RIP Arthur M. Schlesinger
I just want to take the time to mourn the passing of a true intellectual and cultural icon.
Arthur Schlesinger was not only a brilliant historian, but in the great tradition of learned folk back before the Right began its era of media domination, corporate cronyism at least on a level with the Coolidge and Harding Administrations and its purges (see Neocon nutcase David Horowitz, who is a self-hating loser whether he's lining up with Lenin or Libby), he was a brilliant social commentator.
Looking at what he contributed to our country, is worth it not only as an intellectual exercise, but to show how far we have gotten away from the healthy political system we enjoyed when he was doing his best work.
I will never look back at the 1950s and early 1960s with nostalgia, with Jim Crow stretching its wretched tentacles throughout the South, women shut out of the best jobs, etc. Yet, before the Right made it heresy for journalists, academics, scientists et al to tell you that the sky is indeed blue and the far right are hate-filled lunatics, along with Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Bell and myriad other great ones, Schlesinger was filling the role of using his perch for the public good.
He was a historian, but through his work he made his opinions known (particularly by taking a job working for JFK). He decried the far left and the far right in books like The Age of Jackson (one of the best political history books I have ever read) and The Vital Center. That is because, and this is hard for folks even of my generation to believe (that would be Gen X), back in that time, "liberals" like Schlesinger were the moderates, pursuing a progressive course towards social justice, a populist one in economics and a humane one in foreign policy (yes, there were exceptions to this rule, before you all write in to me about racism or coups in Iran and Guatamala--but I am looking big picture here, compared to today).
Liberals, or those in favor of rational, open, non-ideological policy, were in power throughout our culture (and we were the better for it in virtually every way--see Iraq, the current budget deficit, George W. Bush and Tom DeLay's mugshot). They sought to improve the human condition, not amass wealth, proselytize and fight endless wars no matter the damage to the public good.
To use an example, Ned Lamont, would have fit perfectly into this moderate, liberal spirit. Joe Lieberman would have been considered an out-of-bounds, right-wing crank who would have been belittled, as was Barry Goldwater (who saw much of the light later in life) and The John Birch Society. That in itself should tell you how far we have gone backwards in our political culture.
We will never see another Schlesinger, but hopefully the political and policy spirit of the man and his times will rise again.