Monday, May 26, 2014

The Rich Are Reassured

Just hours before the release of some not so shocking revelations that the government had essentially started a whole separate anti-Occupy branch, spying on lefties like there was no tomorrow for plutocrats, President Obama was again assuring the plutocrats that there's no such thing as an establishment left wing anyway.

Single payer health care? That's insane! Higher taxes on the rich to remedy record wealth disparity? Him, become enthralled by that Thomas Picketty tome? Fuggedaboutit.

Blowing wind at the home of wind energy tycoon Michael Polsky last Thursday night, Obama did bestow one big moment of truth when he told his big-buck donors: (all bolds are mine)
But whenever I come to Chicago and I see great friends, it reminds me of why I got into politics -- because a lot of people here played a role in me becoming a state senator, becoming a U.S. senator, and ultimately becoming President.
I know that the Manilows are here, for example.  They hosted something for me when nobody knew me.  And they’re just one of many people here who have tracked my career.  And the values I carried with me to the White House are the values that so many of you taught me.
At home in Chicago, Obama could finally relax enough to drop the act. Rich people and their money are the reason he got into politics. Rich people and their values --not regular people and their crises -- are what keep him going. There, he said it.

The Manilows, "just one of many people," are among the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) clique that bankrolled Obama's rapid rise. Ten years ago, when he was still insisting he wouldn't run for president in 2008, the FIRE sector saw a golden opportunity in their candidate. Here was a black Democratic fig leaf making friends with such Senate fiscal conservatives as Tom Coburn and Sam Brownback! How the dollar signs must have flashed in their brains. From an ancient article in Chicago City Life:
By one line of thinking, an African American on the ticket in 2008 might excite the minority and liberal bases of the party enough to tip the vote. “What you get with Barack Obama is an extra few [percentage] points [of the vote] generated by additional minority voters and white suburbanites,” says Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who is often quoted on national politics. “Supporting an articulate, polished African American candidate like Obama almost becomes a badge of a suburbanite’s honor: ‘Look at me-I’m racially progressive.’”
In this view, a black candidate might become the Democrats’ key to making decisive gains in traditionally Republican white suburbs. As Lewis Manilow, the former Chicago developer and major Democratic donor and fundraiser, observes, Obama’s “two constituencies” in 2004 were “the black community and I guess what you would call suburban women.”
Read the whole trial balloon of an article and laugh. Or weep, as the case may be. The part where a humble-bragging Obama claims to be an instrument of God's will should have been a red flag. Especially since it was accompanied by a highly stylized portfolio of photos:


Straight from Centrist Casting: Young Mr. Obama


Fast forward a decade, and here was President Obama back on his home turf, schmoozing with the same casting couch financiers who gave him his first big break. He reassured them in no uncertain terms that all this recent populist talk about wealth inequality is just part of the narrative. He still has their backs:
 And when I first came into office, obviously we were in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, losing 800,000 jobs a month.  Over the last four years, we've created 9.5 million jobs.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate has come down and housing has recovered.  The auto industry has come back. The deficits have been cut in half.  We have dug our way out of the rubble of that crisis.
You're all doing just fine, Job Creators. Applause, applause for arising from the rubble of your own creation and grabbing a greater than 90% share of what the financial sector destroyed during the Great Meltdown of Aught-Eight. Austerity worked for rich people like you. The deficits, which only the rich pretend to care about, were cut in half. Wages are stagnating while your own profits continue to soar. We bailed out Wall Street, we bailed out General Motors. That both have behaved badly ever since is moot. Pay no attention to that Thomas Picketty fellow and his suggested global wealth tax. Obama isn't.

Warning: now here comes the standard Obama pivot, followed by the standard Obama deflection. First, the pivot in which the president dutifully and truthily recites all that is wrong with our sick society (in neoliberal-speak, social ills are defined as "challenges" that they're perpetually trying to overcome.)
 The challenge we have, though, is that for too many families around the country, that recovery has not translated into higher incomes or higher wages.  We’re still having trouble making sure that they can finance a child’s college education.  We're still trying to figure out, how am I going to retire.  There are still too many people out of work, and there are too many folks who are working full-time but at the end of the month have a tough time paying the bills.  We still have challenges making sure that every child in America is getting a first-class education.  And we still have challenges with an immigration system that is broken and depriving us of enormous talent -- one of our greatest strengths as a country.  Climate change remains a generational challenge that we've got to tackle boldly.  And, unfortunately, we've got a Congress that right now just can't seem to get anything done.
In case you missed it, right there was the part where Obama humanizes the plutocrats by inviting them to pretend to feel the pain of the masses for a minute. And even though their greed is at the root of all evil inflicted on the masses, why don't we.... blame it on the very same Congress they bankroll instead! Also, let's blame it on the mass media conglomerates, which they also bankroll to spread the gridlock myth. The deflection:
Now, you'll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there’s gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible.  And there’s a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses.  But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific.  We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don't think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you're not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.
All very true, despite the fact that Obama got where he is today by schmoozing with the self-same Republican ideologues and compromising with the "folks" the minute he was elected on a wave of populism with majorities in both Houses. It was almost as if he were apologizing to the right wingers for beating them. It was almost as if he felt guilty for beating them. It was almost as if he couldn't wait to start beating up on the desperate people who voted for him.

And then there's the part he forgot to mention: that the "gridlock" has a way of miraculously disappearing when it comes to rewarding the rich and powerful, funding the eternal war machine, and ensuring that his ability to destroy Occupy camps and drone at will is unimpeded. Remember when the bipartisan-forged sequester magically got lifted for air traffic controllers, so that the rich in their Lear jets would not be inconvenienced at the same rate as impoverished cancer patients awaiting chemo and poor urban children awaiting Head Start?

And on the same day that Obama was moaning about phony gridlock and nasty Republicans, his minions were busy strong-arming Congress to water down the NSA reform legislation. When it comes to spying on ordinary citizens, his administration is as rigid and paranoid as they come.

He continued to reassure the fabulously wealthy donors that pretend-left Democrats are consistently on their side: 
 So the problem is not Dick Durbin.  The problem is not Michael Bennet.  The problem is not that the Democrats are overly ideological -- because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side.  There are no radical proposals coming out from the left.  When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy.  When we talk about immigration reform there’s no wild-eyed romanticism.  We say we're going to be tough on the borders, but let’s also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together, and that we're attracting talent like Michael who constantly replenish the American Dream.
Uh-oh. Whenever you hear the neoliberal word "incentivize," run for the hills. See Paul Krugman's recent blog-post decrying this linguistic atrocity, along with its cousin, "impact" when used as a verb. Funny that Krugman is under the impression that such mangluage is restricted to Ivy League students.

But anyhow --  the "innovative" (another fave neoliberal word) way Obama is working to keep immigrant families together is to deport whole branches them in the highest numbers in history. Heaven forbid that Democrats can't be as "tough on the borders" as the Republican haters. Because, Yes. He. Can. Because, drones, troops, guns, and enrichment of the Military Industrial Complex. And anyhow -- market-based, incentivized immigration reform entails importing cheaper tech labor. It's attracting low-wage talent from other third world countries.  It hasn't got much to do with the attractive talents of Mexicans already laboring away in our pastures of plenty for slave wages and no benefits. And being slammed into for-profit private detention centers when the first phase of their usefulness comes to an end. 

And climate change? Democrats will go so far as admitting it exists and tepidly recommend some useless cap and trade legislation, but other than that, frack and drill till the earth literally quakes, the air is heated up by methane, and the water is poisoned as the seas inexorably rise. Because no Democrat is suggesting conserving fuel by car-pooling or cutting down on driving, or living in smaller, energy-efficient homes. That would be downright, unprofitably socialist. 

The president was actually getting some accolades (here, here) for finally blasting the false equivalence theatrics of the mainstream media, in which "both sides" are blamed for whatever ails us. The pundits, he fumed at the soiree, are spewing the ridiculous lie that his faction is the extreme opposite of the Tea Party! 

But as he himself proudly admitted,  there are certainly no "radical" proposals from the nonexistent Democratic Left, like scrapping the cap on FICA Social Security taxes, starting a New Deal-like government jobs program to combat the scourge of unemployment, insisting on a living wage (not to be confused with the token $10.10 fakery), defending labor unions to the death, imposing a transaction tax on Wall Street, forgiving student loans, forgiving mortgage debt, and just about any social program that would put people over profits. Because in free market, for-profit ObamaWorld, that would be just way too extremist.

No way are the ruling elites of 21st century USA even remotely tempted to emulate social programs as they currently exist in much of Europe.  Paul Krugman points out in his latest column that constant bashing by the American right wing of the welfare state leads to the mistaken impression that Europe is on the verge of collapse. But surprise, surprise: "French adults in their prime working years (25 to 54) are substantially more likely to have jobs than their U.S. counterparts".  

My "reader comment" on Krugman's column: 
The very word "welfare" is fraught with paranoid elite visions of poor people breathing somewhere and not paying for the oxygen. And that's why the Paul Ryans of the world use it with such abandon. It sounds worse than what France actually calls its own safety net -- "Protection sociale".
In certain humane spots on the globe, "All for one and one for all" is more than a rallying cry in a Dumas novel.
And here we are in America, 50 years after LBJ's Great Society speech. Universal French-style health care, free education, paid maternal and sick leave, cash assistance to the poor? Anathema to both austerian political parties, beholden as they are to the plutocracy. The GOP plays the part of Snidely Whiplash, while the Dems are Dudley Do-Right (emphasis on the Dud and moving further Right all the time.)
So they fund-raise off a tepid $10.10 minimum wage, ignoring the humanitarian crisis of unemployment, and sentence a whole lost generation to short, brutish, indebted lives.
And while they're pandering for votes, last week came word that the surveillance state had cast a spying dragnet over Occupy activists who dared rally for social justice.
And meanwhile, McWorkers (whose CEO boss makes 1000 times their average salary) were arrested en masse for demanding $15 an hour. How fitting that the cuffs were slapped on just down the block from "Hamburger University." Because it has become painfully obvious that the power elites view all of us as so much chopped meat.
But, back to Obama's speech at the Chicago fund-raiser, held the very next night after the Chicago arrests of the McDonalds employees:
 When we talk about taxes we don't say we're going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago.  We say let’s just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they’re getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education, so that struggling middle-class families are able to finance their education, and that if a talented young person wants to go into teaching or wants to become a social worker that they’re not burdened by hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt.
Shades, again, of rich people like him being instruments of God. Did you ever notice how obscenely rich people often say they got that way by being "blessed," instead of by being greedy grasping assholes? And this whole spiel about not burdening students with debt is just too, too much. No word about arrests of workers exercising their rights of free speech. No word about the government getting rich off student loans. No word about university CEOs getting rich off poor students and adjunct faculty members. No endorsement of Elizabeth Warren's proposal to lend students money at the same near-0% rate that the Fed charges the big banks.

Obama continued blasting the false equivalence, and reassuring the plutocrats: 
Health care -- we didn’t suddenly impose some wild, crazy system.  All we said was let’s make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts -- the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.
Single payer non-profit payer health care would be just totally insane! It would be absolutely crazy for God-blessed people like them to give up profiting off other people's misery. It would be nuts if we joined the rest of the civilized world and declared that health care is a right and not a privilege. Yes, he "said" everybody would have insurance under Obamacare. What he didn't say is that 30 million Americans will remain uninsured by design, and those who do purchase plans can still go bankrupt because of high deductibles and co-pays. I mean, come on. He bitches that he out-Republicans the Republicans and can't get no respect. Sheesh.

So, he told his donors, the only solution is to vote out all the Republicans so we can keep out-Republicanning them. Radical.

Obama is perfectly happy to keep the conversation where it belongs -- the fake food fight between the two similar factions of the Big Money Party. His job is to deflect the conversation from the real war -- the class war, the war of Big Money interests and unfettered capitalism against the rest of us.

34 comments:

annenigma said...

On a similar note, read about Obama receiving the 'Ambassador For Humanity' award from his rich Hollywood friends this week. They ponied up a lot to hear him speak on behalf of the poor, I mean Israel.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/president-obama-attends-steven-spielbergs-702223

Pearl said...

Annenigma: The column you listed for us about the Humanitarian award Obama has received from Spielberg and crew has another area of concern in it. The horrors of the Holocaust being used as a propaganda weapon for the political decisions and behavior of Israel is nothing new. The Zionists used that emotional issue to excuse their expansionist agenda and created conflict among Jews during the years we lived there (l959-l963) regarding putting words and thoughts in the mouths and minds of people who died horribly and were being used for propaganda purposes. This was a means of silencing and shaming anyone who criticized the country's leadership policies. This issue caused quite a furore in Israel when we were living there and still continues. Survivors of the holocaust were very outspoken about this issue and hopefully still are.

annenigma said...

Oh boy, my favorite pastime - wondering and wild speculating! So we know that Obama's wealthy Chicago friends include Penny Pritzker, Michael Polsky, and the Manilows. But doesn't Chicago have any wealthy that aren't Jewish?

I've always been curious about what attracted Obama to Chicago in the first place. Now I wonder who helped him make connections with all these rich people who NORMALLY wouldn't give the time of day even to a white person outside their class. He also wasn't even a native Chicagoan with deep roots. Seems suspicious that they would have cozied up to him, or vice versa, when he was just a lowly Community Organizer.

Oh, and is Community Organizer a euphemism for Undercover Operative/Informant (aka snitch) for one of the alphabet agencies? Hey, just wondering! Because they do have powerful connections, electronically and otherwise. He also looks to be paying some agencies back for the favor.

Just think about it. People who are nobodies normally don't get such amazing political traction unless they marry wealth or have powerful, longstanding connections. According to his speech, Obama claims to have Jewish/Israeli DNA in him. Well they did do a series of transfusions, of cash so I guess that works the same.

It's just pretty darned fortunate for a lot of people that Obama enjoyed such a meteoric rise to the White House. It must have been that DNA - or some other combination of initials.

msnandover54 said...

name/URL option: msnandover54:

Your last paragraph is wonderful. Classist and capitalist in the same sentence! Great! There are really two great lies about Amerika that people don't admit and Obama is one of those people: 1) Amerika is racist, period and 2) the white men (europeans) did genocide on the "Indians" who lived here first

James F Traynor said...

Great piece, Karen.
And, Pearl, I remember meeting a kid who'd gone through the Holocaust. We were both around 16-17 at the time. We were alone there in the adolescent scrum for a few minutes, both more or less along for the ride. I saw something in his face and asked what was the matter. He answered, "You don't understand what you'd do to stay alive." Or something very similar. He was feeling a terrible guilt. And I tried to tell him it wasn't his fault, but, like him, I was just a kid.
To use the experience of people like that kid to justify Zionist excess has always enraged me.

Zee said...

@Karen--

Just out of curiousity, who are the "rich?"

Almost every day when I go to my middle-tier, multi-class gym I see a car in the parking lot that is very much nicer than the Honda Fit that I drive—or my motorcycle, when I'm in the mood and time allows—with a bumper sticker on it that says "Tax the rich, not workers."

If I could ever remember to tuck some writing materials in my gym bag, I might leave a note on that car asking the owner “Am I 'rich,' or am I (or, rather, 'was I,' as I'm now retired) a 'worker?' Who gets to decide? Where are the cut-off points? And if your car is nicer than mine, maybe it's you who are 'rich,' and not me?”

Now, I'm sure that many in this nation would consider me “rich,” though I perceive myself to be middle-class, or maybe at the bottom of the upper-middle-class.

Whatever.

Certainly, I could pay more taxes and still get by. But again, am I “rich?”

And perhaps more importantly to me, if I am “rich,” is it because I, like the plutocrats, am a “greedy grasping asshole...?” Or did I just “luck out” owing to the accident of my white, middle-class birth, and make the best of what was given to me?

And if I just “lucked out” or was “blessed,” as the plutocrats might put it— not that I always see this life as an unalloyed “blessing”—well, with what quantifiable “obligation” does that leave me to everyone else?

I'm just asking, because it's in my quantitative, scientific nature to try to understand things...well...quantitatively.

Karen Garcia said...

Lighten up, Zee. I think it was fairly obvious that I was referring to the .01%, a/k/a the plutocrats, a/k/a the political donor class for this particular article. I was referring to those who live off their wealth and the underpaid labor of others instead of their own work. The rent-seekers and the plunderers and the fraudsters who proclaim themselves "blessed" are indeed greedy grasping assholes... in my opinion.

They are the opposite of the Beatitudes... you know, the meek who shall inherit the earth, who don't automatically assume that everything is always about them, and who aren't paranoid that someone, somewhere, might be taking a breath at their expense.

Jay - Ottawa said...

i’ve met some rich
i’ve met some poor
the comfortable strung
out in the middle
i’ve met them too

the rich swirl
in the ineffable
cloud of nonwant
––no such word––
so maybe that’s the difference
between rich and poor

the poor
on the other hand have
no challenging uncertainties
about definitions
but they do have
lots and lots of wants

the poor just plain
know somehow
––must be a blessed
gift or a lucky intuition––
that in all certainty
no doubt about it
they are poor

the rich lack
all the key wants
poor dears
that much is clear
but please understand
it’s all thanks to their own
!!! bootstraps !!!
that they missed out

so forget tom piketty
and the words
blessed & lucky
the rich have every reason
when poked on the matter
to take umbrage
to grow uncomfortably touchy

annenigma said...

This piece from the Popular Resistance website, titled 'Oligarchy: As American as Poisoned Apple Pie' meshes very well with what Karen is saying in this post.

It reviews the history of our oligarchs, going back to their rigging of our system at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and up to the current Trans Pacific Partnership. I think you'll find it interesting.

http://www.popularresistance.org/oligarchy-as-american-as-poisoned-apple-pie/

Pearl said...

The following article in Truthout is well worth reading and covers the role of intellectuals in our society and their failure to own the truth. Also a discussion of Israel's problems and the role of intellectuals in their propaganda apparatus.

The comments after are particularly interesting to read/

Reasons for Intellectual Conformity http://truth-out.org/news/item/23935-reasons-for-intellectual-conformity

annenigma said...

@Pearl

Well, at least we have a few intellectuals speaking truth to power. Chris Hedges, Cornel West, and Richard Wolf will be inaugurating a series of panel discussions throughout this year entitled 'The Anatomy of Revolution'.

"We will ask whether the conditions for revolt set by [Thomas] Paine have been met with the rise of the corporate state."

"It became Paine’s job to explain to his American audience the reality of British power and what effective resistance would entail. Paine knew that the British monarchy, which wielded the global imperial power that American wields today, was blinded by its hubris and military prowess. It had lost the ability to listen and as a result had lost the ability to make rational choices. The inhabitants of New York would discover this when British warships and mercenary troops besieged the city."

'Thomas Paine, Our Contemporary' by Chris Hedges

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/05/26-2

James F Traynor said...

@annenigma
I read the link:

http://www.popularresistance.org/oligarchy-as-american-as-poisoned-apple-pie/

and, though I agree with it's general tenor, I have to take issue with it historically. First, Washington wasn't the richest guy on the block; Franklin and John Hancock were up there along with a guy named Derby and no doubt others. And there were no oligarchs as we know them.

The problem at the time was the national debt, only it wasn't the national debt in a unified sense, it was the cumulative debt of the 13 colonies. It was a mess and the Articles of Confederation were just not up to solving the problem.

They did the right thing in forming a strong central government, but a lot of them feathered their nests in the doing and it was this that led to the Shays' and Whiskey Rebellions. It's been more or less downhill since then. But things weren't like that at the beginning.

Washington can be faulted on the Whiskey Whiskey Rebellion - he had two distilleries that profited as a result. But he was misled on the causes of Shays' Rebellion by Gens. Knox and Lincoln.

Jay - Ottawa said...

We’ve all heard of Einstein’s elegant formula E = mc2.

Well, the bottom line of Tom Piketty’s latest book about the big economic picture also boils down to a neat formula:

r > g

The ‘r’ is the rate of return on big money, and the ‘g’ equals a nation’s economic growth. Over recent centuries in the West the return on capital continues, with rare exception, to exceed national growth. In other words, the default arrangement by big governments just about everywhere allows the rich to keep pulling ahead while the rest of us keep falling behind.

Hey, we knew that. Grandma used to say that all the time: The rich get richer, and yadda, yadda, yadda. And five years ago we were fed the gist of another blockbuster along the same lines: “The Spirit Level.”

OK, there’s a little more to it. For an excellent introduction to Piketty’s book about your economic predicament (or not, if you’re quite comfortable, thank you, yourself), see Sam Pizzigati’s site linked on Karen’s blogroll.

A quote from his latest post, which is entirely turned over to Piketty’s “Capital” and other rich resources on the topic:

“In plainer terms: ‘Wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages.’ Inevitably, writes Piketty, the entrepreneur ‘tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor.’ Eventually, ‘the past devours the future.’”

Inherited money keeps turning into a cancer crowding out the rest of us. Such is the logic of unchecked capitalism.

P.S.: Elsewhere, Paul Krugman has a long review of Piketty's book here:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/may/08/thomas-piketty-new-gilded-age/

Isaiah Earhart said...

Karen,

I love your writing, and this is an absolutely outstanding piece.

Thank you.

Zee said...

@annenigma--

I, too, read the article by Rivera Sun on Popular Resistance, and I find myself in agreement with James regarding the historical inaccuracies presented therein—along with some serious distortions and omissions that make me take issue with Ms. Sun's tenor, too.

Were considerations of money, personal power and property rights, as well as Revolutionary ideals, central to the compromises—not a “coup,” IMHO—that enabled the formation of the republic which the Founders chose to give us? Certainly! But Sun acts as though this was something unusual in 1787, when the Articles of Confederation were discarded and work began on the new Constitution.

At that time in history, just how many other governments instituted by human beings had not involved a witches' brew of all those concerns—and other factors, including brute force and outright murder—during their formation?

IMHO, the Founders did a remarkable job of balancing the interests and aspirations of many disparate groups to create a functional type of government that was, well, revolutionary for its time, and without any long knives coming out—that I know of—during the Constitutional Convention.

From Sean Willentz' book, Democracy in America: From Jefferson to Lincoln,

“When, in 1787, with the Shays Rebellion fresh in their minds, fifty-five delegates assembled in Philadelphia to discard the Articles summarily in favor of a new federal plan, fears of a tyrannical demos were pervasive...the delegates wished to create a new, more perfect union that would promote an enlightened class of rulers who would think continentally instead of in straitened, self-interested terms. Delegates spoke openly of the need to restrain what one Virginian called 'the turbulence and follies of democracy,' and what a New York delegate had called the 'popular phrenzy.' Yet the majority of the convention, as of the country, also believed that sovereignty belonged ultimately to the citizenry. Once the delegates convened in secret session, the temper of the time seeped into the room.

The delegates antidemocratic assumptions were voiced most cogently...when Alexander Hamilton broke his silence and...proposed creating a federal political heirarchy that would come as close as possible to the British state, with an executive elected for life and an upper legislative chamber elected to serve on good behavior
[meaning, effectively, 'for life,' too].

A few of the delegates...thought Hamilton's speech the most profound and best argued of the entire convention. Yet, after listening respectively to his advice, the delegates basically ignored it. Instead, the Framers' final document reflected...Madison's idea that the creation of an extended republic with large electoral districts would favor the selection of 'men who possess the most attractive merit,' while inhibiting the the formation of an 'unjust and interested' majority out to subvert the rights of others, especially property rights. Instead of aligning the government directly with the rich and wellborn, the convention favored a strong institutional filter on the powers of the ordinary citizenry...

Power would indeed shift to the advantage of the enlightened few over the impassioned many. But still, there were concessions: it would do so without establishing a formally class-based government, abrogating popular sovreignty, or forsaking the Revolutionary contributions of ordinary Americans. 'A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government,' Madison would write in defending the Constitution in
Federalist 51. ” (My bold emphasis)

To be continued...

Zee said...

Moreover, as I read her article, Ms. Sun portrays the Anti-Federalists as some rag-tag opposition to the scheming Federalists who “were out-powered by the media apparatus and political influence of the oligarchs, who convinced commercial interests, small landowners, farmers, merchants and artisans to side with them,” the Anti-Federalists eking out some pathetic, minimalist Bill of Rights that could have been ever-so-much better had they, themselves been well-heeled, too, and been able to hold out longer against the monied interests.

But if you read the list of prominent Anti-Federalists provided by Wikipedia, it reads like a Who's Who of wealthy Revolutionaries, too,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Federalism

who, along with many others, produced some seven volumes of writings in opposition to various aspects of the new Constitution and also lobbied for a Bill of Rights.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The_Complete_Anti-Federalist

Hardly sounds to me like some pathetic, brutally oppressed minority who were thrown a badly- gnawed bone of a Bill of Rights by the vicious Federalists.

If the Anti-Federalists lost some of their battles against the Federalists, they still won an enormous one in getting a Bill of Rights passed at all. Ms. Sun laments that “of the dozens that were initially proposed” only ten were ultimately adopted. But those ten would have been the envy of the rest of the world at the time. And in any event, I doubt that any elements of FDR's Second Bill or Rights were ever in the running, anyway.

Sun decries the “coup” that she maintains/imagines stole total democracy from the citizens of the United States, without considering (1) whether such a “total democracy” would have been possible at the time—or even today—or, (2) if failure to adopt a strong Federal government at that time would have led to the dismemberment and demise of the pipsqueak United States at the hands of the Great Powers of the time.

But who knows? Maybe Sun would consider the latter event to be a desirable outcome. (The indigenous peoples might have preferred that, but then, who knows how they would fare as the former United States was carved up by Britain, France and Spain again.)

I don't know exactly where the French Revolution was headed before it was destroyed by the “popular phrenzy” and returned to a monarchy, but it seems not to have been ready for “total democracy” at the time. So maybe our compromise was less a “coup” than the best deal possible at the time.

None of the foregoing should be construed as my endorsing the Constitution as a perfect document, either then or now; indeed, the compromise on slavery was disgraceful and will forever cloud the reputations of the Founders.

And clearly, since the Founding, “We The People" have allowed Madison's fundamental principle, that “A dependence on the people [should be] the primary control on the government” to be completely usurped by money—and yes, our own disinterest in our governance—today.

But I think that Ms. Sun's sneering tone—or so I hear it —that “[u]ltimately, the adoption of the new Constitution came down to money,” is almost entirely unwarranted. Property rights were important to the rich Founders, certainly, and factored into the way they saw the new Constitution written. But so were legitimate concerns that if a strong, central government was not soon created, the United States would quickly become the Dismembered States, free for the taking by the Great Powers.

Compromises were needed, and they were made without the shedding of any further blood.

In the end, a working republican democracy—along with a remarkable, comprehensive, written Bill of Rights—was created that, for a time at least, retained control of the government by the people.

I think that was an incredible accomplishment for the times, especially, given the weak condition of the United States at that time, and worthy of more respect and honesty than Ms. Sun gives it.

annenigma said...

@James and Zee

"History is written from records left by the privileged."
Howard Zinn

Zinn's 'People's History of the United States' (sorry Zee, I don't know how to underline titles in this format) is an valuable alternate version of our vaunted history.

Frankly, I don't see much about human nature that has changed much in thousands of years. Wealthy men rule by duping the poor (their property) to fight and die for them under the banner of some high minded purpose but which is actually just more wealth and power for themselves. Wash, rinse, repeat.

History isn't just what we find in documents. It's what ISN'T found. Howard Zinn was great at reading between the lines.

Will said...

Couple of thoughts:

Thomas Paine was the first Sardonickist.

I wish Burr & Hamilton were still around so Aaron can shoot that pompous asshole again.

Karen's taken her trademark incisive writing to a level so high lately I'm having a tough time keeping my jaw off the floor. Reminds me of a brand-new X-Acto knife or something. Brava, Boss Lady!

Speaking of, "The Opacity of Trope" is the best blog post title in the history of Sardonicky. Well, so far. :)

Zee said...

@annenigma--

I don't disagree with you for an instant: “I don't see much about human nature that has changed much in thousands of years,” either. And yes, “Wealthy men [often acquire power and] rule by duping the poor...to fight and die for them under the banner of some high minded purpose but which is actually just more wealth and power for themselves.”

Which is why I concede that both money and power had much to do with the American Revolution and the subsequent structure of the U.S. Constitution. That's just human nature, as we both agree.

Interestingly (to me, at least), I think that it is precisely because the Founders understood human nature— and their own flaws—all too well that they gave us a difficult-to-alter, tri-partite government with many checks and balances and a strong, written, Bill of Rights.

But my generally dark view of human nature notwithstanding, I don't believe that all wealthy people are necessarily evil through and through, either.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Founders may well have had the opportunity to impose an “enlightened monarchy”— THEIR enlightened monarchy, after all—on the United States. The highly intelligent, respected and influential Alexander Hamilton was for it, so why the hell not do it?

What better way would there have been to preserve THEIR power, property and money, if that is all they were concerned about?

Instead, we got a republic and a Bill of Rights, as discussed above. Why?

Why, if money and power were all he was concerned about, did George Washington step down after his second term? According to Richard Brookhiser, in his book, Founding Father, Washington was a shoo-in for a third term, and I seem to recall it being said elsewhere that Washington could have been “President-for-life” had he wished. So why did he relinquish power?

It's my humble opinion that it's because these were fundamentally honorable men who, though wealthy, powerful, and, yes, self-interested, simply weren't “bad to the bone,” no matter how evil and grasping some revisionist historians—like Ms. Sun—try to (re)paint them.

Some of the things that they did turned out right, or, at least as “right” as they could have turned out considering the times.

I think that the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights—with all their flaws—were two of those things. But again, that's just my humble opinion.

I haven't read Zinn's book, though I suppose I should. What does he have to say about the issues covered by Rivera Sun, that is, the drafting and ratification of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights?

Elizabeth Adams said...

Regarding Howard Zinn and "The People's History of the United States", it is the first history book I ever enjoyed, and that was just a few years ago. This is the history that should be taught in our schools.

There is also a web site for us to visit and learn in or out of the class room: http://zinnedproject.org/

Isaiah Earhart said...

Hello Zee,
Zinn writes:

“A historian who studied Boston tax lists in 1687 and 1771 found that in 1687 there were, out of a population of six thousand, about 1000 property owners, and that the top 5%- 1% of the population consisted of fifty rich individuals who had 25% of the wealth. By 1770, the top 1% of property owners owned 44% of the wealth.” (pg 49)
Zinn quotes the historian Charles Beard, of whom I agree with entirely, in an editorial in the NYT about his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution:

Inasmuch as the primary object of a government, beyond the mere repression of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose rights are thus to be determined must perforce obtain from the government such rules are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the continuance of their economic progress, or they must themselves control the organs of government. (pg 90)

Zinn argues, correctly in my view, the 55 men who drew up the Constitution composed mostly of lawyers, wealthy men, landowners, slave owners, owners of manufacture, shipping, lenders of interest debt, and 73% owned government bonds. Property-less men, women, slaves, and indentured servants were completely absent in Constitution drafting, and there interests were also absent the Constitution.

Zinn quotes Madison in Federalist Paper #10:

“[T]he various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society…. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member in it.” (pg 97)

Shays Rebellion was also cited as need for a strong Union.

Zinn argues, correctly in my view, that the Constitution:

“serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law- all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.” (pg 99)

Zinn points out, correctly, that the Bill of Rights means very little when the wealthy elite are running the government: John Adams’s administration passed the Sedition Act of 1798, in fantastic violation of the First Amendment’ freedom of speech clause, seven years after ratification.

I know we can’t even imagine living in a time when the wealthy have become so powerful and sickeningly wealthy that the words of the Bill of Rights have become operationally meaningless………

James F Traynor said...

Interesting comments. To think my interest in the revolutionary period began by observing bobolinks on the Saratoga Battlefield (I could have cared less about its historical significance). It's a fascinating place, only the topography remains, but it is enough if you can imagine a forest, dominated by huge white pine. And there's the small monument, a boot in honor of Benedict Arnold the guy who really won that battle despite the ineptness of Horatio (Granny) Gates who did his best to lose it. And gets the credit for winning it. Yeah, interesting thing - history and who writes it .

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart--

Thank you for the quotes that you have provided from Zinn's The Peoples' History of the United States regarding the drafting, ratification and purpose of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
But even with my doubtless-biased, basic, grade-school understanding of U.S. history, Zinn is not telling me anything new. And there's a historical reason for it, discussed below.

Anyone with a basic grasp of human nature would immediately suspect that the Framers took their own economic interests to heart when the two documents were drafted, even if “anyone” had only the most rudimentary understanding of U.S. history. I haven't read Zinn's book, and even I know that.

In fact, had I been among the Framers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, I probably would have done the same thing: protect my interests first, think about everybody else second—and then make alliances and compromises with everybody else who is trying to do the same thing. Which should lead to the best Constitutional deal possible for the greatest number: the wealthy elites and Zinn's other middling-prosperous people, small property owners, middle income mechanics, farmers etc.

No, not everyone would benefit or prosper under such a government. But when has that ever been the case?

As annenigma and I are here to tell you, that's just human nature.

Insofar as I understand Zinn from the snippets you've provided —never having read his book so I'll concede that I may be being unfair—he's not so much a ground-breaking historical revisionist as one who has mostly collated and recycled old historical revisionism ( e.g., Beard's An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States [from 1913, no less]) with the added touch that he tries to persuade us that we should be both surprised and outraged that the revolutionaries of 238 years ago weren't just like today's political Progressives.

“Property-less men, women, slaves, and indentured servants were completely absent in Constitution drafting” Save for Howard Zinn, is anyone really surprised by this? And, of course, he is not really surprised, either.

But he hopes the rest of us are both surprised and disappointed. I can practically hear him saying: “Dammit, the Founders should have been better people than they really were. They should have been inclusive and tolerant and promoted absolute, direct democracy, and re-distributed property and...and...and... and...well...it was really just so unfair and wrong and disappointing. And now I'm here to expose those bastards for what they were. Be angry with me, my Progressive friends!”

(To be continued...)

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart--

(A Peoples' History, Continued)

But according to one lengthy commentary on Zinn's book, those exposés took place starting quite some time before Zinn published his popular tome (1980), and the “radicalization” of American history was largely a fait accompli some time before then. (Which explains why I may know a few things about revisionist American history without Prof. Zinn telling me what's what.)

Some exerpts from the article Agit-Prof: Howard Zinn's influential mutilations of American history by David Greenberg in The New Republic:

“As a faculty brat in those years, I was doubly enamored of Zinn after a classmate gave me A People’s History of the United States, his now-famous victims’-eye panorama of the American experience. In my adolescent rebelliousness, I thrilled to Zinn’s deflation of what he presented as the myths of standard-issue history...

What I didn’t realize was that the orthodox version of the American past that Howard Zinn spent his life debunking was by the 1980s no longer quite as hegemonic as Zinn made out. Even my high school history teacher marked Columbus Day by explaining that the celebrated 'discoverer' of America had plundered Hispaniola for its gold and that, in acts of barbarism that would later be classified as genocide, Columbus’s men had butchered the native Arawaks, slicing off limbs for sport and turning their scrotums into change-purses...

As Jon Wiener noted in the
Journal of American History, 'during the early seventies … of all the changes in the profession, the institutionalization of radical history was the most remarkable.'” --David Greenberg, The New Republic

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112574/howard-zinns-influential-mutilations-american-history#

So the hard work of critically examining, debating and revising American history had become “institutionalized” by the early seventies.

Zinn's contribution appears to have been to shamelessly politicize the work of many other scholars, forcing history to suit his Progressive worldview. And this has not gone without criticism:

“Upon its publication, A People’s History won some kind words from critics praising its author’s effort to transmit the new academic arguments of the 1960s and 1970s to wider audiences. But on the whole the reviews were not kind. The cultural historian Michael Kammen called the book a 'scissors-and-paste-pot job' and deemed the book’s 'bottom up' history to be 'as unsatisfactory as ‘elitist’ history.' He pointed out that it was not too much to expect a book of 600 pages to include America’s 'grandeur as well as tragedy, magnanimity as well as muddle, honor as well as shame.' In the New York Times, Eric Foner, something of a radical historian himself, explained why Zinn’s bugaboo of 'balance' was a red herring: historians are obliged to explore the viewpoints of elite actors, however unattractive, not to parcel out sympathy in proper proportions, but to show, in a faithful account of the past, the interconnectedness of the rulers and ruled, and of all strata of society, and how one group’s experiences influence another’s. But Zinn reduced historical analysis to political opinion. He assessed a work of history by its author’s partisan loyalties, not its arguments about causation, influence, motivation, significance, experience, or other problems he deemed “technical” in nature.” --David Greenberg (My bold emphasis.)

So if Zinn's “history” of the United States fits perfectly and seamlessly with Progressive themes of the eternal and absolute oppression and extinction of the poor and the powerless by the rich and the powerful, with absolutely nothing good or noble or selfless to be read of between the lines as ever having happened in the United States, well, perhaps it was intended to turn out just that way by its Progressive author.

Just my humble opinion.

Isaiah Earhart said...

Hello Zee,

The main point I was trying to post was an answer to your vague question about what Zinn had written about the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I inserted some of my opinions as to the correctness of Zinn’s writing because I happen to agree with Professor Zinn about the things he wrote concerning the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

It is also nice to know that you agree with Zinn on those points.
The fact that you don’t find his points to be revelatory is irrelevant.

I find your citation of David Greenberg as a credible source attacking Zinn- a bit disturbing.

I think a little background on Zinn may be necessary in any literary realm where you find people like David Greenberg being cited as an expert on Zinn’s work.

Howard Zinn, a bombardier in the US Air Force in WWII, dropped 50 gallon barrels of “jellied gasoline” (known now as napalm) on a small French community in Southwestern France in 1945. He would later find out that the ordering of the bombardment had no rational military objective other than military career advancement as the war would be over within 3 weeks of this slaughter. The bombardment killed about 1000 French civilians and a few German troops. This event helped shape Zinn’s view of war, obviously.

Zinn achieved a PhD at Columbia University in 1958.

In January of 1968, Professor Zinn traveled to Hanoi with Rev. Daniel Berrigan returning 3 American airmen to the US. A year earlier, Zinn wrote one of the most prophetic books, ever, about urging the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam. He thought the war was one of aggression.

David Greenberg was born a year after Professor Zinn went to Hanoi and brought back American service members. Greenberg turned one year old in 1970.

Greenberg’s account of Zinn’s work did not go without notice.

to be continued..

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Zee continued,

Here is an account of Greenberg’s work written by the lawyer and professor Staughton Lynd on some of the more basic misinformation in Greenberg’s essay:

Jesse Lemisch did not run for president of the American Historical Association in 1969. It was I. I am unsure whether this flagrant error is an "influential mutilation of American history," to borrow the sub-title of David Greenberg's article on Howard Zinn. Perhaps it is only one of the errors in fact strewn throughout the article.
Here are other "arguments compounded by factual errors" (once more to borrow an expletive from Mr. Greenberg) presented in the article:

1) Greenberg says that at Spelman College in Atlanta, where Howard and I taught history in the early 1960s, the civil rights movement attracted "middle-class black college students." The most celebrated of several students at Spelman during the time that we both taught there was Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple. Her father was a sharecropper. My wife Alice and I shared a memorable Christmas meal with the Walkers at their home in Eatonton, Georgia.

2) Greenberg says that Howard's book on SNCC was "charitably described" by Martin Duberman as on-the-spot reporting "rather than a comprehensive scholarly account." I can remember entering the Zinns' apartment on the Spelman campus and finding Howard tape recording the experience of two SNCC organizers who had just been released from jail. I am under the impression that Howard's participatory observation of SNCC activity in Albany, Georgia, and Hattiesburg and Greenwood, Mississippi, remain building blocks for more comprehensive scholarly accounts by historians like Wesley Hogan and James Marshall. Does it disqualify a narrative as history if the writer was present when history was being made? What about Ten Days That Shook The World by John Reed or Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell?

3) Howard Zinn was abruptly terminated by Spelman College the day after students left campus in June 1963. Greenberg says: "Zinn secured an offer from the government department of Boston University, and the family returned North." No, Howard went to his faculty mailbox to check on his mail before his family, already in the loaded car, left the campus to return North. (See Zinn's autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, a source that Greenberg gives no indication that he has consulted, at pages 41-45.) There, his livelihood having been taken away without notice or opportunity to appeal, Howard was able to find another job.

4) Greenberg sets up a supposed contrast between :"good" New Leftists like Eugene Genovese who did not let their politics influence their writing of history, and "bad" New Leftists like Howard who "sympathized with the NLF." I was on the speakers' platform with Genovese at a Vietnam War teach-in at Rutgers University. I heard him say that he hoped the NLF would win. I am not aware of any similar statement by Howard. In any event, Greenberg's article does not provide such evidence.

to be continued...

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Zee continued,

5) Greenberg asks us to consider whether Howard Zinn may have been a member of the Communist Party. Like Greenberg, I don't know. I do know that one of the books that influenced Howard in his conversion from eager bombardier to passionate opponent of any conceivable modern war was Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo [himself a member of the Communisty Party from 1943 to 1948], about a young man who became a soldier and then a paraplegic. In my last telephone conversation with Howard he commented bitterly that the Communist Party, by then intent on military victory, had prevented the book's re-publication during World War II.

6) Greenberg says that in Howard's discussion of the United States at mid-century labor's "decisions to work with management to secure good wages and benefits are seen as selling out." In what I consider a densely-documented stretch of A People's History (1999 ed., pp. 392-402), Howard grounds his analysis on that of Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward in their book Poor People's Movements. This is one stretch of United States history that I know something about and I believe that to characterize Zinn's discussion as "lazy, conventional" history, as exhibiting a "subordination of analytical problems," or as a reduction of "historical analysis to political opinion," is itself lazy, conventional, hostile to analysis, and politically opinionated.
There is a "pretty lousy piece of work" on display in David Greenberg's article. But it is not a piece of work by Howard Zinn.

I am unsure how one forms so humble opinion of a work one has never bothered to read. That is just my humble observation.

Zee said...

@Isaiah Earhart--

You have presented a spirited defense of Prof. Zinn's A People's History by pointing to historical errors on the part of David Greenberg, and I'm certainly not going to quarrel with personal, first-hand accounts of Greenberg's inaccuracies given by Staughton Lynd (not that I particularly know who he is.) Yet, my concerns about Prof. Zinn's scholarship certainly don't rely on David Greenberg's accounts, alone.

Permit me a digression.

I only became aware of Prof. Zinn's book starting perhaps back in 2011, when I became involved with a couple of Progressive blogs, first over at Reality Chex, and now, here at Sardonicky. Both at Reality Chex and here at Sardonicky, participants have recommended various books and articles to me that have a decidedly Progressive slant, with me being something of a conservative. I have tried to take those recommendations to heart, inasmuch as time and budget allow. Still, I have to be selective because I prefer real books of my own, in which I can write notes and highlight things, and my time and money are both limited.

As of 2011 or so, I already had a “to-be-read” bookshelf that was, as one Sardonickista once described it without ever seeing it, “groaning.” It groans even more now.

Maybe some participant on these two forums recommended A People's History of the United States to me, but I don't think so. Still, since Zinn seemed so popular amongst Progressives, I read a few reviews and articles about him. Greenberg's was among them, and settled me on not investing in a copy. So “no,” as I acknowledged in my previous remarks, I have not read his book, owing to such negative commentaries.

End of digression

But Greenberg's scholastic deficiencies aside, one does not have to dig very deep on the Internet to find a number of other respected scholars—even avowedly liberal scholars—who have similar commentaries about the scholarly deficiencies of A People's History.

Here are some links, though you probably don't need them:

http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/winter1213/Wineburg.pdf

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/howard-zinns-history-lessons

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/01/opinion/la-oe-miller1-2010feb01

http://reason.com/archives/2010/02/03/the-peoples-historian

http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0817F63B5A12728DDDAB0894DB405B8084F1D3&scp=1&sq=Majority+Report++Eric+Foner&st=p

(Sorry, you'll have to buy this last one from the New York Times.)

The foregoing articles are all by reputable historians (insofar as I can tell), or contain quotes by reputable scholars, many of whom don't think all that highly of Prof. Zinn's historical scholarship, either. (The last article, by Eric Foner, is generally postive about A People's History, but even he expresses some concerns about how Prof. Zinn went about his scholarship.)

I can reproduce those quotes in this forum if you—or any other Sardonickista—wishes, but to what end?

Doubtless, you can find other scholars who can skewer my scholars, and I can probably, with some effort, do the same for your scholars. “History” is much more fluid and, yes, much more speculative than my field of endeavor, physical science.

So rather than go 'round and 'round with duelling historians and quotes and disputes about their integrity as scholars, and never coming to any agreement about Howard Zinn other than that he's famous, we might as well both save our keystrokes for something else.

Still, now I'm curious.

If I can find a used copy, real cheap, maybe I'll give him a read.

Karen Garcia said...

@Zee

The entire volume is available for download here, absolutely free:

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html

When I Googled Howard Zinn, the download was approximately fourth on the page. Guess you must have missed it in your search for negative reviews.

What Zinn's book accomplished for me, when I first read it a long time ago, was to further pique my curiosity, inspire me to delve more deeply into history. For example, his chapter on the Mexican War led me to Greenberg's "A Wicked War". There is a reason why that particular atrocity is glossed over in traditional history books. History has long been presented in a dry manner, I suspect because the less we know about the inglorious, vicious American past, the more compliant we citizens will be. Zinn's book is dangerous to the American Exceptionalism myth, specifically because it soundly debunks the "official narrative" and also because it chronicles the success of various social protest movements and other disruptions to the established order.

No wonder it has gleaned so many negative reviews. No wonder so many copies of it were confiscated and destroyed by the NYPD when they raided the Occupy camp.



Zee said...

@Karen--

I didn't “Google” “Howard Zinn.” I Googled more specific things like “Howard Zinn” reviews “A People's History.” “historyasaweapon.com” didn't come up in any of my searches insofar as I can recall.

So I thank you for the link to the complete book in “html” format. It will serve for a cursory look. As I said above, I prefer to have hardcopy for books that might matter to me in the long term, so I can annotate and highlight at will, and have something to which I can refer back should I need to.

Please note that I did include above one generally positive review of the book, written by Eric Foner in 1980 when A People's History first appeared.

It is hardly surprising that Zinn's book met with mostly negative reviews when it appeared, and unto this day. Nobody likes to find a turd in their party punchbowl, and Zinn “pranked” the proms of both the community of history scholars and ordinary people who were, as you suggest, taught that their country and its people were “exceptional.” Zinn even frustrated historians like Foner, who were largely sympathetic to his work, with his complete and utter negativity:

“Nevertheless, A People's History reflects a deeply pessimistic vision of the American experience. Its salutary emphasis on 'the enormous capacity of apparently helpless people to resist' is tempered by an underlying frustration at the meager results produced by this history or resistance. The stirring protests, strikes and rebellions never appear to accomplish anything. Uprisings are either crushed, deflected or co-opted. Apparent victories, such as the emancipation of the slaves, simply serve the interests of businessmen; incremental gains, such as those of the 1930's, merely stabilize the system.

Why such movements so often fail to achieve their goals is never adequately explained. an when ordinary people do achieve a modicum of political influencs—as blacks did during Reconstruction—Professor Zinn is more interested in describing their victimization by the Klan than in exploring what uses they made of their power.

The portrayal of these anonymous Americans, moreover, is strangely circumscribed. Blacks, Indians, women and laborers appear either as rebels or as victims. Less dramatic but more typical lives—people struggling to survive with dignity in difficult circumstances—receive little attention. Nor does Professor Zinn stop to explore the ideologies that inspired the various uprisings he details. Rebellions are spontaneous responses to immediate conditions; the possibility that ordinary people may have held complex ideas is not considered.

Perhaps the problem is inherent in the method: history from the bottom up, though necessary as a corrective, is as limited in its own way as history from the top down...

The strength of
A People's History, therefore, is also its weakness. Written to counter a prevailing tradition, it does not, perhaps inevitably, trascend it. But open-minded readers will profit from Professor Zinn's account, and historians may well view it as a step toward a coherent new version of American history.” --Eric Foner

(To be continued...)

Zee said...

( A People's History, continued)

Zinn certainly didn't help himself—not that he likely cared; I suspect he reveled in his notoriety—by ignoring the usual standards of scholarly inquiry, and thus really angering the “history community.”

Looking at the online, “html” version of A People's History, Zinn doesn't make the supporting documentation for his side of the story very accessible.

In Chapter 8, for example, We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God, covering the Mexican War, there's not a single footnote, and no “Notes for Ch. 8” section at the end of the book. Yes, within the body of the narrative Zinn does provide specific years and days for some newspaper articles and other items that he quotes, but other times his “reference” might be:

“A newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire, wrote...” or.

“This initial spirit soon wore off. A woman in Greensboro, North Carolina, recorded in her diary...”

Not very helpful, were I a curious reader or a professional historian who wanted to check Zinn's work or simply inquire further.

Whether or not a controversial work is adequately annotated is one of the first things I look for in any credible publication, and if it's not present, well, I'm certainly suspicious.

And, of course, this was just another thing with which to pillory Zinn—again, not that he likely cared:

“A People's History is closer to students' state-approved texts than its advocates are wont to admit. Like traditional textbooks, A People's History relies almost entirely on secondary sources, with no archival research to thicken its narrative. Like traditional textbooks, the book is naked of footnotes, thwarting inquisitive readers who seek to retrace the author's interpretive steps. And, like students' textbooks, when it draws on primary sources, these documents serve to prop up the main text, but never provide an alternative view of open up a new field of vision.” --Sam Wineburg

I'm not saying that A People's History of the United States should be purged from libraries and classrooms, censored, or burned. Nor am I suggesting that the book should be published with some kind of “black box warning label:” “Caution: Biased History Presented In This Book.”

If the book inspired you and others to look deeper into the realities of American history, well, great.

But I'll bet that A Wicked War, which seems to have met with many favorable reviews—save, predictably, from The Washington Times—is much more heavily annotated than A People's History.

I'll read—or at least, skim—Zinn's book to see if, IMHO, the negative reviews that I have collected are warranted. But I'll read it with a skeptical eye, given the reviews I've seen.

But then, all historical accounts of serious matters should be read with skepticism, unless one has firsthand knowledge of the events. Sometimes “historians” even flat-out lie when they have an agenda to push.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arming_America

Zee said...

@Karen--

Also, I never read or heard any accounts of the frequency with which Zinn's book was found at Occupy events, nor did I hear of the books being confiscated and/or burned by police.

Do you have any links that you can provide?

Karen Garcia said...

Zee,

http://gothamist.com/2012/05/24/ows_peoples_library_files_federal_l.php

http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/10/25/from-chomsky-to-the-onion-whats-on-the-shelves-at-occupy-wall-streets-library/

Zee said...

@Karen--

Thank you for the links. Pretty disgusting actions on the part of NYPD.