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The Twenties

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Reefer Sanity. | Thought Followers.

“It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

In a much-touted op-ed over the weekend, the NYT editorial board calls for the legalization of marijuana. “We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.”

Well, I’m glad to see the NYT come down on this side of the ledger, and I appreciate them emphasizing the Prohibition angle. But their week-long Come-to-Jesus stance on this would be more impressive if they actually put action to words and stopped testing their employees for weed usage.

There’s also a strong and somewhat irritating element of Captain Obvious here. As Gawker‘s Hamilton Nolan well put it:

“This is something that has been clear to the majority of American high school students for the past forty years. The fact that it took our nation’s paper of record this long to catch up does not inspire confidence. The only reason the Times gets attention for expressing this opinion is because it is the Times. This is not thought leadership. It is thought following. The Times’ endorsement of legal weed is remarkable not because we look to the Times for new or thought-provoking opinions, but because the Times is such a self-conscious, careerist, and cautious institution that if they want to legalize drugs, you know that shit is really mainstream now…

I do not say this to scold the newspaper for its position. Drug legalization is an issue that can use all the support it can get. I say it to kindly suggest that the New York Times editorial board — and all of the ‘serious’ mainstream media ‘thought leaders’ that define the boundaries of discourse acceptable on Sunday talk shows — ease back a wee bit on the self-importance. You’re not defining the times. You’re behind the times.”

Aaaannnd speaking of those “serious” mainstream media thought leaders, several of them aren’t quite on board yet anyway: “MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said at the time he didn’t ‘get the legalization thing’ and offered a pithy defense of prohibition. ‘Pot just makes you dumb,’ he said. Former Newsweek/Daily Beast editor-in-chief Tina Brown said that ‘legal weed’ will make the United States ‘a fatter, dumber, sleepier nation even less able to compete with the Chinese.'”

Er…first off, Scarborough better hope, for his own sake, that we don’t exhaust our domestic reservoirs of dumb anytime soon, or he and his morning ilk are out of job. I was going to post a longer retort to this ridiculous pundit kvetching — which could only really come from deeply privileged people who’d never, ever have to worry about being arrested for weed — but Wonkette‘s Kaili Joy Gray has already done the heavy lifting:

“[E]ven if pot makes you fat and stupid, so does watching Fox ‘News’ and eating Big Macs, but last time I checked, none of these Very Serious People were on the Sunday shows pearl-clutching about that. Also…recall that Michael Phelps has been known to take hits from the bong, and he’s the fastest swimming motherf**ker on the planet, and he is not fat or dumb and can compete with the Chinese just fine, thanks, and he has eleventeen trillion gold medals to prove it, so, you know. There’s that.” What she said.

The Passion of Gamaliel.

“The correspondence is intimate and frank — and perhaps the most sexually explicit ever by an American president. Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish. In 106 letters, many written on official Senate stationery, Harding alternates between Victorian declarations of love and unabashedly carnal descriptions.”

The NYT publishes excerpts from the recently-unearthed love letters of Warren G. Harding, obviously a big character in my dissertation. “The president often wrote in code, in case the letters were discovered, referring to his penis as Jerry and devising nicknames, like Mrs. Pouterson, for Phillips.”

Oof. Poor guy. Politics, scandals and Teapot Dome aside, Harding was an eminently likable fellow, with a keen sense of his own limitations. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for him, even 90 years later, that these are now out there among the public.

The silver lining for the Hardings, I suppose, is that at least Mencken never got his hands on these. Suffice to say, he was no fan of the president’s prose. “H]e writes the worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”

Celtic Red (or Green for Gene.)

“I had never met Debs…[but] ever since he came there he is considered a man that is actually a saint or a Jesus Christ because when the night comes and the work is over, he goes into the yard where all the men, the criminals, come around him, and for each one he has a word to tell them. For each he has word to awaken in them a human spirit, the feeling that has been lost for years and years… I am sure it is actually a crime to keep a man of that type behind iron bars.”

Also in recent NBA news and by way of a grad school friend: Larry Bird may be the “Basketball Jesus,” but he wasn’t the first Christ figure from the Hoosier State: Former Celts Bill Walton and Larry Bird visit the Eugene Debs Museum. “Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.”

Walks like a Progressive…

In case you enjoyed the last go-round in August with Jay Ackroyd, I recorded another stint on Virtually Speaking this past week about Uphill All the Way, who the progressives were, and the shift from progressivism to liberalism — this time with Stuart Zechman. And since I invariably feel like I’m not being altogether lucid when speaking in public, consider this also another plug for the written word and Uphill, still online in full.

Virtual All the Way.

Hello all: Back on the mainland as of 48 hours ago. In case the Election of 1924 talk of a few months past whetted your appetite for more radio ramblings about the dissertation, I discussed Uphill All the Way and 1920’s politics last night with Jay Ackyroyd of Virtually Speaking. Embed above — enjoy.

Tales of Wonder.

By way of io9, an impressive collection of vintage sci-fi pulp art. (You can still make your own here.) Note the editor above — Hugo Gernsback, sci-fi pioneer and the Man in the Mask. (He also appears briefly in Uphill All the Way.)

Online All the Way.

Hello all. So after a month or so of significant work — hence, the relative quiet around these parts of late — I have followed up on my earlier promise/threat and transformed all 1200+ pages of my dissertation into Uphill All the Way, the online edition.

The text was actually already available online in PDF form through Columbia’s Academic Commons, which is one of the reasons I thought converting it for better HTML presentation was a good idea. Now, hopefully, one can peruse the chapters more easily (or someone can skip around to the parts they are interested in.)

I don’t know if this is reassuring or depressing, but reading through it all again over the past month and change, I was once again struck by how much of this story resonates with recent events. Long before the disappointment of the current administration, ostensible progressive Woodrow Wilson had cracked down on civil liberties and broken the heart of the world at Versailles. Before Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, there was Eugene Debs and Sacco and Vanzetti. Before Austerity, there was Coolidge “Parsimony”. Before Katrina, the Great Mississippi Flood. Before Holder, Palmer. Before today’s continuing fight over evolution, Scopes. Before the recent news of forced sterilizations in California prisons, breaking just this past weekend, there was Buck v. Bell.

Instead of the Tea Party, there were 100% Americans and an Invisible Empire. Instead of fretting about “Obamacare” and “Kenyan Socialists,” conservatives rallied against the Sheppard-Towner Act and a Catholic in the White House. Instead of a War on Drugs, there was a Noble Experiment.

Then as now, civil liberties, corporate corruption, and immigration reform were major issues of the day. Then as now, the Supreme Court was a roadblock to positive change. Then as now, a culture of prosperity masked inequality and deep injustices in American life, and an ascendant business class aimed to leverage its considerable political influence to stamp out workers’ right to organize.

In the 1920s just as much as the 2010’s, progressives struggled to organize in opposition, and began to seriously question the two-party system. Then as now, many lost heart in the possibility of change. And, then as now, the push to make a more just and progressive America was, as always, Uphill all the Way.


Alabama Casts Its 24 Votes…

Personal plug: If your interest was piqued by what I wrote about the 1924 Democratic Convention here, I was interviewed last week by Backstory on the MSG disaster for their episode on gridlock. (The segment I’m featured in starts at 33:30 — I’m the guy who sounds like Mike Mills from R.E.M. I should probably work on my radio skills.)

Also, FWIW, my dissertation is now downloadable as a PDF from Academic Commons. At some point, I’ll probably convert it here for easier web reading, like I have previous history writings — on Herbert Croly, Al Smith, Harvey Wiley, colonial taverns, William Borah, etc. But that’s a project that’s down the queue at the moment.

Uphill all the Way.

‘The whole era,’ concluded Bourne in disgust, ‘has been spiritually wasted.’” Let’s hope, down the road a-ways from 2012, the last few years won’t feel the same. Anyway, that line’s from the first paragraph of the now completed(!) dissertation, which I sent off to my advisor and the committee this afternoon. It’s been a very long road, and I’m sure the euphoria will take hold in a bit. As for now, I just feel as per the clip above — plus exhausted with a twinge of Comic Guy.

FWIW, the final draft, with footnotes and bibliography and all that, clocked in at 1269 pages. If anyone’s interested on what’s covered and the general layout, I posted the table of contents below. That is obviously far too long for public — or anyone’s — consumption. I mean, I wrote the damned thing and I only read, like, the conclusion and stuff…It’s about the 20’s, right?

Seriously though, I’m sure I could have condensed it more than I did. For example, here’s the part on p. 527 where I talk about how the Harding administration used the Herrin Massacre as a public relations coup against the labor movement in 1922:

All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy. All work and no play makes Kevin a boring boy.

That goes on for about 70 pages. And I think, if I’d just worked at it a little harder, I could’ve really gotten that down to 40. Ohhhhh well.

At any rate, I’m way too tired to be blogging at the moment, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks to everyone for putting up with all the navel-gazing posts about this over the past few weeks, months, and years. FWIW, the general GitM readership got a shout-out on the acknowledgments page. With that in mind, work is crazy through election day, but this site should hopefully resume to normal status updates soon thereafter. First I need to sleep for awhile, clean up my paper-, book-, and dog-hair-strewn apartment, do some more sleeping, see all the movies I’ve missed — the only one I’ve seen in months was Looper (I liked it) — take my man Berk to the park, sleep some more, get a life, stuff like that.

Also, there is still the actual defense to consider, which will happen sometime in the next two months. But I am assuming that today was the day I destroyed the Ring, and that will be more of an “I’m a scarred, melancholy badass now, so let’s kick Saruman out of the Shire” Scouring-level event. Also, I’m not counting any chickens, trust me, but I did go ahead and put the batteries in my brand-new sonic screwdriver.

Uphill All The Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism 1919-1929


  • The Bourne Legacy 1
  • Progressives and Progressivism 7
  • Cast of Characters 12
  • Review of the Literature 15
  • Chapter Outline 17


  • An American in Paris 32
  • A Human Failure 40
  • A Failure of Idealism? 47
  • The Peace Progressives 52
  • Collapse at Pueblo 58
  • The Origins of the League 61
  • The League after Armistice 67
  • The Third Way: Progressive Nationalists 71
  • The Treaty Arrives in the Senate 79
  • The Articles of Contention 82
  • Things Fall Apart 94
  • Aftermath 107
  • Terror Comes to R Street. 112
  • The Storm before the Storm. 116
  • Enemies in Office, Friends in Jail. 133
  • Mobilizing the Nation 139
  • The Wheels Come Off 146
  • On a Pale Horse 150
  • Battle in Seattle 157
  • The Great Strike Wave 162
  • Steel and Coal 170
  • The Red Summer 184
  • The Forces of Order 193
  • Mr. Palmer’s War 205
  • The Fever Breaks 220
  • The Best Laid Plans 229
  • A Rematch Not to Be 241
  • The Man on Horseback 245
  • The Men in the Middle 250
  • I’m for Hiram 254
  • Visions of a Third Term 257
  • Ambition in the Cabinet 260
  • The Democrats’ Lowden 263
  • The Great Engineer 265
  • The Smoke-Filled Room 275
  • San Francisco 285
  • A Third Party? 296
  • Mr. Ickes’ Vote 318
  • Countdown to a Landslide 331
  • The Triumph of Reaction 347


  • The Harding White House 357
  • Organizing in Opposition 373
  • Lobbies Pestiferous and Progressive 393
  • The Taint of Newberryism 400
  • The Harding Scandals 409
  • Tempest from a Teapot 417
  • The Education of Jane Addams 440
  • Prisoners of Conscience 444
  • The Laws and the Court 458
  • The Shoemaker and the Fish-Peddler 474
  • The Shame of America 491
  • The Right to Organize 518
  • Professional Patriots 547
  • The Sins of the Colonel 565
  • Guarding the Back Door 575
  • Disarming the World 589
  • The Outlawry of War 606
  • The Temptations of Empire 620
  • Immigrant Indigestion 650
  • Indian Summer 671
  • Now is the Time… 679
  • Hiram and Goliath 692
  • Coronation in Cleveland 712
  • Schism in the Democracy 723
  • Escape from New York 736
  • Fighting Bob 755
  • Coolidge or Chaos 767
  • The Contested Inheritance 777
  • Reds, Pinks, Blues, and Yellows 789
  • The Second Landslide 806


  • Two Brooms, Two Presidents 824
  • A Puritan in Babylon 833
  • Hoover and Mellon 842
  • Business Triumphant 865
  • A Distracted Nation 884
  • The Descent of Man 902
  • The Problem of Public Opinion 908
  • Triumph of the Cynics 925
  • Scopes and the Schism 946
  • Not with a Bang, But a Whimper 963
  • New World and a New Woman 975
  • The Empire and the Experiment 1017
  • A Taste of Things to Come 1049
  • The General Welfare 1056
  • The Sidewalks of Albany 1073
  • For the Child, Against the Court 1082
  • The Rivers Give, The Rivers Take 1094
  • The Republican Succession 1115
  • The Available Man 1135
  • Hoover v. Smith 1153
  • The Third Landslide 1187
  • The Strange Case of Reynolds Rogers 1197
  • The Progressive Revival 1202
  • Confessions of the Reformers 1206

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