Articles & Reviews

“A ‘Resistance’ Stands Against Trump, But What Will It Stand For?” New York Times Magazine, January 31, 2017

If we lived in normal political times, our new president would be enjoying his honeymoon period, those few blissful weeks of good will and high hopes that usually accompany the start of an administration. Instead, the election of Donald J. Trump to the nation’s highest office has provoked an opposition movement that is extraordinary in American history, with millions of people devoted to stopping whatever it is he might want to do. Read more....







“America’s Long Hangover,” The Nation, May 23, 2016

In October 1931, union men in Newark, New Jersey, staged a protest march. During the previous two years, the United States had tumbled into economic depression, with the unemployment rate rising as the stock market sank. Industrial jobs were especially devastated, leading to dozens of unemployment rallies and anti-eviction protests across the country. Read more....


“A Check on Balance,” New York Times Book Review, January 24, 2016

Between 1913 and 1920, Americans amended the federal Constitution four times. Each amendment solidified a major reform: the direct election of senators, the first federal income tax, votes for women, the banning of alcohol nationwide. Taken together, they reflected the progressive view that the Constitution was a living document, able to be adapted to and updated for the nation’s needs. A century ago, most Americans seemed to agree that new circumstances required new tools, and that the federal government would have a key role to play in meeting the challenges of the modern age. Read more here. ...

“More ‘Progressive’ Than Thou,” New York Times Magazine, January 12, 2016

In these last gasping weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Hillary Clinton has settled upon a political identity, declaring herself ‘‘a progressive who likes to get things done.’’ The label reassures left-wing Democrats that she shares their values while also signaling to the party’s centrists that she is above all pragmatic. Continue reading here....

“What an Uncensored Letter to MLK Reveals,” New York Times Magazine, November 11, 2014

The note is just a single sheet gone yellow with age, typewritten and tightly spaced. It’s rife with typos and misspellings and sprinkled with attempts at emending them. Clearly, some effort went into perfecting the tone, that of a disappointed admirer, appalled by the discovery of “hidious [sic] abnormalities” in someone he once viewed as “a man of character.” The word “evil” makes six appearances in the text, beginning with an accusation: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” In the paragraphs that follow, the recipient’s alleged lovers get the worst of it. They are described as “filthy dirty evil companions” and “evil playmates,” all engaged in “dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk.” The effect is at once grotesque and hypnotic, an obsessive’s account of carnal rage and personal betrayal. “What incredible evilness,” the letter proclaims, listing off “sexual orgies,” “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Near the end, it circles back to its initial target, denouncing him as an “evil, abnormal beast.” Read the rest....

Review, “To Make Men Free,” Washington Post, October 3, 2014

Here’s a good rule of thumb for studying the history of American political parties: Forget what you know about the present. A century ago, Republicans were likely to be the country’s big-government progressives, its advocates of civil rights and social reform. Democrats were often small-government conservatives, especially in the one-party stronghold of the Solid South. The electoral map looked radically different, with a swath of blue below the Mason-Dixon line and a block of red in the Northeast. Just about the only things that have stayed the same are the party names: Democrat vs. Republican, locked in eternal electoral combat. In “To Make Men Free,” Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson sets out to tell half of the story about how we got from there to here. “The journey,” she notes dryly, “has not been straightforward.” Read the rest....

“The Roar of the Crowd,” New York Times Book Review, July 24, 2014

Between 1922 and 1930, a new building went up in New York City every 51 minutes, according to Donald L. Miller. Most of the truly spectacular structures — like the Chrysler Building, with its aspirational steel spire — emerged in Midtown, previously a region of open rail yards and shabby industry. Beginning with the reconstruction of Park Avenue in the early 1920s, Midtown became a destination neighborhood for the city’s ultrarich, eager to abandon their stand-alone Fifth Avenue palaces in favor of contemporary “mansions in the sky.” Alongside the real estate boom came a decadent new night life and a host of more serious cultural diversions, all of them fueled, in Miller’s telling, by a steady supply of ambition, energy and illicit booze. The men and women who populated and recreated Midtown during these years are the chief subjects of “Supreme City,” Miller’s entertaining new history of Manhattan in its modern heyday. Read the rest.  ...

“If You Care About Inequality, You Should Care About Unions,” Slate, July 1, 2014

Most commentary on the Supreme Court’s Harris decision has emphasized the ruling’s limited nature: While public-sector unions can no longer collect certain administrative fees, the decision could have been much broader, and much more damaging to organized labor. But there is another, more important decision that still needs to be made when it comes to unions, and this one will happen mostly outside of the courts. Unless something dramatic changes, Americans are on the verge of living in a nation where the right to organize and to belong to a labor union no longer exists. The country will need to decide, sooner rather than later, if those rights are worth preserving. Read the rest....

“Band of Burglars,” Slate, January 8, 2014

On Tuesday, one of the biggest unsolved cases in FBI history burst wide open. In a new book, investigative journalist Betty Medsger revealed the identities of the anti-war activists who broke into the FBI's office in Media, Pa., in March 1971 and made off with the agency's secret files.* They were, it turns out, ordinary middle-class people: "a religion professor, a daycare center worker, a graduate student in a health profession, another professor, a social worker, and two people who had dropped out of college to work nearly full-time on building opposition to the war,” Medsger writes. On March 8, 1971, they pried open the FBI office door with a crowbar, stole hundreds of files, and shook the intelligence establishment to its jackboots. Read the rest....

“Who Didn’t Kill JFK?” The Nation, December 27, 2013

In case you missed it, November marked the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The city of Dallas spent more than a year preparing for the occasion, scheduling exhibits and lecture series and memorial ceremonies. The Frontiers of Flight Museum constructed a life-size walk-through replica of Air Force One as it looked on the fateful day of November 22, 1963, complete with “a highly detailed cockpit, the president’s bedroom, and the stateroom in which Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath of office.” The Sixth Floor Museum, located in the former Texas School Book Depository, offered the artwork of the Dallas LOVE Project, intended to rewrite the city’s 1963 reputation as a “City of Hate.” On November 22 itself, some 5,000 privileged ticket holders gathered in Dealey Plaza, where the shots rang out, to hear historian David McCullough recite from the former president’s speeches and observe a moment of silence. To commemorate the day, The Dallas Morning News offered a memorial box set with the sleek title “JFK50,” featuring a full edition of the paper from the morning after the assassination along with three “collectible JFK50 cards.” Read the rest....

Review, “A Cruel and Shocking Act,” Washington Post, October 25, 2013

The promotional material for Philip Shenon’s rollicking new book, “A Cruel and Shocking Act,” reminds us that three questions have “haunted our nation” for the past 50 years: “Was the President killed by a single gunman? Was Lee Harvey Oswald part of a conspiracy? Did the Warren Commission discover the whole truth of what happened on November 22, 1963?” Shenon does not definitively answer the first two questions; as he acknowledges, we may never have the final word on whatever conspiracy did or did not exist. On the third matter, however, his judgment is unequivocal. The Warren Commission, he writes, was “flawed from the start” because of bureaucratic infighting, political manipulation, destruction of evidence, tight deadlines, understaffing, deception by intelligence agencies and a host of other ills. Rather than attempting to offer the Ultimate Truth of the Kennedy Assassination, Shenon presents a persuasive, deeply researched account of why, 50 years out, that truth still seems so hard to find. Read the rest....

“Counting Crime,” Marquette Law Journal, Fall 2013

When I received the invitation to this conference about a year ago, I was surprised at the fortuitous timing: I was actually sitting at my computer writing about the Wickersham Commission—an unusual moment for such an obscure historical subject. So of course I said yes right away. The other reason that I very much wanted to come here is that, thanks to the work of historian Athan Theoharis, Marquette is one of the country’s great repositories of historical FBI documents. I am currently writing a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director. Anyone who writes about this subject owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Professor Theoharis, whom you’ll be hearing from later on today. Read the rest.  ...

“It’s Not About Your Cat Photos,” Slate, June 20, 2013

Since last week’s revelations about the NSA, skeptics have questioned whether expansive intelligence powers might really lead to civil liberties abuses. From a historical perspective, there’s no need to ask: Such abuses have occurred many, many times. Over the past century, American intelligence agencies have performed some amazing feats, outing Soviet infiltrators, hunting down terrorists, and keeping the homeland reasonably safe from its enemies. They have also used their powers to spy on millions of people engaged in legitimate political activity, and to go after critics in Congress, the media, and the public at large. Given this track record, it’s worth asking not whether such abuses might again occur, but whether we have sufficient reason to believe that they are not going to happen this time around. Read the rest. ...

“Somewhere, J. Edgar Hoover Is Smiling,” Slate, June 7, 2013

On March 8, 1971, a handful of activists broke into the FBI’s field office in Media, Penn., and made off with a stack of incriminating documents. Over the next several months, they began to publish what they had learned. In the pre-Internet age, this often meant reprinting the FBI records in the alternative press, though papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times also picked them up. Like Glenn Greenwald’s recent revelations about the NSA, the discoveries from the Media break-in sparked widespread public outrage—and turned out to be one of the biggest scoops in intelligence history. The program they exposed was called COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), known today as the most notorious of the many notorious secret operations authorized by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Read the rest....

“Unanswered Questions about Watergate,” Slate, April 22, 2013

The title of Robert Redford’s new documentary, which aired on the Discovery Channel last night, is All the President’s Men Revisited. At times, it seems more like All the President’s Men Repeated. Though created to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Watergate, the first half of the film contains little that could not be found in Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 political thriller starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman. You know the story: A pair of scrappy young reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stick to their guns when nobody else will, and their reporting helps to bring down a president. This is, to be sure, a terrific story. No matter how many times you’ve heard it before, there is something gripping about watching Nixon’s slow, painful descent into national disgrace. Read the rest....

“Things Can Change,” Slate, December 17, 2012

In 1985, when I was 13 years old, a woman suffering from schizophrenia brought a semiautomatic rifle to our local mall and began shooting. This was the mall where I picked out clothes from the Gap, where I sat for photos with Santa Claus as a toddler, where kids my age were just starting to hang out and flaunt their independence. The woman, 25-year-old Sylvia Seegrist, killed three people, including a 2-year-old child, and shot several others before being subdued by a man who thought she was shooting blanks. When asked why she had done it, Seegrist said, bizarrely, that “my family makes me nervous.” In other words, there was no reason at all. Read the rest....


“Behind the Bureau,” The Nation, September 20, 2012

J. Edgar Hoover died forty years ago, at the reasonably ripe age of 77. The timing of his death—a heart attack on May 1, 1972—turned out to be a blessing and a curse for his historical legacy. Had he lived a few months longer, he could have become mired in Watergate and been tarnished by the downfall of his longtime ally Richard Nixon. A few years beyond that and he might have been hauled before the Church Committee to answer for the civil liberties abuses committed during his thirty-seven-year tenure at the FBI. His death spared him the experience of seeing the bureau maligned, denounced and partially dismantled in the 1970s. But it also made him a poster boy—often rightly, sometimes wrongly—for all that had gone wrong in American intelligence policy since the ugly days of the Palmer raids in the wake of World War I. Read the rest....

Up for Debate: “The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists,” Labor, Fall 2012

Timothy Messer-Kruse's The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age (2011) provides ample grist for a larger discussion of Gilded Age labor, radicalism, and the contemporary system of justice. Messer-Kruse's close examination of the full trial testimony and his twinned conclusions that there was likely a conspiracy to commit violence among the accused and that most of the guilty verdicts should be considered “fair” by the standards of the day are two aspects that set his treatment apart from others. While generally giving the author credit for changing the grounds of the Haymarket debate, our own jury remains skeptical. Richard Schneirov returns to the scene of the crime with his own lawyer-like disputation of the guilty verdicts. Kevin Boyle cautions against using courtroom testimony “with such assurance.” Beverly Gage regrets the lack of larger context, including the viciousness of reactions aimed at the larger labor movement and the radicals themselves. Comparing Haymarket to the Rodney King and O. J. Simpson trials, Janice L. Reiff likewise points to key elements of reception that are left out of Messer-Kruse's account. In conclusion, the author treats his critics with clemency. Read more....


“Why Is There no Liberal Ayn Rand?” Slate, August 13, 2012

Ask Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan how he became a conservative and he’ll probably answer by citing a book. It might be Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Or perhaps he’ll come up with Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, or even Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. All of these books are staples of the modern conservative canon, works with the reputed power to radicalize even the most tepid Republican. Over the last half-century, they have been vital to the conservative movement’s success—and to liberalism’s demise. Read the rest....

“The Boss of Bosses,” Slate, May 23, 2012

A hundred years ago, the most famous banker in America testified before Congress in one of his last public appearances. His name (hint: you’ve seen it in recent headlines) was John Pierpont Morgan, the redoubtable founding father of today’s JPMorgan Chase. At the time, Morgan was without peer in American banking, simultaneously the old man and the great innovator of American finance. The list of corporations he organized was legendary: U.S. Steel, International Harvester, General Electric. So was his personal power. From the dawn of the Gilded Age, he reigned as “the boss of bosses,” in the words of muckraker Lincoln Steffens, a mystical figurehead and ruthless businessman wrapped up in a single top-hatted, pot-bellied package. Read the rest....

“A Drunkard in the Gutter is Just Where He Ought to Be,” Slate, March 29, 2012

Last month, Rick Santorum announced that he likes inequality. “There is income inequality in America,” he told the Detroit Economic Club in a much-quoted speech. “There always has been and, hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be.” Many political observers have since ridiculed this stance, declaring Santorum “unhinged,” or at least unfit to conduct a serious presidential campaign. But the positive defense of inequality is not entirely new in American politics. From the moment that social reformers began to “discover” poverty in the 19th century, naysayers were on hand to explain why extremes of wealth and poverty made for a just society. By embracing inequality, Santorum is reviving the politics of our last Gilded Age. Read the rest....

“Radical Solutions to Economic Inequality,” Slate, February 15, 2012

A century ago, in one of his last acts of office, President William Howard Taft attempted to solve the problem of inequality in America. In August 1912, on the cusp of a brutal third-place finish in the presidential election, he created a Commission on Industrial Relations to investigate “the general condition of labor in the principal industries.” Despite its fusty charge, the commission turned out to be one of the most sensational sideshows of the Progressive Era, a cross-country journey through the wilds of American class conflict. For three years, government commissioners traipsed from city to city asking capitalists, union organizers, and reformers what it was like to work in America, and whether the spoils of industry seemed to be distributed fairly among the rich and poor. Read the rest....

“Deep Throat, Watergate, and the Institutional Politics of the FBI,” Journal of Policy History, Spring 2012

On May 31, 2005, former FBI associate director W. Mark Felt revealed that he was “Deep Throat,” the shadowy high official whose leaks to the Washington Post helped to provoke the Watergate crisis and topple the Nixon presidency. Felt’s confession ended one of the capital’s longest-running guessing games; the hushed phone calls and parking-garage trysts of All the President’s Men , co-author Bob Woodward confirmed, were based on encounters with Felt. Media outlets framed the revelation as a drama of individual derring-do, assigning Felt the role of noble whistleblower or despicable traitor, liberal ally or conservative nemesis. As a result, they missed an opportunity to reconsider the larger story of Watergate, perhaps the most mythologized political scandal of the twentieth century. This article argues that Felt’s actions—and, by extension, Watergate itself—must be understood in the context of a long-standing institutional conflict between the Nixon administration and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Read the rest....

Review, “Eisenhower: The White House Years,” Washington Post, December 4, 2011

The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. long claimed that American politics moved in cycles. Every few decades, he suggested, the nation witnessed a swing of the pendulum, with power and ideological influence shifting from liberals to conservatives, or from the public interest to the private, and back again. When Barack Obama took office in 2009, many pundits saw the pendulum swinging once again, ushering in a new era of Democratic dominance — the Age of Reagan giving way to the vaunted Age of Obama. The last two years have upended this story; presidential politics seems more and more unpredictable. When it comes to the writing of presidential history, however, the trends are still easy to call. Read the rest....

“The Real J. Edgar,” The Nation, November 30, 2011

Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar brings humanity to its subject, depicting a tortured love relationship between J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, his second-in-command at the FBI. When it comes to politics, though, the film reverts to stereotype. According to J. Edgar, Hoover remained in power for forty-eight years primarily because he “had the files” on his political enemies. In this well-worn view, Hoover was a lone operator, manipulating American politics from a shady perch in his artfully darkened back room. Read the rest....

“Internal Affairs,” Slate, November 10, 2011

In one of the climactic moments of the new film J. Edgar, a thirtysomething J. Edgar Hoover reveals his plans to take a wife. The scene unfolds in a New York hotel suite, where Hoover has reserved adjoining rooms with Clyde Tolson, his second-in-command at the FBI. Tolson responds with rage to his boss’s news, throwing a temper tantrum at odds with his typically polished demeanor. The argument soon escalates into a fistfight, then into the film’s single most sexual moment: a bloody kiss between the director and associate director of the FBI. Read the rest....


“Greater Expectations,” New York Times Book Review, September 18, 2011

We might as well call it: The American left is dead. Faced with the greatest crisis of capitalism in almost a century, the left has mounted no effective mass protests, inspired no significant uprisings, spawned no major institutions or policy revolutions. In Wisconsin, labor unions lost their greatest public battle since Ronald Reagan’s showdown with air traffic controllers. In the midterm elections, the Tea Party, not the left, took advantage of economic discontent to upend the status quo. Today, the dream of socialism exists mostly as a far-right phantom, to be conjured up when Democrats dare to imply that Medicare or Social Security might serve the public good. Read the rest....

“Terrorism and the American Experience,” Journal of American History, June 2011

In 1970, just months before his death, the historian Richard Hofstadter called on U.S. historians to engage the subject of violence. For a generation, he wrote, the profession had ignored the issue, assuming that consensus rather than conflict had shaped the American past. By the late 1960s, with assassinations, riots, and violent crime at the forefront of national anxieties, that assumption was no longer tenable. Everywhere, Americans seemed to be thinking and talking about violence, except within the historical profession. Hofstadter urged historians to remedy their “ inattention ” and construct a history of violence that would speak to both the present and the past. Over the last four decades, the historical profession has responded to that challenge. Studies of racial conflict, territorial massacres, gendered violence, empire, crime and punishment, and war and memory make up some of the most esteemed books of the past generation. Yet on the subject of “ terrorism, ” the form of violence that currently dominates American political discourse, historians have had comparatively little to say. Read article. Read round-table. Review teaching resources. Listen to the podcast....



“Under God…or Not,” New York Times Book Review, October 15, 2010

Today’s conservatives often describe themselves as strict constructionists, seeking the “original meaning” of the nation’s founding texts. In the case of the Pledge of Allegiance, a much ­fetishized if not legally binding document, this approach is unlikely to yield the desired political result. As Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer note, the original author of the pledge was a former Christian Socialist minister who hoped to redeem the United States from its class and ethnic antagonisms. Interpretations of its meaning have been growing more conservative, not more liberal, ever since. Read the rest....



“He Was No Wilsonian,” New York Times Book Review, December 13, 2009

When historians rank the American presidents, Woodrow Wilson almost always secures a place in the top 10. This seems to be an honor accorded successful wartime leaders; in the last C-Span Presidents Day poll, the highest three spots belonged to Lincoln, Washington and Franklin Roosevelt, two war presidents and a general. Yet compared with the reputations of other members of that august pantheon, Wilson’s lags far behind. George W. Bush was described as “Wilsonian” after 9/11, but that was hardly meant as a compliment. Barack Obama, like Wilson a scholar, political neophyte and Nobel Peace Prize winner, prefers to be compared to Lincoln and the second Roosevelt, or even to Truman and Reagan — practically any other member of the top ranks. Today, the only major public figure who seems to be interested in Wilson is the Fox News host Glenn Beck, who traces the roots of our current “socialist” predicament back to the dark era of Wilsonian income taxes, war propaganda and obscure monetary symbols. Read the rest....

“American Macho,” New York Times Book Review, June 14, 2009

On March 11, 2003, about a week ­before President George W. Bush began bombing Iraq, the cultural historian Jackson Lears published an Op-Ed article in The New York Times pleading for sanity. He sensed that it was already too late, and suggested that war opponents might be “fingering a rabbit’s foot from time to time.” As a historian, however, Lears couldn’t help asking when the “regenerative” impulse to seek national glory through war first took root. The result is “Rebirth of a Nation,” a fascinating cultural history that locates the origins of Bush-era belligerence in the anxieties and modernizing impulses of the late 19th century. Read the rest....

“Do Rookies Make Good Presidents?” TIME, November 5, 2008

For 10 exhausting months, Americans worried that Barack Obama might be too inexperienced to serve as President. On Nov. 4, a majority of voters decided that he is in fact "ready to lead"--or at least that he had better be. This suggests that Americans know their history. When it comes to presidential success, experience isn't all it's cracked up to be. Read the rest....

“What Kind of Temperament is Best?” TIME, October 16, 2008

TIME recently gathered four presidential historians--George Mason University's Richard Norton Smith, Yale University's Beverly Gage, and Russell Riley and David Coleman of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia--to discuss presidential temperament: what it is, who had it and how much it matters in the White House. An excerpt of their conversation: Gage: What people are trying to get at when they use the word temperament is something along the lines of instinct--how someone approaches a situation and particularly, I think, how someone approaches a crisis. Read the rest....

“Our First Black President?” New York Times Magazine, April 6, 2008

Will Americans vote for a black president? If the notorious historian William Estabrook Chancellor was right, we already did. In the early 1920s, Chancellor helped assemble a controversial biographical portrait accusing President Warren Harding of covering up his family’s “colored” past. According to the family tree Chancellor created, Harding was actually the great-grandson of a black woman. Under the one-drop rule of American race relations, Chancellor claimed, the country had inadvertently elected its “first Negro president.” Read the rest....

“Rockefeller and the Angry Commoners,” Slate, October 19, 2007

Former Citigroup chairman Sanford Weill thinks that John D. Rockefeller had it good. "I once thought how lucky the Carnegies and Rockefellers were because they made their money before there was an income tax," Weill told the New York Times' Louis Uchitelle in July. "I felt that everything of any great consequence was really all made in the past." Imagine Weill's surprise, then, to discover himself occupying an economic world that more and more resembles Rockefeller's. Read the rest....

“Old Soldiers Never Lie,” Slate, September 19, 2007

In the final moments of The War, the new miniseries by Ken Burns, the camera gazes out over a country horizon at sunset. Lilting in the background are the soft chords of a solo piano, accompanied by the murmur of crickets. Then, the husky voice of pop stylist Norah Jones eases in. "For those who think they have nothing to share," she sings as the faces of World War II veterans and their families begin to flash across the screen, "Who feel there are no heroes there …" After some two minutes of plaintive photographs, the film closes with Jones in a last patriotic refrain. "America, America," she sobs, "I gave my best for you." Read the rest....

Review of “The Reagan Diaries,” Chicago Tribune, June 9, 2007

On Jan. 28, 1982, Ronald Reagan visited the Smithsonian Institution to view an exhibit on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The event was largely ceremonial, one of those innumerable camera-ready moments that make up the life of any modern president. Following the tour, Reagan moved on to a luncheon with the Roosevelt descendants, then a series of meetings on unemployment, and at last dinner with conservative columnist George Will. Read the rest....

“Putting a Human Face on a Domestic Terrorist,” Chicago Tribune, February 11, 2007

In the end, Eric Rudolph didn't really mind being arrested. By 2003, when a local police officer found him picking through a Save-A-Lot dumpster, Rudolph had been hiding out in the North Carolina mountains for almost five years, living off the nighttime discards of nearby towns, frying up salamanders to eat when food was scarce. During that time he had become not only a proud member of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list but also a folk hero of sorts: a "lone wolf" who managed, for all his moral failings, to single-handedly outwit an army of federal agents. Read the rest....

“Why Violence Matters,” Journal for the Study of Radicalism, January 2007

In his 1966 article "Violence in American Labor Disputes," Philip Taft laid out a paradox for American history. On one hand, he wrote, class relations in the United States have been among the least ideological in the world. On the other hand, American labor conflicts have been among the world's most violent. "It may appear anomalous," Taft commented, "that the United States, a country in which class feeling and class ideology are almost entirely absent, has experienced a considerable amount of violence in labor disputes." He resolved this anomaly by arguing that class violence in the United States was mainly an adaptation to structural circumstances: In conflicts where vital interests, especially union recognition, were at stake, workers and employers tended to resort to brute force. By this logic, the intense violence of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era fit quite comfortably within the exceptionalist narrative of the United States as a nation largely free from ideological conflict. Read the rest....

“2 Books Paint a Gallery’s Worth…,” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 2006

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter declared, not altogether persuasively, that Barry Goldwater was not a conservative. According to Hofstadter, Goldwater was a pseudoconservative, a term Hofstadter borrowed from social critic Theodor Adorno to describe the most ardent and least self-critical McCarthyites. The pseudoconservative, in this view, was a dangerous absolutist disguised as a mere Republican, the sort of person today's bloggers might label a CINO, or conservative in name only. In 1964, with Goldwater's towering defeat by Lyndon Johnson, Hofstadter saw little immediate danger in the pseudoconservative crusade. Still, he warned, no American should ignore the extreme nature of the far-right vision, "with its paranoid suspicions, its impossible demands, and its millennial dream of total victory." Read the rest....

“Conservatism’s Founding Mother,” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2006

On Nov. 17, William F. Buckley Jr. celebrated his 80th birthday at the Pierre Hotel in New York. Once the enfant terrible of mid-century conservatism, Buckley has aged, if not mellowed, into a hallowed figure among friends and allies. His life story has become something of a creation myth for modern conservatives: Out of the wilderness of sneering 1950s liberalism came a single man who stopped the tide of creeping socialism and remade conservatism as America's most popular political creed. Read the rest....

“Just What the Doctor Ordered,” Smithsonian, April 2005

In 1758, young George Washington decided to seek a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He had been stymied in an earlier bid, he believed, by one crucial error: he had not "treated" the voters properly—which is to say, he had not provided them with sufficient alcoholic refreshment. This time, determined to correct his ways, he purchased some 144 gallons of wine, rum, hard cider, punch and beer for distribution to supporters. At more than two votes per gallon, Washington's effort proved successful, launching a rather distinguished career in American politics. More than a century and a half later, after the American temperance movement had finally won its fight to prohibit alcohol, a considerable percentage of the nation's populace remained staunchly faithful to the founders' tradition, using their ingenuity to acquire any and all available alcohol. They drank hair tonic, flavoring extracts and patent medicine. They patronized speak-easies and bootleggers, helping to boost a nationwide industry of organized crime. They stole liquor from government warehouses. They posed as priests and rabbis to acquire sacramental wine. Read the rest....

“Imperfect Unions,” Washington Post, August 17, 2005

It was late at night, in the middle of a hard-fought union campaign, when a friend confessed that he wondered if he had "made the right choice." He had just quit graduate school to become a labor organizer and was having second thoughts about his decision. I asked him if he was worried about the long hours, the political frustrations or the frequent travel. "No," he said bluntly. "I'm worried that there won't be a labor movement in 30 years." Read the rest....

“American Violence,” Reviews in American History, June 2005

On a warm July night in 1919, a gang of whites dragged a black man off a streetcar in Washington, DC, and beat him in full view of the evening crowd. Ossian Sweet, then a medical student at Howard University, happened to be walking by. He watched in horror as the beating continued: "the sickening sound of fists and boots slamming against bone, the victim curling his body into the fetal position to avoid the blows, the stream of blood filling the cracks in the cement," as Kevin Boyle imagines the scene in his wonderful new book on the unrelated court case that would soon make Sweet a political martyr (p. 97). Read the rest....