In this time of renewed labor unrest, particularly in the public sector, it's worth looking back at the most momentous public sector strike of the second half of the 20th Century. It came when the Professional Air Traffic Controllers, a group that would reflect he progressive idealism and hope of the 60's, would run headlong into Ronald Reagan's conservative revolution of the 1980's. These two forces, which had been on a collision course since JFK signed an Executive Order allowing government workers to organize unions, had their ultimate collision on August 3rd, 1981. Since that time, like the big bang, the the pieces from that moment of collision are still being thrown off and still shaping our politics today.
As Republican candidates move around the country trying define their conservative credentials, it's worth noting, as perhaps they should, that this year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication, by a then 26 year old William F. Buckley, of GOD AND MAN AT YALE. A book that many consider the seminal text of the modern conservative movement. It was a book that would redefine Conservatism in the cold war era and beyond. It was a conservatism that had evolved from Edmund Burke and the French Revolution, and was near death in the late 40's and would be given new life by Buckley. Buckley would go on to found National Review, provide the intellectual heft to continue to drive conservatism, provide the ideological underpinnings of Barry Goldwater, run for Mayor of New York, write over 50 books, appear in almost 1500 episodes of Firing Line and all the while define the difference between the passion of ideas and passion of friendship. Roger Williams University Law Professor Carl T. Bogus gives us a modern view of Buckley in this new book Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatism. My conversation with Carl Bogus:
While the American Revolution was primarily about political independence, there were a strain of individuals who wanted the United States to gain cultural and social differentiation from its former colonial masters. But it proved not so easy cutting loose from a nation that for two centuries, had set the standard of civilization, not only for the colonies, but for the world. In many respects these issues of trade, of inferiority, of race and of exceptionalism, are still issues we as a nation, are still dealing with today, three hundred plus year later.
Over the past several years millions of words have been written and spoken about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rarely in history has a conflict gone on this long, without a resolution, or without taking some kind of corrosive toll on its participants. Today, it seems clear that the intransigence of Israel's leaders threatens not only Israeli and American relations, internal American politics, the stability of the region itself but also threatens Israel's future as an enlightened democratic nation. This is the premise of Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg, in his Book The Unmaking of Israel. My conversation with Gershom Gorenberg:
"To thine own self be true" Shakespeare tells us. Little did he know that in calling for this, he was going up against centuries of evolutionary behavior. In fact, renowned biologist and anthropologist Robert Trivers argues, in his new work The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life,
that self deception has been favored by natural selection. That we lie to ourselves in order to be better able to lie to others and throughout history, to the liers go the spoils. My conversation with Robert Trivers:
There is a reason that Hurricane Katrina still resonates with us. Not just because of the magnitude of the catastrophe, but because it signaled something profound about the American condition. Because it brought into bold relief the lives of many who lived behind a curtain of poverty, suffering and innate courage. This is the backdrop for the winner of this years National Book Award for Fiction Jesmyn Ward and her novel Salvage the Bones. My conversation with Jesmyn Ward:
What is conservatism and does today's conservatism bear any resemblecne to it's European roots? Why does conservatism today seem so often un-conservative, so radical and nontraditional? From its reaction against the French Revolution, to the intransigence of today's GOP, who do conservative thinkers have in common? Brooklyn College Political Science Professor Corey Robin has sparked a new and needed public conversation about the past, present and future of the conservative movement, in his new book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. My conversation with Corey Robin:
A decade after her death, Pauline Kael still remains the most important figure in film criticism today. In her view the critic "was the only independent source of information." As she viewed it, "all the rest was just advertising." It's fair to say that all critics today are measured against Kael. For those that love movies and are of a certain age, we all remember waiting for those Wednesday reviews in The New Yorker. In his new book Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark, Brian Kellow gives us that first look behind the lens of Pauline Kael. She liked to say that her work was her biography, but Kellow gives us so much more. My conversation with Brian Kellow:
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Cleveland High School. They all conjure up painful images of boys gone bad. We’ve all heard the teacher or the neighbor talk about what a good student or a nice boy some of these perpetrators were. But nice boys, normal boys, don’t kill their fellow students or themselves. So what happened? Can we ever really fully understand what goes on in the minds of these boys and what they tell us about ourselves? Was Cesar right, that “the fault is in ourselves.” Few have looked deeper into this abyss than novelist and journalist David Vann in his original Esquire article about Steven Kazmierczak and the Northern Illinois University shooting and in his most recent book Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter. My conversation with David Vann:
Jerusalem is not just a city, it is a state of mind. It represents an almost metropolitan version of the three thousand year story of western civilization. Yet, while it might seem strangely disconnected from the modern world, it is at the same time ground zero for so many of the 21st century's problems. Perhaps today, as it has been so many times before in history, as Jerusalem goes, so goes the world. This is the central pillar of Simon Sebag Monetifiore'sJerusalem: The Biography. My conversation with Simon Sebag Monetfiore:
We've spent some time lately talking about the 70's. Today we go back even further. When once asked about the impact of the French Revolution, former Chinese Premiere Chou En-lai said it "was too soon to know." Certainly the scope and impact of history is always evolving. So too is the reputation of the thirty-fourth President. Originally thought to be modest, in the wake of the Kennedy excitement of the early 1960's, history has come to appreciate the calm, no drama approach of the Eisenhower Presidency and what it actually accomplished. Looking at today's leaders, a well seasoned grown up might look pretty attractive.
In 1975 a now famous headline in the NY Daily News read, "Ford to NY, drop dead." Perhaps that was really the beginning of the culture wars. As the New York of the day represented the center of chaotic, noisy, economic and social change. It was as if all the juvenile energy of the '60's has been "matured" into a kind of angry, rebellious, adolescence that the NY of the time came to symbolize. Vanity Fair's James Wolcott captures the pitch perfect tenor of the times and his place in it, inLucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York. My conversation with James Wolcott:
For fifteen years, Ron Nessen enjoyed an extraordinary career covering the major national and international events of the 1960s and 1970s for NBC News and later serving as White House Press Secretary to President Gerald R. Ford. His most recent book, Making the News, Taking the News: From NBC to the Ford White Houseremembers the events and personalities that dominated national politics during his career. His tenure in the White House included, among others, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Kissinger. It was just like today...it was nothing like today.
Nessen, who is currently a journalist-in-residence at the Brookings Institution talks to me about those days.