Howard Zinn on why he’s voting for Obama

Howard Zinn on why he’s voting for Obama October 10, 2008

As you might guess, I love the activist scholarship of Howard Zinn. My first post at Vox Nova was a short one on the family as domestic church, referencing Howard Zinn’s view of the power of families to be “pockets of insurrection” in the united states. I thought of this post recently in my own personal reflection on becoming a “radical Catholic dad,” which will take place at the end of the month. I expect my blogging will explore entirely new themes with the coming of this new phase of life.

Here is an excerpt from Zinn’s article in the Progressive on why he is voting for Obama:

One might assume from the above that I see no difference between McCain and Obama, that I see them as equivalent. Not so. There is a difference, not a significant enough difference for me to have confidence in Obama as President, but just enough for me to vote for Obama and to hope he defeats McCain.

Whoever is President, the crucial factor for change will be how much agitation there is in the country on behalf of change. I am guessing that Obama may be more sensitive than McCain to such turmoil, since it will come from his supporters, from the enthusiasts who will register their disillusionment by taking to the streets. Franklin D. Roosevelt was not a radical, but he was more sensitive to the economic crisis in the country and more susceptible to pressure from the Left than was Herbert Hoover.

Even for the “purest” of radicals, there must be recognition of differences that may mean life or death for thousands. In France at the time of the Algerian War, the election of DeGaulle—hardly an anti-imperialist but more aware of the inevitable decline of empires—was significant in ending that long and brutal occupation.

I have no doubt that by far the wisest, most reliable, with the most integrity, of all recent Presidential candidates is Ralph Nader. But I think it is a waste of his political strength, a puny act, to expend it in the electoral arena, where the result can show only weakness. His power, his intelligence, lies in the mobilization of people outside the ballot box.

So, yes, I will vote for Obama, because the corrupt political system offers me no choice, but only for the moment I pull down the lever in the voting booth.

Before and after that moment I want to use whatever energy I have to push him toward a recognition that he must defy the traditional thinkers and corporate interests surrounding him, and pay homage to the millions of Americans who want real change.


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  • I like Zinn’s history book, it makes for a good complement to eg my Bennett history books and tells stories I hadn’t heard before. no one source has all the facts or all the emphases, it’s nice to have a broad selection. Biographies are interesting as well and nicely framed by books focusing on the people at large.

    As far as Obama goes, new boss, same as the old boss. His shtick is just better suited to make liberals dream schoolgirl dreams. One may however like a change in the way one gets screwed 🙂

  • I like Zinn’s history book, it makes for a good complement to eg my Bennett history books and tells stories I hadn’t heard before. no one source has all the facts or all the emphases, it’s nice to have a broad selection. Biographies are interesting as well and nicely framed by books focusing on the people at large.

    As far as Obama goes, new boss, same as the old boss. His shtick is just better suited to make liberals dream schoolgirl dreams. One may however like a change in the way one gets screwed 🙂

  • Odd. I am still reading through “A People’s History”, and I get the exact opposite out of Zinn on families. Indeed, I read him as being deeply hostile to family life, which is much in accordance with his thoroughly Marxist view of things.

    Maybe I misread him, I’ll have to dig up the passages I’m thinking of.

    I’m left wondering though… why does “radical” politics always seem to end up simply meaning a vote for the Democrats? Democrats are hardly anti-war.

  • Odd. I am still reading through “A People’s History”, and I get the exact opposite out of Zinn on families. Indeed, I read him as being deeply hostile to family life, which is much in accordance with his thoroughly Marxist view of things.

    Maybe I misread him, I’ll have to dig up the passages I’m thinking of.

    I’m left wondering though… why does “radical” politics always seem to end up simply meaning a vote for the Democrats? Democrats are hardly anti-war.

  • jh

    Corrupt Political system

    Amazing the abosulte double standard. McCain much to to the opppostion of the Republilcan base pushed Campain Finance Reform. Obama despte pledges to take public financing opts out. Obama goves mega bucks to ACORN that is so involved in voter fraud their offices are being raided by Law enforcement officials yet to send a message againstthis one must vote for Obama, INCREDIBLE

  • jh

    Corrupt Political system

    Amazing the abosulte double standard. McCain much to to the opppostion of the Republilcan base pushed Campain Finance Reform. Obama despte pledges to take public financing opts out. Obama goves mega bucks to ACORN that is so involved in voter fraud their offices are being raided by Law enforcement officials yet to send a message againstthis one must vote for Obama, INCREDIBLE

  • jh – Has it been substantiated that ACORN is committing voter fraud as an organization?

    The clear answer: No. From Josh Marshall:

    But here’s the key. This is fraud against ACORN. They end up paying people for registering more people than they actually signed up. If you register me three times to vote, the registrar will see two new registrations of an already registered person and the ones won’t count. If I successfully register Mickey Mouse to vote, on election day, Mickey Mouse will still be a cartoon character who cannot go to the local voting station and vote. Logically speaking there’s very little way a few phony names on the voting rolls could be used to commit actual vote fraud. And much more importantly, numerous studies and investigations have shown no evidence of anything more than a handful of isolated cases of actual instances of vote fraud.

  • jh – Has it been substantiated that ACORN is committing voter fraud as an organization?

    The clear answer: No. From Josh Marshall:

    But here’s the key. This is fraud against ACORN. They end up paying people for registering more people than they actually signed up. If you register me three times to vote, the registrar will see two new registrations of an already registered person and the ones won’t count. If I successfully register Mickey Mouse to vote, on election day, Mickey Mouse will still be a cartoon character who cannot go to the local voting station and vote. Logically speaking there’s very little way a few phony names on the voting rolls could be used to commit actual vote fraud. And much more importantly, numerous studies and investigations have shown no evidence of anything more than a handful of isolated cases of actual instances of vote fraud.

  • Mike

    Obama goves mega bucks to ACORN that is so involved in voter fraud their offices are being raided by Law enforcement officials yet to send a message againstthis one must vote for Obama,

    No, that’s not true. There is evidence of voter registration fraud, which is not the same thing, nor is it necessarily the fault of the collector of signatures. ACORN has alerted authorities to possible faulty signatures, which by law they must turn in; they are not the arbiters of which signatures are valid. The raids are being conducted by Republican authorities as a method of suppressing registration among the poor. It’s typical treasonous Republican behavior.

  • Mike

    Obama goves mega bucks to ACORN that is so involved in voter fraud their offices are being raided by Law enforcement officials yet to send a message againstthis one must vote for Obama,

    No, that’s not true. There is evidence of voter registration fraud, which is not the same thing, nor is it necessarily the fault of the collector of signatures. ACORN has alerted authorities to possible faulty signatures, which by law they must turn in; they are not the arbiters of which signatures are valid. The raids are being conducted by Republican authorities as a method of suppressing registration among the poor. It’s typical treasonous Republican behavior.

  • jh

    “:No, that’s not true. There is evidence of voter registration fraud, which is not the same thing, nor is it necessarily the fault of the collector of signatures. ACORN has alerted authorities to possible faulty signatures, which by law they must turn in; they are not the arbiters of which signatures are valid. The raids are being conducted by Republican authorities as a method of suppressing registration among the poor. It’s typical treasonous Republican behavior.”

    Oh give me a break. They know they have a problem and after years they do not correct it. When I was in New Orleans I saw their tactics so this no news to me

    Republican AUthorities. Good god they are registering people that do not exist. It is a travesty.

  • jh

    “:No, that’s not true. There is evidence of voter registration fraud, which is not the same thing, nor is it necessarily the fault of the collector of signatures. ACORN has alerted authorities to possible faulty signatures, which by law they must turn in; they are not the arbiters of which signatures are valid. The raids are being conducted by Republican authorities as a method of suppressing registration among the poor. It’s typical treasonous Republican behavior.”

    Oh give me a break. They know they have a problem and after years they do not correct it. When I was in New Orleans I saw their tactics so this no news to me

    Republican AUthorities. Good god they are registering people that do not exist. It is a travesty.

  • Ever hear of purging of voter rolls, jh…

  • Ever hear of purging of voter rolls, jh…

  • Odd. I am still reading through “A People’s History”, and I get the exact opposite out of Zinn on families.

    See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, Revised and Updated Edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), pp. 503-4.

    Indeed, I read him as being deeply hostile to family life, which is much in accordance with his thoroughly Marxist view of things.

    Huh? Marxists are against families?

    I’m left wondering though… why does “radical” politics always seem to end up simply meaning a vote for the Democrats?

    It doesn’t “always.” I guarantee you that radicals of various stripes will criticize Zinn for this.

    Democrats are hardly anti-war.

    Absolutely. And Zinn says this in his article.

  • Odd. I am still reading through “A People’s History”, and I get the exact opposite out of Zinn on families.

    See Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, Revised and Updated Edition (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), pp. 503-4.

    Indeed, I read him as being deeply hostile to family life, which is much in accordance with his thoroughly Marxist view of things.

    Huh? Marxists are against families?

    I’m left wondering though… why does “radical” politics always seem to end up simply meaning a vote for the Democrats?

    It doesn’t “always.” I guarantee you that radicals of various stripes will criticize Zinn for this.

    Democrats are hardly anti-war.

    Absolutely. And Zinn says this in his article.

  • premodern

    activist scholarship

    Activist scholarship? What’s that? A euphemism for revisionist scholarship?

    And of course Marxists are inherently against the family since they place the sphere of the collectivist state above the sphere of the family.

  • premodern

    activist scholarship

    Activist scholarship? What’s that? A euphemism for revisionist scholarship?

    And of course Marxists are inherently against the family since they place the sphere of the collectivist state above the sphere of the family.

  • Under that line of reasoning, so are Christians too, as they place the Kingdom of God above the sphere of the family…

  • Under that line of reasoning, so are Christians too, as they place the Kingdom of God above the sphere of the family…

  • If you read Engels and Marx in the Communist Manifesto and other places, a large part of the socialist project is to abolish the family. The traditional family is seen as an obstacle to the socialist revolution because it is “private” and “patriarchal”.

    Engels writes about this more extensively in his work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

    Here is a paper that addresses the topic well. It also is available as an mp3 here depending on your preference.

  • If you read Engels and Marx in the Communist Manifesto and other places, a large part of the socialist project is to abolish the family. The traditional family is seen as an obstacle to the socialist revolution because it is “private” and “patriarchal”.

    Engels writes about this more extensively in his work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

    Here is a paper that addresses the topic well. It also is available as an mp3 here depending on your preference.

  • premodern

    The sphere of the Church does not subsume the sphere of the family such as in the Marxist model. There are areas over the family over which the Church has authority but there are also areas of the Family over which the Church has no authority. Not so with Marxism.

  • premodern

    The sphere of the Church does not subsume the sphere of the family such as in the Marxist model. There are areas over the family over which the Church has authority but there are also areas of the Family over which the Church has no authority. Not so with Marxism.

  • “as they place the Kingdom of God above the sphere of the family…”

    The reason, btw, why the Catholics have had no dice in China and Japan. One only needs to open the “New Testament” to see that Jesus puts religion over family ties. Well, at least he’s quoted in such a manner.

    There obviously is nothing more important than the family, even though religion and ideology can cause rifts – and the state has a tendency to butt in, justifiably in some situations. In mine, we get along quite well, because on the Austrian end we’re all nonbelievers with little faith in politics and on the American end they’re pretty watered-down Christians or nonbelievers. Certainly no Marxists 🙂 Well, and the Irish and Austrians both like to drink 😛 I’m the designated driver for the whole bunch.

    I’m sure Zinn’s quite a kook, I still find it interesting to hear different people’s takes on history. You know, three sides to every story, yours, mine and the ever-elusive truth.

  • “as they place the Kingdom of God above the sphere of the family…”

    The reason, btw, why the Catholics have had no dice in China and Japan. One only needs to open the “New Testament” to see that Jesus puts religion over family ties. Well, at least he’s quoted in such a manner.

    There obviously is nothing more important than the family, even though religion and ideology can cause rifts – and the state has a tendency to butt in, justifiably in some situations. In mine, we get along quite well, because on the Austrian end we’re all nonbelievers with little faith in politics and on the American end they’re pretty watered-down Christians or nonbelievers. Certainly no Marxists 🙂 Well, and the Irish and Austrians both like to drink 😛 I’m the designated driver for the whole bunch.

    I’m sure Zinn’s quite a kook, I still find it interesting to hear different people’s takes on history. You know, three sides to every story, yours, mine and the ever-elusive truth.

  • Activist scholarship? What’s that? A euphemism for revisionist scholarship?

    It’s scholarship that is rooted in and supports movements for social change. You know, as opposed to “ivory tower” scholarship denounced by the right (when it suits them, that is).

    If you read Engels and Marx in the Communist Manifesto and other places, a large part of the socialist project is to abolish the family. The traditional family is seen as an obstacle to the socialist revolution because it is “private” and “patriarchal”.

    Well, again, there is no one “socialist” project. I’ll have to re-read the Manifesto I guess. From my experience with various radical social movements, abolition of the family does not strike me as a goal many activists are interested in these days. Yes, there are questions about the meaning of family, especially the way the western nuclear family has been connected to capitalism, heteronormativity, sexual violence, etc., but in light of these questions the goal has been to rethink the family, not to abolish it.

    I see no evidence that Zinn wants to “abolish” the family. If you have a reference, please produce it.

  • Activist scholarship? What’s that? A euphemism for revisionist scholarship?

    It’s scholarship that is rooted in and supports movements for social change. You know, as opposed to “ivory tower” scholarship denounced by the right (when it suits them, that is).

    If you read Engels and Marx in the Communist Manifesto and other places, a large part of the socialist project is to abolish the family. The traditional family is seen as an obstacle to the socialist revolution because it is “private” and “patriarchal”.

    Well, again, there is no one “socialist” project. I’ll have to re-read the Manifesto I guess. From my experience with various radical social movements, abolition of the family does not strike me as a goal many activists are interested in these days. Yes, there are questions about the meaning of family, especially the way the western nuclear family has been connected to capitalism, heteronormativity, sexual violence, etc., but in light of these questions the goal has been to rethink the family, not to abolish it.

    I see no evidence that Zinn wants to “abolish” the family. If you have a reference, please produce it.

  • “heteronormativity” – that’s pretty universal, human imagination being at times rather limited. It could be found in Communism, like antisemitism. Not to mention divorce and abortion being sky high in the proletarian paradises.

    When you say the nuclear family, does that only include parents and children, by definition ? It certainly is common to dispose of the old. Not so with my filipino and Sikh neighbors, they have 3 generations in the house. Houses being 3000 sq ft here helps of course, but they’d do it under other circumstances, too. An example of how odd it’s become in the West is my own parents refusing to ‘become a burden’. I say, what do you think I was ? I may have to parent-nap them once they are older. To me it seems obvious that one is first cared for and then repays the favor.

  • “heteronormativity” – that’s pretty universal, human imagination being at times rather limited. It could be found in Communism, like antisemitism. Not to mention divorce and abortion being sky high in the proletarian paradises.

    When you say the nuclear family, does that only include parents and children, by definition ? It certainly is common to dispose of the old. Not so with my filipino and Sikh neighbors, they have 3 generations in the house. Houses being 3000 sq ft here helps of course, but they’d do it under other circumstances, too. An example of how odd it’s become in the West is my own parents refusing to ‘become a burden’. I say, what do you think I was ? I may have to parent-nap them once they are older. To me it seems obvious that one is first cared for and then repays the favor.

  • premodern

    Marxists like Zinn don’t want to necessarily abolish the family, but rather they promote the displacement of the sovereignty of the family by the collective – always for the “common good”, of course.

  • premodern

    Marxists like Zinn don’t want to necessarily abolish the family, but rather they promote the displacement of the sovereignty of the family by the collective – always for the “common good”, of course.

  • premodern – I’m going to guess you have not read any Howard Zinn.

  • premodern – I’m going to guess you have not read any Howard Zinn.

  • Is it a boy or a girl ? If all goes well, I will be in the same position next fall 🙂 We’re hoping for fraternal twins – get it all done in one sitting 🙂 Do you have names picked out yet ?

    My guess is you’ll care a lot less about politics – I already have given up thanks to Lamictal.

    Does Canada have m/paternity leave the way Euro countries do ? I’m Austria, they practically throw money at you and you get a year off. I was aghast when my wife said that even state employees get nada. Sure, you can to on DISABILITY for a fraction of the money. Disability – what an insult. Chomsky is an embarrassment but it certainly is true that everything is rigged for employers. On the other hand, self employment in Austria is much like Kafka’s Trial – Even for photographers. And, top people like my wife make a lot less and get taxed a lot more. So once more it is a matter of how one gets screwed not if.

  • Is it a boy or a girl ? If all goes well, I will be in the same position next fall 🙂 We’re hoping for fraternal twins – get it all done in one sitting 🙂 Do you have names picked out yet ?

    My guess is you’ll care a lot less about politics – I already have given up thanks to Lamictal.

    Does Canada have m/paternity leave the way Euro countries do ? I’m Austria, they practically throw money at you and you get a year off. I was aghast when my wife said that even state employees get nada. Sure, you can to on DISABILITY for a fraction of the money. Disability – what an insult. Chomsky is an embarrassment but it certainly is true that everything is rigged for employers. On the other hand, self employment in Austria is much like Kafka’s Trial – Even for photographers. And, top people like my wife make a lot less and get taxed a lot more. So once more it is a matter of how one gets screwed not if.

  • Gerald – We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet. Yes we have names picked.

    I doubt I’ll care “less” about politics. I imagine having a kid whose life will be affected by the political choices we make in the present will radicalize me more.

    Canada has a humane maternity leave system, yes. One year. To all you republicans who parrot the message of the popes as if the republican platform supports it: THAT is how you build a “culture of life.” Through concrete, structural policies that help families to welcome life into the world. Until you’re ready to work for THOSE kinds of policies, SHUT UP about the “culture of life.”

  • Gerald – We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl yet. Yes we have names picked.

    I doubt I’ll care “less” about politics. I imagine having a kid whose life will be affected by the political choices we make in the present will radicalize me more.

    Canada has a humane maternity leave system, yes. One year. To all you republicans who parrot the message of the popes as if the republican platform supports it: THAT is how you build a “culture of life.” Through concrete, structural policies that help families to welcome life into the world. Until you’re ready to work for THOSE kinds of policies, SHUT UP about the “culture of life.”

  • Austria is even more generous but after a brief baby boom upon passing a baby benefitsblaw things are back to low birth rates.

    I think some Americans are proud of the ridiculous vacation time one gets – as opposed to six weeks mandatory in Austria. I don’t understand it.

    Sure, I will still care about somebfundamental politics – if they bring back the draft, it’s time to go back to Austria with the kids. Austria has a draft but they don’t attack anyone. I am not raising kids so they can die for some a-hole president. I also hope they wouldn’t want to join. Not likely if they come after me – “When they said ‘Sit down!’ I stood up.”

    I want my children to bury me, not vice versa, in exchange for a flag. We had that before, 1939-1945. My grandfather never made it past Private and eventually deserted, hopping a train back to a bombed out Vienna, surprising my grandmother at midnight. My father was a year old. The house straight across had been destroyed by a bomb.

    When the rich fight wars it’s the poor who die (Sartre)

  • Austria is even more generous but after a brief baby boom upon passing a baby benefitsblaw things are back to low birth rates.

    I think some Americans are proud of the ridiculous vacation time one gets – as opposed to six weeks mandatory in Austria. I don’t understand it.

    Sure, I will still care about somebfundamental politics – if they bring back the draft, it’s time to go back to Austria with the kids. Austria has a draft but they don’t attack anyone. I am not raising kids so they can die for some a-hole president. I also hope they wouldn’t want to join. Not likely if they come after me – “When they said ‘Sit down!’ I stood up.”

    I want my children to bury me, not vice versa, in exchange for a flag. We had that before, 1939-1945. My grandfather never made it past Private and eventually deserted, hopping a train back to a bombed out Vienna, surprising my grandmother at midnight. My father was a year old. The house straight across had been destroyed by a bomb.

    When the rich fight wars it’s the poor who die (Sartre)

  • To think that my wife’s grandfather and my paternal grandfather could easily have killed each other. The former liberated a concentration camp. I have friends whose grandparents were murdered in them.

  • To think that my wife’s grandfather and my paternal grandfather could easily have killed each other. The former liberated a concentration camp. I have friends whose grandparents were murdered in them.

  • iris m peach

    I wish that Zinn, Chomsky et all would stay in their ivory towers and forget about their self-importance for a moment. I don’t care who they vote for, but they do influence a lot of people. It’s a gargantuan task for a 3rd party candidate to get on state ballots. It involves secrecy, extreme strategy, unimageanble cleverness and hard work by thousands of people.
    As a nurse, and a dutch citizen, I see daily how much people suffer from the lack of health insurance in this country. it could not be more important to get a Single Payer Heath care plan in place. Obama’s mandate will clearly not work for poor people.
    So my advise to those professors who think they know what’s best for us:

  • iris m peach

    I wish that Zinn, Chomsky et all would stay in their ivory towers and forget about their self-importance for a moment. I don’t care who they vote for, but they do influence a lot of people. It’s a gargantuan task for a 3rd party candidate to get on state ballots. It involves secrecy, extreme strategy, unimageanble cleverness and hard work by thousands of people.
    As a nurse, and a dutch citizen, I see daily how much people suffer from the lack of health insurance in this country. it could not be more important to get a Single Payer Heath care plan in place. Obama’s mandate will clearly not work for poor people.
    So my advise to those professors who think they know what’s best for us:

  • iris m peach

    I guess I ran out of space so I am continueing; my advice: keep your mouths shut, for once. Allow the People to make up their own minds on whether they will vote for a war-monger, bail-out baron, dirty coalburner, off-shore driller, corporatist extraordinaire Obama, OR for someone like Nader who is against bail-outs, for solar power, for single Payer health care, anti–militarist, anti-war, pro crackdown on corporate crime, pro civil liberties, anti patriot act. I for one don’t need your advice!

  • iris m peach

    I guess I ran out of space so I am continueing; my advice: keep your mouths shut, for once. Allow the People to make up their own minds on whether they will vote for a war-monger, bail-out baron, dirty coalburner, off-shore driller, corporatist extraordinaire Obama, OR for someone like Nader who is against bail-outs, for solar power, for single Payer health care, anti–militarist, anti-war, pro crackdown on corporate crime, pro civil liberties, anti patriot act. I for one don’t need your advice!