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

Where Both Democrats Went Wrong in Ohio

Clinton's traditional support went up against Obama's insurgent organizing. But neither campaign hit the populist notes that would have really resonated with Ohio Democrats.

In the sleepy Appalachian town of Athens, Ohio, a building that had once housed a thrift store—and might soon host a strip club—is now Sen. Barack Obama's southeast Ohio headquarters for the 2008 Democratic primary. Home to Ohio University and its 20,000 students, Athens is a plum concentration of Democratic votes in this sparsely populated region of the state. Polling for this part of Ohio has shown strong support for Sen. Hillary Clinton, and any Obama hopes of getting enough votes to pull a good share of delegates out of the 6th Congressional District count on a big win in this town. At a meeting soon after the office opened, the regional organizer gathered volunteers to talk about canvassing. "The campaign is going to emphasize the economy, especially the downside of NAFTA," the organizer said in an upbeat voice. "That's what matters to Ohio's voters.” At this announcement, seasoned minds recalled the 2004 Kerry campaign. Then, professional organizers seemed to parachute in from...

Life of Bryan

In the January issue of The American Prospect , Michael Kazin argued that the left should reorient itself toward religious faith. He recuperated the legacy of William Jennings Bryan and then encouraged “a resurgence of the social gospel” Bryan “championed.” To Kazin I say, I'm with you -- but only part of the way. In making his case, Kazin focuses on the political uses of religious language -- the charged Christian rhetoric of Eugene Debs and the leaders of the Knights of Labor. Kazin points out that Christianity can help the left justify a belief in equality and reach ordinary Americans. There are some -- and Kazin addresses them -- who'd argue leftists should remain secular (Christopher Hitchens, if he's still a man of the left, or Susan Jacoby come to mind). But my argument is different from the atheists in our ranks: I would wave farewell to the “social gospel” but not religion. Kazin doesn't provide a sufficient explanation of the social gospel as a belief system, and here our...

The Book of Liberal Virtues

I have news for you: conservatives are winning the culture wars. OK, that might not come as a shock, but here's the scary part: They have reason to be winning. The right has done a superb job at exploiting certain weaknesses on the left; liberals, in the meantime, have become gun shy. But we should not duck the culture wars. Instead, we should see them as a golden opportunity to stand up and explain just what we think is right for America in terms of values and culture. Liberal values are in stronger shape than many believe. Look behind the right's cultural crusades -- David Horowitz's “Academic Bill of Rights,” the push for intelligent design, the attack on secondary education as mere liberal indoctrination, and the assaults on the media -- and you start to notice a consistent worldview emerging. Call it conservative postmodernism. It is composed of numerous cultural strains that feed off one another. There's anti-intellectualism, mixed in with a populist distrust of professionalism...

Goodbye to All That

With conservatism dominant in every branch of government, it is clear that liberals are an opposition party. We have to think, act, and strategize like an opposition party. That means figuring out ways to articulate what we stand for while not alienating those who may disagree with us but can be persuaded to see things our way. That's a difficult balancing act. Of course, the postwar left has been in opposition before, and that's a historical fact that can be turned to advantage -- there's a track record to examine and think through, and a set of political styles and strategies for change to reflect upon. Examining this history can mean recycling good ideas and tactics. But what if it means recycling bad ones? No doubt, some progressives will be drawn to the protest movements of the 1960s to inspire opposition today. There are good reasons for this. The world that existed before the '60s is one that no one wants to go back to. The decade witnessed enormous victories for African Americans...

Goodbye to All That

With conservatism dominant in every branch of government, it is clear that liberals are an opposition party. We have to think, act, and strategize like an opposition party. That means figuring out ways to articulate what we stand for while not alienating those who may disagree with us but can be persuaded to see things our way. That's a difficult balancing act. Of course, the postwar left has been in opposition before, and that's a historical fact that can be turned to advantage -- there's a track record to examine and think through, and a set of political styles and strategies for change to reflect upon. Examining this history can mean recycling good ideas and tactics. But what if it means recycling bad ones? No doubt, some progressives will be drawn to the protest movements of the 1960s to inspire opposition today. There are good reasons for this. The world that existed before the '60s is one that no one wants to go back to. The decade witnessed enormous victories for African Americans...

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