Walking (and Stumbling) with Martin

President Obama gave the following sermon at a D.C. Church on January 17th. His Sunday text has historical interest since it hints the President wasn’t ready to hear the hard news from Massachusetts where Scott Brown would win Teddy Kennedy’s old senate seat two days later. But Obama’s speech is worth more than a snarky look back. While it underscores his over-confidence about the prospects of passing health insurance reform, it also speaks to what keeps America’s parties of hope alive. Take it as one true story behind the key line in the closing graph of his (much duller) State of the Union speech: “I don’t quit.”

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Who’s To Blame? (II)

Right after the Massachusetts debacle, Bernard Avishai published a short post on “Who’s to Blame” at his website BERNARD AVISHAI DOT COM. Avishai spoke as someone “marinated” in Massachusetts politics who wondered at Coakely’s grudging (“forced and fake”) nods to Obamacare. He argued: “The real question Democrats have to ask themselves is: how come the greatest piece of social legislation since Medicare is something a progressive Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy’s seat has to speak so defensively about.” Talking Points Memo linked to Avishai’s post and it sparked argument. Here’s Avishai’s response to his critics.

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History in the Making

Witness – Whittaker Chambers’ account of the Hiss case and its back story – is the fount of modern Movement Conservatism. (Ronald Reagan credited it with converting him from New Deal Democrat to conservative Republican.) Ideologues on today’s Right are still playing changes on the persona – “a solitary man in a gregarious land” – Chambers perfected in his great American autobiography cum anti-communist moral tract. But torture-mongers and Tea Partiers on the Right will find it hard to assimilate certain implications in Chambers’ thought. Meanwhile, leftists who instinctively avoid Chambers – ally of Nixon and the man who shaped Reagan’s brain – are missing out on a 20th Century mind whose testimony seems especially pertinent now.

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Jesse Jackson and Black People (Redux)

We’re honored to reprint Amiri Baraka’s reflections on Jesse Jackson, Dukakis and the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta, which he composed in 1988-1989 (and which we originally posted at First near the start of the Obama era). This is an essay for the Ages but the history Baraka witnessed in 1988 has a special resonance in our time. Baraka’s meditation begins (artfully) in medias res…

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The Ground We Stand On

I had studied social movements most of my academic life, so when some kind of rhythmic popular mobilization put in an appearance in American presidential politics in 2008, I paid attention. By February, when it arrived in my neck of the woods, the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the pundits were calling it “the Obama ground game.” I signed up so I could get a close look.

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A Free Woman: A Tribute to Ellen Willis

When the radical feminist and new journalist Ellen Willis died last fall, a black rock critic mourned her as “the Mother of us all.” Another well-known black writer – and notorious macho man – referred to Ellen as “God” when she was editing his pieces at the Village Voice. Ellen may have come to be identified with a distinctive bohemian nexus in the Village, but her work worked on people outside the Downtown milieu. Someone once compared Ellen’s 60’s talks pushing second wave feminism to the Howling Wolf tour of the UK that inspired a generation of British rockers.

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