Kevin Mattson

Kevin Mattson is the Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University. His most recent book, What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?, is just out in paperback.

Recent Articles

TAP Debates Populism

Reactions to Kevin Mattson's call for the left to abandon populism.

Kevin Mattson's " Forget Populism " touched a nerve with many readers. We've gathered here responses from various readers and scholars, our Founding Co-Editor Robert Kuttner, and Executive Editor Mark Schmitt, and a response from Mattson. Barbara Ehrenreich, Jackson Lears, Mark Crispin Miller, and George Scialabba Marshall Ganz Danny Goldberg Mike McGrath Sally Kohn Robert Kuttner Mark Schmitt Kevin Mattson Scholars Barbara Ehrenreich, Jackson Lears, Mark Crispin Miller , and George Scialabba responded jointly: According to Kevin Mattson, populists are "simple -- minded'"and have no interest in governing, only in announcing that "elites are bad" and in "rallying the masses around their collective anger." Graciously, Mattson notes that this description has very little to do with the populists of 19th- and early-20th-century American history. But that history is "largely academic;" the triumph of corporate capitalism has rendered populism archaic. The "populist strain" has migrated to...

Forget Populism

"The people" are no more virtuous or incorruptible than elites.

Sarah Palin rallies a crowd. (Flickr/patrickeasters)
You've heard the strategy before: Speak for the people. Decry powerful special interests and elites (if that includes financial institutions, bless your stars for aligning). Show indignant anger that the times demand. Mobilize frustration. In short, play the populist card to win votes on Election Day. Indeed, fiery populism seems perfect for this moment, with fat-cat bankers jacking up their salaries while still claiming bailouts, big corporations ruining the ocean, and what's left of the middle class falling off an economic cliff. What better time than now to deride economic royalists? What better time than now for elected officials to bond with the salt of the earth in pitched battle against elites? It's no wonder pundits are advising Democrats -- and President Barack Obama -- to take the populist approach to the upcoming election cycle. Robert Kuttner, a founding editor of this publication, argued several months ago that Obama should embrace Harry Truman's "language of populism"...

Kristol and the Tea Baggers

Intellectuals don't always guide movements; often, movements guide intellectuals.

(AP Photo/The Weekly Standard)
As fate would have it, Irving Kristol's death was announced amid continued debates about the significance, or lack thereof, of the tea baggers' march on Washington. Sliced into reports about screaming marchers who called Nancy Pelosi a Nazi and threatened to come back armed next time, there was the passing of Kristol (1920-2009). What better contrast could this coincidence present: screaming paranoids passing through the streets of the nation's capital versus a New York Jew and sophisticated man of ideas passing away. You could even construct a narrative around this: Once a movement of ideas, small magazines, and intellectual levity, conservativism was now only paranoid and irrational. It's a nice story. Too bad Kristol's life doesn't bear it out. For sure, Kristol was a man of ideas, part of the much-celebrated New York intellectuals who generally moved from Trotskyism (no sensible rational idea there!) to either liberalism or neoconservatism. When he wasn't editing small magazines...

A Politics of National Sacrifice

Thirty years after Carter's "malaise speech," the language of humility and civic obligation resonates more powerfully than ever.

The day following his national television address, President Jimmy Carter gives his energy speech in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 16, 1979. (AP Photo)
On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave the riskiest speech of his presidency. In what became known as the "malaise speech" -- though the word "malaise" never appeared in it -- the president riveted the nation. He delivered the speech amid rumors that he had gone crazy, his reputation plummeting in the face of an energy crisis and a breakdown in the country's civic fabric. Ten days earlier, truckers and residents had rioted in usually quiet Levittown, Pennsylvania, setting bonfires to protest inflationary costs and limited supplies of fuel, made worse by recent machinations of OPEC. Abroad at the time of the riot, Carter cut short his vacation and returned to the States. His staff scheduled a televised speech, but the president canceled it. Instead, he held a "domestic summit" at Camp David, where civic and political leaders gathered to discuss the state of America's soul. Carter believed something more than the energy crisis was troubling the nation. Two days after the summit...

Remembering Buckley for the Right Reasons

William F. Buckley's contradictions -- a feisty rebelliousness alongside classic, conservative principles like civility and hierarchy -- are what made his conservatism so profoundly American and so profoundly effective.

William F. Buckley, who passed away at age 82 last week, was a rarity. He was an incisive writer and editor who fused disparate -- and sometimes downright contradictory -- ideas into the right's flagship publication, the National Review , which he started in 1955. He became the face of the modern conservative intellectual movement -- the "party of ideas" that transformed American politics permanently. He is usually remembered for making conservative ideas palatable during a time when they seemed to have fallen off the American political radar. He stood up to the John Birch Society -- those zany conspiracy nuts on the right who believed President Eisenhower was a tool of communism -- and purged it from the movement. He disentangled postwar conservatism from the Klan and other overtly racist elements on the American right (while remaining a critic of the civil-rights movement and beholden to a subtler racism). And he expunged isolationists, embracing a muscular foreign policy that we...

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