How times have changed:

Filling a Vacuum. For the G.O.P., 1968 may represent the best opportunity in years—but the party has earned a reputation for booting such opportunities away. The late Sam Rayburn once said: “Just leave the Republicans alone and they’ll manage to screw it up every time.” As Esquire magazine noted this month: “The Republican Party could probably beat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 if it did not have to run a candidate against him.” The more likely it seems that Lyndon Johnson can be defeated, the more tempted the G.O.P. may be to blow its chances by putting up a candidate who is acceptable to the party pros rather than to the electorate.

Categorized as elections

other americas

What reporters know and don’t report is news–not from the newspapers’ point of view, but from the sociologists’ and the novelists’. It enabled me, when I learned a little of it, to write my Shame of the Cities. But it took time and sharp listening to get that little. Though I had nothing to do, professionally, with criminal news, I used to go out with the other reporters on cases that were useless to my paper but interesting to me. Crime, as tragedy and as a part of the police system, fascinated me. I liked to go for lunch to the old Lyons restaurant on the Bowery with Max Fischel or some other of the “wise” reporters. They would point out to me the famous pickpockets, second-story men and sneaks that met and ate there; sometimes with equally famous detectives or police officials and politicians. Crime was a business, and criminals had “position” in the world, a place that was revealing itself to me. I soon knew more about it than Riis did, who had been a police reporter for years; I knew more than Max could tell Riis, who hated and would not believe or even hear some of the “awful things” he was told. Riis was interested not at all in vice or crime, only in the stories of people and the conditions in which they lived.

The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, 223

history vs. memory, round [some large number written in Roman numerals]

A while back in comments elsewhere, I wondered about a story I’ve heard about the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates. Supposedly, Nixon did better among radio listeners and Kennedy did better among television viewers. But there’s a problem with that account: there were actually four debates. Do the stories refer to just the first one? (I suspect yes.) Or does this refer to some kind of overall response to the debates?

And then there’s an even bigger question: while no doubt there were individual radio-listeners who favored Nixon and tv-watchers who favored Kennedy, is the aggregate story even true?

The answer appears to be “no“:

The first Kennedy-Nixon debate in the 1960 presidential campaign has lived on in memory as a turning point not so much because of what the candidates said but rather because of how they looked. Kennedy looked like … well, Kennedy, and Nixon looked like an especially unflattering caricature of himself. Everyone “knows” that Nixon’s unattractive appearance led him to be perceived as the loser of the debate. However, the evidence that supports that conclusion turns out upon inspection, to be somewhere in the range of weak to nonexistent. Until Druckman’s study, the only reasonably credible evidence came from a post-debate survey that indicated that those who had listened to the debate on the radio were more likely to think Nixon had won, but those who watched it on television were more likely to see Kennedy as the winner. That’s a nifty result, if valid, but Druckman questions its validity for a host of methodological reasons that I won’t go into here except to say that they’re pretty compelling.

Or is the answer “yes”?

As a strictly historical matter it does not look like it can be settled. The only documentation is that survey, but the survey is apparently too flawed to be relied upon. But as a political science matter…well, just click through. I have my doubts that a group of “mostly undergraduate students” shown the debate decades later, outside of the context of the campaign, and after the Nixon and Kennedy legacies have become part of the world they grew up in, can settle anything about the contemporaneous response to the debate. There is evidence, however, that viewing vs. listening can make a real difference among audiences today.

(I’d link to the Druckman study, but it’s paywalled and I don’t have access and haven’t been able to read it for myself.)

Update: You can find the study, which I still haven’t yet read, in pdf form here.

a new identity

Of the three articles linked here, I thought the New York Times one, which doesn’t really try to do much more than provide some information about people of mixed racial ancestry, was the most worthwhile.

One of the things I’ve noticed – and this is a more of a general comment rather than a comment on the linked articles – as I’ve come across more and more articles on this subject in the last year or so is that there seems to be a trend towards treating people of mixed ancestry as if they belong in the same broad category regardless of the particularities of their backgrounds. I suppose in some contexts this makes sense – the Loving decision, for example. And categories generally accepted today – like “Asian-American,” which I believe only came into existence as a word in the 1960s – themselves contain quite a bit of diversity.

Still, given the somewhat complex history of race in America (and in the rest of the world, for that matter) the articles I’ve read could use more discussion of this past. The differences, similarities, and relationships between, say, slavery and segregation and immigration exclusion are worth some more attention, at the very least. As well as the fact that some terms formerly used to refer to racial mixture, and which are both offensive and archaic to us today – like “octoroon” or “quadroon” – had real meaning at particular times and places, but not at others.

One of the reasons Homer Plessy got on that train in Louisiana, as I understand it, was to challenge not just segregation, but the way racial categories were determined. Plessy apparently might have been able to pass as white:

…petitioner was a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state of Louisiana, of mixed descent, in the proportion of seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him, and that he was entitled to every recognition, right, privilege, and immunity secured to the citizens of the United States of the white race by its constitution and laws; that on June 7, 1892, he engaged and paid for a first-class passage on the East Louisiana Railway, from New Orleans to Covington, in the same state, and thereupon entered a passenger train, and took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated; that such railroad company was incorporated by the laws of Louisiana as a common carrier, and was not authorized to distinguish between citizens according to their race, but, notwithstanding this, petitioner was required by the conductor, under penalty of ejection from said train and imprisonment, to vacate said coach, and occupy another seat, in a coach assigned by said company for persons not of the white race, and for no other reason than that petitioner was of the colored race; that, upon petitioner’s refusal to comply with such order, he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach

; but he was arrested by pre-arrangement. Justice Harlan, in his dissent opposing the segregation of citizens from one another, also objected:

There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union, who are entitled, by law, to participate in the political control of the state and nation, who are not excluded, by law or by reason of their race, from public stations of any kind, and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race.

Incidentally, two years earlier, Harlan was one of two justices who dissented in the case of Wong Kim Ark, an American born in the United States to Chinese parents, which upheld birthright citizenship under the 14th Amendment. (The other was Chief Justice Fuller, who authored the dissent.) A few decades later the Supreme Court upheld, in Lum v. Rice, the segregation of the Chinese – who were classified as “colored” – from whites in the Mississippi public schools. (It’s not clear to me whether the decision was also applied to privately operated railroads.)

These are the kinds of things I’m referring to when I say that the history of racial categorization is not a simple one. Are they – not so much the particulars of the cases but the issues they touch on – relevant to how we think about people of mixed ancestry today? I think so, though I admit that finding a way to incorporate them into a newspaper article would not be easy. And if these pasts are not relevant – the different but related pasts of the various groups to which those of mixed ancestry could claim membership, along with the histories of people of mixed ancestry before Loving – that also seems worthy of note.

My impression is that a fair number of people of mixed heritage are embracing “mixed” as a category, so it’s not all being done by “outsiders” examining a phenomenon, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to do. Occasionally, I see articles where people seem to be trying to push people of mixed ancestry into new categories; this seems to happen in a couple of the things I’ve read about a supposed “hapa” identity – which apparently comes from a Hawaiian term meaning “part white”, but which somehow has been transformed to refer to people who are “part Asian” – but not so much when I read about “mixed race” people, broadly construed.

(On hapa: I learned the term here, which article is mostly restrained about encouraging the adoption of the identity. This, on the other hand, treats it like a category already accepted and even uses the phrase “Hapa Nation.” Whatever.)

I also have the impression that younger people are creating increasing numbers of clubs or organizations for people of mixed ancestry at high schools and colleges (but I don’t keep track of this). A similar club was attempted when I was in high school; I’m not sure it ever came into existence while I was there. I went to the first meeting and could not find a reason to join. It seemed like our backgrounds were too individual, that we didn’t have enough in common to form a group based almost entirely on this aspect of our identities. There was also a question of what exactly do we do now that we’re all in the same room? I don’t seem to remember us having similar interests in other areas; indeed, some were interested in starting the club and others were not.

Still, I have to admit that when I’ve met people of quite similar backgrounds – one side of the family traceable to East Asia, the other traceable to Europe – and of a similar age, I have felt that I do share something significant (meaningful?) with them. Certainly we’ve had a number of similar experiences. Including, in some cases, the experience of feeling like our identities were shaped by so many things particular to ourselves and our personal histories that they do not fit comfortably into larger categories.

Categorized as identity


Reading this post and especially the comments had me thinking about a couple of things from my childhood:

1. I grew up hearing a lot of Mandarin and Hakka. I don’t remember a time when I was not offended by people who’d do the “ching chong” thing to make fun of the “Chinese language” – was I always offended by this? did I learn to be offended by it? was I taught to be offended? I don’t know. But I was also puzzled. Of course it wasn’t supposed to sound perfectly like “Chinese,” but it was so far off I wondered where the sounds came from. Eventually, after hearing some Cantonese, I remember thinking, “hmm, maybe that’s what people are making fun of.” I have no idea if this is true or what the origins of that linguistic slur are.

2. I remember the pbs stations would run these short spots – public service announcements, I guess – that showed kids of various backgrounds doing various things and then would end with someone saying “I’m proud to be a [ethnicity]-American.” Every time I saw the ones for Asian- or Chinese-Americans (and I can’t remember if they ran “Asian” ones or if they kept it strictly to nationality) I’d wonder, does that describe me too? I never came to a real conclusion. Reading that comment thread I just linked above, I have to assume that these spots must have run only locally, or maybe in only a few places around the country.

because this blog needs content

It is probably a practice frowned upon by the arbiters of blogger ethics but I’m going to start posting long comments I write elsewhere over here, for archiving purposes. On steamboats vs. railroads:*

1. Schwantes’ book on steam travel in the Northwest is beautifully illustrated. (As is his railroad book on the same region, which may have been the first to come out, though chronologically the sequel.) Just thought I’d recommend it, though I haven’t read the text.

2. As dware points out, railroads have not actually been in vogue in western history for a while. They might become so in the future if they aren’t already becoming so. (Disclosure: I came very close to writing a railroad dissertation.) I have the impression that some of the better regarded railroad-related books to come out more recently weren’t western railroad books.

3. I suspect steamboats lose out for a couple of reasons.

There’s the perception that their era didn’t last very long – the fact that you can start talking about railroads in the 1830s overshadows the fact that the east-(mid)west routes were not completed until later (the 1850s? I don’t remember the precise dates). And it takes a while for (railroad) Chicago to supplant (Mississippi River) St. Louis.

There’s the perception that their impact was still quite localized even considering its reach. You can have competition on the Mississippi but it’s pretty much all on the Mississippi. Competition between railroads involved competing routes in different sections of the country and competing communities along those routes. In terms of ports, you’ve got New Orleans as an endpoint on the one hand, and Boston vs. New York vs. Philadelphia vs. Baltimore on the other. It would be interesting to know if steamboats lack attention in histories of other regions. I assume they preceded railroads in a number of European colonies.

There’s the fact that they weren’t a new power source – steamboats and the steam engine were around already for ocean travel. And somewhat related to this is the fact that being able to get around the world sort of overshadows being able to get into the interior of a continent. But it can be argued that the steamship deserves more attention too. It certainly seems to get less attention than wind-based maritime exploration.

There’s the fact that water travel was already, and had long been, quicker than land travel. Traveling faster over a river is one thing; traveling faster overland – not being required to stick to (and build, in the case of canals) a watercourse – by an entirely new technology is quite another. A better boat is still a boat; a railroad is not a horse-drawn carriage.

4. Robert Fulton apparently thought that the submarine would, by being such an effective tool of war, force countries to make peace with one another rather than fight. He had some problems making this idea work in practice.

*Maybe one day I’ll link to a blog that is not that one.


From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

PAGE BOY*: *Here you are Senator. Not a bad desk either. Daniel Webster used to use it.

JEFFERSON*: *Daniel Webster sat here? Holy Mackerel.

PAGE BOY*: *Give you something to shoot at, Senator. If you figure on doing any talking.

JEFFERSON*: *Oh, no. I’m just gonna sit around and listen.

PAGE BOY*: *That’s the way to get re-elected.

From Donald Ritchie, Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents:

In the newly charged partisan atmosphere of Washington, a paper-thin line separated press reporting from promotion. As the Whig organ, the Intelligencer boosted Senator Daniel Webster’s national reputation by its handling of his celebrated reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne in 1830. Webster had personally invited Joseph Gales to report his speech, but the senator found Gales’s transcript devoid of emotional appeal. Since Webster had spoken only from notes, no other newspaper had published more than a brief summary of the speech. All waited for the Intelligencer‘s account. But Gales and Seaton delayed publication for an entire month while Webster revised his remarks. The famous reply to Hayne appeared in a form so heavily edited and rewritten that it bore little resemblance to the words Webster spoke in the Senate chamber. Reprinted extensively, the polished version became one of the most widely read speeches in congressional history, forever enshrining Daniel Webster as the Union’s most eloquent defender.

Not satisfied with re-editing after the fact, Webster seems to have devised a method of pre-editing. Writes Ritchie:

Webster diligently edited his speeches. The majesty of his voice and the strength of his arguments swayed his audiences, but they often heard him groping for the right word, trying out one synonym after another until he obtained the desired effect. One listener recalled Webster saying: “Why is it, Mr. Chairman, that there has gathered, congregated, this great number of inhabitants, dwellers, here; that these roads, avenues, routes of travel, highways, converge, meet, come together, here? Is it not because we have a sufficient, ample, safe, secure, convenient, commodious port, harbor, haven?” The senator removed all but the best before his words appeared in print.


The comments to this post – and the subject of the post itself – reminded me of something I wondered about some years back when I was thinking of the different ways different countries have approached dramatic transitions from one type of regime to another, such as the transition from authoritarianism to some form of democracy, or from a slave society to a free* society.

After the American Civil War, a number of legal restrictions were placed – at least temporarily – on people who served the Confederacy, but was anyone post-13th Amendment ever prosecuted or sued for the crime of slavery** committed before passage of the amendment? I suspect the answer if no, but I’m not asking rhetorically. I’m curious if suits were filed but thrown out of court.

*Recognizing that the failure of Reconstruction limited just how free that former slave society became.

**I’m not sure if one could literally sue someone for slavery or if it technically would have had to have been a suit against something like “unlawful imprisonment.” But you know what I mean.

policy is the best policy

I said I’d start blogging soon, but soon can mean a lot of things; in this case it meant “within a month.” In any case, I haven’t had time for much blog stuff lately and am behind on all my blog reading. But I wanted to comment on this post, and since it’s so far down the page (down multiple pages, in fact) I figured I’d respond here on this content-starved blog.

Eric writes

Broadly speaking, free trade is a phenomenon of whose long-term benefits I am persuaded, while I am concerned about its short-term downside. These are cautiously held convictions, but I hold them.

I am also persuaded that it sounds arrogant and, well, churlish when proponents of free trade say things like this:

and then he quotes some people wondering whether there is a moral obligation to compensate those who lose their jobs to free trade policies. Not all of them say “no”, but one does outright, and seems offended that one would even ask.

All of this leaves me wondering why the question of free trade gets to be in the “policy question” category in the first place, while the question of compensation – or, to put it more generally, the question of whether to provide some kind of support for the unemployed – is in the “moral question” category. Is there a moral mandate for free trade? Do the voters owe the country free trade policies (which they can give by voting for those who will vote for and implement such policies)? The answers could be yes, but are those questions often asked?

Meanwhile, I am persuaded that though the moral questions are not unimportant, it should be possible to discuss the compensation question as a policy matter, as Eric does towards the end of his post:

Finally, we might consider that historically, globalization (of which free trade is one aspect) has caused all manner of political problems that might, as a practical matter, be avoided with the judicious use of policy. I do not see that calling the un- or under-employed — who are assuredly among the under-insured and the generally poorly treated — “churlish” represents the best policy path to ensure that we all benefit from open markets.