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.

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?

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.

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.

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.