On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Hillary Clinton and Reconstruction, Curvy Barbie, and Bernie Sanders and atheism.
Hillary Clinton and Reconstruction
Hillary Clinton stepped into controversy when she named Abraham Lincoln as her favorite president, in part, because he would have brought the nation back together more peacefully after the Civil War had he lived than what Reconstruction did. Natalia explained the controversy owed to Clinton’s parroting a version of history known as the Dunning School which presented Reconstruction as period of northern vengeance on the South. The Dunning interpretation of Reconstruction, Natalia pointed out, dominated much of the twentieth century, but has now been thoroughly repudiated by historians, including Eric Foner’s seminal work, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, published in 1988. Neil noted the Clintons’ relationship with African American voters has a troubled history, including Bill Clinton’s comments about Jesse Jackson during Hillary’s race against Obama in 2008. But Natalia pushed back at arguments that lump the Clintons together as one unit, even while noting Bill Chafe’s recent history of the couple, Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal.
Barbie has a new look! The doll now comes in three new body shapes: curvy, tall, and petite. Natalia explained Barbie’s origins as a German sex toy named Lilli in the 1950s. Niki noted how dolls have often revealed controversial American attitudes and beliefs, pointing to the Clark doll study in the 1940s which showed the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. Natalia recommended the New Yorker article, “Our Dolls, Ourselves,” that showed how the American Girl Dolls brand changed from historical period dolls to ones that are made to look like young girls today.
Bernie Sanders and the Politics of Presidential Religion
Bernie Sanders’ emergence as a serious candidate has political observers commenting on both his Jewishness and his a-religiousness. Neil argued Judaism was not controversial at all in politics anymore, but that a recent Gallup poll indicated a surprising high tolerance for atheism in a presidential candidate. Neil also noted both Christian and atheist writers have interpreted Sanders’ comments about faith quite differently, but in ways that support their particular views. Natalia recommended Matthew Frye Jacobson’s book, Whiteness of a Different Color, for understanding the changing position of Jewish Americans in the twentieth century.