the elections mean from our readers?


Military Power and US Democracy

Originally published in El Pais, 7/18/10

American culture is saturated with military imagery, language, memory and fantasy. The American version of militarism did not originate in the two World Wars or the Cold War, but at the origins of the Republic. Many of the men who led the armed revolt against Great Britain had served her in the war against France that preceded the revolution. The revolt was an incident, if a very large one, in the European conquest of the continent—which required permanent warfare. The new republic made it clear that its army would rule the continent, and its navy was from the beginning charged with a global mission. North American history joins economic and social development with the systematic growth of the most modern military capacities—from our first ship, the USS Constitution (still, symbolically, in active service) to the newest drones. The armed forces were continuously recruited from a changing society, and altered their ethnic, racial and social composition as the nation grew. What also increased was war’s centrality in national myth and political reality. Read more


Postscript to “The Economic Crisis”

This article was written in July and this postscript early in September. The apparent decline in the President’s political strength and that of the Democrats continues. I say “apparent” because the impression rests on fluctuating opinion polling data, and the shallow reporting of journalists without independence of judgement or an historical culture. Half the electorate still thinks well of the President, but the Congress and the political parties (as we approach November elections) have the approval of fewer than half the citizenry. Since electoral participation in the absence of a Presidential contest is usually low (forty percent would be high), presumably only the most motivated will cast their ballots for the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and some critical governorships.

It is the consensus view that the most motivated voters are now those disappointed with, or angrily opposed to, the President. Voter alienation extends to the conventional, sometimes described as “moderate,” Republicans as well. A number of prominent candidates for the Senate or Governorships, some of the Congressional candidates as well, seek radical reductions in the scope of government, even the abolition of Medicare or privatization of Social Security, an end to the Federal role in education, and an intensification of our endemic cultural wars. They propose to eliminate or reduce the power of the courts and government to protect the rights of women and homosexuals, to allow prayer and religious instruction in public schools, to allow local communities to ban the teaching of a critical, progressive and secular view of American history. The Republican Senatorial candidate in Missouri has expressed  opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which inter alia ended slavery. The group which now controls a large part of the Republican Party is explicitly xenophobic and seeks to deport the illegal immigrants (perhaps eleven million by now.) It rounds off its program by calling for severe restrictions on medical and scientific research.

The Republican right joins the other Republicans in proposing as a remedy for unemployment lower taxes and of course, lower government spending (the military budget usually excepted). That at least a third of the nation subscribes, sometimes viscerally and in any event without a sense of complexity or the burdens of doubt, to the entire complex of views I have described is certain. That another third, or close to it, has opposite views, adheres to what remains of the New Deal tradition of social reform and reliance on government, is equally certain. Why has this third of the nation and its beliefs  sunk below the political horizon, and why does it exercise so little influence on the President, the more so as it constitutes his core electorate and that of many of his closest allies in the House and Senate? Read more


The Economic Crisis

US Progressivism And The Obama Presidency

One project of contemporary historians serves our understanding of both past and present rather well—an examination of the content and uses of memory in modern societies. Were a distinguished scholar like Pierre Nora to attempt an American version of his very substantial work on France, Les Lieux de Memoire, he would have to deal with several major difficulties. As time moves on, historical memories in the United States are increasingly fragmented. They are strongest where local, or the property of specific groups seeking to legitimize claims to attention, reparation, reward.  They are weakest, or in any event most contested, when they portray our common past. One of the more disconcerting experiences  of many university teachers in the social sciences  is to learn that large numbers of students do not have very clear notions of what grand-parents or great-grandparents or antecedent generations experienced.. Their ignorance or lack of clarity is especially pronounced when they are beneficiaries of upward mobility over several generations—as if their families’ struggles against deprivation, poverty or limited income and wealth were embarrasments  or encumbrances, to be kept at a distance..

Moreover, some segments of the secondary school sector excepted, there is a considerable discrepancy between what our academic historians publish and what finds its way into school texts. To some degree, this is the result of ideological policing by vigilantes. One major consequence of this entire complex of causes is acute discontinuity in political memory.. In particular, the groups once bearers of an inter-generational progressive consciousness float, increasingly, in historical space: they lack the intellectual means to locate themselves in American society as it has changed over recent generations. They are prey, therefore, to the serial deformations and untruths propagated systematically by the antagonists of the progressive tradition—and lack the inner  resources to draw upon the alternative world views which are still available in our nation, but which often are stored or confined in places difficult of access.     .

I designate as progressivism the US equivalent of European social democracy. I do so for historical reasons. The term emerged at the beginning of the last century to express the self identification of leaders, movements, thinkers who sought to substitute for the brutality of American industrial capitalism a considerable amount of regulation, and the provision of public goods. Progressivism drew upon Social Catholicism and Social Protestantism, upon large borrowings from European socialist ideas, brought to the US by immigrants, upon American traditions of social reform going back to the Abolitionist movement, upon even older residues of American politics having to do with local self-governance and extreme distrust of economic and political elites. The term progressive reminds us of the self-identification of the United States as a vanguard nation, engaged in the unfinished task of enlarging the autonomy of its citizens. Progressivism joined in a coalition, not without its internal contradictions, Christians and secularists, farmers and workers, older Americans and newer immigrants, often led by what the historian Richard Hofstadter termed “men of the Word,” the educated, distrustful of the culture and power of money.

The political history of the twentieth century, and indeed of the first decade of the present one, is the story of the life, and at times near death, of these ideas and their transformation under Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Projects as diverse as the first Roosevelt’s  New Nationalism, Wilson’s New Freedom, the second Roosevelt’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s  Great Society drew upon progressivism for moral continuity. Carter’s and Clinton’s Democratic Presidencies are understandable as  compromises with the considerable resistance the tradition of progressive reform engendered—especially when its beneficiaries had acquired, thanks to the reforms, the sense of having become shareholders in the established order. Read more


Manhattan, the mosque, the star and the cross

Originally published in El Pais (20 August 2010)

Moments of calm in my native city, New York, are rare. The police had to separate opposing groups of demonstrators at the site of the planned construction of an Islamic community center, to be named the Cordoba center. It is two long blocks away from the World Trade Center, but for enraged defenders of the sacredness of the memory of the attack of 11 September 2001, two miles would be too near. The matter is hardly of primary importance to most citizens, beset as they are with unemployment and the threat of it—but an American majority declares that it wishes the center elsewhere. That may well mean, nowhere. Now the CIA has discovered a threat from Al Queda in the Yemen, requiring yet another enlargement of the war against Islam in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia. The bitter controversy on the Islamic Center in New York is reinforced by our national capacity to find enemies everywhere. (When will an itinerant American call attention to the dangers implicit in the cuisine at El Caballo Rojo in Cordoba?.)

The degredation of our national intellectual standards continues. The latest issue of the august journal, Foreign Affairs, gives space to two writers hostile to Islam whose common trait is their ignorance of it. There is method to their madness: we are experiencing a determined campaign by a segment of our imperial elite for war on Iran. Europeans may be bewildered. Have they not been told (by official and unofficial voices for the US) that we are a model of multi-culturalism, of the integration of diverse streams of immigration into a national consensus?

Actually, it is only since 1964 that Afro-Americans could exercise in the south rights to vote nominally theirs for a century. Until a strenuous legal campaign by American Jewry after 1945 (aided by guilt over our informal Nuernberg laws) Jews were often denied the rights to buy property in many places,employment, and university places. US citizens of Japanese ancestry were put into concentration camps in 1942 and the courts refused them legal redress. Women obtained the vote in 1919, but the southern states (clearly anxious lest the loss of male supremacy undermine white supremacy) did their best to block the process. A series of Chinese Exclusion Acts barred citizenship for Chinese immigrants from 1882 until 1943.

The earliest American film classic, Birth Of A Nation (1915) celebrated the resistance to the granting of civil rights to former slaves by the south—by the hooded figures of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan with time nationalized itself, and in 1925 had three million members spread across the country—with the capacity to elect Congressmen, Senators, Governors. It was virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic as well as against rights for Afro-Americans. When the reformist Governor of New York, Al Smith, son of Irish immigrants, ran for President in 1928 he was humiliatingly defeated. John Kennedy remains our only Roman Catholic President—and presented himself not as a Catholic but as a Harvard patrician and war hero.

The nineteenth and early twentieth century immigration of millions of Irish, Italian, Slavic Catholics, of Orthodox Armenians and Greeks, met bitter prejudice and sometimes violence. It took considerable time before the immigrants and their descendants united in defense of their rights to economic opportunity and civic equality—in the trade union movement and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Those persecuted often responded not with solidarity with other disfavoured groups but with anger at those even more scorned than themselves. Troops from the victorious northern army at Gettysburg had to come to New York in 1863 to stop rioting by the impoverished Irish immigrants against blacks. Those who have seen the TV series, the Sopranos, are aware that US citizens of Italian descent are not invariably depicted as spiritual descendants of Dante. For whatever reason, xenophobic contemporary campaigns against immigrants are sometimes led by Americans of Italian descent.

The most morally brutal figures in US politics, former Governor Palin and former Speaker of the House Gingrich, are amongst those loudly denouncing the project for the Islamic center in Manhattan. Palin may actually believe what she says, Gingrich is totally cynical. To these can be added any number of supporters of Israel, for whom any conflict with Islam is useful. Then there is the old Iraq war party grouped around Cheney. The Fundamentalist Protestants for whom any crusade against others is theologically justified are part of this miserable procession. An intelligent segment of our imperial elite protests that one cannot win support from Islamic populations in their homelands when treating the Islamic immigrants to the US with contempt. The argument would be effective, if our Darwinian culture did not privilege the deepest strains of hatred in our national psyche.


Don’t Mind Taxes

Joe Thorndike ’88 wrote a Washington Post op-ed.

Americans don’t mind taxes — they hate tax loopholes

Americans hate taxes, right?

We vote for candidates who promise to cut them and punish candidates who pledge to raise them. We tell pollsters we don’t want to pay them. And we teach our children that the nation was founded to resist them. From the Boston Tea Party to Shays’s Rebellion to California’s Proposition 13, we are a nation of tax revolters. Hand us a pitchfork, and we’ll march on Washington — just witness the “9/12 Taxpayer March” on Sunday on the Mall.

This is the history underlying today’s battle over the Bush tax cuts, the economy and President Obama’s complicated call for new business tax breaks even as the nation faces crippling budget deficits. Yet it’s a history that doesn’t quite meet the test of, well, history. Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed that “taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” and for more than 200 years, Americans have been remarkably willing to pony up. It’s not that we hate the financial inconvenience of paying taxes — we hate the injustice of an unfair tax code. We’ve long agreed to pay the price for civilization. We just can’t tolerate anyone looking for civilization on the cheap.

Consider the Boston Tea Party, the creation myth for today’s anti-tax activists. It was a protest not against taxes but against tax loopholes. The colonists who dumped tea into Boston Harbor were objecting to a special tax exemption that Parliament had granted to the East India Company, a well-connected enterprise that in the early 1770s happened to be in dire need of a government bailout.

Hmmm. I agree with the general thrust here (no one likes loopholes) but question the history lesson. Speaking of which, here is a picture I took at the “Boston Tea Party” of April 15, 2009. Read more


Casino in Gettysburg?

The thing I love most about Williams Alums is their willingness to discuss almost anything connected to our general nerdiness. Now that I’ve left the purple bubble, it’s harder to find someone to casually chat up the recession with, discuss the new Civil War book I’m reading (A Republic of Suffering by Drew Faust), or argue about a casino that’s proposed to be built in Gettysburg, PA.

If it wasn’t obvious at this point, I was a political-science major at Williams and I spent my senior fall/winter study writing an independent thesis on Lincoln. Needless to say, I’m a huge American History nerd. I just read about this casino tonight, and immediately shot out a few links to friends and family.

While I think all Americans agree that new sources of jobs are desperately needed, I’m not sure a quick buck is worth defiling the grounds around Gettysburg. The ghost tours already annoy me, but one of my favorite things about this country is our desire and drive to preserve our national history. From the Lincoln-Herndon law offices in Springfield, to Antietam, to Mount Vernon– we are free to enjoy our national treasurers. (And literally free, too, I don’t recall paying to enter Lincoln’s home in Springfield.)

If you agree (or disagree!) feel free to make your thoughts known here and tell other Williams Alums (or those of similar nerdiness standing) about the issue.

(I attempted to google “pro-casino gettysburg” but couldn’t find a centralized website for that perspective)

Ok, extremely geeky first post… accomplished.


McAllister on the Institute of Politics

Reposted from this thread:

David is right and wrong: there are actually several excellent theses (and eventually a great book) to be written about the institute of politics. I am biased, but the summer institute in american foreign policy was great and in my conception it was indeed an effort to revive the spirit of Garfield’s work. Fred [Rudolph]’s comments are right on the money, but a few other thoughts.

The one current difficulty in researching the institute is that the archives are largely uncatalogued (they were not catalogued a decade ago when I had access and I don’t think they have been accessible since then) and they are currently unavailable due to the library construction. Some but not all of that material can be found at the Library of Congress.

To understand how important the IOP was at the time you can do a Proquest newspaper search on Williams College for the 1920′s. It will immediately become apparent that with the exception of sports Williams received very little coverage in national papers in the 1920′s. But the events at the institute were often front page news in the NY Times and other papers who covered the entire summer festivities.

One real intellectual problem with the institute, at least according to Garfield and his second in command, Walter McLaren of Economics, was that it could not really decide whether it wanted to be an “elite” institution where policymakers and opinion leaders could settle world problems or whether it would be something that reached a mass audience. That philosophical question was never really resolved and eventually the institute attracted less attention over time as it became more “academic” in character. The other problem was that over time the perception grew that there were too many old ladies sewing and unable to truly participate in the discussions. Neither Garfield nor McLaren really ever liked the idea of the institute as a vacation spot and they were not thrilled that some treated it that way.

Another important factor–and even with the archives it is still a little unclear–is trying to figure out the demise of the institute. Bernard Baruch was indeed the main benefactor but neither he nor Garfield wanted him to be the sole supporter for the institute. By the late 1920′s Baruch basically said that his financial commitment (basically between 25-50 a year, although I think closer to the lower figure) needed to be phased out. Garfield then tried to raise an endowment, but obviously the Great Depression made this impossible. He probably could have kept going year to year, but the endowment became a matter of principle to him.

Part of the problem was that Garfield made it very clear that he would not ask regular williams donors to put up money for the IOP since it would be a conflict of interest. Although he undoubtedly would have liked someone from Williams to step forward, no one did and my sense is he never did put the issue directly to donors.

This reluctance on the part of Williams donors/trustees is not hard to figure out. Garfield spent about 2 months out of every year traveling to Europe in order to get the best speakers he could. He then spent another month away from college business while the institute was in session. Fred Rudolph would probably know better than me, but my real sense is that after the First World War the IOP was far more important to Garfield than Williams. His hope was to make Williamstown the Geneva of the United States and, while he failed for reasons mostly beyond his control, it was not for lack of effort. Williams was the very first institute of politics in the country and every successor acknowledged Garfield’s pioneering efforts.

Final point: at the very beginning of his thinking about the institute, Garfield had two choices. The road he did not take, which some wanted him to do, was to center the institute around undergrads at Williams. One of the other reasons for the institute’s downfall was that there was indeed very little connection between the IOP and Williams students/faculty.

Oh well, much too long a post! But the IOP is indeed a fascinating element of both the history of Williams and the early history of American involvement in world affairs.


10 Proposals to Reform Mexico

Andrés Manuel López Obrador outlines his ten point plan to initiate the reformation of Mexico[*]:

Thanks to Ken Thomas ’93 for sharing these. Comments welcome.
[* : YouTube should auto-detect your default language and display subtitles; if not, you can click on the video and go to the main YouTube page, and use the ‘cc’ icon-tool at bottom-right to set language.
English and Spanish are currently available; if you need any other languages, especially for distribution, please let me know and I’ll produce it for you. –93kwt]


Judge sides with Commonwealth of Massachusetts against Federal Government

A limited victory for gay and lesbian couples, in a case brought by Attorney General Martha Coakley ’75. An interesting application of the 10th Amendment to limit federal interference in marriage. Link to full decision in Massachusetts’ lawsuit against US (PDF). Link to decision in GLAD suit against Office of Personnel Management (PDF)


Murphy for Senate?

Chris Murphy ’96, Democratic congressman from Connecticut, is one of the Ephs most likely to be President someday. The natural next step in his political career is as Senator or Governor. All his many fans at EphBlog were disappointed when it appeared he had no chance (and, therefore, no reason to run) for the open Senate seat because Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had a lock on the Democratic nomination. But, good news! Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam.

If Nate Silver says that Blumenthal must go, then Chris has a duty to listen. Run, Chris, run!

By the way, interested in becoming a political reporter someday? Best advice is to practice, practice, practice. Why not join EphBlog and become the world expert on Chris Murphy and other Eph politicians? We have a ready (and argumentative!) audience. Join us!


Let’s talk about Elena Kagan

I’ve been reading a few articles on Kagan by people whose writing on legal matters I tend to respect. I’m just going to post the links here, okay?

Jeff Toobin: Elena Kagan’s Nomination and Elena Kagan and Gays in the Military

Jeff Rosen: The Next Justice: Why Kagan is the ideal Obama jurist

Lawrence Lessig: A Case for Kagan

Charles Fried: Everyone’s Dean: Why Elena Kagan has earned the respect of conservatives, like me

Walter Dellinger: Elena Kagan Is a Progressive on Executive Power

Nina Totenberg: Seen As Rising Star, Kagan Has Limited Paper Trail

Glenn Greenwald: Obama’s natural choice of Kagan

Marvin Ammori: Does Elena Kagan Disagree With Justice Stevens On Citizens United?

Mark Tushnet: Elena Kagan’s Scholarship

The rebuttable view I’m coming to is that her views on major political issues of our day are largely unknown, and that her publication record is quite thin. But she gets accolades for her brilliant mind and leadership skills from those who’ve worked with her. Also, perhaps needless to say, the media narrative about right vs. left is grossly over-simplified. A judge’s role is much more complex than simply being a right-winger or a left-winger. I’m not troubled by the fact that she’s not clearly identifiable on the political spectrum. However, the lack of a public record might still make her a risky pick.

Please share your thoughts, comments, links, etc. below.


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