Richard Valelly

Richard Valelly is the Claude C. Smith '14 Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College.

Recent Articles

How About Erecting Monuments to the Heroes of Reconstruction?

Americans should build this pivotal post–Civil War era into the new politics of historical memory.

(Public domain image, Library of Congress)
Given the sheer number of Confederate memorials, there is bound to be another shocking flashpoint of the kind that rocked Charlottesville and the nation. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee have vanished from Baltimore and New Orleans. Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the truly infamous part of the Dred Scott decision, is gone from Annapolis. So many have come down—or are up for possible removal—that The New York Times posted an interactive map to chart them all. But there is an alternative politics of memory that Americans can also practice, and it might help to keep fascists out of public squares and do something concrete, literally at the same time: honor Reconstruction. Remembering Reconstruction ought not to shunt aside the politics of Confederate memorials. Yet remembering this pivotal era certainly deserves to be built into the new national politics of memory. The sesquicentennial of Reconstruction is September 1, 2017. Under the First Military Reconstruction...

Deficit-Attention Disorder

What voters really think about deficits, debts, and economic recovery

Care to hear a politician -- a Democratic congressional leader, in fact -- getting it wrong on the deficit? Listen to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer addressing a Third Way event in Washington at the end of June: This month, a Gallup poll asked Americans to name the greatest threats facing our country. Two answers tied for the top choice. One was terrorism. The other was debt. This is a remarkable moment in political history -- a time when our creeping fiscal danger of our $9 trillion of publicly held debt troubles Americans as much as the prospect of the most brutal attacks on our country. More than ever, Americans understand the danger of debt: a stagnant economy, a hobbled government, and a weak national defense. *** Appearing on a Sunday-morning talk show on July 18, after Sen. Mitch McConnell attacked the Democrats for "an incredible spending spree," Hoyer sounded the same theme but claimed that Democrats are working to cut the deficit. Meanwhile, in early July, David Axelrod,...

A Republic, If We Can Build It

Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches by Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal (MIT Press, 240 pages, $35.00) L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement by Ruth Milkman (Russell Sage Foundation, 264 pages, $24.95) In the face of pronounced income and wealth inequality, how has the Bush administration been able to promote an economic program that deepens inequality? The Republicans have enacted regressive tax cuts, sought to privatize Social Security, given free rein to Wall Street, and showered wasteful subsidies on defense contractors, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and oil and insurance companies. Surely, in a democracy, this all must be bad politics. Maybe it's because the GOP hasn't played by the rules, extending roll calls far beyond congressional norms, repressing black and student votes in Ohio, and inserting the executive into the legislative branch in unprecedented ways. Maybe Thomas Frank is right that social...

Books in Review

Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism By Roger Wilkins. Beacon Press, 176 pages, $14.00 Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North By Melinda Lawson. University Press of Kansas, 272 pages, $29.95 The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration By Carol M. Swain. Cambridge University Press, 416 pages, $30.00 Since September 11, patriotism has been on permanent exhibit in the United States. But what exactly is our patriotism about? The dominant public form celebrates America's ideals of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness and holds those ideals open to all who want to embrace them. Alongside that civic, universalist tradition, however, there has always been a more exclusive kind of racial nationalism that defines true Americans as white or as belonging only to certain ethnic and religious groups. When surges of patriotism have swept the country, the overwhelming majority of Americans have...

Illuminating the Enlightenment

Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment By Emma Rothschild. Harvard University Press, 353 pages, $45.00 Should you care about the Enlightenment? Yes, you should, and more than a little, says Emma Rothschild, the distinguished British economist. In Economic Sentiments, Rothschild reinterprets the Enlightenment by breathing new life into Adam Smith, Jacques Turgot, and a fellow named Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, somewhat better known as the marquis de Condorcet. Smith is the most famous of these, of course, and the most politically influential in our time. He lived from 1723 to 1790, and while serving as professor of moral philosophy at Glasgow University wrote The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of the Moral Sentiments. Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) was one of Louis XVI's many ministers of finance, in which capacity he tried to reform the French ancien régime from above. Condorcet (1743-1794) was a major player in reformist phases of the French...