Saturday round-up: lazy blogger edition

Well, friends, it’s the Saturday in-between the end of classes and the beginning of finals week, so I’ll be out in the garden weedin’ and grillin’ up a storm  instead of in front of this computer screen for most of the day. I’m turning this blog over to smarter writers and bloggers than I, for your degustation:

  • Tony Grafton reviewsAndrew Delbanco’s College:  What it Was, Is, and Should Be.  Of all of the recent books on what’s wrong with higher education, this one seemed to me to be among the most worthy.  I’ve had Delbanco’s scholarship on my shelves since undergraduate days, and as he is a Columbia University faculty member he’s doesn’t blame the faculty for all of our current woes.  Grafton finds Delbanco’s contribution stronger on the Was and Is parts than the Should Bes–in other words, a better history of higher ed and diagnosis of its current ills and perhaps weaker on prescriptive solutions, but it seems like getting the Was and Is parts right is a good enough reason to read it. 
  • Echidne reflects on the end of the Cold War, and concludes that without the atheistic communist foe, capitalism “has gone wild:”  “It is ironic that communism was what kept the American type capitalism decent. Without that public enemy the nazguls are free to rob and ravage.”  That’s the thing about the ultra-rich and their lapdog politician-servants:  they’re not just greedy, they’re sore winners.
  • Finally, the Big Dog takes on the Dog-EaredPresident Bill Clinton reviews Robert Caro’s latest volume on Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power:  “Southern Democrats were masters at bottling up legislation they hated, particularly bills expanding civil rights for black Americans. Their skills at obstruction were so admired that the newly sworn-in Johnson was firmly counseled by an ally against using the political capital he’d inherited as a result of the assassination on such a hopeless cause.  According to Caro, Johnson responded, ‘Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?’ This is the question every president must ask and answer. For Lyndon Johnson in the final weeks of 1963, the presidency was for two things: passing a civil rights bill with teeth, to replace the much weaker 1957 law he’d helped to pass as Senate majority leader, and launching the War on Poverty. That neither of these causes was in fact hopeless was clear possibly only to him, as few Americans in our history have matched Johnson’s knowledge of how to move legislation, and legislators.”

That’s all folks!  Bon fin-de-semaine.  I’ll ring the dinner bell when the steaks are ready.  Come on over, and bring something to wet your whistle.

16 thoughts on “Saturday round-up: lazy blogger edition

  1. The Big Dog’s review is not really about the book, it is about Bill Clinton thinking of himself as cut from the same cloth as LBJ. They may be similar in the “deeply humane, deeply flawed” sense but certainly not in the sense of what each accomplished for the people of this country.

    My children went through a phase in which they wanted good/bad classifications for all sorts of things, including presidents. This turned out to be an interesting exercise because what we really talked about was how complicated people can be and how we have to take all of it, good and bad. LBJ provided pretty rich material in this way.


  2. Not time to read the linked post on capitalism now, but it’s still pretty early to know what’s going on with it. The time since 1989-91 is a blink of an eye in longue duree terms. If some future Russian leader ever gets to bellow “President [Tagg] Romney, tear down this Wall Street” and it does implode catastrophically, say in 2048, historians may one day say that communism and capitalism were like two large jetliners that clipped wings in South Asia during the 1970s and crashed in opposite ends of the same huge field, an infinitesimal half century apart. It’s all about scale, but this one could be a big case of chickens coming home to roost. (Or a case of big chickens coming home to roost).

    If I could have a nice lamb steak, I’ll start hiking now, and collect all the wild parsley I can along I-70!


  3. CDS, Clinton’s derangement Syndrome, seem to be alive and well. I read Big Dawg’s review of Caro’s latest LBJ book and failed to see how it can be read as “it is about Bill Clinton thinking of himself as cut from the same cloth as LBJ.” We got Obama due to this derangement.

    I wonder if someone has a proper vision of colleges should be. I am not aware of any.

    “It is ironic that communism was what kept the American type capitalism decent. Without that public enemy the nazguls are free to rob and ravage.” That idea is logically, politically and economically solid as the idea that smoking follows sex.


  4. That’s pretty funny, kb. Can I call you kb? You might want to consult a psychological professional about that Phantom CDS Detection Syndrome. PCDSDS can be a crippling condition, I gather.


  5. I understand that western intellectuals feel a need to rehabilitate the USSR, but I fail to see how US domestic regulation of the economy has much to do with Moscow. The Bolshevik Revolution was in 1917 and the USSR formed in 1922. During the 1920s the US had very unregulated economic activity resulting in the 1929 crash. It was the crash and Depression that motivated FDR’s New Deal not anything happening in the USSR. Indeed there was not much confrontation between the US and USSR during the 1930s. The Soviet Union was too busy dekulakizing peasants, starving to death Ukrainians, building the Gulag, and shooting people during this decade to have much influence on the US. Trying to link regulation under later presidents to the USSR seems even more far fetched. How exactly did the Brezhnev regime overseeing the era stagnation inspire or influence the Great Society programs of LBJ or the various economic regulations imposed by Nixon? Correlation is not causation and the fact that deregulation occurred in the US after the USSR collapsed does not mean the presence of the USSR prevented deregulation. If that blog post was an undergraduate essay it would have gotten F for failure to provide any evidence what so ever of its claims of causation.


  6. I don’t think it’s so far-fetched. (Echidne is an economist, not a historian.) There’s a vast literature on the Cold War in the U.S. which suggests that the spectre of communism (versus the actual USSR) profoundly shaped a great deal of midcentury U.S. government policy and culture.

    To me, it’s no surprise that trade unionism was at its height in this country during the Cold War. Now in the absence of CW competition, multinational corporations can crush the unions by moving mfg. offshore and/or locating to “right to work” U.S. states because workers worldwide have no alternative to neoliberalism.

    I’m not nostalgic for the Cold War, nor am I a ComSymp. But surely it’s no surprise that superpower rivalries created a series of interlocking and sometimes surprising alliances, and that the victory of one side over the other means that a lot of people lose out when they can’t play one side against the other. (I’m thinking here of the British victory in the 7 Yrs. War, which was in the short and then the long run pretty disastrous for Native North Americans. The French were problematic allies to be sure, but the important thing the French offered was a *choice* in European allies.)


  7. I saw no evidence in the post that the existence of the USSR rather than US domestic concerns were the cause of economic regulation. Trade unionism developed in the US independent of events in the USSR. Again the causes for this development were almost entirely domestic not because of the existence of the USSR. Right to work states, existed during the Cold War. The first one was Arizona. So too did moving manufacturing overseas. The existence of the USSR did not stop a major shift in the production of goods from the US to Asia during the Cold War. In fact it probably hastened it as the US gave preferential treatment to the entry of goods from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan as part of its Cold War strategy. So the options of moving to right to work states and offshore existed and in fact were used by corporations while the USSR was at its zenith. Realistically American workers did not have a Soviet option nor did most of them want it during the existence of the USSR. It is only in some areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that it was realistically possible to play the superpowers off each other. But, in retrospect the Soviet option was much more limited in reality than it appeared during the Cold War. Most of Africa for instance had already been locked into the world capitalist system during colonial times and not even the communist governments of Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique were able to break their economic dependence upon the US, Western Europe, and South Africa. If the Soviet option could not break Angola’s dependence on Chevron-Gulf or Mozambique’s dependence upon South African mining companies I fail to see how the mere existence of the USSR could restrain American capitalism within its domestic market.


  8. “I saw no evidence in the post that the existence of the USSR rather than US domestic concerns were the cause of economic regulation. . . “

    Otto, it’s a brief blog post, not a research paper. It’s fine to disagree with Echidne–I thought it was an interesting observation.


  9. The British victory in the Seven Years War, in the medium run, was pretty disastrous for the British Empire itself, at least in the North American sphere. Binary and adversarial hegemons tend to get interlocked in all sorts of ways that don’t become apparent until one of them topples or is razed. Sort of like Victorian twin-houses in shabbily-genteel parts of some cities. A lot of rotten brick at the interface is hidden behind regular upgrading of the trim on both sides of the imaginary line. But here I depart even farther from anything I actually know anything about, and the onset of the grading frenzy this weekend has still kept me from reading the underlying post.


  10. J Otto,
    Check out the end of the long telegram in which Kennan explicitly says: “Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit–Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.” “Solving internal problems,” in this case refers to two things economic inequality and unpredictability (a huge fear still in the post-War era) and the “race problem.” In particular, the Civil Rights movement was explicit in connecting to the Cold War context as decolonization got underway.


  11. Western Dave:

    Yes, I know that Eisenhower and Kennedy connected Civil Rights with being able to outbid Moscow for influence in the Third World. Although absent the Cold War I still think the more important domestic considerations would have still prevailed. But, most economic regulation in the US was put in place in the 1930s at a time considerably before Kennan’s long telegram and the Cold War. I do not think that these regulations were maintained in the US because of foreign policy considerations rather than domestic ones. The post in question claimed that the cause of deregulation in the US domestic economy in recent decades was the absence of the USSR. This would imply that these regulations only existed in the US because of the conflict with the USSR. I do not believe that these regulations were maintained in the US because of the existence of the USSR. But, rather their continued presence and later elimination are primarily the result of domestic factors.


  12. Echidne’s post is intriguing and makes a lot of sense to me. Isn’t there a political science theory that radicalizing the margins shifts the center and the boundaries of acceptable political discourse (the Overton window, maybe?), so having world communism out there at the far left of the spectrum would tend to pull the ideological center left. More anecdotally, what I hear from my modern history students is some variation on “It’s obvious that communism doesn’t work and capitalism works way better, so Olde Timey Folks and/or Europeans are just silly to have ever believed in socialistic alternatives to liberal capitalism.” From this, I take that the end of the Cold War, the demise of Soviet communism, and the idea that U.S.-led Western capitalism “won” have been absorbed into American public discourse in such a way as to naturalize capitalism as the only feasible and (key) non-ideological economic order.


  13. J.O.P.: Really? The cycle of lynching and Jim Crow would have been broken absent the Soviet threat? Nope — that’s why blacks allied themselves with Communists, because Communists were the only white political force that gave a damn about living African Americans.

    That’s also why the HUAC purges were so virulent — who cared about a few homos and leftists in academe? It was the leftists on the street level, organizing blacks even when the unions wouldn’t let them join, that made the spectre of blacks mobilized against racist authorities a very real problem — a race war that blacks could have won, with returning soldiers’ guns and a populace no longer willing to bow down. Port Chicago, anyone?


  14. And, Ellie, megadittoes — not having Communism as the far-wall of leftist activism is the equivalent of no longer having the Black Panthers for civil rights purposes. There’s no reason to negotiate with eminently reasonable people, since they’ll capitulate before allowing their followers to truly turn radical.

    Negotiators only work when they’re the force holding back something catastrophically worse — and, viz. Obama’s administration, that’s why the left has diminished to a pale reflection of a frowny face, in American political discourse, outside the Occupy movement.


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