Blogs > Cliopatria > Historians and the Obama Campaign

Nov 27, 2007 6:44 am

Historians and the Obama Campaign

In recent weeks, academic bloggers have been declaring their preferences among the candidates for President of the United States. At Liberty & Power, my friend, David Beito, and others have virtually turned their libertarian blog over to the Ron Paul campaign. The Volokh Conspiracy has been less single-minded, but four of its most active members – Jonathan Adler, Orin Kerr, Eugene Volokh and Todd Zwicki (scroll down) – have joined the Legal Professors Committee of the Fred Thompson campaign.

Cliopatria is unlikely to follow the example of either Liberty & Power or The Volokh Conspiracy for two reasons: first, we are a history group blog, devoted primarily to understanding the past; and, second, we are and have been, from the beginning, intellectually and politically diverse. The Cliopatricians are unlikely to agree among ourselves on a single candidate or, even, a single political party. Having said that, I have announced my choice of a candidate and have turned to other Cliopatricians to make our choice known.

Early last week, I contacted Michael Kazin, a contributing editor at Cliopatria, about the possibility of organizing a group of Historians for Obama. Michael agreed that it was a good idea and agreed to write a preliminary draft of a statement of support for Barak Obama's candidacy. Michael spent much of the Thanksgiving holiday drafting a statement and I spent much of the rest of it recruiting other historians to join us. One of the first people I contacted was our colleague, KC Johnson, who had already announced his support for Obama.

Beyond that, however, I was sending invitations to historians whose politics I knew little about. The result of Michael's writing skill and my solicitations,"Historians for Obama," is posted this week on HNN's mainpage. We learned that it's harder to get two dozen historians to agree on 500 words than it is to get them to agree on a single candidate. But we're delighted with the group of historians who have joined in this endorsement:

Joyce Appleby, David Blight, Edward J. Blum, Clayborne Carson, Dennis C. Dickerson, W. Marvin Dulaney, James Grossman, Nancy A. Hewitt, Jonathan Holloway, Randal Jelks, Robert KC Johnson, Michael Kazin, Steven Lawson, James Livingston, Ralph E. Luker, James McPherson, Albert J. Raboteau, Edward B. Rugemer, Nick Salvatore, Daniel J. Singal, Harvard Sitkoff, Daniel Soyer, Paul Spickard, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Craig Steven Wilder, David W. Wills

Since its publication yesterday on HNN's mainpage, another half dozen historians have signed this endorsement of Senator Obama. Because we expect to publish it subsequently elsewhere, we're inviting more professional historians to join us. You can do so by contacting Michael at mk8*at*georgetown*dot*edu and me at ralphluker*at*mindspring*dot*com.

See also: Scott Jaschik,"Historians Team Up to Back Obama," Inside Higher Ed, 27 November.

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Steven Horwitz - 11/28/2007

The longer and somewhat better written version is here:

Steven Horwitz - 11/28/2007

Yes, Horwitz (Steven, me) is a Paul skeptic. He may be the most libertarian of the bunch from either party, but I do indeed have concerns about several of his positions.

Before I launch into them, let me just say that I'm in strong support of a number of his more controversial positions: getting out of Iraq ASAP, getting the state out of the monetary system (see my post on the relationship between these two positions here: ), ending the Drug War, and generally de-regulating the US economy. But that said, here are my concerns:

1) Abortion. I'm strongly pro-choice and I do believe that one can and should find constitutional protection for the right to choose. I agree that Roe was bad constitutional law, but I'd say it got to the right result for the wrong reasons. Granted, Paul's argument to give it back to the states is better than a constitutional amendment banning it, but if forcing pregnant women to carry to term is akin to slavery, I'm not sure how you shrug your shoulders at allowing some states to ban abortion any more than you would shrug at slavery in some states.

2) Immigration. I'm very much an open-borders kinda guy. Paul's "build a wall" and denial of automatic citizenship to children born in the US both strike me as not just bad policy (immigrants contribute much more than they "take" - legal or illegal) but also highly anti-libertarian. Why should employers be prevented from engaging in labor contracts with adults from anywhere in the world? Why are some to be excluded?

3) Free trade. I understand his concerns about the regional free trade agreements and the ways in which they empower trans-national organizations to settle disputes. I also share his concerns about the special interest components of those agreements. That said, I believe those have been net gains for free trade and for the well-being of much of the world. My problem with Paul's position is that it's too focused on the impact of these agreements on the US, ignoring the fact that they do much good for the rest of the world, whatever the effects at home. I think the effects are positive for us too, and I don't fear any "loss of sovereignty" from them.

All of this leads to my general discomfort with Paul, which I think I would characterize as a lack of cosmopolitanism. For example, I don't think he's a racist but there are reasons why he's getting donations from KKK leaders. Even though many of his positions are solidly libertarian, the way they are framed, along with the three specific positions above, lend themselves to appealing to the nativist/Buchanan types in a way that I think goes against the historical progressive spirit of classical liberalism.

That spirit is one of cosmopolitanism and openness to cultural change (perhaps best captured in our own time by Virginia Postrel's work). Paul's cultural conservatism pushes in the opposite direction and, in my view, might do long-term damage to libertarianism even if it reaps some short-term benefits in this campaign. These are what make me skeptical.

A slightly better edited version will be cross-posted at Liberty and Power.

David T. Beito - 11/28/2007

Thanks for the correction. Recruiting David Horowitz to L and P would provide us with a bit too much ideological diversity for my taste.

By the way, part of the reason that the members of Volokh are less single-minded on a choice is that they are pretty much single-minded in supporting the Iraq War. For this reason, it make sense that they would split between the pro-war Republican candidates. Since there is only one antiwar Republican candidate, however, it makes equal sense that the generally antiwar members of L and P lean heavily to Paul. I really think the main difference between Volokh and L and P boils down to the war....and all else is insignificant.

Ralph E. Luker - 11/28/2007

Unless you've recently recruited David Horowitz to join the bloggers at L&P, I *think* you mean "Horwitz"!

David T. Beito - 11/28/2007

While Paul has some vocal support at Liberty and Power (mainly me and Keither Halderman), he also has some critics. We do not have a party line. In fact, I wish our dissenters would speak up more. One of our members, Wendy McElroy, has written several anti-Paul blogs. Horowitz is very much a Paul skeptic.

Michael Glen Wade - 11/28/2007

Oh my, Mr. Young, it appears that the parameters of your response are being defined for you. Red flags ahead....

Melissa Ann Spore - 11/27/2007

With such a generous Fair Warning, we can expect that the dissent argues about the place for endorsements, historians as political actors, or something similar; that it is not a criticism of Obama or a different choice of candidate.

Jeff Vanke - 11/27/2007

A couple years ago, I wrote to Obama's office to encourage him to run. Only in the past few weeks have things settled enough -- policies, conduct in debates -- for me to commit to voting for him in the primary. But I won't sign up for endorsing him through to next November.

That's because I can imagine that I would vote for Mike Bloomberg in a three-way race, depending on how the polls read in Virginia the week before the election. In short, I'd take Bloomberg over just about anyone, but I could also vote against him to obstruct my least-favorite candidate from winning (whoever that may be by then).

Manan Ahmed - 11/27/2007

I find it interesting that while the Civil War got a mention, the Iraq War didn't. Also, that the statement starts off with domestic issues (economic disparity, healthcare, education) before tackling the broad "foreign policy".

At least to me, these choices in the collective statement, reveal something about our national resistance to fully confront the calamity of our recent actions around the world.

In any event, I wholeheartedly endorse Obama.

Jeremy Young - 11/27/2007

I'll be posting a rather strongly-worded dissent tomorrow.