What are you working on?
I am writing a book about the energy crisis of the 1970’s. I began that project because I am interested in how American politics changed in the late 20th century. Throughout much of the last century, from the Great Depression on, there was the expectation that in a moment of crisis the government would come to the aid and rescue of its citizens. Today, we live in a different political moment where there is much more emphasis on self-reliance and market mechanisms to help citizens through diffi cult times. I’m interested in that broader shift in world trends that we’ve seen lately, from the New Deal liberalism of the 1930’s to the current infl uence of the conservative right.
During my research, it became clear to me that the 70’s was the critical point of transition in this shift. In both the election of 1968 and landslide re-election in 1972, Richard Nixon ran under the promise of scaling back the reach of government in people’s lives. That idea of scaling government back, of government being too intrusive, has grown and been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike. That is why the energy crisis is a compelling topic. It became a stage upon which politicians and political strategists could act out liberal vs. conservative policy responses to a crisis.
What changes in the recent past have influenced your work?
Well, my first book was called Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in 20th Century America. It is about how American citizens, beginning around 1900, maybe a little bit earlier, came to have expectations that the government owed them something. In other words, that by virtue of being citizens––or in some cases not even citizens, but immigrants or newcomers to the country—the government owed them a high standard of
living, or what became known as an American standard of living. That expectation was a move away from the 19th century notion of self-reliance and toward the notion that the government should involve itself in basic issues, like making sure the meat packers don’t charge too much for meat.
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