All Honorable Means

The political culture of the United States is cramped and stunted by the narrow range of acceptable viewpoints and the utterly banal, subliterate tone of our political campaigns—to compare American elections to the marketing of soap is an insult to the people who sell soap.  If, as Sean Scallon notes in Beating the Powers That Be, culture precedes politics, the state of American politics says nothing good about the state of American culture.

Beating the Powers That Be is, in part, a story of the constriction of the American political spectrum since World War II.  Scallon describes three related political movements that began in the Upper Midwest in the first half of the 20th century: the Progressive Party in Wisconsin, the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, and the Non-Partisan League in North Dakota.  These organizations were representative of the far left in this country at a time when the left cared more for working people than about securing the civil rights of the transgendered.

Scallon begins his narrative with a remembrance of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, the latest in a line of “Minnesota Mavericks” that include U.S. Rep. Charles Lindbergh, Sr., and Sen. Eugene McCarthy.  Wellstone was a professor who wanted to make a difference.  “He wanted to link academics with social activism the way professors did back during the Great Depression...

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