What an Independent History Scholar has to say…

I asked Dr. Omar Ali for a preview of this throughts on The Cause.  Dr. Ali is an independent activist and one of the  founders of  North Carolina Independents.  He is a professor of African American studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  Along with attorney Harry Kresky,  Dr. Ali will be discussing The Cause with us on Sunday.

Here is what Dr. Ali wanted to share with all of you on the way to our discussion on Sunday.

The Cause contains a lot of history. But history, as the philosopher Fred Newman once said, also includes ways of understanding history. On pages 461 and 462 of the Conclusion of the book, the framing of American liberalism having transformed from the time of Roosevelt to the time of Obama, offers some interesting food for thought.

Alterman writes, “UnderRoosevelt’s presidency, liberalism became a political movement focused on improving the lives of working people and those who needed a helping hand from government. In Obama’sAmerica…, however, liberalism was primarily a movement designed to increase social and cultural freedoms for those who could afford to enjoy them. Cultural liberalism [of the 21st century], while not without political risk, did not cost the wealthy anything …”

True, the kind of liberalism that Obama has advocated does not fundamentally challenge the wealthy, but one can argue thatRoosevelt’s policies were in fact designed to protect the wealthy. Another reading of the history that Alterman describes, specifically the period of the New Deal, might suggest thatRoosevelt, though a progressive, did not want a fundamental economic or political restructuring of the nation. Yes, he massively increased the power of the Executive Office (not since the days of Lincoln’s cabinet), and yes he helped to oversee the rise of the modern welfare state, but it was the rise of independent and working-class organizations in the 1930s that profoundly challenged the liberal establishment that compelled Roosevelt to protect his own class interests. New Deal programs undoubtedly helped millions of Americans, however, it also reinforced a class-based, racially hierarchical society (for instance, New Deal policies mostly hurt black farmers in the South with government subsidies going to white farmers, thus increasing disparities that already existed among black and white farmers and agrarian workers).

The New Deal was not simply the result of mass action taken in the 1930s, it was the result of decades of mass organizing, and certainly not just the good-will of one man:Roosevelt. Despite Alterman noting the ‘political movement’ that led to the New Deal, the Cause tends to glorify individuals as the engines of historical change.

The Conclusion of the book is most fascinating in that it reveals the way in which Alterman thinks about history (his lens): ideas and individuals change history. Yes, ideas and individual people do help to change history, but it’s ultimately been mass pressure from outsiders that have brought about the policy changes that liberals lay claim to. This is how I read and understand the history presented in The Cause.

As you read the book, you might keep in mind, two things (1) for whom is this book being written, and (2) why?  Do you feel connected to the way in which this history is being presented? And if so, how? And if not, why not?

It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important read, from the vantage point of exploring the ways in which political ideology shapes one’s understanding of history.”

It will be great to further explore Dr. Ali’s comments and The Cause on our call this Sunday.  Our discussion is at 6 pm and the call in information is below.  Talk to you soon!

Call 712 432-3066       Passcode:  636053

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

Leave a Reply