Are We Heading Toward a Constitutional Crisis?
Oct08

Are We Heading Toward a Constitutional Crisis?

The roots of our Constitutional system of government lay deep in the Western political tradition. But as for the architecture of our government, no philosopher exerted greater influence upon the Constitutional convention than Baron de Montesquieu. His Spirit of the Laws, published in 1748, held the attention of James Madison and others in 1787 as they sought a new governing document to replace the failed Articles of Confederation. At...

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Dr. Boylston, Boston’s First First Responder
Apr16

Dr. Boylston, Boston’s First First Responder

The twin explosions that rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon took place on one of Boston’s busiest thoroughfares: Boylston Street. Commentators near and far have rightly commended the actions of the first responders – the EMT, police, race officials, fire fighters and others – who sprang upon the scene and dispatched themselves with remarkable professionalism, efficiency and calm. They were there for a...

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Why We Never Take the Deficit Seriously
Jan02

Why We Never Take the Deficit Seriously

With passage of the Fiscal Cliff legislation in the House of Representatives, the predictable grumbling from self-declared “deficit hawks”, especially those in the Tea Party, has begun. Cries of cowardice and hypocrisy abound. Why did Congress avoid the “hard choices”? Where is the leadership? Didn’t Obama claim he would cut the deficit in half when he first ran for President? Of course, none of this is...

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An Historic Victory for Social Liberalism
Nov07

An Historic Victory for Social Liberalism

In 1966, the wave of liberal optimism over the civil rights movement and the Great Society began to dissipate. Cities in the North and West faced riots and white flight. Student movements grew increasingly radical over the Vietnam War. The social fabric seemed to be unraveling. The Republican Party, licking its chops after the 1964 Goldwater fiasco, discovered that discontent over Kennedy-Johnson liberalism might bear electoral fruit...

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Latent Partisans, or Why the Party ID Sample “Skews Democratic”
Sep27

Latent Partisans, or Why the Party ID Sample “Skews Democratic”

By now the Republican litany of complaints against pollsters has become a chorus of desperation. The old adage holds true – if all or most of the polls are against you, you are probably losing. The suggestion that pollsters are using incorrect samples is one that is employed by both sides in the last weeks of a losing campaign. And while there are occasional poor polls with shoddy methodologies or genuinely sloppy demographic...

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Bill Clinton as the Anti-Zell Miller
Sep06

Bill Clinton as the Anti-Zell Miller

The effectiveness of Bill Clinton’s speech last night was revealed in a response by CNN analyst and long time top Republican strategist Alex Castellanos when he sighed, “You don’t have to come back tomorrow. This convention is done,” Castellanos said. “This will be the moment that probably re-elected Barack Obama.” His follow-up point had to do with capturing the center, but the emotional response...

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Michelle Obama’s Values Gambit
Sep05

Michelle Obama’s Values Gambit

“…as president, you can get all kinds of advice from all kinds of people. But at the end of the day, when it comes time to make that decision, as president, all you have to guide you are your values, and your vision, and the life experiences that make you who you are. ” Of all the moving and emotional components to Michelle Obama’s masterful speech last night, one piece stood out as a devastating critique of...

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Randomness and Human Events: Reflecting on Aurora
Jul21

Randomness and Human Events: Reflecting on Aurora

I teach a Modern Western Civilization course a few times every year at my small liberal arts college in Tennessee and have been doing that this summer as well. Though I’m an American historian by training, I always enjoy the chance to pull the lens back and examine the larger forces at work that shape both American and global (not exclusively Western) history. It offers a chance to go “meta” – to offer, for...

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The Civil War Border States and the Purple States of 2012
Jun09

The Civil War Border States and the Purple States of 2012

Nowhere was the Civil War more hotly contested – militarily, culturally and politically – than the northernmost tier of slave states that remained loyal to the Union, especially Kentucky and Missouri. President Lincoln famously remarked “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone, we can not hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our...

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Civil War thoughts on Andrew Johnson
May20

Civil War thoughts on Andrew Johnson

When Tennessee’s capital was occupied by Union troops in late February 1862, President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as the new Military Governor of the state. This was, I argue, the beginning of the Reconstruction of the South, and it placed one of the most enigmatic figures in America at the center of it all. Johnson faced a precarious balancing act between his oft-stated Jacksonian principles of states rights Unionism and...

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The Civil War Sesquicentennial – No Surrender at Fort Donelson
Feb16

The Civil War Sesquicentennial – No Surrender at Fort Donelson

As a historian of the 19th century United States, with a focus primarily on the Civil War era in the Upper and Border South, I’ve found the sesquicentennial to be an exciting time to help reorient the focus of the Civil War on to the “great middle” between the industrial North and the plantation South. Most of the war was fought in that heartland, including especially Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. My...

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Why the 2012 GOP Primary is NOT like the 2008 Democratic Primary
Feb08

Why the 2012 GOP Primary is NOT like the 2008 Democratic Primary

One of the arguments in defense of the extended 2012 GOP primary is that it will strengthen the eventual nominee for the general election, much as the 2008 primary did for Obama. By airing all the dirty laundry in the spring, preparing the candidates for anticipated general election attacks, and demonstrating an ability to both fight and reach out to lots of voters, an extended primary can certainly bolster a party’s nominee....

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Party Over Country? That’s SO 19th Century!
Oct10

Party Over Country? That’s SO 19th Century!

I have an article in the New York Times Disunion series today on the transformation of American political parties and the nature of partisanship during the Civil War era. In short, extreme partisanship is nothing new, and is a key part of American political identity. But taken to excess, it can have disastrous consequences. Is there a lesson in there for today? Maybe. Anti-partisanship is also an old tradition in America, with roots...

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S&P Report: A Moderate’s Manifesto
Aug06

S&P Report: A Moderate’s Manifesto

I have no idea if a math error is to explain S&P’s decision to downgrade the US government credit rating. And I’m quite aware of S&P’s dubious record in helping to create the very credit bubble that got us into this mess; remember those “AAA” bonds insured by credit default swaps? But I think, as Ezra Klein argues, this downgrade is real and is justifiable. So what is the rationale for this?...

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What Is So Infuriating About This Debt Ceiling Crisis
Jul31

What Is So Infuriating About This Debt Ceiling Crisis

We may or may not be close to a debt ceiling deal. But the damage has already been done. This crisis was utterly and completely unnecessary. The national debt has been built up over many decades and both parties contributed to it. I won’t get involved in the pointless argument over which party is more at fault – Republicans and their constant tax cuts, Medicare Part D and wars; Democrats and their stimulus spending and...

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The Spirit of 1861 – and 2011
Jul29

The Spirit of 1861 – and 2011

From the moment John Brown led his failed raid on the Federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia on October 16, 1859 the American South went into battle mode. Decades of economic rivalry, mutual cultural denigration, tragicomic assaults on the honor of politicians, and tense negotiations over Western expansion had now reached a point of genuine crisis. To the slaveholding South, the election of a President whose party contained...

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What does “Right” vs. “Left” even mean?
Feb10

What does “Right” vs. “Left” even mean?

My 9-year old son asked me yesterday what the difference between the “right” and “left” is. He knew that fascism and Nazism were way on the right and communism was way on the left. But then he overheard something on NPR talking about the “right” and “left” in America and asked if there were people in America who lean toward communism or fascism. I explained to him that in America the...

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Why That “Imported from Detroit” Ad Was So Good
Feb07

Why That “Imported from Detroit” Ad Was So Good

Click here for ad: Imported from Detroit I don’t know if there’s a market study out there on this, but I gather that a lot of people watch the Super Bowl each year not for the game itself, but for the bells and whistles that surround it: the halftime show, the national anthem, the pageantry, and especially the ads. Like most years, this year’s Super Bowl ads were filled with crass humor, talking animals and sexy...

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Be careful with the Giffords shooting
Jan08

Be careful with the Giffords shooting

As bits and pieces of information come to light regarding the shooter of Gabrielle Giffords, a Federal judge and numerous other people (including children) at a Tucson public event, we need to exercise caution about motives and consequences. In particular, be careful about lumping together Tea Party rhetoric – from Sarah Palin or anybody else – with this murder. First of all, the initial bit of information we get about...

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South Carolina’s Moment of Clarity
Dec21

South Carolina’s Moment of Clarity

There will be many moments in the coming years to examine and discuss the issues that tore our nation apart 150 years ago. Tonight is the 150th anniversary of one of the most important precipitating events in the secession crisis, which led to the American Civil War: the secession of South Carolina from the Union. Over the years a debate has ensued over exactly why South Carolina dissolved its bonds with the Federal Union, and why...

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