Political Conventions: Part I

Perhaps you’ve noticed there’s been some politicking going on lately? It may have been too subtle for you to have noticed, especially if you live somewhere without radio, television or internet access (although, come to think of it, that would make reading this blog a bit difficult), but, indeed, it’s been going on for months (and months and months).

But the past, as they say, is prologue. Now is the time to finally Get Serious about your politics. Yes, it’s time for another election cycle to get kicked into high gear again with funny hats, waving signs and a seemingly endless supply of speakers in a well-choreographed procession of rhetoric — the Political Conventions!

The first round of the festivities concludes tonight in Denver where the Democratic Party finishes off its Convention Week with Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. Obama will be speaking before an estimated crowd of 75,000 people who want to see this piece of history being made.

My wife and I typically fit pretty comfortably into the category of “Political Junkie” and, as a result, we’ve spent most of our evenings this week watching the convention on C-SPAN, preferring the uninterrupted gavel-to-gavel coverage to the occasional big-name speaker and lots of commentary mixed in between. Being people of reasonable intelligence, we’re quite able to understand and assess what we heard each of the speakers say, thankyouverymuch.

I do like to get various viewpoints of a story before making an informed decision on a subject. As well, I appreciate the history behind the thinking that goes into looking at and working to solve our nation’s problems. If you appreciate a balanced perspective as well, allow me to recommend three titles from the UNC Press that can help you understand where the Democrats are coming from.

John McGowan’s American Liberalism: An Interpretation for our Time is a good place to start. McGowan focuses his commentary on five tenets of liberalism: a commitment to liberty and equality, trust in a constitutionally established rule of law, a conviction that modern societies are irreducibly plural, the promotion of a diverse civil society, and a reliance on public debate and deliberation to influence others’ opinions and actions.

Booklist stated McGowan is “not interested in converting readers to liberalism but in ensuring that they understand its contributions to the very foundations of U.S. democracy.”

If a more in-depth look at liberalism throughout American history is what you’re looking for, we have two books that should be able to meet that need. Nancy Cohen’s The Reconstruction of American Liberalism, 1865-1914 traces liberal political ideology from the end of the Civil War through its transformations into the early twentieth century. Citing intellectual, social, cultural, and economic history, Cohen argues that the values and programs associated with modern liberalism were formulated well before the Progressive Era in the very different social context of the Gilded Age.

Moving ahead a few years, Judy Kutulas continues the history of liberalism in America through the lens of the ACLU in The American Civil Liberties Union and the Making of Modern Liberalism, 1930-1960. Kuktulas examines the history of the ACLU with a comparison/contrast of national and local levels. She details how, at the national level, the group sought to gain mainstream credibility by using court challenges as opposed to direct action while local affiliates continued to maintain their idealism by defending the rights of all individuals, no matter their beliefs and activities.

Regardless of your personal politics I hope you take a moment to appreciate the meaning of the final two candidates in the Democratic run-offs where, for the first time, the choice was going to be between the first female presidential candidate or the first African American presidential candidate in American history. Not being naive, I appreciate that we, as a nation, still have a long way to go in our continuing work for equality for the sexes and all races. Still, this is one of the few “I never thought this would happen in my lifetime” moments that have actually happened. I believe it marks an important milestone in American politics and for us all who are Americans.

— Tom