jimsleeper.com » A Sleeper Sampler

A Sleeper Sampler

These are some pieces I’m willing to be known by, for better or worse.

1. “Smarter and Tougher,” National Public Radio, September 13, 2001:

This 3-minute radio commentary on “All Things Considered” was delivered two days after 9/11. How well have these thoughts of that moment held up? The NPR commentary was adapted from a version I wrote on 9/11 and published in the Yale Daily News on September 12.

Why Rudy Giuliani Really Shouldn’t Be President (March 8, 2007).

Posted originally in Talking Points Memo Cafe when Giuliani was at the peak of his electability and his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination was getting underway, this  column shows how I view electoral politics and about the kinds of experience I draw from in writing about it. The post perceptions of Giuliani among some opinion-makers who had not observed him very closely as mayor before 9/11. Surrounded by neo-conservative foreign-policy advisers such as Yale’s Charles Hill, Giuliani was ripe for Joe Biden’s barb that every one of his sentences contained “a verb, a noun, and ‘9/11′”. He did poorly in the primaries and withdrew after the Florida primary.

Many Republicans had opposed Giuliani because they considered him too liberal on social questions and because his family life was messy, but in this column I explained that the reasons for his unsuitability for the nation’s highest office run deeper than that.

3. Above the Battle: The Price We Pay, The Harvard Crimson, January 28, 1976.

This account of how I brought some white working-class veterans to hear James Baldwin at Harvard was written a year before I left Cambridge and moved to inner-city New York for what became a decade of immersion in black politics and community life. It was written 32 years before Barack Obama — in April, 2008 — characterized working-class whites, in a passing remark, in a way that stoked the class- and race-driven mistrust and incomprehension I encountered in the events described here.  Note: If you have trouble reading the pdf linked above (it gives you the original, as it actually looked in The Crimson), click this digital version instead.

4. “Duty Bound,” The American Prospect, 2006.

This is one of my typically countercyclical little essays (See “Looking for America,” the lead essay at left): In the summer of 2006, as everyone followed Ned Lamont ‘s anti-Iraq War bid to unseat Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, I went to Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library to look up Lamont-family history. I found striking accounts of a long-forgotten, would-have-been uncle who’d given his life at age 21 in a submarine off Japan in World War II.

I portrayed Thomas W. Lamont II as a fata morgana of the American republic, a fading mirage of our civic virtue, “his sacrifice a requiem for the kind of citizen we’re losing not at the terrorists’ hands but our own.”

The essay was posted in The American Prospect, and I spun off some of it into a New York Times op-ed column that’s linked in the essay.

5. “Gip, Gip, Hooray!” New Haven Review of Books, 2007

Ronald Reagan’s hold on the American imagination reflects but distorts a sobering truth: His “Morning in America” administered “a glorious euthanasia to the civic-republican spirit.” It’s one thing to romanticize the republic, as I did in “Duty Bound,” above; it was something else for Ronald Reagan to devote so much his presidency to stage-managing such romances in lieu of public deliberation about his policies.

6. “Manufactured Consent,” The Washington Monthly, 2001

Written just after the Supreme Court ruled for George W. Bush in the 2000 election, this remonstrance contemplated civil disobedience against what seemed a creeping coup d’etat. It’s one of my finest — or, at any rate, most impassioned — invocations of American civic-republicanism.

7. “Bush and the Bad-Boy Vote,” Los Angeles Times, 2004.

Written during the 2004 presidential campaign, this column sketched the “macho” current in Bush’s campaign. I’d discovered a photo of him making an illegal play in a rugby game  while a student at Yale; no journalist had found the photo previously because it had appeared only in the yearbook of my Yale Class of 1969, a year after Bush had graduated. Some wondered if I’d doctored the photo and its amusing yearbook caption:  To confirm its authenticity, a Japanese television crew taped me holding and opening the yearbook to the page with the photo and caption. The column itself raced around the net, not least on rugby websites, and was re-published in other newspapers. Especially predictable was the reaction of the Boston Herald, a Murdoch paper, which ran the photo with only a passing reference to my column, in a winking, faux-populist gesture to the Herald’s “bad boy,” Reagan-Democrat readers.

8. “What’s Really Wrong With Fred Richmond?” The Village Voice, 1982.

An idealistic young weekly newspaper editor recalls his delicate interactions with a wealthy, corrupt Brooklyn congressman in the early 1980s, revealing my own political premises at the time. After many twists and turns, I still find most of the moral and political coordinates of this piece useful, if painful.

Here, also, are two never-before published photos, one of me in 1980 with the staff of my small weekly newspaper, The North Brooklyn Mercury (I’m the one wearing the tie). The other, taken by our staffer Joel Gallob, is of me conducting a 1979 interview with a Satmar Hasidic man whose leaders supported the congressman.

9. “Boodling, Bigotry, and Cosmopolitanism,” Dissent, 1987, reprinted in two anthologies, In Search of New York (Jim Sleeper, ed.) and Empire City: New York Through the Centuries (Kenneth Jackson and David Dunbar, eds.) an anthology of 400 years of writing about New York City.

New York City’s white-ethnic and Jewish “New Deal” political culture was expiring in late 1980s with the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch, amid scandals and demographic upheavals that presaged the 1989 election of the city’s first non-white mayor, David Dinkins. This was my assessment of a city in transition. Subsequent developments were reported in New York Daily News columns and The New Republic, linked elsewhere on this site.

10. “Lessons From Lorena Bobbitt” New York Daily News, 1993.

About the dangers of vigilantism by the abused and about the comparative merits of civil disobedience when it’s possible.

11. “Orwell’s ‘Smelly Little Orthodoxies’ and Ours,” in George Orwell: Into the Twenty-First Century, (Thomas Cushman and John Rodden, editors), 2004

What George Orwell and Alexis de Tocqueville helped me to learn from my sorry sojourn in American journalism. Prepared originally for the Centenary Conference on Orwell at Wellesley College, May, 2003.

12. Tales of a Teenage Guru”, The Boston Phoenix, 1973

One of my first published essays, in a Boston “alternative” weekly, this was a lament for progressive “movement” politics after I’d watched a mass gathering of young followers of the teen Guru Maharaj-Ji. The allure of his “perfect wisdom” signaled decay in this country’s civic-republican synapses.