Campaign 2016

Trump: In the Tall Shadow of Andrew Jackson

Originally published in the Huffington Post, July 1, 2016,

The Trump Phenom—how’d that happen?  Take a look at history…. “Indian Fighter,” general, and slaveholder President Andrew Jackson has been bumped to the back of the $20 bill, but his leadership style and outlook on the world lives.  His contemporary is Donald J. Trump.

Businessman-turned-politician Trump thrives despite the type of comments that have ended many campaigns. Trump’s style on the stump, and his call to “make America great again,” have roots in the American tradition represented by Jackson. Both “Old Hickory” and “The Donald” have inspired deep commitment among their followers for being tough and for saying out what they believe with ideas that have defied the conventional wisdom of their time.

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Campaign 2012

The Outsiders Within: Obama, Romney, and the Tradition of Defying Tradition

Before You Vote, consider this likely pitch from the next popular politician: Vote for me!—I’m an outsider!

Americans have a tradition of defying tradition.

Dear Once and Future Voter: Who are the insiders you are hoping to overturn? Consider the case of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, two candidates for president in 2012 who are members of groups traditionally considered outside the American mainstream….

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US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

Lifting the Liberal veil on US support for Israel

Originally published on April 7, 2014 in History News Network; can be accessed here: 

Support for Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of American conservative ideologies, but in liberal disguise

The American Studies Association is an academic David dwarfed by the political Goliaths currently managing Israeli-Palestinian relations.  But the association’s academic boycott of Israel, for “policies that violate [the] human rights” of Palestinians, has produced a tremendous reaction because it reveals the long-hidden role of American political divisions in US policies in the region.

And yet, among all the debating points against and for the boycott, there has been minimal attention to the role of American political ideologies.  Instead, the arguments against the ASA’s action have been based on the proper role of an academic organization in relation to political events, while supporters of the boycott focus on Israeli restrictions on Palestinian civil rights often with use of military force.

This dynamic is a reminder of the situation in American universities in the mid-1960s. While Civil Rights and the Vietnam War agitated the country, many students with some faculty support asked for a broadening of education to include discussion of race relations and war and peace; most administrators rejected these calls arguing that they fell outside the proper bounds of academic inquiry, labeling them outside issues, or even subversive.

The ASA has long served the academic community and US civil society by telling truth to power.  I first learned American Studies from William McLoughlin, a productive and inspiring scholar in religious and Native American history at Brown University, and a constant agitator for social justice; he had a poster in his office with a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Action to the scholar is secondary, but essential.”

With its resolution for boycott, the ASA joins a growing minority of scholars and advocates seeking to shift the rhetorical agenda by encouraging debate about Israeli policies and “the unparalleled military and financial ties between the U.S. and Israel.”

The ASA president Curtis Marez has been ridiculed for sounding frivolous when he defended the boycott by saying, “We have to start somewhere,” as if it were an action of feckless meandering.  However, given the prevalent American attitudes about Israel and its environs, this may actually be the organization’s trump card for its willingness to challenge the longstanding inertia about a seemingly impossible situation.

The current mainstream US narrative is that the situation is a mess, and the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are untrustworthy.  Add to this, for a significant minority of Americans, Islam is an illegitimate religion, and many even believe that it will fall sway in an epochal battle that will bring the victory, not ultimately of Jews, but of Christians.  In fact, a higher percentage of American white evangelicals than of American Jews support Israeli claims to Palestinian land.

To most Americans, Israel represents our team in the region, with its harsh measures fulfilling American interests.  This narrative is often presented as both a moral defense of Jews, and as a practical necessity for sustaining American power in this sector of the globe.  With its lack of attention to the Palestinians, this path also suggests a bleak future for Israeli Jews in tense relations with the other Semites in their midst, and with many Palestinians even contained behind walls.  Graffiti on one wall reads “Ich bin ein Berliner,” recalling John Kennedy’s defiance of the Berlin Wall in 1963.

Fear and anger have haunted each side for decades, with tragic cycles of terror and military reprisals.  The boycott is a welcome turn to nonviolence that should be applauded by all sides—except, of course, for those who find Arab terror useful for maintaining fear and justifying robust military policies.

It would be a tragedy if criticism of the ASA about the proper role for an academic organization would distract from the way that Israeli policies toward Palestinians have become a chapter in the contemporary American culture war between neo-conservative support of aggressive military strength by contrast with progressive hopes to scale back military action and spending in favor of diplomatic solutions.

Within this American polarization, ironically, the boycott has prompted some academic progressives to affiliate with Israel’s military measures for dealing with a population within its dominion.  The ASA action reminds us that Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of conservative ideologies, but in liberal disguise.

US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

The ASA Shifts the Spotlight on Israel and its Neighbors

Originally posted on February 6, 2014 on The Hawblog; can be read here:

The ASA boycott should remind liberals that Israeli political and military actions have been doing the work of conservative ideologies.

  The American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel, for “policies that violate [the] human rights” of Palestinians, will have little tangible political significance.  The tremendous reaction to the bold words of a relatively small academic organization is based on a topic central to the concerns of American studies, the clashing political cultures of the US.

  But the role of American politics in this issue is not immediately clear in the arguments opposing the ASA’s action, which are expressly based on the proper role of an academic organization in relation to political events.  Most critics insist that this organization for the study of United States culture is stepping outside its specialized purview and that the boycott will intrude on proper academic discourse.

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US in the Middle East / Middle East in the US

Recalling 9-11: Between values, violence

September 2012

With all the suffering and destruction of 9-11 in 2001, when the United States was brutally attacked, the results also produced a peaceable possibility. Even the French Le Monde newspaper gushed with a sympathetic headline, “We are all Americans.”

Then-president George W. Bush liked to talk of “political capital,” and the U.S. had it in abundance, a potential resource for tackling the roots of those hatreds, to isolate and humiliate the terrorists, to build a more constructive basis for resolving tensions in the Middle East.

Led by that same president, the U.S. took another path, fighting fire with fire, seeking revenge on Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists, and declaring an endless war on terror, directed at the hiding terrorists, and then expanded with another war.

A look at the rest of this essay serves to begin a conversation about where 9/11 fits into our collective history.

Campaign 2008

Winning–That’s an Obscure Word in the Democratic Party Lexicon

November 2008

Eyes blink, and from the citadel of Democrats’ souls lurks an air of disbelief. “Pinch me,” they seem to say: “Is this real—or just a dream?”

The party faithful have been elated with the victories of Barack Obama and fellow Democrats across the country. But beneath the cheers, there is a hint of surprise. The land of Democrats had heard this odd little word used since Nov. 4. “We are not familiar with it in our land,” I imagine them saying . “This word, so strange, so cheerful—the word ‘w-i-n.’”

Read whole essay here….


Popular Thinking in Political Life

Mining for professional experience and for various political answers

April 2005

I testified at Stetson’s Model Senate in favor of defusing land mines before a panel of role-playing student “Senators.” They grilled me with questions about ways to reduce innocent destruction and about ways to assert power. At Model Senate, students get the feel of wrestling with real political choices. And the experience was a reminder that, with the current fear of terrorism, there have been no recent bills to support dismantling these deadly instruments of past wars.

On Saturday, March 19, I took a day trip to the nation’s Capital—actually I was only there an hour, and I never really left town. I testified at a Model Senate hearing, and for a few moments, it felt a little like being in Washington.

Stetson’s Model Senate was initially formed in 1970, and is still going strong today as the oldest collegiate-level model senate in the country. For more on Paul Croce’s experience there, click here!

Campaign 2004, Uncategorized

Bush achieves goal in spite of criticism

November 2004 

President George W. Bush has received an unprecedented amount of criticism, even from military people, fiscal conservatives and other Republican-leaning constituencies. If the election had been held on the basis of these evaluations, it would not have been even close. Instead, Bush won by a comfortable margin. How’d that happen?

To figure out the answer to that question, click here.

Campaign 2004

Saving Lt. Kerry: An open letter to the candidate

October 2004

Dear Sen. Kerry,

You must have noticed problems with your campaign during the past month or two since you have hired new strategists, and you have become more aggressive on the stump. Attacks on Bush will help, and they show a vigor that is vital for the electorate to see, but they need to be matched with better use of your own strengths—from your resume to your current policy plans.

George W. Bush has done an excellent if not-so-admirable job of defining you in the eyes of much of the electorate. Let’s put aside the shock about how you could have let that happen—there’s no time for that no. For the few weeks that remain before Election Day, I propose a campaign to educate the electorate about John Kerry. Clearly you’ve got the substance, but you need a story—to energize supporters and pull swing voters.

Read the rest of this piece here!