Sean Wilentz

Sean Wilentz teaches history at Princeton and is the author of Bob Dylan in America, which Doubleday will publish later this year.

Recent Articles

Inveterate Confederates

Trent Lott's sudden ousting as Senate majority leader seems part of a calculated effort by Republicans, led by the White House, to kill the controversy over the party's alliance with neo-Confederate forces as quickly as possible. But like some sort of shameful partisan ghost, the spirit of that alliance still haunts the Republicans, and will continue to for a long time to come. The careful maneuvering by Karl Rove and the White House political team, in their efforts to disavow Lott without angering the party's neo-Confederate constituency, shows that the party's basic character has not changed. The Republicans' coded appeals to "states' rights" may grow a little muted for a time, but the GOP will remain the party of the neo-Confederates. And that connection will remain unchallenged until and unless the media, prodded by the Democrats, insist on looking into a great deal more recent and not-so-recent history, including how George W. Bush gained the Republican nomination in 2000, the...

The Populist Fantasy

L ooking forward to 2004, liberals and progressives have become embroiled in an argument over whether Democrats ought to embrace or reject populism. Pro-business moderates -- or, more precisely, anti-anti-business moderates -- have lambasted Al Gore's 2000 campaign for overemphasizing "economic populism" and for slighting the "pro-growth" agenda advanced by the Democratic Leadership Conference and its current leader, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Neopopulists, on the other hand, disparage pro-business Democrats and proclaim that the party must become, once again, the standard-bearer for populism if it is ever to reclaim its principles and regain power. Arianna Huffington, one of the more prominent exponents of this view, proclaims that the country needs "an explosion of populist outrage." And recently, in these pages, two men who command respect for virtually everything they write, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira [See " Why Democrats Must Be Populists ," Sept. 9, 2002.], argued for an...

A Scandal for our Time:

T he Enron affair is shaping up as quite possibly the largest political and financial scandal in American history. Untold billions of dollars have vanished down the drain in the biggest bankruptcy filing ever. Political connections ensnare every level of the Bush administration. Even more fearsomely than in the past, Americans will learn some hard lessons: that business corrupts politics, that capitalism cannot be trusted simply to the capitalists, and that without government safeguards, the public trust and the public treasury are always at grave risk. Enron dwarfs the momentous insider infamies of the Gilded Age and the Jazz Age. But it is also special for other historical reasons. It signals a crisis in modern conservative thinking and politics -- a crisis that has less to do with bad character than it does with scandalously bad federal policy. Enron is the belated culmination of the age of Ronald Reagan, George Bush the elder, and Newt Gingrich. It stands as a monument to the era...

Will Pseudo-Scandals Decide the Election?

In a pathbreaking study of the mass media and modern culture, The Image , first published in 1961, the historian Daniel J. Boorstin coined the term "pseudo-event." A pseudo-event, Boorstin wrote, is "not spontaneous ... but planned, planted, or incited"--an event whose "occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media," and whose "relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous." The latest metamorphosis of Boorstin's pseudo-event is the pseudo-scandal, an ambiguous or outright false scandal that acquires the appearance of the real thing in the media through the dogged repetition of charges and investigations. Genuine scandals, such as the Iran-Contra affair and the pilfering by former Democratic Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, have touched members of both major parties in recent years. But likewise, both parties, aided by the media, have helped to perpetuate pseudo-scandals related to campaign finance or other matters of alleged behind-...

State of the Debate: The Rise and Fall of Racialized Liberalism

Liberalism took a fateful turn in the 1960s by redefining reform in racial terms. Two new books on urban politics sometimes overstate their case against recent liberal policies, but they help clarify what went wrong.

WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY Fred Siegel, The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of America's Big Cities (Free Press, 1997). Tamar Jacoby, Someone Else's House: America's Unfinished Struggle for Integration (Free Press, 1998). In the mid- to late 1960s, when reform still seemed both limitless and inevitable, a few dissident big-city writers warned of an impending crisis in urban liberal politics. "Liberal politicians (with the concurrence of radicals)," the New York feminist critic Ellen Willis observed, had dangerously "dismissed the workingman's fear of crime as racist paranoia and his resentment at having to support people who did not work as social backwardness." The dissidents charged that these mainstream liberals, viewing white racism as the chief source of urban injustice, had demonized white ethnics while pandering to zealots who claimed to speak on behalf of the ghetto masses. At the time, these warnings did not win much attention in the tone-...

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