Eric Alterman on American Liberalism

Monday, April 16, 2012

Journalist and historian Eric Alterman traces the history of liberal ideals and discusses the politicians, intellectuals, visionaries, activists, and public personalities fighting for social justice. His book, The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama, written with historian Kevin Mattson, looks at liberalism in American politics and culture.


Eric Alterman

Comments [40]

RLS - AK from AK

Hey! Eric Alterman and Andy Bernard (The Office) both went to Cornell! You can tell.

Apr. 24 2012 03:12 AM

@Stuart K from NYC
Every night at 8 WNYC airs On Point with Tom Ashbrook, which dedicates an hour to a single subject. Ashbrook essentially moderates a debate between a few guests with opposing viewpoints on the issue.

Also, why all the hate folks? Your cemented positions are no better than the cemented positions of those who disagree with you. Just chill yourselves out and listen with an open mind capable of critical thinking.

Apr. 16 2012 05:35 PM
jason zenith from spokane WA

Alterman said (wryly) that he was naive about Obama. Sure was. Obama was obviously a phony in 2004, with his Mario Cuomoesque hogwash speech at that years Dem convention. He's a product of the sinister Daley machine of Chicago.
In 2008 he showed everyone what to expect of him BEFORE he got elected. He had sworn he'd filibuster the bill to immunize from lawsuits the telecoms that aided the warrantless NSA program of stealing everybody's email, text, and voice messages. Not only didn't he filibuster, he didn't even vote against it, but voted FOR it.
I was amazed at all the chumps back in 2008 who fell under the spell of this Pied Piper.

Apr. 16 2012 04:51 PM

With the given pattern of characters that have been invited onto this show, I realize now that Leonard has a thing for despots.

Apr. 16 2012 01:24 PM
Stuart K from New York City

Sane. I especially appreciate the mention of Navasky’s book (NAMING NAMES). Like one of Navasky’s other books (KENNEDY JUSTICE), Navasky dealt with the complexity and nuance of rights and obligations of citizens and democracy.

In these recent years of hysterical “positioning,” we have devolved into combative extremes [Even the tone of Alterman’s interview].

While I “agree” with Alterman’s position in the interview – and I view myself a “liberal” – I leave myself open to nuance from any perspective – as long as there is honest, a thoughtful and informed dialogue.

How far we have come from the reasonableness of the founding fathers – who were, after all, the “elites” of their day - in the sense of intellectual honesty and depth.

I look forward to Alterman’s book – but I urge him not to be bound by the non-nuanced of a truncated interview format.

Why NPR doesn’t do 1 hour programs dedicated to a single subject (save for Diane Rehm or Terry Gross) baffles me.

Apr. 16 2012 01:04 PM

If Obama thought Republicans wouldn't use any means to to advance their goals, then he was in a coma during the 90's.

Any sincere liberal with half a brain could have used the Republicans threatening to cut off unemployment to put extrememe pressure on them, instead he turned that pressure on his own supporters by giving the Right everything they wanted then running back to his own party and whining to the people he just back-stabbed that they couldn't undermine him.

There's no reason to believe that his motivation in his second term will be anything other than to secure his future place with the elite he's served in the first.

Apr. 16 2012 01:00 PM
Rosemary Faulkner from New York City

Did I hear Leonard say at the end of his program today that public financing of elections is unlikely? Does he know that New York City has public financing? that a similar law will be up for vote in the legislature in Albany this spring? that Cuomo supports it? see for example article on front page of NYTimes April 12, and OpEd April 15.
IF it passes in NYS that will be a big step toward passage on the federal level.


Apr. 16 2012 12:48 PM

I like 'im.

Apr. 16 2012 12:47 PM
The Truth from Becky

Whew, finally over.

Apr. 16 2012 12:43 PM
cheryl from manhattan

Although, I like many have been dissapointed by Obama for the reasons mentioned, Mr. Alterman is being unfair when he says that Obama has "given up on" repe
aling the Bush tax cuts. He felt forced to compromise before because he desperately wanted to extend unemployment benefits for economic stimulous as well as ethical concerns. He is compromising lessnow because he has come to realize it doesn't work and the last time there was a budget showdown with republicans it was the latter that caved! He is adamant now to get rid of the Bush tax cuts!

Also, if he wins reelection he will not have to worry about chasing money and appealing to the "independents" by looking more cooperative with republicans. He would finally be free to mean all rhet his fine rhetoric! And he has learned on the job that compromise does not work with these republicans. So next term esp if more progressives are elected to congress we will finally see the change we have been waiting for. I just hope liberals and other progressives aren't too dissillusioned to make this happen!

Apr. 16 2012 12:43 PM

liberal agenda's are not so easy to do, and what that means is they will not work as intended.
I'd like to propose something for thought: If means to live rent ,food, things that cost are taken care of with food stamps, rent vouchers , does that not cause inflation?

Apr. 16 2012 12:42 PM
Jose C. from NYC

The Old Guard Left that Eric Alterman articulates will most likely
be further diluted as we proceed thru 2012. When Alterman dismisses things like 9/11 Truth, Vaccines, Obama's lack of an official birth certificate or a even a verifiable past, or that the old guard Democrat leaders in Congress are Communists as all "nonsense"- people sit up and take notice. Occupy Wall Street is very much against not only the Neo-Con Repubulicans but the Clintonistas who Occupying the White House and turned it into a New World Order compound. People are onto this Hegelian Dialectic being used to divide and conquer i.e. Left/Right Paradigm. It's going to be a long, hot summer ain't it?

Apr. 16 2012 12:40 PM

What Alterman is pointing out is the absurd practice of equivalency in the media, which makes it look that every fact has a right wing or a left wing version. This has led people to consume news tailored to their ideolog, as the slogan-spewing listener who called Brian Lehrer this morning shows.

Apr. 16 2012 12:40 PM
Bill from ny

This guy is truly stupid LBJ is not the benchmark what occurred in legislation from then through the 70s is. This guy teaches history?

Apr. 16 2012 12:39 PM
Mike C from Manhattan

SPot on reasoning and advocation from Alterman

Apr. 16 2012 12:38 PM
raina lefkowitz

Thank you thank you for using the word "media" correctly. It is a PLURAL noun; I was very pleased to hear you refer to the media as "they," and follow it up with other examples of correct usage. (Perhaps you can enlighten NPR reporters and hosts!)

Apr. 16 2012 12:37 PM
The Truth from Becky

The media should JUST report - unbiased truth

Apr. 16 2012 12:37 PM
jack from bklyn usa

Jack, that didn't display his fearless liberalism, his well documented anti Semitism in many books, evidenced his activism in that very specific role.

Apr. 16 2012 12:37 PM
tom from astoria

isn't the massive loss of jobs-- ordinary manufacturing jobs, taken away the power of our labor force and Labor Unions, thus defunding Liberalism. Isn't Clinton responsible for letting this happen? Liberalism will rise gradually in China, due to investment in China's workforce by our corporations

Apr. 16 2012 12:36 PM
henry from nj

"So Roosevelt was fearless..." With all respect due to him otherwise, he wasn't 'fearless' when he sent back in 1939 my sister on the St. Louis with 900 other Jewish refugees to the mercy of fascist drifting Europe.

Apr. 16 2012 12:34 PM
Cherisse from Queens

Yes, right, Obama is a rainbow hair afro basketball playing lazy n word who painted the white house purple, keeps michelle drunk on 40 oz. Colts and is a secret Republican whose goal is to be a three termer after he ammends the constitution with his pure black Belafonte charm.

Apr. 16 2012 12:32 PM
Laura from UWS

Worthwhile segment. Thanks.
I'm afraid author is naive about the extent to which "Big Money" and "Big Media" would sabotage economic justice efforts by any president. No president has the freedom to navigate any more.

Apr. 16 2012 12:31 PM

It's not free health care and it's not universal, it's a bailout of the insurance industry, and the problem with Alter, is that he should have seen Obama for what he was when he reversed himself on FISA, campaign finance, NAFTA, and every other thing liberals cared about as soon as his position was secured.

Apr. 16 2012 12:29 PM

FDR's second bill of rights was the shining example of civilization.

Apr. 16 2012 12:29 PM

Obama sells what he cares about, which is only and exclusively his personal advancement.

Apr. 16 2012 12:27 PM
boby from nyc

This guy is bogus. He markets himself as a pissed off liberal. Now he takes advantage of the known ratings getter: railing against Obama. Bottom line it is liberal to give us all free health care. You don't want it? You want to return it to the man with both hands and say, "Shove it, you are too golden tongued for me?" What a huge truckload of BS Lenny is letting this bitter shmuck offload onto my airwaves. Get off my phone.

Apr. 16 2012 12:26 PM
johnny from nyc

O Bum A lost his chance to do anything when he took office and let the bankers slide...

The country wanted blood and O Bum A said he'll give them BS and lip service..

Apr. 16 2012 12:26 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I agree w/much of what Eric Alterman is saying, but I don't agree that Pres. Obama "caved" & didn't fight for what he campaigned on. He tried to get a lot of those things through Congress, but even 1 vote too few to stop a filibuster was enough to keep him from achieving them. (And then the conservatives who did all they could to stop him from getting anything done campaign against him by saying, "See? He hasn't gotten anything done!")

Apr. 16 2012 12:25 PM
John A.

Note to self: Eric Alterman not to be confused with Jonathan Alter. Done.

Apr. 16 2012 12:24 PM
The Truth from Becky

why do conservatives pay of religious leaders to get their flocks to vote for Republicans?

Apr. 16 2012 12:22 PM
The Truth from Becky

I predict this book will not sell.

Apr. 16 2012 12:22 PM
The Truth from Becky

Who are u to say he is not going to get the same turnout?! Do you have a crystal ball? This annoys me so don't have any foresight to predict that..stop speaking for me!!

Apr. 16 2012 12:20 PM
Martin from New York

I don't buy Eric's notion that Obama "caved" on health care (or on Guantanamo, or the war on terror or government secrecy or on cutting Medicare or on the Bush tax cuts or 100 other things). He never even made the case for another point of view, never really indicated that supported anything other than the Republican position.

Apr. 16 2012 12:18 PM

there is no "University of Ohio"...

Apr. 16 2012 12:18 PM
The Truth from Becky

...and then pose the question "why do liberals hate to be called liberals??

Apr. 16 2012 12:17 PM

there is no "University of Ohio"...

Apr. 16 2012 12:17 PM
Susans from Morningside Hts.

Please ask Mr. Alterman to discuss "neo-liberalism" as well, and the role this Milton Friedman-esque movement is playing in our current politics and economy.

Apr. 16 2012 12:16 PM
The Truth from Becky

Why do you continue to put "militant" & "Liberal" in the same sentence?

Apr. 16 2012 12:16 PM

Would Mr.Alterman please comment on the attitude towards Liberalism articulated in Phil Ochs's song "Love Me I'm a Liberal"?

Apr. 16 2012 12:14 PM
antonio from bayside

Could a liberal like howard dean ever get elected in the future?

Apr. 16 2012 12:13 PM

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