Al Smith

Yup, Rick Santorum went there. The former Pennsylvania senator, known for his less-than-enlightened views on gay rights, has opted for the “Some of my best friends…” approach. Earlier this week, when CNN’s Don Lemon asked him if he had any gay friends, Santorum replied enthusiastically: “Yes! In fact, I was with a gay friend of mine just two days ago. So, yeah, I do. And they respect that I have differences of opinion on that. I talk about these things in front of them, and we have conversations about it.

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[Guest post by James Downie] Gather round, everyone! George Will has a history lesson for us! Last month, Barack Obama was asked by an interviewer from Texas why he is so unpopular there. Obama replied: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.” Well, yes, “always” — if you believe, as many baby boomers seem to, that the world began when they became more or less sentient. But, for the record: Texas, one of the 11 states of the Confederacy, was, for historic reasons, part of the solidly Democratic South for almost a century after the Civil War.

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Americans tend to be fascinated by what’s new and to be indifferent to the past, except when they can use “tradition” to reinforce current prejudices and power arrangements. This has had an unfortunate effect on how we govern ourselves. We forget important lessons, and repeat old mistakes. A century ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant girls in their teens and twenties, perished after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

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Obama and Golf

In response to Michelle Cottle’s complaint about Barack Obama’s devotion to golf, Paul Krugman quotes H. L. Mencken’s comment about former Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith: “The Al of today is no longer a politician of the first chop. His association with the rich has apparently wobbled and changed him. He has become a golf player…” Then there is conservative theorist Russell Kirk’s comment about Dwight Eisenhower. Asked in the late 1950s whether he agreed with the John Birch Society’s charge that Eisenhower was a communist, Kirk replied that Ike was “not a Communist, but a golfer.”

WASHINGTON--It's now official: So in vogue are attacks on President Obama that even his proclamation calling the nation to a day of Thanksgiving has become the focus of criticism. Presidential Thanksgiving messages are a routine bit of executive prose that  most attentive citizens happily ignore in this moment of national gratitude.

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What A City Needs

Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City By Anthony Flint (Random House, 256 pp., $27)   For urbanists and others, the battle between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs was the great titanic struggle of the twentieth century. Like the bout between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, their conflict has magnified significance, as the two figures have become symbols. Jacobs is the secular saint of street life, representing a humane approach to urban planning grounded in the messy interactions of the neighborhood.

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Maverick vs. Iceman

A couple of years ago, as part of his campaign to reassure conservatives of his ideological reliability, John McCain sat for an interview with Stephen Moore, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer and fervent advocate of supply-side economics. In the course of the interview, McCain acknowledged that not all his positions were acceptable to the right, but he hinted that further rightward evolution might be possible. "His philosophy is best described as a work in progress," wrote Moore somewhat hopefully. As McCain put it, "I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do abou

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When the discussion turns to John Edwards, the cable news pundits call him “angry” and a “class warrior.” But, in conceding his third-place showing, Edwards was more the “happy warrior” (as Franklin D. Roosevelt described Al Smith in 1924). Far from packing it in, Edwards delivered the latest, best version of his stump speech--an upbeat populist message that, if he’d delivered it several months earlier, might have appealed to a wider swath of the electorate.

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Heir Time

At first glance, the Democratic nominee for president in 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy—the millionaire Caucasian war hero for whom I worked for eleven golden years—seems notably different from the most interesting candidate for next year's nomination, Senator Barack Obama. But when does a difference make a difference? Different times, issues, and electors make any meaningful comparison unlikely.

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As everyone knows, although he has not yet announced, Mitt Romney is running for president. Or, rather, he is running for the Republican nomination for president. I am not sure that he is actually the first Mormon to do so. But being a Mormon is clearly part of his strategy to win. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't know whether Al Smith mobilized Catholic clergy to help secure him the Democratic nod in 1928. But he certainly based the initial enthusiasm of his campaign in the immigrant big cities, many of them Catholic.

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