What is the sound of N=1 hand clapping?

nast-donkey.jpgFrank Rich’s column in yesterday’s New York Times was rich–really Rich.  Aside from the obligatory and gratuitous Hillary Clinton smears, natch, it’s a model of a self-interested historical myopia that I’m afraid too many Democrats will talk themselves into on the way to Election Day.  Rich’s premise is that this year’s election dynamic is The Grand Old White Party Confronts Obama.  Now, no one can dispute Rich’s tag of the GOP as the GOWP–not anyone looking at the lily-white, all-guy lineup that suited up for each presidential debate in 2007 and 2008.  Not African American voters who are the smartest voters in this country in recognizing that a vote for the GOWP candidate is not a vote in their self-interest.  (If only white women would brain up and vote in their self-interest too!  Maybe this year?)

But, if the GOWP is really so old-fashioned in their white manitood and “all the fretful debate about whether voters would turn out for a candidate who is a black or a woman seems a century ago,” as Rich argues, then the Democratic Party’s record will be rock-solid in its consistent grooming and support for African American candidates, right?  Let’s take a stroll over to American history to look at the Democratic party’s record of African American candidates in the top elective jobs in Washington, the Senate and the presidency, and the top job in state government, the Governor’s office.  Since the GOWP’s Black Friend, Congressman J.C. Watts (R-OK), declined to run for re-election in 2002 after serving four terms, Rich is right to point out that “there are no black Republicans in the House or Senate to stand with the party’s nominee in 2008.”  But the Democratic Party’s numbers are similarly pathetic.  Currently, there is one black Senator–you know and love him!–it’s Barack Obama (D-IL), who represents the same state that also sent the first black woman Senator to Washington in 1992, Carol Mosley Braun.  Perhaps because she didn’t have the foresight to change her name to Carol Mosley Daley, Braun was’t re-elected.  Braun and Obama were respectively only the fourth and fifth African American senators in U.S. history.  More interestingly, they are also the only African American Democrats ever elected to the Senate–the two men elected during Reconstruction were Republicans, and more recently Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who served from 1967-79, was a Republican too.  Ooops! 

OK, let’s go to the Governors:  Total number of sitting black Republican governors:  zero.  Total number of sitting black Democratic governors:  one, Deval Patrick (D-MA).  Total number of African American elected governors in U.S. history:  two, Patrick and one-term Governor L. Douglas Wilder (D-VA).  (Let’s note here too that the African American politicians listed here have a preternaturally high rate of serving one-term.  Brooke of Massachusetts is the longest serving black Senator in U.S. history, winning re-election once and completing two full terms.)  Now, on to the presidential campaigns:  Total number of black Republicans to run for president:  one–Alan Keyes (1996 and 2000).  Total number of black Democrats to run for president:  five–Shirley Chisholm (1972), Jesse Jackson (1984 and 1988), Carol Mosley Braun (2004), Al Sharpton (2004) and Obama (2008).  Total number of black Democrats to win their party’s nomination (so far):  Zero.

The Democratic Party has quite a history of racial violence and exclusion to reckon with, from Indian Removal, to the defense of chattel slavery, to post-Reconstruction violence and the Ku Klux Klan, to Jim Crow and the Dixiecrat Party.  (Please note:  it was the Dixiecrats, not the Dixiepublicans!)  Democrats got right with God and history in 1964, but their record so far in promoting African Americans to leadership only looks good when compared to the GOWP.  If Democrats get a chance to pull the lever this fall for Obama, they shouldn’t break their arms trying to pat themselves on the back for being the party of N=1 instead of N=0.  One man’s political fortunes aren’t transformational–only rank-and-file organizing and support for candidates of all ethnic backgrounds will truly change the face of the Democratic party.

But, just in case, let’s all say this prayer in the voting booth in November:  close your eyes, click your heels three times, and repeat after me:  Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Lani Guenier! 

Who do you love?

It’s a little late for Valentine’s Day, but here’s kind of an interesting exercise in testing your emotional preferences for the top four presidential candidates.  Via Pandagon, here’s the Implicit Association Test.  It asks you at the start of the test what your candidate preferences are, and then puts you through a rapid-response drill involving photographs of the candidates and associative words.

Leaving aside questions about a methodology that seems to correlate hand-eye coordination with emotional preferences somehow, and an observation that some of the photos of Obama and Clinton in the test were rather unflattering, Historiann is more than a little disturbed to report her results:  While Hillary Clinton came out as my top candidate emotionally (natch), Huckabee and McCain were dead even with each other not very far behind her.  (I kind of get that with McCain, whose photos as a young Navy officer strongly resemble a close member of my family when he was a young man, but Huck?)  Obama came out at the bottom, much to my surprise–perhaps I’ve been overly influenced by some of his supporters on the internets, who seem to be hatin’ on Hillary more than they love their man.  All of the candidates in my preference profile were fairly closely grouped together, within 2-3 points of each other, so perhaps these relative rankings aren’t important.  It might be fun to revisit this test later in the campaign.

How do your intellectual preferences square with your emotions?  (The test is pretty painless and takes only 10 minutes or less, depending on how speedy you are.)  Any big surprises for you?

Heartbreaking. Now where is our outrage?

Well, another campus has been visited with death and destructionSix Five innocent students dead (so far) and fifteen sixteen wounded, including the graduate student instructor.  When I wrote the post Where can I get a high-fashion kevlar vest? last Friday morning, I was a bit prankish in tone at the end.  I should probably clarify my position:  I don’t actually think faculty and students should arm themselves for combat when going to class.  I’m outraged at the crazy right-wing gun nuts whose response to the Virginia Tech murders was “well, those wimpy students should have armed themselves so that they could take the shooter down.”  I think there’s nothing more destructive of creating a mutually respectful culture of learning than these murders and the chorus of gun nuts who believe that more guns in classrooms is the answer.  My suggestion that people should “start packing heat, if that’s your style,” was more an expression of frustration at our political culture’s inability to ensure our safety in schools and universities than a clarion call for faculty to “lock’n’load.”

One of my hooks for that post was that I saw little if any discussion about gender in the mainstream media analyses of these mass shootings–which is strange, because they are overwhelmingly committed by boys and men, and you know if they were mostly committed by women, that would be considered a very notable fact.  In the comments to that post, Nick corrected me gently and pointed out that sociologist Michael Kimmel has written about masculinity and gender issues in these mass shootings.  His article, “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence (2003) analyzes junior high and high-school shootings from 1982-2001, and makes a persuasive case that gender is clearly an issue in the 1990s school shootings, as he found that “nearly all had stories of being constantly bullied, beaten up, and, most significantly for this analysis, ‘gay-baited,'” (p. 1445), not because they were gay, but because they didn’t conform to a particular performance of masculinity.  I’m not sure that his analysis is entirely useful for understanding the more recent mass-shootings of the 2000s, which appear to involve older perpetrators (men in their late teens and early 20s, instead of school-age boys) engaged in more random attacks (in Salt Lake City, Virginia TechOmaha, Denver/Colorado Springs, and now Northern Illinois University.  Mind you–that’s just the random mass shootings that have occured in the last year, from February 12, 2007 to February 14, 2008!)  Still, it’s a solid and accessible academic article that attempts to grapple with the overwhelming fact that troubled boys and men are much more prone to pick up guns than girls and women are.

What the hell kind of country is this?  Is there really no way to 1) divest ourselves of gun worship and home arsenals, 2) strictly limit firearms access to stable, mentally healthy people, and 3) screen for and identify potentially troubled students who might be prone to violence?  (Knitting Clio asks, relative to point #3, “Why do the responses to such shootings never include increasing funding for mental health services to students?”  She is right–mental health services should not be restricted just to identifying and eliminating potentially violent students.  They should get treatment, too.)  Why isn’t this a bigger priority in our politics?  Is the big, bad gun lobby really more terrifying than seeing another episode of mass carnage in the newspaper?  Really?  Think of the hundreds–hundreds–of parents who are grieving and bereft now because their children went to school or college, like their parents hoped they would, and went to class like they were supposed to.

If you’re interested, here is some information on women’s Kevlar vests.  They range in price from $380-$549, so it’s not a trivial investment, but I’m not ruling it out.  I’m starting to think that faculty should organize to demand them in their benefits packages–a one-time purchase that’s surely less expensive than running a search to replace a dead colleague. 

Patty Limerick's Valentine to Bruce Benson

cowboy-heart.jpgWhat is up with Patricia Limerick these days?  Aside from being the Director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado (CU), she writes occasional op-ed pieces as an advocate for Western issues like water and dirt.  This morning, I cracked open my hard copy of the Denver Post to find her endorsement for right-wing hack Bruce Benson to become the next president of her university.  With apologies to my out-of-state and international readership, I’ve already addressed this foolishness, if only for the realpolitik concept that the ENTIRE STATE IS NOW RUN BY DEMOCRATS.  But, Historiann just can’t let this one go.

So, back to Limerick:  she starts her op-ed with an unconvincing apologia for the fact that Benson is one of one finalists for the job.  She explains, “when news gets out that a top university administrator is a finalist for a job at another institution, that person is in jeopardy. At the very least, the people she works with will look at her with distrust. At the worst, she may end up, in short order, no longer holding that job.  Hence, the idea of announcing a list of several finalists is a dream that cannot find a home in the cutthroat world of our times.”  Really?  Let’s look at comparable searches elsewhere.  I wonder how Colorado State University ever got 2 people with distinguished academic careers to interview publicly just five years ago?  Who knew that the delicate flowers who compete for these jobs were taking such incredible risks?  Back in the reality-based community, they’re not:  it seems more typical than unusual that two to four finalists are named.

Next, she addresses his lack of academic qualifications:  “Others believe that Benson’s lack of a Ph.D. disqualifies him for the presidency.”  Call me an old stick-in-the-mud, but I think it’s only fair that people in the top jobs at universities have to match at least the minimum requirements that our beginning assistant professors must meet.  You know, the people that he’ll be asked either to tenure or fire in 6 years?  Finally, she suggests that his history of partisan hackery and lack of academic qualifications is a net bonus for CU:  “In fact, the very habits of expression that make some faculty and students wince when they listen to Benson are exactly the habits that could persuade a majority of Coloradans to appreciate CU and recognize its need for greater financial support.”  Whaaaaa?  I guess the literal translation of that is, “The majority of Coloradoans are dumb hicks like Benson, and he’ll be better able to pick their pockets on behalf of CU.”  Limerick evidently holds both her fellow Coloradoans and her academic colleagues in such low esteem that she thinks the latter can’t really talk to the former effectively about their pointy-headed schemes, let alone convince anyone that they’re worth supporting.  Pretty patronizing, Professor.

I can’t put it any better than a long-time worker in higher education I know, who says “the fact is that for the past 14 years, at least, Republicans have engaged in a slash-and-burn attack on public institutions of all kinds, including–and perhaps especially–higher education, and in particular colleges of liberal arts.  Now, suddenly, students, professors, staff, and other citizens are to believe that all is forgiven, forgotten, and recanted. . . . .Any clear-headed, clear-eyed historical analysis would suggest that right now, Benson and his ilk are as much captives of a hostile political environment that they created as much as they are victims of mindless, knee-jerk liberal reaction.”  [Historiann would argue moreso.]  “Conservatives–former conservatives?–are running for cover right now, and it appears that Benson has found a pretty good refuge in which to make himself over as a broad-minded, public-spirited citizen.”  What a scam!  You know what they say, though:  IOKIYAR (It’s O.K. if you’re a Republican)!

UPDATE:  Hot off the presses–the CU Boulder Faculty Assembly voted 40-4 tonight against a resolution in support of Benson’s candidacy.  (Warning:  the link is to a Rocky Mountain News story, so skip the comments unless you’ve got a strong stomach.  Those commenters seem to ratify Limerick’s dim view of Coloradoans, sad to say. . . but take a look:  do you think those people are going to open up their checkbooks and vote for tax increases to support CU?  I mean, once they wipe the Chee-to crumbs off of their sweatshirts?)  The vote tonight is only advisory, as the CU Board of Regents has the final say next Wednesday.  The faculty also passed a resolution to ask the Regents to re-open the search for a new president.

Jacking the internets for the forces of evil!

scooby-doo.jpgCheck out what a few Ph.D’s can accomplish with an internet connection and e-mail accounts:  Ralph Luker over at Cliopatria reports that Melissa Spore at the University of Saskatchewan wrote to him with her suspicions that Robin Morgan’s recent essay, “Goodbye to All That (#2)” in support of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination, contained a counterfeit quotation from Harriet Tubman.  (The Morgan essay has been linked to on a lot of feminist blogs, and appeared in the comments to this post at Historiann.com, courtesy of Heather Prescott.)  About the women who aren’t supporting Clinton in the primary election, Morgan writes, “Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands-if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.'” 

Spurred by Spore’s question, Luker contacted authors of recent books about Harriet Tubman, Kate Clifford Larson (Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero, 2004), and Milton Sernett (Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History, 2007), who both confirmed Spore’s suspicions.  They can’t prove it’s not a Tubman quotation, but they both suspect it’s a misattribution from a fictionalized twentieth-century Tubman account.  Luker also found that there were more than 200 websites that attribute the quotation to Tubman, which pretty much obviates his challenge to Morgan:  “Robin Morgan: Cite your source or quit pimpin’ out Harriet Tubman!”  I think we all know what her source was. . .after all, it’s on more than 200 websites!  As obsessive readers of Historiann.com know (hi, Mom!), our own commenter rootlesscosmo used the internets last week to find the accurate source of what most of us thought was the famous bon mot attributed to Gloria Steinem, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  (Answer:  Irina Dunn.  Well, we think rootlesscosmo is right, although he cites a web page, not a published, peer-reviewed source.) 

So, let’s invent a new game:  what famous quotation in history do you want to take credit for by jacking the internets?  If we can get enough Historiann, ca. 1997high-traffic websites to attribute the quotation to you, we might be able to re-write history on the open-source, non peer-reviewed but extremely prestigious internet.  (As they used to say in Scooby-Doo cartoons, “it’s so crazy, it just might work!”)  Bonus points for jacking a quotation that’s just about the least likely thing you would actually say.  So, here is the quotation Historiann wants to take credit for:  “God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection,” (Historiann, 1997).  So wrong, on so many levels, and yet it just feels right!

Current events and History hiring trends

hourglass.jpgBack in 1998 or 1999 as the end of the twentieth-century approached, all of a sudden Perspectives and the H-Net Job Guide were chocablock with advertisements for twentieth-century historians, particularly U.S. historians.  Beginning in the fall of 2002, in response to the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, it seemed like most departments with open lines were looking to hire historians of the modern Middle East or of U.S.-Middle East relations.  And, there are still a large number of medieval history job descriptions that state a preference for medieval Europe and Islam in a comparative framework, or medieval Mediterranean history.  Sadly for Historiann’s Russian history friends in graduate school in the early 1990s, interest in that field took a nosedive after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the events in Russia in the summer of 1991.  This influence of current events is hardly surprising, and I think reflects a (mostly) admirable commitment to using the past to open new perspectives on the present. 

In the event of a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton presidency, what will its effects be on History hiring in the fall of 2009 and for the next few years?  Will we see a renewed interest in hiring African American historians and women’s historians, particularly those whose work is in political history?  The rise of the history of the 1960s and 1970s in recent years, which will be big at the Berkshire Conference this year, may mean that historians of very recent U.S. history will be beneficiaries of a Clinton or Obama presidency, too.  Would a John McCain presidency mean a renaissance in military history (or even naval history?)  I can think of a group of people who may be rooting for a  Mike Huckabee presidency, even if mostly for the job, publishing, and punditry opportunities. 

Historiann has already been interviewed by a college journalist in Michigan about this historic election year–and bear in mind that it’s February, and she’s a colonial historian, not a modern U.S. women’s historian or African Americanist, so it strikes me that 2008 will be a historic election if only because it’s generating very strong interest in, well, American history.  Do you think it will influence History department hiring trends in the next few years, depending on the outcome of the November election?  Do you approve or disapprove of current events influencing History hires?  What fields do you think your department needs to hire in?  (And if you’re among Historiann.com’s wide interdisciplinary readership, please chime in from your own perspectives on current events and hiring in your fields.)  Inquiring graduate student lurkers want to know…

Of Philosophers and Queens

Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday in the New York Times contained some trenchant (if not novel) observations about women and leadership.  He based his analysis on a review of the last couple thousand years of world history, and pondered why there have been relatively few women heads of state since the Age of Revolutions, relative to their at least occasional appearance as sovereign monarchs before 1800.  His theory:  “In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices – and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.”

The problem he points to is that the demos in democracy–that is, all of us voters–perceive women to be either likable or capable, but rarely both.  “This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts,” reports Kristof.  Excellence, or even competence, is not a feminine virtue.  It’s enough to make a girl go curl up with Catharine Mackinnon and re-read Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, you know, the parts where she deconstructs the whole concept that so-called liberal democracies work for women as well as men?

Your thoughts, gentle readers?

UPDATE:  Speaking of the contradictory things people want to see in women leaders, see this blog post by Stanley Fish on Hillary Clinton hatred, a follow-up to his original post last week discussing its rabid, evidence-free nature.  (Warning:  if you click those links, watch out for flying monkeys!)  The huge number of comments that column and this one elicited offer us a disturbing view of our culture’s misogyny, and the twisted logic that has corrupted the minds of some putative Democrats.  As Fish explains, many commentors suggest that the mere existence of this irrational hatred, lamentable though it is, is a good enough reason not to support Clinton.  “In other words [their logic goes], by being the targets of unwarranted attacks – that is their crime, being innocent-the Clintons are putting us in the uncomfortable position of voting against them for reasons we would rather not own up to.  How dare they?  Given the fierceness of the opposition to her candidacy, why doesn’t Hillary do the decent thing and withdraw?  ‘What bothers me about Hillary is that she must know this, yet she apparently thinks so much of herself, or wants to be president so badly, that she’s willing to risk compromising the Democrats’ chances of winning in November to stay in the race’ (Matthew, 440). How inconsiderate of her both to want to be president and to persist in her quest in the face of calumny.” 

It’s simply unimaginable that people would make that demand of a male politician.  Quite the contrary, in fact:  George W. Bush has made the opposition of 70% of Americans a self-styled badge of honor.  Barry Goldwater made it seem to other conservatives that his walloping in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson was something to be proud of.  How dare a Senator who was re-elected with nearly 70% of the vote “think so much of herself,” or “want to be president?”