Author Archives: Eric Rauchway

September 17, 2012, 1:10 pm

Presentism rules in screening world history.

Andrew Marr is telling the history of the world in eight hour-long episodes of television. He puts this work in line with a series of “big histories,” including Kenneth Clark’s Civilization and E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, among others. In this post for the BBC, he tries to explain who and what he left out and why, and shows that presentism is alive and well.

We’re no longer living in the Europe-first culture where Kenneth Clark so confidently stood. This had to properly reflect a world in which China, South America and India are the rising powers.

Also, I was determined that although the vast majority of history-making figures – the names we know, the rulers, the scientists – are men, this would also pay tribute to women’s contribution to history.

So, no Eurocentrism, no phallocentrism. Avoiding the DWM theory. Creditable, and bringing television history right…

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September 5, 2012, 12:44 am

The Madness and Stupor of History.

A serendipitous confluence: This week This American Life re-ran “Fear of Sleep,” which begins with Ira Glass meditating on the dangers of that altered state, in which we – whatever and whoever we are – vanish, perhaps to dream strange dreams, walk perilously, even die; from which we can wake to unexpected faces and changed places. The recent New Yorker includes Oliver Sacks’s “Altered States,” a memoir – maybe a confessional – of his youthful enthusiasm for mind-altering substances (it was, he says, the 1960s and for some of the time, for him, it was California: even so, he seems to have been an avid and various consumer). Sacks reports on the thin difference – a few chemical micrograms – between our ordinary selves and psychosis, schizophrenia, hallucination, or an insinuation of heaven. In an amphetamine haze he absorbed Liveing on Megrim and as a result wrote his own Migraine

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August 31, 2012, 3:37 pm

Eastwood brings the red meat.

So, everyone noticed that Clint Eastwood at the RNC appeared determined to portray a cranky old man – scolding an invisible President Obama, represented by an empty chair. Eastwood seemed often incoherent, and fairly goofy.

But it seems also worth noting that Eastwood’s imaginary Barack Obama was angry, inarticulate, foul-mouthed – uppity, even; in need of correcting by an older white man. And Eastwood dispatched him with a movie line he used to cow an African American punk.

I’m just saying.

August 30, 2012, 8:57 pm

The gold standard for falsehoods.

In arguing for the gold standard and against Matt O’Brien, James Rickards claims “The reason we didn’t [have a swift recovery] in 1929 is policy uncertainty and Roosevelt changing his mind,” to which O’Brien rightly points out that Roosevelt was not President in 1929, and that as soon as he took office, recovery began. Rickards’s reply is, “Roosevelt did nothing to get us out of the Great Depression.”

Now, it is obviously false that Roosevelt-inspired uncertainty had anything to do with the decline from 1929 onward, though perhaps that’s just Rickards making a mistake. The further claim betrays an underlying animus toward Roosevelt, informed by false beliefs about the Great Depression, and supports my off-the-cuff thought about gold-standard advocacy here.

Asking why there was a slow recovery after Roosevelt took office is like Newton asking why apples, once detached from the tree,…

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August 29, 2012, 5:05 pm

Romney to US: U Mad Bro?

Mitt Romney is surely the trollingest presidential candidate ever.

Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign toasted its top donors Wednesday aboard a 150-foot yacht flying the flag of the Cayman Islands.

The exclusive event, hosted by a Florida developer on his yacht “Cracker Bay,” was one of a dozen exclusive events meant to nurture those who have raised more than $1 million for Romney’s bid.

The rap on Romney is of course that he is inconsistent. Yet he persistently presents the impression that he is among the richest of men, in league with the richest of men and women, with little regard for the United States or its citizens except as a herd from which to extract profit.

That the yacht is (surely innocently) called Cracker Bay is only an extra incidental fillip for a candidate of the party that depends on the votes of white southerners.

August 27, 2012, 9:11 pm

More on gold and deflation.

Paul Krugman lays out the case that a gold standard would cause deflation. He bothers with this because apparently the GOP is seriously considering a return to the gold standard. Deflation, as you’ve read on this blog, is a bad idea; much worse than inflation. So why on earth is deflation so hot with the GOP set, whose core constituencies are the same as the Bryanites of the 1890s who opposed the gold standard as the instrument of those who crucified Our Lord?

The only answer I can come to is that the argument must be, FDR took us off the gold standard; everything FDR did (except fighting Nazis) is evil; therefore we should go back on the gold standard.

This is of course a lousy basis for making policy.

Anyway it’s either that or the GOP are in thrall to the rentier class.

August 25, 2012, 12:57 am

Paul Ryan’s monetary policy is as unserious as his fiscal policy.

Perhaps Paul Ryan is a gigantic fraud, or perhaps it is everyone who claims to see wisdom in him; perhaps – we should admit a range of possibilities, as our political and pundit class contains many and various mountebanks – both. But if ever there were an undeserved reputation for economic seriousness, it is Ryan’s. Consider the Congressman’s views on the dollar, to which Paul Krugman has recently called attention. Ryan observes that “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens than debase its currency.”

Let us pause first, if only briefly, to consider Ryan’s absolutism on this point: Nothing more insidious? Really? Not, perhaps, eroding civil liberties until the President can, at will, assassinate an American citizen?

But no: let’s not permit what might perhaps have been forgivable hyperbole to deter us from investigating the point at issue. Perhaps Ryan …

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August 23, 2012, 11:39 am

The Indianapolis and its two historic bombshells (late entry for Shark Week).

Below is the cruiser Indianapolis, as she appeared on June 19, 1933, just before President Franklin Roosevelt boarded her and fired a shot heard ’round the world.
After Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard on March 6 – apparently temporarily but, as he intended, permanently – the dollar price of gold rose. With this inflation came a rise in commodity prices and for three months the happy image of a recovery from the Great Depression. During this time, Roosevelt talked easily with world leaders about restoring stable exchange rates and with them international trade; in the six weeks from late April through early June he wined, dined, or otherwise conferred with – by one scholarly count – ten prime ministers and other foreign representatives, and with them issued statements regarding the desirability of a world conference for currency stabilization.

The conference met in…

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August 20, 2012, 4:34 pm

Winston Churchill thinks Paul Ryan says stupid things.

For historians, the fun of presidential election season comes when candidates start playing games with history. Often this takes the form of “you don’t know me, but remember that great guy? I’m like that guy.” The thing is, politicians generally don’t know squat about that guy; they’re just looting the iconography of civilization for their own momentary convenience.

Case in point: Paul Ryan tries to get voters to understand him by saying,

“You know what I’m a big fan of Winston Churchill. I have a bust of Winston Churchill in my office right now,” Ryan said. “Winston Churchill probably got it right when he said the Americans can be counted upon to do the right thing only after they’ve exhausted all the other possibilities, so I think we’re at that point. This is an inflection point, this is a choice of two futures.”

Winston Churchill, of course, did not have politics anything like…

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August 16, 2012, 2:25 pm

Speaking of embarrassing corrections …

The publisher of David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies (without the definite article it would be a perfectly valid thesis) has pulled it.

“Mr. Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern-day evangelicals could love and identify with,” Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the evangelical Grove City College, told Hagerty. “The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson; it’s not getting him right.”

The linked article goes on to say, “The book’s publisher came to the same conclusion” – after, of course, publishing and selling a bunch of copies.

What kinds of claims did Barton make?

Barton calls Jefferson a “conventional Christian,” claims the founding father started church services at the Capitol, and even though he owned more than 200 slaves, says Jefferson was a civil rights visionary.

Sometimes the things you learned in school are true, you know. Thomas Jefferson was a…

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August 13, 2012, 4:05 pm

A stimulus is not a New Deal: on Mike Grunwald and the Obama record

Mike Grunwald has a post at FP summarizing his new book, The New New Deal. The basic argument (of both the post and the book) seems to me clear and unassailable: the President’s “stimulus package,” or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is an under appreciated success for two reasons.

First, as to recovery, the jobs stimulus averted much worse unemployment than we would otherwise have had; this is widely understood.

Second, as to reinvestment, it will bring real and lasting “change” — Grunwald uses this word deliberately, arguing that (unlike FDR) Obama has scrupulously kept his campaign promises. ARRA has transformed the energy sector, giving renewable energy a new lease on life; it modernized medical records, it put money into high-speed rail, and pushed high-speed internet out to poorer areas. This is the more original part of Grunwald’s book and the most valuable; it’s…

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August 12, 2012, 6:31 pm

Jerome Frank liveblogs the Obama administration (i.e. it’s 1937 again, again).

In response to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s speech to restore business confidence in the teeth of a recession:

Every time that God-damned fool announces a balanced budget, it means that Government purchasing power is being cut and that’s about the only thing that’s keeping things together. The trouble is, the President won’t spend any money. Nobody on the outside will believe the trouble we have with him. Yet they call him a big spender. It makes me laugh.

Pari passu and all that, but plus ça change; see Krugman and Yglesias, in those and other places.

August 1, 2012, 1:07 pm

Gore Vidal: pretty good historian, and a great character in US history.

I read Henry Adams before I read Gore Vidal, but I liked Vidal better. Both were funny, but only Vidal was having fun. Which is not something everyone understands, that you can have great fun at the apocalypse. It was perhaps his least American trait.

A critic complained about the versions of Henry Adams and Henry James that Vidal made up. Vidal responded, but they made me up. He shared with Adams an apparent sense that American politics ought to have belonged to him, and as it didn’t, American history would. As motives to write history go, it isn’t the worst. He knew that the affairs of the republic were run by a small group of people who wanted to protect its property. He judged each faction of the group more or less by its tendency to agree with him.

In consequence, he had mixed feelings about FDR, who employed his father and disagreed with his grandfather; he held enduringly…

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July 25, 2012, 6:20 pm

Theodore Roosevelt: less racist than Mitt Romney’s advisor.

Someone on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team told a reporter about the US-UK special relationship, “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage … The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” Get it? The black guy doesn’t appreciate shared Anglo-Saxon history. Because he’s black. No, I don’t think you understand: he’s b-l-a-c-k. Not like our guy. Get it? Let me try it again …

Theodore Roosevelt had this to say about our alleged shared Anglo-Saxon history:

… I have always insisted that we [Americans] are not Anglo-Saxon at all – even admitting for the sake of argument, which I do not, that there are any Anglo-Saxons – but a new and mixed race – a race drawing its blood from many different sources … My own view is, that if a man is good enough for me to profit by his services before the election, he is good enough for me to do what I can for him after…

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July 24, 2012, 1:42 pm

A note on liberalism, Corey Robin, and Alexander Cockburn.

Corey Robin, unhappy with what he takes to be the liberal reaction to Alexander Cockburn’s death (roughly speaking, “good riddance”), writes,

Why is he or she willing to make his or her peace with the American state—despite all its crimes (crimes acknowledged by liberals!)—yet never willing to make his or her peace with critics like Cockburn, whose only “crime,” if you can call it that, was to apologize for the Soviet Union long past its sell by date? Why so much room at the inn for Truman, JFK, or LBJ—all men with real blood on their hands—while people like Cockburn and Chomsky are denied entry?

This seems to me a very peculiar question.

First of all, I’ve never known a liberal at “peace with the American state”. The liberals I’ve known all want the American state to do lots of things differently – to incarcerate fewer people, and to treat those it does imprison more…

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