Archive by Author

New Review from Robert Elias in Peace Review

16 Jul

What makes a person a “great” American? The question lies at the heart of the book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century. According to the author, Peter Dreier, a “great” individual displays a “commitment to social justice and a record of accomplishment, of using their talents to help achieve important progressive change.” His “greatest” include “organizers and activists who mobilized or led grassroots movements for democracy and equality.” Or, they were “writers, musicians, artists, editors, scientists, lawyers, athletes, and intellectuals who challenged prevailing ideas and inspired Americans to believe a better society was possible.” Or they might have been politicians who “gave voice to social justice movements in the corridors of power and translated their concerns into new laws that changed society.” Using those guidelines, and what seems to be his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the history of twentieth-century political and social movements, Dreier lays out his choices, chronologically, in one hundred, short, provocative biographical essays.

Download the full review (PDF)

Robert Elias (2013) Peter Dreier, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 25:2, 322-325, DOI: 10.1080/10402659.2013.785790

Obama’s Support for Same-Sex Marriage

12 May

The gay rights movement has won Americans’ hearts and minds. The tide has turned. Opponents can try, but they can’t push it back. As I wrote today in my article in today’s Huffington Post, “Obama’s and America’s Remarkable Evolution on Gay Rights,” historians will no doubt view President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday favoring same-sex marriage as ay historic statement, parallel to those of FDR on workers’ rights and LBJ on civil rights. Although nobody believes that homophobia has disappeared, public support for gay rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular has been steadily growing among every demographic group, and is particularly strong among Americans under 30. I also compare the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement, including changes in both public opinion (for example, on inter-racial marriage) and legislation. Obama took some risks in coming out for same-sex marriage in an election year where a few thousand votes in ten key battleground states could determine the outcome of November’s election, but his willingness to do so should be seen in the context of the success of a powerful grassroots movement to change the tide of public opinion.

Are All Republicans Limbaugh Lunatics, the Cantor Crazies, and Tea Party Extremists?

12 May

The Republican Party has shifted so far to the right that Richard Lugar – the six-term Senator from Indiana who just lost a primary race to a Tea Party candidate – is considered a voice of reason. This explains why media pundits and even his Democratic colleagues have been heaping praise on the 80-year old Lugar. In fact, Lugar is quite conservative, as his voting record on labor, environment, reproductive freedom, gay rights, and other issues shows. But these days the battle within the Republican Party is between conservatives and ultra-conservatives, so Lugar looks OK in comparison to the Tea Party wing-nuts. Back in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, there was a power struggle within the GOP between conservatives and moderates. In my Huffington Post column, “Are There Any Responsible Republicans Out There?” I ask: Where are the responsible Republicans — former office-holders, corporate CEOs, university presidents, or clergy – who will stand up publicly to the Tea Party, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Armey, the Koch brothers, the Heritage Foundation, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and the Religious Right? Why hasn’t someone like Colin Powell pulled together a group of such high-profile Republicans — conservatives but not crazies – to try to rescue the GOP from the extremists who are moving the party further and further away from mainstream America?

Milwaukee’s Sewer Socialists

12 May

I recently spent several days in Milwaukee to give a talk at the University of Wisconsin about urban history and politics. My new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, includes a profile of Victor Berger — the leader of Milwaukee’s vibrant Socialist movement, which ran the local government for most of the years from 1910 to 1960 — so I was curious to learn how he is remembered in his city. It turns out that there are no buildings or other monuments named for Berger, who helped make Milwaukee one of the most progressive and well-run cities in the country. So I wrote an op-ed column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and a longer version in the Huffington Post) about Berger’s many accomplishments. I encouraged local residents to mount a campaign to restore Berger’s name to its rightful place. Many of the ideas that he and other Milwaukee “Sewer Socialists” espoused in the early 1900s — like municipal parks, public health programs, municipal ownership of utilities, old-age insurance, a minimum wage, and women’s suffrage — were considered radical at the time, but are now taken for granted. Indeed, remove the now-maligned word “socialist” and much of Berger’s agenda has broad support today throughout the country, including Milwaukee. Berger would be shocked that Wisconsin is currently ground-zero in the nation’s right-wing crusade against unions and progressive government — causes that he espoused. Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on unions, social services, and working families has triggered a huge backlash that catalyzed huge protests last year and now a grassroots movement to recall him from office.

A Must-Read

12 May

Last week I encouraged folks to read this op-ed, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans are the Problem,” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein that appeared in the Washington Post. Mann and Ornstein are both middle-of-the-road political analysts (at the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, respectively). “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years,” they write, ”and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.” They attribute most of that dysfunction to the Republicans’ dramatic turn to the right and they criticize the media for its faux even-handedness in blaming both parties for the current condition. Their op-ed was based on their new book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.

Protest at Bank of America

12 May

Over 1,000 people protested at the Bank of America’s annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, challenging the mega-banks practices on foreclosures and its support for the dirty coal industry. Six people were arrested. The protest is one of a series of actions at the headquarters of major corporations organized by a coalition of unions, community organizing groups, faith-based organizations, and others, catalyzed by the changing public mood created by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Read Amy Goodman’s article in Truthdig about the BofA protest and the wider movement of which it is a part – and which is gaining momentum.

Help Save The American Prospect

12 May

The American Prospect, the influential progressive monthly magazine, could shut down at the end of this month unless it can raise a half million dollars to fill a current funding gap. The would be an incredible loss to the progressive movement. For over 20 years, TAP has been a remarkable publication. I’ve been lucky to be able to write for it since it started, and many of my favorite writers are regular TAP contributors. Read about the funding crisis in this Huffington Post article. You can make a donation on the TAP website.

Are There Any Responsible Republicans Out There?

12 May

The defeat Tuesday of Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana in the Republican primary – trounced by a Tea-Partier – is one more nail in the coffin of the GOP’s conservative wing.  Conservative?  Isn’t Lugar a hands-across-the-ideological- divide bi-partisan moderate?

During his 36 years in the Senate, Lugar certainly had some bi-partisan moments, but on most of the key issues facing the country, he was a mainstream conservative.  He earned 0% from NARAL (for his consistent anti-choice voting record), the Human Rights Campaign (for his anti-gay stances), the AFL-CIO (for his votes on labor issues), and the ACLU (for his votes on civil rights and civil liberties), and a big  5% from the League of Conservation Voters.  In contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave Lugar a near-perfect 96% voting record – for example, by voting “no” to repeal federal tax subsidies for companies that move US jobs offshore and voting “yes” to bar the  EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.  He got a 100% seal-of-approval from the Christian Coalition.  The National Rifle Association was certainly pleased with Lugar’s vote to prohibit lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

Today, the Republican Party is torn between conservatives and ultra-conservatives. The party has shifted so far to the right that  Lugar is considered a voice of reason just for acknowledging that global warming is real.  (The Tea Party candidate who defeated him,  state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, dismisses it as “junk science”).  This explains why media pundits and even his Democratic colleagues are heaping praise on the 80-year old Lugar. He doesn’t religiously follow the Limbaugh litmus test. (more…)