Obama: bowls like a girl. Clinton: girl.

If like Historiann you’re concerned about the longer-term effects of bias in the media and the left blogosphere against Senator Clinton, check out Susie Madrak’s posts about Escacon ’08 last weekend at Suburban Guerrila.  Madrak reports on revealing conversations about Hillary hatred with Eric Bohlert of Media Matters, and with Paulie the K., Princeton’s coolest Professor/Columnist/Blogger extraordinaire.  (Apparently, Paulie dished about former student and top Obama advisor Austan Goolsbee over spring rolls and nam pla.  Yum!)  See also this analysis of how the orgy of Clinton-bashing works to keep all of us mouthy broads in our places, and this one too.

I think we need to consider that while Obama’s candidacy benefits now from both Dem-on-Dem insults and media bias, these gendered and sexuality-based insults and press coverage will be used to demean Obama too.  Let’s take a trip down memory lane to recall what damage this kind of bully-boy towel-snapping did to The Breck Girl, or Al Gore and his allegedly feminized Earth Tones.  Now, let’s see what washed up on the beach today:  Yes, Joe Scarborough called Obama “prissy” and “dainty” on the basis of watching Obama bowl, and contrasted his performance with other politicians who looked like “real men.”  (Bowling?  Did I miss Clinton’s “Candlepin Smackdown” in New Hampshire that assured her victory with that state’s voters?)  And let’s not forget that one of Scarborough’s sparring partners today was Congressman Harold Ford (D-TN), who in his Senate run in 2006 was the target of smarmy ads calling him “Fancy Ford” and used race, sexuality, and gender to smear him.

Indulge me in a little nostalgia, in the service of making a larger point:  Historiann attended a women’s college in the 1980s and 90s, and then I taught at one briefly right after I finished my Ph.D. in the late 1990s  One commonality of being affiliated with a women’s college is that as soon as you step off of the campus–and some jerk driving by sees you do it–you’re greeted with hostile screams of “Lezzie!”  “Dyke!”  Now, it didn’t matter if you were alone or with a crowd.  It didn’t matter if you were a femmy girlygirl with long hair and a miniskirt, or if you were a “Dyke to Watch Out For” in a flannel shirt and jeans.  And as I learned when I was briefly a faculty member at a women’s college, it didn’t matter if you were obviously a professor leading a group of students on a field trip to look at headstones in a local cemetery.  More often than not, we got screamed at, and occasionally, some people had objects thrown at them.  To jerks driving by in cars, the fact that we were affiliated with that campus was the only distinguising feature that mattered, and that distinguishing feature meant that we were subject to constant verbal harassment.

So, I’d like to remind all Democrats that to the rest of the country, it looks like we all live and work on a relatively small campus.  To the rest of the world, we look pretty much the same–when the jerks drive by, they can’t see if it’s a Clinton or an Obama for President button that we’re wearing.  And so, for some of us to tolerate–or even perpetrate–ugly insults based on gender and sexuality–it endangers all of us and our chances for electoral victory.  Because if it’s OK for some of us to be targets, it’s OK for all of us to be targets.

UPDATE, 4/2/08:  Via Suburban Guerilla, here’s an interesting look at what happened with blog traffic last month at 2 pro-Obama blogs, 2 pro-Clinton blogs, and one neutral blog.  Bottom line:   the 2 pro-Obama blogs, which have been the leaders in misogynist invective against Clinton, have seen a drop in unique visits, while the neutral and 2 pro-Clinton blogs have had relatively stable traffic without the noticeable declines that the pro-Obama blogs had.  (This may be because from my observations, the “pro-Obama” blogs are more anti-Clinton, whereas the 2 pro-Clinton blogs really are pro-Clinton rather than anti-Obama, and most Democrats like both candidates and don’t bear extreme animus against one or the other.)

UPDATE, afternoon 4/2/08:  Check out this post by Tom Watson called “MoDo Sets her Gaydar to Stun.”  Money quote:  “Liberals are just so gay. Wink freaking wink. Hillary’s been a lesbian since she first came to public attention. Gore and Kerry – well, a couple of sissy boys. Now it’s Obama’s turn.”

History and astronomy lessons from They Might Be Giant Plagiarists

Check this out, via Corrente, to see a most undeserved tribute to our eleventh President, “Mr. James K. Polk, the Napoleon of the Stump,” by They Might Be Giants.

stars.JPGIncidentally, a close family member of mine has discovered that TMBG has tried this schtick of “borrowing” from textbooks before. When perusing an old astronomy primer (don’t ask!), he discovered that the first line of their song “Why Does the Sun Shine?” was cribbed directly from Stars: A Guide to the Constellations, Sun, Moon, Planets, and Other Features of the Heavens, a Golden Nature Guide (Western Publishing Company, 1951, 1956), shown here on the left (click for larger view). Below, you can see the proof on page 16–note the first sentence in the second paragraph shown here:


That’s OK–writing new song lyrics is hard, so why not turn to used bookstores for inspiration? (Don’t you?)

It's your misfortune, and none of my own

cowboy-heart.jpgIn a sad and thought-provoking article in High Country News called My Crazy Brother, Ray Ring writes about the fact that the West has the highest suicide rates in the U.S.  He writes, “for suicide, nine of the top 11 states are in the West, a trend that holds year after year, decade after decade.  And the degree of the lethal regional difference is stunning:  Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon range from 19 to 15 suicides per 100,000 people–more than twice as high as New York and Washington, D.C. . . . . Some 8,000 Westerners will kill themselves this year, a hefty portion of the national total of more than 30,000 suicides.”  His brother John killed himself in 1993 at age 46, after nearly a lifetime of struggling with mental illness.

The worthy purpose of the article is to urge us to make mental health treatment as much of a priority as other health care needs, and it features photographs from an interesting traveling exhibition called “Nothing to Hide:  Mental Illness in the Family,” sponsored by Family Diversity Projects.)  But, since the article appears in High Country News, a magazine dedicated to environmental issues in the West, I wish Ring had offered more analysis for why Westerners have such high suicide rates.  (Historiann’s first guess is that it must be the high rates of gun ownership out here–but, while household firearm ownership is strongly associated with higher suicide rates, the South is the region with the most heavily armed householders, followed by the Midwest, according to this 2005 Gallup Poll.)  The vast majority of Westerners are now urban dwellers, so it’s not the stark isolation of ranch life or mining camps that does it.  Ring offers only the High Plains Gothic musings of historian Patricia Limerick, who says that Westerners “won’t admit our sorrows until they become cataclysmic,” but he doesn’t follow up on those comments, or explore their meaning further.  (H/t to historian Richard White, whose 1993 book title It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own:  A New History of the American West I cribbed for this post.  Said title was itself cribbed of course from the song, “Git Along Little Dogies,” and for all of you living at 4,000-foot elevation or below, it’s “dogies,” not “doggies.”)

Ring also briefly discusses the Wallace Stegner’s 1943 novel, Big Rock Candy Mountain, which hints at an interesting analysis.  Stegner’s father was an erswhile farmer and bootlegger who moved his family 20 times in 10 years, and ultimately killed a mistress and then himself in a Salt Lake City hotel in 1939.  A character in the novel, supposedly based on Stegner’s father, is described as someone who was perpetually disappointed by his failures in life because “people had been before him.  The cream, he said, was gone.  He should have lived a hundred years earlier.  Yet he would never quite grant that all the good places were filled up.  There was somewhere, if you knew where to find it, some place where money could be made like drawing water from a well, some Big Rock Candy Mountain where life was effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action, where something could be had for nothing.”  To me, Stegner’s description of the Westerner’s attitude really rings true, although I don’t know if it’s necessarily connected with mental illness. 

Stegner’s description of a man who expected a life that was “effortless and rich and unrestrained and full of adventure and action” seems to suggest something about Western culture that endures.  This is the region of the country that was only opened for intensive development by Anglo-American migrants with massive infusions of federal dollars:  the Frontier Army, irrigation, railroads, and federal grants of land, grazing, and mineral rights.  Those infusions of cash, water, and infrastructure worked–in fact, the West remains the fastest growing region of the U.S.  While Westerners are happy beneficiaries of national tax dollars, they are allergic to payting taxes and claim to be suspicious of the “big government” that won the West for them.  All of the Western states (except California, Washington, and Utah) are in the top twenty states with the lowest state and local tax burdens:  Colorado (#30), Arizona (#31), Idaho (#35), Nevada (#36), Oregon (#37), New Mexico (#40), Montana (#41), and Wyoming (#42).  This suggests that Westerners think that they’re entitled to something, if not for nothing, then at least for less than the average going rate.  Perhaps this is because so many people are recent arrivals and they don’t feel rooted in the West (if they ever will), and so many “native” Westerners are resentful of the immigrants, whether they’re from Texas, California, New Jersey, or Mexico, that they don’t feel the need to pay taxes to educate or vaccinate the newcomers’ children.  (A popular bumper sticker in Colorado sports the white-outlined green mountains of the old Colorado license plates, with the word “NATIVE” spelled out as an aggressive boast.)

Perhaps the most fragile and despondent among us are caught up in the crush of new migrants, old hopes, and fresh disappointments and can’t see any way out.  Communities of new migrants aren’t necessarily stable or supportive, and people cut off from their families and native communities may be prone to despair if their big dreams don’t work out.  Then again, they may live for a while on the hope that their luck will change with the next move, and that the next Big Thing will lead them to their Big Rock Candy Mountain.  (If you’re interested in contemporary Western issues, especially having to do with the environment, land use, development, and industry, then consider a subscription to High Country Newsit’s an excellent publication that reports stories you’ll see nowhere else in either the local or the national media.)

And, sorry about all of the buzzkills at Historiann.com lately–suicide, bullies, the gendered wage gap, and the mendacity of tenure review–you’d think it was still midwinter, instead of a lovely early spring.  I promise to lighten things up around here with a little Barbie blogging this week. 

Somerby: incomparable! Ehrenreich: now comparable to Dowd.

Very foolishly, I posted today before reading Bob Somerby’s The Daily Howler.  Go read now.  Money quote:  “Eight years ago, [Barbara] Ehrenreich was getting good solid laughs with her comments about how wooden Gore was. Today, Gore holds the Nobel Peace Prize, and the dead of Iraq stare up from the ground. And Ehrenreich has moved on-to talk about Clinton’s vile haircuts.”

What a disappointment that Ehrenreich, a feminist who has written some very intelligent and important books, has typed up a screed so full of cliches about Hillary Clinton that I would have deemed it worthy only of Maureen Dowd.  Despite the troubling prayer meetings and hairdos (both of which were no doubt carefully designed to conceal her sprouting devil horns), Clinton appears to be up 1215 points in Pennsylvania, and a whopping 28 points in West Virginia.  It must be witchcraft, or something.  Poor deluded fools–I guess they don’t spend enough time reading the prestigious, peer-reviewed internets, otherwise they would know that “that stupid bitch” doesn’t have a chance!  She should quit now, before Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Oregon, and Montana hold their primaries.

Democracy is so divisive!  We should just all unite now behind St. John McCain, because the Republicans are threatening to vote for him instead of the Democratic nominee.

Can you play short, ugly, and second-worst?

giamatti-adams.jpgIf your name is Paul Giamatti, the answer is yes!  Giamatti is starring in HBO’s docudrama on the life of John Adamsofficially the second-worst President in American history.  Ari over at Edge of the American West finds the casting unconvincing, mostly because he doesn’t think Giamatti’s John Adams captures Adams’ truly monumental asshattery.  According to Ari, Giamatti’s portrayal “extends from neurotic to nerdy, with occasional detours into petulant,” and he concludes that Giamatti “seemingly has no clue how to embody a man like Adams.”  (Yes, Ari finds that even this portrayal is too flattering to Adams!) 

Jill Lepore expresses frustrations similar to Ari’s in her review of the HBO movie, which appears in The New Yorker this week.  Entitling her review “The Divider,” she writes that minor quibbles about the movie aside, “the bigger problem is how far the writing has to go to make Adams both more important and more virtuous than everyone around him except his wife, as if to justify his prodigious self-regard and disdain for his contemporaries. Adams didn’t ‘unite the states of America,’ but he accomplished a hell of a lot. He was bold. He was brilliant. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a heel.”  She rightly reminds us of his outsized outrage after reading Mercy Otis Warren’s history of the American Revolution.  “Adams wrote Warren ten letters-some more than twenty pages long-of petty, rambling vituperation,” protesting her portrayal of him in her book.  “But his reading of Warren’s ‘History’ was paranoid and hysterical,” Lepore aptly observes, “and his letters to her are the rantings of a bully:  she is unladylike; there are things he could say about her if he weren’t such a gentleman.”  This was certainly a side of Adams that was ignored or downplayed in David McCullough’s John Adams, which was the inspiration for the HBO movie.

Historiann is just relieved that HBO didn’t cast George Clooney or Colin Firth in the service of flattering Adams even further.  Unattractive actors still get work in Hollywood–some of the most unattractive (Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, and they’re dumpy too!) are offered really interesting roles that win them big awards and fabulous reviews.  (By the way:  in real life, alcoholic junior high school teachers who are also failed writers and look like Giamatti don’t get to run away with Virginia Madsen!  Interestingly, Laura Linney has been cast with both Giamatti and Hoffman recently–John Adams, 2008, and The Savages, 2007, perhaps because she’s about as average-looking as any successful actress is allowed to be these days, and she’s of course gorgeous compared to actual humans.)  When directors need to cast an unattractive woman, they pop an ugly prosthetic nose on Nicole Kidman, or they make Charlize Theron wear weird dentures and a fat suit, or Renee Zellweger gains twenty whole pounds, because there are apparently no plain or even average-looking good actresses.  (Or actresses who have eaten a cheeseburger since the 1990s).  Full employment is only for sylph-like goddesses between the ages of 24 and 39–remember, makeup artists can do amazing things putting wrinkles on gorgeous young things, instead of having to employ a has-been like that old bag Julia Roberts.  (Happy 40th, Julia!  Love ya!)

 UPDATE:  See also Marc Bousquet’s review of the movie at How the University Works, where he constructs John Adams as an exemplar of the revolt of the “professional-managerial class.”  Bousquet writes, “Giamatti’s performance as Adams didn’t quite do it for me. His note for Adams seems to be ‘every revolution needs good management.’  Still I found many moments to like. Gruesomely cool was the inoculation of  the Adams family against smallpox.”  (Alert for PalMD!)

 UPDATE II, 3/19/08:  A clever and funny local yokel columnist for the Denver Post, Ed Quillen, published a column this morning called “Adams Deserves Obscurity.”  Like Historiann, he wonders why Adams gets the fawning treatment by HBO.  The money quote:  “John Adams had many virtues. But he also gave America the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime to criticize the federal government or its officers. A revolutionary who betrays his ideals has little right to complain about his treatment by history.”

A-hem! A-men.

On this very blog Tuesday, March 4, at 11:32 a.m., Ari from Edge of the American West wrote this in the comments to my post called, “What is wrong with Maureen Dowd?”:

“If you can arrange for do-over in MI and FL, I’ll agree to campaign for Hillary from this point forward. Seriously, I’d love to see it. But it’s not going to happen.”  (This was in response to Historiann’s comment that she “would strongly support [a re-vote in Michigan and Florida], rather than the seating of the Clinton delegates from those two states, which would indeed be unfair.”)  If you recall, in the Michigan primary Clinton was the only candidate on the ballot.  In Florida both Clinton and Obama were on the ballot, but they had agreed not to campaign there, and Florida Democrats were told their votes in that primary wouldn’t count.

Well, Ari, Historiann has personally arranged for this, along with my BFF’s Ed Rendell, Jon Corzine, all of the Democrats in Florida and Michigan, and Clinton campiagn manager Maggie Williams.  We’ve just about cinched the deal.  According to this letter from Williams, the Clinton campaign is go-go for a re-vote.  Now, it’s true that we haven’t sealed the deal yet.  When that happens, you may sign up to start making phone calls on behalf of Senator Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida at hillaryclinton.com.  (To which address should I send you the tee-shirts and campaign buttons?)

UPDATE, this afternoon:  Obama Michigan campaign co-Chair rejects a re-vote; Obama campaign rejects mail-in vote in Florida and Michigan.

Wanted: a non-U.S. American for President

martin-van-buren.JPGGo read this commentary by William K. Wolfrum over at Shakesville, a smart and spanky group blog.  He makes the fascinating point, long-overlooked by professional killjoys historians, that American-born presidents have been real losers compared to the British born ones.  “You need to go all the way to the eighth President – Martin Van Buren – to have a U.S. president that was born a bona fide American. And what is Van Buren best known for? The Panic of 1837 . . . . If Van Buren showed us anything, it was that true Americans were inept when it came to leading the country.”  (Kind of weird that his nickname was “The Little Magician,” no?  Compare that to “Old Hickory” or “Old Rough and Ready”–it just doesn’t inspire.)  Wolfrum makes exceptions for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the other New York Democrat after Van Buren to be elected President.  As a professional killjoy historian, I’ve got a few quibbles with Wolfrum, natch:  The “no person except a natural born citizen” rule kept us from what would have been the early national nightmare of a President Alexander Hamilton, but we’ve amended the constitution considerably in the intervening 200 years since that would have been an issue.  And, you have to admit that this guy is definitely the second-worst President in American history despite being born in Massachusetts, which contrary to recent rumors, is not and never was a French colony.

When you think about it, considering only U.S.-born Americans for the job limits our options considerably.  We could have a President Jennifer Granholm (born in Canada) one of these days if we did away with that rule, or a President Mary Robinson.  (We also could have a President Kindergarten Cop, though–something to consider, my fellow Americans!) 

On a related note:  HNN is once again asking us professionals to rate and rank George W. Bush’s presidency.  (Guess who beats out that guy in Historiann’s book?  One guess only!)  Anyway, if you want to submit your own answers, have at it.  I think we almost need to adjust the rankings for the newest soon-to-be ex-president to create five or six spaces in between him and the next-worst.  It almost makes me feel a little sorry for this guy–but not really all that sorry.  After all, until January 20, 2009, he’s Number One!

p.s.  Please keep sending me nominations for quality women’s history blogs–read the post below!  And as long as I’m sending hugs and kisses out to Shakesville, read this excellent post by Jeff Fecke on Geraldine Ferraro’s egregious comment that Barack Obama is somehow benefiting (unfairly!) from being a black man.  It’s embarassing, and just dumber than a sack of hammers.  Don’t go all Ralph Nader, Gerry, saying and doing dumb things that undermine your historic achievements and make us hate you in spite of them!  Apologize now!  UPDATE 3/12/08:  Ferraro bows out of the Clinton campaign.  Kind of a whiny letter, but brief!